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Biden Seeks More Control Over USPS With New Appointments

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The president nominated three people to the beleaguered agency’s board on a day when the postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a major Republican donor, faced questioning on Capitol Hill.
Thomas Kaplan and
WASHINGTON — President Biden on Wednesday announced three nominees to fill vacant seats on the Postal Service’s board of governors, a move to increase Democratic influence on the future of the beleaguered agency.
If the nominees are confirmed by the Senate, Democrats and Democratic appointees would gain a majority on the nine-member board. That would give them the power to oust Louis DeJoy, a major Republican donor who has served as postmaster general since last year, should they decide to. The board, not the president, hires and fires the postmaster general.
The announcement came on the same day that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing on how to address the post office’s widespread service and financial problems, marking the first time that Mr. DeJoy had testified before lawmakers since the election in November.
The Postal Service catapulted to the national spotlight last summer amid nationwide slowdowns that coincided with operational changes instituted by Mr. DeJoy, raising fears ahead of the election about vote-by-mail delays. Democrats accused Mr. DeJoy, a supporter of President Donald J. Trump, of trying to undercut mail balloting at a time when Mr. Trump was also promoting a false narrative that it was rife with fraud.
But Mr. DeJoy has also drawn fire for continued delivery problems since the election, as the Postal Service struggles to find a sounder financial footing.
In his opening statement on Wednesday, Mr. DeJoy offered an apology for the service’s slow delivery times during the 2020 holiday season.
“We must acknowledge that during this peak season, we fell far short of meeting our service targets,” he said. “Too many Americans were left waiting for weeks for important deliveries of mail and packages. This is unacceptable, and I apologize to those customers who felt the impact of our delays.”
He promised that the agency would “do better” and added, “Above all, my message is that the status quo is acceptable to no one.”
Mr. Biden’s announcement was his most direct action to date to address the service’s problems. The president’s nominees are Anton Hajjar, the former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union; Amber McReynolds, the chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute; and Ron Stroman, who resigned last year as deputy postmaster general and later served on Mr. Biden’s transition as the leader of the agency review team for the Postal Service.
“These experienced and tested leaders will ensure the U.S.P.S. is running at the highest of service standards and that it can effectively and efficiently serve all communities in our country,” the White House said in its announcement.
Mr. DeJoy said Postal Service leaders had been developing a 10-year strategy for the agency that would include “a commitment to six- and seven-day-a-week delivery service to every address in the nation.”
He later acknowledged, however, that the Postal Service was “evaluating all service standards,” suggesting that it might not be able to meet its current benchmarks for timely mail delivery.
Lawmakers are debating a bill that would repeal a financially burdensome requirement that the service pre-fund its retiree health care, among other provisions. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have expressed some support for the changes.
But during the hearing, Republicans reminded the committee of the political sparring last summer amid the delivery delays, calling out Democrats for what they saw as unfair accusations levied against Mr. DeJoy.
“Why should we believe that the rabid resistance is not going to continue?” said Representative Jody B. Hice, Republican of Georgia. “If moving blue boxes and mail sorters and trying to bring sanity to overtime usage is somehow viewed as criminal activity by the postmaster, then what in the world is going to happen to the business plan that he comes up with?”
The delays last year prompted a slew of lawsuits that forced the Postal Service to temporarily postpone the operational changes. But service issues have continued to plague the agency, and some Democrats have called for Mr. Biden to replace the entire Postal Service board.
Asked by Representative Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee, how long he planned to serve in his post, Mr. DeJoy responded: “A long time. Get used to me.”
At another point, Mr. DeJoy said Mr. Biden had not called on him to resign, nor had any members of the board.
Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, praised the president’s announcement on Wednesday, saying in a statement that it was an “important step, and I hope only the beginning.” But Mr. Pascrell added that Mr. Biden should remove the existing board members, whom he said had “been silent and complicit to the DeJoy sabotage.”
On Tuesday, the Postal Service chose Oshkosh Defense, a manufacturer of military vehicles, for a $482 million deal to provide the next generation of postal delivery trucks, over an electric-vehicle maker.
Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.
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It's T-0 to Go Faster Than T+2

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It shouldn’t take two days for a stock trade to clear and settle. It’s become feasible to do it in one.
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PM promises 'incomparably better' summer in England after lockdown

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Four-stage plan could pave the way for nightclubs to reopen, sports fans to fill stadiums and holidays in UK to return

Boris Johnson promised spring and summer would be “incomparably better” than life in lockdown as he set out a four-stage plan for England that could pave the way for nightclubs to reopen, sports fans to fill stadiums once again and domestic tourism to return.

But announcing a cautious phased easing of curbs, the prime minister ruled out reopening shops, pubs, gyms and holiday lets until at least 12 April, after Easter. By 21 June, the government hopes to be able to lift the restrictions on socialising that have been in place for much of the past year, and reopen venues that have remained closed since last March.

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Johnson & Johnson’s Vaccine Works Well and May Curb Virus Spread

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F.D.A. studies show the shot strongly protects against severe illness and may reduce spread of the virus. But the drugmaker has fallen short of initial production goals.
Carl ZimmerNoah Weiland and
The coronavirus vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson provides strong protection against severe disease and death from Covid-19, and may reduce the spread of the virus by vaccinated people, according to new analyses released Wednesday by the company and the Food and Drug Administration.
The reports provided confirmation of the initial results announced by Johnson & Johnson late last month, indicating that the United States is likely to soon have access to a third coronavirus vaccine developed in under a year. The F.D.A. could authorize the vaccine as early as Saturday, depending on a vote by its vaccine advisory panel on Friday, and distribution could begin within days.
If cleared, the vaccine would reach a number of firsts for the U.S. pandemic. Unlike the authorized vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which require two doses, Johnson & Johnson’s is just a single shot, allowing the number of fully vaccinated Americans to rapidly increase once it is deployed. More than 44 million Americans have received at least one dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, but only around 20 million have received a second dose.
Those earlier vaccines use a new technology called mRNA that needs freezers for long-term storage. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which uses sturdier viruses to deliver genes into cells, can keep for three months at normal refrigeration temperatures, making it easier to distribute and easier for pharmacies and clinics to stock. The White House on Wednesday said around two million doses would be ready to allocate to states next week, with up to another two million for pharmacies and community health centers.
The documents published by the F.D.A. on Wednesday showed that the new vaccine had an overall efficacy rate of 72 percent in the United States and 64 percent in South Africa, where a concerning variant emerged in the fall that is now driving most cases. The efficacy in South Africa was seven percentage points higher than earlier data released by the company showed.
The vaccine also showed 86 percent efficacy against severe forms of Covid-19 in the United States, and 82 percent against severe disease in South Africa. That means that a vaccinated person has a far lower risk of being hospitalized or dying from Covid-19. None of the nearly 22,000 vaccinated people in the trial died of Covid-19.
“The vaccine has definitely met the bar of what’s worthy of rolling out and using. It’s performing well,” said Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida. Another authorized vaccine, and especially one that only requires one dose, could block the spread of the virus more effectively and drive down cases faster. “Having more products available is a huge advantage,” Dr. Dean said.
An adenovirus helps prime the immune system to fight the coronavirus.
State health departments around the nation have been eager to take advantage of it. In North Dakota, which has one of the nation’s highest rates of vaccination, members of the state’s vaccine ethics committee met this week to discuss the allocation and distribution of the vaccine, anticipating the F.D.A.’s analysis, said Kylie Hall, a vaccine adviser for the state’s health department. The new data may help guide the state’s decisions on which people to prioritize for the small number of doses that may arrive next week, she said.
“It prevents severe disease and death from Covid,” she said. “That’s the best news we could have.”
But access to the new vaccine could be limited at first. Dr. Richard Nettles, the vice president of U.S. medical affairs at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the drug development arm of Johnson & Johnson, told lawmakers on Tuesday that nearly four million doses would be ready for shipment if the F.D.A. authorizes the vaccine. That is far below the 12 million it had originally pledged to give the federal government by the end of February.
He said that a total of 20 million doses would be ready by the end of March, 17 million fewer doses than the firm’s federal contract envisioned. But he insisted that Johnson & Johnson would fulfill its promise of 100 million doses by the end of June.
Asked about the shortfall on Wednesday, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House coordinator of the pandemic response, said that the Biden administration discovered when it took office five weeks ago that Johnson & Johnson was behind on manufacturing and needed federal help in obtaining equipment and raw materials.
“It was disappointing when we arrived,” he said, but “I think the progress is real.” He added: “Obviously the prospect of a potential third approved vaccine is very encouraging,” because lack of supply remains the biggest obstacle to the nation’s vaccination effort.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has a lower efficacy rate than the vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, which are both around 95 percent.
But in South Africa, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is so far the clear winner. Novavax’s shot had an efficacy of 49 percent in South Africa. And a small trial in South Africa of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine found that it did not offer much protection at all. The negative results led the South African government to abandon its plan of giving a million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to health care workers. Last week, the government started giving Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines instead, and has so far administered more than 32,000.
The newly released documents, which include the F.D.A.’s first technical analysis of the company’s 45,000-person clinical trial, presented evidence that the vaccine was safe, with noticeably milder side effects than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and without any reports of severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis.
The vaccine’s protection was consistent across Black, Hispanic and white volunteers, and also across different ages. The trial estimated a lower efficacy, of 42.3 percent, for people over 60 who had risk factors like heart disease or diabetes, a figure that came with a large amount of statistical uncertainty, the F.D.A. noted.
Dr. James Burke, an expert on trial design at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, cautioned that the results found in small subgroups can turn out to be the result of chance. “We’re wrong more than we’re right,” he said. “So we should always tread very cautiously.”
He noted that the trial only recorded 41 cases of Covid-19 in 6,667 people over 60 with comorbidities. “Common sense makes it pretty clear that we can’t make very robust estimates with such a small number of outcomes,” Dr. Burke said.
Preliminary data suggests that the vaccine’s protective effects grow in the weeks after vaccination. After 42 days, for example, only one vaccinated person got Covid-19, whereas 13 people in the placebo group did, which translates to a 92.4 percent efficacy rate. It’s not clear how long the vaccine’s protection will last before it wanes, an uncertainty that hovers over all the coronavirus vaccines, since they have only gone into testing in recent months.
Although several vaccines can protect people from getting sick with Covid-19, it is unclear whether the shots can also prevent people from getting infected and passing the virus to others, leading to a debate about how quickly society can return to normal after inoculations begin.
Moderna’s trial found some hints that vaccinated people were less likely to develop an infection without symptoms. And AstraZeneca found that its vaccine reduced asymptomatic infections by about half.
Johnson & Johnson looked for asymptomatic infections by checking for coronavirus antibodies 71 days after volunteers got a vaccine or a placebo. The new analyses estimate that the vaccine has an efficacy rate of 74 percent against asymptomatic infections. But that calculation was based on a relatively small number of volunteers, and the F.D.A. noted that “There is uncertainty about the interpretation of these data and definitive conclusions cannot be drawn at this time.”
Still, Dr. Dean said the results, while preliminary, were encouraging, especially when combined with other studies suggesting that vaccinated people who did get infected have a lower viral load, potentially making them less infectious.
“I think there’s a lot of good reasons to be optimistic,” she said.
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Steve Bell on David Cameron's call for a 'muscular' green recovery – cartoon

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Biden and Trudeau Renew the Ties Put to the Test by Trump

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“The United States has no closer friend than Canada,” President Biden told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Mr. Biden’s first virtual meeting with a foreign leader.

WASHINGTON — President Biden spoke by video conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada on Tuesday, trying in his first virtual meeting with a foreign leader to restore a sense of normalcy to a core relationship brusquely upended by former President Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Trump often cast America’s northern neighbor, close ally and key trading partner as an economic predator and insulted Mr. Trudeau as “two-faced,” “weak” and “dishonest.” Tuesday’s tone could hardly have been more different.
“The United States has no closer friend than Canada,” Mr. Biden told Mr. Trudeau just before their meeting. “We’re all best served when the United States and Canada work together and lead together.”
“U.S. leadership has been sorely missed over the past years,” Mr. Trudeau responded.
As a matter of diplomacy, the meeting was a somewhat stilted affair and a reminder of the persistence of the coronavirus. Ordinarily, Mr. Biden would have hosted Mr. Trudeau in the Oval Office, where cameras would have captured them seated next to each other in a classic Washington tableau.
Instead, Mr. Biden sat at the head of a long wooden table in the White House’s Roosevelt Room and interacted with a two-dimensional Mr. Trudeau, who appeared on a television monitor perhaps 20 feet away. He was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
Even through a distant screen, however, Mr. Trudeau was plainly relieved to be in the virtual presence of a new American president after the havoc Mr. Trump wreaked on one of the world’s most placid cross-border relationships.
In addition to belittling Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Trump imposed a 10 percent tariff on Canadian aluminum imports. “Canada was taking advantage of us, as usual,” Mr. Trump said when he renewed the tariff in August.
“It’s so great to see you, Joe,” Mr. Trudeau said on Tuesday, adding that he was “really excited” to be working with the United States again on climate change, a top priority for the Canadian leader as well as Mr. Biden.
Despite a wide generational gap — Mr. Biden is nearly 30 years older than Mr. Trudeau, who is 49 — the two leaders are natural partners with similar political agendas. Mr. Trudeau was the first foreign leader to call Mr. Biden in November with congratulations on his election victory, and the first one Mr. Biden called after his swearing-in last month.
After their meeting, Mr. Biden and Mr. Trudeau delivered statements from the East Room of the White House, where by tradition they would have held a short news conference, taking two questions each. In this case, Mr. Biden spoke from a lectern alongside another video screen showing Mr. Trudeau, and the men did not take questions.
In their statements, Mr. Biden and Mr. Trudeau said they would cooperate not only on climate change but also on the coronavirus, as well as on restoring their respective economies and combating racial discrimination.
Mr. Biden also said that closer cooperation would allow the United States and Canada to more effectively compete with China. And he called on Beijing to release two Canadian men who have been detained in China for more than two years in what was widely perceived to be retribution for Canada’s 2018 detention of a prominent Chinese technology executive at the request of American prosecutors. “Human beings are not bartering chips,” he said.
In his remarks before their meeting, Mr. Biden also said that he saw Mr. Trudeau as an ally in his effort to resurrect the strength and image of democracy worldwide.
“As the leaders of the major democracies, we have a responsibility to prove that democracy can still deliver for our people,” Mr. Biden said, in an implicit reference to countries like Russia and China. “There are a lot of leaders around the world who are trying to make the argument autocracy works better.”
But the relationship between the United States and Canada is not trouble free. On his first day in office, Mr. Biden signed an executive order canceling a Calgary company’s construction permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a victory for environmental activists that Mr. Trudeau said left him “disappointed.” American dairy producers are also opposed to Canadian price and supply controls that they say have benefited their counterparts and put them at a disadvantage.
Canada also imposes tariffs on U.S. dairy imports, a practice Mr. Trump called “a disgrace.”
But on Tuesday, such belligerence seemed well in the past. Amid the talk of hard work ahead was a tone of comity, and even levity. After Mr. Trudeau shifted at one point into French, Mr. Biden remarked self-deprecatingly on his own linguistic abilities.
“I told you, Mr. Prime Minister, I took five years of French in school and college,” he said, adding that “every time I tried to speak it, I’d make such a fool of myself, I stopped trying.”
“At least when I try Spanish and I make a fool of myself, they laugh with me,” Mr. Biden said.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Biden — a famously tactile, relationship-driven politician — seemed to acknowledge the sterility and awkwardness of an important meeting conducted through a screen.
“I look forward to when we’ll be able to meet in person,” he said. A few moments later, Mr. Biden bid his francophone counterpart farewell with a passable, if not quite fluent, “au revoir.”
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Steve Bell on Boris Johnson's thoughts on journalism — cartoon

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With Biden Behind on Confirmations, Senators Are Overloaded With Hearings

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Senators pressed through hours of backlogged confirmation hearings on Tuesday as pressure intensified to get the president’s cabinet picks through the process.


WASHINGTON — President Biden’s cabinet took steps toward belated completion on Tuesday with the confirmation of a United Nations ambassador and an agriculture secretary, but other top posts remained locked in partisan confirmation hearings.
The race to question prospective cabinet officials led to overlapping hearings throughout the morning, as Democrats labored to staff key roles that most of Mr. Biden’s predecessors had filled much earlier in their first terms.
The Senate voted to confirm Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the U.N. ambassador and Thomas J. Vilsack as the secretary of agriculture. Both Ms. Thomas-Greenfield and Mr. Vilsack were confirmed by comfortable margins, with Mr. Vilsack clearing 92 to 7 to become the agriculture secretary for the second time.
Earlier in the day, the Senate Judiciary Committee wrapped up a second day of questioning Mr. Biden’s attorney general nominee, Merrick B. Garland. Mr. Garland’s hearing was again predominantly civil and straightforward, with members of both parties continuing to strike the same deferential tone they set in praising his qualifications on Monday.
The atmosphere was less easygoing in other committee rooms.
Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, Mr. Biden’s pick for interior secretary, faced a litany of questions over the fierce stance she has taken in the past against fossil fuels, particularly by senators from states still reliant on fossil fuel extraction.
Key among them was Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who has resisted efforts to scale down coal production in his state, and whose vote may be crucial to Ms. Haaland’s chances of confirmation.
Democrats stressed the historic nature of her nomination — one Mr. Manchin acknowledged. If confirmed, Ms. Haaland would be the first Native American to lead a cabinet-level department, in this case the Interior Department, which has abused and neglected Indigenous Americans for much of the nation’s history.
Ms. Haaland sought to play down her past activism, pledging to follow the Biden administration’s policy priorities.
“If I’m confirmed as secretary, it’s President Biden’s agenda, not my own agenda, that I would be moving forward,” she said.
She will appear before the committee for a second day on Wednesday.
Tuesday also marked the first of two challenging confirmation hearings for Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California and Mr. Biden’s nominee for secretary of health and human services.
In contentious questioning, Republican members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee sought to portray Mr. Becerra, who has little experience in public health, as unqualified, while painting his positions on abortion and health care as radical.
Mr. Becerra, who will lead an extensive coronavirus vaccination effort if confirmed, said he sought to focus on the country’s most immediate challenges stemming from the pandemic and find opportunities to compromise on more politicized health policies.
“When I come to these issues, I understand that we may not always agree on where to go,” he said, “but I think we can find some common ground.”
Mr. Becerra will face another round of questioning from the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the Finance Committee also convened a confirmation hearing for Adewale O. Adeyemo, Mr. Biden’s pick to serve as deputy Treasury secretary.
The steady beat of hearings helped make up for lost time for senators who spent six days this month focused entirely on former President Donald J. Trump’s impeachment trial.
It also cleared the way for senators to consider even more nominees this week. On Wednesday, senators will take up William J. Burns’s nomination to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, and on Thursday they will turn to Katherine C. Tai’s nomination to serve as the United States trade representative.
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Trump supporters aren't crying and looting. Yeah, we are angry, but we are level-minded and strong. We are resilient and we will fight on, not whine and complain. See you in court, Dems!

We love you, President Trump. Hope you and your family recover quickly. Take care and best wishes. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1312158400352972800

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