Denver to furlough employees to close $226M budget shortfall

Denver employees must take eight unpaid furlough days by the end of the year to help the city bridge the growing budget gap caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Michael Hancock told the workforce in a letter Wednesday.

“COVID-19 has dramatically changed our everyday life and has taken a terrible toll on our national, state and local economies,” Hancock wrote. “We are now projecting a $226 million gap in our General Fund revenues.”

That estimate is up $40 million from similar projections a month ago. 

Hancock will announce more details about the furloughs at a news conference Thursday but he noted in the letter that five of the eight mandatory furlough days are already scheduled for July 6, Sept. 4, Oct. 19, Nov. 27 and Dec. 24. The remaining three furlough days are flexible and can be scheduled throughout the year.

Those eight furlough days are estimated to save a sorely needed $16 million, Hancock said.

“The economic impact our local businesses are facing is also having a dramatic impact on our city budget,” Hancock wrote.

City employees last faced furloughs during the Great Recession.

“That was an incredibly difficult decision to make then, and it is no less difficult to make now,” Hancock wrote. “Working together, we came through that crisis, and built a local economy that was among the strongest in the nation, and I am confident that we will get through this challenge as well.”

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U.S. senators ask Trump spy chief nominee to clarify testimony on torture

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee wrote to President Donald Trump’s nominee for the top U.S. intelligence job on Wednesday seeking clarification of his views on the use of torture by U.S. spy agencies.

In a letter to Representative John Ratcliffe, Trump’s nominee to be Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said they were not satisfied with his answers to questions about torture at an intelligence committee nomination hearing on May 5.

“In both your written and your oral responses to Committee questions about torture, you have been evasive and non-committal,” the letter said.

When asked if he believed so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the Central Intelligence Agency on suspected al Qaeda militants were consistent with U.S. and international laws prohibiting torture, Ratcliffe responded that he had “not conducted the legal and factual research and analysis that would be required to properly answer this question.”

And when King asked Ratcliffe if he believed waterboarding violated anti-torture law, Ratcliff said only that the law said “torture is illegal,” an answer the senators criticized as not being direct.

    The letter asserted that King’s question deserved a more clear answer, since Trump has vowed to “bring back waterboarding [and] bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”

The senators asked Ratcliffe for “direct, unequivocal answers” to several questions, including whether there are any circumstances under which he believes current law could be interpreted to justify interrogation practices other than those identified in a U.S. Army Field manual.

    Ratcliffe’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

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Trump approval dips amid mounting coronavirus death toll, trails Biden by 8 points: Reuters/Ipsos poll

NEW YORK (Reuters) – More Americans have grown critical of President Donald Trump over the past month as the death toll mounts from the coronavirus pandemic and he now trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden by 8 percentage points among registered voters, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Tuesday.

The poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday showed that 41% of U.S. adults approved of Trump’s performance in office, which is down 4 points from a similar poll that ran in mid-April. Fifty-six percent disapprove of Trump, up by 5 points in the same span.

It also found that 46% of registered voters said they would back Biden in the Nov. 3 presidential election, while 38% would vote for Trump. That compared with a 2-point Biden lead in Reuters/Ipsos polling last week.

Americans also appear to be increasingly critical of the way Trump has handled the health crisis. According to the poll, those who disapprove of Trump’s performance at the helm of the country’s pandemic response outnumber those who approve by 13 percentage points – the highest level of net disapproval since the poll started asking the question at the beginning of March.

Trump initially downplayed the threat of the virus that has killed more than 80,000 people in the United States, the highest death toll of any country. He has sometimes contradicted disease specialists in his administration, promoted potential treatments that were not found effective and has accused Democratic governors of reopening their states slowly in order to hurt his re-election chances.

The Republican president has defended his administration’s handling of the crisis and has accused China of failing to alert the world to the severity and scope of the outbreak, which has hammered the economy.

Biden has routinely led Trump among polls of registered voters this year. But his lead had been steadily eroding until this week.

The public sees Trump as the stronger candidate for job creation, while Biden is seen as better suited on healthcare issues. The poll showed that the public was split over which candidate would be better for dealing with the coronavirus response.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,112 American adults, including 973 who identified as registered voters. It had a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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Nicola Sturgeon in ‘deep trouble’ as plans after coronavirus labelled ‘absurd’

Nicola Sturgeon had been pushing for a second vote on Scottish independence at the beginning of this year before the coronavirus pandemic. But due to the crisis, her plans appear to have been blocked as former Labour MP George Galloway explained any independence proposals after Brexit and COVID-19 are in ‘deep trouble’. He noted the SNP leader’s plan would be extremely damaging to Scottish people.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Mr Galloway said: “The independence movement after the Brexit was already in very deep trouble.

“The pandemic has made the idea absurd of partitioning one small island into two states.

“It is absolutely ridiculous.

“The pandemic proves that breaking up a small island would be at best, meaningless and at worst, extremely damaging to the people of Scotland and I think that’s written all over Nicola Sturgeon’s face.”

His comments come as Ms Sturgeon continues to defy Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

During the crisis, she has made announcements ahead of the Government and recently said she will continue the lockdown in Scotland despite Mr Johnson’s best efforts to outline a plan to lift restrictions.

The First Minister warned on Thursday that she would not be “pressured” by the Westminster Government into “prematurely” easing restrictions.

Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday, the Scottish First Minister said: “The potential changes that have been reported in the media today have not yet been discussed with the Scottish Government or, as far as I know, with the other devolved governments.”

She added: “If and when those discussions do take place, I will make very clear, as I have all along, that it is my preference, if possible, for all four UK nations to make changes together at the same pace. That certainly helps us give clear consistent messages to you the public.

“However for that approach to work, we must agree to make changes only when all four governments are satisfied we don’t risk a resurgence of the virus.

“If the Prime Minister decides that he wants to move at a faster pace for England than I consider is right for Scotland, that is his right, I will respect that and I will not criticise him for doing that.”

Ms Sturgeon said she has to make decisions “informed by the evidence that are right and safe for Scotland”.

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Mr Johnson – who will set out the next steps in the Government’s response to the coronavirus in a broadcast to the nation at 7pm on Sunday – briefed the Cabinet on how he intended to proceed on Thursday.

Ministers are expected to convene again over the weekend before the details are finalised after officials have had a chance to scrutinise the latest data on the spread of the disease

“The Prime Minister said that in considering whether there could be any easement in the existing guidelines that we are not going to do anything that risks a second peak,” a spokesman said.

“We will advance with maximum caution in order to protect the NHS and save lives.

“We will be guided at every step by the science and the data and we will closely track the impact of any easing of the social distancing measures and will not hesitate to tighten the rules if required.”

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Premier John Horgan to take your COVID-19 questions at Global BC town hall

The province’s announcement this week to slowly reopen businesses, schools and medical services starting mid-May has left many in B.C. wanting more information.

To help get your questions answered, Global BC is hosting its fourth virtual town hall, but this time with B.C Premier John Horgan.

News Hour anchors Chris Gailus and Sophie Lui will host the live event, to be broadcast from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12. You can also watch it on our website and on Global BC’s Facebook page.

We especially want your videos! Take a brief video of yourself asking your question, and it could be broadcast during the town hall. Simply send the video file with your name and community to [email protected] by Monday, May 11.

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Exclusive: Biden allies told to attack Trump's stimulus as 'cronyism'

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Allies of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are being told to sharpen attacks on President Donald Trump’s stimulus efforts as thinly veiled “cronyism,” according to a memo being sent to Democratic officeholders and supporters on Friday.

The memo, which was seen by Reuters, gives Biden campaign representatives new language to use in their attacks on Trump and shows a campaign honing an increasingly aggressive tone ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

The strategy document says Trump’s post-pandemic stimulus contains “the largest corporate bailout in American history,” a kind of “cronyism,” that is “systematically rigged in favor of big businesses, the wealthy, and the financial sector – and against the working people and middle class families who are enduring the worst economic losses the country has faced in modern memory.”

A Biden campaign spokesman declined to comment on the memo, which was written by two of the campaign’s top policy advisers, Stef Feldman and Jake Sullivan.

A Trump campaign spokesman, Tim Murtaugh, characterized the argument as “pathetic.”

“The president has been hard at work protecting the safety of Americans and also safeguarding the economy, while Joe Biden sits in his basement lobbing political hand grenades in a desperate plea for relevance,” Murtaugh said.

Biden and Trump are both retooling economic plans after the coronavirus pandemic put more than 33 million Americans out of work and ended the longest recorded boom in U.S. history.

Each candidate is also searching for a winning message on the economy for the election that political strategists increasingly see as a single-issue campaign – how to deal with the health and economic consequences of the pandemic.

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 1.25 million Americans and killed more than 75,000, the world’s highest number of cases and deaths.

TWO THEMES

With the new attacks, Biden is attempting to court not just moderate and independent voters but also liberals in his own party, some of whom favored the tough-on-corporation message of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, his former rivals for the Democratic nomination.

Even though Biden has strong union ties and touts working-class values, some left-wing voters find his policies not progressive enough and also dislike his use of high-dollar fundraisers to finance his campaign.

While Democrats in Congress supported nearly $3 trillion compromise stimulus legislation, Biden’s team is asking allies to attack various faults that have emerged in the program, the memo shows.

The campaign cited media reports and research suggesting that small businesses with ties to the administration received aid, that banks may be prioritizing wealthy clients when making loans under the emergency program and that Democratic-led states that did not support Trump’s re-election might not be getting sufficient support.

Government officials have said they are prioritizing oversight as they manage the programs.

A Reuters analysis on Thursday showed that some U.S. companies that took in emergency government loans had months of cash on hand to cover expenses.

Biden’s team also took issue with the Federal Reserve for backstopping the “junk” bond market with too-few conditions attached, the memo showed.

Trump’s campaign has been refining its message too after the strong economy it was overseeing withered under the coronavirus pandemic.

Several Trump aides say their 2020 campaign will now be chiefly defined by two themes: Trump is the only candidate who can resurrect the economy and that Biden will not be as tough on China, a country Trump is blaming for the pandemic.

Reuters/Ipsos polling this week showed that 45% of Americans said Trump was better suited to create jobs, while 32% said Biden was the better candidate for that task.

The former vice president was due to deliver an economic policy speech on Friday on NowThis, a left-leaning news platform aimed at younger audiences. It was not clear if his speech would match the tone or content of the memo.

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Justice Ginsburg in hospital with infection, court says – The Denver Post

WASHINGTON — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized Tuesday with an infection caused by a gallstone, the Supreme Court said.

The 87-year-old justice underwent non-surgical treatment for what the court described as acute cholecystitis, a benign gall bladder condition, at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.

She expects to be in the hospital for a day or two, the court said.

Ginsburg took part in the court’s telephone arguments Monday and Tuesday and plans to do so again Wednesday, the court said.

She has been treated four times for cancer, most recently in August.

She initially sought medical care Monday, when the gallstone was first diagnosed.

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Pelosi pushes new virus package as McConnell hits “pause” – The Denver Post

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pressed ahead Tuesday with the next coronavirus aid, a sweeping package that is expected to be unveiled soon even as the House stays closed while the Senate reopens in the pandemic.

Key to any plan to reopen the economy, Democrats say, is robust testing. They are also expected to propose another round of direct cash aid for anxious Americans, funds for states to prevent layoffs and more money to shore up businesses in the stay-home economy. Pelosi had indicated more than $800 billion could be needed, but her office declined to confirm a final figure Tuesday.

“We still don’t have a national testing strategy that is adequate,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said. “It’s life and death.”

The contours of the next package are taking shape despite Republican resistance to more spending and a deepening debate over how best to confront the deadly pandemic and its economic devastation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday it’s time to push “pause” on more aid.

President Donald Trump is encouraging states to reopen and Republicans hope the gradual comeback will kick-start the economy, reducing the pressure for more pricey aid.

“Now it’s time to go back to work,” Trump said at the White House.

Under strict social distancing guidelines, the Senate reconvened Monday for the first time since March, while the House is staying away due to the health risks. The Washington area remains a virus hot spot under stay-home rules.

McConnell has focused the chamber’s workload on confirming Trump’s nominees, with several committees meeting remotely this week.

The GOP leader insists that any new aid package must include liability protections for the hospitals, health care providers and businesses that are operating and reopening in the pandemic. He said Tuesday he wants to prevent “an epidemic of lawsuits.”

But McConnell also signaled an interest in beefed-up virus testing strategies as central to the nation’s ability to take steps “back toward normalcy.”

By reconvening, Senate Republicans are trying to set the terms of debate, frustrated that Pelosi was able to fill up earlier aid bills with Democratic priorities. They’re reluctant to unleash federal funds beyond the nearly $3 trillion Congress already approved in virus relief and hope Trump’s push to re-open will reduce the need for more aid.

“I just don’t think we need to act as quite urgently as we did last time,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas told reporters at the Capitol.

The No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, said Washington had already “flooded the zone” with virus relief and should assess “what’s working and what’s not.”

Senators returned to a changed place with new guidelines, including the recommendation that senators wear masks, though not all of them were complying.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who tested positive for the virus in March, asserted he no longer needs to cover his face because he has “immunity” — even though health officials warn there is no guarantee that infected people can’t contract the virus again.

It’s not just lawmakers and the Capitol’s workers at risk.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he disagreed with McConnell’s decision to decline Trump’s offer of instant virus testing, warning that lawmakers should be screened on exit.

“Members of Congress would represent sort of a virus-spreading machine, coming in here to a coronavirus hot spot and then going home,” Alexander said.

Senators were encouraged to keep their distance and leave most staff at home, though Republican senators gathered as a large group for their traditional luncheon. Public access to the Capitol is limited, including at public hearings. The Capitol itself remains closed to visitors and tours.

In a first, the Banking Committee convened with most of the Democratic senators appearing remotely for a hearing to consider two nominations, including Brian Miller to be the inspector general of the pandemic recovery.

“We’re making a little bit of history here,” said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, the chairman.

With Democrats eyeing a new aid package, Pelosi outlined the governors’ requests for $500 billion, with the counties and cities seeking as much as $300 billion, which she has said could be spread out over the next several years.

Trump said any new package must have a payroll-tax holiday.

But Republicans are divided on that approach, with some questioning whether it helps the 30 million jobless Americans.

“I’ve never thought that really would be very effective,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Collins is part of a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who met to discuss a state and local aid package.

The White House, however, is also hitting pause on new aid.

White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland said before the administration commits to new spending, “the president and his team would like to assess how successful we’ve been as these resources have gone out the door.”

In the Senate, McConnell has loaded up the schedule with consideration of Trump’s nominees, including a hearing Tuesday on John Ratcliffe, the Texas Republican congressman who is Trump’s choice to lead the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

___

Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Mary Clare Jalonick, Kevin Freking and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.

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Trump team ignored warnings on drug and coronavirus, whistleblower says

WASHINGTON — A government scientist was ousted after the Trump administration ignored his dire warnings about COVID-19 and a malaria drug President Donald Trump was pushing for the coronavirus despite scant evidence it helped, according to a whistleblower complaint Tuesday.

Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, filed the complaint Tuesday with the Office of Special Counsel, a government agency responsible for whistleblower complaints.

He alleges he was reassigned to a lesser role because he resisted political pressure to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug favored by Trump. He said the Trump administration wanted to “flood” hot spots in New York and New Jersey with the drug.

Bright’s complaint comes as the Trump administration faces criticism over its response to the pandemic, including testing and supplies of ventilators, masks and other equipment to try to stem the spread. To date, there have been nearly 1.2 million confirmed cases in the United States and more than 70,000 deaths.

Bright also said the Trump administration rejected his warnings on COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. He said he “acted with urgency” to address the growing spread of COVID-19 after the World Health Organization issued a warning in January.

But he said he “encountered resistance from HHS leadership, including Health and Human Services Secretary (Alex) Azar, who appeared intent on downplaying this catastrophic event.”

Bright alleges in the complaint that political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services tried to promote hydroxychloroquine “as a panacea.” The officials also “demanded that New York and New Jersey be ‘flooded’ with these drugs, which were imported from factories in Pakistan and India that had not been inspected by the FDA,” the complaint says.

But Bright opposed broad use of the drug, arguing the scientific evidence wasn’t there to back up its use in coronavirus patients. He felt an urgent need to tell the public there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to support using the drugs for COVID-19 patients, the complaint states.

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned doctors against prescribing the drug except in hospitals and research studies. In an alert, regulators flagged reports of sometimes fatal heart side effects among coronavirus patients taking hydroxychloroquine or the related drug chloroquine.

The decades-old drugs, also prescribed for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause a number of side effects, including heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure and muscle or nerve damage.

In late January, Bright said he made an effort to ramp up federal procurement of N95 respirator masks, after having heard warnings that a global shortage could imperil first-responders.

But he said his boss, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Preparedness Robert Kadlec, gave short shrift to the warnings during a meeting Jan. 23.

At another meeting that day, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Kadlec “responded with surprise at (Bright’s) dire predictions and urgency, and asserted that the United States would be able to contain the virus and keep it out,” the whistleblower complaint said.

Publicly, HHS was saying it had all the masks that would be needed.

Bright found an ally in White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who was also urgently concerned about the virus.

The complaint described a series of contacts with Navarro’s office that led to a meeting between Bright and the trade official on at the White House on a Saturday early in February. Bright said his boss, Kadlec was not pleased.

“Navarro clearly shared (Bright’s) concerns about the potential devastation the United States would face from the coronavirus and asked (Bright) to identify the supply chain and medical countermeasures most critical to address at that time in order to save lives.”

Navarro’s memos to top White House officials raised alarms even as Trump was publicly assuring Americans that the outbreak was under control.

Bright felt officials had “refused to listen or take appropriate action to accurately inform the public” and spoke to a reporter who was working on a story about the drug.

He said he had to tell the public about the lack of science backing up its use, despite the drug being pushed by the president as press briefings, to protect people from what he believed “constituted a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety,” the complaint says.

“As the death toll mounted exponentially each day, Dr. Bright concluded that he had a moral obligation to the American public, including those vulnerable as a result of illness from COVID-19, to protect it from drugs which he believed constituted a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety,” the complaint says.

On Jan. 20, according to the complaint, the WHO held an emergency call to discuss the novel coronavirus. It was attended by many HHS officials, and which WHO officials advised that “the outbreak is a big problem.”

Trump has accused the U.N. agency of mismanaging and covering up the spread of the virus after it emerged in China and said he would cut funding.

Bright’s agency works to guard against pandemics and emergent infectious diseases, and is working to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

Top officials also pressured him to steer contracts to a client of a lobbyist, he reported.

Bright said he repeatedly clashed with leadership about the role played by pharmacy industry lobbyist John Clerici in drug contracts. As he tried to push a contract extension of a contract for one of his clients Aeolus Pharmaceuticals, Clerici said the company’s CEO was a friend of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.

In the complaint, Bright says he wants to returned to his position as the director and a full investigation.

When Bright’s plans to file a complaint surfaced last month, HHS confirmed that Bright is no longer at the BARDA agency, but did not address his allegations of political interference in the COVID-19 response.

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Manitoba premier to update province on latest COVID-19 measures Tuesday

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. to update the province about the latest COVID-19 measures.

Global Winnipeg will livestream the press conference here.

There were no new cases of the novel coronavirus Monday, and local businesses have started slowly re-opening under strict guidelines.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

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Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

 

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