April 24, 2020

Nearly a third of Americans believe that it is either "probably" or "definitely" true that a coronavirus vaccine exists and is being withheld, according to a new study by the Democracy Fund and the UCLA Nationscape Project, in partnership with USA Today. "To see about a third of people give that some level of, 'Yeah, that might be true,' that was pretty shocking to me," said Robert Griffin, the research director at the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. "That's a pretty dark type of thought to be floating around the public."

While there are as many as 150 different vaccines in various stages of development at this point, a COVID-19 vaccination will only be ready in 12 to 18 months "if we're really lucky," Seth Berkley, the head of the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, a global immunization partnership, told AFP on Friday. He added that "one of the challenges" of this particular pandemic is that "we don't know if we can make a vaccine … we have no proof of concept yet."

Still, the Democracy Fund/UCLA Nationscape Project study found that many such unfounded beliefs have become widespread among the American electorate, including that some 44 percent of voters think it is probable that the virus was created in a lab, while another 48 percent think the U.S is "concealing" the true number of COVID-19 deaths, a belief that is held by more than half of Democrats.

"Not all of this is necessarily conspiracy-thinking," argued Griffin. "Some of it might just might purely be misunderstanding or things that people don't know yet, a lack of education."

The survey was conducted as part of a large-scale survey of the American electorate, which will be ongoing through the 2020 election cycle. The latest results came from a sampling of 6,300 Americans between April 2 and 8, and has a margin of error of 2.2 percent. You can read more of the results here. Jeva Lange

November 25, 2020

There's a chance President Trump's pardon of Michael Flynn could backfire some day.

Trump on Wednesday pardoned Flynn, his first national security adviser. In 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contact with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn's sentencing was delayed while he cooperated with former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, but earlier this year, Flynn's new legal team accused prosecutors of misconduct and asked to have his guilty plea withdrawn.

But Trump's pardon, which he announced in a tweet, means Flynn will theoretically no longer be protected from self-incrimination under the 5th Amendment should he ever be called to testify against Trump.

As Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe explained to Time in 2017, "anyone pardoned by Trump would lose most of the 5th Amendment's protection against compelled testimony that might otherwise have incriminated the pardoned family member or associate, making it much easier for [the Justice Department] and Congress to require such individuals to give testimony that could prove highly incriminating to Trump himself."

There are some caveats, of course. While there is speculation Trump could face criminal charges at some point post-presidency, there is no evidence that will happen. Even if it did, it's still unclear exactly what Flynn is being pardoned for, since, as Politico notes, he was criminally exposed both for lying to investigators and "acting as an unregistered agent for Turkey." So if the pardon is specific, there's a chance Flynn would still have that protection. Tim O'Donnell

November 25, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden mixed messages of caution and hope in a pre-Thanksgiving, presidential-style address Wednesday.

He urged Americans to hold out for a while longer as the coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen in the United States, telling them not to "surrender to the fatigue" and "remember we are at war with the virus, not one another." But he also pointed to a light at the end of the tunnel, noting that substantial progress has made been made in vaccine development. "There's real hope, tangible hope," he said. "So hang on ... I know we can and we will beat this virus. America's not gonna lose this war. We'll get our lives back." Tim O'Donnell

November 25, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to surge, more Americans are reporting going hungry, a Washington Post analysis found.

In data collected by the Census Bureau between Oct. 28 and Nov. 9, around 12 percent of all American adults reported not having enough food to eat, a figure higher than at any other point since the pandemic began earlier this year. Indeed, experts believe it's likely hunger has reached levels not seen in the U.S. since 1998, per the Post.

The situation has hit several groups particularly hard — 16 percent of households with children have reported going hungry, including 25 percent of households with children where the adult is out of work. Black Americans, meanwhile, the Post notes, are experiencing hunger at nearly twice the rate of all American adults, and 2.5 times the rate of white Americans.

In terms of geography, the Houston area, which was posting some of its lowest hunger rates amid a strong economy before the pandemic took hold, has seen one of the worst hunger surges in the country, the Post reports. More than 20 percent of the 7 million adults in the metro area have reported going hungry, including 30 percent of adults with children in their households. The situation there has led to thousands of people lining up in their car for food drives in the city. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

November 25, 2020

Illinois is experiencing a "dire" coronavirus situation that seems to mostly be flying under the national radar, says Youyang Gu, a data scientist who created a COVID-19 pandemic modeler.

As Gu points out, Illinois last week recorded more cases in a single day than Florida ever has, though Florida has been considered a hot spot throughout much of the pandemic. Illinois is the country's sixth-most populous state and testing has ramped up, but Florida still has much a higher population. Meanwhile, Illinois is the only state to average 12,000 cases per day over the course of a week — not even California or Texas have reached those numbers.

Gu notes it's tough to figure out exactly what's contributing to the surge in Illinois, since the state has been proactive with it's mitigation messages and efforts, which shows the challenges of managing and predicting the course of the pandemic. Tim O'Donnell

November 25, 2020

Alabama coach Nick Saban has again tested positive for COVID-19.

The University of Alabama in a statement said Saban tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, and he has "very mild symptoms," ESPN reports.

"He will follow all appropriate guidelines and isolate at home," the statement said.

Saban had previously tested positive for the coronavirus in October, at the time saying he had no symptoms. But days later, he was cleared to coach because he subsequently tested negative for COVID-19 three times, meaning the original test was "considered a false positive." The University of Alabama said Wednesday, however, that "this test will not be categorized as a potential false positive," as Saban has symptoms in this case.

As a result of this positive test, Saban won't coach Saturday's game against Auburn, and "the head-coaching duties will fall to offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian," ESPN reports.

Saban on a conference call with reporters after his diagnosis was disclosed said, "We hate it that this situation occurred, but as I said many times before, you've got to be able to deal with disruptions this year, and our players have been pretty mature about doing that," The New York Times reports. He added, "We just want to carry on the best we can." Brendan Morrow

November 25, 2020

Diego Maradona, the Argentine soccer legend, has died after suffering a heart attack, his agent confirmed Wednesday. He was 60.

Maradona is considered one of the greatest soccer players of all time, known for leading Argentina's national team to the 1986 World Cup title in Mexico. En route to the final, he scored a goal that has become known as the "Hand of God," in which he punched the ball into the net with his fist against England in the quarterfinals. While it likely would've been called off in today's game thanks to replay, the referees did not have a clear view and let the goal count, giving Argentina a 1-0 lead. Maradona later had another memorable goal that gave his side a 2-1 victory.

Outside of the national team, he enjoyed a fruitful professional career in Argentina, Italy, and Spain.

During Maradona's post-playing career, he struggled with health issues and drug and alcohol abuse. He also had an unsuccessful stint managing Argentina's national team, but remained beloved in his home country. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

November 25, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden will not receive pressure from his European counterparts to rush back into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Officials from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom told the Journal that their countries are still supportive of the deal, but they don't think it will be possible or even desirable to achieve a full return to the agreement before Iran's presidential elections in June. Like several analysts, they think it's better to wait and see how things unfold before giving up any leverage.

Diplomats in Europe reportedly believe Iran will elect a more hard-line president than the comparatively moderate incumbent, Hassan Rouhani. If Biden successfully hurries the U.S. back into the deal while Rouhani remains in office, it could lead to his successor quickly reversing it on Tehran's end, making it much more difficult to reach a broader agreement that would prompt Iran to reverse its expanded nuclear activities.

What Europe does seem to want is for the Biden administration to ease the tensions and sanctions that have defined President Trump's relationship with Iran and offer Tehran "some tangible economic benefits" before the vote, theoretically creating incentive for the next government to negotiate. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

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