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In the first distribution push, 6.4 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine will be shipped across the U.S.


Around mid-December, 6.4 million doses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine will be shipped out across the United States in an initial push after it receives an expected emergency authorization, officials leading Operation Warp Speed, the administration’s push to fast-track a vaccine, said on a call with reporters on Tuesday.

The first doses — which are expected to go to health care workers and potentially a few other vulnerable groups — will be allocated to all 50 states and eight territories, as well as six major metropolitan areas. The quantities will be based on how many adults live in each jurisdiction.

“We wanted to keep this simple,” said Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services.

Officials decided on that allocation formula, as opposed to one that would prioritize the hardest-hit parts of the country, in part because the virus is spreading rapidly nationwide, Mr. Azar said.

Operation Warp Speed notified states late Friday night of how many doses they’d be receiving in the first push to assist them in their planning, officials said Tuesday. Governors and other local leaders will be responsible for deciding where the shipments should go.

Pfizer will ship doses of the vaccine via UPS and FedEx in special coolers packed with dry ice that will hold a minimum of 975 doses, which must be used up within a few weeks or stored in an ultracold freezer for up to six months.

Pfizer’s vaccine, which was developed with the German company BioNTech, was found to be 95 percent effective in a late-stage study earlier this month. An advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to meet on Dec. 10 to discuss Pfizer’s clinical-trial data and vote on whether to recommend that the agency authorize it.

From there, it’s not clear how long it will take to make a decision. The agency could take “days” to deliberate on whether to authorize the vaccine, F.D.A. Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in an interview with USA TODAY published Tuesday.

But Moncef Slaoui, the head of Operation Warp Speed, said during a television appearance Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the first doses could be administered as soon as Dec. 11. Federal health officials have said the first Americans will start getting vaccinated within 24 hours of an authorization being issued.

Another leading vaccine developer, Moderna, is expected to soon follow Pfizer’s lead in filing for emergency authorization for its vaccine candidate, which an early analysis found to be 94.5 percent effective.

The path forward in the United States is less clear for AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, which on Monday announced that they had zeroed in on a promising dosing plan for their vaccine candidate.

All three of those vaccines require people to get two doses, spread several weeks apart.

After the initial distribution push, vaccine shipments will go out to states and other jurisdictions on a weekly basis. Federal officials have said they expect to have 40 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines available by the end of the year.



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McConnell and Pelosi push for relief bill


Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Reuters

The two most powerful people in Congress — at least for the next two months — renewed their calls for coronavirus stimulus on Friday.

A relief deal could prove just as difficult to reach as it did before Election Day.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., again called for a targeted aid package. In Kentucky, he argued a better than expected October jobs report that saw the U.S. unemployment rate fall to 6.9% reduces the need for a sweeping stimulus bill.

“I think it reinforces the argument that I’ve been making for the last few months, that something smaller – rather than throwing another $3 trillion at this issue – is more appropriate,” he told reporters, according to Reuters. McConnell noted that he will not necessarily lead the Senate in January: NBC News projects both Republicans and Democrats will hold at least 48 seats, with four races unsettled.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for Republicans to restart aid talks that fell apart before the 2020 election. She told reporters that the “imperative to act could not be greater” after the U.S. posted a record of more than 120,000 new Covid-19 infections on Thursday.

Still, she said a narrow bill “doesn’t appeal to me at all.” The chambers of Congress failed to find common ground on relief before the election, as Senate Republicans tried to pass a $500 billion aid bill and House Democrats approved a $2.2 trillion package.

Areas of disagreement between the parties included state and local government aid, enhanced unemployment insurance and liability protections for businesses.

Democrats will keep control of the House next Congress, though they will likely lose seats, according to NBC News. Pelosi is expected to serve as speaker for at least one more term.

McConnell said earlier this week that he hopes to pass more relief money before the end of the year. How the results of the presidential election will shape President Donald Trump’s desire to approve a bill during the lame duck session remains to be seen.

Though key unresolved states are too close to call in the presidential election, Democrat Joe Biden narrowly leads Trump in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada, according to NBC News. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., appeared with Pelosi on Friday and suggested a Biden presidency would give Democrats more leverage in aid talks.

Economists and policymakers, including Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, have warned the economic recovery could lose steam if Congress does not pass more fiscal stimulus. Policies buoying those still unemployed, including supplemental jobless benefits and a federal moratorium on evictions, expired earlier this year.

Suspension of federal student loan interest will expire at the end of the year.



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Government scientists push back on Trump’s agenda



And Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator who no longer sees Trump regularly, travels the country urging state and local officials to adopt mask mandates, close down bars and restrict large gatherings — measures antithetical to Trump’s contention that the virus has been defeated and people should return to their lives.

The officials taking these stands have been emboldened by a worsening pandemic, an adrift White House and growing indications that Trump’s first term may be his last, say several administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss these issues.

“We’re really fighting to get the right information out and to get people to understand what needs to be done,” said one senior health agency official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “None of us at the agencies are wavering on that, I can assure you. We’re definitely at a place where we know what we want to do, we know how we’re going to do it, and we’re going to stick to it.”

Several administration officials described an unfocused White House, saying the coronavirus task force has fewer meetings, and Trump spends little time now thinking about how to handle the virus — instead mocking it at political rallies. Many of the administration’s top doctors, including Birx, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, are beside themselves over the growing influence of presidential adviser Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no infectious-disease experience whose disputed views about herd immunity have gained currency with Trump, the officials said.

Birx has argued fiercely with Atlas in task force meetings, challenging his assertions of a receding threat from the pandemic by bringing charts and graphs demonstrating otherwise, according to two people familiar with the situation who requested anonymity to reveal private discussions. She has also insisted that the scientists Atlas often cites are outliers on issues ranging from masks to whether herd immunity is an effective strategy.

The White House insisted Trump continues to listen to all of his medical and health advisers.

“President Trump relies on the advice and counsel of all of his top health officials every day and any suggestion that their role is being diminished is just false,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere. “For months in the midst of a global pandemic, the media has celebrated large gatherings of so-called ‘peaceful protesters’ some of whom have burned down, looted, and rioted in cities across the country. It can’t be the case that one group is allowed to assemble but those who support President Trump are not.”

With the election days away, scientists and agency heads are also focused on trying to preserve the integrity of their agencies during a potentially unstable and critical lame-duck period — and in some cases burnish their own tarnished reputations for a post-Trump era, say agency insiders and outside experts.

“I think each person has their own kind of breaking point, where you can give the president the benefit of the doubt to a certain point but then there comes a point of no return,” said Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease doctor and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. “It becomes futile to try to make things work.”

The scientists’ efforts to set their own agendas could be short-lived, however. Many of the people overseeing the pandemic response are expected to change even if Trump wins reelection. CDC Director Robert Redfield is likely to leave, or be asked to resign shortly after the election, no matter the result, according to several senior administration officials. He has always said he planned to step down at the end of this term, regardless of the election’s outcome.

Rumors are also rife that FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn may be asked to leave or quit, and the future of their direct boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, remains uncertain if Trump were to win a second term. Some senior career scientists are also considering a departure if Trump is reelected, according to officials who talked on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue.

How big a difference the scientists’ pushbacks make in the larger pandemic response is unclear. Some public health officials say the changes have been too little, too late — and fall far short of repairing the erosion of public trust caused by a White House that has devalued scientific expertise during a pandemic that has claimed more than 228,000 lives in the United States. Some have urged the CDC’s Redfield to take more dramatic steps to spotlight the interference — for instance, to quit as he released all of his correspondence showing how the White House has pressured the agency to change public health guidance.

“Trust is the cornerstone to a response,” said Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean of Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “When you lose trust, you are essentially crippled.”

Much of the focus has been on Hahn and the CDC’s Redfield, both of whom Trump has excoriated on Twitter and in public briefings. For months, they have faced pressure not only from him and top White House aides, but also from Azar, who has criticized both subordinates to Trump and his staff, and blamed them for numerous missteps in the response. People close to Hahn and Redfield said the result has been an extraordinarily difficult work environment.

Critics of Hahn and Redfield say they made mistakes on handling the pandemic and gave into White House pressure, angering career scientists and outside experts. Their lack of experience also was a problem, these experts said.

A senior administration official noted Azar “has high standards for anyone who works with or under him, and he holds people accountable.” HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said Azar has briefed Trump alongside the government’s top doctors.

At odds with the White House

Within the CDC, much of the pushback has come from career scientists fed up with the White House’s repeated blocking or watering down of guidelines that tell the public how to minimize the risk of getting sick.

At times, Redfield, a former Army physician, has backed them — for instance, when he reversed course in September on heavily criticized guidelines for coronavirus testing for asymptomatic individuals imposed this summer by the White House coronavirus task force. Redfield sought the reversal after an outcry from experts who said the new guidelines would have resulted in less testing of people believed to be a major source of spread, according to an agency official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal deliberations.

Last week, the CDC also took another step at odds with the White House agenda by expanding the number of people at risk of contracting the coronavirus by changing the definition of who is a “close contact” of an infected individual. The move could make it more difficult for schools and workplaces to reopen, a top Trump priority.

CDC civil servants also refused to sign off on an HHS request to endorse the use of hotels to house migrant children to protect them from the spread of the coronavirus. The request was sent to Redfield, and it is not known whether he will sign the declaration himself. In the spring, when White House officials asked the CDC to produce a public health justification for sweeping border controls, career officials balked but Redfield agreed.

And career staff describe being frustrated about the time they’ve spent responding to data requests from the White House and HHS to demonstrate the United States is doing better than other countries — and then having to refute the White House’s misinterpretations of that data, according to one official. When staff have pushed back, saying the data comparisons don’t show U.S. superiority, they’ve been asked to redo them — comparing the United States to Europe as a whole, for instance, rather than to individual countries. Even so, the United States looked worse in comparison, one official said.

Redfield was not available to comment. Oakley said that the HHS “has never tried to force any conclusion on the CDC’s data and under President Trump, HHS has always provided public health information based on sound science. Throughout the covid-19 response, science and data have driven and will continue to drive the decisions at HHS.”

A turning point

Like Redfield, Hahn had no Washington experience when he was tapped to lead the FDA. The 60-year-old radiation oncologist, a former top official at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, was confirmed as FDA commissioner last December, just weeks before the pandemic hit. Initially, he seemed to enjoy going to the White House and getting attaboys for prodding a supposedly sluggish agency, according to three senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk on the issue.

“He was star-struck,” one of the officials said.

But Hahn took heavy criticism this spring after his agency granted, then revoked, emergency clearance for hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug touted as a “game-changer” by Trump but later found to be ineffective and potentially dangerous for covid-19 patients. In August, he was roundly denounced by outside experts after he sharply exaggerated the benefits of convalescent plasma at a White House news conference to announce the FDA’s authorization of the treatment.

He called Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, who had written a blistering column about his missteps and called on Hahn to resign. The FDA chief was “quite distraught, there was deep pain,” Topol said of their conversation. Based on that and subsequent discussions, Topol said he now has confidence Hahn will protect career scientists deciding whether and when a coronavirus vaccine should be made available.

Many believe Hahn’s disastrous handling of the convalescent plasma announcement was a turning point for him.

“The convalescent plasma experience was very painful,” said a senior administration health official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. “He’s always seen himself as a good doctor. … You get the sense he felt like he was letting his patient down.”

“If you are sitting where Hahn is, you are weighing having the president and the president’s people pissed off at you versus your reputation and place in history,” said Robert Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco who has known Hahn from the 1980s, when they were co-chief residents at UCSF. “There aren’t many bigger and more important decisions than the vaccine. That is the central issue right now, the game-changer.”

FDA career officials have also stepped up to insist on an independent vaccine process, worried the politicization of the issue would drive down public acceptance of the eventual product. In August, Peter Marks, the FDA official who oversees vaccines, said he would resign if the administration cleared a coronavirus vaccine that was not ready. Earlier this week, he wrote a column for USA Today pledging that any authorized vaccine will be safe and effective. It’s highly unusual for senior FDA career staff to go public to try to rebuild trust in their agency.

Hahn has also tried to shield FDA employees from White House pressure on vaccines and treatments, directing the president’s aides to call him, not career officials, according to agency insiders.

“He has become more clear-eyed about the traps that can be set for him and realizes that if he walks into them, it’s not just him — it’s also the agency and it affects big issues like public trust,” a senior health agency official said. “I give him credit for being more thoughtful about the position of the agency and trying to build a wall” around career staff.

That said, another senior health official said Hahn’s transformation should not be overstated. “He’s an accidental hero,” said the official, who credited Hahn for making changes in the communications office after the convalescent plasma incident. Before that, he said, HHS was getting reports of internal FDA activities, “creating incredible chaos.”

Robert Califf, an FDA commissioner during the Obama administration, noted the commissioner’s job is largely to buffer the career officials from political pressures. “Perhaps,” he said, “Hahn has finally figured that out.”

An FDA spokesman said the agency “has been collaborating with all levels of government through well-established coordination channels, including HHS and the White House,” which continue to support the agency’s career professionals. He also said Hahn enjoys a good relationship with Azar and speaks with him regularly.

‘The least use of masks’

The other doctors on the White House task force have also become more forceful advocates of steps they see as crucial to combating the virus in the growing number of hot spots enveloping the country. Always outspoken, Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, has become blunter still, saying the surging infections might require a national mask mandate and warning against the controversial strategy pushed by Atlas that healthy people should go about their lives and not worry about spreading the virus to the more vulnerable.

“He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in,” Fauci said of Atlas.

Birx, a longtime associate of Fauci’s, started traveling to states a few months ago and, after Atlas arrived, ramped up her efforts to help states and localities in the throes of the pandemic. In the “doctors’ group” — a subset of the task force she started months ago — Birx, Fauci, Redfield and Hahn discuss the latest developments and what messages should be sent to states and localities. She delivers them frequently in regional television and radio appearances.

“Over the last 24 hours, as we were here and we were in your grocery stores and in your restaurants and frankly, even in your hotels, this is the least use of masks that we have seen in retail establishments of any place we have been,” Birx told reporters Monday, according to The Bismarck Tribune.

A White House official described Birx’s work is part of the administration’s so-called “Embers Strategy,” which presumes there are small outbreaks across the country that need to be stamped out, even as new daily infections approach a record 100,000.



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U.S. Government and Tech Firms Push Back on Russia (and Trump)


Over the past two weeks, United States Cyber Command and a group of companies led by Microsoft have engaged in an aggressive campaign against a suspected Russian network that they feared could hold election systems hostage come November.

Then, on Monday, the Justice Department indicted members of the same elite Russian military unit that hacked the 2016 election for hacking the French elections, cutting power to Ukraine and sabotaging the opening ceremony at the 2018 Olympics. And in Silicon Valley, tech giants including Facebook, Twitter and Google have been sending out statements every few days advertising how many foreign influence operations they have blocked, all while banning forms of disinformation in ways they never imagined even a year ago.

It is all intended to send a clear message that whatever Russia is up to in the last weeks before Election Day, it is no hoax. The goal, both federal officials and corporate executives say, is to disrupt Russia’s well-honed information-warfare systems, whether they are poised to hack election systems, amplify America’s political fissures or get inside the minds of voters.

But behind the scenes is a careful dance by members of the Trump administration to counter the president’s own disinformation campaign, one that says the outcome on Nov. 3 will be “rigged” unless he wins.

So while President Trump continues to dismiss the idea of Russian intervention, a combination of administration and industry officials are pushing a different narrative: that U.S. intelligence agencies, Facebook, Twitter, Google and others are avoiding the mistakes of four years ago, when they all had their radars off.

But there is also no assurance it will work.

“We don’t like to admit it, but the Russians may not be deterrable,” said James A. Lewis, the director of the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “How far do we have to go? Is this far enough? We are still scoping that out.”

Keep up with Election 2020

No one will be able to assess the effectiveness of the counteroffensive until after Election Day, when Washington circulates the cyberequivalent of battle-damage reports. But even now there are reasons to question whether the efforts to take on Russia, some of which began in the 2018 midterm elections, have been too timid.

It is hardly a coincidence that the indictments announced on Monday against hackers with Russia’s G.R.U. were unsealed 15 days before the election. But it is unclear what deterrent effect indictments can have when the G.R.U.’s officers are unlikely to ever see the inside of an American courtroom.

One of the hackers named in the indictment was previously charged with hacking U.S. election administrators four years ago. That did not stop him from a brazen hack on the country of Georgia last year. Likewise, even after Russia was outed for hacking the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, that apparently did nothing to dissuade it from hacking the postponed 2020 Tokyo games, British officials revealed Monday.

John P. Carlin, the former assistant attorney general for national security who developed much of the Justice Department’s strategy for indicting foreign hackers, and later wrote about it in the book “Dawn of the Code War,” said Mr. Trump’s denial of what happened four years ago gave Russia lots of leeway.

“The details in the indictment are stunning and reveal Russian operatives at the direction of the state attacking the whole world,” he said, adding that “the conspicuous absence of leadership from President Trump” on the issue was all the more striking given the efforts “to expose and disrupt this activity.”

“These attacks on countries and civilian behavior won’t stop until the commander-in-chief calls it out and works with the rest of the victimized world to deter future indiscriminate attacks,” Mr. Carlin said.

If the indictments are the public face of the offensive against the Russians, the effort to dismantle Trickbot — a vast network of infected computers used by ransomware groups — is the more covert element.

Late last month, the military’s Cyber Command started neutralizing Trickbot with a series of attacks. Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit secured federal court orders to shut down Trickbot’s infrastructure around the world.

On Tuesday, Microsoft said the operation had been largely successful. It has taken down over 90 percent of Trickbot’s command-and-control servers. The idea is to keep the Russians on the run, so distracted that they are unable to use those systems for ransomware attacks that could hold the election hostage.

“These guys are really good and really move fast, and we knew they would react to rebuild their systems,” said Tom Burt, the Microsoft executive who is running the team. “We were prepared to follow them, and tear down whatever they build up.”

But as Cyber Command and Microsoft were taking aim at Trickbot, a new hacking threat emerged.

Over the past two months, a different group of Russian hackers — known as “Energetic Bear” or “Dragonfly,” and believed to be operating within the country’s Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., the successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B. — has been targeting American state and local networks, according to government and private security researchers.

Their goal is still unclear, but the timing — so close to the election — and the actor, which was previously caught hacking American nuclear, water, and electric plants, has sent alarm bells ringing at Cyber Command and at security firms like FireEye. CyberScoop earlier published details of a leaked FireEye report on the campaign on Tuesday.

Officials worry that even if those hacks do not amount to much, the Russians’ very presence inside U.S. state and local systems could be used to support the president’s baseless allegations that the election is “rigged.”

That was part of the motivation behind an unusual nine-minute video posted online this month — titled “Safeguarding Your Vote”— featuring senior American law enforcement, intelligence and cybersecurity officials.

“We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections or criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election,” Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, assured voters.

Mr. Wray and his counterparts have been contradicted at every turn by the president, who continues to assail mail-in voting as an avenue for fraud, for which there is no evidence. Mr. Trump’s claims are often amplified by the Russians, whose main interest is to cast doubt about the credibility of free elections.

“Trump has been a godsend to Russia,” Mr. Lewis said.

In Silicon Valley, executives believe a “perception hack” may pose the greatest threat to the election and have been mounting their own counternarrative.

Facebook, Twitter and Google have all talked up coordination with one another and the government. The companies were credited, with Cisco’s Talos cybersecurity unit, as having played a role in the indictments of the six G.R.U. officers announced on Monday.

Twitter has talked up its takedown of state-backed influence campaigns from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Cuba and Iran, and has slapped more overt warning messages on tweets that violate its policies, including those from the president.

Facebook has advertised its takedowns of foreign influence campaigns from China and the Philippines and 300 Russian assets. It has also lowered its tolerance for disinformation.

After years of allowing Holocaust deniers a place on its platform, Facebook started censoring that content this month and stepping up its crackdown of QAnon, which promotes a conspiracy that the world is run by Satan-worshiping pedophiles plotting against Mr. Trump.

The question is whether these efforts, so late in the election cycle, will have the intended effect, since the president has already primed his supporters, and others, to distrust the “fake news,” the “deep state” and now, the election.



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Report further details Trump’s push for favored company to get wall contract


The report says that finding out one day in March 2019 that Fisher Sand and Gravel wasn’t in the running, Trump “exploded into a tirade,” the report said. Completely ignoring advice that the shit he was pulling was highly inappropriate, “pressure continued” against officials, including “a handwritten note from the president, an email from his personal secretary and calls from his son-in-law, Jared Kushner,” 60 Minutes continued. “Fisher Sand and Gravel was awarded the single largest border wall contract, $1.3 billion.”

Adding to this mess, because there’s always more mess when it comes to this administration: since being awarded with massive federal funding, engineering experts have said that some of the private wall that Fisher Sand and Gravel infamously built with funding from the “We Build the Wall” scam that has now resulted in the arrest of former Trump official Steve Bannon is basically on the verge of collapse in the Rio Grande.

Jeremy Schwartz and Perla Trevizo reported for ProPublica and The Texas Tribune that one report found “concrete cracking, construction flaws and what the firm concluded was likely substandard construction material below the fence’s foundation.” On a project not even a year old in completion. A University of Texas at El Paso engineering professor who reviewed that report told Schwartz and Trevizo that “[i]t seems like they are cutting corners everywhere.”

“Company president Tommy Fisher, a frequent guest on Fox News, had called the Rio Grande fence the ‘Lamborghini’ of border walls,” Schwartz and Trevizo wrote. “It’s not a Lamborghini, it’s a $500 used car,” the engineering professor continued. Who’s paying for that lemon? We are!

“Fisher Sand and Gravel has a checkered past,” 60 Minutes continued. “In 2009, the company admitted to tax fraud. They’ve racked up thousands of environmental and safety violations in six states, and almost $2 million in fines.” It’s the kind of shit that House Committee on Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson said could have ruled the company out of any federal consideration. “But they weren’t,” he told 60 Minutes. “The president made no bones about his support for Fisher. And—and guess what? Fisher got the contract. It speaks for itself.”

Frank Sharry, executive director immigrant rights advocacy group America’s Voice, said that “Trump’s wall and this scandal captures so much of what’s wrong with his presidency. It’s a stupid idea anchored in white grievance and rank racism,” he said. “He promised that Mexico would pay for the wall when U.S. taxpayers are paying, which, in light of yesterday’s New York Times revelations that Trump doesn’t really pay taxes means he’s not even contributing to this project as a taxpayer. Meanwhile, he continues to lie at his rallies that Mexico is paying for it. They are not. … The border wall epitomizes Trump’s presidency: built on racism, corruption, lies, scandal and incompetence, it’s falling apart before our very eyes.”





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Black Microbiologists Push for Visibility Amid a Pandemic


A few days before her fifth-grade science fair, Ariangela Kozik awoke to the overwhelming scent of poultry past its due. It was exactly what the young scientist had been hoping for.

“Whew,” she recalled thinking at the time. “There is definitely something growing in here.”

She rushed into her kitchen, where a neat stack of glass Petri dishes awaited her, each filled with a gelatinous brown disk made of beef broth and sugar. Atop many of the cow-based concoctions was a smattering of what looked like shiny, cream-colored pimples. Each was a fast-ballooning colony, teeming with millions and millions of bacteria, including several from the swab of raw chicken juice she had dabbed on three days before.

Dr. Kozik, then just 11, had set up an experiment to determine what brand of dish soap was best at killing bacteria. (The answer: Joy dishwashing liquid.) But her results yielded an even bigger reward: a lifelong love of microbes, exquisitely small organisms with an outsize impact on the world.

“It felt like I had just discovered a new form of life,” said Dr. Kozik, who is now a researcher at the University of Michigan, where she studies microbes that live in human lungs. “It was so cool.”

Two decades later, Dr. Kozik still considers her science fair project, for which she won first place, one of her first formal forays into the field of microbiology. In the months after her experiment, she devoured every book she could find on the topic, until she had worn her parents down with endless chatter about infectious disease. About 10 years later, she was on track toward a Ph.D., which she earned in 2018. And on Monday, she kicks off Black in Microbiology Week, the latest in a series of virtual events highlighting Black scientists in a variety of disciplines, as one of its two lead organizers.

Like earlier, similar events, Black in Microbiology Week will be hosted entirely through virtual platforms like Twitter and Zoom. The event will feature seven days of talks, panels and online discussions, spanning a range of topics under the microbiology umbrella, including the coronavirus, and addressing disparities in medicine, education and career advancement. Everything is free and accessible to the public, and will be live-captioned. Registration is required to attend.

“This is really a chance to welcome new voices and amplify those that have not been heard,” said Michael D. L. Johnson, a microbiologist and immunologist at the University of Arizona who will take part in Friday’s Black in Bacteriology panel.

The team at the helm of the event, headed by Dr. Kozik and virologist Kishana Taylor, numbers 23, most of whom are Black women. They have partnered with sponsors such as the American Society for Microbiology, the American Society for Virology and scientific journals eLife and PLoS Biology that will help compensate speakers and organizers and keep the group afloat as it seeks nonprofit status. A Twitter account dedicated to the event has garnered thousands of followers. Dr. Kozik and Dr. Taylor said that they expected interest to grow, and are already brainstorming how to keep the momentum going after the campaign has formally concluded.

“Black in Microbiology, Black in Neuro and all the others are pivotal for visibility to younger generations of scientists and to people who have said or thought that this talent pool just does not exist,” said Kizzmekia Corbett, a viral immunologist at the National Institutes of Health, where she is leading an effort to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus. Dr. Corbett will be one of four experts featured in Tuesday’s Black in Virology panel.

Black in Microbiology Week comes amid months of ongoing protests over police brutality and racial injustice, sparked by the recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor and other Black people.

The campaign also lands during a pandemic fueled by a deadly virus that has disproportionately impacted Black, Latino, Native and Indigenous people. Members of these groups are nearly three times as likely as their white neighbors to become infected by the coronavirus, and are hospitalized five times as often. Black people are more than twice as likely as white people to die from Covid-19.

Much of what underlies these trends can be traced back to systemic racism that has kept adequate information and medical care out of the hands of non-white groups. Decades of exploitation of Black and Indigenous communities by researchers have also eroded trust in medicine. Such rifts could widen existing health disparities as new coronavirus tests, treatments and, eventually, vaccines roll out at breakneck pace.

On Tuesday, Dr. Johnson fielded a call from his aunt, who expressed skepticism about forthcoming coronavirus vaccines. But the conversation ended on a positive note, he said, because she trusted his expertise: “She said, ‘If you tell me to take it, I’ll take it.’”

Bolstering the ranks of the Black microbiology community could go a long way toward mending some of these rifts, said Taylor Smith, a technologist at the Georgia Public Health Laboratory, where she has helped perform up to thousands of coronavirus tests each day. “Even more so now, there is a need for Black scientists at the forefront” of the pandemic, she said. That visibility, she added, can communicate, “I understand why you might be apprehensive, but we’re here doing this work too, and you can trust us.”

Despite years of progress, Black people continue to be underrepresented in science and engineering. Whereas more than 13 percent of the United States’ population identifies as Black or African-American, Black people make up less than 7 percent of students who earn bachelor’s degrees in science or engineering fields and less than 5 percent of people granted doctorates in microbiology each year, according to the National Science Foundation.

The number of Black scientists has “been largely stagnant over the past decade,” said Johnna Frierson, assistant dean of graduate and postdoctoral diversity and inclusion at the Duke University School of Medicine. In some fields, representation has even begun to decline — a trend that has worried experts. “There’s something in the system that is not optimized in order for us to continue diversifying in the way we hope to,” Dr. Frierson said. A former virologist, she will participate in a panel on Monday focused on education disparities in the Black community.

Dr. Taylor, whose work at Carnegie Mellon University centers on the new coronavirus, first began pursuing a career in infectious disease in college, some 15 years ago. But it wasn’t until a year and a half ago that she met another Black female virologist — Chelsey Spriggs, Black in Microbiology’s sponsorship team lead and a virologist at the University of Michigan. It was such a stunning moment that the two women snapped a picture together and put it on Twitter.

“Sometimes I feel like you internalize that there’s just not that many of us, we’re not that visible,” Dr. Kozik said. “It’s hard to explain what it means to know I’m not the only one out here in the world.”

LaNell Williams, one of Black in Microbiology’s programming team leads and a Ph.D. student at Harvard University, studies physics and virology, straddling two fields in which Black women are extraordinarily scarce. During her time at Harvard — a wealthy institution in a progressive community — she has dealt with colleagues who have touched her hair without permission, dismissed her admission to her graduate program as affirmative action and used racial slurs in her presence. Over the years, she said, “I’ve gotten used to people not expecting much of me when I walk into a room.”

At the University of Georgia, Dr. Taylor was the only Black doctoral student in her department. Her love for science was sparked early, by films like “Flipper” and “Free Willy,” which instilled “an obsession” with dolphins and other cetaceans, she said. After initially pursuing studies in veterinary medicine, she stumbled into the world of infectious disease and was instantly hooked.

Dr. Taylor said she aims to start her own laboratory someday, focused on the intersection of humans, animals, disease and the environment — intricately connected factors that can each tip the scales toward an infectious outbreak. But by the end of her Ph.D., years of toxic interactions with colleagues who pelted her with criticism and condescension had pushed her to the brink. “I was super ready to leave science,” she said. “‘Everything you do is terrible’ played over and over in my head.”

Mentorship from new advisers in her postdoctoral fellowships helped change that, Dr. Taylor said. But ever since, she has fought to ensure the same thing won’t happen to another student in her position. Championing her fellow Black microbiologists, she said, is a step toward that.

“I think a lot of the message is, ‘We are here,’” said Dr. Johnson, who also leads an outreach program to connect Black, Indigenous and other undergraduate students of color to academic mentors.

In 2014, during his postdoctoral fellowship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Dr. Johnson gave a public talk on one of his favorite topics: how copper affects microbes. He was floored when a Black woman from the audience approached him afterward. Her comment wasn’t about microbiology — at least, not directly.

“They said, ‘My kid wants to be a scientist, I didn’t know a scientist could look like you,’” he said. “Breaking through to those communities is important. I think this week will be a wonderful contribution to that.”





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A Push to Return U.K.’s ‘Motor City’ to Its Cycling Roots


COVENTRY, England — Through leafy suburban streets, then up and over a narrow bridge, the path for cyclists heading north into Coventry seems smooth and easy until it ends abruptly — at a busy four-lane “ring road” with no on ramp.

Here, as cars roar by, the choice is stark: Get off your bike and navigate a grimy pedestrian underpass, or head home.

As with Detroit, Coventry’s 20th-century development was shaped by automobile manufacturing, and although those factories have vanished, the road network is what you might expect of Britain’s “motor city.”

Now cyclists are fighting back with a campaign that blends arguments about health, the environment, the coronavirus pandemic — and history.

“If you look at the health crisis, the air quality crisis, the obesity crisis, the Covid crisis — time and time again the bicycle shows it has a real part to play,” said Adam Tranter, a bicycling advocate born and raised in Coventry, a city whose topography he says has left cyclists in the slow lane.

“The message it conveys,” he said, “is that Coventry is for cars and the only way for people to engage with their city is to drive, which is a bit bonkers really.”

That is especially so, he says, because before it became Britain’s car capital, this city of around 360,000 people in the middle of England made bicycles.

It was the technological know-how from bicycle making that gave Coventry an edge in motor vehicles.

Close to the four-lane ring road, which encircles the city, stands a statue of James Starley, with an inscription describing him as the inventor of the bicycle.

That may be an exaggeration, but Starley, a 19th-century employee of the Coventry Sewing Machine Company, is credited with improving the design of the velocipede, the infamous “boneshaker” famed for its large front wheel. His nephew, John Kemp Starley, developed the Rover Safety Bicycle, the basic design of which would be familiar to modern cyclists.

And Coventry was where it happened.

Building on that legacy is one objective of Mr. Tranter, Coventry’s first “bicycle mayor.” This is not an elected post but a title created by a Dutch nonprofit organization, BYCS. As the head of a public relations firm, Mr. Tranter has seen the opportunity and has the endorsement of Chris Hoy, a British Olympic gold-medal-winning cyclist.

His timing is good, too.

Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, wants to encourage cycling to cut obesity, one of the risk factors connected to Covid-19. (Mr. Johnson contracted the virus himself, spent time in intensive care and has spoken about being overweight).

With the government hoping to limit crowds on trains and buses to maintain social distancing in the pandemic, and anxious to reduce carbon emissions, many see cycling as a part of the future.

In Coventry it is also a big part of the past.

On a cycling tour of the city, Mr. Tranter pointed to a hotel that was once the Quinton bicycle works, which was built in 1890 and later became a center of motorbike and automobile manufacturing. Nearby is the distinctive, if dilapidated, former Challenge Cycle works, now likely to be converted into apartments.

They are a reminder of how by the 1890s the cycling industry was Coventry’s biggest employer, with 4,000 workers at 77 companies making bikes and their parts.

“Coventry was the center of bicycle making,” said Carlton Reid, an author and transport historian. “That’s why it became the Detroit of the U.K. All the capital was there, all the know-how, the machinery. The technology from the bicycle was transferred across to car making.”

In Coventry in 1905, the Rudge factory built a record 1,369 bicycles in one day. But companies like Rover and Triumph started experimenting with motorcycles and cars. By 1913, the city had around 20 auto manufacturers, including Daimler, Humber, Swift and Standard.

And when the car became king, the city forgot the cyclist.

“It’s an irony that Coventry is so bicycle unfriendly, because originally bicycles were made there,” Mr. Reid said. “It’s a nightmare,” he said, adding, “I wouldn’t encourage anyone to cycle in Coventry.”

That, he says, reflects poor urban planning and changes resulting from World War II, when the German Air Force bombed the city in 1940.

The attack destroyed the city’s cathedral (the remains of which were left unreconstructed alongside a modern replacement), and planners went on to rebuild the city’s modern core with the “ring road” around it. Little more than 2 miles long, it took more than a decade to construct and cost 14.5 million British pounds ($19 million) on completion in 1974.

It was a statement of postwar Coventry’s faith in the car. By the 1950s, Britain had the world’s second largest car-making industry, and Coventry produced more than 370,000 vehicles in the three years starting in 1962.

But the British auto industry declined badly after that, and by the early 1980s the city’s unemployment rate had soared to 17 percent. Despite a mini-revival in the 1990s, Coventry’s last big assembly plant closed in 2006.

The city’s transport museum illustrates this rich history with exhibits ranging from 19th-century bicycles to record-breaking racing cars.

But Joy Corcec, a museum spokeswoman, acknowledged that the combustion engine had made life tough for the city’s cyclists.

“Every time I see someone on a bicycle heading to the ring road, I think they are insane,” she said.

Outside, Harry Gearing, a cyclist who dons a video camera on his bike helmet, said that there were “too many cars on the road, and some of them don’t care about cyclists.” His camera, which he bought after a head-on collision that left him in intensive care for four days, deters only some bad drivers, he said.

“I had a broken hip, a broken leg, a broken foot and a fractured collarbone,” Mr. Gearin said in recalling the collision. “A neurosurgeon drilled holes into the back of my neck to relieve pressure on the brain.”

At Coventry’s city hall, Jim O’Boyle, a local councilor with responsibility for jobs and regeneration, said the figures did not suggest that the city was worse for cyclists than comparable places are. From 2017 to 2019, there were two fatal, 63 serious and 209 slight accidents involving cyclists.

Mr. O’Boyle wants to encourage cyclists but also to balance economic and social needs. He worked in Coventry’s last big car factory, Ryton, until its closure in 2006, and the city values its continuing connection to the auto industry.

Jaguar Land Rover still employs 6,000 people here at a headquarters and engineering center. Coventry has invested in electric car charging points and hopes to have a big future in battery making. (It hosts the U.K. Battery Industrialization Center, a research facility.)

“There are a whole range of things we are doing,” Mr. O’Boyle said. “I am a big fan of cycling, but we have to see it in the round. Yes, we want to give people choice, yes we want to get people fitter, but it is about a green industrial revolution and that is happening in Coventry because there are jobs” in the auto industry of the future.

That is unlikely to satisfy those who want to make it easier to cycle short journeys and reclaim parts of their city for pedestrians and cyclists.

Mr. Tranter said his mission was to widen the appeal of the bicycle beyond “the middle-aged man in Lycra,” and to learn from the cycle-friendly policies of cities in the Netherlands.

After all, he added, “no one ever comes back from Amsterdam and says, ‘Oh, I had a really nice time, but I wish there were more cars.’”



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George Soros’s Foundation Pours $220 Million Into Racial Equality Push


The Open Society Foundations, the philanthropic group founded by the business magnate George Soros, announced on Monday that it was investing $220 million in efforts to achieve racial equality in America, a huge financial undertaking that will support several Black-led racial justice groups for years to come.

The initiative, which comes amid national protests for racial equality and calls for police reform ignited by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, will immediately reshape the landscape of Black political and civil rights organizations, and signals the extent to which race and identity have become the explicit focal point of American politics in recent years, with no sign of receding. Mr. Soros, who has at times faced smears and anti-Semitism over his role as a liberal megadonor, is also positioning his foundation near the forefront of the protest movement.

Of the $220 million, the foundation will invest $150 million in five-year grants for selected groups, including progressive and emerging organizations like the Black Voters Matter Fund and Repairers of the Breach, a group founded by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II of the Poor People’s Campaign. The money will also support more established Black political organizations like the Equal Justice Initiative, which was founded by the civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson and depicted in the 2019 movie “Just Mercy.”

The Open Society Foundations will invest an additional $70 million in local grants supporting changes to policing and criminal justice. This money will also be used to pay for opportunities for civic engagement and to organize internships and political training for young people.

Patrick Gaspard, the president of the Open Society Foundations, said in an interview that the group believed the investment was about harnessing the momentum toward racial justice, but also giving organizations room to think long-term. Now, he said, is “the moment we’ve been investing in for the last 25 years.”

“There is this call for justice in Black and brown communities, an explosion of not just sympathy but solidarity across the board,” Mr. Gaspard said. “So it’s time to double down. And we understood we can place a bet on these activists — Black and white — who see this as a moment of not just incrementalism, but whole-scale reform.”

“The demands being made now will not be met overnight, and we know the gaze of media and elected officials will turn in other directions,” he added. “But we need these moments to be sustained. If we’re going to say ‘Black lives matter,’ we need to say ‘Black organizations and structures matter.’”

Even before Monday’s announcement, progressive groups, Democratic candidates and racial justice organizations had been flooded with small-dollar donations, breaking giving records and allowing former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as well as House and Senate candidates to post eye-popping fund-raising numbers. It is the convergence of an election year in which Democrats are desperate to defeat President Trump with an extraordinary protest movement that has pushed many to action, changing public opinion among white Americans and ideological moderates in the process.

But in making the grants last for five years, Open Society’s leaders said, the organization is freeing groups to think beyond the current moment. Heather McGhee, who is on the foundation’s domestic board and has been on recent calls informing groups of their new grants, said the five-year commitments let leaders feel “they could breathe and they can focus on the strategy and the work.” The calls have been emotional, she said, as groups that have long felt marginalized by mainstream philanthropy find out their work will be sustained and supported.

“It frees up time and ensures that once the corporations stop putting up statements and small-dollar donations stop, they can keep fighting this fight,” Ms. McGhee said. “If you take the blinders of racism off, of course you should be investing in Black leadership — and these organizations shouldn’t be worrying about money.”

This not the first effort by Mr. Soros or his foundation to target racial inequality, though it is the most expansive. In 1994, Mr. Soros started Open Society’s domestic work with a focus on criminal justice reform. He has also aimed philanthropic efforts at historically marginalized groups abroad, a nod to his own experience as a Jewish person who survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary. In recent years, Mr. Soros has become a favorite target of some conservatives and right-wing groups, which have sometimes used anti-Semitic tropes to try to recast his giving as an effort to seek world influence.

Between the local grants and the millions for Black-led organizations, however, Mr. Soros and his foundation have helped answer the question of whether the social justice groups that have dominated the current moment are here to stay.

Alexander Soros, who serves alongside his father as the deputy chair of Open Society, said in a statement that the new investment was a response to a time “for urgent and bold action.”

“These investments will empower proven leaders in the Black community to reimagine policing, end mass incarceration and eliminate the barriers to opportunity that have been the source of inequity for too long,” he said.



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Stacey Abrams and Andrew Yang announce push to provide direct cash payments to families on food stamps



The announcement comes as shutdown measures across the country to combat the coronavirus pandemic have put millions of Americans out of work and closed schools, which for millions of low-income students provide free or reduced-priced meals.

The two Democrats unveiled the “Project 100” campaign, an effort organized by nonprofit GiveDirectly, software company Propel, and education advocacy group Stand for Children. The effort has already raised $55 million, the group announced Tuesday. The campaign also announced several celebrity backers, including Ariana Grande, Rihanna, Halsey, Stephen Colbert, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and others.

“The most economically vulnerable are struggling to survive, unable to afford groceries or medicines for their children, let alone cover utilities, car payments, and rent,” Abrams said.

Yang, who mounted his 2020 presidential campaign championing direct cash payments to Americans, says Project 100 is a “vital supplement” for families in need.

“You know, the government’s doing everything it can to help — that’s not actually not right, it should be doing more,” Yang, a CNN contributor, said in an interview Monday.

“Well, the Small Business Paycheck Protection Program ran out of money,” Yang said. “And right now, the people in institutions that are most directly connected to other banks who are able to process the federal payments, or in some cases are connected to the government itself, are in much better position to benefit than the folks who are receiving money through Project 100, or the small business operator or unemployed worker, who has been out of luck when they’ve gone to the SBA or their state unemployment office for benefits. So, we should be putting money directly into Americans hands. That’s something that we know would work.”

“This is a devastating time for millions of Americans and anyone with a capacity to help should be doing everything they can to help,” Yang added.

The announcement comes after a pilot effort by GiveDirectly and Propel delivered cash payments to 4,500 families in 21 states.

Jennifer Porter, who works part-time at a Kroger in Pontiac, Michigan, was one of those recipients. She heard about the campaign from her Fresh EBT app, which allows her to track her SNAP benefits online, and has already used the $1000 for groceries and car payments.

“I have friends that are still waiting on their unemployment payments,” Porter told CNN in an interview Monday, “who haven’t had any cash since this whole virus started. So, I know that, if this program continues, I know for a fact that it will be a help to a lot of other single mothers.”

The $2.2 trillion relief package passed through Congress at the end of March featured direct relief payment to individuals and provisions to address food insecurity for low-income families, but it did not expand eligibility or benefits for those on SNAP. Democrats have pushed for a 15% increase in SNAP funding in the next stimulus package, but a GOP leadership aide tells CNN that the increased funding will not be in the final package.

Direct payments from the coronavirus stimulus bill could take up to 20 weeks for Americans receiving benefits by mailed check, according to a House Democratic memo outlining the IRS’s response.

“Families across America struggling to put food on the table or make rent can’t wait for help and we aren’t waiting either,” Michael Faye, the CEO of GiveDirectly said in a statement released Tuesday. The campaign will specifically target families on SNAP still waiting to receive government stimulus checks and will disburse payments of $1,000 via the GiveDirectly direct donation platform.

UPDATE: This story, headline and photo has been updated to reflect that Sen. Cory Booker was not part of today’s announcement despite being listed by the organizers in an advance press release shared with CNN.

CNN’s Tami Luhby and Manu Raju contributed to this report.



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Michelle Obama’s voter registration group throws support behind mail-in voting push


“Americans should never have to choose between making their voices heard and keeping themselves and their families safe,” Obama said in a statement. “Expanding access to vote-by-mail, online voter registration and early voting are critical steps for this moment — and they’re long overdue.”

The effort backed by the former first lady comes as Democrats increase their calls for states to expand mail-in and early voting, while some Republicans have echoed President Donald Trump’s opposition to expanding the practice amid the coronavirus pandemic. The crisis has caused scores of large gatherings to be canceled or postponed, including primary contests, several of which have been pushed into the summer.

As the calls have increased, Trump has repeatedly dismissed the notion of a nationwide vote-by-mail system and falsely claimed that mail-in voting is the source of widespread voter fraud.

Obama’s statement, released by When We All Vote, a nonpartisan organization committed to voter registration she co-chairs, said, “there is nothing partisan about striving to live up to the promise of our country; making the democracy we all cherish more accessible; and protecting our neighbors, friends and loved ones as they participate in this cornerstone of American life.”

The Democratic legislation Obama and When We All Vote are putting their support behind seeks to put in place national standards for voting in this year’s presidential election and would require states to offer absentee voting to all voters, allow voters to request ballots electronically, and allow ballots to be requested up to five days before an election.

Virus may dash Trump's plan for a 'big bang' economic opening

The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020, introduced last month by Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, would ensure voters in all states have 20 days of early in-person voting and be able to vote by mail, regardless of the reason. The bill would also aim to “guarantee that all voter registration applications submitted by mail or online, up until and 21 days prior to Election Day, are deemed valid.”

Obama rarely publicly voices her political views, and this is the first time the organization has put their support behind any legislation. In previous years, Obama has urged Americans to participate in elections, including in 2018, when she said at an event that she is “sick of all the chaos and the nastiness of our politics,” but that the importance of voting still remains.
Already, at least one election has taken place during the pandemic, with voters in Wisconsin, many of them wearing face masks, participating in the state’s primary last week.

Republicans had insisted on keeping the election on schedule, and won two legal battles the day before it took place, with the state Supreme Court blocking Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ bid to delay it until June and the US Supreme Court reversing a lower court’s ruling that gave voters six extra days to return their ballots by mail.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect that When We All Vote revised its press release to say it is supporting the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act.

CNN’s Eric Bradner and Dan Merica contributed to this report.



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