Biden Names Top Economic Officials

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on Monday named his top officials to deal with the country’s coronavirus-ravaged economy, including former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen to be the first woman to lead the Treasury Department in its 231-year history.In addition, Biden named Neera Tanden, currently president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington public policy research and advocacy group, as director of the government’s Office of Management and Budget. If confirmed by the Senate, Tanden would be the first woman of color and first South Asian American to head the agency.FILE – Neera Tanden, president of Center for American Progress, speaks during an introduction for New Start New Jersey at NJIT in Newark, Nov. 10, 2014.Biden also named Wally Adeyemo, a longtime economic policy official, to be Yellen’s deputy, the first African American to hold the second-ranking position at the Treasury Department.The president-elect named labor economist Cecilia Rouse, dean of Princeton University’s public and international affairs school, as chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. She would be the first Black and the fourth woman to hold the job.Biden picked two other economists – Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey – as members of the economic council.”As we get to work to control the virus, this is the team that will deliver immediate economic relief for the American people during this economic crisis and help us build our economy back better than ever,” Biden said in a statement.FILE – Then-State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki stands in on a meeting in Washington, Feb. 27, 2015.Biden received his first President’s Daily Brief on Monday, gaining access to the report prepared by the U.S. intelligence community on national security issues the United States faces.Biden is preparing to take office at his inauguration as the 46th U.S. president on January 20. He holds an unofficial 306-232 vote lead in the Electoral College, which determines the outcome of U.S. presidential elections, not the national popular vote, although Biden leads there, too, by more than 6 million votes.The state-by-state vote in the Electoral College is set for December 14, with Congress certifying the outcome in early January.Biden’s transition to the presidency officially began last week after a government agency declared him the apparent winner of the November 3 presidential election.Trump, however, is continuing his long-shot legal effort to upend Biden’s victory even as the president says he will abide by the Electoral College outcome.Trump has refused to concede defeat while claiming, without evidence, that the election was rigged against him.Trump and his campaign have lost or withdrawn more than 30 lawsuits claiming vote and vote-counting irregularities, but they are appealing at least one of the verdicts against him to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

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Moderna to Seek Quick Approval of Coronavirus Vaccine in US, Europe

Drugmaker Moderna said Monday it is seeking emergency authorization in the United States and Europe to distribute its coronavirus vaccine after tests showed it is 94% effective.The U.S. biotechnology company’s request could mean that health workers will be able to inoculate patients against the virus as soon as mid-December with either of two coronavirus preventatives — Moderna’s or another equally successful test drug produced by the corporate tandem of Pfizer-BioNTech — if the companies win approval from drug regulators.Moderna said it conducted a 30,000-person clinical trial, and its results were on a par with the best pediatric vaccines.The drugmaker said that of the 196 volunteers who contracted COVID-19, 185 had received a placebo versus 11 who received the vaccine. Moderna reported 30 severe cases — all in the placebo group — including one COVID-19-related death. The Moderna and Pfizer requests for emergency use of their vaccines come as the number of coronavirus cases is surging in the U.S., where tens of thousands of new cases are being recorded daily.Health officials say they are especially worried about an even further spread of the virus because millions of people ignored warnings against traveling for last week’s Thanksgiving holiday and could travel again over the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s holiday weekends.Air travelers line up to go through a security checkpoint at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 25, 2020.The U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but nearly a fifth of its recorded coronavirus deaths — more than 266,000 — the most in any country, according to Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, the death toll has topped 1.46 million.Top U.S. health experts say 20 million Americans could get vaccine shots in the latter half of December, possibly with front-line health care workers targeted initially, followed by elderly people living in nursing homes. An advisory committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is meeting Tuesday to lay out the order in which Americans will be able to get vaccinated.Millions of people will likely be able to get one of the vaccines in the first months of 2021, although polls show that about four in 10 Americans say they will refuse to get a shot, either because they are opposed to vaccinations in general or are particularly wary of coronavirus inoculations.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering the Pfizer vaccine on December 10, with consideration of Moderna’s a week later. In addition to seeking U.S. approval, Moderna said it would apply for conditional approval from the European Medicines Agency. 

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How US Military Invented America’s Favorite Snacks 

From instant coffee to Cheetos, packaged cookies and energy bars, the U.S. military helped invent many of the snacks Americans love to eat.    The effort accelerated during World War II, when military scientists needed to develop compact yet nutritional ways to feed the troops.   “There was a tremendous need for the military to develop modern rations, and it ended up not only inventing a bunch of new food processing techniques but putting in place a food science research system that exists to this day,” says food writer Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, author of “Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat”. “Out of that came a lot of new techniques and food, and after the war, those were incorporated into snack and convenience foods.” Those new techniques include high pressure processing, which makes uncooked food safe to eat. The process is routinely used in packaged foods like guacamole, salsa and hummus. Cheetos, one of America’s favorite cheesy, crunchy snacks, are made possible by the dehydration process the military worked on to remove the water from cheese. That gave cheese both a longer shelf life and made it lighter to transport to troops overseas. Energy bars are a snack food that resulted from a long period of development to produce a small and nutritionally dense emergency ration.Military scientists discovered that pet food companies were working on a way to make the water level low enough to prevent bacteria and fungi from being produced, making the food safe. “Once they figured that out, they were able to keep foods moist and chewy at room temperature and with regular packaging,” Marx de Salcedo says. “And in fact, that tactic is not only used in energy bars, it’s used in the bakery aisle. If you go into a grocery store, and you see moist and chewy cookies, those are all that same technique that comes out of the military research.” The military also adopted a candy-coated chocolate snack found in Europe that service members could carry around in their pockets without the chocolate immediately melting. That’s how M&M candies were born. Today, some of the biggest military contractors continue to search for the perfect meltless chocolate that will be able to withstand extreme temperatures.  The Army hopes vacuum-microwave drying technology will allow them to put fruit and vegetables into rations. The vacuumed microwaved banana is about a third of its original size while still being springy and pliable. (Courtesy: US Army)The next known frontier in military food science has arrived in the form of mini-food that is shrunk to one-third of the normal size, resulting in foods that are small but still dense.  “They use microwave vacuum dehydration to reduce the water content of foods and what essentially that does is it miniaturizes the food so you get these little tiny carrots, but you can have a fresh carrot,” Marx de Salcedo says. “It still has the same amount of calories even though it’s small.” Whether American civilians will one day be packing miniature lunch boxes in order to lighten their load during their daily commute to work remains to be seen. 

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‘Mercenary’ Donor Sold Access for Millions in Foreign Money

As an elite political fundraiser, Imaad Zuberi had the ear of top Democrats and Republicans alike — a reach that included private meetings with then-Vice President Joe Biden and VIP access at Donald Trump’s inauguration.
He lived a lavish, jet-setting lifestyle, staying at fine hotels and hosting lawmakers and diplomats at four-star restaurants. Foreign ambassadors turned to Zuberi to get face time in Congress.
He was a charming networker and an inveterate namedropper. His Facebook account was filled with pictures of him next to the powerful and famous: having dinner with Hillary Clinton and Robert De Niro and rubbing shoulders with Trump’s then-chief of staff Reince Priebus outside Mar-A-Lago. Zuberi raised huge amounts for Clinton in the 2016 election before becoming a top donor to the Trump Presidential Inauguration Committee.
But federal prosecutors say Zuberi’s life was built on a series of lies and the lucrative enterprise of funding American political campaigns and profiting from the resulting influence.
“Everyone wants to come to Washington to meet people,” Zuberi said in a 2015 email obtained by The Associated Press, seeking a meet-and-greet between the president of Guinea and a powerful congressman. “We get request(s) for meeting(s) from all scumbag of the world, warlords, kings, queens, presidents for life, military dictators, clan chiefs, tribal chiefs and etc.”
Prosecutors describe Zuberi as a “mercenary” political donor who gave to anyone — often using illegal straw donor cutouts — he thought could help him. Pay to play, he explained to clients, was just “how America work(s).”
Zuberi’s story underscores how loosely regulated campaign finance and foreign lobbying laws are and raises an embarrassing question: How does such a cynical fraudster find favor with so many officials at the highest levels of the U.S. government?
“The Zuberi case explicitly verifies, through evidentiary proof, pervasive, corrupt foreign interference with our elections and policy-making processes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel J. O’Brien wrote.
Zuberi pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance violations, failing to register as a foreign agent and tax evasion. He also admitted to obstructing a New York-based federal investigation into whether foreign nationals unlawfully contributed to Trump’s inaugural committee. He faces several years in prison.
But the Justice Department’s probe has left many unanswered questions about Zuberi’s foreign entanglements and who benefited from his actions. Aside from a minor associate who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor tax charge, no one who assisted Zuberi has been charged.
And the government has not publicly named the politicians who benefited from Zuberi’s donations and did favors for him.
But an AP investigation identified associates, enablers and targets of Zuberi’s influence efforts, drawing on private emails, court documents, campaign finance reports, and interviews with more than three dozen people including diplomats, law enforcement officials, lobbyists, and former members of Congress.
Taken together, they present a fuller picture of Zuberi’s rapid rise and fall in politics and the cracks in the system that allowed it to happen.
The documents and interviews show Zuberi used a straw donor scheme in which he paid for others’ donations with his credit cards and used cutouts that included a dead person and names of people prosecutors say he made up. The Justice Department said Zuberi funneled nearly $1 million in illegal campaign donations, in what law enforcement officials say is one of the largest such schemes ever prosecuted.
His donations gave Zuberi first-name access to diplomats, generals, and others, particularly those in Congress who controlled foreign policy. Prosecutors say Zuberi worked for years as an unregistered foreign agent for at least a half dozen countries and officials, including a Ukrainian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prosecutors say Zuberi secretly foreign lobbying included working to kill a House resolution opposed by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, getting Congress to put pressure on Bahrain on behalf of a Bahraini businessman, and obtaining official invites to the U.S. for Libyan officials looking to secure frozen assets.
Zuberi also used his extensive ties to U.S. elected officials to pass on potentially useful information to foreign officials, including information related to then-Vice President Joe Biden. He also kept in close contact with a West Coast-based CIA officer and boasted of his ties to the intelligence community.
Zuberi has secretly petitioned U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips to credit him for law enforcement leads and intelligence he says he’s provided to the federal government. He contends in sealed court records that he’s given usable national security-related information, according to people familiar with the documents.
Prosecutors have asked Phillips to sentence Zuberi to at least 10 years behind bars at his future sentencing. They also want him to pay a $10 million fine and nearly $16 million restitution to the IRS.
Zuberi wants a much lighter punishment and disputes the scope of his wrongdoing. Zuberi admits he violated campaign laws by making donations in the names of others but said the amount of illegal donations is lower than what prosecutors claim.
Zuberi said he “helped facilitate” donations from foreign sources but said the federal law in that area is unclear and that he received “conflicting advice from various campaigns” about the legality of such donations. Zuberi also admits he did unregistered lobbying for Sri Lanka, but said the type of work he did for other countries and officials didn’t require him to register as a foreign agent.
“The government really, really wants to make an example of Mr. Zuberi well beyond that merited by his actions,” his lawyers argued in court filings.
Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center, said it’s impossible to know how many other access brokers in Washington are operating like Zuberi and evading detection but said it’s fair to suspect there many are others.
“If Zuberi was willing to comply with the minimal, basic transparency requirements in laws and just knew more rich people who might have given more money to politicians in response to a solicitation, he might have been able to do this in a lawful way,” Fischer said.

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Source: Pennsylvania Lawmaker Gets Positive COVID Test at Trump Meeting

A Pennsylvania state senator abruptly left a West Wing meeting with President Donald Trump after being informed he had tested positive for the coronavirus, a person with direct knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press.
Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano had gone to the White House last Wednesday with like-minded Republican state lawmakers shortly after a four-hour-plus public meeting that Mastriano helped host in Gettysburg — maskless — to discuss efforts to overturn president-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state.
Trump told Mastriano that White House medical personnel would take care of him, his son and his son’s friend, who were also there for the Oval Office meeting and tested positive. The meeting continued after Mastriano and the others left, the person said.
The person spoke to the AP on Sunday on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private session because the matter is politically sensitive.
Positive coronavirus cases are surging across the United States and the nation’s top infectious disease expert said Sunday that the U.S. may see “surge upon surge” in the coming weeks. The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in the United States topped 200,000 for the first time Friday.
Everyone who will be in close proximity to the president must take a rapid test. Trump was himself hospitalized in October after he contracted the virus. Dozens of White House staffers and others close to the president have also tested positive, including the first lady and two of the president’s sons.
All participants in Wednesday’s meeting took COVID-19 tests, but the positive results were not announced until they were in the West Wing of the White House, the person said.
“The president instantly called the White House doctor in and he took them back to, I guess, the medical place,” the person said. The meeting with Trump was to strategize about efforts regarding the election, the person said.
After Mastriano and the others left, the discussion with Trump continued for about a half-hour. Mastriano did not return to the meeting.
Mastriano sought the meeting of the Pennsylvania Senate Republican Policy Committee earlier Wednesday that drew Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, a second Trump lawyer, several witnesses and a crowd of onlookers. Only a few of them were masked.
The committee let Giuliani and others, for several hours, air their beliefs that there had been problems with how the Pennsylvania vote was conducted and counted. All claims were baseless; no evidence was presented to support any of the allegations they made.
Trump even participated, calling from the White House while one of his lawyers held a phone up to a microphone. He reiterated the same unfounded claims of fraud he’s been tweeting about for weeks.
Those beliefs have persisted despite Trump losing repeatedly in state and federal courts, including a Philadelphia-based federal appeals court’s decision Friday that said the Trump campaign’s “claims have no merit,” and a state Supreme Court decision Saturday that threw out a legal challenge to the election and effort to stop certification of its results.
Mastriano, a conservative from a rural district in central Pennsylvania and outspoken Trump supporter, did not return several messages left Sunday seeking comment.
Republican state Sen. Dave Argall, who chairs the policy committee, declined Sunday in a text message to discuss Mastriano’s medical condition and the White House visit.
“I’ve received some conflicting information that I’m trying to resolve,” Argall said in the text. “It’s my understanding a Senate statement later today will help us all to understand this better.”
Argall said he would not talk publicly about the matter “until I know more.”
Senate Republican spokeswoman Kate Flessner declined comment, describing it as a personnel matter.
The person with knowledge of the White House visit said several people rode in a large van from Gettysburg, where the policy committee met in a hotel, to the White House. Mastriano, his son and his son’s friend drove in another vehicle.
It’s not clear why Mastriano’s son and his friend accompanied the state senator to the meeting, which the person said was also attended by Trump and the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who tested positive in early November.
Mastriano has aggressively opposed policies under the administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and keep people safe.
He has led rallies where he advocated to reopen businesses despite the risk of infection and he has repeatedly and sharply denounced Wolf’s orders. Mastriano also spoke to a few thousand Trump supporters who gathered outside the Capitol on Nov. 7, hours after Democrat Joe Biden’s national win became evident.

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WHO: Coronavirus Threatens to Reverse Gains Made in Malaria Control

On World Malaria Day, the World Health Organization is calling on countries to step up the fight against malaria, saying the coronavirus pandemic threatens to reverse important gains made in efforts to control this deadly disease. Since 2000, the U.N.’s World Health Organization reports 1.5 billion malaria cases and 7.6 million deaths have been averted globally. Some of the greatest achievements were made in sub-Saharan Africa, which bears the brunt of this deadly disease spread by mosquitos. Additionally, the director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Program, Pedro Alonso, said 21 countries have eliminated malaria over the last two decades. Of these, he says 10 have been officially certified as malaria-free by the WHO. “That means that more than half of all the world’s endemic countries are within reach of elimination,” Alonso said. “In the beginning of the century, three countries had less than 10 cases per year. Now, we have 24 countries, which are literally one step away from elimination.”  Despite remarkable progress, however, the World Health Organization reports global gains have leveled off in recent years. This is because of insufficient funding and a lack of access to proven malaria control tools, such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets and preventive medicines for children. The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic is now posing an additional challenge to the malaria response. WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said the gains made in Africa over many years against poverty and disease risk being reversed by the virus responsible for the COVID-19 disease. “Already, malaria causes a 1.3 percent loss in Africa’s economic growth every year,” Moeti said. “And we know that the COVID-19 pandemic is projected to push sub-Saharan Africa into recession for the first time in 25 years. This incredibly challenging situation requires renewed commitment to sustained and accelerate the gains that have been made in the fight against malaria.” Moeti noted malaria continues to kill many more people than diseases like COVID-19 and Ebola. In 2019, the WHO reported the global tally of malaria cases was 229 million, including more than 400,000 deaths. It said 90 percent of these cases and deaths were in the African region. Most of the victims were children. The U.N. health agency reports global funding for malaria last year totaled $3 billion. This falls far short of the $5.6 billion needed to roll back malaria. 

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