Conflict erupts at Minneapolis, L.A. protests over George Floyd death

9 0 28 May 2020

For the second day in a row, police in Minneapolis used tear gas during protests over the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by police.

The demonstrations began peacefully, but later rocks and bottles were thrown and police deployed tear gas, NBC affiliate KARE11 of Minneapolis reported.

A standoff between police and some demonstrators occurred near a police precinct Wednesday evening.

It was not immediately clear if there were any arrests.

A KARE11 reporter livestreaming the protest reported that an AutoZone and a Target had been looted. Video showed the AutoZone with broken windows and spraypaint. One bystander was warning people against damaging the business, saying it had nothing to do with Floyd’s death.

Flames and smoke could be seen on the roof a commercial building, and authorities were responding, aerial video showed late Wednesday.

Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told the local FOX 9 TV station that he ordered the use of tear gas on the crowd after violence and looting.

He has said that the department is dedicated to protecting First Amendment rights, but not at the expense of others’ personal safety.

Demonstrators help a man who was sitting on a police car and injured by falling onto the ground during a protest to demand justice for George Floyd in downtown Los Angeles on May 27, 2020.Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

Protesters also gathered in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, NBC Los Angeles reported. At times, the demonstrators were on the 101 freeway and blocking traffic.

Some people surrounded two California Highway Patrol vehicles and appeared to damage at least one of them.

“We hear your anger & your pain. We will always facilitate freedom of speech. Period. All we ask is that protests are held in a safe & legal manner,” the LAPD tweeted.

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground and put his knee on Floyd’s neck for about eight minutes.

His death was captured on video, and he can be heard pleading with the officer, “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe.”

The four police officers involved in Floyd’s detainment, which stemmed from a report of a forgery, were fired Tuesday. The officer seen with his knee on Floyd has been identified as Derek Chauvin.

Minneapolis police identified the other officers as Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Wednesday called for charges to be filed against the officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck. Police had said Floyd resisted arrest, but Frey said “I saw nothing that would signal that this kind of force was necessary.”

His death is being investigated by the FBI and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Video of Floyd’s death has sparked outrage, including from presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who tweeted about it on Tuesday and on Wednesday called it a “tragic reminder that this was not an isolated incident, but a part of an ingrained systemic cycle of injustice that still exists in this country.”

President Donald Trump also weighed in on Wednesday. “My heart goes out to George’s family and friends. Justice will be served!” he tweeted.

Bridgett Floyd, Floyd’s sister, said on NBC’s “TODAY” show Wednesday morning that she wants all of the officers at the scene to be charged with murder.

“They murdered my brother. He was crying for help,” she said.

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, which represents the department’s 800-plus rank-and file officers, asked the public not to rush to judgment before all video can be reviewed and a medical examiner’s report is released.

On Tuesday, clashes broke out between police and some protesters in Minneapolis, and police deployed tear gas.

“We cannot have members of our community engaging in destructive or criminal types of behavior,” said Arradondo, the Minneapolis police chief said.

He said the vast majority of people protesting have been doing so peacefully.

Arradondo said his officers showed restraint when there was property damage, but he ordered gas to be used once a fence was breached and after some people were in a parking facility “which had access to our Minneapolis squad cars and weapons.”

He said there were around five people arrested Tuesday, not at the precinct where demonstrations were held but at an adjacent business across the street, and he said the arrests were burglary related.

Influencers in the time of coronavirus: Fewer yoga retreats, more yoga pants

7 0 28 May 2020

This time last year, Devon Windsor was preparing for the launch of her eponymous swimwear collection. Stylized photos on her Instagram feed featured her decked out in luxe designer gowns and pantsuits on the streets of New York City.

Things look different this May.

The thousand-dollar dresses have been swapped out for clothes that fit the homebound reality created by the COVID-19 pandemic: loungewear, workout clothes and swimsuits. The content of her posts has gone from still photos to more videos given the amount of time she now has at home. Her husband of six months makes regular cameos in cooking tutorials and yoga pose challenges.

And it’s not just the look that has changed. Windsor’s posts for her followers — she now has more than 2 million — were previously filled with imagery of an aspirational, jet-setting life. Now, Windsor is more motivational, informational and even personal, opening up about her experiences with bullying, something she didn’t previously do with her followers.

“In the past, I’ve been so focused on painting this image,” Windsor said. “I try to be realistic, but I feel now more than ever it’s important to unify sharing the struggles you’re going through.”

Call it the pandemic pivot. The desire for fresh pandemic-appropriate content is forcing fashion and travel influencers to adapt to the times, but it has also created opportunity for wellness influencers — particularly those who can connect over live video.

Windsor is among a number of influencers who are churning out more Instagram Lives and Instagram TV videos to content-hungry followers. Instagram said its live views increased by more than 70 percent in the U.S. in March compared with February. Across both Facebook Live and Instagram Live, there have been more than 800 million daily active users.

Kira Stokes, a health and fitness professional with more than 447,000 followers and a roster of celebrity clients, had never done a live video on Instagram before the pandemic. Now her live videos can quickly net 120,000 views.

Stokes has had an increase of about 10 percent in her follower count since the start of the pandemic, and she now sometimes has thousands of new followers overnight. All of the engagement has translated into increased subscriptions to her app, and she can’t keep up with demand for the fitness equipment she sells on her website.

“I hate to say it, but the quarantine has been really positive for my business,” Stokes said. “I’m just really grateful.”

The economic havoc created by the coronavirus has shaken every corner of the media, entertainment, travel and advertising industries. That has meant the influencer economy at large, which depends primarily on being able to create the kind of lifestyle content that draws in followers and advertisers, has suffered along with it.

The influencer industry boomed in the past decade, taking advantage of social media platforms to create an entirely new market for people to turn themselves into small businesses that trade in online influence. There are influencers for everything from fashion and music to interests like fishing and home renovation.

Influencers, like many media companies, rely on advertisers who want to spend money to reach consumers.

Before the coronavirus emerged, advertisers had been expected to spend up to up to $10 billion on influencer marketing in 2020, according to Mediakix, an influencer marketing agency. Influencers with more than a million followers, like Windsor, can make $10,000 to $150,000 per post. It’s an industry that has gained enough traction to start inspiring young people to aim for influencer careers. The University of Southern California has brought influencing into academia with an Influencer Relations class.

With their jet-setting days on hold indefinitely, pivoting has become crucial for influencers looking to attract advertising money from retailers who see an opportunity in people staying home.

Mediakix founder and CEO Evan Asano said the fitness, wellness and home decor industries are realizing that influencers can still be valuable marketing partners, particularly because audiences are still tuned in to social media platforms. During the middle two weeks of March, there was a 76 percent increase in daily accumulated likes on ad posts compared with earlier in the month, according to a report from the influencer marketing agency Obviously.

That has offered a lifeline to influencers like Windsor, who said she recently landed a deal with an athleisure company. She plans to model the clothing in an Instagram TV workout — another sign of the times. Home workout posts increased by more than five times in the U.S. in March, according to Instagram.

The question remains, however, whether influencers still fit the time. The influencer economy has been widely criticized for its focus on aesthetics and seemingly unattainable lifestyles. Now, influencers are seizing more on personal connections — and their followers are responding.

Scottie Beam, an influencer with nearly 150,000 followers, said the pandemic has forced her to be more deliberate about her social media presence.

“We usually create from a want, but this is creating from a need to laugh, to find comic relief, to find info for mental wellness, for human interaction,” Beam said. “It might be more selfish because it’s what you need, but then you realize it’s what someone else may want.”

As it turns out, the same reach that made influencers attractive to advertisers looking to promote products is giving them the power to also promote issues that are resonating with people during this difficult time.

Danielle Bernstein, an influencer and entrepreneur with more than 2.4 million followers, is using her platform to give back with a charitable giving initiative called We Gave What, modeled on her lifestyle brand, We Wore What.

She said that she’s aware of how challenging this time can be and that many of her followers have shared how alone they feel during this period of social isolation.

Next week, instead of planning her usual massive birthday blowout with friends, she’ll be launching a different kind of social event: a “check-in challenge” aimed at promoting mental health awareness. The challenge will encourage people to check in with themselves, as well as with loved ones.

Besidone Amoruwa, who works on Instagram’s strategic partnerships, said: “Creators are really stepping up to a leadership role offering different advice and resources. There’s this intimacy of being at home. We’re all experiencing the same thing in different ways.”

Minneapolis police officer at center of George Floyds death had history of prior complaints

7 0 28 May 2020

The Minneapolis police officer seen kneeling on the neck of an unarmed black man heard saying “I can’t breathe” multiple times before he died was a 19-year department veteran who was the subject of a dozen police conduct complaints that resulted in no disciplinary action. The officer, who was praised for valor during his career, also once fired his weapon during an encounter with a suspect, records show.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, and three fellow officers were fired Tuesday from the Minneapolis Police Department, one day after the incident involving George Floyd, whose cries of physical pain were recorded on a cellphone video and whose death led to tense anti-police brutality protests overnight in Minnesota’s largest city. Minneapolis police identified the other officers as Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng.

George Floyd.Courtesy photo

To be the subject of a dozen complaints over a two-decade career would appear “a little bit higher than normal,” said Mylan Masson, a retired Minneapolis Park police officer and longtime police training expert for the state of Minnesota at Hennepin Technical College.

But, she added, anyone can file a complaint against an officer, whether or not it’s valid, and officers might be subject to more complaints if they deal with the public often. Either way, an officer’s disciplinary record will be up for scrutiny in any legal proceedings, Masson said.

An investigation including state authorities is being led by the FBI. Chauvin, 44, who is white, is being represented by lawyer Tom Kelly, who declined to comment when contacted by NBC News. Efforts to reach the other officers for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Bridgett Floyd, Floyd’s sister, said on NBC’s “TODAY” show Wednesday morning that she wants all of the officers at the scene to be charged with murder.

“They murdered my brother. He was crying for help,” she said.

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, which represents the department’s 800-plus rank-and file officers, asked the public not to rush to judgment before all video can be reviewed and a medical examiner’s report is released.

“Officers’ actions and training protocol will be carefully examined after the officers have provided their statements,” the union said Tuesday. It did not immediately return a request for comment about Chauvin’s and the other officers’ options if they choose to contest their firings.

Chauvin, who joined the Minneapolis Police Academy in October 2001, has had a career that included use-of-force incidents and at least one lawsuit related to an allegation of violations of a prisoner’s federal constitutional rights.

In 2006, Chauvin was one of six officers from the Third Precinct who responded to a stabbing at a Minneapolis home. Police said Wayne Reyes stabbed his friend and his girlfriend and then threatened to kill all of them with a shotgun.

Police pursued Reyes, who fled in his truck. He got out of the vehicle with a shotgun, and “several officers fired multiple shots,” killing Reyes, police said in a report.

It was unclear during the initial investigation which officers fired their weapons and whether Reyes had made any verbal or physical threats.

All of the officers, including Chauvin, were put on paid leave during an investigation, which is standard protocol. It is unclear what happened with the investigation, and Minneapolis police did not immediately respond to a request for Chauvin’s service record.

The same year, Chauvin and seven others were named in an unrelated federal lawsuit filed by an inmate at the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Lino Lakes. Further information was not immediately available; records show that the case was dismissed without prejudice in 2007.

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In 2008, Chauvin and a second officer were called to a residence for a domestic disturbance. According to police, Ira Latrell Toles, 21, was holed up in a bathroom and tried to escape when Chauvin got inside. When Toles refused to obey Chauvin’s order to get down, police said, a struggle began and Toles grabbed for Chauvin’s weapon.

Chauvin fired twice, hitting Toles in the abdomen, the Pioneer Press newspaper of St. Paul reported. Toles was taken to the hospital and survived.

Chauvin and the other officer, who was not named, were placed on paid leave during an investigation, which is standard protocol. Police did not respond to a request for information about the outcome of the investigation.

The newspaper said that earlier in 2008, Chauvin was awarded a department medal of valor for “his response in an incident involving a man armed with a gun.” Chauvin was recognized again in 2009 by the police department.

In 2011, Chauvin was again placed on temporary leave after he responded to the scene of a shooting.

Police said that Leroy Martinez, 23, drew his gun near a playground at the Little Earth of United Tribes public housing complex and that an officer shot him after he refused to drop the gun and listen to commands. Chauvin and other officers arrived at the scene, and while none of them fired their weapons, they were all placed on a standard three-day administrative leave as part of the investigation.

Tim Dolan, then the police chief, later said the officers, including Chauvin, “acted appropriately and courageously.”

Chauvin has also been the subject of complaints listed in the city’s Office of Police Conduct database. Details of those cases were unavailable after they were closed and listed as “non-public.” They resulted in no discipline.

Minneapolis police did not respond to a request Wednesday for comment or more information about Chauvin’s disciplinary record.

Kelly, Chauvin’s attorney, has had politicians as clients and also defended Jeronimo Yanez, a police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Anthony. Yanez was charged with manslaughter in the death in 2016 of Philando Castile, a black driver whom Yanez fatally shot during a traffic stop — another case that prompted Black Lives Matter protests and a national conversation about race and gun rights. Yanez was acquitted the following year.

Chauvin’s personal life was the subject of a profile two years ago in the Pioneer Press, which interviewed his wife, Kellie Chauvin, a Hmong woman who was born in Laos and was vying to become Mrs. Minnesota America 2018.

She told the newspaper that she married Chauvin eight years previously and that they met when he brought someone he was arresting to the hospital where she was working. He later came back and asked her out.

“Under all that uniform, he’s just a softie,” Kellie Chauvin said.

Protesters demonstrated in the rain Tuesday night outside Chauvin’s home in Oakdale, a Twin Cities suburb. Oakdale’s police chief said the protest was “very peaceful.”

The coronavirus death toll tops 100,000 in America. My father is one of them.

7 0 28 May 2020

My father, Neil Krieger, died four weeks ago from COVID-19 complications. Yet, even with those words typed out on the page, even with having placed dirt on top of his coffin, even with having helped my mother retrieve his wedding ring from the hospital, I can’t quite believe it.

They say that every loved one’s death comes as a shock, no matter how or when they die. But I can’t help but think that my dad’s death is different, that it’s harder to accept for having come at the end of a series of missteps and incompetence on the part of those very individuals charged with protecting vulnerable people like him.

Even with those words typed out on the page, even with having placed dirt on top of his coffin, even with having helped my mother retrieve his wedding ring from the hospital, I can’t quite believe it.

I saw this chain of events unfold across the country as an opinion editor for NBC News THINK, commissioning pieces on how the Trump administration hadn’t provided the needed funds or the staff to safeguard us from a pandemic, how it wasn’t tracking and separating those arriving from China and Europe, and how it was mishandling the distribution of tests to isolate carriers. And I saw it in my colleagues’ coverage of politicians downplaying the danger, giving out misinformation and not putting the necessary restrictions in place. It is a chain of events that on Wednesday culminated in 100,000 American deaths — with no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Sadly, I also saw weak links on the local level. The doctor at the Boston dialysis center my dad had been visiting three times a week assured him it was the safest place he could be, but my mother observed health care transportation workers entering without masks, temperature checks or other protective measures. Her concerns went unheeded by the staff.

Though my parents took every possible precaution, going out only for his treatments, my dad (and several other patients at the clinic) contracted the virus. My mom then caught it from my dad. Thankfully, she recovered.

My father — who at 78 was not fearful of death and never tried to fight his mortality, instead reading books on the end of life and inviting my brother and me to discuss them with him — still was angry when he saw the government malpractice unfolding this spring.

One day, shortly before his symptoms began, he called me, irate that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hadn’t closed the beaches to college students and partiers. (We are only beginning to understand how much damage that may have caused.)

Hilary’s father Neil Krieger.Family photo

“You’re a journalist,” he told me. “Isn’t there more you can do?” He urged me and my news organization to produce more stories exposing what the governor was (or wasn’t) doing, the lives he was playing with.

So is my father’s passing harder for me to accept because of the anger that he was suddenly taken from us before his time? Because of the fatal negligence of our leaders and the neglect of many Americans who didn’t take the threat seriously? Or because I worry that I, too, could have done more to prevent it?

I asked grief specialist David Kessler these questions to try to make sense of my feelings. He assured me that coping with the loss of a loved one from the coronavirus — and the leadership failures that furthered the pandemic’s spread, particularly as someone who warned against them — really is different than many other kinds of deaths.

“Even though you knew at some point you were going to be saying goodbye to your dad, you’ve been robbed of even a little more of the time you would have gotten with him,” Kessler, the author of “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief,” said. “It’s so horrible.”

Many of the aspects of COVID-19 deaths — being unexpected, sudden, potentially preventable — “enormously complicate” the experience of grief, he told me. “It means it’s more challenging, it’s longer, it’s more difficult.”

Kessler noted that he started a Facebook group specifically for those struggling with losses in the coronavirus era, and that outrage at how the broader world is handling the situation is a common theme among its participants.

Though this outward anger might be reasonable, Kessler urged me not to turn it inward; self-blame was unwarranted and only muddies the healing process. “There is some blame that’s there,” he said, referring to the actions of the authorities. “But it’s not yours.”

After our conversation, I realized that while the cause of my father’s death might make the healing process harder, ultimately I’d find that healing the same way so many others have. For all the bad in the ending, there was a lot of good in my father’s story for me to hold onto.

My dad enjoyed a long, full life. It was the one that he wanted, and he lived it on his terms, prioritizing his love for his wife and children and friends over making money or earning accolades. And he expressed that love — and laughter and tears and frustration and whatever other emotions came along — so that every moment and every relationship were experienced in their fullness and nothing was left unsaid.

My dad enjoyed a long, full life. It was the one that he wanted, and he lived it on his terms, prioritizing his love for his wife and children and friends over making money or earning accolades.

So he knew how proud I was of him for overcoming the challenges of childhood neglect and a potentially debilitating illness. For seizing the positives he could find and creating the ones he couldn’t, whether devising a safer form of anesthesia in his work as a scientist or coming up with a word for what a citrus fruit does when it squirts in your eye (“orbisculate”).

He knew how much I admired his wisdom and values, particularly his belief that an individual can make a difference, whether as a civil rights activist pressing all-white businesses to hire black workers, as he did in Boston in the 1960s, or as a journalist pressing for better governance and societal action at the time of a pandemic. While we can always do more, the key thing is to do.

And he knew how much he inspired me, so that even now I am following his example and seizing the positives in this moment: Though I am certainly upset at all those who failed my father and so many like him these last few months, I am also grateful to all those doing the right thing.

Every runner wearing an uncomfortable mask, every family canceling an outing, every grocery store clerk and delivery person risking their well-being to work, every doctor and nurse staying apart from their families to treat infected patients is a person making a sacrifice to protect the most vulnerable.

It wasn’t enough for my father, but hopefully it will be enough for someone else’s. And the comfort of knowing that we can still help one another and try to save others is also something that makes death in the time of the coronavirus different.

Trump finds himself playing campaign defense with core elements of his base

6 0 28 May 2020

WASHINGTON — Heading into the crucial summer stretch of his re-election campaign, President Donald Trump is grappling with declining support among key groups that helped deliver his 2016 victory, putting rising pressure on his campaign and the White House to shore up his base.

With just over five months to Election Day, a string of polls this month shows an erosion of support among voters whom Republican strategists had expected would be rock solid behind the president at this point, including seniors, non-college-educated white voters and evangelicals.

Trump has consistently trailed former Vice President Joe Biden in national polling this year, but his campaign advisers had long downplayed those numbers, pointing to the consistency of his message and arguing that his base was sticking with him. They spent time traveling to states Trump lost and targeting groups he was weakest with, such as black voters, to try to erode support for Biden, the apparent Democratic nominee.

And while it’s a long way until November, the sliding enthusiasm among the president’s base has been noted by Trump’s aides, with focus increasingly turning to efforts to reach those groups directly, such as last week’s White House event targeting seniors and recent presidential swings to Rust Belt states where white working-class support is critical to his fall chances.

“The significance of these results are not that the numbers have fallen and he may lose them in November, but the fact that he will spend valuable time and effort in rebuilding his support with these people,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart. “It will drive him that much harder in working on his base and rejuvenating his support with rallies.”

Key to Trump’s 2016 victory were white male voters, particularly those without college degrees, among whom Trump outperformed past Republican presidential candidates. The president has spent much of the past three years targeting the group with his policies and his messaging, touting trade deals with China and Mexico, strict immigration measures and progress on a southern border wall.

Still, Trump’s support from those voters has dropped significantly since 2016, when he got 71 percent of the white non-college male vote. Now, 64 percent of white men without college degrees said they plan to vote for Trump, according to a survey released last week by Quinnipiac University. A Fox News poll last week found even less support, with Trump drawing support from 58 percent of the group.

There has been a similar trend among white voters with college educations. Trump’s support from white men with college degrees has dropped from 53 percent to 44 percent. Among white college-educated women, it fell from 44 percent to 29 percent in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey in April.

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Trump’s support has also declined among a group that had been one of the firmest pillars of the Republican Party — evangelical voters. While he still has a commanding lead among that group, it, too, has narrowed. In a national poll by Fox News this month, 70 percent of evangelical voters said they planned to vote for Trump. That compares to 81 percent in 2016, according to exit polling.

From March to April, Trump’s approval among white evangelicals fell by 11 points, the Public Religion Research Institute found. Trump also dropped by 12 points among white Catholics and 18 points among mainline Protestants, the survey found.

Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh dismissed the poll numbers, saying the campaign’s internal data show the president “in solid shape in all of our key states.” The campaign told surrogates this month that its internal polling in 17 states it is targeting showed Trump closing the gap against Biden, from a 9-point deficit three weeks ago to tied at 48 percent, according to an email obtained by NBC News.

“Americans know his record on building a great economy and know he is the one to lead us to that position again,” Murtaugh said. “Evangelicals know that he is the best pro-life president in history.”

But public polling has the trends hurting Trump in the must-win battleground states, where his support has dropped to 43 percent from 50 percent in 2016, according to April NBC/WSJ surveys.

Trump’s weakening appeal with seniors following his response to the coronavirus is hurting him particularly hard in Florida, where 21 percent of voters are 65 and older. In 2016, Trump won the senior vote in the state by 17 points over Hillary Clinton, but he leads Biden among that group by just 4 points, according to a Florida Atlantic University poll this month.

In a separate survey, Biden held a 10-point lead over Trump among seniors, according to an April poll of Floridians by Quinnipiac University.

The president’s campaign advisers have also grown increasingly concerned about Arizona, once a solidly Republican state viewed as a must-win for 2020, where Trump is being hurt by his falling support among suburban voters and low approval among Hispanic voters, a White House official said. Trump won Arizona by 3 points, but in 2018, four Democrats won statewide office. Republican Sen. Martha McSally, a Trump ally, is trailing former astronaut Mark Kelly, the Democrat, in the state’s Senate contest.

“More than ever, this is going to be a race won and lost in the margins,” the official said.

Trump traveled to Arizona his month to tour a plant making protective masks in his first visit outside Washington, D.C., since campaign events were canceled in March amid the coronavirus. Since then, he’s made stops in Pennsylvania and Michigan, and he traveled to Florida this week for a rocket launch.

In Washington, the White House has already been targeting its messaging toward trying to win back some of those groups. Last week, Trump said he wanted all churches opened immediately and threatened to “override” governors who kept restrictions in place. On Tuesday, the White House held an event titled Protecting Seniors with Diabetes, where the president announced a plan to lower the price of insulin and used the moment to attack Biden.

“I hope the seniors are going to remember it,” Trump said at the Rose Garden event.

As Trump rails against mail-in voting, his campaign tries to make it easier for Pennsylvania supporters

7 0 27 May 2020

As President Donald Trump attacks the legitimacy of elections with increased mail-in voting, his campaign is trying to make it easier for supporters in Pennsylvania to request mail-in ballots for next week’s primary there.

Through its website, the Trump campaign is providing Pennsylvania supporters with an easy access link to help them request ballots for next week’s election. By clicking the link, supporters are prompted to enter their personal information which the website then uses to create a form that voters can send to their local election officials. The website also notes the deadline to register.

Trump has railed against efforts to boost mail-in voting as states try to keep large crowds away from the polls amid the outbreak. He’s insisted there’s “NO WAY” an election that sees such a rise in mail-in voting will be legitimate.

The campaign says there’s no contradiction between that and the president’s extensive commentary on mail-in voting, which they said was focused on the process of mailing ballots to all voters amid the coronavirus pandemic, not on individually requesting the mail-in forms.

“There’s a vast difference between people voting absentee by mail because they can’t be at the polls on Election Day versus mailing everyone a ballot,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told NBC News. “Sending everyone a ballot — even those who didn’t request one — is a wide open opportunity for fraud.”

“While we strongly disagree with the ill-intended Democrat push for more mail-in ballots, we have an obligation to our voters to inform them of what the law is in their state and what their options are,” he added.

Murtaugh did not immediately respond when asked whether the campaign is engaging in similar efforts in other states with upcoming primaries where requesting absentee ballots to vote by mail is necessary.

Both Democratic and Republican officials overseeing that process told NBC News that Trump is dead wrong and outlined the steps they take — most importantly, signature verification — to ensure the integrity of the system.

Trump’s claims of voter fraud are not backed by the historical record, as officials noted, and Twitter on Tuesday attached a fact-check to the president’s Twitter commentary for the first time, labeling his posts as “unsubstantiated” and linking to articles debunking the claims.

Researchers at UCLA and the University of New Mexico, in conjunction with the Union of Concerned Scientists, concluded that voter fraud is “not widespread” and that mail-in ballot fraud is “very rare.”

Stanford University’s Democracy & Polarization Lab found that universal vote-by-mail has “no impact on partisan turnout or vote share.”

A California special congressional election this month determined mostly by mail-in ballots saw Republican Mike Garcia defeat Democrat Christy Smith in a district where Democrats held a registration advantage.

Critics have zeroed in on Trump himself having voted absentee through the mail, including earlier this year in Florida.

“We can’t do that,” the president said Tuesday of expanded mail-in voting. “Absentee is OK: You’re sick. You’re away. As an example, I have to do an absentee because I’m voting in Florida, and I happen to be president. I live in that very beautiful house over there that’s painted white. So that’s OK. And it’s OK for people that are sick and they can’t get up.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who has defended the president’s commentary on mail-in voting in recent days, has voted by mail 11 times in the past decade, The Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday.

“Absentee voting has the word absent in it for a reason,” McEnany said in a statement in response. “It means you’re absent from the jurisdiction or unable to vote in person. President Trump is against the Democrat plan to politicize the coronavirus and expand mass mail-in voting without a reason, which has a high propensity for voter fraud. This is a simple distinction that the media fails to grasp.”

In Pennsylvania, local GOP leaders have promoted mail-in voting, but have been met with pushback from Republican voters, Reuters reported this month.

Mark Hrutkay, chairman of the Washington County GOP, remind voters on Facebook this month of the mail-in option and was met with an earful of angry responses from Trump supporters.

“I had one woman, using a lot of four-letter words, tell me, ‘Didn’t you know Trump hates mail-in balloting?'” Hrutkay told Reuters.

Nearly 1.2 million Pennsylvania voters had applied for the absentee ballots as of May 13, about 14 times as many as had done so in 2016, Reuters reported, citing state data.

The Pennsylvania election next week includes the presidential primary. It’s a pivotal swing state, one that Trump won by just 45,000 votes in 2016 over the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.

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Asymptomatic COVID-19 cases may be more common than suspected

6 0 27 May 2020

New estimates of the number of asymptomatic people with the coronavirus suggest that “silent” COVID-19 is much more prevalent than once thought, according to two studies published Wednesday.

The first study, published in JAMA Network Open, found that 42 percent of cases from a group of people in Wuhan, China, were asymptomatic. The second study, published in Thorax, found much higher rates of asymptomatic individuals: 81 percent of cases on a cruise to Antarctica.

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The study from Wuhan looked at 78 patients who tested positive for COVID-19, and found that 33 of the individuals had no symptoms of the illness. These patients were more likely to be women, and more likely to be younger, in their 20s, 30s and early 40s.

Meanwhile, the second study, from Australian researchers, looked at 217 people on a cruise bound for Antarctica. The ship set sail in mid-March, just after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic.

The first fever on board was reported eight days into the voyage. Over the following two weeks, eight people had to be evacuated from the ship because they fell ill.

All of the 217 people who remained on board were tested for COVID-19. More than half (59 percent) tested positive, but just 19 percent of those patients had symptoms. The other 81 percent were symptom-free.

“Many people still haven’t grasped the notion that asymptomatic people can be so common, and they wonder why it is they have to wear the mask when they’re feeling well, or why they have to keep doing this social distancing stuff,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said.

“Simply exhaling can send out viral particles,” said Schaffner, who wasn’t involved with either study.

That’s why the CDC encourages everyone to wear face coverings or masks in public to help prevent the spread of the virus. The agency’s estimate of the prevalence of asymptomatic cases, based on mathematical modeling, is lower, at 35 percent.

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There was one positive finding, however, from the study in China: Asymptomatic individuals may not spread the virus for as long as symptomatic patients do. The patients without symptoms shed the virus for about eight days, compared with 19 days among those who did have symptoms, the researchers, from Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, found.

Still, asymptomatic COVID-19 cases remain a concern.

“This is very important because, theoretically, you can spread the infection when you’re shedding the virus because it’s so highly contagious,” Dr. Aditya Shah, an infectious disease fellow at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said.

Though COVID-19 has proven it has the ability to sicken anyone at any age, people over age 65 and those with underlying chronic health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, appear to be most vulnerable.

“I don’t know of a single person, no matter how independently-minded they are, who has any desire to give this virus to anyone else,” Schaffner said. “But they have to recognize that they could.”

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SpaceX launch postponed by weather, rescheduled for Saturday

7 0 27 May 2020

Bad weather thwarted the much-anticipated launch of SpaceX’s first astronaut crew Wednesday, a flight that would have marked the return of human spaceflight from U.S. soil for the first time in nearly a decade.

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were scheduled to lift off aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center to the International Space Station at 4:33 p.m. ET, but cloudy conditions forced launch operators to stand down less than 20 minutes to go in the countdown.

The Air Force’s 45th Space Wing, which oversees space launch operations from the East Coast, had been closely monitoring weather reports at the launch site after Tropical Storm Bertha formed early Wednesday off the coast of South Carolina. SpaceX and NASA will now attempt the test flight to the International Space Station on Saturday at 3:22 p.m. ET.

The historic launch will be the first time that NASA astronauts have flown to the orbiting lab in a commercially built spacecraft. It will also be the first time that human passengers are launched into orbit from the U.S. since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011.

“Our country has been through a lot,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Tuesday in a news briefing. “But this is a unique moment when all of America can take a moment and look at our country do something stunning again, and that is to launch American astronauts on an American rocket from American soil to the space station.”

Shortly before 3 p.m. ET, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrived at the Kennedy Space Center, flying past the launch pad aboard Air Force One. According to NASA, the last time a sitting president flew to Florida to witness a crewed launch in person was Bill Clinton, who watched the space shuttle Discovery blast off in October 1998.

If the Crew Dragon capsule successfully lifts off on Saturday, Behnken and Hurley will spend around 19 hours orbiting the Earth before their capsule makes its rendezvous with the space station.

The test flight is the last major milestone for SpaceX under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which was designed to foster partnerships between the agency and private companies to develop new spacecraft for routine trips to the space station.

After NASA shuttered its space shuttle program, the agency was forced to buy rides to the space station aboard Russian capsules and rockets. If SpaceX’s launch is successful, American astronauts may soon have a new way to travel to and from the orbiting outpost.

SpaceX has spent the past six years building and testing its Crew Dragon capsule. For years, the company has used an uncrewed version of the spacecraft to ferry supplies to the space station, but this will be SpaceX’s first launch with humans onboard.

The company received more than $3 billion from NASA to develop the capsule under the Commercial Crew Program. NASA also awarded more than $4.5 billion to Boeing to design a rival capsule known as the CST-100 Starliner.

The idea is to allow NASA to contract out standard flights to the space station while the agency focuses on other science and exploration goals.

If successful, the test flight could bolster the nascent private spaceflight industry and help pave the way for other commercial ventures, including missions to the moon or Mars.

“The goal is for NASA to be a customer,” Bridenstine said this month in a news briefing. “We want a very robust commercial marketplace in low-Earth orbit.”

Senators sound alarm over coronavirus in juvenile detention facilities

8 0 27 May 2020

A group of senators is pressing the Department of Justice to explain what it’s doing to protect youth in juvenile detention facilities from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

In a letter sent Tuesday, the senators raised concerns that parents of incarcerated youth in several states are not receiving information about their child’s health, or being told about the spread of the coronavirus in these facilities. The senators requested that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, part of the Justice Department, publicly disclose the measures it has taken to ensure the health and safety of youth in detention during the coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID-19 thrives in juvenile detention facilities, where communal living arrangements make it difficult or impossible to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended public health measures such as maintaining social distance, self-isolating, and using personal protective equipment,” the senators state, later adding: “Because the majority of youth in detention are black or Hispanic, the spread of COVID-19 within juvenile detention may further perpetuate the disparate impact of the virus along racial and ethnic lines.”

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The letter, organized by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., asks for a response by June 12 to a list of detailed questions. The group includes 11 other Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Physicians, epidemiologists, defense attorneys, advocates for youth and parents nationwide have issued multiple calls for the release of children held in juvenile detention facilities in recent months.

While children are generally less likely to have severe reactions to the coronavirus, the disease poses a higher risk for people with underlying health issues, and youth in detention are more likely to have those conditions. Additionally, experts warn, children can spread the virus to the adult staff who then might take it home.

As of May 26, there are at least 488 youth and 580 staff in juvenile detention facilities who have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. However, this is an incomplete accounting and is highly dependent on what state and local officials decide to release.

Juvenile detention facilities are controlled at the local level — either by city, county or state governments — and releases can be subject to approval by a judge.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is set up to help local governments improve their juvenile justice systems and provides grants to states. The group of senators wants the office to disclose how many COVID-19 cases there are among the youth and staff of these grantees.

The office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.