January 9, 2019

The federal government shutdown has led to waves of TSA agents quitting their jobs. It's caused national parks to be flooded with trash. And, perhaps most terrifyingly, it's suspended all Food and Drug Administration inspections of America's food facilities, The Washington Post reports.

In an interview Wednesday, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency "has suspended all routine inspections of domestic food-processing facilities." The agency inspects 80 percent of America's food supply facilities, per the Post, including typically risky foods like dairy and seafood. Gottlieb is trying to find a way to resume inspecting "high-risk facilities" next week, he told the Post.

The FDA usually inspects 160 American processing locations per week, and about a third of them are "high risk," Gottlieb told the Post. He's so far canceled 50 high-risk inspections, but says under "new guidance," he could bring back enough furloughed workers to cover them. The agency is still looking at foreign imports and any "domestic facilities involved in recalls or outbreaks," the Post writes. Department of Agriculture inspections of meat, poultry, and eggs have also continued through the shutdown.

President Trump and Democratic leaders were supposed to discuss ending the 19-day-long shutdown on Wednesday. But Trump apparently walked out of the room when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said "no" to Trump's border wall demand for the umpteenth time. Read more about what's at stake at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:01 p.m.

A massive explosion has just rocked Beirut, as captured in a number of shocking videos from the scene.

The capital of Lebanon on Tuesday was hit by a huge explosion that caused damage for miles and left an unknown number of people injured, The Associated Press reports. Numerous staggering videos quickly emerged on social media showing the blast.

The explosion in central Beirut damaged buildings in "several neighborhoods," and "many roads were blocked by the debris, forcing people wounded in the blast to walk through the smoke to hospitals," The New York Times reports.

Further details about the explosion and the extent of the damage weren't immediately available, but Lebanon Health Minister Hamad Hasan reportedly said there were a "very high number of injuries," per Reuters, and according to CNN, the state-run National News Agency is reporting that the source of the explosion was "believed to be a major fire at a warehouse for firecrackers near the port in Beirut." Brendan Morrow

Opinion
12:44 p.m.

August is known in the book industry as the "dead zone," when agents and editors take their vacations ahead of one of the busiest months of the publishing calendar, September. But there are no summer doldrums this year: with movies and new television on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, books have remained one of the few forms of entertainment able to proceed relatively unaffected — and they're successfully filling the void.

On Tuesday alone, a number of notable releases hit the (virtual) shelves, including Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson. "It's an extraordinary document, one that strikes me as an instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far," raved The New York Times. Oprah Winfrey, in announcing Tuesday that Caste is her new book club selection, told CBS This Morning that "all of humanity needs to read this" and that it might be "the most important book" she's ever picked.

On the fiction front, also out Tuesday is Luster, the debut by Raven Leilani, described by BuzzFeed News as "the next great millennial novel." The book has been gaining buzz for weeks — "doesn't it feel like everyone is raving about this debut?" The Millions wrote — but Luster stands out for "the quality of the writing itself." Having read an early copy, I can attest: It deserves all the hype, and more.

Other late summer books have also earned raves — the memoir Wandering in Strange Lands by Morgan Jerkins, Laura van den Berg's short fiction collection I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, the novel Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy, the memoir Memorial Drive by poet Natasha Trethewey — which makes it tempting to correlate the extraordinary summer publishing is having with the pandemic. That might be a stretch though: while some release dates have been moved up, most August releases were set pre-pandemic.

More likely, the lack of noise coming from the other usual spheres of entertainment means the major releases in publishing especially stand out. As Stephanie Meyer, the author of Midnight Sun, a new Twilight novel out Tuesday, offered to the probing New York Times about why this book, why now: "Because I finished it." Plus, "I am really excited when I have a book to read right now, because there's not much else that's exciting." Jeva Lange

11:57 a.m.

President Trump apparently didn't watch much Looney Tunes as a kid. Otherwise, thanks to Yosemite Sam, he'd probably know how to pronounce the name of one the United States' more famous national parks.

While signing the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act — a conservation bill aimed at repairing national park infrastructure, permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and creating thousands of jobs — on Tuesday, the president waxed poetic about the "towering sequoias" in California's Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, he flubbed the pronunciation (twice), which wound up overshadowing the majestic image he was trying to conjure. Tim O'Donnell

11:49 a.m.

Kanye West's alleged presidential bid is abandoning the Garden State.

West, the rapper whose announcement that he'd be entering the 2020 presidential race last month was met with widespread skepticism, has scrapped his effort to appear on the ballot in New Jersey, the New Jersey Globe reports.

West had submitted the petition signatures required to get on the ballot, but the signatures were challenged by a lawyer, Scott Salmon, who called them "egregiously bad, almost to a degree insulting," Politico reports. Not only was some necessary information and paperwork reportedly not provided, but a complaint said that "a number of signatures appear nearly identical," The Associated Press writes.

"At this time, Kanye 2020 has no further option than to regrettably withdraw from New Jersey and cease further efforts to place Mr. West's name on the New Jersey ballot," the campaign said in an email as it withdrew the petition, per AP.

West did previously qualify for the Oklahoma ballot, but in addition to New Jersey, he's also facing challenges while trying to get on the ballot in Illinois, reports New York Magazine. By the time West announced his intent to run for president, the deadline to appear on the ballot had already passed in many states, and more deadlines are fast approaching, as The Washington Post's Dave Weigel helpfully illustrates.

In fact, as Weigel notes, West already isn't going to be on the ballot in states with more than 200 electoral votes. In other words, don't bet on an upset win by the Birthday Party. Brendan Morrow

11:46 a.m.

President Trump may end up throwing out what was supposed to be the biggest foreign policy achievement of his first term.

Trump has spent pretty much all of his presidency trying to work out a trade deal with China, sparking an all-out tariff war along the way. But all of that may have been for naught as Trump's advisers work to convince him to "nuke" the whole thing before November, saying it's his best chance to boost his re-election chances, four people with knowledge of the situation tell The Daily Beast.

National and swing state polls keep putting former Vice President Joe Biden safely ahead of Trump to win this fall's election, and advisers have been looking for ways to change his fate. Conservative economist Stephen Moore tells The Daily Beast it could benefit Trump to capitalize on anti-China sentiment both within the White House and around the country right now. And while Moore stopped short of calling to completely abandon the trade deal, Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro and other aides have reportedly gotten Trump at least considering it.

The U.S. and China reached a "phase one" trade deal in February, which didn't actually mark much concrete progress after two years of negotiations and tit-for-tat tariffs. Trump has only ramped up his criticism of China since then, and has repeatedly said he wants to hold it responsible for the coronavirus pandemic. It's unclear how blowing up the deal would punish China for COVID-19 or help the American farmers and businesses who the trade war has hurt along the way. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:11 a.m.

Sure, it's a small sample size, but it appears professional athletes have at least one reason to enjoy playing in front of crowdless stadiums and arenas, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Since fans can't attend games because of the coronavirus pandemic, NBA and European soccer players have been performing in mostly empty venues, which has increased their shooting percentages. After a smattering of games, NBA players are shooting both free throws and corner threes more efficiently than they were before the pandemic paused the season back in March. At that point, the league average from the free throw line was 77.1 percent, a figure that's up to 80.6 percent in the Orlando bubble, per the Journal. Corner threes, meanwhile, are finding the bottom of the net 42.8 percent of the time now compared to the previous 38.9 percent.

The Brooklyn Nets' Joe Harris, a known sharpshooter, indicated the lack of fans probably has a greater effect on free throw shooting, since players are no longer facing a backdrop of fans when at the line. He added he doesn't usually notice fans around him when he fires threes from the corner, suggesting the statistical difference there could be more random.

European soccer leagues have a little bit more data to work with, as they've been back in action for a couple of months. In the English Premier League, free kicks were converted just 6 percent of the time before the pandemic, compared to 10 percent after the restart. The difference is more striking when looking at the raw totals. In 288 pre-lockdown matches, 16 goals were scored on free kicks. There have been 10 in the 92 played since teams returned to the pitch. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

10:26 a.m.

Bolivia couldn't find a balance between preventing coronavirus spread and keeping its children learning.

The South American country will simply cancel the rest of its school year, its president Jeanine Añez Chavez announced Sunday. While it originally planned to run digital classes through December, the fact that most children in the country don't have internet made that impossible, DW reports.

Bolivia shut down all of its schools in March, just a month after they opened for the year. It tried to operate virtual classes, but failed because high-speed internet doesn't extend beyond cities, leaving most of the country's rural population unconnected, minister of the presidency Yerko Núñez said. Public school teachers protested the virtualization efforts, saying it would only speed up the privatization of education. Private school teachers also feared they'd lose their incomes if their schools had to shut down, DW reports.

The decision comes as schools in the northern hemisphere struggle to figure out how they'll reopen in a month or less. Millions of Americans, particularly in rural areas, lack internet access, and even with it, it's hard to keep children engaged and learning remotely. Kathryn Krawczyk

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