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Trump Was Abruptly Escorted From a Briefing After a Shooting Near the White House

11 August, by COLLEEN LONG, MICHAEL BALSAMO and JONATHAN LEMIRE / AP[ —]

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump was abruptly escorted by a U.S. Secret Service agent out of the White House briefing room as he was beginning a coronavirus briefing Monday afternoon. He returned minutes later, saying there had been a “shooting” outside the White House that was “under control.”

“There was an actual shooting and somebody’s been taken to the hospital,” Trump said. The president said the shots were fired by law enforcement and that he believed the individual who was shot was armed. “It was the suspect who was shot,” Trump said.

Trump said he was escorted to the Oval Office by the agent. The White House was placed on lockdown following the incident.

The shooting occurred just before 6 p.m. after a 51-year-old man approached a uniformed Secret Service officer near 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue just blocks from the White House and told the officer he had a weapon, Tom Sullivan, chief of the Secret Service Uniformed Division, said Monday night.

The man then turned around and “ran aggressively toward the officer, and in a drawing motion, removed an object from his clothing,” Sullivan said. The suspect then “crouched into a shooter’s stance, as if about to fire a weapon” before the officer shot the man once in the torso, he said.

Sullivan would not answer any questions at a late-night news conference near the scene and did not say whether the suspect was armed.

Both the suspect and the officer were taken to the hospital. The District of Columbia fire department said the suspect suffered serious or possibly critical injuries. Sullivan released no information about the officer.

Law enforcement officials were still trying to determine the suspect’s motive and authorities were investigating whether he has a history of mental illness. The suspect’s name was not immediately released.

“At no time during this incident was the White House complex breached or were any protectees in danger,” Sullivan said. The shooting has prompted an internal review by the Secret Service and is also being investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department, a standard protocol.

Trump praised the work of Secret Service personnel for their work in keeping him safe. Asked if he was shaken by the incident, Trump asked reporters: “I don’t know. Do I seem rattled?”


The World Records Its 20 Millionth Case of COVID-19

11 August, by Jeffrey Kluger[ —]

There are a lot of ways to try to capture grim milestone the world crossed Monday night when it recorded its 20 millionth case of COVID-19. It’s two Swedens, four Irelands, 10 Slovenias. It’s greater than the entire population of the state of New York. The outbreak that began in Wuhan, China in December 2019 has now spread to 188 countries and regions, touching every continent but Antarctica.

The U.S. continues to lead the world in total cases, having crossed its own milestone—to 5 million—on August 9. Brazil comes next, with 3 million; followed by India at 2.2 million; Russia at 890,000; and South Africa, at 560,000. Global death tolls have now surpassed 732,000, led again by the U.S., at over 163,000.

Among the top 20 countries—a list which also includes Mexico, Peru, Spain, the United Kingdom and Pakistan—there are some small but encouraging signs. Five-day moving averages are trending down in 11 of those hard-hit spots, with the U.S. among those showing some faint improvement. But the remaining nine have all seen cases rise over the same period.

As with all pandemics, the increase in caseload has not remotely been linear, and instead is accelerating rapidly. It took from December until April 2 before one million cases were recorded worldwide. The number then took less than seven weeks to quintuple to 5 million cases, on May 20. The 10 million milestone was reached just over five weeks later, on June 28. On August 6, the world hit 19 million cases—and now it’s 20 million. Looked at another way, it took nearly four months for first million people to be diagnosed, but just 4 days to record the most recent million.

Slowing that trend depends on all of those 188 countries and regions doing their part to control their infection rate, but the majority of the responsibility lies with the big five countries to flatten their domestic curves. Within the U.S., the burden falls especially on the big three states—Texas, California and Florida, which together represent more than 40% of new domestic cases over the past 14 days—to put their coronavirus genie back in the bottle. At the current global rate, the 21 million mark will be reached before the weekend.


Trump’s Executive Order About U.S.-Made Drugs May Not Enhance Public Safety the Way It Should

10 August, by Katherine Eban[ —]

Pharmaceutical manufacturing has long been a dirty business.

The antibiotic-laced wastewater, and other pollutants it leaves behind, is just one of many reasons that so many American drug-manufacturing plants closed up over the last few decades and moved to places like Hyderabad, India, and China’s Zhejiang province, with their low labor costs and minimal regulations.

But drug manufacturing in those remote outposts has been dirty in another way, as I learned from a decade of reporting that culminated in my book Bottle of Lies: the Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom. The FDA’s own inspection records, as analyzed by FDAzilla, reveal that drug plants in China and India are more likely than those in the U.S. and Europe to manipulate data about quality to make substandard low-cost drugs appear compliant with good manufacturing practices, standards required for export into the U.S. and other developed markets.

On August 6, President Trump signed an executive order to encourage the federal government to buy American-made essential medicines. The goal—to rebuild America’s lost drug-manufacturing capacity—is critical. COVID-19, which has unleashed a global scramble for essential medicines, has crystallized the potential life-and-death consequences of our unhealthy dependence on low-cost generic drugs manufactured overseas. To date, amid a flurry of industry and legislative efforts, Trump’s order is the most high-profile effort to support “reshoring,” the return of drug manufacturing to the United States.

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On a first read, the executive order seems to tackle the most troubling aspects of our current system. It calls on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct more unannounced inspections of drug plants overseas, a tacit acknowledgement of a failed inspection system that has allowed companies operating abroad to prepare for pre-announced inspections, turning their plants into veritable charades of compliance. Falsified results have allowed generic drugs with toxic impurities and dangerous particulates, or that are not bioequivalent to brand-name drugs, to enter our supply.

The executive order also encourages advanced manufacturing techniques, a higher-tech form of manufacturing with a lighter environmental footprint.

But the executive order seems to miss an essential point: we shouldn’t trade low-quality drugs made at a distance for low-quality drugs made at home. In trying to ramp up domestic manufacturing, the order appears to open the door to a dangerous decline in quality. It allows the FDA to examine whether any existing regulations are a barrier to domestic production, and it also allows the Environmental Protection Agency to streamline regulations that might currently deter manufacturing but also serve to ensure public health safety and safeguard the environment.

The trade-off threatens to be a Faustian bargain: America can rebuild its domestic drug manufacturing but has to accept lagoons of antibiotic-laced effluent and low-quality generics replete with side effects and possible carcinogens in return. “It is a bad idea to say that it is more important to have drugs made domestically than it is to have drugs made with high quality,” says Mark Rosenberg, the CEO of Just Medicine Inc., a nonprofit aimed at increasing the supply of ethically made low-cost generics currently in short supply. “The way to level the playing field is not to just lower standards for domestic manufacturing.”

It remains unclear what kind of effect the executive order will have. Unlike other countries with nationalized health systems, where governments are the predominant pharmaceutical procurers, America’s federal government directly procures only a small percentage of medicine taken in the U.S., through the Veterans Health Administration and Department of Defense. To really restore U.S. drug manufacturing, says Rosenberg, there need to be incentives for the private sector that purchases medication to “actually value American-made.”

This is where the American consumer comes in. Most of us have little say in what kind of medicine we get. Many Americans receive their drugs in the mail from pharmacy benefit management companies, which make drug-purchasing decisions through an opaque system that relies on rebates. Or Americans go to big pharmacy chains whose buying decisions are guided by cost.

Though a manufacturer name usually appears on the dispensing label, there is no way for a consumer to know whether their drugs are made in North Carolina or Northern Punjab. Perhaps the best way to restore American pharmaceutical manufacturing—and to drive a “Buy American” revolution—is to give consumers the information so many of us want. Where are our drugs made, and under what conditions?

The executive order acknowledges that price is an issue: it states that federal procurers would be allowed to prioritize the purchase of American-made drugs that are up to one-quarter more expensive than foreign-made versions. But if employers or chain drugstores gave their employees or customers a choice—to fork out a slightly higher co-pay for a drug made in America, at a plant with higher standards that was better inspected— many of us would jump at the opportunity.

Please send any tips, leads, and stories to virus@time.com.

 


Confirmed Coronavirus Cases in U.S. Children Rose By 90% in About Four Weeks This Summer, Bringing the Total to Over 380,000

10 August, by Tara Law[ —]

As decision-makers weigh whether to reopen U.S. schools this fall, they face a daunting reality: COVID-19 appears to have surged among American kids this summer. On July 9, there were approximately 200,000 confirmed cases in children; by Aug. 6, that number rose by nearly 180,000, an approximately 90% increase in just over four weeks, according to a new report. That translates to an increase from 319 per 100,000 American children to 501 cases per 100,000, in just four weeks.

 

The report, from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, counts more than 380,000 total confirmed cases in children as of Aug. 6.

Recently, evidence has emerged that COVID-19 seems to not to produce as severe symptoms in children as it does in adults, which has given new justification for communities and lawmakers to push to reopen schools for in-person classes. However, these new data, compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, are a warning sign that reopening schools without proper social distancing measures in place could accelerate the spread of COVID-19. This is especially concerning for middle and high schools, because older kids with COVID-19 are thought to spread the virus at rates similar to adults. And while severe COVID-19 in children is uncommon, it’s not unheard of. Children made up 0.5% to 5.3% of all hospitalizations in 20 states (plus New York City) that reported figures, and 0.3% to 8.9% of all kids who got sick were hospitalized. As of Aug. 6, 90 children had died from the disease, in 44 states and NYC.

Overall, the new report found that children make up a growing proportion of COVID-19 cases. Back on April 16, kids only made up 2% of total COVID-19 cases (in 46 states, plus NYC and D.C.); by Aug. 6, they made up about 9.1% of cases nationwide (in 49 states, plus NYC, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam).

These data do not paint a perfect picture of how COVID-19 is affecting children in the U.S. Each state has rolled out social distancing measures and COVID-19 testing differently, which might affect both who’s getting sick and who’s being counted. It’s also unclear to what extent increased testing has led more children to be tested for the virus in the first place. It might be the case that in the early months of the pandemic, only the sickest were getting tested; given that children seem to experience less severe symptoms of a COVID-19 infection, it’s possible that in the spring, many children caught COVID-19 and recovered without ever getting noticeable symptoms, and thus without ever getting tested.

States also have different methods for collecting and organizing data about COVID-19. Notably, the age range that defines “child” differs between states—while most reported ages 0 to 17 or 0 to 19 as children, Florida and Utah limited “children” to ages 0 to 14, while Alabama went all the way up to age 24. These differences could have a big impact, because older children seem to be more likely to have symptoms than younger ones, and are more contagious.

However, the report does make certain trends clear. States in the south and west have driven much of the increase in the number of children diagnosed with COVID-19. Alabama had the highest proportion of cases in children, with kids making up 22.5% of the states total confirmed as of Aug. 6, followed by Wyoming and Tennessee, at 16.5% and 16.2%, respectively. Meanwhile, New York City and New Jersey, the epicenters of the early days of pandemic, have a much smaller relative proportion of children diagnosed with COVID-19, comprising about 3% in each.


Tech Companies Are Transforming People’s Bedrooms Into ‘Virtual Hospitals.’ Will It Last Post-COVID?

10 August, by Abigail Abrams[ —]

When Curtis Carlson started having back pain this spring, he tried to put off seeing a doctor. The COVID-19 pandemic was raging, his job at a transitional housing organization in Ukiah, Calif. was busier than ever amid the economic collapse, and a hospital seemed like the last place he wanted to be.

But when he finally took himself to the emergency room and he was diagnosed with a kidney infection, Carlson figured he would have no choice but to stay. Instead, his doctors told him about a new program that would allow him to finish the rest of his hospital care at home, with a medical team monitoring him virtually around the clock and making in-person visits multiple times each day.

“I was blown away,” says Carlson, 49. When it became clear that staff would set up the equipment, which all fit on a TV tray, in Carlson’s home, and that he’d be able to communicate with his medical team via iPad, he was on board. “It was easy enough that I could use it, which was awesome,” says Carlson, who describes himself as “terrible” at technology.

Carlson’s experience was revolutionary, he says. After one night in the hospital, he was back at home with his wife and their four sons. “The biggest part for me was when I got home, seeing the look of relief on my seven-year-old’s face,” Carlson recalls. “While they were putting in the electrical wizardry, I asked him, ‘Were you worried about me?’ You could see him just crumble a little bit. He was definitely very happy Dad was home.”

Hospital administrators at Adventist Health, the system that runs the Ukiah hospital where Carlson went for care, had been looking for ways to reach rural patients outside their hospitals for years. But when the COVID-19 pandemic came to California this spring, administrators felt the timeline collapse. After finding the right technology in April, they began offering the service to patients like Carlson within 29 days. By May, Adventist Health had the infrastructure ready to care for 200 patients in their own homes.

Adventist is not alone in its warp-speed embrace of new technology during COVID-19. In recent months, hospitals around the country, looking for ways to free up beds for coronavirus patients, began expanding their virtual offerings, launching video doctors’ visits and virtual therapy sessions, and rolling out programs to remotely monitor vulnerable patients, like those in nursing homes. As doctors and patients embraced these new, online methods of care, Medicare, Medicaid and many private insurers temporarily changed their payment rules to accommodate them. But many of these changes are only guaranteed through October, and plenty of regulatory hurdles remain.

Now that it’s clear the pandemic is not going away anytime soon, medical providers and hospital administrators say they need more substantial reforms to ensure their investments in telehealth can continue. Whether innovations like remote hospital recovery beds will be available in the long term depends primarily on whether public and private insurers will continue to pay for them. In other words, in the topsy-turvy health care economy of the United States, it’s payment models—not technological ability or patient benefit—that will now determine the future of virtual care.

Hospital care at home

Prior to COVID-19, Medicare only covered telehealth services from certain providers. It also generally required telehealth patients to be located in a rural area and at a medical facility. Many Medicaid plans and most private insurers had similar restrictions. But after the coronavirus outbreak this spring forced nearly all doctors to stop seeing patients in-person, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a number of waivers relaxing these rules, and private insurers followed suit.

Once CMS led the way, private insurers temporarily changed their rules too, and telehealth usage exploded. Between April 2019 and April 2020, telehealth claims increased 8,336%, according to FAIR Health, a nonprofit that analyzes private health insurance claims. More than nine million Medicare beneficiaries used telehealth services during the first three months of the crisis. And at University of Virginia’s network, which already had a more robust telehealth program than many others, virtual visits increased 9,000% between February and May.

“COVID-19 changed everything when it comes to telemedicine services,” says Dr. Karen Rheuban, director of the University of Virginia Center for Telehealth. “The genie’s not going back in the bottle.”

The Trump Administration is now pushing for more telehealth access. On Aug. 3, the President signed an executive order calling on CMS to permanently expand the kinds of telehealth services that Medicare covers, and the agency’s administrator Seema Verma has also said she believes access to telehealth should continue beyond the public health emergency. Broader expansions would need to come from Congress, where dozens of bills on telehealth have been introduced in recent months, but lawmakers have not yet seriously considered the topic.

Curtis Carlson and his family at their home in Ukiah, California.
Courtesy of Adventist HealthCurtis Carlson and his family at their home in Ukiah, California.

Telehealth advocates say now is the time to act. A range of virtual offerings could be revolutionary for patients who are seriously sick, need long-term care, or live in rural areas, where hospital closings have left millions of Americans without easy access to treatment. “The environment in a hospital, although it’s very conducive to high intensity care, is not that conducive to being able to engage in normal activities of daily living that might be actually important for recovery,” says Dr. Michael Apkon, president and CEO of Tufts Medical Center.

In March, when Apkon watched Italian hospitals overflow with coronavirus patients, he sped up Tuft’s long-simmering telehealth plans. Apkon called Raphael Rakowski, the CEO of the tech startup Medically Home, and by April, the two organizations had launched a program that would provide hospital-level care in patients’ homes. Rakowski says he’s spent years telling hospitals they could reduce overhead costs and improve the patient experience by embracing care at home. “Sadly, it took a pandemic to amplify the patient’s role in their own care,” he says.

In order to be eligible for the Tufts-Medically Home partnership program, patients must typically have a similar profile to Curtis Carlson: they must have relatively stable health, be suffering from common conditions such as heart failure, diabetes, pneumonia, or kidney infections, and they must have a safe, stable place to live. If a patient meets that criteria, Medically Home provides all the equipment, including communications devices, monitors, backup internet, cell signals and power sources. (Some locations are admitting patients such as those with cancer, COVID-19 or who need longer-term care, and over time those will grow, says Rakowski.)

In Boston, where Medically Home is based, the tech company itself employs nurses, paramedics and other staffers who visit the Tufts patients in person several times each day to administer IVs, do blood tests or provide other care, and the patient checks in with their doctors via video. In California, where Carlson was treated, and in other locations, Medically Home’s partner hospitals provide the staff. Teams of nurses and physicians also monitor each patient 24 hours a day from a “command center,” and can be reached immediately if any questions or complications arise.

Even accounting for the time and cost of staff traveling to visit patients at their homes, Rakowski says at-home hospitalization costs about 20 to 25% less on average than care in a traditional hospital setting. In California, where Carlson was one of Adventist Health’s first patients to use the Medically Home model, Adventist Health President Bill Wing sees significant savings in the future. Maintaining hospital facilities and building new infrastructure is very expensive, he notes, so if Adventist Health can care for more patients remotely, it could potentially avoid hundreds of millions in construction costs.

“I believe that longer term we’ll see at least 20 percent less utilization inside the four walls,” Wing says. Adventist Health had been considering building a couple new hospitals, but may no longer pursue those plans, he says.

Keeping patients healthy

Telehealth can also play an important role in helping patients before they reach the point of needing hospital care. When non-urgent procedures were canceled during the early months of the pandemic, many Americans turned to virtual visits to keep up with routine treatment and ask for guidance from health care providers before venturing into offices.

While some doctors have returned to in-person visits, telehealth remains an important component of many practices, says Dr. Joseph Kvedar, a dermatologist in Massachusetts and president of the American Telemedicine Association. Physicians in his office have all added a half day of telehealth onto their in-person schedules so that they can keep the number of patients in the waiting room low and minimize their exposure to the coronavirus.

Even emergency rooms, which typically serve the purpose of receiving unexpected in-person visits, have turned to telehealth. This spring, the University of Virginia started a virtual urgent care service to address smaller problems without requiring patients to come to the hospital. UVA also expanded its remote monitoring program to keep tabs on patients quarantined at home with COVID-19.

And as nursing homes and other congregate care settings saw massive outbreaks of the virus, University of Virginia doctors developed a telemedicine strategy that allowed them to partner with long-term care facilities, rapidly deploy technology, coordinate care with on-site nursing staff and reduce hospitalizations.

These kinds of programs do require large investments in technology and training, UVA’s Rheuban says, but in the long-term, she has seen that telemedicine “diminishes the need for in person visits and improves clinical outcomes.”

Paying for the care

For these innovations to continue, doctors and health systems need to convince insurers—or lawmakers—that virtual services go beyond convenience and are important for treating a broad range of conditions. Already, commercial insurers are raising questions. “Since we’ve had this explosive growth, we don’t necessarily know what the impact on patient outcomes has been,” says Kate Berry, senior vice president of clinical affairs and strategic partnerships at America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the industry’s main lobbying group.

During the pandemic, many major insurers have reimbursed telehealth at the same rates as in-person visits. Some have said they will continue these rates until the end of the year, while others have not made decisions past September or October. AHIP says it wants patients to have access to telehealth, but is opposed to laws that would mandate coverage or require insurers to reimburse telehealth at specific rates.

Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association, says that some of her organization’s members have already heard from insurers that don’t plan to cover telehealth beyond the emergency, or that only want to cover it at reduced rates. “They seem to be taking some steps back, which is unfortunate,” she says. “It may be yet another thing that creates a greater opportunity for the wealthy than for those who are unable to afford the additional cost of paying for it themselves.”

The AHA supports the changes that CMS has made and is advocating for Congress to pass legislation that would allow more permanent flexibility in where patients could be and what technologies they use to access telehealth.

But cost is still a central concern for lawmakers and insurers. “There have been a bunch of barriers to telehealth,” says Glenn Melnick, a health care economist at the University of Southern California who studies hospital systems. “If you take those out of the equation, utilization is going to go up.”

In the current system where each visit means a separate fee, this could add up quickly. Physicians typically argue that telehealth should be paid the same as in-person care because the work is equally complex and time-consuming, but insurers will want to find savings. “It’s sort of a balancing act,” says Josh Seidman, managing director at consulting firm Avalere Health. “There are going to be a lot of changes over the next six to 12 months that will last long term in terms of how care is delivered and paid for.”

In the meantime, Medically Home and its hospital partners are working to secure more commitments from private and government insurers to cover their care. Both Adventist Health and Tufts are excited with the results of the program so far, but their leaders say the program’s ability to scale remains to be seen.

Carlson, the patient in California, had his stay covered by his state Medicaid plan, and says he would choose the at-home model again if he needs care in the future. After four days of treatment at home, his doctors determined he was ready to be discharged. But before the Adventist team moved forward, they helped Carlson find a primary care physician, transitioned his records and relevant information, and made sure he scheduled a follow up appointment. The tech team arrived to pick up the equipment and Carlson remained in place. “No complaints,” he says.


Rescue Efforts Underway in Mauritius to Contain Growing Oil Spill Before Stranded Ship Breaks in Two

10 August, by Andrew Meldrum / AP[ —]

(JOHANNESBURG) — Urgent efforts increased in Mauritius on Monday to empty a stranded Japanese ship of an estimated 2,500 tons of oil before the vessel breaks up and increases the contamination of the island’s once-pristine Indian Ocean coastline.

Already more than 1,000 tons of fuel has washed up on the eastern coast of Mauritius, polluting its coral reefs, protected lagoons and shoreline.

High winds and waves are pounding the MV Wakashio, which was showing signs of splitting apart and dumping its remaining cargo oil into the waters surrounding Mauritius. The bulk carrier ran aground on a coral reef two weeks ago.

“We are expecting the worst,” Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said.

“The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days,” Gardenne said. “So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It’s important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton.”

French experts arrived from the nearby island of Reunion and were deploying booms to try to contain any new oil spill, Gardenne said. France sent a navy ship, military aircraft and technical advisers after Mauritius appealed for international help Friday.

“The booms should be in place within hours, which we hope will help to protect the coastline from further damage,” he said. The booms will boost the improvised barriers that thousands of volunteers in Mauritius created from fabric tubes stuffed with straw and sugar cane leaves.

Mauritius Oil Spill
Sophie Seneque—APOil polluting the foreshore of the public beach in Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius, on Aug. 8, 2020, after it leaked from the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius.

Amid the rough seas, efforts were also underway to get other ships close enough to pump large amounts of oil out of the MV Wakashio.

“The danger of the ship breaking into two is increasing hour by hour,” environmental consultant Sunil Dowarkasing, a former member of parliament in Mauritius, said. “The cracks have now reached the base of the ship and there is still a lot of fuel on the ship. Two ships are headed to the site so that fuel can be pumped into them, but it is very difficult.”

The ship ran aground on July 25 but work to remove the oil it was carrying only started last week when the hull cracked and started emptying the fuel into the sea, according to Dowarkasing.

The MV Wakashio’s owner, Nagashiki Shipping, said Monday that two shipss arrived at the scene to pump oil from the endangered vessel. “A hose connection has been successfully established … and the transfer of fuel oil is underway,” said the company in a statement. It said it is working with Mauritian authorities “to mitigate the spill. The primary focus at this time is reducing the effects of the spill and protecting the environment.”

Pressure is mounting on the government of Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth to explain why it did not take immediate action to avert the environmental disaster. Jugnauth has declared the oil spill a national emergency, but some residents say he acted too late.

The opposition and activists are calling for the resignation of the environment and fisheries ministers. Volunteers have ignored a government order to leave the clean-up operation to local officials.

Japan said Sunday it would send a six-member expert team to assist.


How President Trump’s Weekend Executive Actions Laid a Dangerous Trap for Democrats

10 August, by Philip Elliott[ —]

The Sharpies squeaked as President Donald Trump put his signature on four documents over the weekend promising aid for Americans feeling the economic brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. The orders were ostensibly meant to deliver action after lawmakers on the Hill failed to reach an agreement last week on the terms of the next federal aid package and further talks are on permanent hold. But beyond the toxic fumes, there’s still no tangible help on the way for Americans facing evictions, student loans, payroll taxes or even reduced unemployment checks — the four threats that the memos covered. Instead, what Trump signed over the weekend sets in motion a constitutional standoff over federal powers and a political quagmire for Democrats trying to check this President’s wanton rebudgeting of taxpayers’ dollars.

The President knew exactly what he was doing. The political show was one designed for cameras’ flashes, not action. When pushed by reporters at his golf club in New Jersey for details of how the orders will work, Trump couldn’t confirm when any of his promises would turn into reality. They weren’t designed to. The eviction relief plan was merely an encouragement for landlords and tenants to find a compromise, his student-loans and payroll-tax holidays were merely suspensions of due dates, and the plus-up on unemployment benefits was only an idea that requires states’ buy-in, which is not going to happen.

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During normal times, Congress decides how much programs like student-loan deferments can have and the Administration spends the cash. These days, Trump is redirecting money as if Congress didn’t weigh in at all. For instance, Trump, in his edicts, re-imagines hurricane-relief dollars as pandemic bailout cash.

Theoretically, that leaves Congress primed to challenge the White House, a move that would demand Democrats stand up and say Trump has no power to repurpose taxpayer dollars this way. It’s a constitutionally-sound objection, but one that puts Democrats arguing against rescuing struggling Americans. Do Democrats, in an election year, want to be the ones signing onto lawsuits that challenge a President’s power to unilaterally re-budget dollars that help the 30-plus-million Americans who have lost their jobs so far? On Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the orders bypassing Congress “absurdly unconstitutional,” but dodged the question whether she and fellow Democrats would take Trump to court over them.

Trump has been buoyed by last month’s Supreme Court ruling that permits him to retool Pentagon dollars to build his border wall — despite the fact that Congress didn’t mean for those dollars to do that. In interviews, Trump has cited that ruling as rationale for near-absolute power to reprogram taxpayer dollars as he sees fit. It is inevitably a course that will send him back to the Supreme Court. His efforts to shift dollars through these orders is a prime example of where Democrats have good cause to check him. But, with fewer than 100 days before Election Day, the ground is plenty shaky. Democrats may end up prevailing in the long run — but their win would mean the pandemic’s victims lose out on Trump’s promised bounty.

A version of this article first appeared in The DC Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to get stories like this sent to your inbox every weekday.


TSA Is Finding Guns in Passengers’ Carry-Ons at 3 Times the Usual Rate Amid Massive Drop in Air Travel

10 August, by Alex Fitzpatrick[ —]

Transportation Security Administration screeners found guns in air travelers’ carry-on bags at three times the usual rate this past July as compared to last year, the agency says.

“TSA is diligently working to ensure our employees and passengers are safe and secure while traveling during a pandemic, and yet we are noticing a significant increase in loaded firearms coming into checkpoints,” said TSA administrator David Pekoske in a press release Aug. 10.

Screeners found 15.3 guns per million passengers this past July, compared to 5.1 over the same period last year. That 200% increase is “particularly alarming,” the agency says, given that air travel has nearly evaporated amid the pandemic—TSA screened about 75% fewer passengers in July 2020 compared to July 2019, it says (given that the vast majority of air travelers are screened, such screenings are a pretty good proxy for overall air travel volume).

The six airports where the largest number of guns were found by TSA officers last month include: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (27 firearms), Denver International Airport (13), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (13), Nashville International Airport (12), Dallas Love Field Airport (9) and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (also 9).

Air travelers in the U.S. are generally allowed to travel with firearms, but only if they’re properly stored in checked luggage. People caught with a firearm in their carry-on face civil penalties starting at about $2,000 for an unloaded weapon and about $4,000 for a loaded one, up to $10,250 “depending on the circumstances,” according to the TSA.

There are at least two explanations for the trend. It’s possible that, for some reason, those choosing to fly right now are also more likely to try to stash guns in their carry-on luggage. But it’s also possible—and probably more likely—that TSA officers are doing a better job of finding weapons because they simply have fewer bags to screen, given the dramatic drop-off in overall air travel.


Lebanon’s Prime Minister Says He Will Step Down Following Beirut Explosion and Mass Protests

10 August, by Bassem Mroue / AP[ —]

(BEIRUT) — Lebanon’s prime minister says he is stepping down from his job in the wake of the Beirut port explosion last week that triggered public fury and mass protests.

In a brief televised speech, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Monday that he is taking “a step back” so he can stand with the people “and fight the battle for change alongside them.”

He said: “I declare today the resignation of this government. May God protect Lebanon,” repeating the last phrase three times.

A brief while earlier, Diab’s Cabinet resigned. The developments follow a weekend of anti-government protests in the wake of the Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut’s port that caused widespread destruction, killed at least 160 people and injured about 6,000 others.

Diab blamed corrupt politicians who preceded him for the “earthquake” that has hit Lebanon.

“They (political class) should have been ashamed of themselves because their corruption is what has led to this disaster that had been hidden for seven years,” he added.

 


How Women Used Their Domestic Power to Influence the American Revolution

10 August, by Marta Olmos / History Today[ —]

This post is in partnership with History Today. The article below was originally published at History Today.

Spinning yarn from cotton or flax is careful, necessary work that has become invisible in modern life. But at the dawn of the American Revolution, it was revolutionary. Women across the colonies organized spinning bees to protest British regulations and altered their purchasing habits to support boycotts, leveraging their domestic power to influence the revolution.

The story of these revolutionary women is rooted in the transformation of the consumer marketplace in the 18th century American colonies. In the 17th century, colonists mostly relied on local materials and infrequent shipments of supplies, but as settlements grew in size, they increasingly sought British goods. From Boston to Charleston, colonists could purchase the latest styles and eat from the finest china. Participation in this shared marketplace kept colonists in the British fold by connecting them to cultural trends and reminding them of their status in the Empire.

All of this changed with the Stamp Act of 1765. Angered by what they saw as unfair taxation, colonists weaponized the consumer landscape through non-importation and non-consumption agreements. These were a series of boycotts of British imports to put pressure on the British economy and force legislative change. The protests were successful and resulted in the repeal of the Stamp Act within a year. This first wave of boycotts was confined to the cities of New York, Boston and Philadelphia, but, as anti-British sentiment grew in the late 1760s and into the 1770s, so did the protests.

The collective action required by the non-importation movement spread across the colonies. A plantation owner in Virginia and a carpenter in Boston could act together against British taxation with one economic voice. “Private consumer experiences were transformed into public rituals,” wrote the historian T.H. Breen. The marketplace became a platform where colonists could publicly display their political preferences through their purchasing habits. Individual colonists and communities had no formal political voice; they did not have parliamentary representatives. But by wielding their economic power, they were able to change the law.

The movement’s focus on commercial goods meant that women, who were often responsible for running households, were able to take an active role. They could serve coffee instead of tea and dress their families in homespun cloth instead of imported chintz. Purchasing decisions that had long been rendered invisible by their association with housewifery became political statements.

Unmarried women also used the tools of femininity and domesticity to influence politics. Patriotic young women refused the company of men who bought boycotted goods and broke off relationships with those who would not sign the agreements. Published debates over the non-importation movement were imbued with the language of courtship. Patriots created characters like “Sophia Thrifty,” who coyly urged men to buy carefully, lest they lose the affections of their girlfriends.

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The most celebrated form of female political action, though, was the spinning bee: large gatherings organized by the women of a community where they spun yarn for textile production. Textile crafts were politically significant. The Wool Act of 1699 prohibited the colonies from exporting wool products to protect English producers from competition. This restriction frustrated many and scattered textile protests occurred throughout the 18th century. As the non-importation movement grew in popularity and anger over British regulations increased, the textile issue rose to the forefront once more. Colonists boycotted British cloth and sought local alternatives. When the war began, the uniforms and provisions needed for thousands of soldiers further increased demand for homespun textiles.

A wheelwright in Lexington, Mass., noted that he sold substantially more spinning wheels in the years leading up to the war. A 1769 article in the Boston Gazette reported that 45 women in Lexington produced 602 knots of linen and 246 knots of cotton in one day. Spinning schools opened in Boston. Newspapers printed stories about elderly women who took up the craft for the first time and young girls who spun from dawn until dusk. Unlike the rioting and shouting that accompanied male political action, spinning yarn was palatable and respectable, worthy of unstinted praise. Even today, the values these women projected—sacrifice, dedication and single-minded patriotism—are celebrated as fundamental American traits.

Unlike other Enlightenment ideologies, which often ignored women completely, American Republicanism has long emphasized the “Republican Mother,” a woman who raises good sons to sacrifice their lives for their country. But the “Republican Mother” does not tell the full story. Female political power was not passively channeled through husbands and sons. Revolutionary women were active participants in political society; they organized events, made strategic purchasing decisions and sacrificed personal relationships. Their dedication and hard work did not go unnoticed: the spinning bee became a symbol of the revolutionary woman. Even today, the spinning wheel is the symbol of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Women could not serve in the Continental Congress or vote on whether Washington became the first president. But they were active participants in the shaping of the new nation. They organized themselves in large numbers, using their domestic power to support political movements and make lasting change. It is easy to get lost in stories of scrappy soldiers, but it is important to remember these women, too, weaving a new future between their fingers.

Marta Olmos researches 18th-century textiles, dress history and the history of women’s work.











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