Month: March 2020



WASHINGTON (AP) — Pete Buttigieg, who rose from being a small-town Midwestern mayor to a barrier-breaking, top-tier candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is ending his campaign.

Three people with knowledge of Buttigieg’s decision told The Associated Press he began informing campaign staff on Sunday. They were not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

His campaign said Buttigieg will speak Sunday night in South Bend, Indiana.

The decision came just a day after one of Buttigieg’s leading rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, scored a resounding victory in South Carolina that sparked new pressure on the party’s moderate wing to coalesce behind Biden.

Buttigieg had been critical of Biden, charging that the 77-year-old lifelong politician was out of step with today’s politics. But his criticism had shifted in recent days more toward front-runner Bernie Sanders, a polarizing progressive who was benefiting from the sheer number of candidates dividing up the moderate vote.

Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate to seriously contend for the presidency, tried to make the case that his party thrived when it embraced candidates who offered generational change. But the 38-year-old Afghanistan war veteran ended up being more successful at winning older voters while Sanders, 78, captured the energy of younger ones.

Voters saw Buttigieg in the more moderate lane of the Democratic field, and he flourished early with a top finish in the Iowa caucuses and a close second place finish in New Hampshire. But as the race moved to more diverse states, less dependent on college-educated voters, Buttigieg struggled.

His departure from the race reflected the growing pressuring among more moderate Democrats to consolidate in an effort to blunt the rise of Sanders, who Buttigeig said was too liberal to be elected.

Despite robust organizations in Iowa and New Hampshire and supporters who included an influx of former independents and Republicans, Buttigieg failed to overcome daunting questions about his ability to draw African American support key to the Democratic base.

As mayor of a city that is 25% black, Buttigieg faced criticism for firing the first African American police chief in the history of South Bend and for his handling of the case of a white police officer who fatally shot an armed black man in June.

After his unexpected rise to contention in Iowa and New Hampshire last fall, Buttigieg became the target of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren for the high-dollar fundraisers he was hosting, notably one in a wine cave in California.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar also went at Buttigieg in the months before the caucuses for lacking national experience. She noted that he had lost his only statewide race as a candidate for Indiana treasurer in 2010, while she had won three statewide terms in Minnesota in part by carrying Republican-heavy regions.

Buttigieg presented a starkly different figure on the debate stage than the other leading candidates — all septuagenarians — and drew admirers for his calm, reasoned demeanor and rhetorical skills that reflected his Harvard-trained, Rhodes scholar background but that some voters and operatives described as “robotic.”

Buttigieg had modeled his campaign somewhat on that of former President Barack Obama, who won the 2008 Iowa caucuses largely based on a message of unity and by drawing in a healthy bloc of first-time caucus participants, often the key in a crowded, high-turnout contest.


Kinnard reported from Columbia, South Carolina, and Beaumont from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne in San Jose, California, contributed to this report.


Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”

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Virus spreads to over 60 countries; France closes the Louvre…

PARIS (AP) — Coronavirus cases surged in Italy, and France closed the Louvre Museum on Sunday as the deadly outbreak that began in China sent fear rising across Western Europe. The number of countries hit by the virus climbed past 60, and the death toll worldwide reached at least 3,000.

New fronts in the crisis opened rapidly over the weekend, deepening the sense of crisis that has already sent financial markets plummeting, emptied the streets in many cities of tourists and workers and rewritten the daily routines of millions of people. More than 87,000 worldwide have been infected, with the virus appearing on every continent but Antarctica.

Australia and Thailand reported their first deaths Sunday, while the Dominican Republic and the Czech Republic recorded their first infections.

Italian authorities announced that the number of people infected in the country had surged 40% to 1,576 in 24 hours, and five more people had died, bringing the death toll there to 34.

Iran, Iraq and South Korea, among other places, also saw the number of infections rise. Cases in the U.S. climbed to at least 72, with the first death inside the United States reported on Saturday — a man in his 50s in Washington state who had underlying health problems but hadn’t traveled to any affected areas.

Panic-buying of daily necessities emerged in Japan, where professional baseball teams have played spring-training games in deserted stadiums. Tourist sites across Asia, Europe and the Mideast were deserted. Islam’s holiest sites have been closed to foreign pilgrims. And governments have closed schools and banned big gatherings.

In France, the archbishop of Paris told parish priests to put the Communion bread in worshippers’ hands, not in their mouths. French officials advised people to forgo the customary kisses on the cheek upon greeting others. And the Louvre closed after workers who guard the “Mona Lisa” and the rest of its priceless artworks expressed fear of being contaminated by the stream of visitors from around the world.

The Louvre, the world’s most popular museum, got 9.6 million visitors last year, almost three-quarters of them from abroad.

Louvre staffers were also concerned about museum workers from Italy who had come to the museum to collect works by Leonardo da Vinci that were loaned for a major exhibition.

“We are very worried because we have visitors from everywhere,” said Andre Sacristin, a Louvre employee and union representative. “The risk is very, very, very great.” While there are no known infections among the museum’s 2,300 workers, “it’s only a question of time,” he said.

The shutdown followed a government decision Saturday to ban indoor public gatherings of more than 5,000 people.

Among the frustrated visitors was Charles Lim from Singapore. He and his wife, Jeanette, chose Paris to celebrate their first wedding anniversary and bought tickets in advance for the Louvre.

“We waited for about three hours before giving up,” he said. “It was incredibly disappointing.”

China, where the outbreak began two months ago, on Sunday reported a slight uptick in new cases over the past 24 hours to 573, the first time in five days that the number exceeded 500. They remain almost entirely confined to the hardest-hit province of Hubei and its capital, Wuhan.

South Korea reported 210 additional cases and two more deaths, raising its totals to 3,736 cases and 20 fatalities. South Korea has the second-largest number of infections outside China, with most of the cases in the southeastern city of Daegu and nearby areas.

South Korea’s president used a speech marking the 101st anniversary of an anti-Japanese independence uprising to call for national unity to overcome the crisis.

Iran’s death toll climbed to 54 as the number of confirmed cases jumped overnight by more than half, to 978. The new figures represent 11 more deaths than reported on Saturday.

Around the world, many cases of the virus have been relatively mild, and some of those infected apparently show no symptoms at all.


Barry reported from Milan. Associated Press writers Foster Klug and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo; Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran; Joe McDonald in Beijing; Zarar Khan in Islamabad; and Edith M. Lederer in New York contributed to this report.

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DELTA suspends flights…

DELTA is suspending its daily flight between New York’s JFK ariport and Milan Malpensa Airport for two months amid the killer coronavirus outbreak.

The airline announced the drastic measure this afternoon after the Trump administration confirmed it was implementing a heightened travel advisory yesterday.

 Docked Delta plane at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Docked Delta plane at Ronald Reagan Washington National AirportCredit: Alamy
 The company announced its daily flight to Milan will be suspended for two months
The company announced its daily flight to Milan will be suspended for two monthsCredit: AFP or licensors

Their last east-bound flight from JFK to Milan will take off tomorrow, March 2, with the last west-bound flight from Milan departing on Tuesday, March 3.

Service between the two cities will resume on May 1 and May 2, respectively, Delta said, while the Rome to JFK and Atlanta flights will operate as normal.

The US airline said these emergency measures were implemented to combat the rapid spread of COVID-19, battered northern Italy and South Korea over the past few weeks.

A statement posted to their website read: “Delta has put in place numerous processes and mitigation strategies to respond to COVID-19 (coronavirus) concerns.

“Delta remains in constant contact with the foremost communicable disease experts at the CDC, WHO and local health officials.”

The company assured customers they aim to “respond to the coronavirus as well as ensure training, policies, procedures and cabin cleaning and disinfection measures meet and exceed guidelines.”

Delta service between the US to Shanghai and Beijing was also suspended until April 30 inkeeping with travel restrictions from the US Health and Human Services.

 President Donald Trump earlier today urged people not to panic about the coronavirus


President Donald Trump earlier today urged people not to panic about the coronavirusCredit: AP:Associated Press
 Two people at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, near Seattle, Washington, were confirmed to have the coronavirus


Two people at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, near Seattle, Washington, were confirmed to have the coronavirusCredit: AP:Associated Press
 Health officials said another 50 people at the center who are showing symptoms of the coronavirus are being tested


Health officials said another 50 people at the center who are showing symptoms of the coronavirus are being testedCredit: Getty Images – Getty

On February 26, the airline announced its reduced service from here to Seoul, South Korea following the CDC’s warning to avoid all unnecessary travel to virus-ridden country.

The carrier will offer a change fee waiver for travelers who want to change their flights from America to South Korea, Italy and China, where the disease first emerged.

Delta made the announcement a day after the first US death was confirmed in Washington state after a man passed away from the insidious disease.

There was also an outbreak at Seattle’s Life Care Center in Kirkland where several cases of the deadly coronavirus emerged while 50 others are being tested.

The nursing home is just two miles away from EvergreenHealth Medical Center — where the man in his fifties died from the killer coronavirus.

The first American fatality comes as the virus continues to ravage other countries, with over 87, 400 confirmed cases and nearly 3,000 deaths globally.

Less than 24 hours before the Delta flight was suspended, Vice President Mike Pence, who is overseeing the coronavirus task force, confirmed the Level 4 Travel Advisory was in effect.

During yesterday’s press conference, Trump played down the seriousness of the outbreak which is bordering on a pandemic, urging people not to panic.

President Donald Trump addressed the issue after blasting Democratic critcism of his response as a “hoax” earlier this week.

“You will probably go through and process and you’ll be fine,” the president said, insisting Dems tried to blame him for the spread of the coronavirus in the US.

Trump described his January decision to prevent travel as the most “aggressive action in modern history” to contain a virus like this.

 Harborview Medical Center's home assessment team prepare to visit the home of a person potentially exposed to novel coronavirus at the Seattle center
Harborview Medical Center’s home assessment team prepare to visit the home of a person potentially exposed to novel coronavirus at the Seattle centerCredit: Reuters
 An epidemiologist holds gloves while arranging the supplies of Harborview Medical Center's home assessment team
An epidemiologist holds gloves while arranging the supplies of Harborview Medical Center’s home assessment teamCredit: Reuters
 EvergreenHealth Medical Center in the Kirkland suburb of Seattle
EvergreenHealth Medical Center in the Kirkland suburb of SeattleCredit: Getty Images
 Officials revealed there were more cases and one death in Washington state, reports claim
Officials revealed there were more cases and one death in Washington state, reports claimCredit: Getty Images – Getty
 A woman wears a mask following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Chicago
A woman wears a mask following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in ChicagoCredit: Reuters
Donald Trump delivers White House statement as first coronavirus death confirmed

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Related stories:
Virus spreads to over 60 countries; France closes the Louvre…
‘Psychosis’ in Milan…
DELTA suspends flights…
Empty streets, economic turmoil…
Wall St preps for possible shutdown of trading floor…
Inside White House’s frantic attempts to minimize crisis…
Rumors and chaos in Alabama point to big problems…
Grocers Prepare…
China officials ordered cover-up…
Uighurs sent to work in factory that supplies NIKE…
What End Game Will Look Like…

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Rumors and chaos in Alabama point to big problems…

ANNISTON, Ala. – Not long before local leaders decided, in the words of one of them, that federal health officials “didn’t know what they were doing” with their plan to quarantine novel coronavirus patients in town, a doctor here set out in a biohazard suit to stage a one-man protest along the highway with a sign. “The virus has arrived. Are you ready?” it asked.

The town didn’t think it was. Residents already were unnerved by strange stories posted on Facebook and shared via text messages about helicopters secretly flying in sick patients, that the virus was grown in a Chinese lab, that someone – either the media or the government – was lying to them about what was really going on.

The quarantine plan hastily hatched by the federal Department of Health and Human Services was soon scrapped by President Donald Trump, who faced intense pushback from Alabama’s congressional delegation, led by Republican Rep. Mike Rogers. Americans evacuated after falling ill aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan would not be coming to Anniston, a town of 22,000 people in north-central Alabama, after all. They would remain in the same Texas and California sites where they were taken after leaving the cruise ship.

What happened here over the pastweek illustrates how poor planning by federal health officials and a rumor mill fueled by social media, polarized politics and a lack of clear communication can undermine public confidence in the response to the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease named covid-19. The rapidly spreading virus has rattled economies worldwide in recent weeks and caused the deaths of more than 2,900 people, mostly in China.

The panic and problems that burned through Anniston also provided a preview of what could unfold in other communities, as the spread of the virus is considered by health experts to be inevitable.

“Their little plan sketched out in D.C. was not thought out,” said Michael Barton, director of the emergency management agency in Calhoun County, where Anniston is located.

As local officials learned more, Barton added, “We knew then -“

“We were in trouble,” said Tim Hodges, chairman of the county commission.

In Anniston, local leaders were stunned to discover serious problems with the federal government’s plan for dealing with patients infected with the virus – starting with how the patients would get to Alabama, according to interviews with county and city officials, along with business leaders who dealt with the federal response.

“I was shocked,” Anniston Mayor Jack Draper said. “I was shocked by the lack of planning. I was shocked by the manner in which it was presented to us.”

Two HHS officials – Darcie Johnston, director of intergovernmental affairs, and Kevin Yeskey, principal deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response – said in a Feb. 23 meeting with local officials that the patients would be flown from California to the Fort McClellan Army Airfield in Anniston, according to multiple local officials.

The airfield was closed when the Army base was shuttered in 1999. Local officials said they told the HHS officials during the meeting the runway was in bad shape.

“The more we talked,” Hodges said, “the more holes we found.”

The HHS plan also called for housing coronavirus patients at the Center for Domestic Preparedness, a FEMA facility on the old Army base and one of several redevelopment projects at the sprawling outpost.

The center has several brick dormitory buildings – behind tall black fencing – where federal officials planned for the patients to live. Federal officials even picked out the building they wanted to use for the first arrivals: Dorm No. 28, local officials said. A team of federal health workers would care for the patients and U.S. marshals would keep them from leaving the quarantine, local officials said they were told.

The dorms normally house emergency responders from around the country.

But the center doesn’t have any special capabilities for handling infectious diseases, local officials said. The center is used for training. It has isolation hospital rooms – located in a former Army hospital building – but they are mostly just props, with fake equipment and light switches that exist only as paint on walls.

Meanwhile, federal officials never contacted the town’s hospital, Regional Medical Center, about handling covid-19 patients, said Louis Bass, the hospital’s chief executive.

Yet HHS officials said in a statement released to the public Feb. 22 that patients who become seriously ill would be sent to “pre-identified hospitals for medical care.”

“We were surprised,” Bass said.

The hospital does have eight negative-pressure isolation rooms, but patients with serious complications would need to be sent to a larger institution, such as Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, 90 miles away, Bass said.

Emory University Hospital did not respond to a question about whether it was told about the HHS plan.

A federal contract for a local ambulance service was secured at the last moment, after HHS had already issued a statement about its plan for Anniston. Details on how to handle other tasks – including patients’ laundry and food – seemed unfinished.

The preparations for bringing patients to Anniston were handled partly by Caliburn International, a government contractor that previously provided emergency medical services to federal agencies, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Washington Post.

Former Trump chief of staff John Kelly joined the firm based in Reston, Virginia, as a board member last year. Caliburn is the parent company of Comprehensive Health Services, which has come under scrutiny for its operation of medical services at a detention site for migrant children.

A Caliburn spokeswoman referred questions about the Anniston operations to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

HHS, through its Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, responded to The Post’s questions about its Anniston operations with a statement noting the office’s staff members “have a long-standing relationship” with the disaster preparedness center and were familiar with its capabilities. The statement also said the federal agency “was considering the facility as a contingency location” and decided during discussions with local officials that “the site would not actually be needed.”

It was Trump who finally canceled the planned quarantine in Anniston on Feb. 23, according to tweets from Rogers and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., that referred to their conversations with the president.

The news arrived as people attended an emergency meeting of the Calhoun County Commission. Cheers broke out.

“I guess in our culture today a tweet is considered official,” Barton said.

Anniston has plenty of experience dealing with unwelcome threats – and learning to live with them.

It was for years home to the nation’s chemical weapons stockpile, including sarin and mustard gas. Later, it was the location of a chemical weapons incinerator, where those munitions were carefully destroyed.

The town also deals with the toxic legacy of a former Monsanto plant that for decades polluted the soil and water with PCBs, which were banned in the 1970s amid health concerns. The pollution resulted in a $700 million settlement for 20,000 residents in 2003.

But the novel coronavirus posed a different kind of challenge.

Fear that the HHS plan was flawed gave new energy to already circulating rumors and wild theories about the virus.

Residents didn’t know whom to believe. Trump had said without evidence that CNN and MSNBC were exaggerating the threat. Rush Limbaugh was on the radio saying it was no worse than the regular flu. Facebook posts claimed the outbreak had been foreshadowed by a 1981 Dean Koontz book. And the idea the virus could have been created in a Chinese biochemical lab was floated widely, including by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

The whirlwind caught the attention of Michael Kline, a urologist in Anniston.

“I don’t think anyone knows what’s going on,” he said.

So on the weekend of Feb. 22-23, Kline dressed up in a blue biohazard suit with his “the virus has arrived” sign. He stood along the highway and waved to passing vehicles. He wanted to drum up opposition to allowing infected patients in Anniston. But even the plan was abandoned, Kline said he still wasn’t certain patients weren’t being housed at the old Army base.

Rumors of black helicopters ferrying infected patients to the training center at night were rampant. The local Home Depot sold out of painting and sanding face masks. Hodges, the commissioner, said he heard often from worried residents. But helicopters were common in the area because of a nearby Army depot and National Guard training center. Only now they were nefarious. Other people talked about mysterious vans driving along county roads.

Hodges and Draper held emergency news conferences and meetings to try to lessen the panic. But those meetings also allowed for additional rumors to flourish during public comment periods. A commission meeting included one resident tying the coronavirus to a 1992 United Nations document about climate change.

“That’s how long this has been going on,” he said.

“The public is going crazy,” said Bobby Foster, a business owner who spoke at the meeting and asked the commissioners to try harder to distribute accurate information.

Glen Ray, president of the local NAACP, talked about the virus at a Sunday service at Rising Star United Methodist Church on Feb. 23 to try to calm people’s worries. But he was also dismayed that one of the county commissioners wore a red “Make America Great Again” hat to an emergency meeting about the virus.

“It’s not about Donald Trump,” Ray said later. “A virus is not going to just jump on a Democrat. So at times like this, we need to be coming together. No time for politics.”

Anniston’s flirtation with the dreaded virus did have one positive effect, officials said. It made them realize they need to prepare – that the virus could come without warning and they shouldn’t rely on outsiders alone for expertise.

Barton, the emergency management director, helped create a county infectious disease task force. It has already had its first meeting. The focus is not solely on the coronavirus. It will handle the flu and whatever other viruses pop up in the future.

The public’s interest in the virus hasn’t faded, either.

Barton gave a talk Thursday to a lunchtime meeting of a civic organization, the Exchange Club. It had been planned months ago but he decided to talk about the aborted plan to bring infected patients to town.

People peppered Barton with questions about why federal health officials had ever considered the disaster training facility and how much emergency food they should keep at home. They wanted to know how to avoid getting sick.

Barton suggested hand-washing and keeping a safe distance from sick people.

As he talked, a lady reached into her purse, squeezed some alcohol sanitizer on her hands and passed the bottle around the table.

– – –

The Washington Post’s Emma Brown and Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.

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Madonna bursts into tears trying to walk during concert…

MADONNA burst into tears and struggled to stand after falling off a chair during her Madame X gig in Paris.

The Queen of Pop, 61, had to be helped up by one of her dancers after the accident at Le Grand Rex on Thursday night.

 Madonna's struggles have seen her cancelling a number of dates on the tour


Madonna’s struggles have seen her cancelling a number of dates on the tour

Madonna has been struggling with hip and knee injuries for several months and has needed to use a cane to help her walk.

Her struggles have seen her cancelling a number of dates on the tour but in the French capital she bravely continued to perform through the pain.

Madonna has tried a number of alternative treatments to help her cope with the pain, including washing her blood with oxygen.

The singer has eight remaining gigs in Paris before the mammoth tour comes to an end.

She is expected to return to the stage tomorrow night.

The superstar is dating Ahlamalik Williams, 25, who has been on tour with her since 2015 and appeared in music video God Control.

The Vogue singer has a history with dating younger men, dancers Brahim Zalibat, then 23, and Timor Steffens, then 26, as well as model Kevin Sampaio, then 31.

Madonna insists Prince Harry and Meghan Markle relocate to her Central Park apartment in NYC as Canada is ‘SO boring’ in a bizarre video clip

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Steyer spent $3,373 per vote — earned zero delegates!

Tom Steyer speaks at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

With the results in from South Carolina, a strong case can be made that Tom Steyer has just concluded the worst campaign in the history of presidential politics.

Steyer, the California-based founder of Farallon Capital and the co-founder of Onecalifornia Bank and Beneficial State Bank, became a household name – at least among those households with MSNBC – by being the single largest funder of efforts to impeach President Trump. After telling reporters in January 2019 that he would not seek the presidency, Steyer exercised his prerogative to change his mind and declared his candidacy in July.

According to the FEC, Steyer has spent $253,718,074 through January 31, 2020. All but $3,555,597 was from his own pocket. Pre-Bloomberg, a quarter billion dollars for the first four primaries is a staggering amount. But the incredible lack of return on that investment is even more eye-popping, especially for someone whose campaign’s sole justification was his supposed business acumen.

Nowhere was that total incompetence more on display than in South Carolina. Steyer, whose $253 million failed to merit a single delegate in the first three contests, bet his entire campaign on South Carolina. He spent more time there than any other state and his wife Kat Taylor essentially moved to the state. Instead of a triumph, he dropped out of the race immediately after Biden won the state with 50% of the vote.

According to the New York Times, Steyer spent over $18 million on television alone in the Palmetto State. Steyer’s campaign spending has been so excessive that the Times reports that his name has “turned into a verb” – local activists refer to a candidate foolishly overpaying as “steyering.” Some of that spending was ethically questionable, such as renting a campaign headquarters from Jennifer Clyburn Reed, whose father is Congressman James E. Clyburn, the dean of the state’s Democratic Party. Some of that spending was just … goofy. When the Charleston County Democrats held their “Blue Jamboree,” Steyer not only sponsored the lunch, but bought a ticket for every member of the Benedict College marching band and rented them a bus to get there. All of that spending was inefficient, ineffective and ultimately inept.

The numbers are just staggering.

Let’s make some assumptions. Since the Steyer campaign spent $253 million through January, it’s safe to assume another $30 or so million for February, when television buys were at their highest, so let’s call it $280 million.

His seventh-place finish in Iowa netted him 3,061 votes on the first alignment and zero delegates.

His sixth-place finish in New Hampshire netted him 10,727 votes and zero delegates.

In Nevada, Steyer spent $13.55 million on television ads – more than twice as much as the other five candidates combined. His 9,503 first-alignment votes were sixth most and again failed to capture a single delegate.

When the Leap Day primary in South Carolina finally arrived, it looked like Steyer’s last chance to eke out a return on his huge investment.

With 99% of the total counted, Steyer will finish in third place with 59,814 votes, less than a quarter as many as the state’s winner, Joe Biden. At 11.4% of the statewide vote, it appears he will leave South Carolina — and the presidential campaign — with a single delegate.

So $280 million for 83,000 votes comes to an astonishing $3,373 per vote. His $280 million for one delegate is without precedent. On Saturday, Steyer danced to Back That Azz Up, thanked his staff for being 30% LGBTQ, and withdrew from the race.

(This story has been updated to reflect the Steyer campaign being awarded a single delegate in South Carolina.)

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Uighurs sent to work in factory that supplies NIKE…

The workers in standard-issue blue jackets stitch and glue and press together about eight million pairs of Nikes each year at Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co., a Nike supplier for more than 30 years and one of the US brand’s largest factories.

They churn out pair after pair of Shox, with their springy shock absorbers in the heels, and the signature Air Max, plus seven other lines of sports shoes. 

However, hundreds of these workers did not choose to be here: they are ethnic Uighurs from China‘s western Xinjiang region, sent here by local authorities in groups of 50 to toil far from home.

After intense international criticism of the Communist Party’s campaign to forcibly assimilate the mostly Muslim Uighur minority by detaining more than a million people in re-education camps, party officials said last year that most have “graduated” and been released. 

But there is new evidence to show that the Chinese authorities are moving Uighurs into government-directed labour around the country as part of the central government’s Xinjiang Aid initiative.

 For the party, this would help meet its poverty-alleviation goals but also allow it to further control the Uighur population and break familial bonds. 

“We can walk around, but we can’t go back [to Xinjiang] on our own,” said one Uighur woman in broken Mandarin as she browsed the street stalls at the factory gate on a recent afternoon.

Nervous about being seen talking to a reporter, she quickly scurried away.

When their shifts end, the Uighur workers – almost all women in their 20s or younger – use hand gestures and rudimentary Mandarin to buy dried fruit, socks and sanitary pads at the stalls.

Then they walk around the corner, past the factory’s police station – adorned with Uighur writing telling them to “stay loyal to the party” and “have clear-cut discipline” – to dormitories where they live under constant supervision.

The Uighur workers are afraid or unable to interact with anyone in this town, north of Qingdao, beyond the most superficial of transactions at the stalls or in local stores, vendors have said.. But the catalyst for their arrival here is well understood.

“Everyone knows they did not come here of their own free will. They were brought here,” said one fruitseller as she set up her stall. “The Uighurs had to come because they did not have an option. The government sent them here,” another vendor told The Washington Post.

The Post did not ask for their names, out of concern for their safety and so they could discuss an issue that is highly sensitive in China. (While visiting Laixi, this Post reporter was surrounded by seven police officers, questioned, and ordered to leave town.) 

The Taekwang factory is one of many where Uighurs are working “under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour” to make goods for more than 80 established global brands, according to an upcoming report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a Canberra-based think tank. 

“The Chinese government is now exporting the punitive culture and ethos of Xinjiang’s ‘re-education camps’ to factories across China,” said Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, the study’s lead author.

In some cases, they found evidence that Uighurs were transferred directly from internment camps to factories.

“For the Chinese state, the goal is to ‘sinicise’ the Uighurs; for local governments, private brokers and factories, they get a sum of money per head in these labour transfers,” Ms Xu said.

Asked about Uighur workers in the factory, Nike said that “we respect human rights in our extended value chain, and always strive to conduct business ethically and responsibly”.

“We are committed to upholding international labour standards globally,” said Nike spokeswoman Sandra Carreon-John, adding that its suppliers are “strictly prohibited from using any type of prison, forced, bonded or indentured labour”.

Kim Jae-min, the chief executive of Taekwang, the factory’s South Korean parent company, said about 600 Uighurs were among 7,100 workers at the plant.

Nike’s manufacturing map shows that the factory has 4,095 employees, of whom 3,445 are “line workers”.

“The purpose of bringing in migrant Xinjiang workers (in addition to other migrant Han Chinese workers) is to offset the local labour shortage, due to increasing number of competing industries for workers in our area,” the CEO said in a statement. 

Teenager hides messages about China and Uighurs in TikTok makeup tutorials 

The ASPI​ report conservatively estimates that more than 80,000 Uighurs were transferred from Xinjiang  to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019.

This figure is consistent with reporting from China’s state broadcaster, which said in November that the Xinjiang government wanted to transfer out 100,000 “surplus labourers” between 2018 and 2020.

Sending young Uighurs away to work can change their mind-set by “distancing them from religiously extreme views and educating them”, said one local government report. 

Xinjiang’s Turkic language-speaking, mostly Muslim Uighurs have much more in common with the cultures of central Asia than with China’s Mandarin-speaking Han majority, and have long chafed at Beijing’s oppressive rule.

By the party’s own count, tens of thousands of Uighurs have been sent to Guangdong and Fujian provinces in the south, and to Zhejiang, Anhui and Shandong in the east.

State media reports have described “poor farmers and herdsmen” sent to enterprises inside and outside Xinjiang, portraying them as grateful.

“We will feel the party’s favour, listen to the party’s words and follow the party wherever and whenever we go,” a 20-year-old called Zulinar Idris was quoted as saying.

An industry of middlemen has cropped up to facilitate the dispatch of Uighurs, touting “semi-military-style management” and “government management with police stationed at factories”.

In its report, ASPI said it had found evidence that Uighurs were being exploited and that foreign and Chinese companies were involved, possibly unknowingly, in human rights abuses. 

The researchers found 27 factories in nine Chinese provinces that have used Uighur workers hired through labour transfer programmes from Xinjiang since 2017.

The factories are owned by firms that feed into the supply chain of some of the world’s best-known companies, including Apple, Dell and Volkswagen, the report finds.

BOE Technology Group, which supplies screens to Apple, and O-Film, which makes iPhone cameras, both use Uighur labour, either directly or through contractors, the report found. Apple lists both companies on its latest supplier list.

Apple said that it has strict requirements for suppliers.

“Apple is dedicated to ensuring that everyone in our supply chain is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” said spokesman Josh Rosenstock. “We have not seen this report but we work closely with all our suppliers to ensure our high standards are upheld.”

Volkswagen spokesman Nikolas Thorke said that “none of the mentioned supplier companies are currently a direct supplier of Volkswagen”. 

“We are committed to our responsibility in all areas of our business where we hold direct authority,” he said.

Dell said it would look into the report’s findings. “Though our current supplier audit data show no evidence of forced labour in our supply chain, we take all allegations of this nature seriously and will investigate fully,” said spokeswoman Lauren Lee. 

While ASPI could not categorically confirm that the labour was forced, their report said there was clear evidence of “highly disturbing coercive labour practices” that was consistent with the International Labour Organisation’s definition of forced labour. 

Uighur Muslim woman tells Congressional-Executive Commission on China she asked Chinese to kill her whilst in detention camp

At the front gate, the Taekwang factory looks like any other in China. Rows of long buildings sit behind a gate where three flags flutter: the company ensign and a Chinese flag, but also a South Korean one, reflecting the parent company’s home base.

Inside, the workers’ ideology and behaviour are closely monitored. At a purpose-built “psychological dredging office”, officials from Taekwang’s local women’s federation conduct “heart-to-heart” talks and provide psychological consulting to encourage integration, according to photos of the offices published by state media. 

Along the side, the facility resembles a prison. There are watchtowers with cameras pointed in all directions and barbed-wire fences atop the walls, which feature Communist Party propaganda posters extolling the Chinese president Xi Jinping‘s “China dream”.

“All ethnicities are united as one family,” says one placard. 

There is a special police station equipped with facial recognition cameras and other high-tech surveillance that workers must pass through when they enter and exit the factory.

The Uighurs are segregated from the Han workers, both physically and by language, according to more than a dozen local merchants and workers who spoke to The Post about the situation inside the factory. 

“They do not speak Mandarin, and we never have any interaction. We just happen to work in the same factory,” said one middle-aged Han woman as she left work for the day.

“We have two cafeterias,” she said. “Chinese workers eat in one and Xinjiang workers go to a separate one. The Uighur workers are allowed to wander around near the compound, but have to return to their dorms later.”

The workers live under the watchful eye of their cadre manager in dormitory buildings opposite the police station. 

They sometimes go to the one Muslim restaurant in town, often ordering steaming bowls of lamb noodle soup by pointing at the photos on the wall. Signs saying “halal” and other phrases in Arabic have been taped over, in line with orders from the authorities.

There is no mosque in the town or in the factory. Bitter Winter, a website devoted to religious freedom in China, has reported that the Uighur workers are not allowed to pray or read the Quran. 

Instead, they must attend patriotic education and Mandarin classes at a training school called Pomegranate Seeds, the state-run publication China Ethnic News reported.

The school is named after an edict from Mr Xi, who said that “people of all ethnic groups should hold together like pomegranate seeds”.

Communist Party officials in Laixi have posted photos of the Uighur workers studying in the Taekwang factory’s Pomegranate Seeds school, and sitting in rows waving Chinese flags.

Security at the factory is tight. Factory administrators told a Post reporter this was a Nike requirement – Nike inspectors were visiting that day – but locals said it was also to monitor the Uighur workers.

“Some would say they use national-level security standards,” one of the street vendors said. “They keep a detailed account of the workers’ entries and exits, and they have to obey a strict schedule, coming to work or leaving the compound only at specific hours.”

Taekwang did not respond to questions about whether the Uighurs were forced to work in the factory under threat of re-education, nor whether they could pray or observe religious practices while working at the factory.

The company provides “special food to our employees from Xinjiang” and “optional Mandarin language for non-Mandarin speakers, that will help ensure a positive work environment and job success”, said the chief executive.

For their part, top party officials are pleased with the efforts.

“By ‘encouraging’ ethnic minorities in Xinjiang to ‘interact and develop themselves,’” Wang Yang, who is leading the Xinjiang labour policies, said at a meeting in the Xinjiang city of Hotan, “China has immensely promoted the interaction and integration among different ethnicities.”

The Washington Post

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In Greek village, tensions escalating between refugees and locals…

A march in support of refugee rights held in the village of Moria in Lesvos, Greece on Feb. 25, 2020.

Photo: Jade Sacker

LESVOS, GREECE Those looking from the windows of the Drop Center, a popular school and cafe for refugees in the Greek village of Moria, could tell the mood had turned on a warm morning in early February. Afghan mothers pushing strollers were heading back to the refugee camp, while young men were rushing in the other direction.

A morning protest by around 300 asylum seekers over their squalid living conditions had begun peacefully enough inside the camp, home to some 20,000 people from 64 different countries, including Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Angola. But clashes soon erupted with riot police after the group tried marching to Mytilini, the main port and capital of Lesvos. Now protesters were coming toward this small village, and its residents were mobilizing.

After a truck filled with locals stopped outside the center, continually blasting its horn through the usually serene town, workers inside hit the lights and pulled down the blinds. There was a message over loudspeakers calling for villagers to gather at the church. And it provided an opportunity for the staff to evacuate those inside two at a time.

After that day, the Drop Center was closed and staff moved elsewhere on the island. For the organization that ran the school, A Drop in the Ocean, it seemed their welcome had run out. Another NGO had rocks thrown through their windows. Later a group of local vigilantes went door-to-door looking for aid workers or refugees. “I understand that [the villagers] are tense. They live in an extreme situation. But it doesn’t excuse their behavior toward us,” said Ida Sorbye, a worker at the Drop Center.

If the Greek island of Lesvos is the frontline of Europe’s refugee crisis, Moria is a no-man’s land. The small village’s population of around 2,000 is now dwarfed by the camp of the same name up the road. As many as possible are crammed into the main facility, designed to hold only 2,800, with the rest spilling out in tents and hastily-built structures on the slopes of ancient olive groves. Numbers have exploded over the last year as new regulations require refugees to apply for asylum at their first landing place in Europe. For many that means Lesvos.

Turkey said on Thursday it would no longer restrain hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in its territory from reaching Europe despite a deal to do so reached with the EU in 2016. That means islanders are things to rapidly worsen. Thousands of refugees are now on the border of Northern Greece. The crisis poses the toughest test for Greece since a 2015 financial crisis.

The situation is worsening as crime escalates. There’s been at least two murders at the camp, and reports of daily fights and stabbings between refugees. Doctors Without Borders said that rape is also common inside the camp, as high as one rape reported a week.

Asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesvos are seen in the Moria refugee camp on Feb. 15, 2020. More than 20,000 are living in the camp, designed for 2,800, and the surrounding hills.

Jade Sacker

The European refugee crisis is now five years old. More than 120,000 migrants and asylum seekers arrived clandestinely in 2019, according to the International Organization for Migration, with the vast majority crossing the Mediterranean Sea. That’s a big drop from the more than 1 million who arrived in 2015. Yet due to a backlog of cases and closed borders in the North, the Greek islands have never looked like this.

The local economy of Lesvos, largely dependent on tourism, has taken a hit. The home of archaic poetess Sappho, the island used to draw holidaymakers for its stunning blue waters, picture-postcard villages, sun-baked olive groves, medieval fortress and world-famous petrified forest. But tourism dropped by more than 50% in 2016 and, according to business owners on the island, hasn’t recovered by nearly enough. Cruise ships are coming less often — only eight arrived in 2019 compared to 94 in 2011. Tourists that do step onto the island see refugee children reselling bus tickets and a constant flow of those making the trek between camps and into towns.

It seems the open arms that initially had greeted those coming ashore in Lesvos have finally closed. Thousands of island locals attended a protest for Athens to process or remove the refugees. General strikes have been called. “It’s a powder keg ready to explode,” regional governor Kostas Moutzouris told local news regarding the situation.

Demonstrators protest against the construction of new migrant camps in Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos, on February 27, 2020.

Aris Messinnis | AFP | Getty Images

Qais Azizi, from Afghanistan, has been in Moria camp for four months. The 26-year-old said that on the suggestion of his sister, and after witnessing two suicide blasts while studying in Kabul, he trekked first to Turkey and then to Greece. When he crossed the short but dangerous strip of Mediterranean — his first time seeing the ocean — he had no idea his journey would pause here.

When his sister calls, he can’t bear to tell her the truth. “I am always lying to her, saying, ‘After two months they will accept me … and they will accept you also.'” After more time has passed, he lies again about another step in the application. “With this hope she is alive, I think.” He is yet to have his interview for asylum.

Meanwhile, a city has grown around him. On the camp’s market street, dozens of vendors sell their wares amid a hum of Farsi, French and English. Sellers fan hot coals under kebab skewers and display bread made from an Afghan tandoor oven.

Outside the main camp is the “jungle.” Among the gray-green hills is a shanty town with narrow dirt alleys that flood in the rain. Garbage is piled in ditches. Greek locals sell wooden pallets to the newcomers for around 7 euro, although prices are rising, according to a man from Syria building a room for his family. It will cost around 300 euro total for his materials, he said. There’s even a real estate market where prime spots are traded and sold.

Around midnight only a handful of guards are on duty. That’s when most refugees don’t dare leave their tent, said Azizi. There are daily reports of knifings and fights between the refugees. Rocks are placed at the ready near Azizi’s tent in case a melee breaks out.

Conditions at the Moria refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece are deterriorating as overcrowding and crime become serious problems.

Photo: Jade Sacker

Like elsewhere in Europe, a center-right government was elected in Greece last year, led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The New Democracy coalition promised to resolve the backlog of asylum seekers. So far, nothing has changed, except the movement of more riot police to the island. Athens proposed building a new semi-enclosed camp to keep refugees from freely walking the streets. But this has been met by protests and strikes by islanders.

No other plans are in the pipeline. But if they were, it’s unlikely they would be trusted by those in Lesvos. “People have lost faith in the government,” said Mytilini mayor special advisor Tasos Balis.

Things are getting worse. They [refugees] cut the trees. They take the animals — the sheep, the goats. And we feel insecure.

Mikis Papadakis

local resident

The EU’s solution has been to block onward migration to the rest of Europe from those that land in Greece. Their policy is that those that land on Lesvos must apply for asylum before moving on. If refugees move on without doing this, then they must return to Lesvos to go through the process. There’s no change in policy moving forward, although there’s plans to increase spending on migration management and border controls (total of 34.9 billion euro) for the next seven years.

Greeks on the front lines of the refugee crisis

On a windy night a few weeks after the unrest in Moria, a group of men and women stood huddled around a fire at the entrance to the village, stopping cars to make sure the passengers were local. Mikis Papadakis, 47, comes here every night after working at a butcher shop in Mytilini. “Things are getting worse,” he said. “They [refugees] cut the trees. They take the animals — the sheep, the goats. And we feel insecure.”

Today a march organized by a local antifascist group in support of refugee rights passed his store. Protesters handed out fliers that warned: “In these circumstances, social polarization is rising, and extreme-right ideology has found space among a section of local society.”

“It’s their job,” Papadakis said, smiling. He thinks there is a lot of money involved with aid work on the island. A common complaint from locals is that a thriving NGO industry — no doubt helping refugees that come ashore — comes at the cost of their businesses as more are encouraged to make the journey.

A meeting was held the following day in Moria village to discuss the situation. Angry shouts and applause reached Takis Bokolis, 50, smoking a cigarette outside of the town hall. Bokolis works pressing oil from his family’s olives. What bothers him most is the refugees cutting down the trees for firewood. “I want to cry. It’s so painful. We’ve grown up with these trees. They are my kid’s food,” he said. Local authorities haven’t intervened as refugees thin out the groves around Moria camp.

Panoramic general and closeup view from a hill of everyday daily life in Moria. Handmade tents on the olive grove hills of the slums or jungle or hell as asylum seekers called it, next to the official first Reception and Identification Center, Moria hotspot.

Nicolas Economou | NurPhoto | Getty Images

So it has come to this: neighborhood guards and town hall meetings, he explained. “The government has forgotten us,” said Bokolis. He has bought three more dogs — big Greek shepherds — to guard against those from the camp that walk past his property. He said his neighbors are collecting weapons, sleeping with guns under their beds. No islander has been attacked by anyone from the camp. But businesses and homes were robbed. And Moria villagers, heavily outnumbered, worry about what will happen if things turn violent.

“There is a wall between Greece and the EU, and there is a wall between the islands and Athens.” Now Bokolis wants a wall between Turkey and his island. He might get something close. A floating sea barrier was recently proposed by Athens.

Meanwhile, Sorbye, the worker at the Drop Center, is looking for a new location for the community center. She hopes to find something before an expected jump in arrivals during spring, when the temperature rises and the waves soften in the Aegean Sea.

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Confirmed in Rhode Island…

The Rhode Island Department of Health has announced the state’s first “presumptive positive” case of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The person is in their 40s and had traveled to Italy in mid-February, the department says. The news release does not reveal the person’s gender or hometown.

It says that the person has had “limited travel” in Rhode Island since returning from Italy, and that the person has not gone back to work since returning to the country.

Outreach has begun to people who were in direct contact with the person, the Health Department says, and there are “extensive efforts underway to ensure that they undergo a period of 14 days of self-monitoring for symptoms at home with public health supervision (quarantine). As long as anyone exposed to the individual does not have symptoms outside of their home setting, the virus cannot spread to other people in the community.”

The person’s immediate family members have been self-quarantining at home since it was determined that the person met the criteria, based on travel history, to be evaluated for coronavirus, the Health Department says.

The department says it is coordinating closely with the hospital where this person is currently being treated — which it does not reveal — and that infection control protocols are being followed.

“The Rhode Island Department of Health has been preparing for weeks to ensure that we have a structure in place to, to the best of our ability, limit or prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Rhode Island. We fully anticipated having a first case of COVID-19,” said Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott said in the news release. “We are not seeing widespread community transmission in Rhode Island, and the general level of risk for Rhode Islanders is still low. However, everyone in Rhode Island has a role to play in helping us prevent the spread of viruses, just like the flu. It is very important that people wash their hands regularly, cover their coughs and sneezes, and stay home if they are sick.”

Alexander-Scott and Gov. Gina Raimondo will give a news conference at 11:45 a.m. Sunday to discuss the situation.

More to come.

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