Category: government

U.S. government signs deal to make more COVID-19 vaccine components

(Reuters) – The U.S. government has entered an agreement with life sciences company Cytiva, a unit of Danaher Corp, to expand the manufacturing of products needed to make COVID-19 vaccines, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said on Tuesday.

Under the deal, Cytiva will receive about $31 million to scale up manufacturing of vaccine-related products, including cell cultures and hardware such as bioreactors used for the culturing of cells and antibodies.

The grant will help the company ramp up the manufacturing capabilities of its Massachusetts and Utah facilities.

The U.S. government has till date agreed to pay more than $1.1 billion to purchase needles, syringes, vials and supply kits, as well as expand manufacturing capacity for COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics in the United States, the HHS said.

“By expanding capacity now, not only do we help deliver these products as quickly as possible, but we also return manufacturing to America, boosting the economy and preparing us for future crises,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a media statement.

Cytiva is among the primary suppliers to several companies currently working with the U.S. government to develop COVID-19 vaccines.

(Reporting By Mrinalika Roy and Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath)

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Investors lead push for Australian business to cut emissions more than government forecasts

Major investors and super funds will lead a push for the private sector to make much deeper cuts in national greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 than planned by the Morrison government, including setting a target based on what scientists say is necessary.

a herd of cattle grazing on a dry grass field: Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

The newly created “climate league 2030” is calling on investors, insurers, banks and companies to sign up to a goal of reducing national emissions by at least 230m tonnes a year more than the government forecasts by 2030.

It is equivalent to about a 45% cut by 2030 compared with the 2005 benchmark used by the government – the minimum short-term target recommended by the government’s Climate Change Authority for Australia to play its part in keeping average global heating below 2C. They say action is needed now to put the country on a path to net zero emissions by 2050.

a herd of cattle grazing on a dry grass field: Institutional investors that collectively manage assets worth more than $850bn will push business to help cut Australia’s emissions much more than planned by the Morrison government.

© Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Institutional investors that collectively manage assets worth more than $850bn will push business to help cut Australia’s emissions much more than planned by the Morrison government.

Related: Climate crisis: business, farming and environment leaders unite to warn Australia ‘woefully unprepared’


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The league’s foundation members are 16 institutional investors that collectively manage assets worth more than $850bn. They include Aware Super, Cbus, IFM Investors, the Queensland Investment Corporation, AustralianSuper, Hesta, Lendlease Funds Management and UniSuper.

Aware Super’s chief executive, Deanne Stewart, said it was critical that businesses, investors and governments set and delivered transparent, meaningful and measurable targets and goals “to really shift the dial and achieve lasting action” to halt the potentially devastating impacts of the climate crisis.

“We can do this individually, but collaboratively we have the power to do so much more,” she said. “As a founding member of climate league 2030 we would encourage other investors, businesses and the community to come together, stop talking about the issues and instead start taking meaningful action to support a necessary transition to a low carbon and sustainable economy.”

The aspirational initiative is coordinated by the Investor Group on Climate Change, which based the idea on similar projects overseas, such as We Are Still In and We Mean Business in the US and the Climate Leaders Coalition in New Zealand.

Members are responsible for their own actions, but are expected to demonstrate that they can and will lead to a reduction in national emissions. The group said the league would be open to other parts of the private sector in coming months and promised a progress report late next year.

The league has the support of Mark Carney, the former Bank of England governor now working as a UN special envoy for climate action and finance. He said the $3.5tn Australian super industry was the world’s fifth largest, giving it significant influence and investors were increasingly recognising that “climate risk is investment risk”.

“Achieving net zero emissions by 2050 will require a whole of economy transition and every company, bank, insurer and investor

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Timeline: Documents reveal the Pac-12’s struggle with California government over return for football

When the Pac-12 announced a deal with Quidel Corp. in early September to acquire daily antigen tests, commissioner Larry Scott hailed the partnership as a “game changer” that could lead to the return of football sooner than expected.

But 11 days later, the conference had made little progress and, according to documents obtained by the Hotline, was immersed in bureaucratic back-and-forth with the state of California that threatened to overwhelm efforts to play football before Thanksgiving.

“So we are starting in the right place, and the next step will be a conversation with the California Department of Public Health,’’ Pac-12 executive Erik Hardenbergh wrote to campus officials.

That email was written on Sept. 14 — a week-and-a-half after the Quidel deal and with the Big Ten on the brink of announcing its return.

Later in the same email, which was the most instructive of the documents obtained, Hardenbergh added:

“This could take some time.”

But the next day, everything changed. The USC players went public with an appeal to California Governor Gavin Newsom, and suddenly Pac-12 football had the momentum required to return sooner than later.

A Hotline investigation into two of the most important weeks in conference history suggests the football restart might have been delayed until late November — and might not have happened at all — without the USC players stepping forward with their plea.

The documents and interviews reviewed by the Hotline indicate that even after striking the deal for antigen tests, the conference was focused on basketball, targeting a football restart after Thanksgiving and making only incremental progress in efforts to ease state restrictions and allow the California teams to practice.

The Pac-12 declined to comment on the specifics of discussions with state or university officials that are outlined below.

However, it’s important to note that the conference office typically serves as a coordinator on policy matters, not as an advocate.

For that reason, the string of internal emails cited below included members of not only the four athletic departments but also the universities’ government relations teams.

Those teams, along with the conference office, had been working with state and local authorities for months during the pandemic, providing regular updates on matters that impacted athletics and the universities as a whole.

*** List of people referenced in the timeline:

Scott: Pac-12 commissioner
Hardenbergh: Pac-12 chief of staff (liaison to athletics and campus government affairs)
Maggy Carlyle: Pac-12 general counsel
Lande Ajose: Senior Policy Advisor for Higher Education (state of California)
Jennifer Simon-O’Neill: chief of staff for Cal athletics
Mike Bohn: USC athletic director
Brandon Sosna: chief of staff for USC athletics
Kim Harmon: UW football physician; member of Pac-12 medical team

*** Background on this article:

Our request for public records was submitted to Cal in the early afternoon of Sept. 14, in an attempt to better understand the Pac-12’s strategy for convincing the state of California to expand cohort limits to a level that would allow the four teams to practice. The requested was

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‘Most of It Hasn’t Seen the Light of Day’

The past couple years have been rife with stokedness-inducing news of the UAP (unidentified aerial phenomenon) variety, thanks in large part to frequent updates from To the Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences revitalizing interest in such phenomena for new generations.

Now, by way of James Fox’s new documentary The Phenomenon, Harry Reid—who served as a U.S. Senator from 1987 to 2017 and boasts a stacked history with the UAP research push that famously has ties to TTSA co-founder Tom DeLonge—has returned to headlines with some enticing comments about the field that further strengthen the interpretation that recent developments are indeed key in moving the conversation forward.

“All we’re saying—nobody has to agree why it’s there—but shouldn’t we at least be spending some money to study all these phenomenon?” Reid tells Fox in a clip from the documentary, which is now available via VOD services. “Shouldn’t we study the stuff? The answer is yes and that’s all this was about. And why the federal government all these years has covered up, put brake pads on everything, stopped it. I think it’s very, very bad for our country.”

Asked if Reid was signaling that there was “some evidence that still hasn’t seen the light of day,” Reid took it a step further.

“I’m saying most of it hasn’t seen the light of day,” Reid said.

Reid’s comments here are in line with his own previous comments on the importance of unity in the UAP research field, as well as with the central messaging of the aforementioned DeLonge and the TTSA team. As the latest clip from Fox’s doc started making the rounds over the past few days, both DeLonge and TTSA advisor Christopher K. Mellon addressed Reid’s most recent remarks with some words of approval:

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Lebanon’s Bassil Criticises Hariri Efforts to Form Government | World News

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese Christian politician Gebran Bassil criticised Sunni former prime minister Saad al-Hariri on Tuesday for putting himself forward to lead a government that would champion a French initiative to resolve the country’s deep economic crisis.

Hariri has begun consultations with the president, parliamentary speaker and Lebanese political blocs about forming a government that would implement President Emmanuel Macron’s roadmap for reforms and unlock international aid.

He has said his mission was to form a six-month government of technocrats to rapidly carry out the reform plan set out in Macron’s initiative.

“We were not aware, and nobody informed us, that President Macron had appointed a high commissioner… to Lebanon, and made a prefect for us to oversee his initiative and the extent of its implementation,” Bassil said in a speech to supporters.

“Whoever wants to head a government of technocrats has to be a technocrat himself,” said Bassil, who heads Lebanon’s biggest Christian bloc, the Free Patriotic Movement. A former foreign minister, Bassil is also President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law.

Aoun will hold formal consultations on Thursday about nominating a prime minister to form a new government to replace Hassan Diab’s cabinet, which resigned two months ago after a powerful explosion damaged much of Beirut and killed 200 people.

Diab’s nominated replacement has been unable to form a government after the powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its political allies insisted on nominating the finance minister.

Lebanon is suffering its worst financial collapse since a 1975-1990 civil war. Foreign donors have made clear there will be no fresh aid unless Lebanese leaders launch reforms to tackle graft and improve governance, and engage in IMF negotiations.

(Reporting by Samia Nakhoul and Ellen Francis, writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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Secret Cinema’s $1.3M UK Government Grant Provokes Backlash

UK event cinema organization Secret Cinema has received criticism after it was revealed that the company has received a £977,000 ($1.3M) grant from the UK government as part of its Culture Recovery Fund.

The fund, administered by Arts Council England, was created to support businesses adversely affected by the pandemic disruption and is offering grants of between £50,000 and £3M. It is part of the UK government’s wider £1.57BN Culture Recovery package.

According to reports today, around a third of applicants were rejected, with 1,422 of 2000 applying organizations receiving backing. The money is designed to help these orgs survive through to March 2021 amidst ongoing pandemic challenges.

The parameters of the fund were to provide “financial support for cultural organisations that were financially stable before COVID-19, but were at imminent risk of failure”.

Commentators on social media (including filmmaker Charlie Shackleton, see below) criticized the company for taking the money due to the high cost of its events, which differentiate it from struggling indie film venues and community organizations, and also highlighted its loss-making status.

Secret Cinema’s parent company Secret Group’s accounts show a loss of £2.9M for the year 2019, and a loss of £1.4M for the previous year, that’s despite recording turnovers of £15.8M in 2019 and £10.8M the previous year. The company has private equity backing from Active Partners’ $131M fund and has tie-ups with the likes of Netflix and Disney for future events.

Contacted by Deadline, Secret Cinema declined to specify how the government money would be utilized, or to provide comment.

The org was able to wrap its Stranger Things experience prior to the lockdown. It had planned to put on a Dirty Dancing event in the UK this year but had to pause that due to the pandemic, rescheduling to summer 2021.

Back in August, the company made its inaugural move into the U.S., partnering with Netflix to deliver Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience in Los Angeles.

UK indie arts venues have struggled greatly during the pandemic. Unlike Secret Cinema, however, they are eligible to apply to the separate BFI-administered £30M Culture Recovery Fund for Independent Cinemas in England, which is open to applications now.

That pot will award non-repayable grants to struggling cinemas. To date it has given more than 40 indie venues some £650,000. It closes applications on October 30. As a non-physical venue, Secret Cinema was not eligible to apply to the BFI fund.

Other cinema venues did also benefit from the Arts Council grants due to their status as mixed arts venues, including Bristol’s Watershed which received £731,993.

The full list of orgs that received backing from the Arts Council fund is available to view here.


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AT&T has trouble figuring out where it offers government-funded Internet

An AT&T logo on the side of a building.

If you live in an area where AT&T has taken government funds in exchange for deploying broadband, there’s a chance you won’t be able to get the service—even if AT&T initially tells you it’s available.

AT&T’s Mississippi division has received over $283 million from the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund since 2015 and in exchange is required to extend home-Internet service to over 133,000 potential customer locations. As we previously reported, the Mississippi Public Service Commission (PSC) accused AT&T of submitting false coverage data to the FCC program. As evidence, Mississippi said its “investigation found concrete, specific examples that show AT&T Mississippi has reported location addresses… as being served when, in fact, the addresses are without service.”

AT&T has since provided an explanation that confirms it submitted false data on the serviceability of some addresses but says it will still meet the overall requirement of serving over 133,000 new customer locations. The problem is in how AT&T determines whether its wireless home-Internet service can reach individual homes and businesses. AT&T uses propagation modeling software to map out coverage areas, but the software isn’t always accurate. This wouldn’t be a problem if AT&T deployed fiber-to-the-home or fiber-to-the-node in these areas, but the company is meeting its obligations with wireless service.

“Unsuccessful installation” attempts

In some cases, customers set up appointments with AT&T to set up broadband service at addresses that AT&T had incorrectly reported to the FCC’s universal service program as being served.

“To be clear, AT&T Mississippi learned, via an unsuccessful installation attempt, that it could not offer service meeting the CAF II [Connect America Fund] minimum performance requirements at those addresses only after it had reported those addresses [to the administrator of the FCC program],” AT&T wrote last week in a letter to the FCC that was published by the Daily Journal of Northeast Mississippi.

AT&T said these locations represent a tiny portion of the addresses it reported as served to the FCC, and that the carrier is correcting the mistakes. AT&T also said it tries to exceed the buildout requirements so that it can hit the overall numbers even when some addresses can’t be served:

The PSC’s letter implies AT&T Mississippi is deceiving the Commission and consumers by advertising Internet access service as available but then being unable to install the service once the technician arrives and checks available signal strength. That concern is unfounded. As the Commission understands, fixed wireless services are affected by terrain. AT&T employs sophisticated propagation modeling software that accounts for factors such as terrain and clutter to identify areas where FWI [fixed wireless Internet] service is available. However, there are instances, such as the ones the PSC notes, where AT&T subsequently learns that the signal may not be strong enough to guarantee service that meets the CAF II performance requirements because, for example, the customer has a significant number of large trees between her/his home and the serving cell tower. Indeed, AT&T has endeavored to exceed each CAF II build milestone to

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Virginia Governor Was Also a Possible Target of Anti-Government Plot, F.B.I. Says

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia was discussed as a possible target by members of an anti-government group charged last week with plotting to kidnap the Michigan governor, the F.B.I. said on Tuesday.

During a hearing in Grand Rapids, Mich., Special Agent Richard J. Trask II of the F.B.I. said that Mr. Northam and other officials were targeted because of their aggressive lockdown orders to restrict the spread of the coronavirus.

Last week, 13 men accused of involvement in the alleged plot were charged with a variety of state and federal crimes including terrorism, conspiracy and weapons possession. They also talked of planning to storm the Michigan State Capitol and start a civil war, the authorities said.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the authorities said the suspects also spoke about “taking” the Virginia governor “based” on coronavirus lockdown orders that restricted businesses.

Mr. Trask said that some of the suspects held a meeting in Dublin, Ohio, several months ago where they “discussed possible targets” for “taking a sitting governor.”

Mr. Trask also provided additional details about the alleged plans to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. One of the suspects, Adam Fox, spoke about a plan to take Ms. Whitmer out on a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan, and leave her stranded with the engine disabled so that someone would have to “come rescue” her, Mr. Trask said.

The other alternative had been to take Ms. Whitmer to Wisconsin or another unspecified state and to put her on trial. The accused had referred to her as “a tyrant.”

Last week, the authorities said the men were affiliated with an extremist group called the Wolverine Watchmen, which court documents called “an anti-government, anti-law enforcement militia group.”

The group met many times for tactical and firearms training and practiced building explosives, the F.B.I. said, and spoke about attacking law enforcement officers.

Mr. Trask and the prosecutor mentioned several other men who they said were involved in the surveillance and the discussion of the plot, including one from Wisconsin, but who were not among those arrested.

The testimony also indicated that the participants were suspicious that government informants were monitoring or had infiltrated their group, changing encrypted messaging platforms and giving each other code names in hopes of escaping such surveillance.

At one point after a planning trip to case the governor’s vacation home and the surrounding area, Mr. Fox asked that all the participants be scanned with a device that is supposed to identify if anyone was wearing a transmission wire or a recording device.

The effort apparently failed, Mr. Trask said, with the group eventually infiltrated by four informants or undercover agents who continued to document what the group was planning.

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Ephemeral messages remove scrutiny from government

The writer is president of Digital Preservation Coalition and author of ‘Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack’

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library is a remarkable sheet of paper written in the 1660s. It contains an exchange of private messages between King Charles II and his chief minister, Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon. The document contains the handwriting of the two men as they play out a tetchy exchange concerning the British monarch’s costs, which Clarendon was struggling to contain.

“I would willingly make a visit to my sister at Tonbridge for a night or two at farthest,” states the king, “when do you think I can I can best spare the time?” Clarendon, with an eye to the cost, replies with a suggestion, adding “I suppose you will go with a light trayne.” The king’s answer is simply that “I intend to take nothing but my night bag.” Clarendon is incensed by this provocative understatement: “God, you will not go without 40 or 50 horse.” The royal put down is epic in its haughty brevity: “I counte that parte of my night bag.”

Today’s private messages of those in the inner echelons of state affairs are vastly more ephemeral than those of their 17th-century predecessors. This sheet of paper found its way into the Bodleian where it can be studied alongside the other “state papers” collected by Clarendon, but it could easily have been lost or destroyed.

The advent across the world of encrypted communications that can be readily used via smartphones leaves the historians of tomorrow with a huge gap. Even more urgently, it leaves the work of officers of the state, whether ministers, senior civil servants or special advisers, unable to be scrutinised by the public who they are employed to serve.

In the UK, the Public Records Act of 1958 was intended to serve the people both now and in the future by preserving records that document the policies and actions of the central government, including those that illustrate the process of developing policy and legislation and the structures and decision-making processes in government.

The mode of communication in government has already shifted to the digital realm, and the use of such technologies should be a matter of concern for all members of the public whatever their political persuasion. They include services like Snapchat and Signal, where messages auto-erase, being designed originally for teenagers who did not wish to have their private messages hanging around on their phones to be discovered by parents.

Today, the systems of recalcitrant youths have been adopted by senior government officials and politicians. This trend was spotted by Dominic Grieve (then a Conservative MP), prompting him last year to table a motion before the House of Commons that the Queen be requested to direct ministers to disclose to the House all correspondence and other communications “to, from or within” the administration relating to the prorogation of parliament before the Brexit deadline.

Mr Grieve specified that this

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Anti-government paramilitary groups in plot against Michigan governor also discussed kidnapping Virginia governor, FBI agent says

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Members of anti-government paramilitary groups discussed kidnapping Virginia’s governor during a June meeting in Ohio, an FBI agent testified Tuesday during a court hearing in Michigan.

Special Agent Richard Trask was part of the investigation that led to six men being arrested and charged last week with plotting to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Seven other men face state terrorism charges.

Trask did not name Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, during his testimony in a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids. He said members of anti-government groups from multiple states attended the meeting.

“They discussed possible targets, taking a sitting governor, specifically issues with the governor of Michigan and Virginia based on the lockdown orders,” Trask said. He said the people at the meeting were unhappy with the governors’ response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trask did not discuss further planning aimed at Northam.

The FBI did not brief Northam on any potential threat, according to a state official with knowledge of the governor’s briefings who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The June meeting was part of the FBI’s investigation of various anti-government groups, leading to last week’s stunning announcement that six men had been arrested for an alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer.

Tuesday’s court hearing was to review investigators’ evidence against Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta and whether they should be detained before trial. The men are all Michigan residents.

A sixth man, Barry Croft, was being held in Delaware.

The FBI used confidential sources, undercover agents and clandestine recordings to foil the alleged kidnapping conspiracy. Some defendants had conducted coordinated surveillance of the Democratic governor’s vacation home in northern Michigan in August and September, according to a criminal complaint.

The men were trying to retaliate against Whitmer due to her “uncontrolled power” amid the coronavirus pandemic, authorities said. They said four of the men had planned to meet last week to pay for explosives and exchange tactical gear.

Whitmer, who was considered as Joe Biden’s running mate and is nearly halfway through a four-year term, has been widely praised for her response to the virus outbreak but also sharply criticized by Republican lawmakers and people in conservative areas of the state. The Capitol has been the site of many rallies, including ones with gun-toting protesters calling for her ouster.

Whitmer put major restrictions on personal movement and the economy, although many of those limits have been lifted since spring.

Fox, who was described as one of the leaders, was living in the basement of a vacuum shop in Grand Rapids. The owner said Fox was opposed to wearing a mask during the pandemic and kept firearms and ammunition at the store.

The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted.

Seven others linked to a paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen were charged in state court for allegedly seeking to storm the Michigan Capitol and providing material support for terrorist acts by seeking a “civil war.”

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