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This isn’t a protest, this is chaos

Karen mentioned this impromptu speech by Keisha Lance Bottoms in her post earlier but it’s worth five minutes of your time to take it all in. This is good work off the cuff by a politician who’s under tremendous pressure. Watch, then read on.

The police chief did good work too by wading into the crowd to try to reassure them that she and the Atlanta PD aren’t their enemy.

The outreach didn’t spare the city from a long night but maybe it’ll pay off with quieter circumstances this evening.

Why is Bottoms’s speech getting so much applause today? Partly, says Josh Kraushaar, it’s because she broached a subject that more powerful members of her party have ducked thus far.

Polls already show most Americans support the arrest of the offending officer, who was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. While the issue has yet to be polled, I’d also expect most Americans would reject the notion that violence is the answer to injustice, and would recoil at the havoc across the country this week.

So I was surprised to see Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, fail to make even a pro forma exhortation against rioting in his heartfelt speech Friday when he called for police reforms and racial reconciliation. It probably wasn’t an accident: Former President Obama, his old boss, didn’t address the violence raging across Minneapolis in his statement, either. (The only reference to violence Biden made seemed to apply to Trump’s ominous Twitter threat that looting will lead to shooting: “This is no time for incendiary tweets. This is no time to encourage violence.”)…

I wondered, more broadly, whether there’s a larger tone deafness in Democratic political circles these days, not realizing that Biden’s success is dependent on voters who don’t share their own progressive values.

Kraushaar remembered that study from last week showing that nine percent of people who voted for Trump in 2016 are planning to switch to Biden this fall, mainly because they lean progressive on economics. But they lean towards conservative positions on cultural issues — and if cultural wars overtake economic policy as key concerns this fall (which is unlikely with the unemployment rate being what it is), that’s trouble potentially for Democrats. You would think Biden would want to hedge against that with at least a perfunctory denunciation of rioting but he’s apparently too worried about his woke flank, as usual.

Maybe having Bottoms as his VP would help solve the problem? She’s being considered, although I find it hard to believe Dems would ask voters to roll the dice on a mayor as potential commander-in-chief by putting her on the ticket with the oldest nominee in U.S. history. Having said that, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Bottoms’s chances are now better than former shortlister Amy Klobuchar’s. The last thing Joe “Crime Bill” Biden needs as his running mate is a former prosecutor from Minnesota who declined to prosecute cops following police shootings. His allies are nudging him about it too…

…although it doesn’t sound like they need much nudging:

“Vertiginous,” a campaign adviser said in a one-word text, describing Klobuchar’s fall in the rankings of potential running mates…

The three-term senator’s drop has been so swift that a planned Minnesota digital event with Dr. Jill Biden and coronavirus first-responders scheduled for Friday was pulled, according to a source familiar with the campaign’s deliberations, “partly because we need to avoid her.”…

Rashad Robinson, executive director for the civil rights advocacy group Color of Change, has been critical of Klobuchar’s record when she was running. He didn’t say Klobuchar should not be considered as a nominee but told The Daily Beast her explanations this week of her record prosecuting police brutality cases have been “far too cute” and “have seemed to avoid responsibility at a time when we know DAs were not doing their jobs.”

One point about Bottoms’s speech. She spends lots of time chiding rioters about betraying their city and its history: Atlanta has black leaders, black cops, and black-owned businesses, she says, and it prides itself on the nonviolent legacy of one of its most famous residents, Martin Luther King. You’re undermining that legacy and hurting innocent people by resorting to mayhem, she tells them. Stirring words — but what if the rioters weren’t actually from Atlanta? What if they were miscreants from out of town (Antifa, maybe?) intent on having a destructive lark because political circumstances have momentarily made that possible? Watch the mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota tell reporters this morning that every last person who was arrested last night in the city for getting aggressive at protests was from out of town. Hmmmm.

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George Floyd Protests: Live Updates and Video

Demonstrators returned to the nation’s streets in sweeping fashion on Saturday, amassing outside City Hall in San Francisco, shutting down highway traffic in Miami and attempting to topple a statue in Philadelphia, in a showing of national anger and sorrow over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died Monday in the custody of the Minneapolis police.

But officials feared that the most dangerous standoffs were yet to come in Minneapolis on Saturday night, where officials were bracing for a fifth night of unrest.

The demonstrations have spread to at least three dozen cities across the country in the days since Mr. Floyd, 46, died after being pinned down by a Minneapolis police officer who held his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while Mr. Floyd pleaded, “I can’t breathe.” The protests continued to surge after the former officer, Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with third-degree murder on Friday, reflecting long-simmering anger over racism and police brutality that extend far beyond a single case.

“I’m fed up,” Jarrell Slade, a 26-year-old school counselor, said at a protest in Washington, where hundreds gathered outside the Justice Department and marched down the National Mall on Saturday afternoon. “I’m tired of going on social media, talking to my friends and family, and having everything be centered on black death.”

President Trump on Saturday urged officials in Minnesota to “get tougher” on the protesters and offered greater military support, a move that would represent a significant escalation in the government’s response to the tensions. Gov. Tim Walz declined the Army’s offer to deploy military police units, but said he had activated all 13,000 of the state’s National Guard troops and warned that Saturday night’s protest could be the largest and most destructive yet.

The massive crowds represented a sudden departure for cities that had previously been under lockdown orders amid the coronavirus pandemic, and officials quickly found themselves shifting from one crisis to another. In Louisville, Ky., where protests have centered on the death of Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was shot dead by white police officers who entered her home in March, Mayor Greg Fischer imposed a curfew and called in the National Guard. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric M. Garcetti also issued a curfew, a day after the police made more than 500 arrests.

In New York City, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets for a third day, gathering at marches in Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens and outside Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan. In the late afternoon, protesters in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn confronted the police in a series of street melees, hurling empty bottles and pieces of debris at officers who responded with billy clubs and pepper spray.

Many of the hundreds marching through Center City in Philadelphia on Saturday were doing so peacefully, with fists raised and signs held aloft in anger over Mr. Floyd’s death. But there were reports of destruction as the afternoon wore on.

At least one police car caught on fire, and a large group of protesters had spray-painted a statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo and were trying to topple it. Mr. Rizzo, a former police commissioner who died in 1991, cultivated a law-and-order image that included raiding gay clubs and once forcing Black Panthers to strip naked in the street. He remains a figure loathed by many for his harsh tactics. The current mayor, Jim Kenney, had announced plans to move the statue to a new location.

In Tallahassee, Fla., the driver of a red pickup truck struck a crowd of protesters, in a fleeting but terrifying episode that officials said did not end in serious injury. The protest there came days after the Tallahassee police fatally shot Tony McDade, a black transgender person whom the police had identified as a suspect in a stabbing.

In Minneapolis, about 300 to 400 protesters gathered outside the home of the Hennepin County Attorney, Mike Freeman, holding signs and listening to speakers, including the mothers of children killed by the police, according to a neighbor, Clare Padgett. It was the fourth day of protests outside the home of the prosecutor, who charged the police officer who pinned Mr. Floyd but has not pressed charges against other officers who were on the scene.

Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota activated thousands of additional National Guard troops to send to Minneapolis but declined the Army’s offer to deploy military police units, as days of protests over the death of Mr. Floyd threatened to boil over even further on Saturday.

Mr. Walz, a Democrat, acknowledged that officials had underestimated the demonstrations in Minneapolis, where despite a newly issued curfew, people burned buildings and turned the city’s streets into a smoldering battleground on Friday night. He compared the havoc to wars that Americans have fought overseas, and said he expected even more unrest on Saturday night.

“What you’ve seen in previous nights, I think, will be dwarfed by what they will do tonight,” he said.

Pentagon officials said that Defense Secretary Mark Esper and General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke Friday with Mr. Walz, to express “willingness” to deploy military police units. The governor declined the offer, the officials said, and has since activated all of the state’s National Guard troops, up to 13,200.

Nonetheless, the U.S. Northern Command has put several military police units on four-hour status, which means they could be ready to deploy in four hours, as opposed to a day.

Commissioner John Harrington of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said that there had been “tens of thousands” of people in the streets on Friday, more than any other night since Mr. Floyd’s death on Monday set off a wave of protests that have become increasingly destructive across the country.

Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis, looking weary after four days of outrage in his city, pleaded with residents to go home and stop burning down the local businesses that he said were even more vital in the middle of a pandemic.

“You’re not getting back at the police officer that tragically killed George Floyd by looting a town,” Mr. Frey said. “You’re not getting back at anybody.”

President Trump on Saturday blamed the unrest in cities across the country on “Antifa and other radical left-wing groups,” drawing a distinction between “peaceful protesters” and other, more violent demonstrators.

“I understand the pain that people are feeling,” Mr. Trump said, speaking from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after observing the launch of a manned SpaceX rocket. “We support the right of peaceful protesters, and we hear their pleas. But what we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or with peace. The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters and anarchists.”

While he called George Floyd’s death “a grave tragedy,” Mr. Trump also said that residents affected by violent protests were the “main victims of this horrible, horrible situation.”

Speaking on the South Lawn of the White House earlier in the day, Mr. Trump criticized the authorities in Minnesota for allowing protests to turn violent, and offered the help of the military to contain further demonstrations.

“They have to get tougher, and by being tougher they will be honoring his memory,” the president said, adding: “When I saw the policemen running out of a police station for that police station to be abandoned and taken over, I’ve never seen anything so horrible and stupid in my life.”

His comments, paired with a series of tweets on Saturday, threatened to inflame an already tense situation that has played out in protests across the country and in front of the White House.

In one tweet, he called demonstrators who gathered at the White House on Friday night “professionally managed so-called ‘protesters’” and suggested that his supporters would march outside the White House on Saturday.

“Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???” he tweeted.

Asked later whether the tweet might have invited more violence, Mr. Trump demurred. “These are people that love our country,” he said of his supporters. “I have no idea if they were going to be here, I was just asking.”

“By the way,” he added, “they love African-American people, they love black people.”

Attorney General William P. Barr, who has vowed a swift federal investigation into Mr. Floyd’s death, also weighed in on Saturday, issuing a stern warning to left-wing “agitators” who he said were exploiting the protests to pursue their own goals.

Mr. Barr, at a brief news conference, warned that protesters who cross state lines to “incite or participate in violent rioting” may be violating federal laws and that the Justice Department would pursue cases against them.

The United States attorney in Minnesota is investigating the actions of the police officer who pinned Mr. Floyd to the ground for possible violations of civil rights laws or other federal crimes.

After hundreds of demonstrators poured into the streets of Atlanta on Friday night, smashing windows, vandalizing a large CNN sign and clashing with police officers, a more muted crowd arrived at the scene on Saturday — some out of curiosity, and some to continue protesting.

Bianca Billups, 31, stood holding a sign for the cars passing by to see: “White Supremacy Did This.” She had been there for hours, she said, and she had also been at the protests on Friday evening.

“They think people are out here causing havoc because they can,” she said. “People drive by here and they’ll see this and think, ‘Those people are so reckless.’ No, those people are scared and they’re in survivor mode. They’re done. They’re fed up.”

Ty Harris, 41, walked up with a hat and scarf covering his face; both said, “Make America United For Once.” “I think this is the spark that’s going to change life as we know,” he said.

On the edge of Centennial Olympic Park, a series of people came up to speak into a shared microphone. “They want you to fear,” said one man who added that he had been stopped by the police some 20 times because, he said, he looked “suspicious.”

Some of the buildings near the CNN Center, the epicenter of the Friday protests, had smashed windows and were protected by fencing.

Joscie Beachum, a 27-year-old Atlanta resident looking at the damaged CNN Center, said, “I just don’t know what good this did.”

“I felt sad they felt the need to tear apart a historic place in Atlanta, but I also think we’re better than that,” she added. But, she said, “They felt this was the only way they could get their point across, and that’s sad.”

In her typical appearances on Fox News, Jeanine Pirro, a former Republican district attorney, reserves her highest dudgeon for castigating liberals and lamenting the demise of law and order.

But on Friday’s “Fox & Friends,” Ms. Pirro’s voice nearly broke as she described the agonizing final moments of George Floyd, the black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer ignored his pleas and pinned him to the ground during a routine stop.

“George Floyd was begging, saying he couldn’t breathe, saying please, please,” Ms. Pirro told viewers. “This man who put his knee on the neck of George Floyd does not deserve to be free in this country.”

Even right-wing stars like Rush Limbaugh hedged their assessments early on, as the officer’s lethal force drew more condemnation in some corners of the right than the ensuing riots and the burning of a police precinct. “I can’t find a way to justify it,’’ Mr. Limbaugh said of the officer’s actions.

The chilling circumstances of Mr. Floyd’s death — particularly the graphic, indisputable video of his arrest — have, at least for now, posed a political quandary among some conservative politicians, media stars and President Trump, whose usual instinct is to focus on blaming liberals for promoting lawlessness.

The ongoing protests in Minneapolis and around the country may still alter conservative views. On Fox News on Friday night, Tucker Carlson began his show with a graphic calling the Minnesota protesters “Criminal Mobs,” and wondered aloud why Republicans were not reacting more intensely against the violence in Minneapolis. Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham condemned the demonstrators for, in Mr. Hannity’s words, “exploiting” Mr. Floyd’s death.

The intensifying protests came after the authorities announced that the officer who pinned George Floyd to the ground had been arrested and charged with murder on Friday, a development that activists and Mr. Floyd’s family had called for but also said did not go far enough.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, charges that come with a combined maximum sentence of 35 years.

An investigation into the three other officers who were present at the scene remains ongoing.

Mr. Floyd’s relatives have said that had wanted the more serious charge of first-degree murder.

Third-degree murder does not require an intent to kill, according to the Minnesota statute, only that the perpetrator caused someone’s death in a dangerous act “without regard for human life.” Charges of first- and second-degree murder require prosecutors to prove, in almost all cases, that the perpetrator made a decision to kill the victim.

A lawyer for Mr. Chauvin’s wife, Kellie, said that she was devastated by Mr. Floyd’s death and expressed sympathy for his family and those grieving his loss. The case has also led Ms. Chauvin to seek a divorce, the lawyer, Amanda Mason-Sekula, said in an interview on Friday night.

In the year before George Floyd and the police officer now charged with his death, Derek Chauvin, encountered each other on a Minneapolis street, they had worked at the same Latin nightclub. But it was the minutes leading up to Mr. Floyd’s death, as he was pinned on the ground, that the authorities are racing to understand.

In a move that has since prompted protests in cities across the country, Mr. Chauvin pinned Mr. Floyd behind a police vehicle outside the store. For eight minutes and 46 seconds, according to a criminal complaint filed on Friday by the Hennepin County attorney, the police officer pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck in silence, staring toward the ground as his captive gasped repeatedly that he could not breathe.

Bystanders waved their cellphones, cursed and pleaded for help, and still, for two minutes and 53 seconds after Mr. Floyd had stopped protesting and became unresponsive, the officer continued to kneel.

The fatal encounter began just before 8 p.m. on Monday, when Mr. Floyd entered Cup Foods and a store clerk claimed that he had paid for cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. In the minutes that followed, Mr. Floyd found himself on the ground, beneath the officer’s knee. He called, records say, for his mother. He said, “Please.”

One of the officers dismissed his pleas that he could not breathe.

“You are talking fine,” one officer said, according to the charging documents.

At least one officer was worried: That officer asked if they should roll Mr. Floyd over on his side.

“No, staying put where we got him,” Mr. Chauvin replied.

At 8:24 p.m., Mr. Floyd stopped moving.

Reporting was contributed by Tim Arango, Mike Baker, Peter Baker, Julian E. Barnes, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Audra D.S. Burch, Helene Cooper, Manny Fernandez, Thomas Fuller, Matt Furber, Michael M. Grynbaum, Maggie Haberman, Shawn Hubler, Annie Karni, Michael Levenson, Neil MacFarquhar, Patricia Mazzei, Shawn McCreesh, Sarah Mervosh, Jeremy W. Peters, Frances Robles and Rick Rojas.

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Minnesota officials say most people who acted violently at protests are not state residents

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said Saturday that he believed a majority of the people causing destruction during protests over the death of George Floyd in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul came from out of state. According to Walz, officials believe that about 80% of these people are from outside the state. 

“Our best estimate right now that I heard is about 20%, is what we think are Minnesotans, and about 80% are outside,” Walz said at a press conference Saturday. His estimate was echoed by mayors for both cities. 

Protests in Minneapolis continued Saturday for the fifth day over the death of Floyd, who was captured on video pleading for air as a police officer kneeled on his neck while he was handcuffed. Four officers have been fired and one, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Protests have erupted in cities nationwide, with some turning violent. 

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said that every person arrested in his city Friday night was from “out of state.” And, after describing the destruction of businesses and community property in his city, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said: “The people that are doing this are not Minneapolis residents.” 

“They are coming in largely from outside the city, from outside the region, to prey on everything that we have built for the last several decades,” he said.

Walz used words like “domestic terrorism” and “ideological extremists” to describe what they believe are outsiders working to destabilize the community in the wake of tragedy. John Harrington, Commissioner of Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety, said his office is working to identify these people and understand their motivations. 

“We have seen things like white supremacist organizers who have posted things on platforms about coming to Minnesota,” Harrington said. “We are checking to see if the folks that we have made arrests on… are they connected to those platforms?”

In a statement at the Department of Justice on Saturday, Attorney General William Barr said “the voices of peaceful protests are being hijacked by violent radical elements,” adding that the violence appears to be “planned, organized and driven by anarchic and left extremist groups — far-left extremist groups — using antifa-like tactics.”

“Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate and violent agenda,” he said. 

Barr also said many people have traveled from outside the state “to promote the violence.” He ended his statement by reiterating that crossing state lines to incite violence is a federal crime. 

Harrington said his office is in the process of building intelligence to “link these folks together, figure out the organizations that created this, and understand how we can go after them legally.”

“We’re going to start releasing who some of these people are,” Walz said. “And then be able to start tracing that history of where they’re at, and what they’re doing on the dark web and how they’re organizing.”

Both Walz and Carter stressed that the anger stemming from Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police is warranted, and shared by them. Carter said the murder, and the violence that followed, has created “one of the most heartbreaking weeks” in Minnesotan and American history.   

“Unfortunately, there also those among us who would seek to use this moment — who would seek to use his death as an excuse, as a cover, to agitate for the destruction of those same communities that have been most traumatized by George Floyd’s death,” Carter said. “As our black-owned barbershops, as our immigrant-owned restaurants, as our local generational family-owned businesses are damaged and destroyed night after night. This must stop.”

Walz said that “with a sensitivity to the legitimate rage and anger that came after what the world witnessed in the murder of George Floyd, and was manifested in a very healthy gathering of community to memorialize that on Tuesday night, was still present to a certain degree on Wednesday, by Thursday it was nearly gone and last night is a mockery of pretending this is about George Floyd’s death, or inequities, or historical traumas to our communities of color.”

He said the people vandalizing the city are not concerned with addressing the inequities that led to Floyd’s death. 

“Nothing we do to address those inequities, nothing we do to provide justice to George Floyd and his family… none of those things matter to any of these people who are out there firing upon national guard, burning businesses of our communities, and making intent on disrupting any semblance of civil life,” he said.

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Eight lessons for the rest of the continent

Left: Doctor in a mask in South Africa. Top right: Someone drinking a cup of tea in South Africa. Bottom right: Two women walking in South Africa

South Africa leads this continent in many ways. Right now, it is poised to lead Africa into the next, most dangerous phase of the pandemic, as the country braces itself for a dramatic rise in infections that will almost certainly overwhelm its relatively well-resourced healthcare system.

Here are eight things it can teach the rest of Africa:

1) Keep the tea rooms clean

No, it is not a joke. Governments, and medical teams, still need to focus a lot more on hygiene.

The most dangerous place in a clinic is considered the tea room
The most dangerous place in a clinic is considered the tea room

Instead of wasting time and money – as many experts now see it – on acquiring expensive but relatively ineffective ventilators, the evidence from South African hospitals already grappling with the virus points to the need for vastly improved hygiene protocols.

Several major hospitals have already been forced to shut after becoming hot spots for the virus.

Doctors are warning that medical staff continue to congregate in tea rooms, removing their masks, passing mobile phones to each other, and undermining all the work they do on the wards.

“The most dangerous place in a clinic is undoubtedly the tea room. We’re trying to get that message out,” said Doctor Tom Boyles, an infectious disease specialist in Johannesburg.

2) Fast tests – or no tests

After a promising start, South Africa is now struggling, woefully, with its testing.

It has built up a huge backlog – “tens of thousands” according to several sources – at its laboratories, which is now undermining the validity of the entire testing process.

It is taking 14 days to get the results of Covid-19 tests
It is taking 14 days to get the results of Covid-19 tests

“How do we prioritise limited resources?” asked Prof Shabir Madhi, a prominent vaccine expert, who said South Africa’s likely testing limit – because of financial and logistical constraints – would stay at about 20,000 per day.

An impressive number, perhaps, but of no real use, doctors insist, unless the results of those tests can reliably be produced within, ideally, 24 hours.

Much longer than that and an infected person will either have spread the virus to too many others to trace properly, or they will already be in hospital, or they will have passed the point of serious risk for infecting others.

“Currently the turnaround time for Covid tests is around 14 days in most places, so that basically means it’s a complete waste of time,” said Dr Boyles.

The same concerns apply to South Africa’s much-hailed community screening and testing programme which, experts say, has outlived its usefulness, since the virus has now spread far beyond the capacity of the country’s large team of community health workers to track with any effectiveness.

Banner image reading 'more about coronavirus'
Banner image reading ‘more about coronavirus’
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“The timeline renders it meaningless and compromises the care that should be occurring in hospitals,” according to Prof Madhi, who said it was vital that the testing system be aimed, as efficiently as possible, at hospitals, medical staff and those at most risk.

But there are signs of a political battle delaying these changes, with officials reportedly resisting calls for older tests to be simply thrown away.

3) It is not old age, it is obesity

Much has been made of the fact that Africa has an unusually young population, and, indeed, that may yet help to mitigate the impact of the virus here.

But the evidence from several South African hospitals already suggests that alarmingly high levels of obesity – along with hypertension and diabetes – in younger Covid-19 patients are linked to many fatalities.

More than half of all South Africans are now considered medically overweight
More than half of all South Africans are now considered medically overweight

It is believed that as many South Africans suffer from hypertension and diabetes as from HIV – some seven million people. That is one in eight of the population. Some of them are undiagnosed.

Two-thirds of coronavirus deaths in South Africa so far are among people aged under 65, according to Prof Madhi.

“Obesity is a big issue, along with hypertension and diabetes,” he said.

Although demographic differences make it hard to make direct comparisons between countries, over half of younger South Africans who are dying from Covid-19 have some other illness – roughly twice the rate seen in Europe.

4) Exposure isn’t always exposure

A busy anti-natal clinic in Johannesburg recently closed down following reports that one member of staff had been exposed to a coronavirus patient. Twelve nurses were sent home and told to self-isolate.

Experts say the fear factor about coronavirus needs to be addressed
Experts say the fear factor about coronavirus needs to be addressed

The move has been quietly condemned by many doctors who see it as evidence of a wider climate of unnecessary fear and over-caution among medical staff which is in danger of crippling the country’s health system and undermining its fight against the virus.

“There needs to be clear guidance on what sort exposure is significant. We have not adequately demystified this virus,” said Prof Madhi, who stressed that a person needed to spend 15 minutes or more in close proximity to a confirmed case to be considered at serious risk of infection.

Unions have been understandably robust in seeking to protect their members and to raise concerns where personal protection equipment (PPE) has been lacking.

"The investment in ventilators was a huge waste"", Source: Prof Shabir Madhi, Source description: Vaccine expert, Image: Shabir Madhi
“The investment in ventilators was a huge waste””, Source: Prof Shabir Madhi, Source description: Vaccine expert, Image: Shabir Madhi

But several medical workers told me that tougher discipline was needed to enforce hygiene protocols among staff – along with better education and training about managing risk.

“Fear is the predominant factor. Morale is definitely low,” said one hospital doctor, on condition of anonymity.

“But you also find people who are looking to get quarantined, who are very happy to take a two-week paid holiday” in self-isolation.

5) The devil is in the detail

This week South Africa announced that religious groups could resume worship in gatherings of no more than 50 people.

The move was clearly a political concession by a government under pressure to ease lockdown restrictions and that understands that to retain public trust over the longer-term it must show signs of give and take.

During the lockdown churches have been empty and services have gone online
During the lockdown churches have been empty and services have gone online

But the decision carries significant risks. Religious gatherings – often attracting older people – are known globally to be hot spots for spreading the virus. By choosing to ignore that fact, the government may be undercutting its own messaging.

“It undermines any pretence that the regulations are rules are science-based,” said political scientist and commentator Richard Calland.

One option for the government might have been to bar anyone over 65 from attending a religious service. Instead it has told religious leaders to implement strict social-distancing and hygiene policies in their churches and mosques.

Will they comply?

All non-authoritarian governments eventually have to rely on the public’s willingness to obey, not just the broad spirit of any regulations, but – as the tea room troubles indicate – the granular detail of clean prayer mats, no-contact services and no more than one person for every 2.5 sq m (about 26 sq ft) of church hall.

6) Winning the peace

South Africa’s official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has been struggling to make itself heard during the lockdown.

A crisis of this magnitude inevitably pushes opposition parties to the sidelines and, one could argue, they would do well to stay there.

Coronavirus in Africa:

When the DA has sought to attract attention to itself, it has shown signs of flip-flopping on policy.

“They should be playing a much longer game, looking to win the peace, not the war,” said Mr Calland, citing the example of Clement Atlee, who swept to power in the UK, defeating Winston Churchill in the immediate aftermath of World War Two.

President Ramaphosa's political rivals will seek to blame him for the inevitable rise in infections
President Ramaphosa’s political rivals will seek to blame him for the inevitable rise in infections

The much smaller, populist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has already indicated how it plans to win political capital from the crisis, by opposing any easing of the lockdown (its racialised antipathy to foreign investment and to big business freeing it from serious concern about the economic impact).

It will presumably seek to blame President Cyril Ramaphosa for the inevitable rise in infections and deaths.

Mr Ramaphosa’s own enemies within the governing African National Congress (ANC) – currently silenced – may well make common cause with the EFF on that issue.

The blame game will be a brutal one across the continent. Will the power of incumbency – such an important factor in African politics and beyond – prove to be a strength or a weakness with Covid-19?

7) Bring the public with you

When South Africa banned the sale of alcohol during the lockdown, many people accepted it as a harsh, but perhaps necessary step to limit domestic abuse, prevent violence, and thus keep hospital beds free for coronavirus patients.

"The ban is playing into the hands of powerful criminal syndicates controlling contraband cigarettes, and is costing the government a fortune in lost tax revenues"", Source: Andrew Harding, Source description: BBC News Africa correspondent, Image: Someone breaking a cigarette in half
“The ban is playing into the hands of powerful criminal syndicates controlling contraband cigarettes, and is costing the government a fortune in lost tax revenues””, Source: Andrew Harding, Source description: BBC News Africa correspondent, Image: Someone breaking a cigarette in half

But over time, frustration – with the ban, and with the brutal and haphazard enforcement of it – has grown and the clampdown is now set to be partly lifted. So far so good.

But in tandem with the alcohol ban, South Africa put a stop to all cigarettes sales too. And that will remain in force indefinitely.

The government insists its decision is based on scientific evidence, but few people seem to believe that is what is really guiding ministers. Instead many suspect that officials are using the lockdown as cover to introduce their own pet projects.

The ban is playing into the hands of powerful criminal syndicates controlling contraband cigarettes, and is costing the government a fortune in lost tax revenues.

But perhaps more importantly, it is undermining the credibility of the lockdown regulations themselves – making compliance, as the country moves to ease some restrictions on movement, less likely.

8) Keeping it simple

For weeks, it seemed, everyone was talking about finding and building ventilators. But the experience of frontline doctors in Cape Town has already shown that simpler, cheaper and less-intrusive devices can play a far more important role.

Countries need to plan according to their limited resources.

With Covid-19 breathing can become difficult and the lungs get inflamed
With Covid-19 breathing can become difficult and the lungs get inflamed

“The investment in ventilators was a huge waste,” said Prof Madhi, who, like colleagues in Cape Town, stressed the importance of high-flow nasal oxygen machines that work more efficiently than more traditional oxygen masks.

He said he had been “raising the alarm” about the need to improve South Africa’s supply of oxygen “for about six weeks”.

Hospitals in Cape Town are also following the international example of “proning” – lying patients face down in order to improve oxygen supply to their lungs.

The principal of looking for simpler solutions applies to staffing too, with many doctors urging the health authorities to focus on bringing final-year medical students, and perhaps retired staff, into an overstretched system, rather than importing expensive foreign doctors from places like Cuba.

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U.S. protests over Minneapolis death rage on amid political finger-pointing

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – The full Minnesota National Guard was activated for the first time since World War Two after four nights of civil unrest that has spread to other U.S. cities following the death of a black man shown on video gasping for breath as a white Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said the deployment was necessary because outside agitators were using protests over the death of George Floyd to sow chaos, and that he expected Saturday night’s demonstrations to be the fiercest so far.

From Minneapolis to several other major cities including New York, Atlanta and Washington, protesters clashed with police late on Friday in a rising tide of anger over the treatment of minorities by law enforcement.

“We are under assault,” Walz, a first-term governor elected from Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, told a briefing on Saturday. “Order needs to be restored. … We will use our full strength of goodness and righteousness to make sure this ends.”

He said he believed a “tightly controlled” group of outsiders, including white supremacists and drug cartel members, were instigating some of the violence in Minnesota’s largest city, but he did not give specific evidence of this when asked by reporters.

As many as 80% of those arrested were from outside the state, Walz said. But detention records show just eight non-Minnesota residents have been booked into the Hennepin County Jail since Tuesday, and it was unclear whether all of them were arrested in connection with the Minneapolis unrest.

The Republican Trump administration suggested civil disturbances were being orchestrated from the political left.

“In many places, it appears the violence is planned, organized and driven by anarchic and left extremist groups – far-left extremist groups – using antifa-like tactics, many of whom travel from outside the state to promote violence,” U.S. Attorney William Barr said in a statement.

In an extraordinary move, the Pentagon said it put military units on a four-hour alert to be ready if requested by Walz to help keep the peace.

Defying a curfew imposed by the city’s mayor, protesters took to Minneapolis streets for a fourth night on Friday – albeit in smaller numbers than before – despite the announcement hours earlier of criminal charges filed against Derek Chauvin, the policeman seen in video footage kneeling on Floyd’s neck on Monday.

Chauvin was arrested on third-degree murder and manslaughter charges, and faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Three other officers fired from the police department with Chauvin on Tuesday are also under criminal investigation in the case, prosecutors said.

The graphic video of Floyd’s arrest – captured by an onlooker’s cellphone as he repeatedly groaned, “please, I can’t breathe” before becoming motionless – triggered an outpouring of rage that civil rights activists said has long simmered in Minneapolis and cities across the country over persistent racial bias in the U.S. criminal justice system.

‘PAINS ME SO MUCH’

As peaceful protests took place on Saturday in several major cities, including Philadelhia, Miami and Newark, New Jersey, the mood was somber in the Minneapolis neighborhood of Lyndale where dozens of people surveyed damage while sweeping up broken glass and debris from the night before.

“It pains me so much,” said Luke Kallstrom, 27, a financial analyst, standing in the threshold of a post office that had been burned to the ground. “This does not honor the man who was wrongfully taken away from us.”

Police officers scuffle with a protester at barricades during a rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Times Square in Manhattan, New York, U.S., May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

As he spoke, several military vehicles rolled by, loaded with soldiers.

Some of Friday’s most chaotic scenes were in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, where police armed with batons and pepper spray made more than 200 arrests in sometimes violent clashes. Several officers were injured, police said.

In Washington, police and Secret Service agents deployed in force around the White House before dozens of demonstrators gathered across the street in Lafayette Square.

President Donald Trump said on Saturday that he had watched the whole thing, and, if the demonstrators had breached the fence, “they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen.”

Writing on Twitter, he also appeared to call his supporters to rally outside the executive mansion on Saturday evening.

CHAOS IN ATLANTA

In Atlanta, Bernice King, the youngest daughter of slain civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., urged people to go home on Friday night after more than 1,000 protesters marched to the state capitol and blocked traffic on an interstate highway.

The demonstration turned violent at points. Fires burned near the CNN Center, the network’s headquarters, and windows were smashed at its lobby. Several vehicles were torched, including at least one police car.

Rapper Killer Mike, in an impassioned speech flanked by the city’s mayor and police chief, also implored angry residents to stay indoors and to mobilize to win at the ballot box.

Slideshow (26 Images)

“Make sure you exercise your political bully power,” he said. “But it is not time to burn down your own home.”

Protesters also took to the streets in other cities including Denver, Houston, Oakland and Louisville, Kentucky.

Authorities in Minneapolis had hoped Chauvin’s arrest would allay public anger. Late on Friday, officers opened fire with tear gas, plastic bullets and concussion grenades to disperse protesters. Still, Friday night’s demonstrations were far smaller and less unruly than the night before, when some two dozen buildings were set ablaze and looting was widespread.

Floyd, a Houston native who had worked security for a nightclub, was arrested on suspicion of trying to pass counterfeit money at a store to buy cigarettes on Monday evening. Police said he was unarmed. An employee who called for help had told a police dispatcher that the suspect appeared to be intoxicated.

Reporting Brendan O’Brien and Carlos Barria in Minneapolis; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis

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Jason Chaffetz: Justice for George Floyd – zero tolerance for rogue cops and lawlessness

Equal application of the law, justice, is what we all need to calm the country.

“The greatness of our nation comes from our commitment to the rule of law,” said Attorney General William Barr, and he is correct. Without justice, everyone in our country is at risk.

Everyone I spoke with, on all sides of the political spectrum, was sickened, disgusted, saddened, frightened and mad about the apparent excessive force by a Minneapolis police officer evidently carrying out his own justice on George Floyd, who was handcuffed and pinned to the ground for nearly nine minutes. He died. It should not have happened.

KAY COLES JAMES: GEORGE FLOYD’S SENSELESS KILLING – END RACISM THAT AFFLICTS AMERICA’S SOUL LIKE A CANCER

Unfortunately, there are a small number of people who seek chaos in the United States. They take advantage of tragedy and try to compound it with violence, fear and rioting. Barr said, “Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate and violent agenda.”

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Barr added, “In many places, it appears the violence is planned, organized and driven by anarchistic and far-left extremists, using Antifa-like tactics, many of whom travel from out of state to promote the violence.”

While there must be swift justice for the death of George Floyd, there can be no acceptance of lawlessness.

After four nights of violence and rioting in his city, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey boldly stated, “This is no longer about protesting….This is about violence, and it has to stop.”

Perceptive, but unfortunately four nights too late.

We should not tolerate rogue cops nor should we tolerate “protesters” who go too far by stoking violence and breaking the law.

The mayor and the governor, both Democrats, have been far too slow to address the problem before it erupted, and once it was spiraling out of control, law enforcement was nonexistent. Friday night they issued a curfew but refused to enforce it, adding to the chaos and ceding deference to looters and rioters. That should not be acceptable in America.

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We should not tolerate rogue cops nor should we tolerate “protesters” who go too far by stoking violence and breaking the law.

Ultimately the long-term solutions for peace, prosperity and united communities will be found in families, neighborhoods, churches, safe schools, good jobs and a justice system that is fair. They will be found in communities where Lady Justice wears a blindfold and equally administers the law, no matter who you are, where you came from or who you know.

Until that confidence is restored, no community deserves to be overrun with looting and fear.  Order must be restored as the wheels of justice turn.

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Barr said, “We must have law and order on our streets and in our communities, and it is the responsibility of the local and state leadership, in the first instance, to halt this violence. The Department of Justice (including the FBI, Marshals, ATF, and DEA), and all of our 93 U.S. Attorneys across the country, will support these local efforts and take all action necessary to enforce federal law.”

The good news is solutions will best be found in our local communities, where an individual’s voice can have the most impact. If we wait for Congress to solve these issues, it most likely will never happen. These problems can be expeditiously addressed by prioritizing justice and rejecting fear and violence.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE BY JASON CHAFFETZ

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Most vulnerable in England can spend time outdoors from Monday

FILE PHOTO: An elderly woman with a dog is seen near the beach at Barton on Sea, Hampshire as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Barton on Sea, Britain, April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Paul Childs

LONDON (Reuters) – The more than 2 million people who have been “shielding” from COVID-19 in England because they are deemed to be clinically extremely vulnerable will be allowed to spend time outdoors from Monday for the first time in 10 weeks.

The government said on Saturday that the 2.2 million will be able to go outside with members of their household, while continuing to follow social distancing guidelines. Those who live alone can meet outside with one other person from another household.

“I do not underestimate just how difficult it has been for you, staying at home for the last 10 weeks, and I want to pay tribute to your resilience,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.

Those shielding remain at risk however and the government said they should only leave the house once a day, not go to work or the shops and should avoid crowded places where they cannot social distance.

Support provided to those with serious medical complications, such as the delivery of food, medicines and phone calls, will continue.

Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Christina Fincher

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What Top Conservatives Are Saying About George Floyd and Police Brutality

In her typical appearances on Fox News, Jeanine Pirro, a former Republican district attorney, reserves her highest dudgeon for castigating liberals and lamenting the demise of law and order.

But on Friday’s “Fox & Friends,” Ms. Pirro’s voice nearly broke as she described the agonizing final moments of George Floyd, the black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer ignored his pleas and pinned him to the ground during a routine stop.

“George Floyd was begging, saying he couldn’t breathe, saying please, please,” Ms. Pirro told viewers. “This man who put his knee on the neck of George Floyd does not deserve to be free in this country.”

Even right-wing stars like Rush Limbaugh hedged their assessments early on, as the officer’s lethal force drew more condemnation in some corners of the right than the ensuing riots and the burning of a police precinct. “I can’t find a way to justify it,’’ Mr. Limbaugh said of the officer’s actions.

The chilling circumstances of Mr. Floyd’s death — particularly the graphic, indisputable video of his arrest — have, at least for now, posed a political quandary among some conservative politicians, media stars and President Trump, whose usual instinct is to focus on blaming liberals for promoting lawlessness.

The ongoing protests in Minneapolis and around the country may still alter conservative views. On Fox News on Friday night, Tucker Carlson began his show with a graphic calling the Minnesota protesters “Criminal Mobs,” and wondered aloud why Republicans were not reacting more intensely against the violence in Minneapolis. Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham condemned the demonstrators for, in Mr. Hannity’s words, “exploiting” Mr. Floyd’s death.

The law enforcement community is one of Mr. Trump’s most loyal constituencies, and he and his allies are in uncharted territory as they weigh expressions of solidarity with the nation’s police forces against grappling with the horror of Mr. Floyd’s death.

Initially, Mr. Trump issued a brutal law-and-order message early Friday morning, tweeting, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” His implication that protesters should be shot by law enforcement drew enormous blowback from Democratic leaders and other critics; some 14 hours later, he said his tweet had been misinterpreted, and later talked about the “good people” who were demonstrating in Mr. Floyd’s honor.

“They were protesting for the right reasons,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday evening, in relatively subdued remarks for a president best-known for bluster and vitriol. “They were protesting in honor of a man, George Floyd, where something happened that shouldn’t have happened.”

Aides to Mr. Trump said on Friday they saw little advantage in further inflaming a situation that had already turned violent across several cities. They were mindful, too, of avoiding any further alienation of African-American voters, ahead of an election where even marginal shifts in support could help him eke out a victory in November.

By Saturday morning, however, Mr. Trump had shifted tone again, writing in a tweet that any “protesters” — he put the word in quotes — who behaved out of line at the White House would face a “hard” response by Secret Service and “the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen.”

Casting itself as the upholder of law-and-order has been a perennial Republican Party strategy in times of racial disharmony and social unrest, from the 1967 riots in Detroit and Newark to Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

But the stark footage of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of Mr. Floyd as he pleaded and moaned “I can’t breathe” produced an unusual moment when those on either side of the nation’s split-screen politics were, publicly at least, evincing a common cause.

The moment may be fleeting.

In an appearance on Fox News on Friday evening, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas faced tough questions from Mr. Carlson — one of Mr. Trump’s favorite anchors — about why the senator was quick to denounce Mr. Floyd’s death as “a horrific act of police brutality.”

“In this instance, we have a video of the incident,” Mr. Cruz said. “What we saw was wrong.”

Mr. Carlson pushed back, asking Mr. Cruz if he believed it was fair to bring a murder charge against the officer who arrested Mr. Floyd.

“Why doesn’t anybody stand up for the rest of us, for civilization?” Mr. Carlson asked.

The exchange, between two pillars of the conservative establishment, threw into relief the tensions that had played out on cable TV and talk-radio this week.

On his syndicated radio show on Thursday, Mr. Limbaugh expressed dismay at the actions of the police. “Look, you people in law enforcement know I’m at the top of the list of people who support you and understand how hard your jobs are,” he told listeners. “I still — given all of that, do not … I cannot find a way to explain that. I can’t find a way to justify it. I don’t care what the guy did.”

But Mr. Limbaugh also mocked the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, who had made a tearful plea for unity.

“This is a blue state where this happened; this is a state run by Democrats; this is a state run by leftists,” Mr. Limbaugh told listeners. “Don’t forget, these are the people who have been promising their African-American voters this stuff’s gonna stop for 50 years. They don’t fix anything.”

Senator John Kennedy, the Louisiana Republican, appearing on Fox News on Friday, called Mr. Floyd’s death a “murder,” but he also said “the people who are trying to burn down Minneapolis should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

J. McCauley Brown, the Republican Party chairman in Kentucky, said in an interview that “it’s unfortunate there are some people who are getting violent.” But he called Mr. Floyd’s death “tragic,” adding, “I can understand totally why people are protesting.”

Among some conservatives, condemnation of the Minnesota police officers was often entwined with disdain for perennial targets of the right: big city Democratic politicians, the media, the Black Lives Matter movement and others who conservatives have blamed for helping stoke the violence. On Friday, the Drudge Report blared a headline in capital letters: “Unrest Spreads in U.S.A.”

The president’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, seized on the backlash to Mr. Trump’s “looting” tweet to attack “the media, Joe Biden, and the Democrats,” ticking off a triumvirate of Republican boogeymen.

In a campaign statement, Mr. Parscale wrote that Minneapolis was “in chaos” and, without evidence, accused Democrats and the media of capitalizing on the tragedy as “a political opportunity and a chance to make money” — both offenses that Mr. Trump and Mr. Parscale himself are often accused of.

Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, wrote on Twitter that “what happened to George Floyd was disgusting.” But he quickly added: “There’s never an excuse for the type of violent riots unfolding now. No American should ever have to watch their own community burn to the ground.”

For years now, some Republicans have sought to turn the issue of racial inequality and injustice to their political advantage. The president — who famously courted African-Americans to take a chance on him in 2016 by asking “What the hell do you have to lose?” — has long believed that he could appeal to black voters by blaming Democrats for chronic problems in predominantly black communities like poverty, crime and poor schools.

The president’s decision to call the Floyd family and express his condolences suggested that he did not view this episode as the kind of racially fraught cultural battlefront he would otherwise barrel into.

And with the nation on edge, the gravity of the situation had not been lost on Mr. Trump’s team. At a Friday morning meeting, two White House aides, Brook Rollins and Ja’Ron Smith, argued it would be tone-deaf for Mr. Trump to roll out new initiatives, even those related to the coronavirus, in the next few days that did not pertain to the fallout from Mr. Floyd’s death.

All that could change, especially if the situation continues to deteriorate in cities like Minneapolis, and if cable news — closely monitored by Mr. Trump — is filled with images of violence and carnage.

“Give it 24 or 48 hours,” Charlie Sykes, a longtime conservative radio star who now opposes Mr. Trump, said in an interview. “This is the president who ran as the law and order president. It is almost irresistible.”

Mr. Sykes said it was inevitable that the conservative media outrage machine would ramp up as the right-wing playbook reasserts itself, after the short-term caution in the aftermath of a horrific murder caught on tape.

Indeed, by Friday evening, Mr. Hannity was warning viewers about “radical rioters exploiting this death of Mr. Floyd, committing crimes, justifying crimes, threatening more violence.” To analyze the protests, Ms. Ingraham brought on a provocative guest: Mark Fuhrman, the former Los Angeles police detective infamous for his role in the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

For now, Republican officials continue to see two problems at hand, each of which they believe is serious and urgent. “I understand the protesters are frustrated and they want swift justice, and I feel that for them,” Laura Cox, Republican Party chairwoman in Michigan, said in an interview.

But, Ms. Cox added, “When it starts to be about breaking into police precincts, that’s problematic.”

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FBI’s top lawyer, Dana Boente, ousted amid Fox News criticism for role in Flynn investigation

After a 38-year career with the Justice Department, the FBI’s top lawyer Dana Boente was asked to resign on Friday. Two sources familiar with the decision to dismiss Boente said it came from high levels of the Justice Department rather than directly from FBI Director Christopher Wray.

His departure comes on the heels of recent criticism by Fox News for his role in the investigation of former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

A spokesman for the FBI confirmed to NBC News that Boente did in fact resign on Friday.

Fox News has recently criticized Boente’s role in the investigation of Flynn, whose criminal charge for lying to the FBI was recently dropped by the Justice Department based in part on the argument that his lies were not material to an underlying investigation. Boente signed one of the warrants renewing the FBI’s authority to surveil Flynn. The warrants, known as FISA warrants, were renewed several times and had to be approved by a judge.

Boente also said in a recently leaked memo that material put into the public record about Flynn was not exculpatory for the former national security advisor. The memo undermines the Justice Department’s latest position that material about Flynn was mishandled by prosecutors.

Fox News host Lou Dobbs said on April 27 that, “Shocking new reports suggest F.B.I. General Counsel Dana Boente day was acting in coordination with F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray to block the release of that evidence that would have cleared General Flynn.”

Wray formally asked for Boente’s resignation, but the decision to end his tenure at the FBI came from Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, according to two sources.

A spokesman for the FBI said Boente announced on Friday his decision to retire, which will take effect June 30.

“Few people have served so well in so many critical, high-level roles at the Department,” Wray said in a statement. “Throughout his long and distinguished career as a public servant, Dana has demonstrated a selfless determination to ensure that justice is always served on behalf of our citizens.”

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SpaceX makes history with launch of astronauts

On hand for the launch were President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, along with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, SpaceX founder Elon Musk and members of Congress.

“I think this is such a great inspiration for our country,” Trump told reporters after the launch, before taking a swipe at China over the coronavirus. “…We suffered something that was terrible, it should have never happened, should have never come out of China. … That’s one of the reasons I wanted to be here today. I thought it was so important to be here today. I think any one of you would say that was an inspiration to see what we just saw. The genius, the money … nobody does it like us. So it’s great to have this whole program back, and this is just the beginning. We have many more things to come.”

Bridenstine, speaking on NASA TV, said he hopes the launch will force Americans to reflect during these difficult times.

“This is everything America has to offer in its purest form,” the NASA chief said. “And times are tough right now. There is no doubt. We’ve got the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve got other challenges as a country.

“But I hope this moment in time is an opportunity for everybody to reflect on humanity and what we can do when we work together, when we strike and when we achieve,” he added.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s presumptive Democratic challenger, also lauded the achievement, which has been a decade in the making.

“This mission represents the culmination of work begun years ago, and which President Obama and I fought hard to ensure would become a reality,” Biden said in a statement.

Bridenstine restricted the number of VIPs who could attend due to the coronavirus epidemic and has repeatedly requested the public not descend on Kennedy Space Center to avoid throngs of spectators collecting on nearby beaches. But that appeal has largely gone unheeded this week, with reports of as many as 150,000 people gathering for the historic event.

Behnken and fellow astronaut Doug Hurley will join NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

The first launch attempt on Wednesday was scrubbed because of bad weather. Saturday’s forecast looks only slightly better. The Space Force’s 45th Space Wing predicted Saturday morning that there was only a 50/50 chance the launch would take place.

The mission is the first crewed launch under a public-private partnership with NASA called the Commercial Crew program, under which the space agency plans to buy rides to space on commercially-owned vehicles that are also used to transport other nations’ astronauts, space entrepreneurs and even private citizens.

The launch is a “much awaited turning point in our new space age,” said Namira Salim, one of the founders of Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company that plans to fly later this year. “It is a giant leap not only for commercial spaceflight, but ushers a new era for human spaceflight which makes space affordable and accessible for commercial entities and spacefaring and emerging space nations.”

But it is also “inherently risky,” said George Nield, who served as the FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation from 2008 to 2018.

“Since the dawn of the space age, more than 60 years ago, the United States has conducted 380 launches with people onboard,” he said. “Four of those have ended in tragedy. That works out to be about a one percent fatal accident rate for human space flight in the U.S., which means that it is roughly 10,000 times more dangerous than flying on a commercial airliner.”

SpaceX has also had its share of mishaps, including an explosion during an engine test on Friday in Texas of its Starship rocket. It also suffered a mission failure in 2015 during a cargo supply mission to the space station, a failure during a satellite launch in 2016, and a catastrophic engine fire that destroyed a Crew Dragon capsule last year.

Under the Commercial Crew program, Boeing is also developing a new capsule. The Starliner failed to reach the space station on a test flight without crew last year. It is scheduled to redo the test this summer before flying people onboard.

Bryan Bender contributed to this report.