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SAT doing away with optional essay, subject tests

NEW YORK (AP) — The College Board said Tuesday it will eliminate the optional essay from the SAT and do away with subject tests amid a changing college admissions landscape.
“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of being innovative and adaptive to what lies ahead,” according to a statement from the not-for-profit College Board, which said it wanted to make the SAT more flexible and reduce the demands on students.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced the widespread cancellation of group testing sessions for the SAT and rival ACT since March, leading numerous schools to eliminate testing requirements for the current admissions cycle. Others have permanently made entrance exams an optional part of applying to college.
The three-hour, multiple choice SAT measures math and English language arts proficiency. The optional essay adds about another hour and is scored separately, as were the lesser required subject tests given in specific areas like chemistry or foreign languages.
The subject tests will immediately end for U.S. students and will be phased out for international students by June.
The optional essay will be discontinued after June testing sessions.
Nearly 2.2 million 2020 high school graduates took the SAT before the pandemic shut down schools, according to the College Board.

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‘Shameful’: US virus deaths top 400K as Trump leaves office

As President Donald Trump entered the final year of his term last January, the U.S. recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19. Not to worry, Trump insisted, his administration had the virus “totally under control.”
Now, in his final hours in office, after a year of presidential denials of reality and responsibility, the pandemic’s U.S. death toll has eclipsed 400,000. And the loss of lives is accelerating.
“This is just one step on an ominous path of fatalities,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and one of many public health experts who contend the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis led to thousands of avoidable deaths.
“Everything about how it’s been managed has been infused with incompetence and dishonesty, and we’re paying a heavy price,” he said.
The 400,000-death toll, reported Tuesday by Johns Hopkins University, is greater than the population of New Orleans, Cleveland or Tampa, Florida. It’s nearly equal to the number of American lives lost annually to strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, flu and pneumonia combined.
With more than 4,000 deaths recorded on some recent days — the most since the pandemic began — the toll by week’s end will probably surpass the number of Americans killed in World War II.
“We need to follow the science and the 400,000th death is shameful,” said Cliff Daniels, chief strategy officer for Methodist Hospital of Southern California, near Los Angeles. With its morgue full, the hospital has parked a refrigerated truck outside to hold the bodies of COVID-19 victims until funeral homes can retrieve them.
“It’s so incredibly, unimaginably sad that so many people have died that could have been avoided,” he said.
President-elect Joe Biden, who will be sworn in Wednesday, took part in an evening remembrance ceremony Tuesday near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The 400,000 dead were represented by 400 lights placed around the reflecting pool. The bell at the Washington National Cathedral tolled 400 times.
Other cities around the U.S. planned tributes as well. The Empire State Building was lit in “heartbeat” red — the same lighting used last year as a show of support for emergency workers at the height of the virus surge in New York City. The red lights pulsed as a visual heartbeat. In Salt Lake City, the bells at the Utah Capitol were to ring 15 times in honor of the more than 1,500 lives lost to COVID-19 in the state.
The U.S. accounts for nearly 1 of every 5 virus deaths reported worldwide, far more than any other country despite its great wealth and medical resources.
The coronavirus would almost certainly have posed a grave crisis for any president given its rapid spread and power to kill, experts on public health and government said.
But Trump seemed to invest as much in battling public perceptions as he did in fighting the virus itself, repeatedly downplaying the threat and rejecting scientific expertise while fanning conflicts ignited by the outbreak.
As president he was singularly positioned to counsel Americans. Instead, he used his pulpit to spout theories — refuted by doctors — that taking unproven medicines or even injecting household disinfectant might save people from the virus.
The White House defended the administration this week.
“We grieve every single life lost to this pandemic, and thanks to the president’s leadership, Operation Warp Speed has led to the development of multiple safe and effective vaccines in record time, something many said would never happen,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.
With deaths spiraling in the New York City area last spring, Trump declared “war” on the virus. But he was slow to invoke the Defense Production Act to secure desperately needed medical equipment. Then he sought to avoid responsibility for shortfalls, saying that the federal government was “merely a backup” for governors and legislatures.
“I think it is the first time in history that a president has declared a war and we have experienced a true national crisis and then dumped responsibility for it on the states,” said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health care policy think tank.
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tried to issue guidelines for reopening in May, Trump administration officials held them up and watered them down. As the months passed, Trump claimed he was smarter than the scientists and belittled experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top authority on infectious diseases.
“Why would you bench the CDC, the greatest fighting force of infectious disease in the world? Why would you call Tony Fauci a disaster?” asked Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
As governors came under pressure to reopen state economies, Trump pushed them to move faster, asserting falsely that the virus was fading. “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” he tweeted in April as angry protesters gathered at the state Capitol to oppose the Democratic governor’s stay-at-home restrictions. “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”
In Republican-led states like Arizona that allowed businesses to reopen, hospitals and morgues filled with virus victims.
“It led to the tragically sharp partisan divide we’ve seen in the country on COVID, and that has fundamental implications for where we are now, because it means the Biden administration can’t start over,” Altman said. “They can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”
In early October, when Trump himself contracted COVID-19, he ignored safety protocols, ordering up a motorcade so he could wave to supporters outside his hospital. Once released, he appeared on the White House balcony to take off his mask for the cameras, making light of health officials’ pleas for people to cover their faces.
“We’re rounding the corner,” Trump said of the battle with the virus during a debate with Biden in late October. “It’s going away.”
It isn’t. U.S. deaths from COVID-19 surpassed 100,000 in late May, then tripled by mid-December. Experts at the University of Washington project deaths will reach nearly 567,000 by May 1.
More than 120,000 patients with the virus are in the hospital in the U.S., according to the COVID Tracking Project, twice the number who filled wards during previous peaks. On a single day last week, the U.S. recorded more than 4,400 deaths.
While vaccine research funded by the administration as part of Warp Speed has proved successful, the campaign trumpeted by the White House to rapidly distribute and administer millions of shots has fallen well short of the early goals officials set.
“Young people are dying, young people who have their whole lives ahead of them,” said Mawata Kamara, a nurse at California’s San Leandro Hospital who is furious over the surging COVID-19 cases that have overwhelmed health care workers. “We could have done so much more.”
Many voters considered the federal government’s response to the pandemic a key factor in their vote: 39% said it was the single most important factor, and they overwhelmingly backed Biden over Trump, according to AP VoteCast.
But millions of others stood with him.
“Here you have a pandemic,” said Eric Dezenhall, a Washington crisis management consultant, “yet you have a massive percent of the population that doesn’t believe it exists.”

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An inauguration unlike any other amid a pandemic, unrest

WASHINGTON (AP) — Inauguration Day for President-elect Joe Biden will look unlike anything the nation has seen before as the scars of COVID-19 and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol turn the West Front into a virtual ghost town compared to years past.
Instead of a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, there will be a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Instead of balls, there will be Zoom parties. Instead of hundreds of thousands congregating on the Capitol grounds and on the National Mall, there will be thousands of National Guard members.
What to watch for on Inauguration Day:
THE SWEARING-IN
Biden’s oath of office is the only essential. The Constitution sets out a 35-word oath for the new president. Some presidents make it 39 by tacking on “so help me God.” There are conflicting stories about when the ad lib started. Some say George Washington added the words when he took the oath at his 1789 inaugural. Others say the first eyewitness account of a president using those words came at Chester Arthur’s inauguration in 1881. Regardless of who started the add-on, every president since 1933 has done it.
Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in Biden; Justice Sonya Sotomayor will swear in Kamala Harris as vice president.
Among the celebrities who will bring star power to Biden’s inauguration are Lady Gaga, who will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and Jennifer Lopez, who will give a musical performance.
Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman will read an original poem, “The Hill We Climb.”
THE SPEECH
A president’s inauguration speech is designed to set the tone and the policies the new administration will pursue. Biden’s speech will focus on how he will seek to make good on the theme he has chosen for the inauguration, “America United”
As the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol showed, the challenge before him is daunting.
WHO WON’T BE THERE
President Donald Trump has opted not to attend the inauguration, becoming the first president to do so since Andrew Johnson in 1869. The tradition of a president attending his successor’s inauguration began with George Washington and projects to the country and the world that America is transitioning to new leadership freely and in peace.
Biden and Harris are urging supporters to stay home because of the coronavirus pandemic. The National Mall is closed and just a fraction of the tickets usually handed out for an inauguration will be distributed.
About 200,000 small U.S. state and territorial flags have been installed on the National Mall, representing those who can’t attend.
A few lawmakers from both parties have indicated that they will not be attending out of safety concerns following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
WHO WILL BE THERE
Vice President Mike Pence and most members of Congress are expected to attend. The lawmakers can bring one guest. In previous inaugurations, lawmakers scored hundreds of tickets to distribute to friends, donors and constituents.
Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton are expected to attend. Former President Jimmy Carter, 96, and former first lady Rosalynn Carter, 93, will not, though they have extended their “best wishes.”
Security forces in and around the Capitol and the White House are expected to widely outnumber inauguration guests. After the insurrection at the Capitol by Trump followers as lawmakers confirmed Biden’s victory, about 25,000 National Guard were being brought into the nation’s capital.
AFTER THE OATH
The new president will make his way to the other side of the Capitol for the long-standing tradition of the new commander in chief inspecting the troops. The Pass in Review ceremony is designed to reflect the peaceful transfer of power. Every branch of the military will be presented, though this year’s participants will socially distance to deter the spread of the virus.
The traditional congressional lunch won’t occur because of COVID-19 concerns, but Biden is expected to take care of some business before leaving the Capitol.
A NEW TRADITION?
After the Pass in Review ceremony, the Bidens and Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The former presidents and first ladies will join them.
WHAT ABOUT THE PARADE?
The traditional inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue has been dramatically scaled back. Instead, after visiting Arlington National Cemetery, Biden will receive a presidential escort — and a short one, at that. It will extend just a few hundred yards to the White House rather than the 1.6-mile route of previous inaugurations. The proceedings will provide the world with the images of Biden going to his new home without attracting large crowds. Again, every branch of the military will participate in the escort, and the marchers will socially distance.
Virtual parades will be televised and feature performances from around the country. The inaugural committee says the programming will include musical acts, local bands, poets and dance troupes. An emphasis will be placed on paying homage to Americans on the front lines of the pandemic.
INAUGURATION NIGHT PARTIES
In past inaugurations, participants would don their tuxedos and ball gowns and attend one of the many inaugural balls and galas taking place around town. This year, state Democratic Parties and advocacy groups will hold virtual balls.
Actor Tom Hanks will host a 90-minute prime-time TV special with performances by Justin Timberlake, Jon Bon Jovi, Demi Lovato and Ant Clemons.
According to producers, the program “will showcase the American people’s resilience, heroism, and unified commitment to coming together as a nation to heal and rebuild.”

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Biden charts new US direction, promises many Trump reversals

WASHINGTON (AP) — Stop. Stabilize. Then move — but in a vastly different direction.
President-elect Joe Biden is pledging a new path for the nation after Donald Trump’s four years in office. That starts with confronting a pandemic that has killed 400,000 Americans and extends to sweeping plans on health care, education, immigration and more.
The 78-year-old Democrat has pledged immediate executive actions that would reverse Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement and rescind the outgoing president’s ban on immigration from certain Muslim nations.
His first legislative priority is a $1.9 trillion pandemic response package, but there are plans to send an immigration overhaul to Capitol Hill out of the gate, as well.
He’s also pledged an aggressive outreach to American allies around the world who had strained relationships with Trump. And though one key initiative has been overshadowed as the pandemic has worsened, Biden hasn’t backed away from his call to expand the 2010 Affordable Care Act with a public option, a government-insurance plan to compete alongside private insurers.
It’s an unapologetically liberal program reflecting Biden’s argument that the federal government exists to help solve big problems. Persuading enough voters and members of Congress to go along will test another core Biden belief: that he can unify the country into a governing consensus.
What a Biden presidency could look like:
ECONOMY, TAXES AND THE DEBT
Biden argues the economy cannot fully recover until the coronavirus is contained.
He argues that his $1.9 trillion response plan is necessary to avoid extended recession. Among other provisions, it would send Americans $1,400 relief checks, extend more generous unemployment benefits and moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures, and boost businesses. Biden also wants expanded child tax credits, child care assistance and a $15-an-hour minimum wage — a provision sure to draw fierce Republican opposition.
Biden acknowledges his call for deficit spending but says higher deficits in the near term will prevent damage that would not only harm individuals but also weaken the economy in ways that would be even worse for the national balance sheet.
He also calls his plan a down payment on his pledge to address wealth inequality that disproportionately affects nonwhite Americans. He plans a second major economic package later in 2021; that’s when he’d likely ask Congress to consider his promised tax overhauls to roll back parts of the 2017 GOP tax rewrite benefiting corporations and the wealthy.
Biden wants a corporate income tax rate of 28% — lower than before but higher than now — and broad income and payroll tax increases for individuals with more than $400,000 of annual taxable income. That would generate an estimated $4 trillion or more over 10 years, money Biden would want steered toward his infrastructure, health care and energy programs.
Before Biden proposed his pandemic relief bill, an analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated that Biden’s campaign proposals would increase the national debt by about $5.6 trillion over 10 years, though that would be a significantly slower rate of increase than what occurred under Trump.
The national debt now stands at more than $25 trillion.
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CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC
Biden promises a more robust national coronavirus vaccination system. Ditching Trump’s strategy of putting most of the pandemic response on governors’ desks, Biden says he’ll marshal the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard to distribute vaccines while using the nation’s network of private pharmacies.
As he said as a candidate, Biden plans to invoke the Defense Production Act, aimed at the private sector, to increase vaccine supplies and related materials. The wartime law allows a president to direct the manufacture of critical goods.
Much of Biden’s plans depend on Congress approving financing, such as $130 billion to help schools reopen safely.
Beyond legislation, Biden will require masks on all federal property, urge governors and mayors to use their authority to impose mask mandates and ask Americans for 100 days of mask-wearing in an effort to curb the virus.
Biden also promises to deviate from Trump by putting science and medical advisers front and center to project a consistent message. Meanwhile, Biden will immediately have the U.S. rejoin the World Health Organization.
The incoming White House has tried to manage expectations. Biden said several times in recent weeks that the pandemic would likely get worse before any changes in policy and public health practices show up in COVID-19 statistics.
___
HEALTH CARE
Biden wants to build on President Barack Obama’s signature health care law through a “Medicare-like public option” to compete alongside private insurance markets for working-age Americans. He’d also increase premium subsidies many people already use.
Biden’s approach could get a kick-start in the pandemic response bill by expanding subsidies for consumers using existing ACA exchanges. The big prize, a “public option,” remains a heavy lift in a closely divided Congress. Biden has not detailed when he’d ask Congress to consider the matter.
Biden estimates his public option would cost about $750 billion over 10 years. It still stops short of progressives’ call for a government-run system to replace private insurance altogether.
The administration also must await a Supreme Court decision on the latest case challenging the 2010 health care law known as “Obamacare.”
On prescription drugs, Biden supports allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for government programs and private payers. He’d prohibit drug companies from raising prices faster than inflation for people covered by Medicare and other federal programs; and he’d cap initial prices for “specialty drugs” to treat serious illnesses.
Biden would limit annual out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare enrollees, a change Trump sought unsuccessfully in Congress. And Biden also wants to allow importation of prescription drugs, subject to safety checks.
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IMMIGRATION
Biden plans to immediately reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which allowed people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to remain as legal residents. He’s also planning an Inauguration Day executive order rolling back Trump’s ban on certain Muslim immigrants and has pledged to rescind Trump’s limits on asylum slots.
Additionally, Biden will send Congress, out of the gate, a complex immigration bill offering an eight-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status.
As a candidate, Biden called Trump’s hard-line policies on immigration an “unrelenting assault” on American values and promised to “undo the damage” while maintaining border enforcement. Notably, the outline of Biden’s immigration bill doesn’t deal much, if at all, with border enforcement. But his opening maneuver sets a flank with plenty of room to negotiate with Republicans.
Biden also pledged to end the Trump’s “public charge rule,” which would deny visas or permanent residency to people who use public-aid programs. Biden has called for a 100-day freeze on deportations while considering long-term policies. Still, Biden would eventually restore an Obama-era policy of prioritizing removal of immigrants who have come to the U.S. illegally and have been convicted of crimes or pose a national security threat. Biden has said he would halt all funding for construction of new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.
___
FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL SECURITY
Biden’s establishment credentials are most starkly different from Trump in the area of foreign policy. Biden mocked Trump’s “America First” brand as “America alone” and promises to restore a more traditional post-World War II order.
He supports a strategy of fighting extremist militants abroad with U.S. special forces and airstrikes instead of planeloads of U.S. troops. That’s a break from his support earlier in his political career for more sweeping U.S. military interventions, most notably the 2003 Iraq invasion. Biden has since called his Iraq vote in the Senate a mistake.
He was careful as a candidate never to rule out the use of force, but now leans directly into diplomacy to try to achieve solutions through alliances and global institutions.
Biden calls for increasing the Navy’s presence in the Asia-Pacific and strengthening alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia and Indonesia. He joins Trump in wanting to end the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but thinks the U.S. should keep a small force in place to counter militant violence.
Secretary of State-designate Tony Blinken is Biden’s longest-serving foreign policy adviser and holds essentially the same worldview.
Both are strong supporters of NATO. Biden and Blinken warn that Moscow is chipping away at the foundation of Western democracy by trying to weaken NATO, divide the European Union and undermine the U.S. electoral system.
Biden believes Trump’s abandonment of bilateral and international treaties such as the Iran nuclear deal have led other nations to doubt Washington’s word. Biden wants to invite all democratic nations to a summit during his first year to discuss how to fight corruption, thwart authoritarianism and support human rights.
He claims “ironclad” support for Israel but wants to curb annexation and has backed a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. He says he’d keep the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem after Trump moved it from Tel Aviv.
On North Korea, Biden criticized Trump for engaging directly with Kim Jong Un, saying it gave legitimacy to the authoritarian leader without curbing his nuclear program.
Biden also wants to see the U.S. close its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Obama pushed the same and never got it done.
___
ENVIRONMENT
Beyond immediately rejoining the Paris climate agreement, Biden has proposed a $2 trillion push to slow global warming by throttling back the burning of fossil fuels, aiming to make the nation’s power plants, vehicles, mass transport systems and buildings more fuel efficient and less dependent on oil, gas and coal.
Parts of his program could be included in the second sweeping legislative package Biden plans after the initial emergency pandemic legislation.
Biden says his administration would ban new permits for oil and gas production on federal lands, though he says he does not support a fracking ban.
Biden’s public health and environmental platform also calls for reversing the Trump administration’s slowdown of enforcement against polluters, which in several categories has fallen to the lowest point in decades. That would include establishing a climate and environmental justice division within the Justice Department. Biden says he would support climate lawsuits targeting fossil fuel-related industries.
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EDUCATION
Biden has proposed tripling the federal Title I program for low-income public schools, with a requirement that schools provide competitive pay and benefits to teachers. He wants to ban federal money for for-profit charter schools and provide new dollars to public charters only if they serve needy students. He opposes voucher programs, in which public money is used to pay for private-school education. He also wants to restore federal rules, rolled back under Trump, that denied federal money to for-profit colleges that left students with heavy debts and unable to find jobs.
Biden supports making two years of community college free, with public four-year colleges free for families with incomes below $125,000. His proposed student loan overhaul would not require repayment for people who make less than $25,000 a year and would limit payments to 5% of discretionary income for others.
Among the measures in his COVID-19 response plan, Biden calls for extending current freezes on student loan payments and debt accrual.
Long term, Biden proposes a $70 billion increase in funding for historically Black colleges and universities, and other schools that serve underrepresented students.
___
ABORTION
Biden supports abortion rights and has said he would nominate federal judges who back the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. He’s also said he’d support a federal statute legalizing abortion if the Supreme Court’s conservative majority strikes down Roe.
Biden committed to rescinding Trump’s family planning rule, which prompted many clinics to leave the federal Title X program providing birth control and medical care for low-income women.
In a personal reversal, Biden now supports repeal of the Hyde Amendment, opening the way for federal programs, including his prospective public option, to pay for abortions.
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SOCIAL SECURITY
Biden’s proposals would expand benefits, raise taxes for upper-income people and add some years of solvency.
He would revamp Social Security’s annual cost-of-living adjustment by linking it to an inflation index tied more directly to older Americans’ expenses. He would increase minimum benefits for lower-income retirees, addressing financial hardship among the elderly.
Biden wants to raise Social Security taxes by applying the payroll tax to earnings above $400,000. The 12.4% tax, split between an employee and employer, now applies only to the first $137,700 of a worker’s wages. The tax increase would pay for Biden’s proposed benefit expansions and extend the life of program’s trust fund by five years, to 2040, according to the nonpartisan Urban Institute.
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GUNS
Biden led efforts as a senator to establish the background check system now in use when people buy guns from a federal licensed dealer. He also helped pass a 10-year ban on a group of semi-automatic guns, or “assault weapons,” during the Clinton presidency.
Biden has promised to seek another ban on the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Owners would have to register existing assault weapons with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He would also support a program to buy back assault weapons.
Biden supports legislation restricting the number of firearms an individual may purchase per month to one and would require background checks for all gun sales with limited exceptions, such as gifts between family members. Biden would also support prohibiting all online sales of firearms, ammunition, kits and gun parts.
As with his public option plan for health insurance, it’s not clear how Biden will prioritize gun legislation, and the prospects of getting major changes through the Senate are slim, at best.
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VETERANS
Biden says he’d work with Congress to improve health services for women, the military’s fastest-growing subgroup, such as by placing at least one full-time women’s primary care physician at each Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical center.
He promises to provide $300 million to better understand the impact of traumatic brain injury and toxic exposures, hire more VA staff to cut down on office wait times for veterans at risk of suicide and continue the efforts of the Obama-Biden administration to stem homelessness.
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TRADE
Biden has joined a growing bipartisan embrace of “fair trade” abroad — a twist on decades of “free trade” talk as Republican and Democratic administrations alike expanded international trade. That, and some of his policy pitches, can make Biden seem almost protectionist, but he’s well shy of Trump’s approach.
Biden, like Trump, accuses China of violating international trade rules by subsidizing its companies and stealing U.S. intellectual property. Still, Biden doesn’t think Trump’s tariffs worked. He wants to join with allies to form a bulwark against Beijing.
Biden wants to juice U.S. manufacturing with $400 billion of federal government purchases (including pandemic supplies) from domestic companies over a four-year period. He wants $300 billion for U.S. technology firms’ research and development. Biden says the new domestic spending must come before any new international trade deals.
He pledges tough negotiations with China, the world’s other economic superpower, on trade and intellectual property matters. China, like the U.S., is not yet a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multilateral trade agreement that Biden advocated for when he was vice president.
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TRUMP
Biden won’t escape Trump’s shadow completely, given the many investigations and potential legal exposures facing the outgoing president. Biden said as a candidate that he wouldn’t pardon Trump or his associates and that he’d leave federal investigations up to “an independent Justice Department.” Notably, some of Trump’s legal exposure comes from state cases in New York. Biden will have no authority over any of those matters.

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Mega Millions jackpot now $970M; Powerball up to $730M

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Lottery players will have another shot at the third-largest jackpot in U.S. history after Tuesday night’s drawing didn’t turn up a winner.
The Mega Millions top prize climbed to an estimated $970 million, the biggest jackpot in more than two years. Powerball, the other lottery game offered in most of the U.S., isn’t far behind at $730 million for a drawing Wednesday night.
The winning numbers in Tuesday night’s Mega Millions drawing were: 10-19-26-28-50 and a Mega Ball of 16.
It’s the first time both lottery jackpots have topped $700 million. The biggest prize was a $1.58 billion Powerball jackpot won by three people in 2016.
No one has won the Mega Millions jackpot since Sept. 15, allowing the prize to grow larger and larger over four months. The last Powerball jackpot winner was a day later, on Sept. 16.
Such big jackpots are rare, but both games rely on incredibly long odds to generate attention and increase sales. For Mega Millions, the odds of matching all six numbers is one in 302.5 million, and for Powerball it’s one in 292.2 million.
The prizes listed are for winners who choose an annuity option, paid over 30 years. Winners almost always opt for cash prizes, which for Mega Millions would be $716.3 million and $546 million for Powerball.
Those prizes also would be subject to federal taxes, and most states would take a cut as well.
Mega Millions and Powerball are both played in 45 states as well as Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Powerball also is offered in Puerto Rico.

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Sales of US Constitution topped 1 million during Trump years

NEW YORK (AP) — At the National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, they like to joke that what’s bad for the country is often good for the organization.
“Web traffic is through the roof,” says the nonprofit’s CEO and president, Jeffrey Rosen. “We had more than 400,000 visitors to our site in the days following Jan. 6,” when supporters of President Donald Trump rampaged in the U.S. Capitol. “Our previous record was around 160,000.”
From his extraordinary political rise in 2015-16 through the four years of his presidency, including his unprecedented challenges to his re-election loss to Joe Biden, Trump’s tenure became a kind of ongoing seminar about how the government works and how a democracy might fail. Questions once limited to Constitutional scholars — how many Cabinet members are needed to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove the president from power, whether a state legislature has the power to overturn the votes of presidential balloting — became part of everyday conversation.
Along with dystopian novels and White House tell-alls, the U.S. Constitution has been a best-seller during the Trump years.
According to NPD BookScan, which tracks around 85 percent of the print market, more than 1 million copies of the Constitution in various editions have sold since Trump took office, compared to around 600,000 during the second term of President Barack Obama. The spike began in 2016 when Trump became the Republican candidate for president: Sales more than doubled from the year before, from 114,000 copies to 275,000, and were nearly four times higher than in Obama’s first year in office, 2009.
A chart shared by BookScan with The Associated Press shows several moments in the Trump presidency that coincided with increased sales of the Constitution: when he formally accepted the Republican nomination, in July 2016; his inauguration in January 2017; the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in September 2018; and the formal launch by the House of Representatives, in Sept. 2019, of an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine’s president into investigating Biden.
The sales are especially notable because the Constitution can be read or downloaded for free, including from the US government (https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript). A pocket edition of the Constitution, published by an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, has been in the top 20 on Amazon.com for days since Jan. 6, and on Wednesday was listed as out of stock until early next week.
Sanford V. Levinson, a professor at the University of Texas Law School, found it likely the public was responding in part to the president’s own seeming lack of familiarity with the Constitution, citing Trump’s campaign promise to protect a nonexistent “Article XII.”
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who says he has free copies on hand, expressed surprise that so many people would choose to buy the Constitution instead. He wondered if one factor was the kinds of Constitutional questions that Trump helped raise.
“You have people wondering what the emoluments clause says or the impeachment clause,” Volokh says. “I’m sure we’ll have debates under Biden about the the protection clause or the First Amendment, but maybe people won’t buy a copy of the Constitution because they think they know what it says” on those issues.

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Powerball jackpot grows to $730M; Mega Millions to be $850M

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Lottery players have another chance to win big next week since there were no winners of the top prize for both the Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots in their most recent drawings.
The Powerball jackpot grew to an estimated $730 million after no one matched all five numbers and the red ball in the drawing on Saturday night. If a lottery player strikes big in the next Powerball drawing on Wednesday, it would be the fifth-largest jackpot ever in the United States.
The winning numbers were 67, 20, 65, 14, 39, and the Powerball was 02.
No one beat the odds in Friday’s Mega Millions drawing, so that jackpot grew to an estimated $850 million. That would be the third-largest jackpot ever if there’s a winner of the top prize for the drawing on Tuesday.
It’s been nearly two years since a lottery jackpot has grown so large. No one has won either game’s top prize in months.
The listed jackpot amounts refer to winners who opt for an annuity, paid over 30 years. Winners nearly always choose cash prizes, which for Powerball would be $546 million. The estimated cash prize for the next Mega Millions jackpot is $628.2 million.
Mega Millions and Powerball are both played in 45 states as well as Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Powerball also is offered in Puerto Rico.

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Teens tutor peers online to fill need during pandemic

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — When her suburban Dallas high school was forced to move online last spring because of the coronavirus pandemic, Charvi Goyal realized that the schoolmates she’d been informally tutoring between classes would still need extra help but wouldn’t necessarily be able to get it. So she took her tutoring online, as well.
Goyal, a 17-year-old high school junior from Plano, roped in three classmates to create TutorScope, a free tutoring service run by high schoolers for other kids, including younger ones. What started with a handful of instructors helping friends’ siblings in their hometown has blossomed into a group of 22 tutors from Texas, Arizona, and Ohio that has helped more than 300 students from as far away as South Korea.
“I could foresee that schools were going to go virtual. And with that there were a couple of problems because the interactions between students and students, and students and teachers would be weakened,” Goyal said.
TutorScope provides the one-on-one support that teachers have traditionally given while roving the aisles of their classrooms but now often can’t because of the time and technology constraints posed by online schooling.
On a night near the end of the fall semester, tutor Avi Bagchi worked with 7-year-old twins Monika and Massey Newman on a reading comprehension lesson about discerning between fact and opinion. During their half-hour video chat, the 16-year-old Plano West Senior High School student provided the children from nearby Corinth with examples — it’s a fact that the pen is red but an opinion if one doesn’t like it — and reined them in when they got off topic a bit: Can’t it be a fact that someone holds an opinion?
“I love candy. That’s a fact …” said Massey, “… because it’s true,” he and his sister said in unison.
Their mother, social worker Sarah Newman, said the twins’ TutorScope sessions have been really helpful and have freed up her and her 17-year-old son to focus on their own work.
“With these tutors, I realize they have time,” she said. “I think they are very patient with these younger kids, which I do not even have as a mother. I have patience in other things, (but) I don’t have patience in the teaching.”
Newman discovered TutorScope a few weeks into the fall semester on Nextdoor, a neighborhood-based social media app, and signed up her twins for sessions, which can be up to an hour each week per subject.
“At the time I was even looking for tutoring for them, like private tutoring, and every spot that I hit was too costly for those two kids. I’m like, I can’t afford it,” Newman said.
TutorScope isn’t the first nonprofit to offer online tutoring and is just one of the workarounds people have come up with to educate kids during the pandemic, from a teacher in Nigeria who grades homework from around the world to a so-called sidewalk school in Mexico that offers online instruction to children, including some stuck at the border awaiting decisions on U.S. asylum requests.
What makes the TutorScope effort unique is the bond between the teenage volunteers and the peers they’re helping.
“We kind of want to keep the whole ‘for students by students’ thing really prominent since it provides a sort of solidarity. Because everyone is going through the same thing, you know that your tutor is also having the same struggles learning right now that you are,” Goyal said.
The group accepts donations from adults but limits volunteers to students, including at least one college undergrad.
Now in their third semester, the TutorScope board has secured nonprofit status from the IRS and persuaded a software company to give them free access to a scheduling platform. Jessica Ding, 16, manages the website and parent emails, Angelina Ehara, 17, coordinates public outreach and social media, and Kaustubh Sonawane, 16, runs the signup process.
The tutors, for their part, get experience that will look great on a college or job application — no small thing with many other extracurriculars shelved during the pandemic. They also get a sense of whether they might want to teach full-time or run a business or an NGO someday.
New tutors undergo limited training: they watch recordings of tutoring sessions. But Goyal’s main request from prospective volunteers is a passion for helping the kids they tutor progress.
“Our system is pretty scalable. The only thing we really need to manage (2,000) students would be more tutors,” Goyal said.
Although the pandemic has forced many students to retreat inward, Goyal said working with others on a big project has allowed her to look outwards.
“My confidence level has increased,” said Goyal, adding that she’s made friends with kids from her school whom she’s never met in person. Furthermore, running a growing nonprofit “does help with the boredom” of being stuck at home, she said.

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Federal prisons on lockdown in run-up to Biden inauguration

NEW YORK (AP) — All federal prisons in the United States have been placed on lockdown, with officials aiming to quell any potential violence that could arise behind bars as law enforcement prepares for potentially violent protests across the country in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.
The lockdown at more than 120 federal Bureau of Prisons facilities took effect at 12 a.m. Saturday, according to an email to employees from the president of the union representing federal correctional officers.
“In light of current events occurring around the country, and out of an abundance of caution, the decision has been made to secure all institutions,” the Bureau of Prisons said in a statement.
The lockdown decision is precautionary, no specific information led to it and it is not in response to any significant events occurring inside facilities, the bureau said.
To avoid backlash from inmates, the lockdown was not announced until after they were locked in their cells Friday evening.
Shane Fausey, the president of the Council of Prison Locals, wrote in his email to staff that inmates should still be given access in small groups to showers, phones and email and can still be involved in preparing food and performing basic maintenance.
Messages seeking comment were left with Fausey on Saturday.
The agency last put in place a nationwide lockdown in April to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
During a lockdown, inmates are kept in their cells most of the day and visiting is canceled. Because of coronavirus, social visits only resumed in October, but many facilities have canceled them again as infections spiked.
One reason for the new nationwide lockdown is that the bureau is moving some of its Special Operations Response Teams from prison facilities to Washington, D.C., to bolster security after President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Authorities are concerned there could be more violence, not only in the nation’s capital, but also at state capitals, before Trump leaves office Jan. 20.
A Bureau of Prisons spokesman said the agency was coordinating with officials at the Justice Department to be ready to deploy as needed. Earlier this month, about 100 officers were sent to the Justice Department’s headquarters to supplement security staff and were deputized by the U.S. Marshals Service and given special legal powers to “enforce federal criminal statutes and protect federal property and personnel,” said the spokesman, Justin Long.
The specialized units typically respond to disturbances and other emergencies at prisons, such as riots, assaults, escapes and escape attempts, and hostage situations. Their absence can leave gaps in a prison’s emergency response and put remaining staff at risk.
“The things that happen outside the walls could affect those working behind the walls,” Aaron McGlothin, a local union president at a federal prison in California.
As the pandemic continues to menace federal inmates and staff, a federal lockup in Mendota, California, is also dealing with a possible case of tuberculosis.
According to an email to staff Friday, an inmate at the medium-security facility has been placed in a negative pressure room after returning a positive skin test and an X-ray that indicated an active case of tuberculosis.
The inmate was not showing symptoms of the lung disease and is undergoing further testing to confirm a diagnosis, the email said.
As a precaution, all other inmates on the affected inmate’s unit were placed on quarantine status and given skin tests for tuberculosis.
The bacterial disease is spread similarly to COVID-19, through droplets that an infected person expels by coughing, sneezing or through other activities such as singing and talking.
Mendota also has 10 current inmate cases and six current staff cases of COVID-19.
As of Wednesday, the last day for which data was available, there were 4,718 federal inmates and 2,049 Bureau of Prisons staff members with current positive tests for COVID-19.
Since the first case was reported in March, 38,535 inmates and 3,553 staff have recovered from the virus. So far, 190 federal inmates and 3 staff members have died.

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Inauguration Day also is move in/out day at the White House

WASHINGTON (AP) — Moving from house to house is challenging under the best of circumstances, and even with movers as first rate as the housekeepers and other staff who work in the White House.
But the coronavirus pandemic could be a complicating factor as the executive mansion gets ready for a new president and executes the Inauguration Day ritual of moving out one leader and settling in another.
It’s typically a precision operation: Both moves are usually carried out in about five hours. The clock would normally start ticking when the outgoing and incoming presidents leave the White House together to head to the Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony. The process would continue during the ceremony and the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.
“They basically have the moving trucks waiting outside the White House gates,” said Matt Costello, a historian at the White House Historical Association. “And as soon as the president and president-elect leave, they wave in the moving trucks, and they’ll pack up the outgoing president’s things, and then they’ll unpack all of the new first family’s things.”
Biden’s wife, Jill, said Friday that she and the president-elect had spent the past two months preparing to move from their home in Wilmington, Delaware, and that they were “packing up our closets this morning.”
But things will unfold a bit differently this year.
President Donald Trump, still angry over losing reelection, is skipping the inauguration. He’s also leaving town before Biden takes the oath of office, meaning the pair will not be going to the Capitol together. Depending on when Trump heads out, housekeepers and other residence staffers who help move the presidents’ belongings could get a welcome head start on the packing and unpacking.
Inauguration planners have scaled back the traditional roster of events this year because of the pandemic, which is now responsible for nearly 400,000 U.S. deaths. A luncheon for the new president at the Capitol has been scrapped, and the hourslong parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House will be virtual.
That combination of events in the past has kept the new president and first lady out of the White House long enough for the household staff to finish moving in their clothing, furnishings and other personal items.
The pandemic could affect the moving process in other ways.
Some public health experts have said it’s important that the White House take extra precautions to reduce the spread of the largely airborne disease during the busy move.
The White House was the scene of several coronavirus outbreaks that infected dozens of staffers and others, including Trump and his wife, Melania. Biden is at risk because of his age. The 78-year-old is tested regularly for the coronavirus and recently received his final dose of the vaccine.
Linsey Marr, an engineering professor at Virginia Tech with expertise in the airborne transmission of viruses such as the coronavirus, said housekeepers and other staff should make sure to wear face coverings because they will be exerting themselves during the five to six hours it typically takes to wrap up the move.
“There’s going to be a lot of people in there moving things in and out,” she said. “I’d want to make sure that those people are masked, covering their nose and mouths at all times. They are going to be exerting themselves because they are going to be moving things around.”
Marr also suggested that the Bidens wait a few hours after the move is completed to go into the residence.
The White House normally is thoroughly cleaned in between families, said Anita McBride, who as an assistant to President George W. Bush helped coordinate his move out of the mansion in 2009.
“Everything goes through a massive cleaning,” she said. Beds are stripped, mattresses replaced, rugs cleaned or replaced and fresh coats of paint applied, as needed.
The White House chief usher, who oversees the housekeeping staff, typically coordinates with someone on the incoming president’s team to learn about their preferences so the residence can be made to feel as much like home as possible, with clothes hanging in the closets and favorite foods in the kitchen.
Once the waiting moving trucks are waved through tight security and onto the White House grounds, residence staff members break into groups to carry out specific assignments. Some will handle only Trump’s belongings while others will be tasked with putting the contents of Biden’s boxes in their designated places.
The chief usher reports to Melania Trump, who toured the White House living quarters in November 2016 when she accompanied Donald Trump to the White House for a post-election meeting with then-President Barack Obama. President Trump has broken with tradition and has not invited the Bidens to a similar meeting.