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Today’s News: July 14, 2020

World News

Secretary of State Pompeo Announces New Policy Over China’s South China Sea Claims

The New American – Secretary of State Michael Pompeo issued a statement on Monday directly and forcefully challenging China’s claims to most of the South China Sea:

Today we are strengthening U.S. policy in a vital, contentious part of that region — the South China Sea. We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them….

Beijing uses intimidation to undermine the sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states [the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam], bully them out of offshore resources, assert unilateral dominion, and replace international law with “might makes right.”

In 2009, the Communist Chinese unilaterally and arbitrarily drew a circle around what it considered its sovereign territory, a series of nine dashes on the map of the South China Sea extending from the Paracel Islands (about 200 miles due East of Da Nang, Vietnam), south to Malaysia, curving north to enclose the Spratley Islands and ending 50 miles offshore of Taiwan. The enormous waters see nearly $5 trillion worth of global trade passing through them every year.

Said Pompeo: “The PRC (Peoples Republic of China) has no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region. Beijing has offered no coherent legal basis for its ‘Nine-Dashed Line’ claim in the South China Sea.”

The Philippines challenged China’s claim at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which has operated to settle nation-state disputes since 1899. The tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines. The communists running China rejected the ruling, calling it a “sham.”

But now, with the State Department’s new alignment, it supports that decision, taking the side of the Philippines, as well as the other affected parties. Said Pompeo:

As the United States has previously stated … the Abritral Tribunal’s decision is final and legally binding on both parties.

Today we are aligning the U.S. position on the PRC’s maritime claims in the SCS (South China Sea) with the Tribunal’s decision.

That means that the communists running China cannot lawfully assert their arbitrary claim of sovereignty represented by the “nine-dash lines” it drew in 2009, and “the United States rejects any PRC claim to waters beyond a 12-nautical mile territorial sea,” said Pompeo.

VIRUS RULES TIGHTEN WORLDWIDE

Bloomberg – Hong Kong imposed its strictest social distancing measures yet, Japan said a new state of emergency is possible, while the Australian state of Queensland imposed a quarantine on some visitors.

Delta Air Lines Inc. said a fledgling recovery in U.S. travel demand has stalled.

New York added four states to the 14-day quarantine list, bringing the total to 22. Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin meet the metrics to qualify for the quarantine advisory, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday in a statement. Delaware has been removed.

The self-quarantine applies to any person arriving from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents or a state with a 10% or higher rate of positive tests, either over a 7-day rolling average. In New York, once the epicenter of the outbreak, 1.5% of tests conducted on Monday were positive.

Germany’s federal government is in discussions with states about rules that would prevent residents in an area hit by a coronavirus outbreak from traveling, Angela Merkel said Tuesday. People would only be allowed to leave the area if they have a negative test, the chancellor said, noting that she supports the plan.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. is poised to announce a rescue worth at least 1 billion pounds ($1.25 billion), after clearing the last major hurdle to the deal, according to people familiar with the matter. Negotiations with credit-card processors holding back some 200 million pounds of sales have been resolved, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing a confidential matter.

The rescue will mark a coup for billionaire founder Richard Branson, who managed to secure a private bailout after the U.K. government refused to contribute taxpayer funds when Virgin Atlantic was grounded by the coronavirus crisis.

Delta Air Lines said the virus resurgence and related travel restrictions have stalled a fledgling recovery in U.S. travel demand and prompted it to slash the number of flights it had hoped to return to its schedule next month. The airline will add back no more than 500 flights in August instead of the planned 1,000. It doesn’t expect to add much more through the end of this year.

China finds heavy coronavirus traces in seafood, meat sections of Beijing food market

Reuters – China has found the trading sections for meat and seafood in Beijing’s wholesale food market to be severely contaminated with the new coronavirus and suspects the area’s low temperature and high humidity may have been contributing factors, officials said on Thursday.

U.S. News, Politics & Government

Record numbers of Americans try to buy guns

Coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest, calls to defund police bringing in new buyers

Fox – Americans are buying guns in record numbers.

The new coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest after the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing movement to defund police are bringing in new buyers worried about their personal safety, according to buyers, store owners and gun experts.

Gun sales began rising to unusual highs in March, as coronavirus cases began surging in the U.S. and government-ordered lockdowns led to the highest unemployment levels since the Great Depression. The Federal Bureau of Investigation processed 7.8 million background checks for gun purchases from March to June, according to National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade group.

Newsom orders statewide reclosure of indoor dining, limits on church services, salons

LA Times – California is largely closing again amid a spike in COVID-19 cases across the state, as Gov. Gavin Newsom announced statewide restrictions Monday to again halt all indoor dining and close bars, zoos and museums.

At the same time, most counties, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside, will be forced to shutter gyms, houses of worship, hair salons, malls and other businesses under the new order, which is effective immediately and remains in effect indefinitely. In addition, offices with nonessential workers in those counties must close.

The move further pushes Californians back into their homes during a time when they are typically enjoying summer vacations. The stricter measures to close gyms, churches and other services affect 29 counties that are among the most populous in the state, where 80% of California residents live.

“This virus is not going away anytime soon,” Newsom said Monday. “I hope all of us recognize that if we were still connected to some notion that, somehow, when it gets warm, it’s going to go away or, somehow, it’s going to take summer months or weekends off — this virus has done neither.”

Supreme Court Sets Stage for Nullifying Electoral College

The New American – Last week, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that states could force presidential electors to vote as their legislatures directed them and even punish them for failing to do so. While the constitutionality of this decision may be debated, its likely effect is clear for all to see: the nullification of the Founding Fathers’ vision for electing presidents.

The case, Chiafalo v. Washington, concerned three Washington-state electors who refused to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 despite the fact that she had won the state’s popular vote. The state fined the electors for reneging on their pledges. They sued but lost in county court and the Washington Supreme Court, so they appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court concurred with the lower courts, though the justices arrived at this conclusion by different routes. The majority opinion, written by Justice Elena Kagan, reasoned that since the Constitution mandates that each state appoint electors “in such a manner as directed by the legislature thereof,” states could therefore force electors to vote in a particular way. Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion, disagreed with this line of reasoning but still argued states had the power to control electors’ votes under the 10th Amendment.

Regardless of the decision’s faithfulness to the Constitution, its net result is that “the Framers’ original vision for the Electoral College is now officially dead,” Tomas McIntee declared in a Medium.com essay.

Refrigerated trucks requested in AZ, TX as morgues reach capacity.

Fox – Some Arizona and Texas counties are running out of space in their morgues and have put out calls for refrigerated trucks in which to store bodies and help take some pressure off of local medical examiners’ offices.

A long-expected upturn in U.S. COVID-19 deaths across the U.S. has begun, driven by fatalities in states in the South and West.

The number of deaths per day from the virus had been falling for months, and even remained down as states like Florida and Texas saw explosions in cases and hospitalizations — and reported daily U.S. infections broke records several times in recent days.

Scientists warned it wouldn’t last. A coronavirus death, when it occurs, typically comes several weeks after a person is first infected. And experts predicted states that saw increases in cases and hospitalizations would, at some point, see deaths rise too. Now that’s happening.

In hard-hit Houston, Texas, two top Democratic officials called for the nation’s fourth-largest city to lock back down as area hospitals strained to accommodate the onslaught of sick patients.As COVID-19 deaths rapidly increase in Texas and Arizona, the two emerging hot spots of the novel coronavirus are facing a similar scenario to New York’s experience during the onset of the pandemic in March.

In Arizona, one Phoenix hospital has called for morgue trucks to help alleviate a rapidly growing death count due to the ongoing pandemic.

A spokesperson for Abrazo Health told FOX 10 Phoenix that while its hospitals currently have adequate morgue space, the state has asked hospitals to implement emergency plans.

Pelosi Plans Law to Limit Pardons Following Roger Stone’s Commutation

NTD  -House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested on Saturday that the House may introduce a bill to limit presidential pardon power following President Donald Trump’s decision to commute the sentence of his longtime associate and former adviser Roger Stone.

Pelosi, along with many of her Democrat colleagues, excoriated the president for providing clemency for Stone, who was scheduled to report to prison next Tuesday. The top Democrat leader called the decision “an act of staggering corruption,” while vowing Congress would take steps to prevent similar actions in the future.

“Legislation is needed to ensure that no President can pardon or commute the sentence of an individual who is engaged in a cover-up campaign to shield that President from criminal prosecution,” Pelosi said in her statement.

Judge demands information on commutation

New York Post – The Department of Justice on Monday released President Trump’s commutation order for his longtime pal Roger Stone, revealing that it wiped away his fine and two-years of probation as well as his prison sentence.

“I commute the entirety of the prison sentence imposed on … Roger Stone Jr. to expire immediately. I also commute the entirety of the two year term of supervised release, with all its conditions, and finally, I remit any unpaid remainder of the $20,000 fine imposed,” the president wrote in the order, dated July 10 and signed by the president.

Earlier Monday, a federal judge in Washington demanded more information about President Trump’s decision to commute Stone’s prison sentence.

US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered that the parties provide her by Tuesday with a copy of the executive order that commuted Stone’s sentence.

Economy & Business

QANTAS cancels all international flights until March next year

Daily Mail – All international flights have been pulled from the Qantas website, including routes to New Zealand

Flights to New Zealand are now unavailable until September 1, despite expectations that the neighbouring countries were preparing to open a trans-Tasman bubble with Australia, while flights elsewhere are no longer available until March 28, 2021.

Travel between the countries remained suspended after New Zealand closed its borders to the world on March 19.

Executives at Bankrupt Companies Scored $131 Million in Bonuses

Bloomberg – Before the bankruptcies came the bonuses: $10 million at J.C. Penney Co., $25 million at Chesapeake Energy Corp., $1.5 million at Hertz Global Holdings Inc.

That’s how much was promised to executives only weeks or in some cases days before bankruptcy. Of the 100 or so major companies that have filed since the coronavirus shutdown began, 19 of them have committed to paying a total of $131 million in retention and performance bonuses, both before and after filing, a number that’s poised to climb as a record number of Americans are jobless and the pandemic spreads.

The companies say they need to keep their management teams to help turnaround consultants repair the damage, even when it means rewarding people who were in charge when the business began sinking. The timing of some of the bonuses, before the filing, legally heads off opposition from creditors, who can’t block such payouts unless they’re made after a case reaches court.

The practice isn’t new, but the context is unprecedented. The economy is in a tailspin, and while thousands more Americans stand to lose their jobs in J.C. Penney’s bankruptcy, the $4.5 million going to Chief Executive Officer Jill Soltau, who in fairness took over in 2018, when the company was already decades in decline, is pretty much a done deal, as are other payouts.

“We really find them offensive in light of the median worker pay, the reductions in benefits and layoffs due to store closings,” said Julie Farb, director of the Center for Strategic Research at AFL-CIO, a federation of 55 labor unions. “It’s all made worse in the current Covid environment.”

According to the law, company creditors and the U.S. Trustee, which oversees bankruptcies for the Justice Department, can dispute bonuses paid to executives while in bankruptcy, but not payments made before filing.

To challenge pre-bankruptcy bonuses, creditors need to file an adversary claim, such as a fraudulent-transfer claim, which can be costly and time-consuming.

Science & Technology

AMAZON unveils a shopping cart that knows what you’re buying

AP – Amazon has a new cure for long supermarket lines: a smart shopping cart.

The cart, which Amazon unveiled on Tuesday, uses cameras, sensors and a scale to automatically detect what shoppers drop in. It keeps a tally and then charges their Amazon account when they leave the store. No cashier is needed.

It’s the latest attempt by Amazon to shake up the supermarket industry and offer a solution to long checkout lines. The online shopping giant opened a cashier-less supermarket in Seattle that uses cameras and sensors in the ceiling to track what shoppers grab and charge them as they leave. Amazon.com Inc. also has roughly 25 cashier-less convenience stores with similar technology.

Demand for robot cooks rises as kitchens combat COVID-19

AP – Robots that can cook – from flipping burgers to baking bread – are in growing demand as virus-wary kitchens try to put some distance between workers and customers.

Starting this fall, the White Castle burger chain will test a robot arm that can cook french fries and other foods. The robot, dubbed Flippy, is made by Pasadena, California-based Miso Robotics.

White Castle and Miso have been discussing a partnership for about a year. Those talks accelerated when COVID-19 struck, said White Castle Vice President Jamie Richardson.

Richardson said the robot can free up employees for other tasks like disinfecting tables or handling the rising number of delivery orders. A touch-free environment that minimizes contact is also increasingly important to customers, he said.

“The world’s just reshaped in terms of thoughts around food safety,” Richardson said.

Flippy currently costs $30,000, with a $1,500 monthly service fee. By the middle of next year, Miso hopes to offer the robot for free but charge a higher monthly fee.

Robot food service was a trend even before the coronavirus pandemic, as hospitals, campus cafeterias and others tried to meet demand for fresh, customized options 24 hours a day while keeping labor costs in check. Robot chefs appeared at places like Creator, a burger restaurant in San Francisco, and Dal.komm Coffee outlets in South Korea.

Facebook takes down certain posts, ads from Trump re-election campaign

Reuters – Facebook Inc (FB.O) said on Thursday it took down posts and ads run by the re-election campaign of U.S. President Donald Trump for violating its policy against organized hate.

The ads showed a red inverted triangle, a symbol the Nazis used to identify political prisoners, with text asking Facebook users to sign a petition against antifa, a loosely organized anti-fascist movement.

Trump and Attorney General William Barr have repeatedly singled out antifa as a major instigator of recent unrest during nationwide anti-racism protests, with little evidence.

“Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group’s symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol,” said a Facebook company spokesperson.

Health

Squirrel tests positive for the bubonic plague in Colorado

ABC – Public health officials have announced that a squirrel in Colorado has tested positive for the bubonic plague.

The town of Morrison, Colorado, in Jefferson County, which is just west of Denver, made the startling announcement saying that the squirrel is the first case of plague in the county.

“Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, and can be contracted by humans and household animals if proper precautions are not taken,” officials from Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) said in a statement released to the public.

It is possible for humans to be infected with the bubonic plague through bites from infected fleas and by direct contact with blood or tissues of infected animals such as a cough or a bite.

Jefferson County Public Health said that cats are highly susceptible to the plague from things like flea bites, a rodent scratch or bite, and ingesting an infected rodent. Cats can die if not treated quickly with antibiotics after contact with the plague.

Officials also said that dogs are not as susceptible to the plague as cats are but still may pick up and carry plague-infected rodent fleas. Any pet owner who suspects that their pet is ill should contact a veterinarian immediately.

The COVID-19 Curve Has Been Flattened

Mercola – Even though the COVID-19 mortality curve has been flattened, mainstream media outlets continue to push doomsday predictions of an impending explosion of deaths. The New York Times, for example, published articles July 21,2 and July 3,3,4 2020, basically warning everyone to not get excited about plummeting mortality rates, as the trend could change at any moment.

“Why Virus Deaths Are Down but May Soon Rise,” its July 2 headline states. The article goes on to claim “coronavirus trends in the United States are pretty dark right now” — based on surging case numbers, meaning positive test results, not hospitalizations or people exhibiting actual symptoms.

The article attributes the steady and relatively rapid drop-off in deaths to improved medical treatment and older people being more cautious, but warns that “Deaths may be on the verge of rising again,” because “middle-aged and younger people are acting as if they’re invulnerable” and have increased their social activities.

“Their increased social activity has fueled an explosion in cases over the last three weeks, which in turn could lead to a rise in deaths soon,” The New York Times states,5,6 adding:

“With testing now more widespread, it’s possible that the death data will lag the case data by closer to a month. (In a typical fatal case, the death comes three to five weeks after contraction of the virus.) If that’s correct, coronavirus deaths may start rising again any day.”

This, however, completely ignores data showing that the COVID-19 fatality rate for those under the age of 45 is “almost zero,” and between the ages of 45 and 70, it’s somewhere between 0.05% and 0.3%.7,8,9 

COVID-19 mortality — which had declined for the last 10 weeks straight — is currently at the epidemic threshold, meaning if it slides down just a little more, COVID-19 will no longer meet the CDC’s criteria for “epidemic” status.

In other words, the fact that young and middle-aged adults are testing positive in droves is not a warning sign of an impending onslaught of deaths, as the risk of death in these age groups is minuscule. If anything, it seems to show herd immunity is building which, ultimately, will help protect the most vulnerable among us.

Protein From Plants Can Increase Longevity

Newsmax – Swapping out tofu for your morning eggs or using beans instead of ground beef in your chili could help you live longer, a new study reports.

Getting your daily protein from plants instead of animals appears to reduce your overall risk of early death, researchers found.

Every 3% of a person’s daily energy intake coming from plant protein instead of animal protein reduced a person’s risk of premature death by 10%, the results showed.

The results were particularly strong when people swapped plant protein for eggs (24% lower risk in men and 21% lower risk in women) or red meat (13% lower risk in men, 15% in women).

Taking red meat out of your diet can be beneficial, but only if you swap for a healthy substitute, said lead researcher Jiaqi Huang, a postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

“For example, replacement of 3% energy from egg protein or red meat protein with plant protein such as whole grains or cereals resulted in a protective association for overall mortality,” Huang said. “On the other hand, replacement of 3% energy from egg protein or red meat protein with other foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages may or may not result in a reduction in mortality.”

For this study, Huang’s team analyzed dietary data from more than 237,000 men and 179,000 women gathered between 1995 and 2011 as part of a long-term study on eating patterns and health.

Protein made up about 15% of people’s daily diet, with 40% coming from plants and 60% from animals, the researchers found.

Top Immune-Boosting Foods

Newsmax – The food choices you make can help you feel more energized and focused, but what some people may not realize is they also have a profound impact on your immune system. Incorporating certain foods into your diet can boost your immunity and help you feel your best.

“In today’s uncertain times, it’s important now more than ever to maintain a strong immune system,” says registered dietitian and nutritionist Dawn Jackson Blatner. “By eating mindfully and adding nutrient-rich foods to your diet, you’re making a positive step to support your overall health and wellness.”

Blatner recommends incorporating these five foods into your diet to support your immune system:

  • Bell peppers: A colorful addition to your plate, bell peppers are rich in vitamin C. In fact, the vegetable has two to three times more vitamin C than an orange. Vitamin C is crucial for immune health because it increases the white blood cells that fight off infection. For the most vitamin C, it’s best to eat them raw or just lightly cooked.
  • Eggs: Eggs (particularly the yolk) contain vitamin D, which is a nutrient the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes can help the immune system resist viruses and bacteria. But it’s important to keep in mind that not all eggs are created equal. Eggland’s Best (EB) eggs have six times more vitamin D, and 10 times more vitamin E compared to ordinary eggs, plus protein, folate, lutein and omega-3s, which play key roles in immune health.
  • Yogurt: Yogurt contains probiotics to support a healthy gut, where many of the immune cells are found. Yogurt is also a good source of zinc, a mineral that helps to make white blood cells to fight infections and control inflammation. Choose yogurt without extra added sugar and consider pairing it with antioxidant-rich fruits like berries.
  • Spinach: Not only is spinach packed with vitamin C, but it’s rich with antioxidants and beta carotene that act as an anti-inflammatory and help protect against sickness. It’s best to mix it up, sometimes eating spinach raw and sometimes lightly cooked, since some nutrients are higher in the raw version and some are higher when lightly cooked.
  • Turmeric: Curcumin gives turmeric its signature yellow color and is responsible for its immunity benefits. A natural anti-inflammatory, curcumin has been shown to enhance immune cell activity and improve antibody responses. Though it’s most used in curries, turmeric is also delicious in smoothies, soups or sprinkled on cooked vegetables or eggs. Aim to eat it with black pepper to increase its absorption by up to 2,000%.