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20 years after dot-com peak, tech dominance keeps investors on edge…


SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK (Reuters) – As Wall Street approaches the 20th anniversary of the piercing of the dot-com bubble, today’s decade-old rally led by a few small players shows some similarities that cautious investors are keeping an eye on.

FILE PHOTO: A view of the exterior of the Nasdaq market site in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., October 24, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

March 11, 2000 marked the beginning of a crash of overly-inflated stocks that would last over two years, lead to the failure of investor favorites including Worldcom and Pets.com and take over 13 years for Wall Street to recover from.

Nasdaq’s journey back to highs – tmsnrt.rs/2HkmAPV

That bust ended a 1,000% decade-long Nasdaq .IXIC rally that had been fueled by low interest rates and a rush to invest in the emerging World Wide Web, often at any cost.

Tracking the Nasdaq’s “horsemen” – tmsnrt.rs/38f2RNs

Now, after hitting a record high on Feb. 13, the Nasdaq has reached over 9,700 points, almost double its high point in 2000 and about eight times the level of its trough in 2002.

Among the so-called “Four Horsemen” of tech stocks that fueled much of the 1990s tech rally, only Microsoft’s (MSFT.O) stock price has recovered from the dot-com bust. Intel (INTC.O) and Cisco Systems (CSCO.O) remain below their 2000 highs, while Dell, the fourth member, has since been taken private and then relisted on the stock market.

The 1990s’ remaining horsemen – tmsnrt.rs/2USpp2A

Microsoft is dueling with Apple (AAPL.O) for the title of Wall Street’s most valuable publicly listed company, with its stock quadrupling since CEO Satya Nadella took over as chief in 2014 and refocused the maker of Windows on cloud computing, a technology central to the current rally in Silicon Valley stocks.

With a market capitalization of $1.4 trillion, Microsoft is now trading at over 30 times expected earnings, its highest valuation since 2002, but still less than half of the highest PE it reached during the dot-com era.

Intel and Cisco, no longer among Wall Street’s most-favored tech stocks after investors refocused on software, are trading at PEs in line with recent years.

Apple, Amazon (AMZN.O), Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL.O) and Facebook (FB.O) have seen their PEs climb recently, but still within ranges seen in recent years as they drove much of the S&P 500’s rally.

S&P 500 and tech PEs since dot.com era – tmsnrt.rs/2SLGJDL

But across the stock market, earnings multiples are testing levels that followed soon after the dot-com bubble exploded. The S&P 500’s forward PE recently hit 18.8, its highest since 2002. At 22.5, the S&P 500 tech index’s PE is at its highest since 2004, but still nowhere near its peak PE of 48 in 2000.

With Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and other technology companies fueling much of Wall Street’s rally since the 2008-2009 financial crisis, some investors worry the market has become vulnerable to any downturn among those companies.

Shares of Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook alone make up about 18% of the benchmark S&P 500.

“While the levels of valuation are not as extreme, the conclusion is somewhat the same from the market standpoint. If for whatever reason these names falter, it’s going to be very hard for certainly the Nasdaq, which is even more heavily weighted, but even the broader market, the S&P … to perform well,” said Walter Todd, chief investment officer at Greenwood Capital in South Carolina.

Tech market share of the stock market – tmsnrt.rs/2UQvb4V

At the height of the dot-com era, technology stocks accounted for over 35% of the S&P 500’s value. Today, the tech sector accounts for about 25% of S&P 500 market capitalization, according to Refinitiv Datastream. But combining the tech sector .SPLRCT with the communications sector .SPLRCL, which includes Internet-related companies like Alphabet, Facebook and Netflix (NFLX.O), the group accounts for 35% of the S&P 500.

The spate of unprofitable companies seeking to go public in recent years had struck some investors as similar to the dot-com boom. But WeWork’s spectacular failure to pull off a multibillion-dollar IPO last year was seen as a positive sign for those concerned about an overly ebullient market and investors’ willingness to buy shares of companies with no clear path to profitability.

More recent worries have been sparked by massive — and to some investors, confusing — gains for Tesla (TSLA.O). The electric vehicle maker’s stock price has soared 90% in 2020 alone.

“Watching Tesla this last week felt a lot like the bubble,” said Nancy Tengler, chief investment officer of Laffer Tengler Investments.

Tesla shares’ rocket rise higher – tmsnrt.rs/38vsYA2

Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by Alden Bentley and David Gregorio

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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China destroys $600 million in cash to stop spread…


China has reportedly begun destroying hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cash in a desperate bid to halt the march of the coronavirus.

Beijing’s central bank has reportedly implemented new strategy to destroy cash from areas completely infected by the coronavirus.

It is also taking measures to deep clean and disinfect cash from other areas in bid to kill off the virus.

Coronavirus is feared to travel on cash and then transfer to humans as China remains the epicentre of the global outbreak.

The People’s Bank have China have announced the new measures as the fight goes on.

World Health Organisation officials had previously warned the virus can last several hours on surfaces.


Chinese government officials have ordered their banks to launder the cash.

Bank notes will be disinfected with ultraviolet light and high temperatures before being stored for two weeks.

Cash from higher risk areas will then be “specially treated” and sent back to the central bank.

And then even high-risk banknotes face being burned, reports state-run newspaper the Global Times.


Government officials have said they will release four billion yuan in additional uninfected cash to help meet the demand.

That would mean around $600 million has either been destroyed or taken out of circulation due to fears it is too infected with coronavirus.

Bank chiefs have also suspended the use of physical cash in high risk provinces.

China has been the frontline against the virus, with around 60 million people in lockdown.


The death toll in mainland China rose by 98 to 1,868, in figures announced early on Tuesday.

While the number of people infected globally stands at 72,436, according to the country’s National Health Commission.

Wider economic impacts of the coronavirus are now being fears.

Some forecasters suggest $62 billion of growth could be wiped off the Chinese economy – leading to businesses going under and a crash.


It comes as UK accounting watchdog Financial Reporting Council (FRC) said companies have a duty to make “up-to-date and meaningful” disclosures to investors on the potential impact of the disease.

It also confirmed it is in talks with accountancy firms over the potential effect that coronavirus – also known as Covid-19 – could have on their ability to sign off accounts, given travel restrictions in China.

UK firms with Chinese subsidiaries can only review audit files within the country, as Chinese data protection laws prevent this being done remotely.

The FRC’s reminder about firms’ obligations to disclose risks comes after technology giant Apple warned over second-quarter results because the coronavirus outbreak in China has hit production of iPhones.


Banking giant HSBC also cautioned on announcing 2019 figures that coronavirus had caused “significant disruption” for its business, especially in mainland China and Hong Kong, and may knock lending and transactions in the region.

FRC chiefs said companies need to “carefully” consider what disclosures they may need to make in year-end accounts, for those trading in China as well as those that may be indirectly affected.

The regulator said firms may be directly hit if, for example, they have extensive operations or manufacturing bases in China, which could suffer staff shortages and production delays.

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But it added that firms without a presence in China may also suffer, such as those with significant trading links or global supply chains dependent on Chinese-manufactured goods.

UK retailers, pharmaceutical firms, hotel groups and banks are among those set to suffer an impact from the outbreak.



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BOY SCOUTS file for bankruptcy due to sex-abuse lawsuits…


Barraged by hundreds of sex-abuse lawsuits, the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday in hopes of working out a potentially mammoth victim compensation plan that will allow the hallowed, 110-year-old organization to carry on.

The Chapter 11 filing in federal bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Delaware, sets in motion what could be one of the biggest, most complex bankruptcies ever seen. Scores of lawyers are seeking settlements on behalf of several thousand men who say they were molested as scouts by scoutmasters or other leaders decades ago but are only now eligible to sue because of recent changes in their states’ statute-of-limitations laws.

By going to bankruptcy court, the Scouts can put those lawsuits on hold for now. But ultimately they could be forced to sell off some of their vast property holdings, including campgrounds and hiking trails, to raise money for a compensation trust fund that could surpass a billion dollars.

The bankruptcy petition listed the Boy Scouts’ assets as between $1 billion and $10 billion, and its liabilities at $500 million to $1 billion.

“Scouting programs will continue throughout this process and for many years to come,” the Boy Scouts said in a statement. ”Local councils are not filing for bankruptcy because they are legally separate and distinct organizations.”

The Boy Scouts are just the latest major American institution to face a heavy price over sexual abuse. Roman Catholic dioceses across the country and schools such as Penn State and Michigan State have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years.

The bankruptcy represents a painful turn for an organization that has been a pillar of American civic life for generations and a training ground for future leaders. Achieving the rank of Eagle Scout has long been a proud accomplishment that politicians, business leaders, astronauts and others put on their resumes and in their official biographies.

The Boy Scouts’ finances have been strained in recent years by declining membership and sex-abuse settlements.

The number of youths taking part in scouting has dropped below 2 million, down from more than 4 million in peak years of the 1970s. The organization has tried to counter the decline by admitting girls, but its membership rolls took a big hit Jan. 1 when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — for decades a major sponsor of Boy Scout units — cut ties and withdrew more than 400,000 scouts in favor of programs of its own.

The financial outlook had worsened last year after New York, Arizona, New Jersey and California passed laws making it easier for victims of long-ago abuse to file claims. Teams of lawyers across the U.S. have been signing up clients by the hundreds to sue the Boy Scouts.

Most of the newly surfacing cases date to the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s; the organization says there were only five known abuse victims in 2018. The Boy Scouts credit the change to an array of prevention policies adopted since the mid-1980s, including mandatory criminal background checks and abuse-prevention training for all staff and volunteers, and a rule that two or more adult leaders be present during all activities.

In many ways, the crisis parallels the one facing the Catholic Church in the U.S. Both institutions boast of major progress over recent decades in combating abuse. whether by priests or scout leaders, but both face many lawsuits alleging negligence and cover-ups, mostly decades ago.

“We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to harm innocent children,” said Roger Mosby, the BSA’s president and CEO. “While we know nothing can undo the tragic abuse that victims suffered, we believe the Chapter 11 process, with the proposed trust structure, will provide equitable compensation to all victims while maintaining the BSA’s important mission.”

The BSA said it is encouraging all victims to come forward to file a claim in the case. A deadline for filing claims has not yet been set by the bankruptcy court, but the BSA said that would likely happen later this year.

Among other matters to be addressed in bankruptcy court: the fate of the Boy Scouts’ assets; the extent to which the organization’s insurance will help cover compensation; and whether assets of the Scouts’ 261 local councils will be added to the fund.

“There are a lot of very angry, resentful men out there who will not allow the Boy Scouts to get away without saying what all their assets are,” said lawyer Paul Mones, who represents numerous clients suing the BSA. “They want no stone unturned.”

Amid the crush of lawsuits, the Scouts recently mortgaged the major properties owned by the national leadership, including the headquarters in Irving, Texas, and the 140,000-acre Philmont Ranch in New Mexico, to help secure a line of credit.

Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts have kept confidential files since the 1920s listing staff and volunteers implicated in sexual abuse, for the avowed purpose of keeping predators away from youth. According to a court deposition, the files as of January listed 7,819 suspected abusers and 12,254 victims.

Until last spring, the organization had insisted it never knowingly allowed a predator to work with youths. But in May, The Associated Press reported that attorneys for abuse victims had identified multiple cases in which known predators were allowed to return to leadership posts. The next day, Boy Scouts chief executive Mike Surbaugh wrote to a congressional committee, acknowledging the group’s previous claim was untrue.

James Kretschmer of Houston, among the many men suing for alleged abuse, says he was molested by a Scout leader over several months in the mid-1970s in the Spokane, Washington, area. Regarding the bankruptcy, he said, “It is a shame because at its core and what it was supposed to be, the Boy Scouts is a beautiful organization.”

“But you know, anything can be corrupted,” he added. “And if they’re not going to protect the people that they’ve entrusted with the children, then shut it down and move on.”

Ahead of the Chapter 11 filing, lawyers said that because of the organization’s 50-state presence, as well as its ties to churches and civic groups that sponsor scout troops, a bankruptcy by the Boy Scouts would be unprecedented in its complexity. It would be national in scope, unlike the various Catholic Church bankruptcy cases, which have unfolded diocese by diocese.

“A Boy Scout bankruptcy would be bigger in scale than any other child abuse bankruptcy we’ve ever seen,” said Seattle-based attorney Mike Pfau, whose firm is representing scores of men nationwide alleging they were abused as Boy Scouts.

___

Associated Press video journalist John Mone in Houston contributed.



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Secession in Pacific Northwest? Oregon residents petition to join Idaho…


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11 Oregon Republican have fled in protest of a greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade bill. The legislators say such a bill would harm Oregonians.

USA TODAY

Frustrated by liberal policies, some Oregon residents are petitioning to leave the state –by moving the border with Idaho westward. 

The movement has secured initial approval from two counties and aims to get enough signatures to put the proposal on local ballots in November, said the group Move Oregon’s Border for a Greater Idaho.

If the group succeeds, voters in southeast Oregon may see a question on whether their county should become part of Idaho by redrawing the border.

“Rural counties have become increasingly outraged by laws coming out of the Oregon Legislature that threaten our livelihoods, our industries, our wallet, our gun rights, and our values,” Mike McCarter, one of the chief petitioners, said in a press release. “We tried voting those legislators out but rural Oregon is outnumbered and our voices are now ignored. This is our last resort.”

This proposed map provided by Greater Idaho shows an expanded Idaho, potentially created by moving state borders. (Photo: Greater Idaho Group)

Oregon Republican walkout: Bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions dead in Senate; Republican senators still absent

The proposal comes after Oregon Senate Republicans fled the capital to protest a bill on greenhouse gas emissions last year, and while Democrats control the governor’s office and state legislature. Another chief petitioner, Valerie Gottschalk, said she hopes the proposal will gain traction similar to how the petition to recall Gov. Kate Brown did last summer.

Proponents did not collect the 280,000 signatures for a recall election, but Greater Idaho said it only needs to collect about 2,400 signatures from Josephine County and about 3,000 from Douglas County to appear on the ballot. 

“People here would prefer Idaho’s conservative governance to the progressive/liberal current Oregon governance,” Gottschalk said in a press release. “Every time I look at the Facebook group Greater Idaho, the group has gotten bigger.”

Of Oregon’s 36 counties, only 14 in the Willamette Valley area would remain if the group had its way. Moving the border would require approval from the U.S. Congress as well as the Idaho and Oregon state legislatures, however. 

Secession in Virginia?: W.Va. governor Justice says he’d welcome Va. counties wanting to secede ‘with open arms’

The proposal to join Idaho isn’t the first effort Oregonians have made to leave the state. In 1941, residents of residents of southwestern Oregon tried to secede by creating a state of Jefferson with northern Californians. 

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/02/17/oregon-idaho-border-petition-secede/4789936002/



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Who Will They Believe?


Jurors in Harvey Weinstein’s New York City rape trial are set to start deliberating Tuesday.

Weinstein’s lawyers said he was confident heading into what could be his last weekend of freedom as the panel of seven men and five women with plenty to think about moves closer to a verdict.

The jurors have summed up their cases for and against convicting the movie producer in closing arguments last week.

Weinstein, 67, is charged with raping a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on another woman, TV and film production assistant Mimi Haleyi, in 2006.

Prosecutors used their time to describe Weinstein as someone who was so powerful, he thought he could get away with anything — and used three words to summarize his behavior: “Power. Manupulation. Abuse.” NBC New York’s Harvey Weinstein reports.

Jurors will also be weighing actress Annabella Sciorra’s account of a mid-1990s rape in considering charges alleging Weinstein is a sexual predator, even though it is too old to be charged on its own.

Weinstein maintains any sexual conduct was consensual.

The Associated Press has a policy of not publishing the names of people who allege sexual assault without their consent; it is withholding the name of the rape accuser because it isn’t clear whether she wishes to be identified publicly.

The closing arguments were the highlight of the fourth week of testimony and arguments at the landmark #MeToo trial.

Weinstein’s attorney gave what he called “The Queens’ Speech,” a play on the movie he produced “The King’s Speech,” as she gave closing arguments in which she said the accusers are liars, and the jury should be skeptical of what they said happened. NBC New York’s Erica Byfield reports.

DEFENSE: ‘FACTS MATTER, EVIDENCE MATTERS’

Weinstein lawyer Donna Rotunno suggested Thursday that prosecutors created an “alternative universe” and a “sinister tale” because they lacked evidence to convict the former studio boss.

“In their story, they have created a universe that strips adult women of common sense, autonomy and responsibility,” Rotunno said. “It is offensive, actually.”

Rotunno, a #MeToo critic, argued that the two women Weinstein is charged with attacking were opportunists who willingly latched on to the powerful producer and acquiesced to sex because they thought it would help their careers.

Rotunno, continuing a theme of the defense’s case, seized on the women’s warm emails and other communications with Weinstein that continued for months and years after the alleged attacks.

Referring to prosecutors, she said: “In their universe, (Weinstein’s accusers) are not even responsible for sitting at their computers sending emails to someone across the country.”

“In this script, the powerful man is the villain, and he’s so unattractive and large that no woman would ever want to sleep with him voluntarily. Regret does not exist in this world, only regret renamed as rape,” the lawyer continued.

Wrapping up remarks that went on for more than 4½ hours, Rotunno told jurors: “facts matter, evidence matters, and when this case is over, we know that you’ll do the right thing because justice demands it.”

As he left court Thursday, Weinstein said he “loved” Rotunno’s closing. “I made ‘The King’s Speech.’ It was the queen’s speech,” he quipped.

In a graphic and disturbing testimony, the actress tearfully recounted how the disgraced Hollywood mogul allegedly trapped her in a bathroom and sexually assaulted her. NBC New York’s Erica Byfield reports.

PROSECUTION: FIND HIM GUILTY

Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon went Friday and spoke about another universe — one in which Weinstein’s accusers “were merely ants that he could step on without consequences.”

Weinstein worried about Sciorra because she was an established star but treated other victims like “complete disposables” because they weren’t in his Hollywood orbit and he had the power to make sure they wouldn’t be, Illuzzi said.

One way that Weinstein kept the women quiet was by making them feel embarrassed and ashamed, as if they had done something wrong, when it was him forcing them into awkward situations, like asking them to give him a massage, Illuzzi said.

“What he wants to do is he wants to get them in a situation where they feel stupid. If you feel stupid and belittled, belittled, stupid people do not complain,” the prosecutor told jurors.

Illuzzi implored jurors to focus on Weinstein’s conduct, not what the alleged victims in the case may have said or done with him afterward.

For instance, she said, the woman Weinstein is charged with raping could have been madly in love and had his name tattooed on her arm, but “he still would not be allowed to rape her,” Illuzzi said.

Illuzzi finished her three-hour talk by reminding jurors how painful it had been for Weinstein’s accusers to come forward, and how, by testifying, they had “sacrificed their dignity, their privacy and their peace” to seek justice.

“They didn’t come for a beauty contest, didn’t come for money, didn’t come for fame, they came to be heard,” she said.

One of the key accusers in the trial left the witness stand in tears on Monday, leading the judge to end court early after reading an email to an ex-boyfriend that mentioned an alleged sexual assault from when she was a child. NBC New York’s Erica Byfield reports.

‘IT IS NOT A PROP!’

As they prepared for closing arguments this week, Weinstein’s lawyers found themselves sparring with Illuzzi over her plan to mention that his physical appearance had changed significantly since the time of the alleged assaults.

His lawyers feared she would comment about the walker Weinstein has been using to hobble into court each day, which they say he needs because of recent back surgery.

Jurors haven’t seen Weinstein amble in and out of court, but Illuzzi noted during the discussion Tuesday that they can see the walker because it’s parked right behind the defense table.

“The walker has been there as a prop,” she said.

“It is not a prop! Enough!” Weinstein lawyer Damon Cheronis said.

“That is what it looks like,” Illuzzi responded. “You can scream all you like. They did not have to have the walker back there.”

After more bickering, the judge said it was fine for Illuzzi to mention Weinstein’s physical changes, which she wound up doing in her closing, but warned: “Leave the walker out of it.”

FACES IN THE CROWD

Big-name celebrities are staying away from Weinstein’s trial, leaving the courtroom gallery filled mostly with reporters tapping notes on laptops and legal types keeping tabs on the case, along with a few rows of prosecution and defense team guests.

Actress Ellen Barkin showed up early in the trial to watch Sciorra testify and ended up flipping off photographers taking her picture. Actress Rosie Perez was there too, but as a witness to corroborate Sciorra’s account. Other stars protested outside during jury selection but haven’t made their way into court.

When the #MeToo movement exploded, Weinstein’s case seemed like it would be a magnet for celebrities fed up with his history of mistreating women. A pretrial hearing in December 2018 attracted a big crowd from the Time’s Up organization, including actresses Marisa Tomei and Amber Tamblyn and other celebrities.

Instead, the boldface names in the courtroom have been a bit more inside baseball: Jodi Kantor, the New York Times reporter and co-author of “She Said”; Robert Boyce, the NYPD chief of detectives during the Weinstein investigation; lawyers Gloria Allred and Douglas Wigdor, who represent some of Weinstein’s accusers; and John Orbon, Illuzzi’s husband, who had a front-row seat for her closing argument.

Vance has also been a regular in the crowd. The case had the potential to swing his legacy after years of criticism and recent calls to resign over his handling of high-profile sex assault cases, including an earlier dropped investigation into Weinstein.

‘NOT REALLY RAMBO’

In her closing, Illuzzi revisited an episode in 1997 in which Sciorra says Weinstein showed up to her hotel room at the Cannes Film Festival one morning in his underwear, with a bottle of baby oil in one hand and a videotape in the other.

Sciorra, there to promote the film “Cop Land,” told jurors she backed away and pushed all of the direct dial buttons on her room phone, hoping someone from the hotel staff would come help.

On cross examination, Rotunno wondered why Sciorra didn’t just go to her tough-guy costars Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro for help keeping Weinstein away from her.

Showing a photo of Sciorra and Stallone on a big TV monitor, Illuzzi said Friday: “Here she is at that event walking the red carpet with Sly Stallone. What was Annabella asked? Why didn’t you call Sly? Why didn’t you call Robert De Niro for help?”

Then, looking straight ahead at the jury, the prosecutor quipped: “You guys know that Sylvester Stallone is not really Rambo, right? And Robert De Niro is not really the Godfather. They are just actors like she is.”



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SUPERBUGS COULD STOP CHEMOTHERAPY FROM WORKING, ONCOLOGISTS WARN…


Tens of thousands of cancer patients are at risk of contracting antibiotic resistant superbugs that could make chemotherapy unviable within the next decade, oncologists warn.

Cancer patients rely on daily antibiotics for prevention and treatment of infections. However, the rise of bacteria that are resistant to many drugs threatens to undermine modern treatment of the disease.

One in four oncologists in Britain have seen an increase in drug-resistant infections in the last year, figures shared with The Times reveal. A survey of a hundred cancer doctors by the Longitude Prize, set up to help solve the problem, found that 95 per cent were worried about the rise of superbugs in their patients. Forty-six per cent believed that drug-resistant infections could make chemotherapy unviable.

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Senior doctor dies as authorities start to 'round up' patients…


One of Wuhan’s most senior doctors has died after contracting the coronavirus as authorities began a sweeping campaign inside the city to seek out patients infected with the virus.

Liu Zhiming had taken part in the battle against the virus from the start and had made important contributions in fighting and controlling Covid-19, the Wuhan municipal health commission said. During that process, “unfortunately he became infected and passed away at 10:54 Tuesday morning at the age of 51 after all-out efforts to save him failed”, the commission said.

Confirmation also emerged of the death last Thursday of Xu Depu, the former director of the Ezhou city Chinese medicine hospital in Hubei province. A nurse at the hospital confirmed his death on Tuesday, according to reports in state media.

Chinese state media reported new house-to-house checks in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people at the centre of the outbreak, that aimed to seek out and “round up” all infected patients. State media said anyone suspected of having the virus would face mandatory testing and anyone who had close contact with virus patients would be put under quarantine.

According to Chutian Daily, a Wuhan newspaper, 10 quarantine centres similar to the makeshift Fangcang hospital will be set up across eight districts in the city, providing an additional 11,400 beds for people showing mild symptoms of infection. Buildings in factories, industrial estates and transport centres were being converted into makeshift centres for housing patients.

The reports said all communities and villages would be placed under around-the-clock “closed-off” management, in effect putting them under lockdowns. From Tuesday, anyone who buys cough medicine or treatments to bring down a fever in chemists or online will need to use their ID card, the state-funded site the Paper reported.

The citywide inspection campaign indicates an escalation of the situation in Wuhan, where former officials have been blamed for a cover-up that led to the rapid spread of the virus. Health officials have reported nearly 50,000 confirmed cases in Hubei alone.

The draconian measures come after two of the city’s top leaders were sacked last week. Wuhan’s new Communist party chief, Wang Zhonglin, issued the new decree, according to the Global Times, an English-language state newspaper.

Officials would carry out the inspection with the help of big data and artificial intelligence, it said, without providing further details.

An order on Monday from the Wuhan city legislature on “winning the coronavirus war” warned that people who refused mandatory measures such as reporting cases of fever and cough to their local residential committees or going into quarantine if they were sick would be subject to “coercive measures”.

A man wearing a protective face mask riding a scooter in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province



A man wearing a protective face mask riding a scooter in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province. Photograph: STR/AFP via Getty Images

The order also said those who delayed reporting cases or “fabricate and spread false information on the epidemic” would be punished.

Footage circulated on the website of the Changjiang Daily, a paper run by Wuhan’s Communist party, showing officers in protective clothing knocking on people’s doors and checking their temperatures.

“We’re racing with time. This is a heated war of annihilation, not a relaxed protracted war,” a narrator says. “It’s a painful process but the fight must be fought imminently. The temporary lockdown is for the sake of our reunion in the near future. Wuhan will be bustling again soon.”

Wuhan residents complained about the draconian lockdown on social media. “We’re not allowed to go out at all, we’ve lost our most basic human rights. The guards are like prison guards, abusing the little bit of power they have. We’re guaranteed personal freedoms under the constitution!” said a user of the the Chinese microblogging site Weibo.

Another social media user also said it felt like being “in prison” as she was barred from leaving her house, even to go out for a stroll in the neighbourhood.

The death of the whistleblowing doctor Li Wenliang, who alerted colleagues over a mysterious disease that turned out to be the coronavirus, this month unleashed an outpouring of anger and grief across the nation. Wuhan police detained and censured him last month for “spreading false rumours”.

As in the case of Li’s death, there was initial confusion in China about Liu’s condition. On Monday night, the Communist party propaganda department of the Hubei health commission wrote in a social media post that Liu had died. It then said in a subsequent post that Liu was alive.

Although the number of people contracting coronavirus outside Hubei province has dropped for 13 consecutive days, the situation inside Hubei continues to be serious, reported Global Times.

Restrictions were tightened further in Hubei on Sunday with vehicles banned from the roads – excluding those delivering essential services – and companies told to stay shut until further notice. The notice also included locking down all residential communities in urban and rural areas, and closing non-essential public places.

Additional reporting by Lillian Yang



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Surges in national poll…


WASHINGTON — Former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York has qualified for Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas, the first time the billionaire will appear onstage alongside his Democratic presidential rivals.

A poll from NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist released on Tuesday showed Mr. Bloomberg with 19 percent support. The survey was his fourth national qualifying poll since mid-January that showed him with at least 10 percent support.

Mr. Bloomberg will face off against Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind.

The debate, which will air on Wednesday at 9 p.m. Eastern time, will be hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and The Nevada Independent.

Mr. Bloomberg formally entered the race in November, nearly a year after most of the other candidates. He failed to qualify for the past several debates in part because he is not accepting outside contributions for his campaign. But new rules announced by the Democratic National Committee opened the door to his participation, as they enabled candidates to qualify for the Las Vegas debate, as well as the one that will take place on Feb. 25 in Charleston, S.C., without meeting a donor threshold.

Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey, said last month when the new debate rules were announced that Mr. Bloomberg would participate in presidential debates if he qualified.

“We are thrilled that voters could soon have the chance to see Mike Bloomberg on the debate stage, hear his vision for the country and see why he is the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump and bring our country together,” Mr. Sheekey said.

Tom Steyer, the other billionaire seeking the Democratic nomination, has participated in the five most recent debates, but he is unlikely to be onstage in Las Vegas. He would need to receive 10 percent support in four national qualifying polls, or 12 percent in two polls taken in Nevada or South Carolina, before the deadline of 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday in order to be invited.

Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, the only other candidate still in the race, has not reached the threshold in any qualifying polls, either.

Candidates are also able to qualify for the Nevada and South Carolina debates by winning at least one delegate in the Iowa or New Hampshire contests; that is the path Ms. Klobuchar, followed to get her invitation to the stage in Las Vegas.

Mr. Bloomberg has spent over $300 million on TV advertising nationwide — more than the rest of the field combined. He decided to skip the first four nominating contests, held in states where campaigns traditionally spend a year organizing supporters, to focus instead on the delegate-rich primaries that take place beginning on Super Tuesday, March 3.

Mr. Bloomberg has seen his standing steadily rise in national polling as voters have been saturated by his television advertising. His rivals have been torn between attacking him and battling one another in the early-state contests.

Now Mr. Bloomberg is certain to be the target of onstage attacks from his rivals, especially Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren, the two candidates who are not appearing at private fund-raisers and who have made cultivating the wrath of billionaires central to their campaigns.

Last week in Virginia, Ms. Warren told supporters that Mr. Bloomberg should not be the Democratic Party’s nominee because of his past remarks linking the end of redlining, a discriminatory housing practice, to the financial crisis.

Over the weekend other Democrats joined in. Mr. Sanders told a crowd in Carson City, Nev., that Americans were “sick and tired of billionaires buying elections.” Mr. Biden attacked Mr. Bloomberg’s record as mayor on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” And Ms. Klobuchar denounced Mr. Bloomberg for not sitting for as many interviews with the news media as she had.

Mr. Bloomberg, who has emerged in recent years as a leading financial benefactor for Democratic candidates and some liberal causes, such as gun control and environmental protection, entered politics as a Republican when he first ran for mayor in 2001. He endorsed President George W. Bush and spoke at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

He has backed other Republicans as well, including Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who was ousted by Ms. Warren in 2012, and Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a gun control ally, in 2016.

The post Michael Bloomberg Surges in Poll and Qualifies for Democratic Debate in Las Vegas appeared first on New York Times.



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Bloomberg makes debate stage, facing Dem rivals for 1st time…


Billionaire Mike Bloomberg has qualified for the upcoming Democratic presidential debate, marking the first time he’ll stand alongside the rivals he has so far avoided by bypassing the early voting states and using his personal fortune to define himself through television ads.

A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll published Tuesday shows Bloomberg with 19% support nationally in the Democratic nominating contest.

The former New York City mayor, who launched his presidential campaign in November, will appear in Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas alongside former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Fellow billionaire and philanthropist Tom Steyer is still hoping to qualify.

Bloomberg’s campaign said that it was seeing “a groundswell of support across the country” and that qualifying for Wednesday’s debate “is the latest sign that Mike’s plan and ability to defeat Donald Trump is resonating with more Americans.”

“Mike is looking forward to joining the other Democratic candidates on stage and making the case for why he’s the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump and unite the country,” Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement.

The Democratic National Committee recently changed its rules for how a candidate qualifies for the debate, opening the door for Bloomberg to be on stage and drawing the ire of some candidates who dropped out of the race for failing to make prior stages. The candidates were previously required to receive a certain number of campaign contributions to qualify, but Bloomberg, who is worth an estimated $60 billion, is not taking donations.

The prime-time event will be a stark departure from Bloomberg’s highly choreographed campaign. He’s poured more than $300 million into television advertising, a way to define himself for voters without facing criticism. While he’s campaigned in more than two dozen states, he does not take questions from voters and delivers a standard stump speech that lasts less than 15 minutes, often reading from a teleprompter.

He encounters the occasional protester, including one who jumped on stage recently in Chattanooga, Tennessee, yelling, “This is not democracy. This is a plutocracy!” But his friendly crowds usually quickly overwhelm the protesters with chants of “We like Mike!”

Bloomberg is likely to face far more direct fire in the debate. His fellow Democratic contenders have stepped up their attacks against him in recent days, decrying him for trying to “buy the election” and criticizing his support of the “stop-and-frisk” tactic while mayor of New York City that led police to target mostly black and Hispanic men for searches.

Bloomberg has barely crossed paths on the trail with his fellow Democrats. He decided to skip the first four voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in favor of focusing on the 14 states that vote on March 3 and the contests that come afterward.

He rarely mentions his rivals by name, though his campaign is centered on the idea that none of them can beat President Donald Trump. And Bloomberg, more than anyone, has predicated his campaign on a potential Biden collapse. He’s been aggressive in targeting African American voters in the South, a core demographic for Biden’s campaign.

Biden said he doesn’t think “you can buy an election.”

“I’m going to get a chance to debate him on everything from redlining to stop and frisk to a whole range of other things,” Biden told reporters last week.

The poll released Tuesday shows Sanders leading in the Democratic primary contest, at 31% support nationally. After Bloomberg at 19%, Biden is at 15%, Warren at 12%, Klobuchar at 9% and Buttigieg at 8%. Steyer is at 2%, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is at less than 1%, with 5% undecided.

The telephone survey of 527 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents was conducted by the Marist Poll at the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.4 percentage points.

___

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



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Federal judges' association calls emergency meeting after DOJ intervenes in cases…


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In a short period, the Justice Department changed their prison recommendation for Roger Stone while four attorneys abruptly quit the prosecution team.

USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – A national association of federal judges has called an emergency meeting Tuesday to address growing concerns about the intervention of Justice Department officials and President Donald Trump in politically sensitive cases, the group’s president said Monday.

Philadelphia U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe, who heads the independent Federal Judges Association, said the group “could not wait” until its spring conference to weigh in on a deepening crisis that has enveloped the Justice Department and Attorney General William Barr.

“There are plenty of issues that we are concerned about,” Rufe told USA TODAY. “We’ll talk all of this through.”

Rufe, nominated to the bench by President George W. Bush, said the group of more than 1,000 federal jurists called for the meeting last week after Trump criticized prosecutors’ initial sentencing recommendation for his friend Roger Stone and the Department of Justice overruled them.

Trump also took a swipe at the federal judge who is set to preside at Stone’s sentencing hearing Thursday.

“Is this the judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something not even mobster Al Capone had to endure?” Trump tweeted last week, referring to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. “How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!”

Jackson jailed Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, prior to his convictions in two separate financial fraud cases after he sought to tamper with potential witnesses.   

Rufe said the judges’ association is “not inclined to get involved with an ongoing case,” but she voiced strong support for Jackson.

“I am not concerned with how a particular judge will rule,” Rufe said, praising Jackson’s reputation. “We are supportive of any federal judge who does what is required.”

The unusual concern voiced by the judges’ group comes in the wake of an equally unusual protest. More than 2,000 former Justice Department officials called on Barr to resign Sunday, claiming his handling of the Stone case “openly and repeatedly flouted” the principle of equal justice.

“Although there are times when political leadership appropriately weighs in on individual prosecutions, it is unheard of for the department’s top leaders to overrule line prosecutors, who are following established policies, in order to give preferential treatment to a close associate of the president, as Attorney General Barr did in the Stone case,” the letter reads.

Defender-in-chief: With DOJ’s intervention in Roger Stone case, William Barr cements his role as Trump’s ally

A message for the president: Barr says Trump’s tweets make it ‘impossible for me to do my job’

President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr on May 15, 2019. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

Stone was found guilty in November of lying to the House Intelligence Committee and obstructing its investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The 67-year-old fixture in GOP politics was also found guilty of threatening a potential congressional witness.

Last week, prosecutors recommended Stone serve seven to nine years in prison. The Department of Justice overruled them the next day, prompting all four prosecutors to withdraw from the case. One of them resigned entirely from the Justice Department.

Roger Stone sentence: How prosecutors recommended a stiff sentence for the longtime Trump ally

Last week’s move in the Stone case was followed by Friday’s disclosure that Barr had appointed an outside prosecutor to review the criminal case of Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. He is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Flynn’s was among the first prosecutions brought by former Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller in a 22-month investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

The decision to review the Flynn case comes as Barr has engaged in reviews of equally sensitive matters, including an ongoing criminal investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation.

The attorney general has acknowledged the Justice Department is evaluating information provided by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney who sought to tar the president’s potential presidential rival, Joe Biden, and revive a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the last election.

Tuesday, the federal judges are set to convene via a conference call involving 15 to 20 officers and members of the association’s executive committee, Rufe said.

Founded in 1982, the 1,100-member association supports “a fair, impartial, and independent judiciary,” according to its website.

Rufe said the group has not decided how it will report the result of its meeting, if at all. “We just could not wait until April to discuss matters of this importance,” she said.

After Trump took Jackson to task on Twitter last week, another jurist – District of Columbia Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell – appeared to rally to Jackson’s side.

“The Judges of this Court base their sentencing decisions on careful consideration of the actual record in the case before them; the applicable sentencing guidelines and statutory factors; the submissions of the parties, the Probation Office and victims; and their own judgment and experience,” Howell said in a written statement. “Public criticism or pressure is not a factor.”

Contributing: Kristine Phillips 

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/02/17/roger-stone-sentence-judges-worried-political-interference/4788155002/



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