Thursday, August 13, 2020

Space Force defines 'spacepower' as essential to U.S. security, prosperity


Chief of Space Operations at US Space Force General John Raymond testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in May. Pool photo by Shawn Thew/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 10 (UPI) -- The U.S. Space Force published Monday its first capstone doctrine, Spacepower, eight months after its creation, outlining what the new military branch calls a guidepost for its mission.

The doctrine "elevates spacepower as a distinct formulation of military power on par with landpower, seapower, airpower and cyberpower," according to the Space Capstone Publication, called Spacepower.

"One of the principles of an independent service is the creation of doctrine," Gen. Jay Raymond, chief of space operations at U.S. Space Force, said in a statement.

"The Space Capstone Publication explains why spacepower is a vital element of U.S. prosperity and security -- now and in the future -- and guides its employment in multidomain operations. As the USSF continues to grow and mature, we will continue to evolve our doctrine to stay on the cutting edge of defending our interests in space."

According to the statement, space was once regarded as a "benign domain," for exploration of the cosmos, but that has changed.

"Humankind has changed, and our potential adversaries' actions have significantly increased the likelihood of warfare in the space domain," the doctrine said.

"Agility, innovation, and boldness have always been the touchstone of military space forces," Raymond wrote in the doctrine's forward. "Today, we must harness these traits to pioneer a new service and a new professional body of knowledge."

Raymond added that given that the doctrine is in its early stages and will evolve as it is tested over time.

President Donald Trump signed a $738 billion defense bill into law in December establishing the Space Force in a compromise with Democrats, who signed off on the Space Force in exchange for the bill also including granting federal employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

Last month, the Space Force announced administration realignments to unify command, including inactivating three space wings and eight lower echelon commands, and then activating Space Training and Readiness Delta Provisional, two garrison commands and eight mission deltas.

The Space Force also unveiled its official logo and motto last month, "Semper Supra," or "Always Above."



Read Kamala Harris's First Speech as Vice President Nominee

"We're experiencing a moral reckoning with racism and systemic injustice that has brought a new coalition of conscience to the streets of our country."
"But let's be clear: This election isn't just about defeating Donald Trump or Mike Pence. It's about building this country back better. And that's exactly what Joe and I will do. We'll create millions of jobs and fight climate change through a clean energy revolution, bring back critical supply chains so the future is made in America, build on the Affordable Care Act so everyone has a peace of mind that comes with health insurance, and finally, offer caregivers the dignity, the respect, and the pay they deserve. We'll protect a woman's right to make her own decisions about her own body, root out systemic racism in our justice system, and pass a new Voting Rights Act–a John Lewis Voting Rights Act–that will ensure every voice is heard and every voice is counted."


Rare 1794 silver dollar to be auctioned; last sold for $10M

The rare Flowing Hair Dollar will be the centerpiece of an auction of the Bruce Morelan Collection in Las Vegas in October. Photo courtesy of Professional Coin Grading Services

Aug. 11 (UPI) -- A New Jersey coin dealer is selling a 1794 U.S. silver dollar that is believed to be the first one minted.

Bruce Morelan, a coin collector and partner at Legend Rare Auctions in New Jersey, purchased the 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar at a 2013 Stack's Bowers auction for more than $10 million, the highest price ever paid for a rare coin.

The coin, which was also displayed last month at a private show for members of the Professional Coin Grading Services, features Lady Liberty with ringed stars on one side and an eagle on the other.

It will be sold at Legend Rare Coin Auctions Regency Auction on Oct. 8 at The Venetian in Las Vegas.

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"The 1794 Dollar has been a lifelong dream coin and I'm truly blessed to have owned it," Morelan said in a statement. "I can only hope the new owner has as much joy, pride and satisfaction as I did in having it in my collection. Now that the set is complete and nothing else can be added, I've decided it's time for other collectors to enjoy these magnificent coins."

The 1794 Flowing Hair Dollars were the very first U.S. silver dollars ever produced, according to the USA Coin Book.

While Morelan's rare Flowing Hair Dollar is the major attraction, the auction will also sell other coins from the early period of U.S. history in his collection valued in total at over $20 million

Among the other rare coins being sold is the 1804 Class 1 Draped Bust Dollar, of which only eight were ever minted, according to the PCGS.

"This is the finest collection of Mint State Dollars ever assembled," Legend Rare Coin Auctions owner Laura Sperber said in a statement. "Bruce never settled for second best, even if a coin was only a fraction better that is what he wanted. This could not have been clearer than when he bought the 1794 Dollar. Unquestionably, the coin is one of a kind, both due to its incredible qualities and the fact that it is the very first dollar ever struck by the U.S. Mint."

Marx distinguishes between the use-value and the exchange value of the commodity. Use-value is inextricably tied to "the physical properties of the commodity" ( ...

Bill targeting Trump 'travel ban' would prohibit religious discrimination

Activists attend a "#NoMuslimBanEver" rally in Lafayette Park in front of the White House on October 18, 2017 sponsored by The Council on American-Islamic Relations.
File Photo by Pete Marovich/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 11 (UPI) -- The U.S. House of Representatives is moving to end the Trump administration's restrictions on entry into the United States by people from 13 countries, many of them Muslim-majority -- and limit the authority of future presidents to issue similar travel bans.

The National Origin-Based Anti-discrimination for Non-immigrants (NO BAN) Act, which passed 233-183 on July 22, also would prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion in issuing permanent visas. Current protected categories in the Immigration and Nationality Act are race, sex, nationality, place of birth and place of residence.

The legislation -- targeting what opponents refer to as the Muslim and African ban -- was the first Muslim civil rights bill passed by a chamber of Congress.

Trump began restricting entry soon after he took office, citing concerns about terrorism and national security.

Muslim Advocates, a Washington, D.C., civil rights organization, describes the House vote as the beginning of the end of the travel limits.

"It brings us one step closer to repealing the ban," said Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry.

The passage of the bill before the November election sends a strong message that the legislation is a priority for the House, Ahussain said, who pointed out that two Republicans voted in favor of the measure.

"That was great to see and I think that's encouraging," she said.

A 'moral stain'

The NO BAN Act was introduced in April 2019 by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced a companion bill in the U.S. Senate. They call the ban discriminatory and claim it tears families apart because of their religion

The bill had been scheduled for a vote in March, but was pushed back so the House could take action on emergency relief legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The NO BAN Act had near universal support from the Democratic caucus, with 220 co-sponsors in the House.

Chu said in an email to UPI that she is proud the act (H.R. 2486, formerly H.R. 2214) passed with bipartisan support in the House. The measure now goes to the Senate.

The demonstrations against systemic racism following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis might have given a boost to the legislation, which was supported by hundreds of civil rights, faith-based and community groups.

"The massive protests across the country for racial justice this summer have reinforced the need for ending discrimination in the United States, including the Muslim bans," Chu said. "The burden is now on the Senate to act and help make the NO BAN Act law."

Coons said in a statement the ban is a "moral stain" on the United States that has damaged the country's national security and its reputation around the world. Passage of the NO BAN Act would make clear that "we do not discriminate based on religion or nationality."

An accompanying bill, the Access to Counsel Act, introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., passed 231-184 on July 22. The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to allow U.S. nationals and some immigrants to consult with legal counsel and an interested party, such as a relative, if they are stopped for additional questioning when coming into the United States through a port of entry.

National security

In early 2017, President Donald Trump issued an order banning or limiting entry from eight countries. (One of them, Chad, was later dropped after the administration said it had improved its security measures.) The policy was revised through subsequent orders and proclamations, with restrictions to an additional six countries added in January.

The current version covers travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, North Korea, Sudan, Tanzania, Nigeria, Eritrea, Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan.

Depending on the country, people can be barred from applying for visas or cannot participate in the diversity visa lottery, which offers green cards to people in countries with low levels of immigration to the United States. Citizens from some of the countries can get non-immigrant visas, which are typically issued to tourists and students, but can't stay in the United States permanently.

"It is fundamental to national security, and the height of common sense, that if a foreign nation wishes to receive the benefits of immigration and travel to the United States, it must satisfy basic security conditions outlined by America's law-enforcement and intelligence professionals," then-White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement when the ban was expanded in January.

Opponents challenged the legality of the travel restrictions in 2017 and after the ban was blocked in federal district courts, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 ruling in June 2018, the justices reversed the lower court decisions that struck down the ban.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said the president has the authority to impose restrictions and there was persuasive evidence the entry suspension "has a legitimate grounding in national security concerns."

The opinion also rejected claims of anti-Islam bias and said the ban does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which says one religion cannot be officially preferred over another.

"The proclamation is expressly premised on legitimate purposes: preventing entry of nationals who cannot be adequately vetted and inducing other nations to improve their practices," the opinion says. "The text says nothing about religion."

The Supreme Court ruling led to a campaign to repeal the restrictions and nearly 400 organizations argued for the NO BAN Act's passage in a letter sent to members of Congress in April 2019, shortly after the bill's introduction.

"Regrettably, the Muslim ban validates the worst stereotypes about Muslims -- that they are inherently foreign and violent and pose such a threat to the United States they should be banned," the letter says. "The ban on Muslims comes after generations of politicians hostile to religious minorities have attempted to ban Jews, Catholics and Latter-day Saints. Congress now has an opportunity to take action against the Muslim ban and this troubling history by sending a strong message that our nation rejects religious bigotry."

Business support

The Trump administration sent a statement to the House in March saying the president's advisers would recommend he veto the bill if it passed.

According to the statement, the NO Ban Act would harm national security and hamper efforts to safeguard Americans from the spread of COVID-19. The administration also opposes the attorney consultation provision.

"Implementing this requirement would divert government resources, including personnel, technology and facilities, from their mission of facilitating lawful trade and travel, slowing processing times at our ports of entry," the statement says.

Some businesses disagree with the administration's position. In a letter to Congress, 13 companies -- including Postmates, AirBnB, Lyft and Twitter -- wrote that global mobility is critical to businesses that have customers, suppliers, users and work forces spread around the world.

"The travel limitations set by the travel ban make it challenging for U.S. workers to travel for work, leading to missed opportunities for employees to develop new skills and contribute to company growth," the September letter says. "Additionally, U.S. companies are less likely to attract global talent when those seeking work know they will have a harder time traveling internationally while working for an American company."

Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, one of the groups backing the NO BAN Act, said the bill would not affect the ability of the government to protect the country from the coronavirus. The bill has an exception that allows the president to block travel during public health emergencies.

"Protecting the health of Americans is an important and compelling interest," Tyler said. "That's very different from discriminating on the basis of religion. Our immigration policy should never be based on religious bias."

In February, during a House Judiciary Committee meeting, Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., the only Eritrean American in Congress, encouraged his colleagues to vote for the NO BAN Act. He said Congress eliminated country bans more than 50 years ago "because those policies in particular were undeniably discriminatory."

"In my view, the ban is an attack on our core American values," said Neguse, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Eritrea nearly 40 years ago. "In America, immigrants are integral parts of each of our communities. They are our friends, they are our neighbors, they are our colleagues and it is un-American to discriminate against them as immigrants solely because of how they pray."
Asymptomatic COVID-19 patients as contagious as those with symptoms

People who have COVID-19 without symptoms may be as contagious as those with symptoms, a study says. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 6 (UPI) -- People with confirmed COVID-19 who don't have symptoms of the disease are as contagious as those with symptoms and may need to be isolated to prevent spread of the virus, according to a study published Thursday by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Asymptomatic COVID-19 patients included in the analysis continued to test positive for the virus for up to 18 days after diagnosis, slightly less than the 20 days for those with symptoms, the researchers said.

Viral loads -- the amount of virus in an infected person -- in samples collected from the lower respiratory tract of patients also declined more slowly in those without symptoms than in those with them, they said.

Many asymptomatic patients also had evidence of "viral shedding" -- meaning they were contagious -- for at least 30 days after confirmed diagnosis, according to the researchers.

"Little is known about the infectiveness of asymptomatic patients," South Korean researchers wrote in the study. "Our findings ... nevertheless offer biological plausibility ... of transmission by asymptomatic people."

The findings were based on an analysis of 303 patients with confirmed COVID-19, 81% of whom didn't have symptoms at the time of diagnosis.

Patients included in the study ranged in age from 22 to 36, and 110 -- or roughly 36% -- were asymptomatic at the start of the analysis, the researchers said.

All of the patients were isolated in the COVID-19 ward of a South Korean hospital, and 21 -- about 19% -- of the asymptomatic patients developed symptoms while in isolation.

Seventy-five percent of the asymptomatic patients tested negative for the virus -- an indication of recovery -- 21 days after diagnosis, compared to just under 70% of symptomatic patients, the researchers said.

"Viral molecular shedding was prolonged," the researchers wrote. "Because transmission by asymptomatic patients with [COVID-19] may be a key factor in community spread, population-based surveillance and isolation of asymptomatic patients may be required."
Thunderstorms linked to 3,000 ER visits a year in seniors with asthma, COPD

Thunderstorms could aggravate symptoms of asthma and COPD in older adults, causing an increase in emergency-room visits, a new study has found.
 Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Thunderstorms are associated with an average of more than 3,000 additional emergency room visits annually among older adults with asthma and COPD in the United States, according to a study published Monday by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Based on the analysis of weather patterns and health information for Medicare beneficiaries 65 and older, more than 50,000 additional ER visits occurred among seniors with the respiratory conditions over a 14-year period between the 1999 and 2012, the researchers said.

Temperature rises and increases in air pollution in the days leading up to these storms could have aggravated breathing-related symptoms, causing people to seek emergency medical care, the researchers said.

"The environment and climate can affect our health, and with the changing climate, we will need to anticipate changes in healthcare needs," study co-author Dr. Christopher Worsham told UPI.

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"With the expectation that storms will be more severe with rising global temperatures, we should expect a modest, but real, increase in care needs among older adults, particularly those with asthma and COPD," said Worsham, a pulmonologist and critical care physician at Harvard Medical School.

About 7% of all U.S. adults 65 and older have asthma, and roughly 14% have COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

Both conditions cause breathing difficulty and can lead to severe illness and death, particularly in older adults, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Earlier studies have identified a phenomenon known as "thunderstorm asthma" in which outbreaks of older adults with worsening breathing problems occur, Worsham said.

These "outbreaks" are believed to be caused by ruptures of pollen spores in the days leading up to a storm, he said. These spores get blown around by a storm, causing sensitive people to have asthma attacks both during and shortly after the weather events.
For the research, Worsham and colleagues used publicly available atmospheric and lightning data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for all 3,127 counties nationwide from January 1999 to December 2012.

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They combined this data with insurance claims and health information for more than 46 million Medicare beneficiaries older than 65 to identify emergency room visits with acute respiratory diagnoses, they said.

Just over 10% of those included in the analysis had chronic asthma, while more than 26% had COPD and 6.6% had both, researchers said.

More than 22.1 million ER visits related to respiratory problems occurred across 822,000 days with "major thunderstorms," defined as weather events that included lightning, precipitation and above-median wind speeds, during the 14-year study period, the researchers said.

Approximately 52,000 of these visits involved older adults with asthma and COPD, which equates to more than 3,700 per year.

"We saw that it is the weather changes before the storm that seem to drive emergency department visits," Worsham said.

"Anyone with asthma or COPD who typically has worsening symptoms around storms should make sure to use their inhalers as recommended by their physician, and make sure a rescue inhaler is available to them when a storm is in the forecast," he said.
British economy sinks into deepest recession of any nation

The Bank of England is seen in London, Britain. Before this year, Britain's last recession occurred in 2008 and lasted for more than a year. File Photo by Andy Rain/EPA-EFE

Aug. 12 (UPI) -- The British economy has fallen into the deepest recession of any country in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, government figures showed Wednesday.

The statistics said Britain's gross domestic product declined in the second quarter by 20.4%, the nation's worst quarterly plunge in history.

The Office for National Statistics said the second-quarter decline came on top of the 2.2% decline in the first quarter. Economists define a recession as two consecutive quarters of contracting gross domestic product.

Britain is now in the most severe recession of any major economy.

"There have been record quarterly falls in services, production and construction output in Quarter 2, which have been particularly prevalent in those industries that have been most exposed to government restrictions," the ONS said in a statement.

"This [data] captures the direct effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the government measures taken to reduce transmission of the virus."

Britain's last recession occurred in 2008 and lasted for more than a year.

The opposition Labor Party blamed Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the economy's misfortunes.

"I've said before that hard times were ahead and today's figures confirm that hard times are here," Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said. "Hundreds of thousands of people have already lost their jobs and, sadly, in the coming months many more will.

"While there are difficult choices to be made ahead, we will get through this and I can assure people that nobody will be left without hope or opportunity."

Data showed Britain's construction and service sectors saw the steepest declines, falling 35% and 20%, respectively.
CEO group pledges to hire 100K minority, poor workers in NYC

New Yorkers pass JPMorgan Chase headquarters on Park Avenue in New York City. CEO Jamie Dimon is one of 27 CEOs involved in the initiative announced Tuesday. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 11 (UPI) -- CEOs from dozens of New York City's largest companies announced an initiative Tuesday to hire 100,000 of the city's minority and poor workers by 2030.

Organizers for the New York Jobs CEO Council said the program will aid low-income residents and underserved Black, Latino and Asian communities. The coalition also plans to provide apprenticeships and job opportunities for students at the City University of New York.

"Access to quality education and training for in-demand jobs is key to creating economic opportunity for youth and workers in New York," Gail Mellow, former president of LaGuardia Community College and the CEO council's leader, said in a statement.

"Our mission is to ensure people in New York's most vulnerable communities can access the skills that they need to pursue promising career pathways and benefit from the city's economic recovery."

The council has attracted some top business CEOs, including Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Sundar Pichai of Google and Hans Vestberg of Verizon.

The Federal Reserve said in May nearly 40% of U.S. job losses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic affected low-income residents.

"Underserved communities too often pay the highest price," New York Gov, Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "As we work to build back better from this virus, New York is confronting this injustice head-on.

"The new initiative will play an important role connecting underserved communities with career resources and access to New York's world-class educational institutions, helping ensure economic prosperity is a dream anyone can realize, no matter their zip code."
US Budget deficit hits $2.81 TRILLION in just 10 months and is on track to be far more than DOUBLE the $1.4 trillion all-time record set in 2009

Federal government has spent $2.81 trillion more than it took in so far in the 2020 fiscal year, which ends on September 30

Previous record was $1.4 trillion in 2009 meaning record will be more than doubled

Tax receipts have only gone down by 1 per cent but spending has soared


12 August 2020

The U.S. budget deficit climbed to $2.81 trillion in the first 10 months of the budget year, exceeding any on record, the Treasury Department said Wednesday.

The nation's budgetary shortfall is expected to eventually reach levels for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 more than double the largest annual deficit on record.

The federal government rang up a $63 billion deficit in July, the department reported. That's a relatively modest amount compared to red ink that spilled in the spring months when the government tried to revive an economy that all but ground to a halt due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Last month's deficit was sharply lower than June's $864 billion, in part because the government collected a record amount tax revenue in July - $563 billion - after extending the filing deadline to July 15. That extension allowed Americans more time to sort through the economic havoc wrought by the pandemic.

So far this budget year, government receipts total $2.82 trillion, off just 1% from the same period last year, Treasury officials said, crediting the 'income replacement' provided by various government aid packages. In other words, unemployment benefits and other aid are still taxable.


The year so far: How spending far outstrips tax receipts - and where it goes

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His economy: Donald Trump has run up the biggest deficit in history and it will keep growing in the next two months

Outlays so far this budget year total $5.63 trillion, a 50% increase over the $3.73 trillion at this point in 2019, with the vast majority of the extra spending related to fortifying the country's economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Congress has already passed rescue packages totaling nearly $3 trillion this year, but Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on another relief bill, just as an expanded unemployment benefit of $600 per week expired on July 31.

President Donald Trump issued a series of presidential directives last weekend to prolong the extended unemployment benefits at $400 a week, with 25% to be paid for by the states. But it´s unclear how much of an economic boost the extension would provide, given the economic uncertainty and funding that could run dry after five weeks.

Democrats in the House passed another bill with $3 trillion in aid, but the Republican-led Senate is pushing for a package closer to $1 trillion and did not bring the House bill up for a vote before going on August recess.

The Congressional Budget Office has forecast a $3.7 trillion deficit for this fiscal year as the country fell into a deep recession in February, ending a record expansion of nearly 11 years.

The Trump administration is predicting that the economy will bounce back in second half of 2020, but many private forecasters are concerned that consumers will dial back spending as infections surge in states like Florida. Consumer spending drives the U.S. economy, making up about 70% of all economic activity.

Last month, the government reported that the gross domestic product declined at a record 32.9% annual rate in the April-June quarter, as a resurgence of the viral outbreak pushed businesses to close for a second time in a number of regions.

For 20 consecutive weeks, more than a million Americans have sought jobless benefits. The unemployment rate fell last month to 10.2%, still higher than any point during the financial crisis of 2008-2009.

That was also when the federal government set the record for an annual deficit, hitting $1.4 trillion in 2009 as it tried to dig the country out of recession. The U.S. blew past that mark in May.

U.S. deficit "more than tripled" because of coronavirus rescue spending, report says

A report released Monday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office shows how emergency rescue payments during the coronavirus pandemic and falling tax revenue have tripled the U.S. budget deficit in the first 10 months of fiscal year 2020. File Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Aug. 10 (UPI) -- The federal budget deficit tripled in the first 10 months of the fiscal year 2020, up to $2.8 trillion compared with $0.9 trillion during the same period last year, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office said in a report Monday.

As Congress approved trillions of dollars in emergency economic rescue funding, federal outlays were 51% higher in the period, while tax revenues were 1% lower due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, the non-partisan agency said.

An analysis showed that revenue collections differed starkly before and after the start of the pandemic's economic disruption, the agency said.

"Through March, receipts were running 6% above last year's amounts," the report said. "And from April through July, they were 10% below last year's amounts."

Amounts withheld from workers' paychecks decreased by $74 billion, or about 9 percent because of a decline in wages. Corporate taxes fell by $27 billion, or 26%, because of economic disruption and emergency CARES Act tax incentives, the agency said.

Meanwhile, because individual and corporate taxpayers were allowed to file taxes on July 15 instead of in April this year, tax revenues in July were up to $563 billion, about 225% more than $251 billion in July 2019. However, revenues in the latest months of the pandemic this year dropped by 10% from last year all told, the agency said.

The delayed tax payments helped lower the federal budget deficit for July 2020 to $61 billion, the CBO estimated, down from $120 billion in the same month last year.

Spending in July rose to $624 billion, the agency estimated, about 68% more than $371 billion in outlays in July 2019. Most of those outlays were for federal unemployment payments, which increased to $110 billion this year mostly because of the $600 weekly federal benefit provided by the CARES Act, the agency said.

Other pandemic-related outlays included hospital and health-care provider reimbursements for pandemic losses, which rose to $17 billion this July, as compared with $243 million last July, the agency said. Medicaid spending increased by $7 billion as enrollment increased by 6.2% and states were required to keep enrollees on Medicaid until the end of the health emergency.

Congressional Republicans in the U.S. Senate have pointed to the national deficit as a reason to slow down a second round of national COVID-19 rescue payments. House Democrats rolled out a $3 trillion rescue bill in May, and GOP Senators unveiled a slimmed-down $1 trillion bill last month.

When negotiations stalled, President Donald Trump issued executive orders Saturday to provide an extra $400 in weekly unemployment aid, a payroll tax, eviction protection and relief from student loan debt. It remains to be seen whether Trump's orders will be challenged in court as outside the scope of the executive office, since most tax and financial legislation must be approved by Congress.

Study: Income affects ability to social distance during pandemic
By HealthDay News

A woman takes a photo while wearing a protective face mask on a sidewalk on the Upper West Side of Manhattan New York City in May.
Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Does your income determine your ability to practice social distancing?

New research suggests that's so: Richer communities have been more likely to stay home during the pandemic than poorer ones, according to scientists from the University of California, Davis.

For the study, they used data from mobile location devices between January and April 2020 and found that social distancing varied by income.

During the lockdown, those in the richest communities stayed completely home by about 25 percentage points more than usual, compared with 10 percentage points in the poorest communities.

"We found that before the pandemic, individuals in the wealthiest neighborhoods tended to be the least likely to stay completely at home on a given day," researcher Joakim Weill said in a university news release. He's a graduate student in the department of agricultural and resource economics.

"But when the states of emergency came into play, individuals living in the wealthiest areas stayed home the most. It was a complete reversal," Weill noted.

The study couldn't show the causes for this reversal. But poorer communities may have more essential workers who can't work from home, the researchers said.

The study also showed that the pandemic disproportionately affected poorer communities, which have more people with preexisting conditions and less access to health care.

"As policymakers are thinking about emergency relief packages, this points to the need for lower-income regions to be an area of focus in order to build capacity for social distancing and other measures critical to reduce the spread of this disease," said researcher Michael Springborn, an environmental economist and associate professor in the department of environmental science and policy.

"This is just one piece of a broader set of emerging results showing that lower-income neighborhoods are particularly vulnerable as the pandemic proceeds," he said in the release.

The report was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Midwest derecho destroyed 10M acres of crops in Iowa

Derechos are sometimes called "inland hurricanes" due to the extensive damage that they can cause and how they appear on radar images.

By definition, a derecho is a long-lived complex of intense thunderstorms that travels at least 250 miles. Additionally, wind gusts along its path must exceed 58 mph with at least several reports of gusts over 75 mph, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

Aug. 12 (UPI) -- A powerful derecho that tore through the Midwest earlier this week also flattened more than 10 million acres of crops in Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds said.

Among the crops destroyed were about 43% of the state's corn and soybean yields.

"Although it will take days or weeks to know the full scope of damage, initial reports are significant," Reynolds said Tuesday.

More than 600,000 customers also remained without power in the region Wednesday after the derecho -- a fast-moving line of severe thunderstorms -- tore through the area earlier this week.

About 300,000 of those customers were located in Iowa, according to, the state's three largest metropolitan areas of Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport continued to report widespread outages.

Two deaths have also been reported as a result of the storm including a 63-year-old bicyclist who was struck by a large falling tree and a 73-year-old woman who was found in a mobile home that was damaged by the derecho.

Reynolds said the storm resulted in more widespread damage than typical tornadoes and issued emergency declarations in 20 counties.

"It is just about across the entire state, very widespread and significant, significant damage has been done," she said.

Thunderstorms to continue Tuesday in the wake of powerful derecho

Provided by AccuWeather,

AUG. 11, 2020 

In the wake of a massive derecho that rolled across the Midwest on Monday, the same atmospheric disturbance will spark up additional rounds of heavy thunderstorms along its path into Tuesday night.

At the derecho's peak intensity, wind gusts in excess of 100 mph were observed across portions of eastern Iowa during the afternoon on Monday. Numerous reports of 70- to 90-mph wind gusts also brought along a wide swath of damage reports across northern Illinois, including the Chicago metro area as well.

Luckily, a thunderstorm complex of that magnitude is not expected for the second day in a row. However, AccuWeather meteorologists will be monitoring a few separate areas for severe thunderstorm activity once again.

Amid hot and increasingly humid conditions, portions of the interior Northeast and New England will be one area to closely monitor for the threat of potentially heavy thunderstorms.

Ahead of the storm system that will eventually trigger these storms across the Northeast, a southwesterly breeze will bring a surge of moisture northward, putting the fuel needed for explosive thunderstorm development in place.

Anyone with outdoor plans across portions of upstate New York, including Ithaca, Syracuse and across the Adirondacks, will want to have a secondary plan of action prepared just in case thunderstorms develop overhead. As the afternoon progresses, this threat will translate eastward.

It is possible that another complex, or broken line of thunderstorms could develop once again during the afternoon. This threat could extend from the Champlain Valley and much of interior New England, southwestward into northeastern Pennsylvania.

In similar fashion to the events on Monday -- although not nearly as intense -- damaging wind gusts and locally flooding downpours will be the primary concern from these thunderstorms. A few incidents of hail cannot be ruled out.

During the late-night hours, thunderstorm activity is expected to weaken somewhat as they approach the Interstate-95 corridor across the Northeast and New England.

In the wake of the thunderstorm activity across the Northeast, a brief reprieve of the heat will be in store for some across the interior.

Another area of potentially threatening weather into Tuesday evening from the same storm system will be along the trailing edges of the drier push of air across the middle and lower Mississippi River Valley.

Across this zone, plenty of atmospheric moisture will remain in place, providing fuel for potentially drenching thunderstorms. Areas from eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, southern Missouri, Tennessee and northern Mississippi could come into play.

While locally severe wind gusts and hail are possible, the most expansive threat across this zone will be from heavy rain that could lead to flooding.

Mother Nature will be keeping busy across the country, as a threat for severe weather will unfold in another region of the country.

A weak disturbance at the jet stream level of the atmosphere will be streaking eastward out of the Rockies and into the High Plains, which will set the stage for explosive thunderstorm development into the evening hours.

Areas along and east of the I-25 corridor in Colorado and Wyoming will be first in line for this threat as storms erupt in the area. Large hail, damaging wind gusts and torrential rainfall rates will be possible here.

There may be enough atmospheric support in place across the northern portion of this zone for yet another complex of severe thunderstorms well after dark.

"The area from Mobridge, South Dakota, to North Platte, Nebraska, on east will be at greatest risk for severe weather after 10 p.m. local time Tuesday night.

This could prove dangerous for motorists traveling along I-90 in South Dakota overnight, as wind gusts could be strong enough to tip over high-profile vehicles.

A jet stream pattern conducive for a multi-day threat for severe weather will likely remain in place across the northern and central Plains in the coming days. While a derecho of the same caliber that was observed on Monday is not expected over the next few days, it cannot be completely ruled out.

Derecho thunderstorms slam Chicago, leave devastation in Iowa

Brian Lada & Jean Lotus,
AUG. 10, 2020

A derecho storm system with high-speed winds over 70 mph hit Chicago and northern Illinois Monday during evening rush hour. Image by National Weather


An intense line of storms known as a derecho developed over the central United States Monday, causing significant damage and widespread power outages as it blitzed eastward, striking Chicago during evening rush hour.

Thunderstorms ignited in southeastern South Dakota and eastern Nebraska on Monday morning, but gained strength and evolved into a derecho across central Iowa by midday. Winds between 70-100 mph were expected after the worst of the storms swept eastward through northern Illinois.

A tornado warning for Cook County another northern Illinois counties from the National Weather Service warned that 80 mph winds would pick up flying debris and be "dangerous to those caught without shelter."

Mobile homes may be heavily damaged, the weather service warned. "Expect considerable damage to roofs, windows, and vehicles. Extensive tree damage and power outages are likely," the weather service said.

High wind speeds were measured at 72 mph at Midway airport, the NWS said.

Earlier Monday, across Iowa, large trees, branches, debris and power lines littered streets and yards, with many residents finding themselves in the dark in the wake of the storms.

Over 400,000 were without power across Iowa alone as of early Monday afternoon, according to, including the entire town of Ames - and these numbers may continue to climb into the evening. Marshalltown, Iowa, has been one of the towns hit the hardest by the derecho and recorded a wind gust of 95 mph observed at the town's airport.

Major damage has been reported in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the second-most populated city in the state. A wind gust of 100 mph was clocked in Hiawatha, which is just a few miles north of Cedar Rapids.

Derechos are sometimes called "inland hurricanes" due to the extensive damage that they can cause and how they appear on radar images.

By definition, a derecho is a long-lived complex of intense thunderstorms that travels at least 250 miles. Additionally, wind gusts along its path must exceed 58 mph with at least several reports of gusts over 75 mph, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

In 2012, a particularly strong derecho traveled 800 miles from the Midwest to the coast of the mid-Atlantic, causing $3 billion in damage and leaving some in the dark for days during the peak of summer heat.


This weather phenomenon not only looks like an 'inland hurricane' on radar it can feel like one too

While a derecho is a thunderstorm complex, it is its severity, distance and duration that make this weather phenomenon stand out from the more typical spring and summer storms.

The term derecho is derived from the Spanish language adverb which means "straight" in English. The term tornado in Spanish means "to turn."

Even though derechos can produce isolated tornadoes with twisting and turning winds, damage is most often similar to a thunderstorm downburst. Winds during a thunderstorm downburst tend to push and/or knock objects over, such as trees and power lines, in a straight line.

However, while damage from a thunderstorm downburst may occur over a few miles or less, the damage produced by a derecho occurs over a much more broad scale.

This radar image shows the complex of thunderstorms that was classified as a derecho as it swept form southeastern Ohio to West Virginia during the evening hours on Jun 29, 2012. (NOAA)

While a derecho may look like an inland hurricane on radar and satellite images and seem like the same in person with its combination of strong wind and torrential rain, the meteorological community has criteria that determines whether or not a thunderstorm complex has achieved the "d-word" level.

"The main consideration for a thunderstorm complex to be considered a derecho is if severe, damaging, straight-line winds have occurred along a continuous 240-mile-long path or greater," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski.

"A derecho must include wind gusts of at least 58 mph or greater along most of its path," according to the Storm Prediction Center (SPC).

Fifty-eight miles per hour is the official cutoff for winds to be considered severe weather.

While there is no official designation for how wide a derecho must be, the family of thunderstorm complexes that produce derechos generally reach 50 miles or greater in width as described by SPC.

AccuWeather meteorologists will generally not refer to a complex of thunderstorms as a derecho unless there is significant concern for the aforementioned criteria being reached.

Some examples of famous, deadly and damaging derechos include the long-lived thunderstorm complex during the summer of 2012.

This image shows the list and location of severe weather reports from the derecho of June 29-30, 2012. There were more than 1,000 reports of damaging winds during the event. (Storm Prediction Center/NOAA)

The 2012 derecho had its beginnings over Iowa on June 29 and traveled approximately 800 miles to the mid-Atlantic coast on June 30.

Nearly two dozen people were killed and damage approached $3 billion during the June 2012 event.

More than 4 million utility customers lost power during the event as scores of trees came down and took power lines with them in the two-day span.

In this June 30, 2012, photo, an American Beech tree is down on Capitol Hill grounds in Washington, D.C., across from the U.S. Supreme Court after a derecho swept across the region. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

There have been dozens of derechos over the past four decades alone.

During July 11-15, 1995, four separate derechos occurred over the northern tier of the United States. Damage from the four events approached $1 billion.

This hand-drawn map shows the areal coverage of the four derechos that occurred spanning July 11-15, 1995 over the northern United States. (NOAA)

"Derechos and their parent thunderstorm complexes often form and move along the northern edge of a large rim of heat," Pydynowski said.

This is often the location of a strong jet stream overhead, which helps to not only give the storms more strength, but also causes them to move along at a swift pace.

While multiple complexes of thunderstorms often occur every week during the late spring and summer, those which reach the criteria of a derecho are significantly less common.

In addition to the U.S., derechos have been documented in Europe over the past few decades.

A derecho should not be confused with a squall line, which is a narrow zone of thunderstorms some of which may be severe.

A squall line forms along or ahead of a cold front and typically marks the end of warm or hot weather, according to SPC.

Squall lines can extend for 1,000 miles or more and travel similar distances in extreme cases.

During or after the passage of a derecho, heat may build, cooler air may follow or temperatures may remain nearly the same.

Netherlands' Belgian enclave juggles tricky virus rules

Issued on: 13/08/2020 -
Artist Sylvia Reijbroek, who owns an art gallery, wears a face mask on the Belgian side of her shop, marked out by white crosses, because Belgium makes face coverings compulsory to fight the coronavirus 

Baarle-Nassau (Netherlands) (AFP)

There is a small Belgian enclave in the southern Netherlands where respecting two sets of rules to fight coronavirus has become a daily challenge, with international borders criss-crossing streets and even running through shops and homes.

The tiny town of Baarle-Hertog stands cheek by jowl with its Dutch neighbour Baarle-Nassau in southern Netherlands, but its 22 enclaves are Belgian territory and part of the Antwerp municipality which lies about 50 kilometres (31 miles) away.

Before, nobody worried too much about the fact that Belgian Baarle-Hertog was completely surrounded by the Netherlands, with the border running like a patchwork through the two towns and where the position of one's front door determined which country one lived in.

But then the coronavirus pandemic came along -- with Belgium following one set of guidelines and the Netherlands another -- and confusion reigned.

- Mask or no mask? -

In Baarle-Hertog, as in Antwerp, wearing a mask in a public space is obligatory. Not so in Baarle-Nassau, because Dutch rules require masks only on public transport.

"People don't understand whether or not they should wear a mask when they come to my shop," said Sylvia Reijbroek, a local resident whose art gallery is split by the border, marked by simple white crosses on the floor.

The Dutch woman used to be amused by the national boundary splitting the site, but since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic "it's not so nice any more".

Customers entering from the gallery's Belgian side have to put on a mask, before a few metres further, inside the gallery, they are allowed to take it off because they've "crossed the border".

Before the coronavirus, "there was no problem with borders. Now, we see it's different," Reijbroek, who is an artist, told AFP.

- Tale of two towns -

Despite the obvious white crosses demarcating the border between Belgium and the Netherlands, the two villages used to work well together, said Frans De Bont, Baarle-Hertog's mayor.

"With corona everything has changed. Nobody knows what to do," he told AFP.

"Now it's: 'you're Dutch and you have your rules' and we have Belgian rules which are stricter. And that's strange," said De Bont, whose 7.5 square kilometre village has recorded 14 coronavirus cases so far.

During the recent lockdown, Reijbroek had to close her art gallery under Belgian law, while an adjoining shop on the Dutch side could remain open.

Calling it an "intelligent lockdown", the Netherlands was one of the few countries in Europe not to order a full quarantine during the height of the pandemic.

"We have two governments which have different ways of dealing with the coronavirus. It's not very pleasant," Reijbroek said.

To help the two towns' population of some 9,600 residents navigate a tricky situation, some businesses now display storefront signs that read: "No mask required here."

To add to the absurdity of the situation, Antwerp's authorities recently tightened COVID-19 restrictions by introducing a nightly curfew.

- Unique situation -

The history of Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog dates back to the Middle Ages, and the geographical anomaly has attracted tourists from all over the world.

In 1198, the territory was carved up when Henry I, Duke of Brabant, gave Godfried of Schoten, Lord of Breda, some land.

By 1830, when Belgium became independent and separated from the Netherlands, the question about precise borders once again came to the fore.

The border was finally settled in 1995, some 165 years later.

This is a "unique" case in the world, said Willem van Gool, director of the Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog tourist office.

"You could say that we are the world capital of enclaves. We are used to it," he said.

"But of course, with the coronavirus, we have new problems to solve," explained Van Gool.

"It's difficult for people here," Mayor De Bont conceded.

But for De Bont it's not a competition to see which country has implemented the most effective measures against coronavirus, so clearly seen in the way the two towns deal with pandemic.

"We are working on something bigger. We are busy with a war (against coronavirus) now," he said.

Both countries "are doing their best".

© 2020 AFP
The global coffee crisis is coming

It’s getting harder and harder to grow coffee.

By Sam Ellis Aug 10, 2020

Nearly 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year, making it easily one of the most popular goods in the world. It’s cultivated in dozens of countries by nearly 25 million farmers who depend on it to make a living.

But coffee is becoming harder to grow. It’s a notoriously picky plant that requires very specific conditions to grow. And as climate change warms the planet, the places that can sustain the plant are shrinking. A recent study estimates that by 2050, the amount of land that can sustain coffee will have fallen by 50 percent.

But while there may be time to save the coffee plant, the crisis has already arrived for coffee farmers. Deteriorating conditions and plummeting prices have made it difficult to make a living growing coffee, not to mention invest in measures to adapt to climate change.

This episode of Vox Atlas explains the coming coffee crisis and what coffee farmers need to survive it.

How a homemaker with no political experience took on Europe’s longest-serving dictator

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya became a symbol for the democratic future Belarus could have, not the autocratic one it has now.

By Alex Updated Aug 11, 2020,
Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya casts her vote into a ballot box during the 2020 Belarusian presidential election. Valery Sharifulin/TASS/Getty Images

One of Europe’s last remaining dictators held onto power after facing his greatest political challenge in decades — and rigged an election to do so.

Alexander Lukashenko has served as Belarus’s president since 1994, when he won the presidency in the country’s last national democratic election since gaining independence from the Soviet Union. That’s because Lukashenko has remained in power ever since thanks to a combination of brutal repression and rigged elections. He’s now Europe’s longest-serving leader.

But after 26 years, many Belarusians have had enough of Lukashenko. Hundreds of thousands of people have rallied for weeks against him in the largest protests of the country’s post-Soviet history.

A government-backed poll from April found only a third of Belarusians trusted him — one of the lowest ratings of his rule. While good polling is hard to come by in Belarus, that one made sense: The dictator both minimized and mishandled his nation’s coronavirus outbreak, oversaw a collapsing economy, and struggled to keep an encroaching Russia at bay.

With such dismal approval ratings, most experts believe Lukashenko would’ve lost a free and fair vote. Which is why Lukashenko did everything in his power to make sure Sunday’s election was anything but free and fair.

And sure enough, Lukashenko won Sunday’s election in a landslide, receiving over 80 percent of the vote. “I don’t know who voted for him, how could he get 80 percent?” a Belarusian named Dmitri, who wouldn’t divulge his last name for security reasons, told the New York Times on Sunday.

His “victory” came down to a tried-and-true autocratic method: brutality. “That [was] the strategy for Lukashenko for this election,” said Ryhor Astapenia, a Belarus expert at the Chatham House think tank in Britain. “No sweeteners, only repression.”

The 65-year-old former collective farm director jailed two of the three top opposition candidates and barred the third from running; he also detained journalists and even alleged Russian mercenaries the regime claimed were trying to disrupt the election prior to the vote.

But his tactics didn’t quell people’s aspirations for democracy. It lit them on fire thanks in part to the efforts of one determined stay-at-home mom — who just had to flee the country for the safety of her children.

The homemaker versus the dictator

One of Lukashenko’s main opponents in this year’s election was Sergei Tikhanovsky, a famous YouTuber who made his name highlighting Belarus’s many problems. Two days after he announced his candidacy for president, he was arrested by the regime on charges of violating public order and election laws.

That might’ve been the end of the story. But it wasn’t: That’s because his wife, a 37-year-old former English translator turned homemaker named Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, stepped in to run for president instead.

She proved wildly successful, coalescing a nationwide movement to defeat the longtime leader and then hold actually fair elections. That she did so despite having no political experience, acknowledging she didn’t want to be president, and reminding crowds she’d prefer to be making cutlets for her children made her rise all the more surprising.

That energy persisted even after the election results were announced Sunday. The regime-run election commission said the challenger only received about 10 percent of the vote, far less than the 80 percent she garnered in some unbiased exit polls. Thousands poured into the streets of Minsk, Belarus’s capital, on Sunday to protest the election’s results.

Demonstrators have been met with tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets shot by regime forces, even though observers on the scene have yet to report one instance of violence by anti-Lukashenko protesters. Reports indicate at least one protester has died.

Viasna, a Belarusian human rights group, says they know of about 140 people among thousands detained by authorities while many more sustained injuries. The Trump administration on Monday proclaimed support for the democratic movement.

Tikhanovskaya made clear she rejected the regime-announced results. “I will believe my own eyes — the majority was for us,” she said during a Monday press conference in Minsk. “The authorities should think about how to peacefully hand over power to us,” she continued. “I consider myself the winner of this election.”Former candidate in the 2020 Belarusian presidential election Svetlana Tikhanovskaya during a press conference on the election results on August 10, 2020. Natalia Fedosenko/TASS/Getty Images

But the next day, state-run media showed a video of Tikhanovskaya reading a statement calling for an end to protests. Internet sleuths believe the couch from which she read the statement was the same one in Belarus’s election commission office. (Her team had said the opposition leader couldn’t be reached on Monday after she visited that office.) If true, it could signal Tikhanovskaya was forced to call for an end to anti-Lukashenko demonstrations by the regime.

She has since fled to Lithuania, according to that country’s foreign minister, and it’s unclear how long she’ll be there or what, exactly, she’ll do.

> Belarusians! I urge you to be prudent and respect the law. I don’t want blood and violence. I ask you not to confront the police, not to go out to the square, so as not to endanger your life. Take care of yourself and your loved ones. "— Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) August 11, 2020

Internet users identified the room by the sofa. It's the office of Central Electoral Commission, where God knows what Tsikhanouskaya has seen or heard. Pro-government media were first published and distributed this video. They believe people are stupid.— Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) August 11, 2020

In the meantime, the Tikhanovskaya-led opposition aims for the pressure to stay on the dictator long term, hoping to sustain a historic call for change. Some believe it could work. “This is the beginning of the end of his era,” Valiantsin Stefanovic, Viasna’s deputy chairman, told me. “This is a new reality for him, because nobody loves him anymore. People want to be free.”

Others don’t believe the remarkable scenes of the past few weeks mean Belarus has moved much closer to a post-Lukashenko future. “There’s definitely something different about this now,” said Matthew Rojansky, an expert on Eastern Europe at the Woodrow Wilson Center think tank in Washington, “but that doesn’t mean this is the breakthrough moment.”

Which means, depressingly enough, Lukashenko most likely will survive the greatest threat yet to his rule — though he won’t come out of it completely unscathed.
How Lukashenko saw his control slip

When Lukashenko became Belarus’s president in 1994 — after receiving 80 percent of the vote in Belarus’s last fair election — he entered office with a staunch anti-corruption message. His right-wing populism resonated with citizens seeking to improve their lives after the fall of the Soviet Union and who blamed the nation’s woes on its sclerotic and incompetent run by the communist-era establishment.

Lukashenko promised to save Belarus. He would tax the rich, steer the economy in the right direction, and root out the corruption which he claimed, “like an all-devouring octopus has ensnared all government organs with its tentacles.”

But, over the years, Lukashenko became the exact enemy he set out to fight. “He moved from good governance to embracing and not denying iron-fistedness,” said Rojansky. Namely, he resisted needed economic reforms, stayed cozy with Russia, and cracked down on dissenters.

As Human Rights Watch noted in 2019, “Belarus continued to harass and pressure civil society activists and independent media,” including denying journalists entry to official events and arresting peaceful protesters. It’s also widely believed that Lukashenko ordered the kidnappings and killings of at least four political opponents. For those and other reasons, opposition figures boycotted or rarely entered recent elections to dethrone the autocrat.

Despite all that, Lukashenko maintained a semblance of popularity because the economy didn’t nosedive on his watch. That minimal success had less to do with Lukashenko’s management, though, and more to do with loans coming in from Russia to keep the country afloat and secure its fealty to Moscow.

As of last summer, Belarus owed Russia about $7.5 billion, causing tensions between the two countries. In an effort to signal his independence and that he hadn’t mismanaged the economy, Lukashenko said his country would give Russia $1 billion per year until the debt was repaid. Further, Belarus would no longer request more funds. “Stop yelling that you are providing for us,” he said in a speech last year, clearly directing his comments at the Kremlin.

Such bravado may also have been a cover. Russia had mostly stopped injecting cash into Belarus, and Minsk struggled to get financial support from other capitals (though Beijing did provide a $500 million loan last year).

As a result, Belarus’s GDP has basically been flat since 2012, forcing thousands to seek work in nearby countries like Poland, work multiple jobs, or gain employment in the country’s byzantine public sector.

That has long spelled trouble for Lukashenko. “An authoritarian system can maintain its popularity as long as it can provide the goods for the population,” said Eleanor Bindman, an expert on post-Soviet states and authoritarian regimes at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK. “Once that social and economic side of the bargain goes away, people start thinking: ‘What are we getting out of this?’”

That thought clearly crept up more and more as Lukashenko failed to handle his nation’s coronavirus crisis. He called concerns about an outbreak a mass “psychosis” and claimed all it took to kill the virus was a little vodka or a quick trip to the sauna. “No one in the country will die from coronavirus,” he said in April, acknowledging two months later that he contracted the disease but had no symptoms.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, with a raised fist, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, left, on June 24, in Moscow. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

His lack of alarm kept the regime from imposing any social restrictions or offering any help to those on the front lines of the national response. “The state completely withdrew without providing support for medical workers,” Maryia Rohava, a Belarus expert at the University of Oslo in Norway, told me. They gave no guidelines and barely provided information at all, she continued, and led Belarusians to take matters into their own hands.

The country has an educated and highly tech-savvy population, and they used that know-how to crowdfund support for medical professionals. One campaign, #bycovid19, provided around $130,000 and 27,000 respirators in April alone. “Our goal is to make sure this system doesn’t collapse,” Andrej Stryzhak, the group’s cofounder, told the Guardian at the time. Such a collapse was possible, as cases increased while just one mask sold on the country’s black market for nearly $16.

Those kinds of campaigns brought hundreds of thousands of Belarusians together online — mostly on Telegram — to both form a movement and realize together that the country was in dire straits with Lukashenko at the helm. Any support the leader had quickly eroded. “We saw many people flip because of Covid-19, poverty, and his attitude toward current problems,” Franak Viacorka, an independent journalist in Belarus, told me.

The longstanding opposition to Lukashenko finally had its greatest opening — the dictator was weak. But the person who would soon lead the opposition was still taking care of her two kids at home, unaware she was about to become the most effective politician to challenge Lukashenko in decades.
How Tikhanovskaya rose to her unlikely moment

Initially three men looked to take the mantle of Lukashenko’s top challenger. But one by one, the dictator found a way to brush them aside before the election — a move experts said was rare because he usually waits to put down the opposition after the vote.

Victor Babariko, widely seen as the most likely opposition candidate, was barred by the regime from running. Valery Tsepkalo, the country’s former ambassador to the US, also couldn’t register for the election and subsequently fled to Russia fearing for his life.

The third man was Sergei Tikhanovsky, the popular YouTuber and fierce Lukashenko critic, who was repeatedly arrested for trying to get in the race. In response, Tikhanovsky in May pushed for his wife Svetlana to run in his stead, an idea experts told me gained support among thousands connected on Telegram. She collected the requisite 100,000 signatures which allowed her to register with regime-controlled election authorities.

Somewhat surprisingly, they approved her registration.

Experts told me Lukashenko usually allows some opposition candidates to run against him. Doing so lets the regime keep the appearance of a fair election and also allows those with grievances to express them once in a while, hoping complaints die down soon after the vote. That seems to have happened in this case, but the president also didn’t seem too threatened by Tikhanovskaya’s candidacy.

One reason was Tikhanovskaya had no political experience at all. In fact, she had never spoken at a political rally before. The other was Lukashenko holds sexist, outdated views of women. “Society is not mature enough to vote for a woman,” Lukashenko said in July, adding that the weight of the presidency would lead her to “collapse, poor thing.”

But Tikhanovskaya didn’t collapse under pressure. Instead, she united the opposition and brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets in support.

Tsepkalo’s wife and Babariko’s campaign manager, also a woman, backed her campaign during a July announcement that went viral after each made a sign with their hands: a heart, a fist in a fist-pump position, and a “V” for victory. The moment provided immense momentum to her candidacy, as it became clear three women symbolized a youth movement against the old dictator.

“This was a surprising and brilliant move by the opposition,” Tatyana Margolin, the regional director for Open Society’s Eurasia program, told me. “They undoubtedly saw that together they [would] be stronger, so they joined forces rather quickly.”
Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, center, poses with Veronika Tsepkalo, left, the wife of opposition figure Valery Tsepkalo, and Maria Kolesnikova, Viktor Babaryko’s campaign chief, right, at a rally near Minsk on July 31, 2020. Sergei Gapon/AFP/Getty Images

But Tikhanovskaya’s story was compelling in its own right: To take on the role of political leader, she sent her kids away to an undisclosed location to keep them out of the regime’s clutches. She also made clear that in the unlikely event she actually won, she would quickly hold free elections to let someone who actually wanted to be president to take over.

“I don’t need power, but my husband is behind bars,” Tikhanovskaya told a large Minsk crowd in July. “I’m tired of putting up with it. I’m tired of being silent. I’m tired of being afraid.”

She outlined some reforms, namely her husband’s platform of giving more money to the poor by taking cash away from the corrupt elite. But it’s what she and her female backers represented — a country without an entrenched, corrupt, dangerous regime in charge — that garnered her immense support.

Ironically, it was similar to the message the dictator offered back in 1994. “She’s trying to out-Lukashenko Lukashenko,” the Wilson Center’s Rojansky told me.

That play worked, as she drew hundreds of thousands across the country — not just in cities, but even small towns that have historically been Lukashenko strongholds — into the opposition. “She’s mostly a symbol of the grievances that people are trying to express,” said the University of Oslo’s Rohava.

Those grievances are now being expressed by many on Belarus’s streets. The likelihood that they’ll change anything in the short term, though, is unlikely.
Lukashenko is likely to hold on to power — for now

Belarus has long seen anti-Lukashenko protests like the ones on Minsk’s streets in recent weeks. In 2017, for example, the regime imposed a tax on part-time or unemployed workers, leading thousands to demonstrate against the government. In the end, Lukashenko cracked down on that movement like he had on others in previous years.

Some experts I spoke to said that given enough repression and time, it’s likely the current movement will fizzle out despite its unprecedented size and scope. “The regime is durable,” said Konstantin Ash, an expert on protests in Belarus at the University of Central Florida. “Lukashenko isn’t in a sky-is-falling situation. He’s still very much in charge.”

The only way to tell his grip on power is slipping, Ash added, was if members of the country’s security forces — which receive an inordinate amount of funding and authority from the autocrat — start to defect. “That’s the crucial element.”

So far that hasn’t happened. Instead, security forces have arrested 3,000 people in Minsk and 2,000 others around the country. Lukashenko has vowed to keep the pressure on protesters he called “sheep” under foreign control on Monday. “People need to settle down, calm down.”

But others are convinced Lukashenko’s increased repression, deadly failings, and the size of the democratic movement — now well-connected online — means the dictator’s days are numbered. “This is the best opportunity for this to be the beginning of the end for Lukashenko,” Manchester Metropolitan University’s Bindman told me. “I’d be very surprised if he made it through another five-year term without any other troubles.”

Stefanovic, the human rights leader in Belarus, said what’s also changed is the nation’s attitudes toward female leadership. That could sustain the movement far longer than Lukashenko might think. “Our society is ready to have a woman as the leader of the country,” he told me. “What matters is what a leader says, not if they’re a woman or man.”

The wild card in all of this, though, is Russia. Moscow wants deeper economic and political integration with Belarus, mainly in an effort to ensure it doesn’t lean westward and away from the Kremlin’s grip. That has some worried Russian President Vladimir Putin may launch a Ukraine-like invasion into the Eastern European nation.

Stephen Sestanovich, a Russia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, though, isn’t so concerned. “The Russians can’t like their choices much,” he said. “Lukashenko has been an ornery partner for years, extremely hard to subdue. But the idea that he’d be brought low by a popular outpouring of opposition to dictatorship and bad management? From Putin’s point of view, that’s pretty awful too.”

What’s more, he added, it’s not like Belarus’s people are clamoring for a more Soviet-like future. Belarus “may look like a poor, unreformed Soviet backwater, but it’s been a nominally independent country now for close to 30 years,” Sestanovich said. “If there’s a constituency for returning to the Russian fold, Putin hasn’t found it.”

Anti-Lukashenko activists, then, may not have to contend with the complication of a Russian invasion. What they have to deal with — a weakened dictator who still wields immense power — will be tough enough.