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Lancet Retracts Study on Safety of Malaria Drugs for Coronavirus 

3 hours 27 min ago

Several authors of a large study that raised safety concerns about malaria drugs for coronavirus patients have retracted the report, saying independent reviewers were not able to verify information that's been widely questioned by other scientists. 

Thursday's retraction in the journal Lancet involved a May 22 report on hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, drugs long used for preventing or treating malaria but whose safety and effectiveness for COVID-19 are unknown. 

The study leaders also retracted an earlier report that used the same company's database on blood pressure drugs published by the New England Journal of Medicine. That study suggested that widely used blood pressure medicines were safe for coronavirus patients, a conclusion some other studies and heart doctor groups also have reached. 

Even though the Lancet report was not a rigorous test, the observational study had huge impact because of its size, reportedly involving more than 96,000 patients and 671 hospitals on six continents.  

President Donald Trump tells reporters that he is taking zinc and hydroxychloroquine during a meeting with restaurant industry executives about the coronavirus response, in the State Dining Room of the White House, May 18, 2020.

Its conclusion that the drugs were tied to a higher risk of death and heart problems in people hospitalized with COVID-19 led the World Health Organization to temporarily stop use of hydroxychloroquine in a study it is leading, and for French officials to stop allowing its use in hospitals there. Earlier this week, WHO said experts who reviewed safety information decided that its study could resume. 

"Not only is there no benefit, but we saw a very consistent signal of harm," study leader Dr. Mandeep Mehra of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston told The Associated Press when the work was published. 

The drugs have been controversial because President Donald Trump repeatedly promoted their use and took hydroxychloroquine himself to try to prevent infection after some White House staffers tested positive for the virus. The drugs are known to have potential side effects, especially heart rhythm problems. 

Data questioned

The Lancet study relied on a database from a Chicago company, Surgisphere. Its founder, Dr. Sapan Desai, is one of the authors.  

Dozens of scientists questioned irregularities and improbable findings in the numbers, and the other authors besides Desai said earlier this week that an independent audit would be done. In the retraction notice, those authors say Surgisphere would not give the reviewers the full data, citing confidentiality and client agreements. 

"Based on this development, we can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources" and must retract the report, they wrote.  

"I no longer have confidence in the origination and veracity of the data, nor the findings they have led to," Mehra said in a separate statement Thursday.  

The Lancet's notice said "there are many outstanding questions about Surgisphere and the data that were allegedly included in this study," and "institutional reviews of Surgisphere's research collaborations are urgently needed." 

Desai and Surgisphere did not immediately respond to requests for comments sent to phone numbers and email address listed on the company's materials. 

Good answers needed

All the authors of the study should have had access to the data, said Dr. Steve Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic. 

"You really don't know what a study showed unless you have the actual data," Nissen said. "This is unfortunate. Clearly this is a very important topic and we need good answers." 

The retraction shows "the system works," said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard's Global Health Institute. The pace of publishing scientific research has sped up in reaction to the pandemic, Jha said, leading to errors. 

As long as errors are acknowledged, the pace seems justifiable because waiting a year or two for results to be published "is way too slow for this pandemic." 

"Part of the problem is people are so anxious. They want a definite answer yes or no," Jha said. "We're moving as fast as we can in science, but we can't overreact to any single study." 

US Warns No End to Fight Against Islamic State

3 hours 41 min ago

More than a year after the U.S.-led coalition declared victory over the Islamic State's self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria, a top U.S. official admits the fight against the terror group is not close to over.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered the blunt assessment Thursday to representatives of 31 countries and partners during a virtual meeting of the coalition, urging allies not to be complacent.

“Our fight against ISIS continues, and it will be here for the foreseeable future. We cannot rest,” Pompeo said, using an acronym for the terror group. “We must continue to root out ISIS cells and networks and provide stabilization assistance to liberated areas in Iraq and Syria.”

The latest meeting of coalition partners, being held virtually because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, came at a critical time in the fight against Islamic State, also referred to as IS or by its Arabic acronym, Daesh.

While the U.S.-led coalition and independent monitoring groups point to a decreased number of IS attacks compared with figures from years past, U.S. counterterrorism officials warn the terror group has made significant progress as it tries to rebuild.

“They’ve made incremental, localized improvements to their operating capacity,” a counterterrorism official told VOA last month, adding that IS cells in eastern Syria have become increasingly bold.

Resurgence in Syria, Iraq

Sources close to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria likewise warn that IS fighters have “spread like cancer,” using increasingly sophisticated tactics to expand their reach.

And last month. Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned that IS activity in Iraq was “threatening to undo years of global efforts.”

Data on Islamic State Attacks Could be Masking Growing Problem, Some FearOfficials with US-partner forces in Iraq and Syria worry that the Islamic State is growing more powerful even as it carries out fewer attacks than in years past

There have also been concerns that U.S. President Donald Trump might order a further drawdown of forces in Iraq and Syria, after the U.S. pulled out of a series of bases in Iraq in March, handing them over to the Iraqi military.

NEW: US transfers another key base to #Iraq's military@CJTFOIR confirmed the transfer of #Qayyarah Airfield West, aka #QWest, Thursday

Base "served as a strategic launching point for the ISF and Coalition during the Battle of Mosul" per CJTFOIR BrigGen Vincent Barker https://t.co/L5hGt7BJet

— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) March 26, 2020

Coalition partners have responded with a series of raids and other operations targeting senior IS officials and IS cells across the region. And this week, Iraq announced a new military campaign focusing on IS cells active in Kirkuk and Salah ad Din provinces.

Pompeo on Thursday assured coalition members that the U.S. would remain the “military backbone” of anti-IS efforts in the region.

“Each of us needs to keep fighting, all of us together,” Pompeo said.

But at the same time, the secretary of state called on allies to do more, asking for additional financial contributions, in part to address the 10,000 IS fighters, including 2,000 foreign fighters, still in the custody of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“We are counting on this coalition to fund the secure and humane detention of the thousands of foreign terrorist fighters in custody in Syria and Iraq,” he said.

IS foreign fighters

For more than a year, both U.S. and SDF officials have raised concerns about the captured IS fighters languishing in hastily constructed prisons, many now over capacity.

It is a situation that officials say has become even more critical in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which has already sparked a number of riots at some larger prisons.

US Moves to Bolster Prisons Holding Captured Islamic State Fighters Delivery of aid comes less than a week after a prison riot allowed some IS fighters to break free and as overcrowded conditions have many worried about a coronavirus outbreak


 

#SDF says prison in #Hasakah#Syria under control following a day-long riot by #ISIS prisoners "which required the intervention of special forces and anti-terrorist forces" and also negotiations w/the ISIS prisoners, per @SdfSpokespersonhttps://t.co/ZQDRdV4opL

— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) May 4, 2020

The U.S. delivered aid and supplies in April, but SDF officials have said that is not enough and have continued to seek support to put foreign IS fighters before some sort of tribunal, though questions about what to do with convicted IS fighters have yet to be answered.

Support Crumbling for Plan to Try IS Foreign Fighters in Syria Syrian Kurdish officials, burdened with guarding thousands of IS fighters and their families, say trials will begin next month, but talk of assistance appears to have been overblown

While some countries, like Italy and Germany, have earned praise from the U.S. for repatriating a greater number of foreign fighters, many countries continue to refuse.

Former U.S. military and counterterrorism officials, as well as humanitarian groups, have also raised concerns about the futures of an estimated 10,000 IS family members, mostly women and children, held in displacement camps, like al-Hol, in Syria.

According to a recent report by the U.S. Defense Department inspector general, two-thirds of the detained IS family members are children under age 12.

Some counterterrorism officials and experts have likened the population to a ticking time bomb, and something that could help IS re-emerge.

“States must get on the front foot and get their nationals back and not leave them in a limbo,” U.N. coordinator Edmund Fitton-Brown, said earlier this year. “They're going to become increasingly desperate and possibly increasingly radicalized.”

Barr Defends Decision To Remove Protesters Near White House

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 23:58

U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Thursday defended his decision to order the removal earlier this week of demonstrators near the White House, saying the move was necessary to protect the building and federal personnel against increasingly belligerent protesters. 

But Barr, who is directing the federal response to the protests over African American George Floyd’s death, denied his directive to disperse the crowd on Monday afternoon was tied to President Donald Trump’s controversial visit for a photo op to a church across the street from the White House, saying he acted before learning about Trump’s plan that day.  

The move led law enforcement officers protecting the White House to use pepper balls, smoke canisters, riot shields and batons to push back a crowd of several hundred protesters, sparking a national outcry over excessive use of force against largely peaceful demonstrators. 

With the crowd cleared, Trump, accompanied by Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and several other senior administration officials, crossed the street to the historic St. John’s Church where the president posed for a photograph holding up a Bible.   

The highly unusual visit came several days after Trump was reportedly taken to the White House underground bunker as the protests outside the White House intensified.

Trump has said he went to the bunker only to inspect it. Critics say the Monday afternoon photo op was designed to show a president taking bold action to counter the image of Trump seeking shelter in the bunker. 

The attorney general's prominent role in directing law enforcement personnel from agencies outside the Justice Department – such as the Secret Service, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security – is unprecedented in recent memory.  Asked about his expanded authority, Barr said he was asked by Trump on Monday to "coordinate" the various federal agencies' response to the protests.  

FILE - Tear gas floats in the air as a line of police move demonstrators away from St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House, as they gather to protest the death of George Floyd, June 1, 2020, in Washington.

But Barr insisted that there was no “correlation” between his directive to remove the protesters and Trump’s subsequent visit to the church, which had suffered some fire damage in the basement the night before. Instead, he said, the move was designed to create a "buffer" to protect the White House and Secret Service agents who could be targeted by projectiles thrown by protesters.    

“I made the decision that we’d try to move our perimeter northward by a block to provide this additional protection,” he said. 

In doing so, Barr deployed secret service agents, park police, guards brought in from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, helicopter flyovers and other tactical personnel. One Justice Department official told The Washington Post that Barr’s strategy was to “flood the zone” by putting “the maximum amount of law enforcement out on the street.” 

The forcible removal of peaceful protesters so Trump could have a photo op was widely condemned. Trump’s former defense secretary, Jim Mattis, issued a rare statement on Wednesday denouncing the action and accusing Trump of dividing the nation. 

While Esper has sought to distance himself from the episode, Barr said it was “appropriate” for him and other officials to follow Trump to the church.   

Protests and violent demonstrations broke out in Washington and across the country after Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, after one of the police officers pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. On Wednesday, Minnesota prosecutors charged one police officer with second-degree murder in connection with Floyd’s death and three others with aiding and abetting. 

With Washington police overwhelmed by demonstrators, several thousand National Guard troops have moved into the nation’s capital to patrol the streets. To restore order in Washington, Barr said he directed the deployment of personnel from all components of the Justice Department – from the Bureau of Prisons to the Drug Enforcement Agency to the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency. 

Barr’s outsized role in directing law enforcement personnel against protesters has drawn criticism from Democrats as well as some veterans of the Justice Department. 

FILE - Police chase a man as they rush protesters to clear Lafayette Park and the area around it across from the White House for President Donald Trump to walk through for a photo opportunity in front of St. John's Episcopal Church, June 1, 2020.

“No lawyer should ever have operational responsibility for law enforcement,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a former Justice Department official now with the libertarian R Street Institute in Washington. 

The muscular show of military and law enforcement force also has caused tensions between the federal government and the city of Washington where officials have pushed back against efforts to dispatch active military personnel to the city and to take over the city police force during the unrest. 

But Barr defended the federal government’s response, saying the demonstrators had grown increasingly belligerent in the lead-up to the events Monday, threatening federal property and personnel.  

A Treasury Department annex was broken into, a federal building near the White House was burned down, and a fire was started at St. John’s Church across the street from the White House, he said. Between Saturday and Thursday, he said, 114 law enforcement officers sustained injuries during the protests in Washington, with at least 22 hospitalized with serious head injuries. 

“It was very serious rioting,” he said.   

But Barr, who has been making nightly rounds of checkpoints around the city, said violence has dropped substantially since Monday and that the lasts two nights have been "peaceful." 

“After assessing the situation last night … I felt that we could afford to take a collapse our perimeter and eliminate some of the checkpoints and so forth and take a little bit of a low profile footprint,” Barr said.  

That is in line with the assessment of Washington police. Washington officials announced Thursday that they’ll lift a nightly curfew after Wednesday's gathering of more than 5,000 protesters, the largest in recent days, resulted in no arrests.  

The Justice Department's response to the protests has not been limited to Washington.

Accusing extremist groups of all stripes of seeking to exploit the protests and fomenting violence, federal authorities have stepped up arresting and charging individuals accused of rioting.   

Barr said 51 people have been arrested in recent days for federal crimes in connection with rioting, adding that the department has evidence that the anti-fascist movement known as antifa and extremist groups have sought to exploit the protests for political ends.  

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in Nevada charged three alleged members of the extremist Boogaloo movement with conspiracy to cause destruction during protests in Las Vegas and possession of a Molotov cocktail.  
 

Republican Murkowski Says She’s Struggling With Supporting Trump

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 23:51

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she's “struggling” over whether she can support President Donald Trump given his handling of the virus and race crises roiling the U.S.

Murkowski said Thursday that she was “thankful” for retired Gen. James Mattis' extraordinary rebuke of Trump for politicizing the military. Asked about her support of president, Murkowski replied, “I have struggled with it for a long time.” 

Murkowski retracted her endorsement of Trump in 2016 after the “Access Hollywood” tape revealed he had bragged about sexually assaulting women. She voted to acquit Trump of House impeachment charges earlier this year. She spoke Thursday to reporters at the Capitol. 
 
“Perhaps we're getting to the point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally, and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up,” Murkowski said. Asked whether she can still support Trump, she replied, “I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time.” But she said she'd continue to try to work with his administration. 
 
Murkowski's remarks were an acknowledgment of the ongoing choice Republicans are forced to make about whether, and for how long, to support Trump when his words and actions so often conflict with their values and goals. Trump has responded to the police killing of George Floyd by calling for more “law and order,” rather than addressing at any length the racial injustice that lies at the heart of the unrest.  
 
The nation is on edge, and Election Day looms, with the presidency and control of the House and Senate at stake. Trump has made clear that consequences for what he considers disloyalty can be steep.  

President Donald Trump stands outside St. John's Church, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Standing with Trump are Mark Esper, from left, William Barr, Robert O'Brien, Kayleigh McEnany and Mark Meadows.

For Republicans, the challenge peaked this week when federal forces abruptly cleared peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park near the White House so that Trump could stage a photo op in front of St. John's, the “church of presidents,” holding up a Bible. 
 
Saying little or nothing, a phenomenon that began before Trump was president, remained a popular choice for Republican members of Congress — even when asked one after the other whether it had been right for the administration to use the military to suppress peaceful protests.  
 
“I’m late for lunch,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told reporters Tuesday when asked whether Trump's use of force against peaceful protesters was the right thing to do. 

“Didn't really see it,” said staunch Trump ally Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. 
 
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who is retiring, said, “I don't have any comment on that.”  
 
Even now, most Republicans aren't breaking with Trump. Murkowski, who has her own complicated relationship with Trump, suggested that's because those in the president's mostly-white party are looking for the right words and tone. Statements by former President George W. Bush and now Mattis, she said, help point the way. 
 
“I think right now … questions about who I'm going to vote for, who I'm not going to vote for, I think, are distracting to the moment,” said Murkowski, who said she'd continue to try to work with the Trump administration. “I know people might think that's a dodge,” she added, “but I think there are important conversations that we need to have as an American people amongst ourselves about where we are right now.” 
 
Murkowski retracted her endorsement of Trump during the 2016 election when he could be heard on the “Access Hollywood” tape bragging about assaulting women. She also voted to acquit him of House abuse and obstruction charges earlier this year after Trump's impeachment trial. 
 
Other Republicans this week needed no help finding the words.  
 
“There is no right to riot, no right to destroy others' property, and no right to throw rocks at police,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., a frequent Trump critic who is up for reelection. “But there is a fundamental — a constitutional — right to protest, and I'm against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the word of God as a political prop.”

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans seeking reelection, said it was “painful to watch peaceful protesters to be subjected to tear gas in order for the president to go across the street to a church that I believe he's attended only once.” 
 
“President Trump's walk to St. John's was confrontational, at the wrong time of day, and it distracted from his important message in the Rose Garden about our national grief, racism, peaceful protests, and lawful assembly,” added Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who is not on the ballot this year. “The President's important message was drowned out by an awkward photo op.” 
 
The president noticed, and name-checked the trio.

“You got it wrong! If the protesters were so peaceful, why did they light the Church on fire the night before? People liked my walk to this historic place of worship!” he tweeted Wednesday, suggesting that “Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. James Lankford, Sen. Ben Sasse” read a specific article. 
 
He took no such aim at Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the only black Republican in the Senate. 
 
“If your question is, should you use tear gas to clear a path so the president can go have a photo op, the answer is no,” Scott told Politico. 

 

US Accuses China of Breaking Democracy Pledge for Hong Kong 

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 23:26

The United States accused China on Thursday of breaking its commitment for democracy in Hong Kong, hours after the city’s legislature passed a law making it a crime to disrespect China’s national anthem. 

“Unfortunately, we have seen over the past several weeks, action after action ... where China is once again showing the world that they break their promises, that they have empty commitments and they never, never intend to keep their word,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told VOA. “So, we remain very concerned at the State Department. 

U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus attends a press briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department in Washington, Dec. 11, 2019.

“We just hope that the world now sees Chairman Xi (Jinping) for who he is and now sees the Chinese Communist Party for who they are," she said. 

Hong Kong’s mostly pro-Beijing legislature overwhelmingly voted to pass the anthem law. It carries a penalty of up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of $6,450 for those who insult the anthem — “March of the Volunteers” — in public or playing and singing it in a distorted or disrespectful way. 

Ortagus noted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently was unable to certify to the U.S. Congress that Hong Kong is autonomous from China after China announced its intention to impose national security controls over the territory, which she called “a tragedy for the people of Hong Kong.” 

The new U.S. rebuke of China came as thousands of people gathered Thursday night in Hong Kong in defiance of a police ban on such crowds to remember the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. 

The crowd cheered as speakers denounced the Chinese decision to impose the national security laws on the city. They also observed a minute of silence for the Tiananmen victims, ending it with loud chants of “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time.” 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Wang Dan, Su Xiaokang, Liane Lee, Henry Li and other student leaders and survivors of the Tiananmen Square protests, June 2, 2020. (Mike Pompeo, Twitter)

Ortagus said that earlier this week, Pompeo met with Tiananmen survivors, the first time a sitting U.S. secretary of state had done so. 

“I think that that action speaks very, very loudly to the entire world,” she said. “Secretary Pompeo and I were hosting these Tiananmen survivors. And the pictures, the stories were harrowing. And we promise to continue to tell their story to the world. It won't be forgotten. We remember Tiananmen.” 

She also accused Beijing of trying to foment discord in the U.S. over the nights of protests against the death of George Floyd, a black man who died last week while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

“We know that they are trying to take this opportunity to make comparisons to try to sow discord in the U.S.,” Ortagus said. 

“But you know there's a major difference,” she said. “Obviously, we have freedom of the press here. Obviously, we have freedom to assemble. And the United States will continue those fundamental rights, which Chinese citizens, if they tried to enjoy the same rights, they would be cracked down on, the way they have in Hong Kong, and the way they were in Tiananmen Square.” 

 

Russia Gets More US Ventilators as Coronavirus Cases Climb 

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 23:10

A planeload of 150 ventilators arrived in Russia from the United States on Thursday, Washington's embassy in Moscow said, to help fight the novel coronavirus in further medical aid collaboration between the two politically-estranged nations.

Russia's case tally, the world's third highest, rose to 441,108 on Thursday after 8,831 new infections were reported, and 169 more people died in the previous 24 hours. 

At 5,384, Russia's death toll is lower than many other countries, sparking debate over the way it counts fatalities. 

Russia cites a huge testing program — it says more than 11.7 million tests have been conducted — as the reason for its large number of reported cases, and says many positive cases involve Russians without symptoms of the virus. 

On Wednesday, official data showed Russia's second biggest city of St. Petersburg recorded a death rate last month 32% higher than the previous year, suggesting more people could be dying of COVID-19 than are being reported. 

Thursday's aid from the United States, which has fractious geopolitical relations with Russia on a wide range of issues, came after a U.S. Air Force plane delivered a first batch of medical supplies including 50 ventilators on May 21. 

U.S. Embassy Spokeswoman Rebecca Ross described the latest assistance as a "humanitarian aid delivery from the American people to the people of Russia.”

The 200 ventilators delivered in total were part of a donation worth $5.6 million, she said.

"These U.S.-made ventilators are the highest quality in the world, manufactured to meet local technical specifications, complete with Russian language instructions and ready to use," Ross wrote on Twitter. 

Displaced Yazidi Woman Paints Life After IS Genocide

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 22:42

Hayat Dakhil Murad — a young Yazidi woman who fled the Islamic State (IS) attack on Sinjar in 2014 to the Sharya Refugee Camp in the Kurdistan Region's Dohuk province — has found solace in painting the realities of her people's ordeal in Iraq. VOA's Salam Balay filed this report from the Sharya Refugee Camp in Duhok, Kurdistan Region, Iraq.

Camera: Salam Balay  Produced by: Nawid Orokzai 
 

Pandemic, Racial Unrest Test Black Clergy on Dual Fronts

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 21:18

For black clergy across the United States, the past 10 days have been a tumultuous test of their stamina and skills.

For weeks, they had been striving to comfort their congregations amid a pandemic taking a disproportionately heavy toll on African Americans. Then came a coast-to-coast surge of racial tension and unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd, the Minneapolis black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck as he pleaded for air.

"We've got a coronavirus and a racism virus," said the Reverend Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

Here's a look at what McKissic and three other black clergymen have been doing and how they've been coping: 

Texas

Even without the flare-up of racial unrest, this week would have been challenging for McKissic. After weeks without in-person services because of the pandemic, he's expecting up to 400 worshippers at a Sunday evening service to start what he calls "The Comeback."

FILE - The Rev. Dwight McKissic poses for a portrait in the sanctuary of the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, Oct. 4, 2006.

His staff has been brushing up on disinfecting techniques and ordering face masks by the hundreds. Worshippers will be required to wear masks and will be seated in accordance with social distancing guidelines in a venue that can hold 1,800 people.

"Just trying to pastor effectively in a pandemic world — that alone has been a full challenge," McKissic said. "Then all these race riots break out, all over the country and right next door to me."

Last weekend, he recorded a fiery four-minute statement that he aired on social media, denouncing the police actions that have cost blacks their lives.

"America now has seen exactly what black America has been knowing for a couple of hundred years," he said. "No one can now say that racism is a myth."

He plans to expand on that theme in the sermon he's preparing for Sunday. He's also been conferring with fellow pastors, liaising with local political leaders, and comforting his older congregants.

"This reminds them of the '60s," he said. "They had hoped we were past this kind of incident." 

South Carolina

When news of Floyd's death reached Charleston, South Carolina, there was a visceral reaction among congregation members at Emanuel AME Church. That's where avowed white supremacist Dylan Roof killed the pastor and eight worshippers, all of them black, at a Bible study in 2015.

"We are familiar with pain. We are familiar with murder," said the Reverend Eric Manning, the church's pastor since June 2016.

FILE - Men of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. lead people in prayer outside the Emanuel AME Church, after a memorial service for nine people killed by Dylann Roof in Charleston, S.C., June 19, 2015.

Last Friday, Manning's daily Bible study — being conducted via conference call during the pandemic — was devoted to the fallout from Floyd's death.

"The whole study was talking about how we are feeling as a race," Manning said. "It's a painful reminder there is so much work still to be done when it comes to race relations."

On Saturday night, Manning and his son headed toward downtown, hearing there was trouble brewing at a protest march. Manning said he got a whiff of tear gas as he tried to reduce tensions between police and youthful black protesters.

Afterward, he updated his Sunday sermon so it would reflect "the reality of the social unrest."

"The things we are seeing are not OK," he said. "It's not OK to see a law enforcement officer lean his knee on the neck of an African American."

The sermon was delivered online. There's still no timetable for Manning's church to resume in-person services. The denomination's regional leaders are weighing options.

"Every day there's something different," Manning said. "How do you minister to a community in so much need?" 

Minnesota

At a recent Minnesota rally, Imam Makram El-Amin joined thousands in chanting George Floyd's name. At another gathering, at Floyd's memorial site, El-Amin addressed a crowd, encouraging them "to use their voice," be peaceful and organize for change.

Over the phone, the imam of Masjid An-Nur in Minneapolis prayed with members of the mosque's congregation.

One such call, he said, was with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who has been given the lead in prosecutions related to Floyd's death.

"He has a specific burden that he is carrying right now because of the weight of this case," said El-Amin, who has been offering spiritual advice to Ellison.

With the coronavirus outbreak, El-Amin's days already had been hectic as demand for food and other needs increased at Al-Maa'uun, a faith-based nonprofit of which he's the executive director. Then, came Floyd's death and the protests.

"People want justice. People are at their wits' end and the emotions are raw," said El-Amin. "This is something that has been brewing for a long, long time."

At such times, faith leaders need to be "a voice of calm" and justice, he said. "We need to be comforting the afflicted in this moment and also afflicting the comfortable."

He has been talking to law enforcement and elected officials, business owners and other community members, including some "very distraught" young men.

"They were angry," he said. "They have a lot of anxiety, but most and foremost, I registered their fear." 

Michigan

In March, the Reverend Horace Sheffield III, one of Detroit's most prominent pastors, was stricken by COVID-19, along with his wife. They've both recovered; Sheffield rates his current health at "90 percent" and tries to take a brisk 30-minute walk every day.

Rev. Horace Sheffield III preaches at New Destiny Christian Fellowship in Detroit, Nov. 6, 2016.

His workload, as pastor of New Destiny Christian Fellowship Church, requires energy and multitasking skills.

The church operates a large food distribution program and offers testing for the coronavirus. It is tentatively scheduled to resume in-person services on June 14.

Sheffield also has a weekly radio show, which he used last weekend to discuss the wave of unrest in Detroit and elsewhere sparked by Floyd's death. He's been on the phone conferring with fellow pastors and with his daughter, Mary Sheffield, who is president pro tem of the Detroit City Council.

Sheffield, 65, said he and one of his best friends shared memories last weekend of the turbulent '60s, including anti-war protests and the struggle for civil rights.

"We witnessed that whole whirlwind of upheaval," Sheffield said. "We were both wondering if we're on the edge of another seething cauldron."
 

Norway Landslide Takes Homes Into Sea

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 20:32

Officials in Norway say eight structures were swept into the sea by a landslide near the Norwegian Arctic town of Alta.

A local resident, Jan Egil Bakkedal, captured the event on video Wednesday in the village of Kraakneset. He told the Associated Press he ran for his life when he realized what was happening. Among houses that were lost was his own.

Police estimate the landslide was between 650 meters and 800 meters wide and up to 40 meters high. Officials did not know what caused the slide.

Several minor landslides followed, and nearby houses were temporarily evacuated as a precaution.

No injuries were reported. A dog that was washed into the sea was able to swim back to land. 
 

Efforts Launched to Help Immigrants Ineligible for US Federal COVID-19 Assistance

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 20:18

Programs have been launched in two of the largest U.S. states to provide economic assistance to undocumented immigrants who have been ineligible for benefits under massive federal stimulus packages enacted to combat financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Immigrant relief funds have been set up in California and Pennsylvania. A similar initiative was launched in Baltimore, Maryland.
 
Immigrant advocates say that at a time when much of the U.S. workforce has been idled to slow the spread of the coronavirus, it is counterproductive to exclude those lacking legal status from assistance that has made it easier for people to stay at home.
 
“Immigrant rights organizations recognized immediately that this was going to exacerbate our public health crisis,” Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizen Coalition executive director Sundrop Carter told VOA.
 
Enacted in March, the CARES Act provided stimulus checks of up to $1,200 to low and middle-income individuals. Families were also eligible for $500 per child under the age of 17.
 
Passed by a Democratic-led House and a Republican-led Senate, the bill provided benefits to U.S. citizens and permanent residents but excluded undocumented immigrants and individuals in mixed-status families.
 
Some Democratic lawmakers criticized the exclusions as unjust, noting that many workers lacking legal status pay federal taxes.  
 
“COVID-19 does not care about your immigration status, so neither should our response," Arizona Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva said in an April statement.
 
President Donald Trump’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill were unmoved.

Earlier this month, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas introduced the “No Bailouts for Illegal Aliens Act.” Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado introduced a companion legislation in the House. Their goal is to block funds being sent to U.S. states giving coronavirus-related stimulus checks or other cash payments to unauthorized workers.

“The federal government shouldn't be subsidizing states' efforts to send cash to illegal aliens," Cotton said in a statement last month.
 
With federal aid restricted, California stepped in with its own initiative. America’s most populous state set up a $125 million fund that is providing a maximum of $1,000 per undocumented household.

In Pennsylvania, more than 40 nonprofit groups have joined with a charitable foundation to launch the PA Immigrant Relief Fund. The program, which several cities are promoting but receives no state money, has provided financial aid to hundreds of families in its first days of operation, and organizers hope to help thousands more in the weeks and months to come.
 
“So many organizations really wanted to match the federal stimulus of $1,200 dollars, but we ended up on $800 (per undocumented household in Pennsylvania),” Carter said, adding that the initiative aims “to reach as many people as possible” with funds she describes as “a drop in the bucket.”
 
Some local governments are stepping in, as well. In Baltimore, Maryland, a mayoral office for immigrant affairs established an emergency fund to “help families achieve economic stability by using funds towards rent, utilities and/or other basic needs.”
 
The key requirement for federal stimulus money is a social security number given to U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents. The stipulation has served to deny benefits to mixed status families in which a citizen or resident is married to an undocumented immigrant who files taxes using an alternative to the social security number.
 
Multiple lawsuits are underway challenging the withholding of stimulus money to mixed-status families, as well as undocumented immigrants with children who are U.S. citizens.
 

US Senate Approves Trump Nominee to Head US Broadcasting

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 19:56

The U.S. Senate Thursday approved President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the federal agency that oversees Voice of America and other international broadcasting entities.    

On a 53-38 party-line vote, the Republican-controlled Senate approved conservative documentary filmmaker Michael Pack to head USAGM for a three-year term. Pack’s nomination has been under consideration for two years, held up in part because of Democratic concerns about alleged financial self-dealing in his businesses.   

Through his company Manifold Productions, Inc., Pack has written, directed and produced numerous documentaries, many of which have aired on PBS. He has served as CEO of the conservative Claremont Institute and held positions on the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He has also worked on film projects with former Trump chief strategist and co-founder of Breitbart News, Stephen Bannon.

Pack has previous experience with U.S. broadcasting, having served as director of WORLDNET, the global satellite network of the U.S. Information Agency that became the TV unit of Voice of America.

"This man is uniquely qualified to hold this position," Senate Foreign Relations Chairman James Risch said Thursday. "He's done an outstanding job - everyone should look at the most recent documentary he did on the Supreme Court - it was just outstanding. There's been a political battle fight over him for two years and one day - today is the moment of truth."

In his confirmation hearing last September, Pack addressed concerns he would attempt to impose a political bias on USAGM agencies, including VOA, which is mandated by U.S. law to be objective and balanced in its reporting.    

"The whole agency rests on the belief the reporters are independent, that no political influence is telling them how to report the news and what to say. Without that trust, I think, the agency is completely undermined," Pack told the committee.   

With Pack’s nomination seemingly stalled in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, President Trump last month expressed frustration about the wait, saying it was due to Democratic obstruction. The president previously threatened to adjourn Congress to push the nomination through.  

Despite reports that Pack’s business dealings were the subject of an investigation by the District of Columbia’s attorney general, the Foreign Relations Committee approved Pack’s nomination May 20, on a strict 12-10 party-line vote, and then sent it to the Senate floor for final approval.  

At the time, Senator Risch said the committee was prepared to stand down on the nomination “if the United States attorney general department, Department of Justice asks to stand down; [we] will do so. That has not happened here.”  

Democrats say nomination sets bad precedent

FILE - Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez speaks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 5, 2019.

Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the final vote on the Pack nomination endangered the Senate’s historic advise and consent role on presidential nominees in light of the way it was pushed through without a full airing of Pack’s business dealings.  

The D.C. attorney general’s office said it has opened an investigation into whether Pack unlawfully used funds from his nonprofit, Public Media Lab, to benefit himself.

“I know that the president has spoken both publicly and privately of his intense desire to confirm Mr. Pack, come what may,” Menendez said Thursday. “The objections that I have raised today and have been raising for months are not political or partisan in nature. They go to the most basic and critical question - is Michael Pack fit to serve? Should he be confirmed while he is under investigation and after having been dishonest with the Senate and the IRS?”

Menendez detailed committee Democrats’ unanswered questions, alleging that Pack had “misrepresented the relationship between his nonprofit organization and his for-profit company to the IRS.   

The White House dismissed Democratic concerns, stating that, “The President stands behind Michael Pack and is disappointed, but not surprised, that Do-Nothing-Democrats have once again decided to throw political mud on a public servant’s clean record.”   

Pack’s film company, Manifold Productions, Inc., received millions in grants from his non-profit, Menendez said. Yet he repeatedly told the IRS that there was no relationship between the two when in fact he ran both of them. Menendez said that Pack has yet to correct misinformation provided to the IRS and to the committee regarding the status of his tax returns.

Menendez said Pack had not provided the committee with requested documents detailing the relationship between his nonprofit and his business, claiming sensitive business information.   

“Business interests are so sensitive that the United States senators cleared to review the most sensitive classified information cannot see them,” Menendez said.   

VOA did not receive a response to a request for comment from Pack’s spokesperson.  

US Broadcasting editorial stance

In recent weeks, Trump has criticized VOA for its news coverage of China during the coronavirus crisis. When asked about the Pack nomination on May 15th, Trump said, “Voice of America is run in a terrible manner. They’re not the Voice of America. They’re the opposite of the Voice of America.”   

VOA Director Amanda Bennett defended the U.S.-funded news agency’s mission and reporting in a statement last month.     

“We export the First Amendment to people around the world who have no other access to factual, truthful, believable information,” she said.        

“That’s why more than 80% of our 280 million audience in 47 languages in more than 60 countries say they find our work credible,” she added.      

Senator Menendez said on the Senate floor ahead of the final vote Thursday that the connection with foreign audiences depends on the agency’s protections from political interference.

“People around the world have come to view the products from all of the networks and grantees as reliable and trustworthy news sources as this pandemic has highlighted,” he said.

“It is absolutely critical that any person in this position maintain a strong firewall between the work of its networks and grantees and political interference or influence from the White House or any others."

The USAGM oversees five U.S. civilian broadcast networks, which include VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Arabic-language stations Alhurra Television and Radio Sawa of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN).    

Prosecutors Describe Racist Slur as Ahmaud Arbery Lay Dying

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 19:40

A state investigator alleged Thursday that a white man was heard saying a racist slur as he stood over Ahmaud Arbery's body, moments after killing him with three shots from a pump-action shotgun.  

The lead Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent in the case testified that Travis and Greg McMichael and a third man in another pickup, William "Roddie" Bryan, used their trucks to chase down and box in Arbery, who repeatedly reversed directions and even jumped into a ditch in a desperate struggle to escape.  

Travis McMichael then got out of his truck and confronted Arbery, later telling police he shot him in self defense after Arbery refused his order to get on the ground, Special Agent Richard Dial said. A close examination of the video of the shooting shows the first shot was to Arbery's chest, the second was to his hand, and the third was to his chest before he collapsed in the road, Dial said.

Bryan, who recorded that video, said he heard the gunman say a racist epithet as he stood over Arbery's body before police arrived, Dial said.  

Special prosecutor Jesse Evans said Arbery "was chased, hunted down and ultimately executed."  
"I don't think it was self-defense by Mr. McMichael. I think it was self-defense by Mr. Arbery," Dial said later under defense questioning. "When he couldn't get away, he chose to fight."

The evidence presented Thursday to support a murder trial also raises questions about the idea that the McMichaels and Bryan were legitimately carrying out a citizens' arrest of a suspected burglar.
 
Dial testified that Greg McMichaels told police that "he didn't know if Mr. Arbery had stolen anything or not, but he had a gut feeling" that Arbery had committed prior break-ins in the neighborhood.

The testimony also could factor into a federal investigation into whether hate crime charges are warranted.  

Dial testified that investigators found a Confederate symbol in Travis' McMichael's truck and several more racial slurs in messages on his phone. The U.S. Department of Justice said on May 11 that it is "assessing all the evidence to determine whether federal hate crime charges are appropriate." Georgia is one of the few states that don't have a hate crime law.  

Travis McMichael, 34, his father Greg McMichael, 64, and Bryan, 50, were charged with murder more than two months after the Arbery was killed, after a series of recusals by southeast Georgia prosecutors and the emergence of Bryan's video of the final encounter led to a state takeover.  

Lawyers for the defendants and the state acknowledged the extraordinary context for the hearing, following a week of angry nationwide protests over law enforcement biases against black victims. Most wore masks when they weren't speaking, conscious of the need to prevent spreading the coronavirus while most courts are closed due to the pandemic.

Glynn County Magistrate Judge Wallace E. Harrell must determine whether the evidence merits going to trial.  

Arbery was killed Feb. 23 after the father and son armed themselves and gave chase when they spotted the 25-year-old black man running in their neighborhood just outside the port city of Brunswick. Bryan said he saw them driving by and joined the chase, Dial said.

It wasn't until May 7 — two days after Bryan's cellphone video leaked online and stirred a national outcry — that the McMichaels were charged with felony murder and aggravated assault. Bryan was later charged with felony murder and a criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.  

Georgia law defines felony murder as a killing caused by the commission of an underlying felony. It does not require intent to kill. The minimum penalty is life in prison with a chance of parole.  

Defense attorneys for both McMichaels have said much remains unknown about what led to the shooting and have cautioned against rushing to judgment. An attorney for Bryan has said he was merely a witness to Arbery's death.

Largely peaceful protests following the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and Arbery have led to outbreaks of violence in many larger cities, including Atlanta.  

A small crowd gathered outside the courthouse in Brunswick, where Gov. Brian Kemp promised a "strong state law enforcement presence" during and after the hearing.
 

Virginia to Remove Prominent Confederate Statue

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 19:19

The governor of the U.S. state of Virginia announced Thursday that a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that stands in the city of Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, will be removed.

Announcing the decision at a news conference in Richmond, Governor Ralph Northam said he was there to be honest about the past and talk about the future.  He said the statue, which had been erected in 1890, "has been there for a long time. It was wrong then, and it's wrong now. So, we're taking it down."

Northam made the decision after days of angry protests in Richmond and across the country over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck while he pleaded for air.

Protesters had made the statue a focal point, calling for it and other Confederate statues to be taken down. The Confederacy fought the U.S. civil war largely to preserve slavery and subjugate African Americans as property.

The decision also came a day after Richmond's mayor, Levar Stoney, announced he would seek to remove the other four Confederate statues on Monument Avenue, a prestigious residential street and National Historic Landmark district.

FILE - State Police keep a small group of Confederate protesters separated from counter demonstrators in front of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, Sept. 16, 2017.

Together, the decisions mark a striking departure from recent years when, even after a violent rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville in 2017 and other Confederate monuments started falling around the country, Virginia did not make the same changes.

Northam said the statue, property of the state of Virginia, will come down immediately and will be stored while a decision is made on what to do with it.

 

John Lewis Says Video of George Floyd's Killing Made Him Cry

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 19:05

Civil rights icon John Lewis said Thursday that the video of George Floyd's death at the hands of police in Minnesota "made me cry."

"I kept saying to myself: How many more? How many young black men will be murdered?" said Lewis, D-Ga.

"It made me so sad. It was so painful," Lewis told "CBS This Morning." "It made me cry."
Lewis said he was encouraged to see such diverse crowds protesting Floyd's killing, seeking the arrests of the police officers involved and demanding an end to racial injustice.

"It was very moving, very moving to see hundreds and thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets to speak up, to speak out," he said.

Lewis, 80, was a key figure in the civil rights movement and was one of the leaders behind the 1963 March on Washington and the push to end legalized racial segregation. He had his skull fractured by Alabama troopers as marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on March 7, 1965.

He urged protesters seeking justice in Floyd's killing to embrace nonviolence and called on President Donald Trump not to crack down on "orderly, peaceful, nonviolent protests."  
"You cannot stop the call of history," Lewis said.  

Lewis quoted Martin Luther King Jr.: "Hate is too heavy a burden to bear. The way of love is a much better way."

"During the '60s, the great majority of us accepted the way of peace, the way of love, philosophy and discipline of nonviolence as a way of life, as a way of living," he said. "There's something cleansing, something wholesome, about being peaceful and orderly."

"We're one people, we're one family," he said. "We all live in the same house, not just the American house but the world house."

In 2011 Lewis received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, who marched with Lewis in Selma on the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday attack.

He has served in the House since 1987. In December he announced he was battling Stage IV pancreatic cancer. He appeared gaunt in his television interview but said he's doing better.

"My health is improving," he said. "I have wonderful doctor and nurse. They're taking good care of me. I'm very hopeful and very optimistic. They're trying to get me to eat more. And I'm trying to eat more to regain my weight."

 

The Infodemic: Are Vaccinated Children More Likely to Have Health Issues?

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 19:03

Fake news about the coronavirus can do real harm. Polygraph.info is spotlighting fact-checks from other reliable sources here​.

Daily Debunk

Claim: Vaccinated children are more likely to have adverse health outcomes like developmental delays, asthma, and ear infections compared to unvaccinated children.

Verdict: Unsupported

Read the full story at: Health Feedback

Social Media Disinfo

CDC.gov

Circulating on social media: Claim that COVID-19 is caused by a bacteria and can be easily treated.

Verdict: False

Read the full story at: FactCheck.org​

Factual Reads on Coronavirus

Antibody injections could fight COVID-19 infections – an infectious disease expert explains the prospects
[H]ow can we isolate and produce neutralizing antibodies in large enough quantities to serve everyone who needs them, including research laboratories and pharmaceutical companies?
-- The Conversation, June 1

Ousted State Department Watchdog Confirms Investigations Into Pompeo

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 18:57

Ousted State Department Inspector General Steve Linick on Wednesday told members of three congressional committees that before he was abruptly fired, he was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's use of government resources as well as the secretary's decision to approve a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia.  

Democrats are investigating President Donald Trump's firing of Linick — one of several inspector generals he has recently ousted — and whether it was a retaliatory move. Pompeo has said he recommended that the inspector general be terminated, but insisted it wasn't retribution. Linick was an Obama administration appointee whose office had been critical of what it saw as political bias in the State Department's current management, but had also taken issue with Democratic appointees.  

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a joint statement with other lawmakers that they still have many unanswered questions about the firing.  

"Mr. Linick confirmed that at the time he was removed as IG, his office was looking into two matters that directly touched on Secretary Pompeo's conduct and that senior State Department officials were aware of his investigations," the Democrats said. They said that Linick testified that he was "shocked" when he was fired.  

Their statement said Linick confirmed there was an ongoing investigation into "allegations of misuse of government resources by Secretary Pompeo and his wife." Linick said he had informed officials close to Pompeo of the investigation, including by requesting documents from his executive secretary, the Democrats said.  

Pompeo, though, told reporters after Linick was fired last month that he was unaware of any investigation into allegations that he may have mistreated staffers by instructing them to run personal errands for him and his wife — such as walking his dog and picking up dry cleaning and takeout food. Thus, Pompeo said, the move could not have been retaliatory.  

Pompeo did acknowledge then that he was aware of the probe into his decision last year to bypass congressional objections to approve a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia because he had answered written questions about it posed by Linick's office. But he maintained he did not know the scope or scale of the investigation.

Linick confirmed that probe as well, and told the investigators his office had requested an interview with Pompeo but that the secretary had refused. The Democrats said Linick testified he had been pressured by Brian Bulatao, an undersecretary of State who is an old friend of Pompeo.  

"Mr. Linick testified that Mr. Bulatao pressured him to act in ways that Mr. Linick felt were inappropriate — including Bulatao telling Linick that the investigation into weapons sales to Saudi Arabia was not a matter for the IG to investigate," the committees said.  

Republicans questioned Linick on whether he had leaked information about sensitive investigations, which the administration has suggested played a part in his dismissal. In a letter to Engel this week, Bulato wrote that "concern over Linick had grown" concerning the handling of an investigation that was leaked in the media and later reviewed.  

The Democrats said Linick rejected that explanation, saying it was "either misplaced or unfounded."  

In his opening statement, released before the interview and obtained by The Associated Press, Linick said he has "served without regard to politics" in his nearly three-decade career in public service and has always been committed to independent oversight.

The investigation is part of a larger congressional efforts to find out more about Trump's recent moves to sideline several independent government watchdogs. Engel and Menendez have been demanding answers and documents from the State Department on other matters for months, to little avail, and are now teaming up to try to force a complete explanation from Pompeo and the White House as to why Trump fired Linick.  

The committee has asked several other State Department officials to sit for interviews in the probe, including Bulatao, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper, Pompeo's executive secretary Lisa Kenna and acting State Department legal adviser Marik String. The committees said they will release transcripts shortly after each interview.

Democrats and some Republicans have pushed the administration for more answers about the inspector general firings, but the White House has provided few, simply stating the dismissals were well within Trump's authority.  

Linick played a small role in Trump's impeachment last year, an involvement that has added fuel to Democratic suspicions of retaliation. In October, Linick turned over documents to House investigators that he had received from a close Pompeo associate that contained information from debunked conspiracy theories about Ukraine's role in the 2016 U.S. election. Democrats were probing Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate his political opponents.  

He is the second inspector general to be fired who was involved with the impeachment process. Michael Atkinson, the former inspector general for the intelligence community, triggered the impeachment probe when he alerted Congress about a whistleblower complaint that described a call between Trump and Ukraine's president last summer. Trump fired Atkinson in April, saying he had lost confidence in him.  

The president also moved to replace the chief watchdog at the Department of Health and Human Services, Christi Grimm, who testified that her office was moving ahead with new reports and audits on the department's response to the coronavirus pandemic despite Trump's public criticism of her.

In addition, Trump demoted acting Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, effectively removing him as head of a special board to oversee auditing of the coronavirus economic relief package. Fine later resigned.

 

Snapchat to Stop 'Promoting' Trump Amid Uproar Over Tweets

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 18:51

Snapchat will stop "promoting" President Donald Trump on its video messaging service, the latest example of a social media platform adjusting how it treats this U.S. president.  

Last week, Twitter placed fact-check warnings on two Trump tweets that called mail-in ballots "fraudulent" and predicted problems with the November elections. It demoted and placed a stronger warning on a third tweet about Minneapolis protests that read, in part, that "when the looting starts the shooting starts."

Snapchat's action is more limited. It means only that the president's posts will no longer show up in the app's "Discover" section, which showcases news and posts by celebrities and public figures. Trump's account will remain active on Snapchat and visible to anyone who searches for or follows it.

Twitter Adds ‘Glorifying Violence’ Warning to Trump Tweet Trump, a prolific Twitter user, has been at war with the company since earlier this week, when it applied fact checks to two of his tweets about mail-in ballots

The decision, which Snap — the owner of Snapchat — says was made over the weekend, puts the Santa Monica, California-based company in Twitter's camp after that company escalated its actions against Trump.  

Facebook, meanwhile, has let identical posts stand, although the company and CEO Mark Zuckerberg face growing criticism over the decision.  

"We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover," Snap said in a statement Wednesday. "Racial violence and injustice have no place in our society and we stand together with all who seek peace, love, equality, and justice in America."

Snapchat has 229 million daily active users. Twitter, by comparison, has 166 million. Unlike Twitter and even Facebook, Snapchat is generally used as a private communications tool, with friends sending each other short videos and images and, to a lesser extent, following celebrities and other accounts.

In a tweet, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said Snap CEO Evan Spiegel "would rather promote extreme left riot videos & encourage users to destroy America than share positive words of unity, justice, and law & order from our President."

 

Cameroon Journalists Blast Government Silence on Case of Missing Colleague

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 18:40

Journalists in Cameroon have marched to government offices to demand an account of their missing colleague, Samuel Wazizi, after local media this week reported he was died in military custody.  
 
Isidore Abah of the Cameroon Association of English-Speaking Journalists’ (CAMASEJ) says he led scores of reporters Thursday in a march to government offices in the southwestern town of Buea.
 
Abah, who spoke from Buea via a messaging app, said journalists are demanding authorities tell them what happened to their colleague.
 
"We are disenchanted because we got news that our colleague is no more, so we have come here today to express our grief and to tell the governor that journalists are not armed robbers, journalists are not supposed to be treated with disdain.  We have a right, so we have come to express our grief," he said.
 
Abah said among the government offices they visited was that of Southwest Region Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai.
 
According to Abah, Bilai said only the central government in the capital Yaounde could tell them what happened to Wazizi.
 
Wazizi, whose legal name is Samuel Ajiekah Abuwe, worked for Chillen Music Television.   
 
He was arrested Aug. 2, 2019, for allegedly supporting separatists in Cameroon’s English-speaking northwest and southwest regions by hosting fighters on his farm.  
 
The military transferred Wazizi from Buea to Yaounde, where he had no access to lawyers or family and has not been seen since.  
 
On Wednesday, Cameroon media reported that Wazizi died in military detention in Yaounde.  Neither Cameroon’s military nor government have so far commented on the reports.   
 
Journalists in the French-speaking town of Douala staged a similar protest march Thursday to government offices.   
 
Press groups threatened to extend their protests to towns all over Cameroon if the government on Thursday fails to issue a statement.

 

Trump to Sign Order Giving Agencies Emergency Powers to Fast-track Energy Projects, Sources Say

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 18:31

President Donald Trump on Thursday is expected to sign an executive order that would let federal agencies use emergency powers to fast track major energy infrastructure projects by overriding environmental permitting requirements, two sources familiar with the proposal said.

The order is billed as a way to "support and accelerate" the U.S. economic recovery from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and improve U.S. infrastructure, according to bullet points summarizing the order seen by Reuters.

*This is a developing story, we will update soon with additional information

Telehealth Expansion Could Become Permanent Post-Pandemic

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 17:46

The temporary expansion of telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic would become permanent under a bill considered Thursday by a Senate committee.

As passed by the House in March, the bill would allow reimbursement for medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders conducted via telehealth. But an amendment before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee would also make permanent the provisions of Gov.

Chris Sununu's emergency order on telehealth, which allowed all health care providers to offer services via phone, video and other remote systems and required insurers to cover them.

Officials representing hospitals, community health centers, dentists and mental health providers all told the committee that telehealth has been a valuable tool during the pandemic and should continue.

Christine Stoddard of the Bistate Primary Care Association said community health centers "were able to turn on a dime" and transition to telehealth. And though in-person visits have resumed, centers still don't have enough protective gear for staff, making telehealth options essential.

Because of the pandemic, telehealth services have become an important part of the health care system, said Paula Minnehan of the New Hampshire Hospital Association.

"As many experts have predicted, telehealth is here to stay, which is why this legislation is so important to ensure patients are able to get the right care at the right time in the right setting, which ultimately may be in the safety of their own homes," she said.  

Ken Norton, director of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said telehealth has greatly expanded access to mental health treatment.

"We can't go back," he said.

Other coronavirus developments in New Hampshire:

The Numbers

As of Wednesday, 4,795 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 47 from the previous day. Nine deaths were announced, for a total of 265.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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