Briefs: Trump halts COVID-19 relief talks until after election

Associated Press

Associated Press

Ethicists say Trump special treatment raises fairness issues

The special treatment President Donald Trump received to access an experimental COVID-19 drug raises fairness issues that start with the flawed health care system many Americans endure and end with the public's right to know more about his condition, ethics and medical experts say.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. revealed on Tuesday how rare it was for anyone to get the drug it gave Trump outside of studies testing its safety and effectiveness. The drug, which supplies antibodies to help the immune system clear the coronavirus, is widely viewed as very promising. 

Trump also received the antiviral remdesivir and the steroid dexamethasone, and it's impossible to know whether any of these drugs did him any good. 

"He deserves special treatment by virtue of his office," said George Annas, who heads Boston University's center for law and health ethics. "The question is whether it's good treatment." 

These drugs are unproven for mild illness and have not been tested in combination. The steroid seems at odds with medical guidelines based on what doctors have said about the severity of his illness. 

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Trump halts COVID-19 relief talks until after election

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday called an abrupt end to negotiations with Democrats over additional COVID-19 relief, delaying action until after the election despite ominous warnings from his own Federal Reserve chairman about the deteriorating conditions in the economy.

Trump tweeted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was "not negotiating in good faith" and said he's asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to direct all his focus before the election into confirming his U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.

"I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business," Trump tweeted.

Hours later, Trump appeared to edge back a bit from his call to end negotiations. He took to Twitter again and called on Congress to send him a "Stand Alone Bill for Stimulus Checks ($1,200)" — a reference to a pre-election batch of direct payments to most Americans that had been a central piece of negotiations between Pelosi and the White House. Pelosi has generally rejected taking a piecemeal approach to COVID relief.

"I am ready to sign right now. Are you listening Nancy?" Trump said in a flurry of tweets Tuesday evening. He also called on Congress to immediately approve $25 billion for airlines and $135 billion the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses.

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Pence-Harris debate to unfold as Trump recovers from virus

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence and his Democratic challenger, California Sen. Kamala Harris, are poised to meet for a debate that will offer starkly different visions for a country confronting escalating crises.

The faceoff Wednesday night in Salt Lake City is the most highly anticipated vice presidential debate in recent memory. It will unfold while President Donald Trump recovers at the White House after testing positive last week for the coronavirus and spending several days in the hospital, a serious setback for his campaign that adds pressure on Pence to defend the administration's handling of the pandemic.

For Harris, the debate is her highest-profile opportunity to vocalize how the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, would stabilize the U.S., especially when it comes to resolving the pandemic and addressing racial injustice. She will be able to explain her views on law enforcement, an area in which she's viewed warily by some progressives, given her past as a prosecutor.

Ultimately, the debate is a chance for voters to decide whether Pence and Harris are in a position to step into the presidency at a moment's notice. It's hardly a theoretical question as the 74-year-old Trump combats the virus, and Biden, at 77, would become the oldest person to become president if he's elected.

While the debate will likely cover a range of topics, the virus will be at the forefront.

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Voter beware: US tells public how to avoid election mischief

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity agency have issued a series of advisories in recent weeks aimed at warning voters about problems that could surface in the election — as well as steps Americans can take to counter the foreign interference threat.

The issues identified in the public service announcements run the gamut from the spread of online disinformation about the electoral process to cyberattacks targeting election infrastructure. Taken together, the advisories make clear that American agencies are tracking a broad range of potential threats that they believe voters should know about — not just for transparency's sake but also so voters can be prepared.

The warnings come even though U.S. officials as recently as Tuesday expressed confidence in the integrity of the vote despite repeated efforts by President Donald Trump to denigrate it.

Some of the announcements from the FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency:

DISINFORMATION THROUGH BOGUS INTERNET DOMAINS AND EMAIL ACCOUNTS

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Audit likely gave congressional staff glimpse of Trump taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) — It's one of the most obscure functions of Congress, little known or understood even by most lawmakers. But it may have once put staffers in possession of one of the most enduring mysteries of the Donald Trump era: his tax data, which The New York Times revealed to the world.

The Times report last month included a series of bombshell revelations about Trump's finances, including that he paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and that he carries $421 million in debt. Trump has long refused to release his tax returns, blaming an IRS audit. 

That's where Congress comes in. The audit of Trump's taxes, the Times reported, has been held up for more than four years by staffers for the Joint Committee on Taxation, which has 30 days to review individual refunds and tax credits over $2 million. When JCT staffers disagree with the IRS on a decision, the review is typically kept open until the matter is resolved. 

The upshot is that information on Trump's taxes, which Democrats are now suing to see, has almost certainly passed through the JCT's hands, putting it tantalizingly close to lawmakers.

Key members of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee defended the JCT after the Times report and were emphatic that the panel does not have copies of tax forms pertaining to Trump. 

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Category 3 Hurricane Delta roars toward Mexico's Cancun area

CANCUN, Mexico (AP) — Hurricane Delta, a slightly weakened but still dangerous Category 3 storm, barreled toward Mexico's Yucatan peninsula with winds of 115 mph (185 kph) for an expected landfall south of the Cancun resort before dawn Wednesday.

Quintana Roo Gov. Carlos Joaquín said the state government had prepared, but warned residents and tourists that "it is a strong, powerful hurricane." He considered it a good sign that Delta had weakened a bit late Tuesday, but said the area hadn't seen a storm like it since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. 

Delta increased in strength by 80 mph in just 24 hours, more than doubling from a 60 mph storm at 2 p.m. EDT Monday to 140 mph at 2 p.m. EDT Tuesday. Its top winds peaked at 145 mph (230 kph) before weakening slightly late Tuesday as it closed in on Yucatan.

Forecasters warned it was still an extremely dangerous storm nevertheless, with a life-threatening storm surge that could raise water levels 9 to 13 feet (2.7 to 4 meters), along with large and dangerous waves and flash flooding inland.

Delta was centered about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east-northeast of Cozumel early Wednesday and moving northwest at 17 mph (28 kph). 

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Viewer's Guide: Virus response on stage with Pence, Harris

Mike Pence and Kamala Harris do not have a tough act to follow.

The vice presidential debate set for Wednesday night follows the disorderly prime-time spectacle last week that had viewers of President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden's matchup bemoaning the moderator's inability to shut off a candidate's microphone.

As vice president Pence has worked to level Trump's roughshod style and steer his response to the coronavirus pandemic. He will face a U.S. senator known for sharp questioning who has made it clear she wants to invoke her prosecutorial chops on the debate stage.

The handling of the pandemic and the contraction of COVID-19 by the president, along with several others in the White House, will almost literally be center stage. Pence and Harris are expected to be separated by a plexiglass shield to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

The debate starting at 9 p.m. EDT at the University of Utah is the only matchup scheduled between Pence and Harris. 

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Feisty Tasmanian devils roaming Australian mainland again

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Tasmanian devils, the carnivorous marsupials whose feisty, frenzied eating habits won the animals cartoon fame, have returned to mainland Australia for the first time in some 3,000 years.

"Seeing those devils released into a wild landscape — it's a really emotional moment," said Liz Gabriel, director of conservation group Aussie Ark, which led the release effort in partnership with other conservation groups.

The 11 most recently released devils began exploring their new home once they were freed from round, white cages at the nearly 1,000-acre Barrington Tops wildlife refuge in New South Wales state, about 190 kilometers (120 miles) north of Sydney. 

Tasmanian devils, which were once called Sarcophilus satanicus or "Satanic flesh-lover," went extinct in mainland Australia before the arrival of Europeans. Scientists believe the introduction of carnivorous dingoes, a surge in the indigenous human population, and a devastating dry season cause by a prolonged El Nino caused the devil to migrate to present-day Tasmania, said University of Tasmania ecologist Menna Jones.

"I think any one of those three factors alone probably wouldn't have caused extinction — but the three of them together likely caused the devil to become extinct on the mainland," she said. 

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Guitar rock legend Eddie Van Halen dies of cancer at 65

NEW YORK (AP) — Eddie Van Halen, the guitar virtuoso whose blinding speed, control and innovation propelled his band Van Halen into one of hard rock's biggest groups and became elevated to the status of rock god, has died. He was 65.

A person close to Van Halen's family confirmed the rocker died Tuesday due to cancer. The person was not authorized to publicly release details in advance of an official announcement.

"He was the best father I could ask for," Van Halen's son Wolfgang wrote in a social media post. "Every moment I've shared with him on and off stage was a gift."

With his distinct solos, Eddie Van Halen fueled the ultimate California party band and helped knock disco off the charts starting in the late 1970s with his band's self-titled debut album and then with the blockbuster record "1984," which contains the classics "Jump," "Panama" and "Hot for Teacher."

Van Halen is among the top 20 best-selling artists of all time, and the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Rolling Stone magazine put Eddie Van Halen at No. 8 in its list of the 100 greatest guitarists.

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AP PHOTOS: Circus school in full swing again, despite COVID

BRUSSELS (AP) — The ropes are swinging. Chalk stains the mats anew. And students at the ESAC international circus school in Brussels are smiling again, even if it is through a mask sometimes. 

The pandemic forced the school to close in March, but with new measures in place to limit exposure the smell of sweat and the grunts of exertion are back again. 

"We are still training and working as hard as we always do," said second-year student Sidney Billings, 20, enjoying the opportunity to hone her athletic talents again. Those who pick a circus career are so driven, they were quick to get rid of the rust. 

"The students were excited to come back to work on a regular basis and to regain contact with teachers or project managers" said Spanish dance teacher Silvia Ubieta, 49, who joined the school in 2007.

For safety reasons amid the pandemic, Venezuelan school director Reynaldo Ramperssad had to cut the number of students by 25 percent, creating "bubbles" where only a few work together in a small group and do online theory classes. 

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