DeSantis mobilizes national guard ahead of likely hurricane

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sunday said the state is mobilizing resources as Tropical Storm Ian bears down on the state, including activating 2,500 national guard troops and preparing more than 2 million meals for residents.

DeSantis, speaking to reporters during a news conference inside the state Emergency Operations Center, said the latest forecast shows that Ian will make landfall in Taylor County in northern Florida by mid-week. While the storm may weaken or change its current path, the governor urged people to begin preparing for a major weather event that could leave many Floridians without power for days.

“It's too soon to say that there's not going to be a wobble,” DeSantis said, later adding, “or there's not going to be any type of curvature back into the Florida peninsula.”

The National Hurricane Center in Miami stated that Ian is expected to hit the western side of Cuba before it heads toward Florida over the Gulf of Mexico, where warm waters could turn the storm into a major hurricane. Early forecasts show Ian will hit Florida as a Category 1 storm with winds up to 95 miles per hour.

DeSantis has already declared a state of emergency ahead of Ian. On Saturday, President Joe Biden announced an emergency for Florida, which allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin coordinating efforts before the storm.

Although DeSantis routinely criticizes Biden and his administration over issues like immigration, education and Covid-19 mandates, the Florida governor on Sunday thanked the White House for its assistance. DeSantis added that he’s been in contact with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell since Friday.

“They stand by ready to help, so we appreciate that quick action,” DeSantis said.

Biden was scheduled to visit Florida on Tuesday to campaign in Orlando with Democrat Charlie Crist, who is running for governor against DeSantis. The White House postponed the trip due to the impending storm.

DeSantis said the greatest threat is from storm surges, which occur as the storm comes on shore. Residents should also expect power outages and gasoline shortages as emergency crews work to repair lines of service during and after the storm.

“That's something that could happen with a hurricane of this magnitude,” DeSantis said.

Ian could be the first major hurricane to impact Florida during DeSantis' first term as governor. Hurricane Dorian had threatened to hit the state in August 2019 as a Category 4 storm, but it ended up being much weaker, only impacting the western edge of the Panhandle.

DeSantis said early forecasts show Ian could weaken before the storm hits the coast. But it will still pack plenty of rainfall that will cause flooding, a potentially deadly outcome. Flash flooding around greater Jacksonville after Hurricane Irma in 2017 left hundreds of residents with less than an hour to evacuate as coastal rivers bloated, leaving neighborhoods under water.

“It is expected to weaken by the time it makes landfall and would no longer be a major hurricane, but it will still have significant impacts,” DeSantis said. “You're talking about a lot of rain, you're talking about surge, and you're talking about flooding.”

During the press conference, DeSantis was joined by Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie, who said the state has already moved 360 trailers carrying 2 million meals and 1 million gallons of water to areas along the Gulf Coast. The state has also removed roadway weight restrictions so that more trucks can bring in more supplies from outside the state.

Guthrie said people should begin gathering supplies now and closely follow evacuation orders and plans. To warn against unnecessary mass evacuations, Guthrie sought to remind people of Hurricane Irma, which led to more than 6 million people leaving their homes. He said about 2 million of those evacuees did not need to evacuate.

“I encourage all Floridians to not only continue these preparedness efforts,” Guthrie said, “but also, take the time to know their zone and know their home.”

Guthrie said DEM has received 122 requests from counties seeking help with preparing for the storm. The resources they requested are now en route, he said.

DeSantis said Ian's landfall prediction could be moved west as the storm inches closer to Florida, placing it in a path of areas of the Panhandle that have the lowest-income counties in the state. The same area was pummeled by Hurricane Michael after that Category 5 storm made landfall east of Panama City Beach in 2018, causing more than $18 billion in damages and 50 fatalities. Ian is not expected to cause as much damage as Michael.

"It would likely be more of a water and flood and storm-surge event rather than the type of buzzsaw that we saw with Michael four years ago," DeSantis said, "where any building that was not really sturdy was basically getting flattened."

Zelenskyy says Europe cannot be stable with Putin in power

Asked on Sunday whether he thought stability in Europe was possible with Russian President Vladimir Putin in power, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine initially gave a one-word answer: “No,” Zelenskyy said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“I don’t have anything to add. My opinion is no,” he said when pressed further by host Margaret Brennan. “We have observed this over the years. We don’t see stability.”

Zelenskyy, who is currently leading a counteroffensive against Russia, said Russia has created threats including nuclear ones. These threats are escalating, he said.

“Look, maybe yesterday it was bluff. Now, it could be a reality,” Zelenskyy said of his Russian counterpart’s nuclear threats.

While he did not confirm an exact number, Zelenskyy said “thousands” of children in Ukraine had been separated from their families by Russia, constituting “horrible elements of genocide.”

And because Russia still occupies parts of Ukraine, other acts of brutality could be “still ahead of us,” Zelenskyy said.

The Ukrainian president addressed the United Nations General Assembly virtually last week, imploring the world to continue supporting his country, which Russia invaded in February.

Liz Truss is a ‘huge fan of the United States’

Liz Truss, the United Kingdom's newly appointed prime minister, called the United States "an incredibly close partner" Sunday, adding the countries' relationship "is special."

“I do think our relationship is special, and it’s increasingly important at a time when we’re facing threats from Russia, increased assertiveness from China," Truss said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

Truss said she is "personally a huge fan of the United States of America," and that she has traveled to the U.S. often.

"I'm determined that we, you know, make the special relationship even more special over the coming years, and we work with our friends and allies around the world," Truss said.

Truss was specifically asked about Taiwan, which President Joe Biden said last week the U.S. would defend if China invades.

“All of our allies need to make sure Taiwan is able to defend itself," and there should be a common response, Truss said. The West should "learn the lessons from Ukraine" in countering aggression early, she added.

"We can't see that situation happen in other parts of the world," Truss said, referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The term "special relationship," coined by Winston Churchill, is typically used to describe the diplomatic closeness between the United States and the United Kingdom. Truss was responding to a question from CNN host Jake Tapper, who pointed out Truss has previously described the relationship as "special but not exclusive."

Abortion puts GOP candidates on their heels in top governors races

The battle over abortion rights will be won or lost in state capitals, not Washington.

That reality has in the past three months upended battleground governor races — where the winners could quite literally determine the level of access to abortion for millions of women.

And the way candidates are running on the issue could hardly be more polarized: Democrats are going all in. Republicans want to change the topic.

Spending on abortion-related ads shows how thoroughly abortion has transformed these races, giving Democrats an opening to go on offense in an otherwise challenging year for them to be on the ballot.

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Democratic gubernatorial candidates and outside groups have spent nearly $34 million on television ads that mention abortion, according to data compiled by the ad tracking firm AdImpact. Republican gubernatorial candidates, by contrast, have collectively spent around $1.1 million on TV ads mentioning abortion. Instead, they’re focusing on issues such as the economy or crime, arguing Democrats are ignoring the issues they believe voters care about the most.

Thirty-six states are holding governor contests this year, and about a dozen of them are expected to be competitive. The issue is top of mind for voters in states like Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin, where pre-Roe laws banning abortion in nearly all cases are being challenged in court — and where the governor will play a key role in setting policy when legislatures reconvene in 2023.

On Friday, an Arizona court said that a 19th-century abortion ban can take effect, drawing cries of outrage from Democrats there — and mostly silence from Republicans.

"I'm mourning today's decision," Katie Hobbs, the Democratic nominee for the state's open seat, said in a statement. "We now must turn our anger into motivation to win in November and restore our fundamental rights."

Republicans control more gubernatorial mansions across the country heading into November, 28 to 22 for Democrats. But more Americans live in a state with a Democratic governor than a Republican one, a balance that forecasters predict will be unchanged after the election.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, told an election forum earlier this month that abortion is the rare issue that animates both parties’ bases and moderate voters at the same time.

“Oftentimes, the political professionals separate issues as, ‘Here's an issue that's going to turn out your base,’ and ‘Here's an issue that's going to persuade moderate voters,” Cooper said. “’Well, abortion rights covers both.”

But Republicans maintain that Democrats' focus on the issue on the trail is misguided.

“The moderate and independent voters needed to build winning coalitions in competitive governors races are worried about the economy, crime, and education,” Republican Governors Association spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said. “Democrats continuing to direct the conversation to their own extremist position of on-demand abortions up until birth may excite their base, but it only further reinforces to the voters they would need to actually win that Democrats not only don't care about their greatest concerns but also that they have no plans to address them.”

The power of governors to set abortion policy has been on display in the three months since the Dobbs decision. Two states have passed new abortion bans this summer — Indiana and West Virginia — with more likely to take up abortion bills when their legislatures reconvene next year.

But Republican governors who lauded the court’s ruling have been largely mum since — even in red states where they don’t have to worry about the electoral consequences. When West Virginia’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, signed his state’s new abortion ban into law earlier this month, his office didn’t even issue a press release — and his response on Twitter was understated.

“I said from the beginning that if [West Virginia] legislators brought me a bill that protected life and included reasonable and logical exceptions I would sign it, and that's what I did today,” the governor wrote.

How Republican gubernatorial candidates are talking about abortion is illustrative, however: A handful who previously called themselves “pro-life” with little wiggle room have tried to push back against Democratic attacks on abortion in paid advertising by emphasizing their opposition to late-term abortions and trying to cast the issue as either settled law in their state or something voters should weigh in on directly at the ballot box.

Prominent among them is Mark Ronchetti, a former TV weatherperson who is challenging Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico, where abortion is legal throughout pregnancy. Ronchetti — who described himself as “strongly pro-life” during his 2020 Senate campaign — has now aired a series of TV ads seeking to neutralize the issue. Earlier this month, he rolled out his second ad on abortion, which features him and his wife.

In the ad, Ronchetti says his position is “end late-term abortion,” while trying to decouple his candidacy from the issue. “Honestly, no politician should decide this. You should,” he says in the ad, calling for the issue to appear on a statewide ballot — a notable departure from the position several Republican state legislatures have taken.

Other Republican gubernatorial candidates have similarly tried to remove themselves from the abortion debate. Former state Sen. Scott Jensen, the Republican nominee in Minnesota who said earlier this year before the Dobbs decision that he would “try to ban abortion” as governor, also went up with an ad recently trying to contrast himself with Democratic Gov. Tim Walz.

In the ad, Jensen, while cradling a small baby, accuses Walz of “weaponizing” the issue, saying it “is a protected constitutional right and no governor can change that, and I’m not running to do that.” In Minnesota, the state Supreme Court has recognized the right to abortion under the state Constitution.

In Nevada, Republican gubernatorial candidate and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has said that while he personally opposes abortion, he will respect the state’s 1990 ballot referendum upholding the right to abortion. A pro-Lombardo outside group is running an ad saying “politicians are trying to scare you about abortion,” noting that the state’s abortion law can only be changed by another ballot measure. And last week, Lombardo said he would fight a national abortion ban were Congress to pass one.

At the same time, Lombardo’s campaign sponsored an event for Nevada Right to Life, a group that opposes abortions at all stages of pregnancy, and paid two crisis pregnancy centers for event-related fees.

It’s been a challenging needle for Lombardo to thread in the close contest against Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in a Western state that often chafes at government interference with individual liberties — and especially running alongside Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt who has been outspoken on the abortion issue. For instance, during a conversation with faith leaders, Laxalt called the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision “a joke,” according to audio obtained by The Nevada Independent. (Laxalt also recently rolled out an ad noting that abortion rights are protected in the state, also trying to rebuff attacks on the issue.)

“Anybody with half a brain before this year would’ve said, ‘Nevada voters have spoken.’ That’s one of the age-old dodges. But that’s not good enough now because there are those that are expecting you to say, ‘Yeah, I’m all for a ban,’” a Republican strategist in Nevada, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the governor’s race, said. “Lombardo and some of the others are probably suffering from a bout of nausea trying to figure out what to do here.”

“Is Joe Lombardo going to go up on TV and say, ‘I support abortion’ or ‘I support a woman's right to choose?’ Probably not. He’s going to have to withstand the attacks,” the strategist added.

Not all Democrats have been making abortion a centerpiece of their race, however. In Kansas, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly lauded the decisive victory for abortion-rights proponents at the ballot box in August, where voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have allowed the legislature to ban abortion, but has run her campaign against Republican Derek Schmidt focused on the state budget, school funding and jobs.

“The August 2nd vote shows that Kansans want their government focused on things like the economy and schools — not intervening in private medical decisions,” Kelly campaign spokesperson Lauren Fitzgerald said. “Now that voters have spoken clearly, Governor Kelly will remain focused on bringing both parties together to get results — a balanced budget, cutting taxes, fully funding schools and attracting new businesses to the state.”

Republican gubernatorial candidates elsewhere who have not tried to triangulate their position with TV ads on abortion have, at times, sought to downplay it. The day the Dobbs decision was handed down, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial nominee and an ardent proponent of a no-exceptions abortion ban, shrugged off the issue as a distraction. But he told a reporter last week that abortion is “the single most important issue, I think, in our lifetime,” casting the race as a stark choice.

Michigan Republican Tudor Dixon, who is running to unseat Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, has consistently defended her belief there should be a complete ban on abortion, even as Whitmer and her allies have continued to hammer her over it. Abortion is legal in Michigan for the time being because courts have blocked enforcement of the state’s 1931 abortion ban. But that could change depending on a final decision from the state Supreme Court and the outcome of a measure to protect abortion rights that will appear on the ballot in November.

Republicans in the state have hoped that the ballot initiative could serve as a release valve of sorts for the issue, allowing voters to separate their votes on abortion from their votes for governor.

“And just like that you can vote for Gretchen Whitmer’s abortion agenda & still vote against her,” Dixon tweeted the day the abortion ballot measure was placed on the ballot. “Gretchen, time to stop hiding behind your BS ads.”

Biden’s watchdog in the skies can’t ground Air DeSantis

The company that Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis used to send dozens of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard operates charter flights under approvals granted by federal transportation regulators who have almost absolute power to regulate safety in the skies.

But there’s probably little the Federal Aviation Administration can do to stop DeSantis from continuing the flights, people familiar with the agency’s legal authorities say — even though President Joe Biden and other Democrats have condemned the flights as cruel publicity stunts.

The same laws that give the Federal Aviation Administration its vast sway over air safety also restrict its ability to intrude otherwise into the operations of charter companies. And the migrant flights probably don’t violate the FAA’s regulations, former agency officials say, despite accusations that DeSantis and his operatives violated the migrants’ civil rights.

The FAA itself has shown little eagerness to join the fray. When asked to discuss the bounds of the agency’s authority on DeSantis’ gambit, a spokesperson said only: “The FAA’s mission is safety.” The agency’s parent, the Department of Transportation, referred back to the FAA’s statement.

The predicament showcases some of the limits on Biden’s authority to counter the increasingly brash moves of Republican governors who are sending undocumented immigrants to heavily Democratic communities. Besides DeSantis, governors using the tactic include Greg Abbott of Texas, who has bused thousands of migrants to cities such as Washington, New York and Chicago in recent months, as well as Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

The governors have said they’re calling attention to what they charge is the failure of Biden’s border policies.

A civil rights law firm filed a federal class-action suit against DeSantis on Tuesday over the two planeloads of migrants, mostly Venezuelans, who landed on Martha’s Vineyard on Sept. 14 after being transported from Texas. Multiple Democratic elected officials have urged the Justice Department to investigate the Florida governor’s actions, while Biden has accused Republicans of “playing politics with human beings, using them as props.”

But the FAA is not best equipped to lead that fight, people knowledgeable about the agency say.

“I don’t see FAA in this at all,” said one former agency official, who spoke on condition of anonymity so that he could speak freely about the agency’s business.

For a charter service to operate, the FAA has to deem its fleet airworthy and the company’s maintenance and operations practices adequately safe. Only then does the agency issue a certificate saying it can carry passengers for hire.

The DOT must separately issue a certificate saying the company has adequate financial backing to serve consumers.

If a charter company flies for hire without either of those approvals, the FAA considers it a “rogue operator” that it “works aggressively to identify and shut down,” according to the agency.

That doesn’t necessarily offer it much leverage over Ultimate JetCharters, the company that conducted the Martha’s Vineyard flights as a subcontractor for Vertol Systems Co. Ultimate JetCharters received federal approval to carry passengers for hire in 1984, according to the National Air Transportation Association, an industry trade group.

Vertol, an Oregon-based flight and maintenance training and aviation support services company, received $615,000 from the state of Florida to facilitate the flights. The funds were part of a $12 million budget allocation the Florida Republican-led Legislature approved to transport migrants.

The former FAA official said nothing that’s come to light about the migrant charters indicates that any problems arose related to the “safety of flight” — meaning the ability to ensure that passengers arrive at their destination without their plane crashing. The FAA has in the past suspended or revoked charter companies’ ability to operate for having inadequately licensed and trained pilots, using aircraft that the agency had not approved for use, ignoring rules limiting pilot flight hours and other violations.

The FAA has some authority to regulate what commercial airplanes carry, and to punish operators that don’t follow the rules. But those rules primarily involve cargo, particularly hazardous materials such as lithium batteries.

If a charter company breaks other laws in the course of transporting goods or people, that would likely fall to either DOJ or the Department of Homeland Security.

DOJ declined to comment on whether it was investigating or otherwise pursuing action related to the charter flights. A spokesperson for DHS did not respond to a request for comment.

Former FAA chief counsel Sandy Murdock said the agency would ground a charter company for issues unrelated to air safety only if another law enforcement body has gotten involved. For instance, if a person used a charter flight to smuggle drugs, the FAA would not be in a position to revoke the charter company’s operating certificate until the DOJ brought charges, he said.

In general, he said acting on issues not directly related to a plane’s safety to fly is a high bar for the agency to meet — and that’s why it doesn’t happen often.

“The agency has rarely used collateral statutes to ground or revoke or suspend the operator's certificate,” said Murdock, now a legal adviser at JDA Aviation Technology Solutions. “The theory would be that the operator showed such a disregard for another law that it can be inferred that its disregard of that statute would likely extend to the aviation safety requirements.”

Murdock said that in such an instance, it would be “absolutely critical that the operator was aware of the charterer’s illegal intentions.”

Senate Homeland Security Chair Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who said he plans to speak with DHS about the migrant flight issue, acknowledged that the FAA’s power to intervene is limited. For example, he said, the agency would not have the authority on its own to ground a flight of migrants heading from one state to another.

When asked if any laws should change in light of the migrant flights, Peters responded: “I'd have to spend more time thinking about that."

Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who serves on the Commerce Committee that oversees the FAA, was likewise unsure whether Congress needs to change any laws in an attempt to curtail or prevent the situation.

"What Governor DeSantis is doing is disgusting. And he and other Republican governors are using political decisions to treat people like garbage,” Luján said. “And that's what this is all about. So looking at specific rules or changes, I don't know what's going to change their behavior. That's what needs to be evaluated."

The first former FAA official observed that DOT does have a broad-based consumer protection authority that it can use to enforce rules and hand out penalties based on “unfair or deceptive practices,” but that it may not apply in this case.

The plaintiffs in this week’s civil rights suit allege that DeSantis and other Florida officials used “false promises and misrepresentations” to get the asylum-seekers onto the plane for Massachusetts, including by offering them $10 McDonalds gift cards and making “false promises and false representations” of employment, housing and educational opportunities.

Even so, “I don't know if you could argue that this was treating consumers improperly [because] the statute says unfair [or] deceptive practices — ordinarily that's like, you told me the ticket was going to be $200 and instead you charged me $220,” the former official said.

“That's consumer protection, but this is not really what the controversy is about,” the ex-official said, adding that in this case the state of Florida, not the migrants themselves, paid for the flights.

Alex Daugherty and Tanya Snyder contributed to this report.

The City That Survived Covid Better Than the Rest of Us

DAVIS, Calif. — In the summer of 2020, this rural college town near Sacramento was on edge. Thousands of college students who had been sent home during the Covid-19 pandemic’s early days were about to return, flying in to the University of California, Davis campus from all over the world and potentially turning the reopening into a superspreader event.

The concern wasn’t just for the students and the rest of the university — any outbreak would likely spread to the rest of town, putting at risk vulnerable people of all ages and walks of life. At the time, there were no vaccines, and rates of death and hospitalization were high, particularly among older Americans and those with weaker immune systems.

“We had already looked and saw many other university towns that tried to bring their students back on the campus and had to shut down,” Davis Mayor Gloria Partida said in an interview. “The thought of having this potential lack of caution pouring into our city was frightening.”

Brad Pollock, chair of the university’s department of public health who coordinated the campus’ Covid response, was home one weekend in June mulling the problem. Given how easily people were spreading the disease before they knew they were sick, he knew that protecting the city would hinge on what seemed impossible at the time — regular testing, even before people knew they were sick.

It’s hard to remember now, but in those early days of the pandemic, testing was hard to come by. Home tests were more than a year away and getting a test at a testing site was usually contingent on having symptoms and getting a doctor’s referral. Lab results were taking so long to come back that sometimes people were no longer infectious by the time they received them.

Protecting the community meant testing both on and off campus, widely and for free. Pollock sat down and started sketching. Inside a big circle, he jotted down everyone he could think of whose lives could be upended by the pandemic. University students, families, people who commute to town for work. Business owners, seniors, homeless people.

Nearly 40,000 students were enrolled at UC Davis, including medical and nursing students at its Sacramento campus. About 6,000 were coming back to on-campus housing. There were more than 23,500 academic and university staff living in various locales. Hundreds of other people come into the city, which has nearly 70,000 residents, to work every day — all people whose lives center on Davis and whose health would be at risk in an outbreak. To make Pollock’s plan work, the university had to find a way to test thousands of people every week, quickly and cheaply.

Lots of universities and communities knew that the best way to control Covid was pre-symptomatic testing. But UC Davis is a world-class agricultural research institution, and so it had an advantage they didn’t: expertise in pandemic testing — for plants. 

While the leap between plant and human disease might sound like a stretch, it wasn’t to Richard Michelmore, a plant geneticist who directs the university’s Genome Center. Michelmore had spent decades doing cheap, mass-scale pandemic testing — for plant pathogens like wheat rusts and downy mildew on spinach.

“SARS-CoV-2 is just a virus, right?” Michelmore said. “And there are plenty of viral diseases in plants that cause havoc.”

Even with its world-class technologies, the university’s labs didn’t have equipment with the kind of capacity to test the whole university, let alone the whole community. The machines that could do that — test up to 40,000 samples of human saliva for Covid each week — cost about $450,000 a pop. And they would need two, for backup.

The university administration, desperate for a workable plan, agreed to pay for them. And researchers across UC Davis, from the engineering department to the medical school, began to collaborate, searching for ways to solve the enormous logistical challenges. The plant researchers worked to refine the process, using a papaya enzyme to make human spit less viscous and easier to process. A colleague in the engineering department devised a machine to shake the vials, a necessary and laborious step previously done by hand.

These scientific innovations — and an anonymous $40 million donation — allowed this college town to do something that few, if any, other communities were able to do during Covid: Starting in the fall of 2020, the university tested its students and staff every week and made free, walk-in testing available throughout the town.

What began with a sketch on a piece of paper turned into what’s likely the highest per-capita Covid testing rate in the country — and some of the nation’s lowest infection rates. In the end, Davis and the surrounding area experienced a different kind of pandemic than virtually anywhere else in the country. The university itself escaped a wave of outbreaks that swept other campuses like the University of Georgia, the University of Alabama and Ohio State University after they reopened in 2020. 

Pollock said the plan made so much sense to him when it came together that he expected other universities to do the same.

“But it turns out,” he told county supervisors a few months ago, “that the other places in the country didn't do this.”

Along with other measures, UC Davis made weekly testing mandatory for students and employees when they returned to campus in the fall of 2020. But extending the protocol to the broader community came with a hitch: Unlike students and campus employees, everyday residents of Davis couldn’t be forced to get tested.

For the plan to work, Pollock and his colleagues wouldn’t just need to make the tests free, painless and widely available. They’d need to sell residents on the idea of getting tested, regularly, even if they didn’t feel sick.

“A huge part of this project was changing health behaviors, and that meant testing behaviors,” Pollock said in an interview. “’Why should I get tested?’ Well, if they don’t understand that, they’re not going to get tested. A lot of what we did in Davis was focus the messaging in the community on getting people to understand the importance of testing.”

The university came up with a logo — a blue-and-green encircled mask — and launched a campaign using social media, mailers and print and digital advertising to convince residents to get tested. Eventually, the message was extended to billboards, train stations and Spanish-language radio. Hundreds of college students trained as public health “ambassadors” showed up to the weekly farmer’s market downtown and popular campus gathering spots to talk up the program and share information about where to get tested. Local artists were hired to design banners displayed throughout the city, encouraging everyone to participate. QR codes with information about testing centers appeared on coffee sleeves, napkins for take-out orders and door hangers throughout local neighborhoods where wastewater levels were spiking.

The city — and eventually, the county — threw itself headlong into the natural experiment, seeing it as a potential lifeline to return to some semblance of normalcy. The citywide effort, known as Healthy Davis Together, launched in November 2020 before expanding to the rest of Yolo County, where Davis is located, the following July.

By early 2021, the “spit test” had made its way into family routines, becoming a shared experience for thousands of people, an unusual source of civic pride. The program opened testing sites throughout the campus and city and sent mobile testing teams to hard-to-reach populations, such as farmworkers in the fields. Usually about 24 hours later, and sometimes even the same day, residents would get a text or email with a link to the results.  

With each peak of the pandemic — first the Delta variant, then Omicron — residents leaned more heavily on the testing regimen in the hope of sparing relatives, friends and classmates from a disease they might unknowingly harbor. Lines of people wrapped around the testing facilities scattered around town, waiting to spit into a plastic vial that would soon be whisked off to the repurposed genetics machine.

Once in-person learning resumed in the local school district, crews made the rounds at schools each week, testing lines of symptom-free children from each classroom on a voluntary basis.

To Amy George, a sixth-grade teacher in the Davis Joint Unified School District, the rigorous testing routine eased worries for both parents and teachers, making it possible for all but three of 29 students to return to her classroom in the spring, and virtually all her students to come back last fall.

“It made me feel a lot safer,” George said. “It really allowed me to go into the school year and deal with the school year in a workable way.”

Researchers are still studying the effects of Davis’ testing program, but it’s already clear that Davis had a very different pandemic than most of the rest of California and the country. In January, when Omicron drove positivity levels to more than 22 percent throughout the state, they hovered around 10 percent for Yolo County — and less than 5 percent for the campus and the city. During the previous year’s winter surge, rates swelled to 17 percent in California, but barely exceeded 1 percent in Davis.

The testing program has already spawned about a half dozen research papers, including a July article Pollock and others published in the American Journal of Public Health describing the model and an independent evaluation conducted for the project by the data and analytics company Mathematica. Mathematica researchers estimated that the project helped reduce local cases by 60 percent in its first 16 months, avoiding roughly 275 Covid-related hospitalizations and 35 deaths.

Some researchers aren’t yet convinced. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said the researchers’ modeling relies too heavily on test positivity, which he described as “far too simplistic.”

Testing more people would naturally result in lower positivity because you would be testing more people who didn’t have the virus, he said. Osterholm said he could not determine for sure what role any particular factor — the volume of testing, adherence to other public health protocols, the demographics of the community — played in driving down infection rates and saving lives.
Other universities, including the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, expanded free, asymptomatic testing beyond the campus, bringing their saliva testing and reporting protocols to schools, their surrounding areas and even statewide. And they, too, saw dramatically reduced transmission rates.

But virtually no other campus brought their college towns into a protective bubble as early or as fully as UC Davis, said Ron Watkins, an associate dean at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and managing director of SHIELD Illinois, which provides on-demand, saliva-based PCR tests developed by the university.

“From 4,000 miles away, we were looking at UC Davis as a leader,” Watkins said.

Twenty months and some 870,000 community Covid tests later, Davis’ mass testing project ended this summer.

The project has run through almost all of its $50 million budget, and its last dollars will be used to bring home test kits to low-income people in Davis and Yolo County, and for wastewater monitoring, through the end of the year.

It was never meant to last indefinitely, though the timing struck many as odd. The latest variants are proving to be the most contagious mutations yet, driving up infections worldwide and serving as an undeniable sign that the pandemic is not done with us.

On the program’s penultimate day in June, residents arrived at the Davis Veterans Memorial Center for what they knew would be their final spit test.

It was a ritual that some had performed weekly, and sometimes even more frequently, for many months. Others said they had leaned on the program during surges or before and after travel and large events.

The mood was a mixture of uneasiness, gratitude and sadness.

Five-year-old Poppy brought Kevin Reed — a program employee who has been greeting testers, asking screening questions and issuing a never-ending supply of stickers since January 2021 — a rainbow heart she made for him with dot markers to say goodbye.

Her mom, Asfala Hammer, said they typically came twice a week — primarily because of her work as a dental hygienist. “We’re traumatized,” Hammer, 41, said of the program’s end. “It’s not like Covid is over.”

For 83-year-old George Farmer, a retired pharmacist, the shuttering of a service that brought the city through so many months of the pandemic makes him feel uneasy. “I don’t know where I’m going to go,” he said. “I want to keep going.”

But it’s time, Pollock said. He pointed to the rapid rise in the use of home-based antigen tests, which deliver results within minutes. “Testing is not the same as it was six months ago or even, obviously, two years ago,” he said.

Barbara Neyhart, a retired UC Davis Medical Center geriatrician who lives in Davis, said she understands why the program is ending. She’s just grateful for having it as long as she did.

“I have been so proud of my little community for putting this together,” she said.

Florida emergency declared as Tropical Storm Ian strengthens

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for all of Florida on Saturday as Tropical Storm Ian gains strength over the Caribbean and is forecast to become a major hurricane within days as it tracks toward the state.

DeSantis had initially issued the emergency order for two dozen counties on Friday. But he expanded the warning to the entire state, urging residents to prepare for a storm that could lash large swaths of Florida.

“This storm has the potential to strengthen into a major hurricane and we encourage all Floridians to make their preparations,” DeSantis said in a statement. “We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to track potential impacts of this storm.”

President Joe Biden also declared an emergency for the state, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide assistance to protect lives and property.

The National Hurricane Center said Ian is forecast to rapidly strengthen in the coming days before moving over western Cuba and toward the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle by the middle of next week. The agency said Floridians should have hurricane plans in place and advised residents to monitor updates of the storm's evolving path.

It added that Ian was forecast to become a hurricane on Sunday and a major hurricane by late Monday or early Tuesday. Ian on Saturday evening had top sustained winds of 45 mph as it swirled about 230 miles south of Kingston, Jamaica.

John Cangialosi, a senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based hurricane center, said it wasn't yet clear exactly where Ian will hit hardest in Florida. He said the state's residents should begin preparing for the storm, including gathering supplies for potential power outages.

“Too soon to say if it's going to be a southeast Florida problem or a central Florida problem or just the entire state,” he said. “So at this point really the right message for those living in Florida is that you have to watch forecasts and get ready and prepare yourself for potential impact from this tropical system.”

The governor's declaration frees up emergency protective funding and activates members of the Florida National Guard, his office said. His order stresses that there is risk for a storm surge, flooding, dangerous winds and other weather conditions throughout the state.

Elsewhere, powerful post-tropical cyclone Fiona crashed ashore early Saturday in Nova Scotia in the Atlantic Canada region. The storm washed houses into the sea, tore rooftops off others and knocked out power to the vast majority of two Canadian provinces with more than 500,000 customers affected at the storm's height.

Fiona had transformed from a hurricane into a post-tropical storm late Friday, but it still had hurricane-strength winds and brought drenching rains and huge waves. There was no confirmation of fatalities or injuries.

Even Russia’s friends are getting upset over its war

NEW YORK — By the time Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took the stage at the United Nations General Assembly this week, he and his country had already lost much of the audience.

Throughout the annual gathering, world leader after world leader had expressed deep discomfort if not outright condemnation over Russia’s war in Ukraine. Even some countries that have stayed friendly with the Kremlin called for a cease-fire or other ways to end the crisis. Few offered words of comfort to Russia. And Russian President Vladimir Putin, who did not attend UNGA, did himself no favors when he announced mid-week that he was escalating the battle and might even use nuclear weapons.

The growing global unhappiness with Russia was hard to miss. A senior U.S. diplomat told POLITICO that some foreign officials turned down Russian invitations to meet on the UNGA sidelines this past week given the optics. “Their dance card wasn’t very full,” the diplomat said.

But for now, it’s more a shift in tone than anything tangible that could add pressure to the Kremlin economically or militarily — many countries still rely on Russia for oil and gas supplies. Lavrov, for one, seemed to realize this, and so the veteran diplomat did not hold back in his speech Saturday.

He insisted that Moscow’s war was just and that Russia was defending itself and Ukraine-based Russian speakers against a neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv — a claim not based in reality. He blamed U.S. and European sanctions for rising food insecurity — an allegation the West denies — not, for instance, Russia’s efforts to block Ukrainian grain shipments. He also cast the expansion of NATO as a threat the Kremlin could not ignore.

“I'm convinced that any sovereign, self-respecting state would do the same in our stead, a state which understands his responsibility to his own people,” said Lavrov, a man often described by foreign affairs observers as “wily.” In particular, he slammed the United States, Ukraine’s most critical backer, for its role as a “hegemon” that undermines the global rules it claims to uphold. “Name a country where Washington interfered by force and where, as a result of that, life improved,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov’s defiance, nonetheless, doesn’t change the uncomfortable reality for Russia that is growing increasingly apparent: Some of its staunchest allies are questioning the wisdom of its war in Ukraine, which has handed Russia a series of major territorial losses in recent days.

The shift in tone became obvious in the days before the U.N. gathering of world leaders in New York.

During a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan earlier this month, Putin met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Russian leader acknowledged that fellow autocrat Xi — whose nation is arguably Russia’s most important friend — had raised “questions and concerns” about the Ukraine war. The Indian leader, meanwhile, reportedly told Putin that “today’s era is not an era of war,” which some took to be a careful rebuke.

Then came UNGA, which offered even more countries a platform to express their frustration. “The timing was fortuitous,” a senior U.S. diplomat said of the annual meeting, which usually is held in September.

Some countries didn’t want to avoid the topic of Ukraine, especially those with populations hit by food and energy shortages and price hikes resulting from the war, not to mention from climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. Latin American and African countries, in particular, have suffered but, for historical and economic reasons, many of those same countries are keen to avoid openly taking sides between Russia and the West when it comes to Ukraine.

So they often emphasized the negative global fallout of the fighting instead.

“The continuation of the hostilities endangers the lives of innocent civilians and jeopardizes the food and energy security of millions of families in other regions, especially in developing countries,” warned Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Alberto França.

Putin’s physical absence from UNGA was not a surprise, but he alarmed those gathered by announcing Wednesday that he was mobilizing hundreds of thousands more troops, supporting referendums to “annex” some Ukrainian territories, and might even use nuclear weapons in his effort to defeat Kyiv. The latter in particular angered many foreign leaders and drew especially strong pushback from U.S.-allied countries that have supported Ukraine from the start.

Putin is engaging in “saber-rattling threats,” said Liz Truss, the new British prime minister. “This will not work.”

For now, there were no major tangible breaks with Moscow from countries such as India and China that continue to fill the Kremlin’s coffers by purchasing Russian energy supplies. Whether Russia keeps getting that level of income could depend on whether European states that also still rely on Russia for energy can agree to price caps currently under discussion. Even if they do, that doesn’t mean major purchasers like in New Delhi or Beijing will go along.

That said, in the world of diplomacy, shifts in tone and talk are often critical steps toward more serious moves, including reducing economic ties, officials and analysts said.

“I think there has been tremendous progress,” said Jonathan Katz, a senior fellow with The German Marshall Fund of the United States. “It is incredibly hard to get countries even diplomatically to shift course, especially when they have direct interest, current or longstanding relations.”

Charles Kupchan, a former White House National Security Council official, pointed out that not only is Putin facing more global discontent, he’s facing growing anger at home over what he still calls a “special military operation.”

“More Russians are taking to the streets to protest the war — and leaving the country to avoid military service,” Kupchan said.

The United States, its European partners, as well as Ukraine itself, seized virtually every opportunity they could during UNGA to make the case that Ukraine was the right side in what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described as a fight between “good and evil, light and dark.”

Ukraine was the primary focus of President Joe Biden’s UNGA speech, which he delivered hours after Putin unveiled his escalation plans. Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised Ukraine at every turn during an endless series of meetings with global counterparts, including China’s foreign minister. Blinken’s schedule remained punishing even after it was adjusted so Blinken could deal with the death of his 96-year-old father on Thursday. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also was omnipresent throughout UNGA.

Lavrov had meetings, too, but — at least from what was publicly available — it was a relatively lean schedule. Those countries whose delegates at UNGA met with Lavrov were typically ones with poor U.S. relations, such as Cuba.

Lavrov also seemed intent on avoiding direct encounters with U.S. and Ukrainian counterparts. During a major U.N. Security Council meeting about Ukraine on Thursday, Lavrov came in only to deliver his remarks — which were defiant — and left quickly afterward. U.S. officials said it was just more evidence of growing Russian isolation.

Another event that U.S. officials saw as a good omen was the overwhelming vote by U.N. member states in favor of letting Zelenskyy address UNGA via a video recording. The rules usually require that a world leader appear in person to speak. If they don’t appear, their foreign ministers may speak, though after heads of state.

Dan Baer, a former U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the Biden team was smart to spend much of its time at UNGA focusing on transnational issues. For instance, the United States hosted a conference on global food security on the sidelines of UNGA and announced billions of dollars in new U.S. funding to help resolve the crisis.

“This was not a ‘you’re either with us or against us’ approach,” said Baer, now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It was a ‘we’re concerned about the repercussions on the global system — tell us what you’re seeing’ approach.”

Of course, one of the lingering frustrations about this past week was with the United Nations itself.

The world body, especially the U.N. Security Council, is not living up to its promise of serving as a forum to resolve global disputes. Russia’s role as a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council has made that body increasingly irrelevant, a fact hard to escape when Putin rattles the proceedings by announcing he’s escalating the war in Ukraine.

“When a permanent member of the Security Council takes the opportunity to double-down on violating the U.N. Charter during the General Assembly with what feels like impunity, I would not say this strengthens the U.N.’s effectiveness,” said Heather Conley, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “It reinforces its weakness as an enforcement body.”

China on Taiwan: ‘External interference’ won’t be tolerated

UNITED NATIONS — China underscored its commitment Saturday to its claim to Taiwan, telling world leaders that anyone who gets in the way of its determination to reunify with the self-governing island would be “crushed by the wheels of history.”

The language was forceful but, for Chinese leadership, well within the realm of normal.

“Only when China is fully reunified can there be true peace across the Taiwan Strait,” Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, said at the U.N. General Assembly. He said Beijing would “take the most forceful steps to oppose external interference.”

China vehemently defends its claim on Taiwan, which separated from the mainland after a 1949 civil war and now functions with its own government. A recent visit by the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, markedly ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The language, while pointed, reflected China's usual vehemence about the island; it's claim rarely goes unmentioned in major international speeches. Taiwan is a core issue of China policy, and Wang's appearance — instead of his boss, Chinese leader Xi Jinping — was a signal that the speech was not necessarily a major one.

“The PRC government is the sole government representing all of China,” Wang said, referring to China's formal name, the People's Republic of China. “The one-China principle has become a basic norm in international relations.”

China exercises regular pressure worldwide on any entity — country, corporation, mapmaker — that even implies Taiwan might be a separate country. Its muscle has isolated the island's government, though a few U.N. members continue to have diplomatic relations with Taipei rather than Beijing.

On Saturday at the U.N. meeting, just a few speakers before Wang, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, spoke forcefully about allowing Taiwan to raise its profile in international organizations, including the World Health Organization.

“How can we stand askance, in relative silence and contented inaction, in disregard of Taiwan's legitimate right to exist in accord with the wishes and will of the Taiwanese people?” he asked.

Wang's appearance at the 2022 in-person edition of the U.N. General Assembly comes after two years of remote, pandemic-era speeches by China's top leader. Xi did not attend this year's general assembly, which Russian President Vladimir Putin also skipped. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke on Wednesday.

Brooklyn’s library moves to slip books through red state bans

NEW YORK — The front line of America’s culture war now runs straight through the nation’s school libraries — with conservatives in dozens of states outlawing books and instruction and the left working to shield targeted authors.

Far from the trenches in states like Florida and Texas, organizations in deep-blue New York are stepping into the fray by directly lending 25,000 books to non-residents since spring, including thousands of students living under the bans. The Brooklyn Public Library’s “Books Unbanned” program provides access to its eBook collection and learning databases for people between the ages of 13 and 21.

The library's program is reaching into Oklahoma, which enacted some of the most sweeping laws last year to ban materials that might cause anyone to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress” because of their race or gender identity.

One Oklahoma high school teacher resigned after suffering backlash for introducing students to the program. Now colleagues, students and community members are making yard signs, and kids are wearing shirts to school advertising the program with a barcode that connects to the BPL website on phones.

“The QR code has become — for lack of a better phrasing — it’s become a symbol of resistance locally in my state,” former Norman High School English teacher Summer Boismier said in an interview. She says she quit in protest, and her teaching license is now in jeopardy, after she provided the code to students.

Proponents say they are protecting children from sexualized material, political indoctrination and concepts designed to impart guilt on white students. Detractors, meanwhile, say the policy chills discussion around institutional racism and deprives LGBTQ children resources to better understand themselves.

Similar bans have been instituted in a push that’s seen hundreds of titles shelved in nearly 3,000 schools across 26 states, according to the nonprofit free speech group PEN America.

The group No Left Turn in Education, which supports some bans, says it opposes schools that impose the “orthodoxy of the left,” as well as books containing sexually explicit imagery.

“The school is not a playground for politicians,” founder and president Elana Fishbein said. “The school is to educate kids to give them the tools that they need to eventually succeed in life. ... It should be neutral territory.”

Restricting books isn’t new, but the bans — some statewide and others only affecting specific school districts — are increasingly part of a larger, nationwide clash over classroom discussions of race and gender identity that has seen conservative activists push money and candidates for school board positions. The right in particular has seized on education issues in upcoming November elections after Republican Glenn Youngkin’s pledge to give parents more power over what their children learn in school helped propel him to victory in Virginia last year.

But in Wisconsin, for example, Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, said in June that if he loses reelection in November, Republicans will ban books, especially those pertaining to LGBTQ issues.

Back in Oklahoma, Boismier’s departure galvanized parents in the area to hand out flyers and T-shirts with the QR code that students are wearing to school. Heather Hall, who owns a local bookstore, said Books Unbanned has been a lifeline for her middle-schooler, River, who uses they/them pronouns.

“How extraordinary is it that I am in Norman, Oklahoma … I have my kid who is going through some stuff in middle school and has access to these very kind people all the way across the country,” she said.

Before the academic year began, Boismier covered potentially violative books in her classroom with butcher paper that included the QR code for Books Unbanned. That prompted a parent to complain that students could access “pornographic material,” including “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe that explains what it means to be nonbinary and asexual.

Boismier said that she was initially told she was being placed on administrative leave. But the school district denied that claim, saying she was never placed on administrative leave, suspended or fired and that Boismier chose to resign.

Nick Migliorino, the superintendent of Norman Public Schools, recently said the parent alleged that Boismier made “derogatory and divisive remarks” about state legislators during class time and used her classroom “to make a political display expressing her own opinions.”

Migliorino also said there was no violation of the Oklahoma state law or State Department of Education rules and that the issue was not about “any books actually on the teacher’s shelves or the use of the public library QR code.”

The city, Oklahoma’s third largest with a population of roughly 120,000, is considered one of the red state’s more moderate burgs. Donald Trump nonetheless won the area by 14 points in the 2020 presidential election. The area also grapples with a dark history: until 1967, it was a “sundown town” that barred Black people from owning homes or even staying out after nightfall.

Liberal Brooklyn’s intrusion is frustrating conservatives like Oklahoma Education Secretary Ryan Walters, who says some books are inappropriate for kids and wants Boismier’s license revoked.

“Rather than being more concerned about the kids and their development and is this appropriate for kids at that grade level, they’ve decided to take an ideological bent here — not an academic exercise — but an ideological one in pushing this into our schools,” Walters said in an interview.

The Brooklyn library says disseminating information is part of its core mission. And when more states began outlawing books in schools and libraries, the library system felt compelled to defy them.

“We’re saying this is what libraries do, we provide access to these materials,” BPL president and CEO Linda Johnson said. “Literature is such a powerful thing and it’s something which allows you to get to know yourself better, your world, it allows you to see new things and we don’t think anyone should be shut out of that regardless of where they live.”

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, lamented various states’ efforts to silence LGBTQ individuals, as well as Black, indigenous and people of color. She called Oklahoma a nexus for legislative activity that seeks to remove such books and “tightly control” young people’s education.

Fishbein from No Left Turn in Education says books such as Jelani Memory’s “A Kids Book About Racism” and Anastasia Higginbotham’s “Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness” teach students to hate the United States.

Books Unbanned “went viral” since it launched in April, and the library was deluged with more than 5,100 inquiries from teens nationwide, Johnson said.

The program is making inroads elsewhere across the country.

Texas American Federation of Teachers president Zeph Capo said it is reversing efforts by conservative groups like Moms for Liberty that are leading book-banning efforts even if putting books in front of teens isn’t necessarily slowing them down.

“The library code is not stopping them from continuing to push these policies in an attempt to disrupt the schools,” said Capo, whose statewide union has 66,000 members, including educators, retirees and school employees. “The library code may be, I would say, is making them ineffective in keeping books away from kids, absolutely.”

Texas is the epicenter of the nation’s classroom book bans, having nixed more texts this year than any other state, according to the Texas Tribune.

In October 2021, state GOP Rep. Matt Krause asked schools throughout the state if they have any of the roughly 850 books on a list that he compiled that focus on race and sexuality. Some school districts in Texas began removing those books.

Lone Star State parents can also temporarily remove their students from classes or activities they deem incompatible with their religious beliefs. They can also check instructional materials and see their students’ records.

New York’s other public library systems — the Queens Public Library and the New York Public Library — have undertaken efforts similar to BPL. The NYPL, which serves the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, made banned materials free through their free e-reader app in April and May.

Tony Marx, the New York Public Library’s president and CEO, said it is not a “big city pushing liberal agenda” but about libraries doing their jobs to make knowledge and information accessible.

“What Brooklyn is doing is fabulous,” Marx said. “What any of us can do to help resist this effort to constrain what the public can read is essential and … we should do everything we can. The simple fact is that it’s outrageous that this is happening.”

Arizona judge rules 19th century abortion ban can take effect

An Arizona judge ruled Friday that a state law prohibiting nearly all abortions can take effect, forcing clinics in the state to immediately stop offering the procedure.

The state’s pre-Roe law, which prohibits all abortions except to save the life of the pregnant person, was enacted in 1864, before Arizona became a state. But enforcement of the statute has been blocked since 1973, when it was found unconstitutional by the Arizona Court of Appeals and subsequently enjoined in superior court.

“The Court finds that because the legal basis for the judgment entered in 1973 has now been overruled, it must vacate the judgment in its entirety,” Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson wrote in her ruling.

Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who in July filed a motion asking the court to allow the law to take effect, praised the court’s decision in a tweet on Friday.

“We applaud the court for upholding the will of the legislature and providing clarity and uniformity on this important issue,” he said.

What’s next: Abortion-rights advocates are expected to appeal the decision — as well as to push to get a Democrat elected to replace Brnovich, who is term limited.

“Today is a difficult day for Arizonans — now subject to a total abortion ban that will have a devasting effect throughout our borders and beyond,” said Caroline Mello Roberson, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s southwest regional director. “We’re working alongside our 75,000 members across the Copper State to send a clear message: When you come for our rights, we come for your seat.”

Dow hits 2022 low as markets sell off on recession fears

Stocks tumbled worldwide Friday on mounting signs the global economy is weakening just as central banks raise the pressure even more with additional interest rate hikes.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.6 percent, closing at its lowest level since late 2020. The S&P 500 fell 1.7 percent, close to its 2022 low set in mid-June, while the Nasdaq slid 1.8 percent.

The selling capped another rough week on Wall Street, leaving the major indexes with their fifth weekly loss in six weeks.

Energy prices closed sharply lower as traders worried about a possible recession. Treasury yields, which affect rates on mortgages and other kinds of loans, held at multiyear highs.

European stocks fell just as sharply or more after preliminary data there suggested business activity had its worst monthly contraction since the start of 2021. Adding to the pressure was a new plan announced in London to cut taxes, which sent U.K. yields soaring because it could ultimately force its central bank to raise rates even more sharply.

The Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world aggressively hiked interest rates this week in hopes of undercutting high inflation, with more big increases promised for the future. But such moves also put the brakes on their economies, threatening recessions as growth slows worldwide. Besides Friday’s discouraging data on European business activity, a separate report suggested U.S. activity is also still shrinking, though not quite as badly as in earlier months.

“Financial markets are now fully absorbing the Fed’s harsh message that there will be no retreat from the inflation fight,” Douglas Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a research report.

U.S. crude oil prices slid 5.7 percent to their lowest levels since early this year on worries that a weaker global economy will burn less fuel. Cryptocurrency prices also fell sharply because higher interest rates tend to hit hardest the investments that look the priciest or the most risky.

Even gold fell in the worldwide rout, as bonds paying higher yields make investments that pay no interest look less attractive. Meanwhile, the U.S. dollar has been moving sharply higher against other currencies. That can hurt profits for U.S. companies with lots of overseas business, as well as put a financial squeeze on much of the developing world.

The S&P 500 fell 64.76 points to 3,693.23, its fourth straight drop. The Dow, which at one point was down more than 800 points, lost 486.27 points to close at 29,590.41. The Nasdaq fell 198.88 points to 10,867.93.

Smaller company stocks did even worse. The Russell 2000 fell 42.72 points, or 2.5 percent, to close at 1,679.59.

More than 85 percent of stocks in the S&P 500 closed in the red, with technology companies, retailers and banks among the biggest weights on the benchmark index.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday lifted its benchmark rate, which affects many consumer and business loans, to a range of 3 percent to 3.25 percent. It was at virtually zero at the start of the year. The Fed also released a forecast suggesting its benchmark rate could be 4.4 percent by the year’s end, a full point higher than envisioned in June.

Treasury yields have climbed to multiyear highs as interest rates rise. The yield on the 2-year Treasury, which tends to follow expectations for Federal Reserve action, rose to 4.20 percent from 4.12 percent late Thursday. It is trading at its highest level since 2007. The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which influences mortgage rates, slipped to 3.69 percent from 3.71 percent.

Goldman Sachs strategists say a majority of their clients now see a “hard landing” that pulls the economy sharply lower as inevitable. The question for them is just on the timing, magnitude and length of a potential recession.

Higher interest rates hurt all kinds of investments, but stocks could stay steady as long as corporate profits grow strongly. The problem is that many analysts are beginning to cut their forecasts for upcoming earnings because of higher rates and worries about a possible recession.

“Increasingly, market psychology has transitioned from concerns over inflation to worries that, at a minimum, corporate profits will decline as economic growth slows demand,” said Quincy Krosby, chief global strategist for LPL Financial.

In the U.S., the jobs market has remained remarkably solid, and many analysts think the economy grew in the summer quarter after shrinking in the first six months of the year. But the encouraging signs also suggest the Fed may have to jack rates even higher to get the cooling needed to bring down inflation.

Some key areas of the economy are already weakening. Mortgage rates have reached 14-year highs, causing sales of existing homes to drop 20 percent in the past year. But other areas that do best when rates are low are also hurting.

In Europe, meanwhile, the already fragile economy is dealing with the effects of war on its eastern front following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The European Central Bank is hiking its key interest rate to combat inflation even as the region’s economy is already expected to plunge into a recession. And in Asia, China’s economy is contending with still-strict measures meant to limit Covid infections that also hurt businesses.

While Friday’s economic reports were discouraging, few on Wall Street saw them as enough to convince the Fed and other central banks to soften their stance on raising rates. So they just reinforced the fear that rates will keep rising in the face of already slowing economies.

‘Trump Is a Messianic Figure in the QAnon Calls’

In the late hours of Thursday night, Donald Trump reposted a montage of himself to his Truth Social followers that was extraordinary even for him. In a flash, images appeared showcasing “military criminal justice,” a “reminder” that the real insurrection occurred when Democrats cheated in the 2020 election and a cartoonish picture of Trump in a dark alley holding a baby with the line, “You Should’ve Stayed Away From The Children.”

The highlight reel also, of course, brandished the QAnon slogans “WWG1WGA” — where we go 1, we go all — and “the storm is coming.” The former president has been channeling the conspiracy theory a lot lately. At a rally last weekend, throngs of Trump supporters held up a “1” — a common QAnon tribute — in the air when they thought the “Q” theme song was being played. Days earlier, Trump posted a picture of himself on Truth Social wearing a “Q” pin with a “Q” slogan.
It’s all got Heidi Beirich worrying even more than usual.

Beirich is the co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism and has tracked extremist movements for more than 20 years. She’s frequently testified before Congress on efforts to counter extremist groups’ recruitment and reduce hate online. She spoke to POLITICO Magazine this week after helping to organize the second annual Eradicate Hate Summit in Pittsburgh, which featured addresses from senior law enforcement and counterterrorism officials.

In Beirich’s eyes, Trump has made a decision to cozy up further to the QAnon movement in a simple bid to boost his political fortunes — and perhaps partly out of desperation. “There’s pretty much nothing weirder than QAnon out there in the world, that Democrats and Hollywood celebrities are Satanic worshipping pedophiles?” But, she adds, Trump knows these people make up part of his base, so he’s more than eager to rile them up.

Unlike many may have expected, or at least hoped, QAnon never faded away, even after Trump’s election loss in 2020 and its prophesies failed to come true. But conspiracy theories never really die, they only morph.

“It’s already a conspiracy. It’s already built on lies. So you just keep retelling the story in a different way,” Beirich says. “Trump already is the key figure for QAnon, and I think now he’s overtly assuming that role.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Joseph Gedeon: At a campaign rally recently, after it appeared that Trump had played a QAnon song, lots of people in the crowd held up a “1” to invoke a QAnon rallying sign. What did you take from that?

Heidi Beirich: Well, what I found disheartening, but also incredible, is that Trump seems to be, in recent weeks, intentionally trying to abuse the QAnon movement and move it as close to him as he can get it. So he not only played the song. as you pointed out, but the other day he was wearing a Q lapel pin with one of their phrases on it [in a Truth Social post]. He’s been doing a lot of the equivalent of tweeting right on Truth Social to attract QAnon adherents. I should say, this isn’t totally new for Trump, but it’s more direct than it’s been in the past. So he’s played this game before, but now he’s appealing really directly and in-person to QAnon adherents.

Gedeon: It does seem like Trump is leaning more into the support of the QAnon crowd. Why is it happening now?

Beirich: I think he’s definitely leaning in hard. There’s also evidence, not collected by me but by others, that show that Truth Social has quite a few Q accounts on it, too. The whole company is playing to these folks.

I think there might be a measure of desperation in this move, that Trump is having to align himself with people who literally believe crazy ideas. There’s pretty much nothing weirder than QAnon out there in the world, that Democrats and Hollywood celebrities are Satanic worshipping pedophiles? Regardless, this movement is now found in about 70 different countries including as far away as places like Japan. It seems to me that he is trying as hard as he can to appeal to them. I have to wonder if this isn’t related to you know, pretty bad approval ratings that he has right now, and that he thinks it’ll lift up his ranks. He can’t possibly not know that there were a ton of QAnon people during the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, and he knows they make up a part of his base, so I think he’s trying something out to uplift himself by these very direct calls to the QAnon universe.

I’ll just add, there’s a lot of people who believe in QAnon — more than we would think. From a poll earlier this year, I think in February, it’s 1 in 5 Americans are QAnon adherents, and 1 in 4 are Republicans. So those are big, big numbers.

Just for context, research on the insurrectionist movement out of the University of Chicago looked at the people who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and they pointed to two things that those people tend to believe. One is the “great replacement” conspiracy theory — this white supremacist idea that’s often antisemitic, that Jews are replacing white people in their homelands with people of color, immigrants, refugees — but the other thing they tend to believe is QAnon. Trump knows this makes up part of his base. He knows, or at least people around him know, that it’s a force in the Republican Party. I think those things are motivating this activity as well.

Gedeon: What is the state of the QAnon movement right now? I’m assuming people think that QAnon has sort of died down.

Beirich: It’s not the case. You would think it would be the case, since Q hasn’t posted in forever. You would think that this would have gone away, but that has not happened. And it’s partly because there are politicians out there like Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene who have pushed QAnon messaging. There are election denier outfits that are appealing to QAnon. And you would think that this idea, first of all, would have never taken off. Then secondly, you would have thought when Q sort of disappeared, it would die down. You would have thought when the FBI pointed to the potential violence that could come from the QAnon movement back in 2021 that this would go away, but it hasn’t.

Gedeon: We never found out for sure who Q was so what role does Trump play in promoting QAnon?

Beirich: First of all, we have to recognize that Trump is a messianic figure in the QAnon calls. He is the one who is going to save everyone. A lot of people thought QAnon would fall apart because Trump lost the election, and in their world, he was not supposed to lose. He was the savior, and he was going to set the world right, get rid of the pedophiles and globalists and all this stuff. It didn’t happen. But he remains that messianic figure

The thing about conspiracy theories is even if you promote some particular idea — think about people who say the end of the world is going to happen on a particular date, and then it doesn't happen, sort of similar to QAnon in a way with Trump and the election — they can always just reinvent themselves. It’s already a conspiracy. It’s already built on lies. So you just keep retelling the story in a different way. Trump already is the key figure for QAnon and I think now he’s overtly assuming that role.

Gedeon: When we talk about the people who believe in QAnon, we have to remember that they are people, who just really believe what they believe. What is fueling QAnon and other forms of extremism? What is it that’s polarizing people?

Beirich: I’m not a psychologist so I can’t speak to sort of why people go down conspiracy rabbit holes, but they do. And there have been people who’ve come out of the QAnon movement who say they just got completely wrapped up in this thing.

One of the things that QAnon did in the past, they did these things called “Q drops”, where it would be like cues about what’s going to happen in the future. It had almost like a scavenger hunt kind of aspect to it — try to interpret these “Q drops” sort of like a game. I think a lot of people found that compelling and enticing and it drew more people in to the movement than maybe other kinds of conspiracies.

QAnon may be the largest conspiracy movement in the United States. I don’t know if it’s the largest conspiracy movement ever. I don’t know how many people believe that JFK wasn’t killed in the way he was, or that we never went to the moon, but it’s millions and millions of people who have fallen into this. So it has a mysterious attraction to it.

Gedeon: I know that you also look into far-right movements in Europe and the transatlantic area. Are there any similarities with extremist movements here and abroad? Are there any moments in history that can help us understand what we’re experiencing now?

Beirich: People often say you shouldn’t point to the 1930s and the rise of the Nazis as similar to what the United States is facing. But there are actually similarities to that time period. You have the rise of a leader who is overtly authoritarian, who is challenging a democratic system, by saying our whole election system is bogus and corrupt. You also have things going on on the streets like Proud Boy rallies that are sort of reminiscent with the brown shirts.

You have the rise of the far right in multiple countries. It’s not just here in the United States. You would have seen that in Sweden, the Swedish Democrats are going to form the government there after the elections about a week ago, and that’s a party that is literally rooted in neo-Nazism. There’s about to probably be another far-right winner in Italy, who has connections to a lot of extremist groups and who idolizes Mussolini. It’s hard not to think about the 1930s as somewhat reminiscent of what we’re experiencing right now. For me, this is quite frightening because we all know where that led, and it was horrific.

Gedeon: You don’t think we would actually go there in the U.S. though, do you?

Beirich: I don’t want to make the parallel too tight, but I think that we are facing the biggest threats to democracy in the United States that we ever have. I can’t think of any time in my lifetime where there were so many people who don’t believe that election results are what they say they are.

There are people running for office right now, some of them are actually QAnon adherents. They deny the election and some of them are running for offices like secretary of state and if they win, their plans are to make the elections partisan, to manipulate the vote for the outcome that they want, not the outcome that comes from the election. This stuff is real scary.

There’s other things to remember, like how a large percentage of Americans believe that violence may be necessary for politics. I mentioned earlier the fact that this white supremacist idea, “the great replacement,” is being spread by candidates and influencers like Tucker Carlson. These are frightening and disturbing portents that are occurring right now.

Gedeon: Is there anything we can do about radical conspiracy theories, or is it just a fact of life at this point?

Beirich: I think one thing that’s really important is that the social media companies be vigilant and keep the stuff off there. You can’t do anything about Truth Social and other places that don’t ban this stuff as part of their terms of service.

There’s also a leadership issue here and I so wish, in vain, that major figures in the Republican Party would say, ‘This is unacceptable. These are lies.’ It’s led to violence — everybody remembers the Comet Ping Pong shooting where [conspiracy theorists] thought that Democrats were holding children in the basement of this pizza place in Washington, D.C., and a guy went in there with a rifle and shot in the restaurant when people were there.

As a general thing, if you don’t want this stuff in your public life, don’t vote for candidates who push it.

National security risk review of material Trump kept at Mar-a-Lago resumes after appeals court ruling

Intelligence officials have resumed their national security risk review of top-secret documents that were seized at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, according to a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The resumption, which has not been previously reported, comes after a federal appeals court delivered the Justice Department a decisive win, unanimously blocking elements of a lower-court ruling that forced federal prosecutors to seek a pause in the highly anticipated intelligence review.

“In consultation with the Department of Justice, ODNI is resuming the classification review of relevant materials and assessment of the potential risk to national security that would result from the disclosure of the relevant documents,” an ODNI spokesperson said.

The intelligence community’s assessment of national security risks stemming from Trump’s possession of the classified materials has two tracks, as laid out by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines in a letter to congressional committee leaders last month. The first review centers on the classification levels of the seized documents, and the second examines the national security fallout if the materials were improperly disclosed.

Both reviews ramped back up this week after a three-judge panel on Wednesday reversed major elements of a previous ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon.

In her decision granting Trump’s request for a special master to sift through the classified documents and separate potentially privileged materials, Cannon barred DOJ from using that set of documents to advance its criminal investigation.

She later clarified that her prior order should not prevent the national security reviews from moving forward, but DOJ said that wasn’t sufficient because the two actions are “inextricably linked.” In a recent court filing, prosecutors said “the criminal investigation is itself essential to the government’s effort to identify and mitigate potential national-security risks.”

Prosecutors also argued Cannon’s order was unworkable because the FBI — which executed the search warrant on Trump’s estate and is an integral part of the criminal probe — is also a key member of the intelligence community and could be roped into the damage assessment.

The 11th Circuit’s Wednesday ruling blocked parts of Cannon’s order, allowing prosecutors to use documents with classification markings as part of the criminal probe. The panel sharply rejected Cannon’s reasoning and embraced DOJ’s assertions that the criminal review of the records was a crucial element of assessing national security damage.

“No party has offered anything beyond speculation to undermine [DOJ’s] representation — supported by sworn testimony — that findings from the criminal investigation may be critical to its national-security review,” the judges wrote.

Citing consultations with the Justice Department in the wake of Cannon’s initial ruling, ODNI said earlier this month that it had paused “the classification review of relevant materials and assessment of the potential risk to national security that would result from the disclosure of the relevant documents,” according to a spokesperson.

An intelligence briefing for congressional leaders on the documents found at Mar-a-Lago was put on hold after Cannon’s ruling, too, but it’s unclear when that might occur. The intelligence community’s work is of paramount importance to members of Congress, especially the select few who have intelligence oversight responsibilities.

“We haven’t heard anything,” Senate Intelligence Vice Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a brief interview this week. “I don’t know why they’ve been so unresponsive. I don’t see the rationale for it. At some point, we’ll have to increase the scrutiny.”

Meanwhile, members of Congress have not yet been briefed about what was recovered at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate — or anything else about the Justice Department’s investigation. A highly redacted document outlining the department’s rationale for seeking a search warrant for Trump’s home revealed that prosecutors are investigating possible violations of the Espionage Act, the Presidential Records Act, and obstruction of justice.

“The predominant concern that we have is getting to the bottom of whether any sources or methods have been compromised, and now need to be mitigated,” House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said on Tuesday.

Nicholas Wu and Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.

Opinion | Unprepared for the Big One

Covid-19 may have been the biggest global health crisis in a century, but in so many ways it could have been worse, much worse. Despite the scale and suffering — with the pandemic not yet over and at least 15 million people dead, nearly 600 million people infected (possibly more than Spanish flu) and at a cost to the global economy of at least $11 trillion and counting — we still got lucky. Had the virus been more transmissible, more virulent or more lethal, the state of the world today would likely be even bleaker. Given that the risk of another pandemic occurring with the same kind of impact as Covid-19 is increasing by 2 percent with each year, that threat still hangs over us. So, are we now prepared for the next Big One?

To be blunt: No.

As with every “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” so far except for the Zika virus, the global Covid response has centered around our best defense: vaccines. And with vaccination, the greatest impact during a pandemic lies with first protecting high-risk groups — those most likely to come into contact with a virus and those most vulnerable — and then increasing coverage to slow the spread of the disease. Yet the current blueprint being mapped out by G-20 leaders for how we should prepare for and respond to future pandemics does not lay out how the poorest countries in the world would get access to vaccines in the next health emergency, nor how high-risk groups would be prioritized.

For more than two decades my organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has been on a mission to protect the poorest and most vulnerable children in the world, vaccinating more than an additional billion children so far, and every year providing vaccines for more than half the world’s children. This has led to a 70 percent reduction in vaccine preventable disease deaths. We also support the stockpiles for epidemic vaccines. So, when Covid-19 came along we knew that billions of people could miss out on immunization unless immediate action was taken. This is why we helped create COVAX.

During the Covid pandemic, COVAX was the only initiative that had global equitable access for high-risk groups as its primary operational focus; for hundreds of millions of people most at risk in the poorest countries, this has been the only source of Covid vaccines. Despite facing immense barriers every step of the way, COVAX is the main reason why 75 percent of healthcare workers and 63 percent of older people in lower-income countries are now fully protected, as are on average 50 percent of their populations. So, if we are to stand a chance of being prepared for the next pandemic, then it makes sense to have something like COVAX already in place and funded in advance — particularly before the Big One strikes — to ensure that next time the response is faster and more effective. Yet currently there are no plans for this.

It’s true that global governance frameworks and financing are being drawn up to make sure that countries are better prepared for the next pandemic. But there must also be an operational response on standby, particularly when it comes to vaccines.

With infectious disease, no one is safe until everyone is safe, so the role COVAX has played in ensuring that people everywhere have access to vaccines has been undeniably important. Given that it has delivered 1.7 billion doses and is responsible for 76 percent of Covid vaccines received by low-income countries, this begs the question of how people in these countries will get access to vaccines the next time unless something like COVAX is in place to secure and deliver billions of doses of vaccine to them?

This doesn’t mean we need to create a new pandemic organization or institution. In fact, the reality is that no one organization has all the knowledge, resources or infrastructure needed to achieve this end-to-end approach anyway. The only reason COVAX has been so successful is because it is built around a networked approach that was able to draw upon the strengths of global health organizations that already existed. From its core partners, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Gavi, the World Health Organization and UNICEF, to civil society organizations, private sector and ministries of health, each partner pivoted when crisis struck to enable COVAX as a whole to respond quickly, adapting and innovating when needed.

All this is necessary because carrying out vaccine rollouts on the scale we’ve seen with Covid — the largest and most complex global deployment ever — involves far more than just delivering vaccines. It also entails accelerating the development of vaccines, scaling-up manufacturing so larger volumes could be produced, securing doses, negotiating lower prices and putting in place all the logistical pieces needed to deliver vaccines, including the supply chain, cold storage, data systems, surveillance networks and trained health care workers, as well as all the important legal indemnity, liability and compensation safety nets too.

As daunting as that may sound, the point is that now we know it’s possible, and we need to ultimately improve it. Because despite all that it achieved, COVAX could have done better. In the face of vaccine hoarding, export restrictions and a lack of transparency from manufacturers, last year COVAX experienced severe supply constraints which led to delays. Had COVAX existed before the pandemic, rather than being created on the fly, and had at-risk contingency funding already been in place rather than having to be raised in the midst of a global crisis, then it could have responded quicker, secured deals with manufacturers earlier and got larger volumes of doses out to people quicker.

We don’t know what form the next pandemic will take, or whether it will be possible to develop vaccines against it. But what we do know at least is that if we don’t put all this in place now, the response will be slower and less effective. And if the next one is another Big One, it could come at a frightening and devastating cost.