July 29, 2020

Xprize has unveiled a new $5 million competition to encourage the development of rapid COVID-19 testing.

The non-profit organization on Tuesday announced the Xprize Rapid COVID Testing competition to "accelerate the development of high-quality COVID-19 testing that is low cost, easy to use, and fast-turnaround, enabling frequent testing." Xprize and OpenCovidScreen are asking the "world's brightest, most innovative minds" to get involved and develop new fast and affordable testing solutions that might help facilitate a safe return to school and work amid the pandemic, as other COVID-19 testing methods can take days to produce a result.

The submissions, Xprize says, can be in one of four categories including at-home and point-of-care testing, and entries will be judged on factors like innovation, performance, turnaround time, and cost. Five teams will ultimately be awarded $1 million each, and the maximum turnaround time is 12 hours, TechCrunch reports.

"Fast, affordable, and accessible testing is crucial to containing the COVID-19 pandemic and safely reopening schools, businesses and other vital institutions around the world,” Xprize CEO Anousheh Ansari said in a statement. "Xprize Rapid COVID Testing is inspiring the best entrepreneurial and scientific teams to come together to work towards rapid, affordable COVID-19 testing at scale, and ultimately, getting the world up and running again."

Xprize is asking teams to register for the competition by the end of August. Brendan Morrow

10:59 a.m.

President Trump's allies are growing worried about his re-election chances, Politico reports, with one Republican close to the White House comparing the situation to the 1993 film Groundhog Day. "You think it's better, then it's not," the official told Politico.

One incident that probably won't allay their concerns is a recent phone conversation between Trump and GOP megadonor and Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, per Politico. Adelson reportedly called Trump last week to discuss the coronavirus relief bill and the economy, but Trump eventually turned the conversation to the campaign and asked Adelson why he wasn't doing more to help, three people with direct knowledge of the call told Politico.

One of the sources said it became clear Trump wasn't aware of the extent to which Adelson — whom Politico describes as a financial linchpin who has donated tens of millions of dollars to pro-Trump efforts — has poured in resources for the president. Adelson reportedly didn't fire back at Trump, and his allies say it's unclear if the phone call will dissuade him from working to bolster Trump's campaign during the home stretch. But Republican Party officials were reportedly alarmed by the incident and rushed to smooth things over. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

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

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