In Brief: November 19, 2020

‘Tired to the bone’: Hospitals overwhelmed with virus cases

Overwhelmed hospitals are converting chapels, cafeterias, waiting rooms, hallways, even a parking garage into patient treatment areas. Staff members are desperately calling around to other medical centers in search of open beds. Fatigue and frustration are setting in among front-line workers.

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Conditions inside the nation’s hospitals are deteriorating by the day as the coronavirus rages across the U.S. at an unrelenting pace and the death toll closes in on a quarter-million.

“We are depressed, disheartened and tired to the bone,” said Alison Johnson, director of critical care at Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee, adding that she drives to and from work some days in tears.

The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 in the U.S. has doubled in the past month and set new records every day this week. As of Tuesday, nearly 77,000 were hospitalized with the virus.

Newly confirmed infections per day in the U.S. have exploded more than 80% over the past two weeks to the highest levels on record, with the daily count running at close to 160,000 on average. Cases are on the rise in all 50 states. Deaths are averaging more than 1,155 per day, the highest in months.

Trump pursues recount of 2 liberal Wisconsin counties

MADISON, Wis. — President Donald Trump filed Wednesday for a recount of Wisconsin’s two largest Democratic counties, paying the required $3 million cost and alleging that they were the sites of the “worst irregularities” although no evidence of illegal activity has been presented.

The recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties will begin Friday and must be done by Dec. 1. Democrat Joe Biden received 577,455 votes in those two counties compared with 213,157 for Trump. Biden won statewide by 20,608 votes, based on canvassed results submitted by the counties.

“The official canvass results reaffirmed Joe Biden’s clear and resounding win in Wisconsin after Wisconsin voters turned out to cast their ballots in record numbers,” said Biden campaign spokesman Nate Evans. “A cherry-picked and selective recounting of Milwaukee and Dane County will not change these results.”

Milwaukee County is the state’s largest, home to the city of Milwaukee, and Black people make up about 27% of the population, more than any other county. Dane County is home to the liberal capital city of Madison and the flagship University of Wisconsin campus.

“The people of Wisconsin deserve to know whether their election processes worked in a legal and transparent way,” said Wisconsin attorney Jim Troupis, who is working with the Trump campaign. “Regrettably, the integrity of the election results cannot be trusted without a recount in these two counties and uniform enforcement of Wisconsin absentee ballot requirements. We will not know the true results of the election until only the legal ballots cast are counted.”

Wind in forecast raises fears after Nevada fire burns homes

RENO, Nev. — Another lashing of strong winds expected in northern Nevada raised concerns Wednesday about reviving a wildfire that roared through a neighborhood in Reno in similar weather a day earlier, destroying at least five houses, damaging 15 other structures and forcing people to flee from hundreds of homes.

A separate fire about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south and across the border in California exploded in whipping winds Tuesday, killing one person and burning an unknown number of homes in a small community.

Both blazes got help from rain that moved in overnight, but the new forecast raised fresh fears in Reno.

“We’re looking at 40 mph winds in the valleys again today, 70 mph over the ridgetops, so that will be a concern for us,” Fire Department incident commander Mark Winkelman said.

From wire sources

Two firefighters were injured while battling the blaze over 2 square miles (5 square kilometers) but have been treated and released. One suffered an allergic reaction, and the other tore a calf muscle helping evacuate residents from up to 500 homes threatened Tuesday in southwest Reno.

US drops drug trafficking charges against ex-Mexican general

NEW YORK — U.S. prosecutors on Wednesday formally dropped a drug trafficking and money laundering case against a former Mexican defense secretary, a decision that came after Mexico threatened to cut off cooperation with U.S. authorities unless the general was sent home.

A judge in New York City approved the dismissal of charges, capping a lightning-fast turnaround in the case of former Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, who was arrested just weeks ago in Los Angeles, but will be returned to Mexico under an unusual diplomatic deal between the two countries.

The decision to drop the case was an embarrassment for the United States, which had touted the arrest as a major breakthrough when Cienfuegos was taken into custody Oct. 15. But the arrest drew a loud protest from top officials in Mexico and threatened to damage the delicate relationship that enables investigators in both countries to pursue drug kingpins together.

“The United States determined that the broader interest in maintaining that relationship in a cooperative way outweighed the department’s interest and the public’s interest in pursuing this particular case,” Seth DuCharme, the acting U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, told the judge at a hearing.

He said the decision to drop the charges was made by Attorney General William Barr.

Dems nominate Pelosi as speaker again to lead into Biden era

WASHINGTON — House Democrats nominated Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday to be the speaker who guides them again next year as Joe Biden becomes president, and she quickly seemed to suggest these would be her final two years in the leadership post.

The California Democrat, the first woman to be speaker, was nominated by acclamation as the party’s lawmakers used a pandemic-induced virtual meeting to pick their leaders. Pelosi already has served six years in the job, but the next two loom as her toughest.

After unexpectedly losing at least 10 incumbents in this month’s elections, Democrats will have about a 222-213 majority, the tightest margin in two decades. That prospect has demoralized many Democrats and ignited blame-trading between moderates and progressives over why they flopped on Election Day.

In addition, Biden and Congress will confront an uncontrolled coronavirus pandemic, a virus-stifled economy and jagged divisions among voters who largely either idolize or detest outgoing President Donald Trump. And there’s anxiety already among Democrats looking ahead to 2022 and the midterm elections, which historically are punishing for the party that controls the White House.

Against that backdrop, many House Democrats have for years impatiently insisted it’s time for fresh leadership. Pelosi and her top two lieutenants, Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, have served in their positions together for over a dozen years and each is age 80 or older.

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America’s bellwethers crumbled in aligning with Trump in ‘20

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — A glass case in the history museum on the main street through this city celebrates its curious place in American lore: There’s a photo of John F. Kennedy Jr. on the courthouse steps, and Richard Nixon at Terre Haute’s little airport. A newsreel playing on a loop describes it as “magic town.”

Vigo County, with about 107,000 people on the western edge of Indiana, long had some mysterious mix of quirky politics, demographics, geography, religion, labor and luck so that it had become America’s most reliable presidential bellwether.

Since 1888, this exhibit boasts, the county voted in line with the nation in every presidential election but two. It missed in 1908 and 1952, then remained a perfect predictor of the U.S. mood, a rare place to toggle between Republicans and Democrats in harmony with America.

“That’s wrong now. We’re going to have to change that poster,” said Susan Tingley, the executive director of the museum, which is in an old overalls factory that closed long ago, like most of the local factories.

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Vigo County’s most recent winning streak ended this year, as it did for nearly all the country’s reliable bellwethers, most of them blue-collar, overwhelmingly white communities in the Rust Belt. Of the 19 counties that had a perfect record between 1980 and 2016, all but one voted to reelect President Donald Trump, who lost to Joe Biden in both the national popular vote and in nearly every battleground state.

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