World CIA Believes China Tried to Prevent WHO from Declaring Coronavirus ‘Global Health Emergency’: Report
“Let me be clear: This declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China. On the contrary, WHO continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak,” WHO Director-General Tedros Anhanom told reporters at the time. The coronavirus outbreak has since become a pandemic, causing over 4,000,000 confirmed infections and killing almost 300,000 worldwide as of Tuesday.Accusing the WHO of mishandling the crisis and kowtowing to China, President Trump in April announced he would suspend U.S. funding for the organization.“I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the WHO while a review is conducted to assess the WHO’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Trump said at a White House press conference. “The WHO failed in this basic duty and must be held accountable.”
Well, that’s interesting, I thought, as I noted that the RealClearPolitics homepage stated that President Trump was tied for his all-time high in CNN polling. Then I went over to the CNN homepage for confirmation. Guess what I found?
The main story was about a church that lost 44 parishioners to COVID-19. The second-most prominent story told us that “Grocery Prices Are Soaring” (which is true if you think that a 2.6 percent increase in April should be called “soaring”), the third-most-prominent item told us, “Doctors treating coronavirus patients are seeing odd and frightening syndromes.” Running down the rail on the right we were given such important developments as “Man refusing to wear a mask breaks arm of Target employee,” “CNN Investigates: He’s willing to get Covid-19 to speed up vaccine efforts,” “Five surfers die after huge layer of sea foam hampers rescue” and “How coronavirus spread from one member to 87% of the singers at a choir practice.”
Only after all of this stuff did we learn that CNN has a new poll out, under the headline, “CNN Poll: Biden tops Trump nationwide, but battlegrounds tilt Trump.” Polls are expensive, news organizations tend to hype them breathlessly to generate headlines in rival media outlets, Wednesday was (obviously) a slow news day, and politics is one of CNN’s core topics. Yet CNN seemed oddly unenthused about its own poll. And the story to which the homepage linked doesn’t mention that Trump had never scored higher in a CNN poll. True, there are lots of noisy data in the piece, most of which cut against Trump. But on the other hand the single most surprising and hence most newsworthy detail of the poll was that Trump holds a seven-point lead over Biden in the battleground states. The CNN story doesn’t even tell us what that figure is — seven points seems like a pretty big number — and downplays its own finding by noting, “Given the small sample size in that subset of voters, it is difficult to determine with certainty whether the movement is significant or a fluke of random sampling.”
The headline of a different CNN news story about the same poll carries the headline, “CNN Poll: Negative ratings for government handling of coronavirus persist” over a picture of Trump looking downcast. This story, unlike the other one, mentions (but not till the fourth paragraph) that Trump’s approval rating of 45 percent “now matches his high point in CNN polling dating back to the start of his term.”
I don’t want to spin this poll as great news for President Trump — he has a 55 percent disapproval rating, and only 36 percent think he’s a trustworthy source of information about the crisis — but the story of the 21st century has been persistently low faith in presidents, government, Congress, and the direction of the country. President Obama had an approval rating of about 48 percent at this point in May of 2012, on his way to being reelected by a wide margin. Joe Biden has an approval rating of only 45 percent, as against 46 percent disapproval, and that’s with Biden mostly shielded from public view. Biden’s penchant for gaffes largely escape notice when his public appearances mainly consist of reading from a Teleprompter in his basement, whereas Trump’s gaffes make headlines. Biden bears no responsibility for all the things that have gone wrong, whereas Trump not only gets heaped with blame, but the pressure of managing a crisis spurs him on to more gaffes. Trump probably doesn’t need to win a plurality of voters to win a majority of Electoral College votes. And being disliked by a majority didn’t stop him before: The day he was elected president, he had a 37.5 percent approval rating, according to the RealClearPolitics poll of polls.
Biden does appear to be the favorite at the moment; he is, after all, leading in nationwide polls by an average of 4.5 percent, according to RealClearPolitics. He appears to have carved out a substantial lead among older voters, whom Trump has to thank for his win in 2016. Yet betting markets still rate Trump a big favorite. After three and a quarter years of the media talking themselves into believing the “walls are closing in,” “the noose is tightening,” and “the endgame has begun,” the voters don’t seem to be confirming that Trump is toast. On the contrary, they have substantially more positive views about Trump than they did when they elected him president. And Biden can’t hide in that basement forever.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday criticized comments Dr. Anthony Fauci made during a congressional hearing about the risks of reopening the country too soon as „not an acceptable answer.”
„I was surprised by his answer, actually, because, you know, to me it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools,” Trump said during a meeting Wednesday afternoon with North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
„He wants to play all sides of the equation,” Trump said of Fauci before emphasizing his confidence that the economy would quickly rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.
„I think we’re going to have a tremendous fourth quarter,” Trump said.
Trump has repeatedly contradicted Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, painting an overly rosy picture of a country that he says is ready to begin to return to normal.
Testifying by videoconference Tuesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Fauci warned of serious consequences if governors reopen state economies too soon.
„My concern — that if some areas, city, states or what have you jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently — my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks,” Fauci said in response to a question from Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the committee.
Trump, however, pushed for schools to reopen, telling reporters Wednesday, „I think they should open the schools, absolutely.”
„Our country has to get back, and it has to get back as soon as possible, and I don’t consider our country coming back if the schools are closed,” he added.
Fauci sounded a note of caution about reopening schools in the fall, telling senators that „we just have to see on a step-by-step basis, as we get into the period of time with the fall about reopening the schools, exactly where we will be in the dynamics of the outbreak.” He said that because the pandemic is affecting regions differently, „it’s not going to be universally or homogeneous.”
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In a taped interview with Fox Business Network, a clip of which was released Wednesday, Trump said: „Anthony is a good person, a very good person. I’ve disagreed with him. I totally disagree with him on schools.”
California State University, the country’s largest four-year university system, announced Tuesday that nearly all on-campus classes would be canceled for the fall semester and would take place online, instead. Other colleges and universities are considering moving fall classes online, too.
„Now, will you have an incident?” Trump asked, acknowledging the possibility that reopening schools could come at a cost.
„Will something happen? Perhaps. But you can be driving to school and something can happen, too,” he said.
By Marianna Parraga, Matt Spetalnick and Ana Isabel Martinez
MEXICO CITY/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The FBI is probing several Mexican and European companies allegedly involved in trading Venezuelan oil as it gathers information for a U.S. Treasury Department inquiry into possible sanctions busting, according to four people familiar with the matter.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and special envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told reporters late last month the State and Treasury departments were investigating whether several firms were violating sanctions imposed on Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA since January 2019.
The sanctions are part of a campaign by Washington to strangle the revenues of President Nicolas Maduro, which has failed to break his grip on power. U.S. officials say privately that is a source of frustration for President Donald Trump, whose administration has tightened the implementation of sanctions in recent months.
Three of the people who provided information to the FBI – who asked for anonymity to discuss the matter – said the agency was investigating three Mexican companies: Libre Abordo, Schlager Business Group, and Grupo Jomadi Logistics & Cargo.
Reuters could find no record of Venezuelan oil purchases by those companies prior to sanctions.
The people also said the FBI was gathering information on two Europe-based oil trading companies that do have a track record of dealing in Venezuelan oil or selling fuel to PDVSA: Elemento Ltd and Swissoil Trading SA.
One of the sources familiar with the matter in Washington said any action against the Mexican and European companies could be postponed or cancelled if the firms halted trade with Venezuela. The three others said the probe by the Treasury and the State departments could potentially lead to action in the coming weeks.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which handles media enquiries for the FBI, declined to comment, as did a State Department spokesperson. The Treasury Department did not reply to a request for comment.
Emails and phone calls seeking comment from Elemento and Swissoil went unanswered, and a lawyer for Elemento did not respond to a request for comment. Emails sent to an address on Jomadi’s website bounced back.
Libre Abordo and its affiliate Schlager said in a statement to Reuters, citing legal experts they hired, that two contracts they signed in June 2019 with Venezuela’s Corporation for Foreign Trade (Corpovex) to provide food and water trucks in exchange for Venezuelan crude – known as an oil-for-food agreement – were permitted under the sanctions as long as no cash payment reached Maduro’s government.
„Neither Libre Abordo nor shipping companies hired to move PDVSA’s hydrocarbons are the subject of sanctions,” read the statement.
The firms declined to identify the legal experts but provided Reuters with their interpretation of Venezuela sanctions, which the companies said they sent to several shipping firms and other partners.
The undated memorandum said the oil-for-food deal did not contravene U.S. measures because Corpovex was not specifically named on the Treasury Department’s list of sanctioned people and entities, unlike PDVSA, and because there were exceptions under the sanctions for humanitarian goods.
Neither Corpovex, PDVSA nor Venezuela’s trade ministry responded to requests for comment.
VENEZUELA RELIANT ON SWAP DEALS
The two small Mexican companies have emerged as the largest middlemen for Venezuelan oil in recent months, according to internal PDVSA export documents, reviewed by Reuters.
OPEC member Venezuela has come to rely on trading oil and gold to pay for essential imports using complicated swap agreements because Washington’s sanctions bar Maduro’s government from using the U.S. financial system.
The PDVSA export documents show that Libre Abordo and Schlager have quickly ramped up trading of Venezuelan oil since receiving a first cargo in December, after a second wave of U.S. sanctions in August 2019 barred non-U.S. oil companies from doing business with PDVSA.
These secondary sanctions blocked the U.S. property of anyone worldwide „materially assisting” Venezuela’s government, including PDVSA and other governmental bodies – though it did not specifically name Corpovex. While the measures permitted shipments of food, clothing and medicines, none of the Venezuela-related executive orders issued by Trump specifically allowed oil-for-food agreements.
Whether that ambiguity potentially has created a loophole for companies is a matter of disagreement, some experts said.
Richard Nephew, a senior researcher at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy and a former State Department official dealing with sanctions policy toward Iran, said that while food deals were permitted under sanctions there was no special dispensation for them to be paid for in oil and the involvement of PDVSA could still prompt Treasury to take action.
However, Peter Harrell, an expert on sanctions at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), said that in oil-for-food swaps the companies ultimately supplying the food could be protected from sanctions provided they had no role in physically receiving, transporting or selling the oil.
Harrell added that some U.S. policymakers might be reluctant to impose sanctions on companies involved in a deal to supply basic goods to a nation suffering a humanitarian crisis.
„Policymakers will be concerned that sanctioning an oil for food barter would play into a…narrative that U.S. sanctions are causing humanitarian challenges in Venezuela,” Harrell said.
DECISIONS ON SANCTIONS
While the FBI’s principal focus is on domestic intelligence and security, its agents also carry out overseas investigations to aid decisions on sanctions by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which often also seeks input from the State and Commerce departments, U.S. embassies and the intelligence community.
Libre Abordo and Schlager’s oil-for-food deals with Venezuela obliged them to deliver 1,000 water trucks and 210,000 tonnes of corn to the country, the companies said. While some of the trucks have been delivered, the firms said they have not so far supplied any of the food as low oil prices have affected the original delivery schedule.
In exchange, they have so far received more than 26 million barrels of Venezuelan oil for resale, according to PDVSA’s export documents.
In just four months, Libre Abordo and Schlager increased their intake of PDVSA’s oil from less than 3% to 39% of the Venezuelan company’s total exports, which averaged 850,000 barrels per day in April.
The agreements threw a lifeline to Maduro, whose administration is struggling to afford imports of everything from food to medicine and industrial equipment.
(Reporting by Marianna Parraga, Adriana Barrera and Ana Isabel Martinez in Mexico City, and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Additional reporting by Sarah Lynch, Daphne Psaledakis, Gary McWilliams and Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Daniel Wallis)
Melissa Etheridge and Julie Cypher’s son, Beckett, has died at age 21.
The singer’s team announced the sad news on Twitter on Wednesday, explaining why there would be no Facebook Live singalong. Etheridge has been hosting virtual gatherings since mid-March. The tweet was met with condolences from friends and fans.
The singer, 58, later confirmed in a statement on Facebook that her son had died from a drug overdose.
“Today I joined the hundreds of thousands of families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction,” she wrote. “My son Beckett, who was just 21, struggled to overcome his addiction and finally succumbed to it today.”
“He will be missed by those who loved him, his family and friends,” she continued. “My heart is broken. I am grateful for those who have reached out with condolences and I feel their love and sincere grief. We struggle with what else we could have done to save him, and in the end we know he is out of the pain now.”
Etheridge added, “I will sing again, soon. It has always healed me.”
Beckett is one of two children Etheridge shares with her ex-partner. She and Cypher also have 23-year-old daughter, Bailey. Both kids were conceived via sperm donation from friend and fellow musician, David Crosby.
„My partner Julie was adopted,” Etheridge explained in an interview with Parents.com. „She spent her early twenties looking for her real parents, so she had that sort of issue in her life. She wanted her kids to know who their father was, but the father didn’t have any parental duties at all. It was just to know where they came from. If you want to know, this is who it is. That was important to her.”
The pair split in 2000 and Etheridge went on to have two more children. The „I’m the Only One” singer is mother to 13-year-old twins, Johnnie Rose and Miller Steven, with ex Tammy Lynn Michaels. They found an anonymous sperm donor. She explained that despite each situation’s unique circumstances, it has made no difference to her children.
„There’s nothing like taking the responsibility or creating the responsibility of bringing a human being into this world and helping it in its first years,” she added. „It doesn’t matter the equation that gets you there or what you are to that person. It doesn’t matter at all. It is the bond between you and the child.”
Red lanterns swayed in the wind above beeping thermometers. A queue jerked forward every few minutes, moving like toy soldiers through a socially distanced assembly line. Medical staff in goggles and face shields manned three tables: one for registration and temperatures, two for testing.
“Open your mouth,” the staff commanded over and over. The residents in the Jade Belt apartment complex obeyed, wincing, sometimes gagging, as the workers scraped the backs of their throats with long cotton swabs. Security guards hovered around the area, cordoned off with string.
The Jade Belt residents — a few wearing raincoats as protection — were among the first in line after the city government ordered Monday that all Wuhan residents be tested for the coronavirus within 10 days. The action was a swift response to six new cases of COVID-19 reported on Sunday — the first such infections since early April.
The 10-day time frame appeared implausible based on the city’s testing capacity. It was also somewhat impractical given that the limited accuracy of the nucleic acid virus tests were not followed by restrictions on movement. One could test negative Wednesday morning, have lunch with an asymptomatic person that afternoon, and become infected without knowing.
But this was Wuhan, ground zero for a pandemic, and a city the Chinese government was determined to keep under control. The community workers got the message: “Test everyone. All residents. No household left behind,” recited Ms. Duan, a worker in the Jade Belt complex.
China’s residents live under a grid-style social management system: All residential areas are divided into geographical blocks, and street-level authorities assign individual workers to manage each of them.
The system enforces “social stability” in regular times, with these workers monitoring their assigned residents and reporting them for undesirable activities such as gambling or religious gatherings. During the pandemic, they’ve become responsible for enforcing restrictions on movement, registering people for tests, and caring for the vulnerable under lockdown.
“Everyone is pretty self-aware,” Duan said. Four people had died in Jade Belt during the first lockdown, she said. Twenty-eight had been infected, a low number compared with many other neighborhoods. Most residents were now eager to cooperate with testing and anything else that might prevent another outbreak.
“Temporary lockdown is for the sake of long-lasting freedom,” declared the large white characters on a red banner hung outside the testing area. Yet one month after Wuhan’s celebrated reopening, that freedom seems still far out of reach.
More than 10 million people were sequestered in Wuhan as the pandemic spread across China in January. Many were kept inside their apartments for nearly three months. Thousands of residents died, many of them at home with their families, unable to find space in overwhelmed hospitals.
The world waited as Wuhan hunkered down in those days. Snow and rain swept the city’s empty streets as its people sent endless pleas for help on social media. It took weeks before enough makeshift “cabin hospitals” were built to house the sick and quarantine mild cases and their contacts, and months before the deaths and infections finally dwindled.
Only when the lockdown lifted on April 8 did the city breathe again.
Green banners were hung on apartment compounds declared coronavirus-free, emblazoned with the slogan: “All People’s Anti-Epidemic War — Decisive Battle, Decisive Victory.”
Two grades of middle and high schoolers were allowed back to school, though some had to wear watches with QR codes tracking everywhere they went. Swimmers returned to the Yangtze River. Nail salons reopened to customers, who complained that they were gaining weight, now that they could finally relax.
Relieved residents punched holes and removed bars from the blockades that had been erected around their communities, climbing out to see their city again. It felt as if an unwelcome stranger had been banished.
Then came the new cluster: only six cases, a seemingly immeasurable fraction compared to the 50,000 total reported in Wuhan and millions more across the world. But rumors took flight, spurred by lingering distrust and anxiety from the lack of government transparency in January. Residents shared unverified videos online of elderly people dragged into ambulances in different compounds, and warned one another to stay home.
“Should we get our team back together?” wrote a volunteer in a WeChat group of Wuhan citizens who’d spent three months braving the first outbreak in makeshift protective gear, delivering medical supplies and driving patients and nurses to and from hospitals when public transportation was shut down.
By Tuesday afternoon, many communities began blocking their streets again.
Residents of one neighborhood in Qiaokou district were caught by surprise as a makeshift roadblock — orange, yellow, blue and teal shared bicycles stacked on top of one another — appeared at one of their main street entrances.
“What’s happening? We’re closing again?” a woman shouted over the bikes at a security guard on the other side. As he struggled to secure a tarp over the blockade, another woman clambered over the bicycle mountain, determined to take her planned route home.
“Please scan and enter. Please scan and enter,” a robotic voice in a Hubei accent repeated at a tent outside one building inside the neighborhood. A community worker sat in front of the tent, taking temperatures and pointing to a QR code that residents were asked to scan to keep track of every entry or exit.
One middle-aged woman stepped out of her apartment on the building’s second floor. The room behind her was filled with stacks of sealed cardboard boxes. Her family ran an online stationery store and delivery service, she said, sending school supplies around the country.
During the lockdown, though, they’d only been allowed to go outside once a day, and packages sent to the outside world from Wuhan were restricted. She’d spent 76 days at home with her husband and their undeliverable boxes.
“We only just started going out for groceries again,” she said. She’d been nervous about a second wave in the fall. “But is it already getting worse?”
In another neighborhood, a couple stood on their balcony two floors above a supermarket, lowering a plastic bag on a rope to the ground. A worker loaded eggs and vegetables in the bag before they hauled the bag back up, the wife telling her husband to watch out as it swung in the wind.
“This is easier than putting on our gloves and masks and goggles to go outside,” the woman explained from above.
By Wednesday evening, news of the citywide testing had spread across Wuhan and China, though some residents said they still hadn’t received any such notification from their community workers. Another community worker in Qiaokou district said she’d notified her residents of testing, but didn’t know when it would be done.
Whether restrictions on movement are reinstated makes little difference for some. As residents of one neighborhood hollered from their balconies and bikes on Tuesday afternoon, asking questions about the new tests and roadblocks, a gray-haired woman stood in front of an old building, hunched slightly with her hands behind her back.
She hadn’t left her apartment building since January, she said, pointing to her stunted legs: “It’s hard for me to walk.” But she came outside occasionally, blinking at the sudden shift from her dark room, to look at a tree across the street.
“See how the leaves are moving,” she said — then fell silent, gazing as they rustled in the light.Somalia’s coronavirus khat bans leaves chewers in a stew
The chairman of the Nyambene Miraa Traders’ Association, Kimathi Munjuri, said members of his organisation exported about $250,000 (£200,000) worth of khat a day to the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
About half-a-million farmers cultivate the stimulant in the Horn of Africa; many will be hit hard by the ban.
Although most khat sellers in Somalia have nothing to trade, a few crafty dealers have hit a goldmine.
„Before Covid-19, we got fresh leaves from Kenya,” says a woman who sells khat in Mogadishu. „Now we get it illegally from the port city of Kismayo, and because it is so limited, we can push up the price. I used to sell one kilo of leaves for about $20 to $25. Now I sell it for $120. This ban has been very good for us.””A man without khat is like a fish out of water,” says Mohamed Abdi, a committed chewer in Mogadishu. „I have to have my fix, no matter what. But I cannot afford the exorbitant prices, so I am going quietly mad.”
„I have stopped consuming khat because of the crazy prices,” says another chewer, Hassan Abdiwali. „Some of my friends have started using other substances like illegal drugs or homemade alcohol. Others have started to rob so they can afford to buy khat. For us khat lovers, this is the worst situation we have ever been in.”
Seized khat burned
The leaf is very popular among the security forces, whose pay is far too low for them to afford the current prices. There have been reports that some police and soldiers are stealing phones and money to pay for khat.
The stimulant is especially popular in the self-declared republic of Somaliland, where it has also been temporarily banned because of coronavirus. The authorities say it makes social distancing impossible and that they will reassess the situation after the Islamic holy month Ramadan.
Most of Somaliland’s khat comes in by road from Ethiopia. Trucks piled high with bunches of leaves race in, horns blaring, to make sure the delivery is fresh on arrival. Vehicles caught under the current ban are confiscated. Any khat that is found is burned.
Many of Somaliland’s major dealers have agreed to the ban, saying people’s health is more important than anything. But some sneaks into the territory, also fetching sky-high prices.
„I expected some people to try to smuggle khat into the territory during the suspension,” said the president of Somaliland, Muse Bihi. „But I did not expect more than 30% of the population to be so addicted to it that they would do anything they could to get their hands on it.”