June 18, 2020

"Who had 'the creator of VeggieTales and voice of Bob the Tomato carefully narrates the history of race in America over the last 100 years' on their 2020 bingo card?" one Twitter user asked, pointing to a new video by Phil Vischer that explains why people are in the streets protesting racism and police brutality to an audience that may actually want to understand. Specifically, "why are many white, conservative Christians calling for racial justice?" Vischer asked. "Didn't we end discrimination years ago?"

"Slavery ended 150 years ago, the civil rights movement was 60 years ago, racial discrimination is illegal now," Vischer, co-creator of the popular Christian animated series VeggieTales and host of the Holy Post podcast, continued in the video. "Heck, we even had a black president. So why are people still upset? We're going to go through history and we're going to look at some data, and we're going to go quickly so this video doesn't go too long." The video is 17 minutes, but it packs a lot in, including scripture:

"So where are we?" Vischer summarized. "The average black household has 1/10th the wealth of the average white household. This didn't happen by accident, it happened by policy. We, the majority culture, told them where they could live and where they couldn't. Then we moved most of the jobs to the places we told them they couldn't live. When the predictable explosion of unemployment and poverty resulted in a predictable increase in drug use and crime, we criminalized the problem. We built $19 billion of new jails and sold grenade launchers to the police. As a result, a white boy born in America today has a 1 in 23 chance of going to prison in his lifetime. For a black boy, it's 1 in 4. And that is why people are angry."

Vischer has been studying this issue for a while. He covered systemic racism in a 2014 podcast and he wrote this script with his brother Rob, dean of the St. Thomas University Law School in Minneapolis, with whom he taught a class on Black Lives Matter that led to a 2017 podcast that led to this video.

"I'm not here to tell you what the right solutions are, because I don't know," Vischer said. "I'm just here to ask you to do one thing — it is the thing that begins every journey to a solution for every problem. What am I asking you do to? Care." Peter Weber

8:17 a.m.

Anger abounds in Lebanon following Tuesday's massive blast in Beirut's port that killed 154 people and injured 5,000 as it's become increasingly clear that the catastrophe stemmed from governmental neglect and mismanagement of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse for years. The Lebanese people's frustration with the country's political class is not new, however. For months before the explosion, protesters took to the street to demonstrate against corruption in the government and a severe economic crisis in the country. Now, some are looking abroad for help.

One university student, Celine Dibo, told Reuters she wished "the United Nations would take over Lebanon," while psychologist Maryse Hayek said "I hope another country would just take us over." Indeed, more than 60,000 people have signed a petition asking France to restore the mandate it held between 1920 and 1946. But critics have pushed back against the idea.

French President Emmanuel Macron — who himself has dismissed the idea he could "substitute" for Lebanese leaders — has received praise for visiting the country during the aftermath, promising aid, and even bringing the heads of Lebanon's divided political factions into the same room. But the French president has also been criticized for seeking a way to restore French influence over Lebanon and patronizing the politicians, The Associated Press reports, with one university student in Beirut wondering how Macron is "giving advice to us" when he "hasn't resolved issues with his country."

Jack Lang, a former French government official told AP that France's position is difficult — ultimately, he said, France is "walking on the edge of precipice" when it comes to Lebanon, adding that "we have to aid, support, and encourage the Lebanese people, but at the same time not give the impression that we want to establish a new protectorate, which would be completely stupid." Read more at Reuters and The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

August 7, 2020

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is trying to make sure an eventual coronavirus vaccine is affordable for everyone.

The foundation has donated $150 million to the Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine maker, the Gavi vaccine alliance announced Friday. The money will help speed up the development and distribution of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine and make it available to 92 poorer countries for no more than $3 per dose.

"Too many times we've seen the most vulnerable countries left at the back of the queue when it comes to new treatments, new diagnostics and new vaccines," said Gavi CEO Dr. Seth Berkley. But the consequences of such inequities when distributing a COVID-19 vaccine would be devastating. "If only the wealthiest countries in the world are protected, then international trade, commerce and society as a whole will continue to be hit hard as the pandemic continues to rage across the globe," Berkley continued.

The Serum Institute of India is one of several manufacturers working with AstraZeneca to make its candidate vaccine. It's also the go-to supplier for the World Health Organization, The Wall Street Journal notes. A total of 92 countries will be eligible to receive the discount vaccine as Gavi seeks $2 billion total to further support vaccine access. Kathryn Krawczyk

August 7, 2020

Congressional Democrats and White House leaders didn't solve anything during a Friday meeting meant to hammer out the next CARES Act, closing out a second week of negotiations with next to nothing to show for them.

The main problem, CNN's Phil Mattingly reports, is that Democrats don't have the votes to support any bill under $2 trillion and Republicans won't accept anything over it. Those sticking points led to what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called a "disappointing meeting" with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Friday.

While Democrats offered to slash $1 trillion off their $3.4 trillion proposal if Republicans added $1 trillion to theirs to meet in the middle, the White House officials refused, Pelosi told reporters after the meeting. "I've told them, 'Come back when you are ready to give us a higher number,'" Pelosi continued. Pelosi later issued a statement to House Democrats laying out just how far apart the parties are on the bill.

The impasse means out-of-work Americans are still without a boost to their unemployment insurance, after Democrats refused to agree to Republicans' standalone measure to temporarily continue the $600/week addition that's been in place since early in the pandemic. Time is also running short on divvying funding to improve online education programs, as some schools have already reopened. Kathryn Krawczyk

August 7, 2020

A top intelligence official says Russia is using a "range of measures" to take down former Vice President Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 presidential election, while China prefers that President Trump doesn't win.

William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, released a statement on Friday detailing the "intentions and activities" of U.S. adversaries in the presidential election, which describes how intelligence officials are "concerned" primarily about China, Russia, and Iran.

By the U.S. assessment, China "prefers that President Trump — whom Beijing sees as unpredictable — does not win re-election," Evanina wrote. Additionally, Russia is "using a range of measures to primarily denigrate" Biden, and "some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump's candidacy on social media and Russian television," the statement said.

Finally, Evanina said that Iran seeks to "undermine U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections," driven by its belief that Trump being re-elected would "result in a continuation of U.S. pressure."

Senate Intelligence Committee Acting Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) on Friday said this statement "highlights some of the serious and ongoing threats to our election." They also said that additional information has been provided to members of Congress in recent weeks and that more of it "can, and at the appropriate time should, be shared with the voting public." Brendan Morrow

August 7, 2020

It's been more than a year since the Trump administration blocked House Democrats' attempt to secure testimony from former White House Counsel Don McGahn, a pivotal figure in the Mueller investigation. At the time, it appeared to be what former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara called a "stalling tactic," and a way for the Trump administration to "run out the clock" to a point where McGahn's testimony didn't matter anymore.

Indeed, President Trump's impeachment trial came and went without a word from McGahn. And even though U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled Friday that the House could enforce its subpoena against McGahn, dissenting judges in the case acknowledged that the House's chances of hearing from McGahn soon are "vanishingly slim."

Barb McQuade, a professor at the University of Michigan's law school, said in a tweet it was clear that Trump still "wins by losing" in this case. The House still has to formally sue McGahn, "causing further delay," McQuade continued. "Trump's bad faith stall game needs to be called out and the rules changed to defeat it," McQuade continued. Harvard University law professor Laurence Tribe echoed McQuade's sentiment, tweeting that McGahn's case was sure to continue past Trump's term. And Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who led the impeachment hearings, called on Congress to make sure McGahn's subpoena stalling never happened again. Kathryn Krawczyk

August 7, 2020

President Trump would love to have dinner with you, for the low, low price of a $10,000 fine.

The Trump campaign blitzed supporters this week asking for donations in exchange for the chance to attend a "VIP dinner" with the president in Southampton, New York on Aug. 8, but Popular Information's Judd Legum, who investigated the contest, says the fundraising attempt is a pretty blatant "scam."

The ads, which reportedly cost the campaign $100,000 to run on Facebook, failed to mention that anyone residing in one of 35 states is legally barred from attending the fundraiser (or any event in the state of New York, for that matter).

Since late June, visitors to New York who are coming from states with surging COVID-19 numbers have been told they need to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine to help prevent the virus' spread. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has since doubled down on that requirement, imposing fines and installing checkpoints for visitors.

It's unlikely that Trump, who has gone head-to-head with Cuomo throughout the pandemic, has forgotten these restrictions. Still, that didn't stop the campaign from advertising its one-of-a-kind deal to those very people.

"In one heavily promoted version of the ad, 73 percent of the impressions were targeted at users in states subject to New York's quarantine order," Legum writes.

The Trump campaign seems to have advertised the fundraiser knowing much of its targeted audience wouldn't be in a position to actually attend, as the contest rules give the campaign permission "to suspend or cancel the Promotion" if any "viruses, bugs, unauthorized human intervention or other causes beyond Sponsor's control" interfere.

Essentially, anything from the mandatory quarantine order to a fruit fly infestation could give Trump reason to bail. Marianne Dodson

August 7, 2020

The rain continues to pour on the Friends reunion special.

The planned reunion of the hit sitcom's original cast on HBO Max has yet again been delayed, according to The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

Filming of the unscripted special was scheduled to occur in March, but production had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The hope in recent weeks, though, was that the special could finally be filmed in August.

"It's supposed to happen maybe in August, the middle of August," David Schwimmer recently said on The Tonight Show. "But honestly, we're gonna wait and see another week or two, if we all determine it's really safe enough to do. And if not, then we'll wait until it's safe."

It looks like they will indeed be waiting, as the special reportedly won't be filmed in August anymore, and no new date has been announced. According to the Reporter, everyone involved wants the reunion to take place on the show's original soundstage in California, so doing the special virtually isn't in the cards.

The idea with the Friends reunion special was for it to debut with HBO Max and be a major draw to the streaming service in May. Since then, the cast of tons of shows from Community to Parks and Recreation have come together for virtual reunions during the pandemic, while the Friends reunion has been continuously held up. Could the executives at HBO Max be any more disappointed? Brendan Morrow

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