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Where Are We in the Covid-19 Vaccine Race?

covid-19 vaccine race
A pharmacist undergoes training as they prepare for the distribution of the Pfizer coronavirus disease (Covd-19) vaccine at a Mount Sinai Health System pharmacy in Queens, in this handout photo released on Dec. 10, 2020. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Mount Sinai Health System/Handout via Reuters)

European Union gave approval on Dec. 21 for the Covid19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE, the latest regulatory go-ahead for the shot, while the United States authorized Moderna Inc’s vaccine on Dec. 19, the second for the country and the first for the company worldwide.

The following is what we know about the race to deliver vaccines to help end the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million people worldwide.

WHO IS FURTHEST ALONG?

U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and German partner BioNTech are the Covid19 vaccine trailblazers.

On Nov. 18, they became the first in the world to release full late-stage trial data. Britain was the first to approve the shot for emergency use on Dec. 3, followed by Canada on Dec. 9 and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Dec. 11. Several other countries including Saudi Arabia and Mexico have also approved it.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the shot on Dec. 21 and India is accelerating its review.

The World Health Organization could decide whether to give its emergency use approval for the Pfizer candidate by the end of the year as part of its COVAX program aimed at providing shots for poor- and middle-income countries.

WHO WILL APPROVE MODERNA NEXT?

Moderna became a close second to Pfizer in many countries after it released a full data analysis for a late-stage trial on Nov. 30 showing a 94.1% efficacy rate for its vaccine. Canada approved the shot on Dec. 23 and the EMA will do so on Jan. 6.

WHO ELSE IS IN THE RUNNING?

Britain’s AstraZeneca is seeking approval for its vaccine in Britain after announcing interim late-stage trial data on Nov. 23. It had an average efficacy rate of 70% and as much as 90% for a subgroup of trial participants who got a half dose first, followed by a full dose.

However, it is not clear how the regulator will deal with the different dosages in the efficacy data in its assessment. While India is conducting an accelerated review, it has asked for more data. AstraZeneca is also in discussions with the EMA, which is conducting a rolling review of the vaccine.

India is expected to make a decision on whether to approve for the two full-dose regimen of the shot, which was shown to be 62% effective in late-stage trials, soon. Its review does not include the more effective dosage, with 90% efficacy which was given to a small subgroup of volunteers in the trials.

U.S. drugmaker Johnson & Johnson plans to deliver trial data in January 2021, teeing it up for U.S. authorization in February if its shot is effective. It reduced the enrolment target for its clinical trial to 40,000 volunteers from 60,000 on Dec. 9, potentially speeding results which are tied to how quickly participants become infected.

U.S. firm Novavax is running a late-stage trial in Britain with data due in the first quarter of 2021. It expects to start a large-scale trial in the United States this month.

France’s Sanofi and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline, however, announced a setback on Dec. 11 in their attempts to develop a vaccine. The drugmakers said it showed an insufficient immune response in older people in mid-stage trials and that they would start a new study in February.

covid-19 vaccine race
A nurse administers the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a man at a vaccination center, on the first day of the largest immunization program in the British history, in Cardiff, Wales, Britain Dec. 8, 2020. (Justin Tallis/Pool via Reuters)

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE TRIALS?

The companies typically test their vaccines against a placebo – typically saline solution – in healthy volunteers to see if the rate of Covid19 infection among those who got the vaccine is significantly lower than in those who received the dummy shot.

HOW ARE VOLUNTEERS INFECTED?

The trials rely on subjects becoming naturally infected with Covid19, so how long it takes to generate results largely depends on how pervasive the virus is where trials are being conducted. Each drugmaker has targeted a specific number of infections to trigger a first analysis of their data.

HOW WELL ARE THE VACCINES SUPPOSED TO WORK?

The World Health Organization ideally wants to see at least 70% efficacy. The FDA wants at least 50% – which means there must be at least twice as many infections among volunteers who received a placebo as among those in the vaccine group. The EMA has said it may accept a lower efficacy level.

WHAT ABOUT RUSSIA AND CHINA?

While Pfizer’s shot was the first to be rolled out following the publication of full Phase III trial data, Russia and China have been inoculating their citizens for months with several different vaccines still undergoing late-stage trials.

Russia said on Nov. 24 its Sputnik V vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya Institute, was 91.4% effective based on interim late-stage trial results. It started vaccinations in August and has inoculated more than 100,000 people so far.

India plans to make 300 million of the shots next year and Argentina has given the green light for emergency use of the shot, with some 300,000 doses arriving in the country on Dec. 24.

China launched an emergency use program in July aimed at essential workers and others at high risk of infection. It has vaccinated about one million people as of mid-November using at least three shots – two developed by the state-backed China National Biotec Group (CNBG) and one by Sinovac Biotech.

Trial data on a COVID19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech has varied: interim data from a late-stage trial in Turkey showed its CoronaVac shot is 91.25% effective, while researchers in Brazil say the shot was more than 50% effective.

The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, said on Dec. 9 that one of the CNBG vaccines was 86% effective based on interim results from a late-stage trial in the Gulf Arab state.

(Editing by Caroline Humer, David Clarke, Mark Potter, Josephine Mason and Louise Heavens)

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Trump Pardons Ex-Campaign Chair and Former Bridgehampton Homeowner Paul Manafort

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, exits the courtroom after his arraignment in New York Supreme Court in New York, U.S., June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

By Steve Holland

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday granted pardons to former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who owned a home in Bridgehampton, and former adviser Roger Stone, sweeping away the most important convictions under the long-running Russia election probe.

Trump also issued a pardon for Charles Kushner, a real estate developer and the father of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Trump, taking advantage of a right granted by the Constitution only to the president, has issued two groups of pardons in as many days, and more are anticipated as Trump faces the end of his presidency on Jan. 20.

The announcement came just after Trump arrived in Palm Beach, Florida, for the holiday season, with Jared Kushner on the Air Force One flight with him.

In total, Trump issued on Wednesday pardons to 26 individuals and commuted part or all of the sentences of an additional three people. A commutation removes the punishment but leaves the conviction in place.

Of special interest for Trump has been attacking the results of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, a case Trump repeatedly dismissed as a political witch hunt.

Reacting to Wednesday’s pardons, Republican Senator Ben Sasse, in a six-word statement, said: “This is rotten to the core.”

Besides Manafort and Stone, Trump has pardoned two other major figures from the Russia probe, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former adviser George Papadopoulos.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office, which has been trying to prosecute Manafort in New York for mortgage fraud and other alleged crimes, said it would continue to pursue an appeal for its case, which was dismissed on double jeopardy grounds.

“This action underscores the urgent need to hold Mr. Manafort accountable for his crimes against the People of New York as alleged in our indictment, and we will continue to pursue our appellate remedies,” said Danny Frost, spokesman for the office.

FIGURES IN RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

The Manafort pardon spared the long-time Republican operative from serving the bulk of his 7-1/2-year prison term.

Manafort, 70, was among the first in Trump’s inner circle to face charges brought by Mueller as part of his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Manafort worked on Trump’s White House campaign for five months in 2016. In 2018, Trump called him a “brave man” for not cooperating with federal authorities.

Evidence from the Russia investigation indicated that Trump intended to encourage Manafort “not to cooperate with the government,” according to Mueller’s report.

In a statement relayed by his lawyer, Manafort expressed his appreciation to Trump.

“Mr. President, my family & I humbly thank you for the Presidential Pardon you bestowed on me. Words cannot fully convey how grateful we are,” he said.

Andrew Weissmann, a top Mueller deputy who oversaw Manafort’s prosecution by the special counsel, noted that Manafort has served roughly two years of his sentence, and that assets seized in civil forfeiture proceedings would fall outside the pardon. Manafort forfeited his $2 million Bridgehampton mansion before being sentenced.

“So, there still are consequences to Paul Manafort, they are just not commensurate with the extensive criminality that he was convicted of and plead guilty to,” Weissmann said on CNN.

Stone was convicted in November 2019 by a Washington jury of lying under oath to lawmakers also investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump commuted his sentence in July, a day before Stone was due to begin serving a term of three years and four months. Stone, in a statement, thanked Trump for “completely erasing the criminal conviction to which I was subjected in a Soviet-style show trial on politically-motivated charges.”

Charles Kushner was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty in 2004 to 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering and making unlawful campaign donations.

In an unusual twist, the man who prosecuted Charles Kushner was Chris Christie, now the former governor of New Jersey, who also has served as an adviser to Trump.

Christie was quoted by CNN as saying Charles Kushner’s case was “one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes” he prosecuted.

During the case, Charles Kushner admitted to smearing his brother-in-law, who had cooperated with prosecutors, by hiring a prostitute to have sex with him in a motel room, then sending a secretly recorded video of the encounter to the man’s wife, Charles Kushner’s own sister.

A pardon in practice grants full legal forgiveness for a federal crime, as a result removing any remaining prison sentence, probation conditions or unpaid fines. It also relieves the person of the potential consequences of a felony conviction, such as being barred from voting, running for public office and owning a gun.

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U.S. Sues Walmart Saying Pharmacies Fueled Opioid Crisis, Retailer Rejects Allegations

Walmart's logo is seen outside one of the stores in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., Nov. 20, 2018. (Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters)
By David Shepardson and Mark Hosenball

The U.S. Justice Department sued Walmart Inc on Tuesday, accusing the world’s biggest retailer of fueling the opioid crisis in the United States, ignoring warning signs from its pharmacists and filling thousands of invalid prescriptions.

In a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Delaware, the government said Walmart failed to take its gatekeeping duties as a pharmacy seriously, allegations the company rejected.

Walmart, whose shares closed down 1.2% following the news, said in a statement that the “Justice Department’s investigation is tainted by historical ethics violations, and this lawsuit invents a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors, and is riddled with factual inaccuracies.”

Walmart created a system that turned its 5,000 in-store pharmacies into a supplier of highly addictive painkillers, dating as early as June 2013, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit marked one of the most significant actions the Justice Department has taken in response to the epidemic targeting companies accused of contributing to it.

Last month, prosecutors secured a guilty plea from Purdue related to its sales of opioids and it previously prosecuted multiple executives at the opioid maker Insys Therapeutics accused of bribing doctors to prescribe an addictive drug.

Insys filed for bankruptcy last year after striking a deal with the government in which a subsidiary pled guilty to fraud charges.

The three largest drug distributors – McKesson Corp, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health – along with drugmaker Johnson & Johnson are in talks with state attorneys general to resolve the opioid lawsuits for a combined $26 billion.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and the drugmaker Mallinckrodt have filed for bankruptcy protection as part of their own multibillion dollar proposals to resolve the lawsuits.

The companies have denied the underlying allegations.

Walmart‘s “unlawful” actions helped “fuel a national crisis” and had “disastrous consequences,” Jeffrey Bossert Clark, the acting head of the Justice Department’s civil division, said at a press briefing.

Asked if the government was planning on bringing criminal charges, Clark said “you should not draw any inferences about any criminal matters” from the civil filing.

Walmart called the lawsuit a “transparent attempt to shift blame from the (Drug Enforcement Administration) well-documented failures in keeping bad doctors from prescribing opioids in the first place.”

Acting DEA Administrator Timothy Shea said in a statement “when pharmacies routinely fill illegitimate prescriptions, we will hold accountable anyone responsible, including Walmart. Too many lives have been lost because of oversight failures and those entrusted with responsibility turning a blind eye.”

More than 3,000 lawsuits have been filed nationally by states, counties and municipalities seeking to hold drug manufacturers and distributors responsible for fueling an opioid addiction epidemic that according to U.S. government data resulted in 450,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2018.

According to the lawsuit, Walmart “unlawfully filled thousands upon thousands of invalid controlled-substance prescriptions.” The lawsuit said that “for years, Walmart kept in place a system that it knew was failing to adequately detect and report suspicious orders.”

The government accused Walmart of violating the Controlled Substances Act. If found liable, it could face civil penalties of up to $67,627 for each unlawful prescription filled and $15,691 for each suspicious order not reported.

Walmart said on Tuesday that “by demanding pharmacists and pharmacies second-guess doctors, the Justice Department is putting pharmacists and pharmacies between a rock and a hard place with state health regulators who say they are already going too far in refusing to fill opioid prescriptions.”

In October, Walmart filed a lawsuit in Texas against the federal government seeking clarity on the roles and legal responsibilities of pharmacists and pharmacies in filling opioid prescriptions.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Mark Hosenball in Washington, Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Melissa Fares in New York and Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)

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Despite ‘Three Martini’ Tax Break, Covid-19 Bill Leaves Struggling U.S. Restaurants Cold

three martini
A restaurant serves customers in an outdoor patio amid restrictions announced in November during the coronavirus outbreak, in Manhattan, New York City, Nov. 13, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

By Hilary Russ

The $900 billion coronavirus relief package passed by the U.S. Congress on Monday contains a high-profile tax loophole for business meals, but not the one thing most requested by independent U.S. restaurants which have been devastated by the pandemic: cash.

The Republican-backed “three-martini lunch deduction” doubles an existing tax break, allowing companies to write off 100% of business dining expenses through 2022. The loophole’s defenders say it supports the hard-hit restaurant industry.

This is “a pro-worker, pro-restaurant, and pro-small business bill,” said U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.

However, it has been derided by economists, Democrats, and even the staunchly conservative Wall Street Journal op-ed page as politically tone deaf, given the millions of sick and out-of-work Americans. The tax break will cost taxpayers $6.3 billion through 2023, analysis by a congressional committee shows.

It will also fail to boost the restaurant industry in a big way, at least initially.

“When less than 10% of workers have returned to their offices in Midtown and Lower Manhattan, and indoor dining is closed and it’s freezing outside, this deduction doesn’t do much,” said Andrew Rigie, director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.

The coronavirus pandemic, and related restrictions on dining out, have split the fortunes of the U.S. restaurant industry, which racked up $860 billion in sales in 2019 and employed 12.3 million before the pandemic hit.

Sales are up and expansions underway at some of the biggest restaurant brands, mostly chains with drive-thru and delivery, including Starbucks Corp, McDonald’s Corp, Papa John’s International Inc, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc and Domino’s Pizza Inc.

But small, independent restaurants and fine dining have been bludgeoned.

Chef and owner Amanda Cohen said her 12-year-old eatery Dirt Candy in Lower Manhattan is barely hanging on.

Revenue at Dirt Candy, known for innovative vegetarian fare like carrot sliders and an eggplant dessert flambeed at the table, has plummeted from as much as $12,000 a night before the pandemic to as little as $300 a night now.

“I’m not sure we’re going to make it through,” Cohen said. “Every day we’re just trying to make the decisions to get to the next day.”

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) believes 17% of all U.S. restaurants – about 110,000 – have already closed permanently or long-term. The industry has lost over 2 million jobs since February, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor data.

PPP AND TAX DEDUCTIONS

The coronavirus relief bill does include loans and tax breaks the restaurant industry could tap, but not the dedicated grants trade groups had spent months lobbying for, arguing that the restaurant industry deserved similar subsidies to airlines and farms.

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), offered in the spring, will receive $284 billion in new funding. The loans, which can be forgiven under certain conditions, are available to any industry and under the new bill have more lenient terms.

The bill also allows any company to fully deduct business expenses that are paid with PPP loans, even if the loans are forgiven by the government.

“Without this, restaurants were going to be facing a major tax liability moving into 2021,” said Sean Kennedy, a spokesman for the NRA. The bill also enhances certain tax credits, including for employee retention, heavily used by restaurants, he said.

Kennedy said the business meal deductions will help in the medium term, when workers start returning to offices.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition said the new PPP funding will “buy time,” but warns that without billions in cash grants more restaurants will shutter.

Dirt Candy’s Cohen said she is not sure how she would repay a new PPP loan, let alone the $275,000 one she took out earlier this year.

“I’m pretty disappointed,” she said. “The last thing I need is another round of PPP.”

(Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York; Editing by Heather Timmons, Cynthia Osterman and Matthew Lewis)

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Sacklers Cited Fear of OxyContin Lawsuits Before Transferring $10B From Their Company, Documents Show

Bottles of prescription painkiller OxyContin pills, made by Purdue Pharma LP sit on a counter at a local pharmacy in Provo, Utah, U.S., April 25, 2017. (George Frey/Reuters)

By Mike Spector, Chad Terhune and Lisa Girion

Members of the wealthy Sackler family, owners of OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP, have long denied that the $10 billion they transferred from their company over the course of a decade was an unlawful attempt to shield assets in anticipation of litigation over their role in the opioid crisis.

But a review of emails, memos, depositions, legal motions and other documents unsealed late on Friday in Purdue’s bankruptcy proceedings show Sackler family members discussed potential litigation exposure at least as early as 2007, a full decade before they faced a new wide-ranging legal attack and significant financial transfers stopped. The documents were unsealed in response to legal actions from Reuters and other news organizations seeking to remove their heavy redactions.

Purdue faced investigations and litigation before 2007, which it settled. Whether creditors can demonstrate that financial transfers since then were legally dubious hinges in part on whether they can show that the Sacklers knew they faced additional and significant litigation that could threaten Purdue’s solvency and the family’s wealth, estimated in December at $10.8 billion by Forbes magazine.

In response to questions from a House oversight panel last week, David Sackler, who served on Purdue’s board from 2012 to 2018, testified that neither he, nor others, anticipated vast litigation that now totals roughly 3,000 legal actions. “I don’t believe anyone knew that lawsuits that really began in earnest in 2017 would be coming back in 2008,” he told lawmakers.

But in a March 2007 email with relatives, his uncle, Jonathan, at the time a director, cited “ongoing risks” two months before a Purdue affiliate pleaded guilty to misbranding OxyContin, adding that “if there’s a future perception that Purdue has screwed up on compliance, we could get murdered.”

In a subsequent message, he said the family was “not really braced for” challenges that included “the emergence of numerous new lawsuits.” Jonathan died in June.

In May 2007, a week after the company affiliate’s guilty plea, David Sackler expressed concerns about future litigation to his father and uncle, the latter of whom assured him there was no basis for suing the family.

“Well, I hope you’re right and under logical circumstances I’d agree with you, but we’re living in America. This is the land of the free and the home of the blameless,” Sackler wrote in an email. “We will be sued. Read the op-ed stuff in these local papers and ask yourself how long it will take these lawyers to figure out that we might settle with them if they can freeze our assets and threaten us.”

The message was sent years before David Sackler joined Purdue’s board, at a time he knew little about the company’s affairs, his lawyers said in a court filing.

GAUGING LITIGATION RISK 

In court filings, the family members contend that Purdue management told them as recently as 2016 that they viewed opioid litigation risk as low and that creditors citing their emails have taken messages out of context. Most of the more than $10 billion they took out of Purdue went toward business investments and paying taxes, with Sackler-controlled entities receiving roughly $4 billion, documents show.

“We supported the release of documents by the court and reaffirm that members of the Sackler family who served on Purdue’s board of directors acted ethically and lawfully in every regard,” Sackler family members targeted with litigation said in a statement.

“These cherrypicked snippets of emails ignore the full context of what they say and the rest of the legal filings, all of which demonstrate how the fraudulent conveyance claims are entirely without merit,” added Daniel S. Connolly, a lawyer for the Raymond Sackler wing of the family, referring to creditors’ challenges concerning the transfers.

The opioid epidemic has claimed the lives of roughly 450,000 people across the United States since 1999 due to overdoses from prescription painkillers and illegal drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. Purdue creditors have pursued the company and family through the company’s bankruptcy proceedings, forcing the drugmaker and the Sacklers to turn over tens of millions of documents.

State officials said the documents undercut the family members’ claims. “The Sacklers told Congress they did nothing wrong,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who has sued the Sacklers and Purdue alongside nearly every other state. “The evidence tells a different story – they got rich fueling the opioid crisis and plan to walk away billionaires.”

‘WE DON’T WANT TO STAY’ 

Sackler family members also pursued acquiring additional product liability insurance and explored selling Purdue outright to offload its troubles, both without success, the documents showed.

In a February 2008 email, Mortimer D.A. Sackler urged Richard Sackler, at one point Purdue’s president, to sell their company. “Fundamentally, we don’t want to stay in this business anymore (given the horrible risks, outlooks, difficulties, etc) and I think the majority of your family feels the same way,” Mortimer said. About a week later, he again pushed for a sale: “It is simply not prudent for us to stay in the business given the future risks we are sure to face and the impact they will have on the shareholder value of the business and hence the family’s wealth.”

‘TRULY SORRY’ 

Purdue said it produced tens of millions of documents to creditors, including those that are privileged relating to the Sacklers, as part of an effort to settle widespread litigation in a deal it values at more than $10 billion, largely based on delivering addiction treatment and overdose reversal medications under development.

The company has proposed restructuring into an entity run for the benefit of plaintiffs and no longer controlled by the Sacklers, who would contribute $3 billion. The entity also would continue selling OxyContin, which has drawn objections from state attorneys general and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Under a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, Purdue pleaded guilty in November to criminal charges for misconduct relating to its opioids and agreed to more than $8 billion in penalties that will mostly go unpaid.

Sackler family members agreed to pay $225 million to settle civil claims that they disputed. Neither they, nor other individuals, have been criminally charged.

At the congressional hearing, David Sackler said press accounts of his family were wrong. “We also fully acknowledge that there is an opioid crisis that has ruined too many lives and that OxyContin addiction and abuse played a role in that. We are truly sorry to everyone who’s lost a family member or suffered from the scourge of addiction.”

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U.S. Supreme Court Throws Out Challenge to Trump Census Immigrant Plan

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. July 2, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday threw out a lawsuit seeking to block President Donald Trump’s plan to exclude immigrants living in the United States illegally from the population count used to allocate congressional districts to states.

The 6-3 ruling on ideological lines with the court’s six conservatives in the majority and three liberals dissenting, gives Trump a short-term victory as he pursues his hard-line policies toward immigration in the final weeks of his presidency.

However, his administration is battling against the clock to follow through on the vaguely defined proposal before President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan 20. The justices left open the possibility of fresh litigation if Trump’s administration completes its plan.

The unsigned decision said that “judicial resolution of this dispute is premature” in part because it is not clear what the administration plans to do. The ruling noted that the court was not weighing the merits of Trump’s plan.

Challengers led by New York state and the American Civil Liberties Union said Trump’s proposal would dilute the political clout of states with larger numbers of such immigrants, including heavily Democratic California, by undercounting state populations and depriving them of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to the benefit of his fellow Republicans.

“If the administration actually tries to implement this policy, we’ll sue. Again. And we’ll win,” said Dale Ho, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who represents the challengers.

The administration has not disclosed what method it would use to calculate the number of people it proposed to exclude or which subsets of immigrants would be targeted. Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall told the justices during the Nov. 30 oral argument in the case that the administration could miss a Dec. 31 statutory deadline to finalize a Census Bureau report to Trump containing the final population data, including the number of immigrants excluded.

“The government does not deny that, if carried out, the policy will harm the plaintiffs. Nor does it deny that it will implement that policy imminently,” liberal Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a dissenting opinion.

Breyer noted that the government can currently try to exclude millions of individuals, including those who are in immigration detention or deportation proceedings, and the some 700,000 young people known as “Dreamers” who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

There are an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally. The challengers have argued that Trump’s policy violates both the Constitution and the Census Act, a federal law that outlines how the census is conducted.

The Constitution requires apportionment of House seats to be based upon the “whole number of persons in each state.” Until now, the U.S. government’s practice was to count all people regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.

By statute, the president is required to send Congress a report in early January with the population of each of the states and their entitled number of House districts.

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U.S. Crosses 300,000 Covid-19 Deaths As Vaccine Rollout Begins

covid-19 deaths
Photo by Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters

By Anurag Maan

The number of coronavirus deaths in the United States crossed 300,000, according to Reuters tally, as the hardest hit nation rolled out its first vaccine inoculations on Monday.

The staggering death toll comes as the nation begins a historic inoculation campaign using a vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE. Moderna Inc’s vaccine could get approval as soon as this week.

The vaccine comes as COVID19 cases explode across the nation and hospital intensive care units run out of beds. Daily coronavirus cases and deaths have set records multiple times since Thanksgiving holidays with daily fatalities topping 3,000 for the second time last week on Friday, the same day the vaccine got approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

It took 27 days to go from 250,000 total U.S. COVID19 deaths to 300,000 – the fastest 50,000-death jump since the pandemic began. Some models project that deaths could reach 500,000 before vaccines become widely available in the spring and summer.

In recent weeks, South Dakota and North Dakota have led the nation in deaths per capita. Overall, New Jersey and New York, early epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, lead the nation in per capita deaths.

The United States recently crossed 16 million confirmed cases – the most in the world.

According to Reuters analysis, the United States is reporting 91 deaths per 100,000 people, seventh worst in the world on a per capita basis and 2.5 times the rate in Canada.

The nation’s hospitals are flooding with COVID19 patients, threatening to overwhelm healthcare systems and providers. There are over 108,000 hospitalized COVID19 patients, the highest since the first coronavirus case was detected in the country in January.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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Newsmax CEO, a Long Island Native, Plans Expansion to Capitalize on Trump Support, Anger at Fox News

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech as the 2020 Republican presidential nominee during the final event of the Republican National Convention on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 27, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Lisa Richwine and Helen Coster

Newsmax, a conservative cable news channel promoted by President Donald Trump, plans to expand in the United States and Britain, Chief Executive Chris Ruddy, a Long Island native, told Reuters.

The network plans to hire more staff in the United States and London, debut a new primetime host and add more weekend programming to capitalize on post-election gains and some viewers’ discontent with Rupert Murdoch’s longtime ratings king Fox News.

Aided by shout-outs from Trump on Twitter, Newsmax’s weekly primetime viewership has jumped 68% since the U.S. presidential election as the channel refused to declare Joe Biden the winner and aired debunked theories about voter fraud.

Early evening host and Garden City native Greg Kelly on Monday averaged 229,000 viewers ages 25 to 54, the group most coveted by cable news advertisers, for the first time beating Fox’s Martha MacCallum, who brought in 203,000 viewers in that age range at that hour.

MacCallum, however, won in overall viewers, and reclaimed her lead in both categories on Tuesday, suggesting the Newsmax gains may be fragile. Some key audience metrics have slipped from Newsmax’s post-election peaks. Primetime viewership for the week that ended Dec. 4 was down 21% from two weeks earlier, averaging 391,000 viewers, while its total day audience fell 19%.

Fox News, which also has declined from election-week highs, still averaged 2.9 million primetime viewers that week, a sign of its strength after almost 19 years as the most-watched cable news channel.

The network had its highest-rated November in history, drawing 3.9 million primetime viewers, beating all cable networks, not just cable news. Primetime host Tucker Carlson averaged 5 million viewers for a second straight month, a record for cable television.

Ruddy noted that, despite some dips, Newsmax is hovering high above pre-election levels.

He sees the 40 million viewers not on cable as the next battleground for growth. In addition to cable news, the network streams for free on platforms including YouTube and a Newsmax app, which Ruddy said roughly doubles the nighttime audience.

“People are really tired of Fox News,” Ruddy said in a recent interview. “There is a perception that they really tried to torpedo the president.”

Fox News declined to comment.

Trump has complained about its coverage of his presidency. The network further irked the president and some viewers on election night with a projection that Biden had won Arizona — nine days before most major news organizations confirmed that win.

“Newsmax, I think, has been gaining ground against Fox News because it’s been able to convince some fraction of Fox’s audience that it is more loyal to the president than Fox is,” said Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America.

One of Newsmax’s latest displays of Trump loyalty sparked a lawsuit. Former U.S. cybersecurity official Christopher Krebs sued Trump lawyer Joseph diGenova, Newsmax and the Trump campaign after diGenova said Krebs should be “taken out at dawn and shot” after Krebs disputed Trump’s claims of election fraud.

Newsmax said that while diGenova made “inappropriate” comments, Krebs’ lawsuit threatened free speech.

“HIRING SPLURGE”

It is unclear whether Newsmax’s surge is sustainable over a longer term after Trump leaves office.

Available in roughly 70 million cable TV homes, Newsmax is on a “hiring splurge,” Ruddy said. The network has added 25 employees since the election to bring its total workforce to 275. It plans to hire 30 more over the next three months, including one in London and another in Los Angeles.

Newsmax, which is based in Florida, also plans to hire staff for a bureau in the state, home to both Trump and his Mar-a-Lago resort. Most of Newsmax’s current 165 television staff are based in New York. Fox News has hundreds of journalists based in 10 U.S. bureaus and three international bureaus.

This month, Newsmax will launch a 10 p.m. program hosted by Rob Schmitt, a former early morning Fox News host.

Ruddy said he is currently considering various offers to invest in the channel but shot down media reports that the network was for sale.

Trump, meanwhile, is debating where to take his megaphone after he leaves office on Jan. 20. The president is considering starting a TV channel or social media company, according to several advisers.

A longtime friend of Trump’s, Ruddy said he does not want to turn Newsmax into Trump TV, though he said he has told the president he would welcome him as a regular contributor or show host.

BATTLING FOX

Fox’s more recent challengers on the right remain independent networks like Newsmax and One America News Network (OAN), rather than major media conglomerates, because large players view the conservative media business as too risky, said Christopher Balfe, partner at media firm Red Seat Ventures, which advises on new media startups.

“None of (the independents) have deep enough pockets from a resource perspective to be truly competitive,” Balfe said.

Fox spent $1 billion before Fox News became profitable, Fox Corp Chief Financial Officer Steve Tomsic said this week.

“It’s not a small undertaking to try to compete at that level,” Tomsic said at a UBS conference. “When people think about competition, their knee-jerk reaction is to think ‘Well, all we need is two or three talking heads to go head to head with ours.’ The business is much bigger than that.”

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New York State Pension Fund Sets 2040 Goal of Net Zero Carbon Emissions

new york state pension fund
Nick Oxford/Reuters

By Timothy Gardner and Sohini Podder

The New York state pension fund on Wednesday committed to help curb climate change by transitioning its investments to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, making it the first U.S. pension fund to set the goal by that date.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said the move will put the fund, the third largest in the country, in a strong position for the future of a green economy mapped out in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris accord soon after his inauguration on Jan. 20.

The fund will review its energy company investments for their ability to provide returns in light of the need to take action to curb climate change, he said.

“Those that fail to meet our minimum standards may be removed from our portfolio,” DiNapoli said in a statement.

Divestment is a “last resort,” he said, but it is also a tool the fund can use to push companies to invest in technologies that reduce emissions.

The New York state Common Retirement Fund, which has an estimated valuation of about $226 billion, is wrapping up its evaluation of nine oil sands companies, mainly in Canada and Russia, and will develop minimum standards for investments in shale oil and gas.

This will be followed by a review of sectors including integrated oil and gas, oil and gas exploration, production, storage and transportation. The fund had about $2.6 billion invested in fossil fuels as of September.

The state fund joins a growing list of financial sector players who are cutting their exposure to carbon intensive projects and companies.

It has already set minimum standards for the thermal coal mining industry and divested from about $40 million from 22 coal companies, DiNapoli said.

The fund has a climate solutions plan to double investments in things like wind and solar power to $20 billion this decade and so far has about $11 billion invested, DiNapoli said.

The fund will decide which companies are suitable to remain in its portfolio by 2025.

Environmentalists praised the move.

“We hope this commitment … will help to inspire and ratchet up ambition across the broader investment community,” said Mindy Lubber, head of the sustainability nonprofit Ceres.

(Reporting by Sohini Podder and Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru and Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri, Bill Berkrot and Marguerita Choy)

Everyone Has a Home Office Now. So Who’s Paying For it?

A woman works in a house while workers are forced to work from home and demand payback for extra home office costs during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sassenheim, Netherlands October 2, 2020. REUTERS/Eva Plevier/File Photo

By Chris Taylor

In the past, home offices were often an afterthought: Ill-equipped, cramped, and a little dusty from only occasional use.

Now in 2020, many home offices are looking more like the command center at NORAD: Multiple screens, high-tech capabilities, and professional Zoom-ready surroundings.

And all that costs money.

Good thing about two-thirds of companies are providing or reimbursing for needs of newly remote workers, according to a survey by HR consultancy Mercer: 55% are covering laptops, 33% mobile phones, 26% printers and 24% ergonomic equipment.

Only 32% of companies said they were not helping out with those costs.

“The shift to working remotely means many employees are now having to ask their firms to cover costs associated with setting up and maintaining a home office,” says Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, a wealth psychology expert and author of “Breaking Money Silence.” “This has many looking for best practices, for engaging in a home-office expense negotiation.”

Of course, we are in a new and fluid situation, and companies as well as employees are learning as they go.

The questions on most people’s minds: What exactly can you get reimbursed for? What can you deduct on your taxes? And how do you make an airtight case to your boss for things you think your company should really be paying for?

When considering the costs of a home-office setup, here are some issues to keep in mind.

DUST OFF YOUR NEGOTIATION SKILLS

Getting reimbursed for home-office expenses is not always a black-and-white issue – your bosses may need some convincing. So “think like the CFO,” advises Kingsbury. “Tie your request to an increase in productivity and revenue if at all possible.”

Do not try to bust their budget completely, with only top-of-the-line equipment, but give them a range of different options to choose from. And if you do get an initial ‘No’ ask what would have to change for your request to be granted, Kingsbury says. “Then work towards a second ask in a month or two,” she adds.

PICK YOUR BATTLES

Not every cost is going to get covered by your employer, so instead of aiming for the moon and asking for everything, focus on the items where you have the best rationale for financial support.

For example, in the Mercer survey, only 4% of companies report helping out with the cost of home utilities – so that area may not represent your best chance of success. In comparison, according to a new survey by the nonprofit organization WorldatWork, 25% of companies are covering Internet access for work-from-home employees – which could be a big help on a monthly basis.

CONSIDER TAX ISSUES

For salaried employees, your best route is to get employers to pay for home-office equipment and supplies up-front, or to get reimbursed for them. Under current tax law, such employees are not allowed to deduct those out-of-pocket expenses on their own taxes come April 15, says Michael Hennessy, a financial planner with Harbor Crest Wealth Advisors in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

If you are not a salaried employee, however – maybe you are a solo entrepreneur who does a variety of contract work, for instance – those rules do not necessarily apply.

“As long as you are self-employed and part of your home is used for business use, you can take advantage of the home office deduction,” Hennessy says. That way a percentage of related costs like mortgage interest, insurance, supplies, utilities and repairs will be deductible.

Check out IRS guidelines here: irs.gov.

THINK BEYOND TECH

A laptop and an Internet connection are the most obvious building blocks for a work-from-home setup. But other elements are important, too, like the chair you sit on for multiple hours a day.

Among organizations that transitioned to full-time work-from-home arrangements during the pandemic, 27% are offering company group discounts on furniture, 21% are providing it directly, and 18% are supplying a stipend, according to a survey by office furniture giant Steelcase.

“We believe we’ll see even more company support over time,” says Caroline Kelly, a research manager at Steelcase. “Employee expectations are changing right now, and companies are navigating their way through them.”

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