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Locals rally in support of USPS

EAU CLAIRE — Michael Turner began a job with the United States Postal Service in 2018. He worked as a city carrier assistant, delivering mail to residents on and around Main Street in east Eau Claire.

Turner held the job for about a year and enjoyed walking and talking with people along his route.

“It was great to get to know the neighborhood,” Turner said.

Turner gathered with about 20 people Friday morning to support the Postal Service. Holding signs and wearing masks, they demonstrated at two USPS locations in Eau Claire. At the downtown post office, 225 E. Madison Ave., consistent honks of support from drivers occurred. At the USPS carrier annex, 1420 N. Hastings Way, attendees waved to Postal Service employees departing for their daily routes.

The “Save the USPS” rally came after several recent changes at the organization that have delayed mail for some and raised concerns about the efficacy of mail-in voting.

Turner held a sign reading “Hands Off Our Big Blue Boxes and Our Sorting Machines” on one side and “Every Address, Every Day, Only the USPS” on the other, advocating for the importance of one of the country’s oldest institutions.

The rally came the same day that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy answered questions from members of Congress about recent policy changes. A regional spokesperson for the USPS district that includes Eau Claire declined an interview with the Leader-Telegram “in light of the Postmaster General’s testimony before the U.S. Senate on Friday and the House on Monday.”

DeJoy, a Republican donor, began his role June 15 and cut many jobs as part of an “organizational realignment.” DeJoy also oversaw initiatives like changing retail hours, closure of processing facilities, disallowance of overtime for workers and removal of mail sorting equipment and collection boxes.

The cuts and initiatives resulted in legal action and widespread criticism. Many states have sued the Postal Service and postmaster general, arguing that the new policies are illegal and hinder states’ abilities to hold free, fair elections.

The USPS recently warned 46 states that mail ballots may not be delivered in time for the November general election. Democratic lawmakers have proposed a bill that would provide $25 billion in emergency funding to the Postal Service.

In a statement Tuesday, DeJoy announced the suspension of several changes “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.” The suspension of initiatives means post office hours will not change; additional mail processing equipment and collection boxes will not be removed; additional mail processing facilities will not close; and overtime hours will continue to be approved as needed.

Jera Terreng organized the local rally because she wanted to support USPS workers and raise awareness of ongoing issues faced by the Postal Service. Terreng and others also mentioned the financial challenges posed by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. Among other mandates, the 2006 law requires the USPS to fund workers’ retirement benefits in advance, resulting in annual debt in the billions.

Terreng worked at the USPS for three years and called it “an amazing organization” that is affordable and accessible for a wide array of needs. She admired the dedication of longtime USPS employees during her three years as an employee.

Terreng said the massive organization, which employs more than 600,000 people, is a “complicated machine” that needs a leader with institutional knowledge and empathy for workers.

Terreng said the recent changes have lessened her confidence that mail-in voting, also called absentee voting, will occur accurately and on time this year.

Maggie Charles agreed. She said the post office is perhaps more crucial than ever during a pandemic that will result in more mail-in voting than previous years.

Charles, who attended the rally with her three children, was alarmed to hear about the recent Postal Service changes. She said she did not receive her mail ballot during Wisconsin’s spring primary and did drive-through voting, which she also plans to do in November.

Charles said more resources should be geared toward the post office to make mail-in voting as easy as possible.

“The USPS has a hard enough job as it is, and the last thing we need to do is make it harder,” Charles said. “It seems like common sense.”

In addition to mail-in voting ballots, ralliers mentioned the importance of rural deliveries and crucial items like prescriptions provided by the USPS. Charles has a sister who receives medication through the mail, and she worries about that potential delay.

Julianne Lepp expressed a similar concern. Lepp said her mother-in-law often receives medicine in the mail. The medication has not been delayed, but Lepp feels disconcerted by the possibility.

When she first heard about potential mail delays, Lepp reacted with disbelief.

“Any efforts to delay mail are harmful to people on the margins and people who need the essential services of the post office,” Lepp said.

Lepp called the Postal Service a crucial aspect of the country’s democracy.

“In a free society we need the support of our institutions to support that freedom and ability to vote and participate in our democracy, and when those institutions become potentially slowed down or are in jeopardy, that’s a huge concern,” Lepp said.

Turner agreed.

“This is a critical part of infrastructure for our government and our society,” Turner said. “Open lines of communication are necessary for any functioning democracy, and the post office has been providing open lines of communication since the Revolutionary War.”

Turner added that the wide-ranging scale of the USPS is vital, especially during COVID-19.

“How are you getting your toilet paper these days? ‘I ordered it online,’” Turner said. “Who delivers that? It’s the post office, and if the post office doesn’t work, then the pandemic economy doesn’t work.”

During his time working for the USPS, Turner realized the integral function mail carriers serve in a community.

Wearing a shirt and holding a sign that said “U.S. Mail Not For Sale,” Peter Hable described his 36 years as a Postal Service city letter carrier that ended when he retired in June. Hable worked at the USPS after being discharged from the Navy, a common occurrence, as the Postal Service employs more than 100,000 military veterans.

Hable enjoyed working for residents and learning about the community he delivered to, so Friday provided a chance to acknowledge current employees.

As ralliers left the carrier annex, a USPS worker heading to her vehicle thanked them for the support.

“Thanks for delivering the mail!” Terreng replied.


Washington
AP
Trump announces plasma treatment authorized for COVID-19

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Sunday the emergency authorization of convalescent plasma for COVID-19 patients, in a move he called “a breakthrough,” one of his top health officials called “promising,” and other health experts said needs more study before it’s celebrated.

The announcement comes after days of White House officials suggesting there were politically motivated delays by the Food and Drug Administration in approving a vaccine and therapeutics for the disease that has upended Trump’s reelection chances.

On the eve of the Republican National Convention, Trump announced the authorization — which makes it easier for some patients to obtain the treatment — in a news conference Sunday evening.

The blood plasma, taken from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus and rich in antibodies, may provide benefits to those battling with the disease. But the evidence so far has not been conclusive about whether it works, when to administer it and what dose is needed.

In a letter describing the emergency authorization, the chief scientist for the FDA, Denise Hinton, noted: “COVID-19 convalescent plasma should not be considered a new standard of care for the treatment of patients with COVID-19. Additional data will be forthcoming from other analyses and ongoing, well-controlled clinical trials in the coming months.”

The White House had grown agitated with the pace of the plasma approval, but the accusations of a slowdown, which were presented without evidence, were just the latest assault from Trump’s team on the “deep state” bureaucracy. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows did not deal in specifics, but said that “we’ve looked at a number of people that are not being as diligent as they should be in terms of getting to the bottom of it.”

“This president is about cutting red tape,” Meadows said in an interview on “This Week” on ABC. “He had to make sure that they felt the heat. If they don’t see the light, they need to feel the heat because the American people are suffering.”

The push on Sunday came a day after Trump tweeted sharp criticism on the process to treat the virus, which has killed more than 175,000 Americans and imperiled his reelection chances. The White House has sunk vast resources into an expedited process to develop a vaccine, and Trump aides have been banking on it being an “October surprise” that could help the president make up ground in the polls.

“The deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics,” Trump tweeted. “Obviously, they are hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd. Must focus on speed, and saving lives!”

Earlier this month, Mayo Clinic researchers reported a strong hint that blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors helps other infected patients recover. But it wasn’t considered proof.

More than 70,000 patients in the U.S. have been given convalescent plasma, a century-old approach to fend off flu and measles before vaccines. It’s a go-to tactic when new diseases come along, and history suggests it works against some, but not all, infections.

There’s no solid evidence yet that it fights the coronavirus and, if so, how best to use it.

The Mayo Clinic reported preliminary data from 35,000 coronavirus patients treated with plasma, and said there were fewer deaths among people given plasma within three days of diagnosis, and also among those given plasma containing the highest levels of virus-fighting antibodies.

But it wasn’t a formal study. The patients were treated in different ways in hospitals around the country as part of an FDA program designed to speed access to the experimental therapy. That so-called “expanded access” program tracks what happens to the recipients, but it cannot prove the plasma — and not other care they received — was the real reason for improvement.

Administration officials, in a call with reporters Sunday, discussed a benefit for patients who were within three days of admission to a hospital and were not on a respirator, and were given “high-titer” convalescent plasma containing higher concentrations of antibodies. They were then compared to similar patients who were given lower-titer plasma. The findings suggest deaths were 35% lower in the high-titer group.

There’s been little data on how effective it is or whether it must be administered fairly early in an illness to make a significant difference, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University.

Aiming to ward off a possible a run on convalescent plasma after the announcement, government officials have been working to obtain plasma and to team with corporate partners and nonprofit organizations to generate interest among previously infected patients to donate.

The head of the FDA, Stephen Hahn, said Trump did not speak to him about the timing of the announcement, which comes just before a pivotal week for the president’s reelection chances. Hahn said “this has been in the works for several weeks” and came after a data validation for which the agency had been waiting.

Rigorous studies underway around the country are designed to get that proof, by comparing similar patients randomly assigned to get plasma or a dummy infusion in addition to regular care. But those studies have been difficult to finish as the virus waxes and wanes in different cities. Also, some patients have requested plasma rather than agreeing to a study that might give them a placebo instead.

Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb dismissed the suggestion of a slowdown.

“I firmly reject the idea they would slow-walk anything or accelerate anything based on any political consideration or any consideration other than what is best for the public health and a real sense of mission to patients,” Gottlieb told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Hundreds of drugs are currently being developed as possible treatments against the coronavirus infection, taking a range of approaches.

Trump, in news conferences, “has made all kinds of therapeutic suggestions,” which have not proven to be supported by science — and are even dangerous, Schaffner said. That includes statements about the possible value of treating COVID-19 patients with ultraviolet light and bleach. Trump reportedly also recently became enthusiastic about oleandrin, a plant extract derived from a toxic shrub that scientists immediately warned against.

But the president is perhaps best known for his early and ardent embrace of the malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.

The FDA in late March granted emergency authorization for distribution of the drugs for treating COVID. But in June, the agency revoked the authorization in light of growing evidence they don’t work and could cause serious side effects.

Not only that, the FDA warned doctors against prescribing the drugs in combination with remdesivir, a drug that was shown to help patients with COVID-19. The FDA said the anti-malaria drugs can reduce the effectiveness of remdesivir, which the FDA cleared for emergency use in May.

Earlier this month, Hahn emphasized that routine evaluation procedures will remain in place to evaluate COVID vaccine candidates.

“I think this administration has put more pressure on the Food and Drug Administration than I can remember” ever happening in the past, Schaffner said.

“Everybody is just a little bit nervous,” he said.

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Stobbe reported from New York.

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Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Stobbe at http://twitter.com/@mikestobbe


Politics
AP
Trump's vision of American greatness at center of convention

WASHINGTON — Republicans will aim to recast the story of Donald Trump’s presidency when they hold their national convention, featuring speakers drawn from everyday life as well as cable news and the White House while drawing a stark contrast with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Trump is looking to shift his campaign away from being a referendum on a presidency ravaged by a pandemic and economic collapse and toward a choice between vastly different visions of America’s future. Reshaping the national conversation around the race has taken on greater urgency for Trump, who trails in public and private surveys as the coronavirus continues to ravage the nation’s economy and his reelection chances.

The four-day event is themed “Honoring the Great American Story,” according to four Trump campaign officials involved with the planning process but not authorized to discuss it by name.

The convention will feature prominently a number of well-known Trump supporters, including members of the Trump family, but also those whom the GOP say are members of the “silent majority” of Americans who have been aided by Trump’s policies. Some have been “silenced” by a “cancel culture” pushed by Democrats, the campaign officials said.

Trump himself was expected to appear each night in the key 9 p.m. Central hour, planners said.

Where Democrats highlighted Republicans who crossed party lines to back Biden as an indictment of Trump’s leadership, the GOP lineup will primarily feature figures on the conservative media circuit with the hope that they can deliver red meat for the president’s loyal supporters — though planners say they will feature some people who did not vote for Trump in 2016.

Planners insist they will put forward a more “positive” convention than Democrats’ roasting of Trump. Yet the president also appears intent on trying to seize on the nation’s cultural divides, particularly around issues of racial injustice and policing, drawing on grievances to motivate his base.

The officials outlined the campaign plans to The Associates Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss the emerging schedule.

Speakers lineup

The opening night Monday will highlight the “Land of Promise,” aiming to show how Trump helped renew the American dream. Featured speakers include South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who will deliver the coveted closing speech of the televised prime-time block; former Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley; presidential son Donald Trump Jr.; staunch congressional defenders Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Jim Jordan of Ohio; and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.

Tanya Weinreis, a Montana coffee shop owner who received federal loans to pay her employees during the coronavirus, will also speak, as will Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was among those killed in the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Tuesday’s theme is “Land of Opportunity,” which is expected to cast Biden’s plans as “socialist” and “radical left.” Speakers will highlight Trump’s actions on trade, abortion and the nation’s opioid crisis. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will address Trump’s foreign policy record, an unusual foray into domestic politics by the nation’s top diplomat, and Trump children Eric and Tiffany Trump will also speak.

Another speaker will be Nicholas Sandmann, who as a student at a Catholic high school in Kentucky gained national attention last year for his interaction with a Native American man during demonstrations in Washington. Media commentary in the aftermath of the viral video from the interaction depicted the students as racially insensitive. Sandmann and the Native American man, Nathan Phillips, later said they were both trying to defuse tensions among conflicting groups that converged at the Lincoln Memorial.

First lady Melania Trump will deliver the marquee address of the night from a newly renovated White House Rose Garden.

Wednesday, themed “Land of Heroes,” will feature a raft of conservative personalities including South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York and presidential daughter-in-law Lara Trump.

Clarence Henderson, a civil rights figure from the 1960s, is also on deck to address the “true meaning of peaceful protest,” planners said, as Trump plans to highlight police officers amid a nationwide call for policing reform after the May death of George Floyd in police custody.

Vice President Mike Pence will deliver the keynote Wednesday from Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, which inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1814, to highlight Trump’s opposition to professional athletes who protest racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem.

Speakers on the final night, themed “Land of Greatness, will include Alice Johnson, the criminal justice advocate whose sentence on drug crimes was commuted by Trump at the urging of celebrity Kim Kardashian; Carl and Marsha Mueller, the parents of human rights activist Kayla Mueller, who died while being held by the Islamic State group in Syria; and evangelist Rev. Franklin Graham.

Trump’s personal attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose attempts to dig up dirt in Ukraine on Biden’s family were at the center of the president’s impeachment last year, will also address the final night of the convention. Republican congressional leaders Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California and Democrat turned Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey are to deliver remarks, as will Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White.

From White House lawn

Trump will close out the convention during an unprecedented address from the White House South Lawn. He and Ivanka Trump, his daughter and senior adviser who is set to introduce him, will speak from an elaborate stage in front of the Executive Mansion. The move has drawn criticism from Democrats and ethics groups, who argue that Trump is violating the spirit, if not the letter, of federal law by using the White House grounds to stage his convention.

While the president is not covered by the Hatch Act, his aides cannot appear at the convention in their official capacities and staffers are extremely limited in what they may do to help pull off the convention. Planners insist they are following all ethics rules.

Plans for the GOP event have rapidly come together over the last six weeks, since it became apparent to the party that Trump could not hold an in-person convention at his backup site of Jacksonville, Florida. Trump was forced to move most of the convention out of Charlotte, North Carolina, the original host city, because of restrictive state coronavirus precautions.