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American Voter: Kathy Byrnes

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US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are battling for the presidency in a sharply divided United States.

Trump has been focusing on “law and order”, Biden has been trying to strike a conciliatory note. The Black Lives Matter movement, and whether Trump will release his taxes are among the many issues Americans will consider when choosing their president.

As the hotly contested election approaches, Al Jazeera has been speaking to voters across the US asking nine questions to understand who they are supporting and why.

American Voter: Kathy Byrnes [Al Jazeera]

Age: 58
Occupation: Urban Farmer
Residence: Polk County, Iowa
Voted in 2016: Hillary Clinton
Will vote in 2020: Joe Biden
Top election issue: Climate Change

Will you vote? Why or why not?

“Yes, voting is our most sacred duty in a democracy. I first voted on November 4th, 1980 for Jimmy Carter. He lost to Ronald Reagan, but I’ve voted every year since then.”

What is your number one issue?

“Well, there’s a lot to be concerned about. To me, Climate is the most important issue that we need to face. It’s a crisis. And if we don’t get it right, there’s not a lot else that we can get right. So I mentioned that I voted for Jimmy Carter and I grew up in the late 1970s during the energy crisis. I learned  from my Republican dad and my Democrat mom to conserve energy and love nature. It was just really a good upbringing to understand that we have this Earth, one Earth. It’s our home, and we need to protect it.

“So now, as an older adult, I see the Earth is on fire, flooded, drought-stricken, more so than any other time that people have seen for hundreds of years. And it’s not cyclical, it’s progressive. Humans are doing that to the Earth. I’ve got three kids and three grandkids. Their future is everything to me, and it’s not just because it’s my kids and my grandkids – it’s other human beings. And it’s not just to save the United States, it’s for the world. It’s not a tree-hugger thing at all. When we implement policies that tackle the climate crisis, we will also create new and better jobs. We will create new and better ways to get from one place to the other. We’ll have a chance at some better healthcare. We’ll have some overall peace and justice accomplishments. And that’s the number one issue.

“I also had a very personal issue that drove me to care a lot more about the Earth. I lived on an acre of land that was threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline. First I studied what it was and what pipelines were about because I really didn’t know much about our energy infrastructure. And the more I learned, the worse it sounded. And I stood up to that. I took an arrest for that – standing to protect some waterways in Iowa. I met a lot of good people, worked with a lot of great allies and landowners like myself, Indigenous communities, and people of every age, race, ethnicity. We didn’t defeat that pipeline, but we delayed it, which was great. And now we’re working to try to prevent them from doubling the flow of oil in that pipeline.”

Who will you vote for?

“I’m voting for Joe Biden.”

Is there a main reason you chose your candidate?

“I didn’t really choose him. The party chose for me. I will vote for Biden enthusiastically in the situation that we’re in right now. Last year, with the group Bold Iowa that Ed Fallon directs, we and hundreds of other people across Iowa vetted candidates and encouraged candidates on the climate issue. All of the pre-caucus season I probably attended over 100 campaign events and rallies, personally talked to every candidate, toured some of them around our home and urban farm to help them see what a personal investment we’re making to address the climate crisis.

“Originally, Tom Steyer was the number one candidate on climate and also with a solid background to implement programmes, to have that drive on some of the other important issues that I mentioned, jobs, health, transportation, et cetera. So I did caucus for him originally. In Iowa, caucuses are a different kind of animal than anywhere else. So I stood in the camp of Tom Steyer, but his camp wasn’t viable. So I moved to the Elizabeth Warren camp. She did not start with a firm grasp on the urgency of climate at the beginning of her campaign. But she got there and I felt she had the political wherewithal to get things done and to really drive that issue. So I was hoping to be able to vote for Warren, but I will enthusiastically vote for Biden. ”

Are you happy with the current state of the country?

“Well, I’m happy that more people are involved in the political process and more aware than ever before. I’m not happy with why that is happening. And that’s because they’re reacting to the negativity and the atrocities of the Trump administration. I have a sister, she’s the smartest cookie you’ll ever meet and she’s kind and loving, and she was never super vocal about politics. But now she has been so involved. She got involved with her community’s Democratic Party this last year. She came out of her shell. She spoke out in public and did things she has not really done before.

“My core belief really is that that people are good and love is powerful and we should always be prepared to be surprised by ourselves and others in very positive ways. And I’ve been pleased to see a lot of that happening. It’s really hard to respond to all the hatred out there with love. I haven’t succeeded, but I’m hoping that we can bring this country back. So I’m not happy with the state of the country right now, but I’m hopeful that we will become a country that we can be proud of again.”

What would you like to see change?

“Well, here’s an example. This is on a just a social level, and I think this stems from the leadership that we’re seeing in the Trump administration, or the lack of it. This morning, I looked on my Facebook and a woman, who was a very nice lady in the community that I lived in before moving to Des Moines, posted, she reposted some pictures from somebody else’s Facebook. It was a young man with several young people standing around him and the young man was standing on an American flag. The man’s ethnicity was unclear – I’m not sure if he was in the US or a different country, but it looked like it was intentionally a picture of somebody who looks like someone who others believe might not belong here. I’m going to read what the original message said, that people are just sharing without even thinking of it. It says ‘Anybody who knows this kid spread it across the internet, make sure his mom and dad and grandfathers and grandmothers see this. They raised a piece of crap. Let them know.’ And what I would like to see change is for people to not judge others instantly the way that I see them doing now, more than ever. I would like to see grown-ups act like grown-ups again.

“I would like to see people understand the context before they make a judgement that might have been probably was a fine young person. And he doesn’t need this image spread all across the internet being called a piece of crap. The way a presidential administration or president can help these things change is to, well, very simply, put people in charge of departments that belong there. Betsy DeVos in the Department of Education doesn’t make sense. I’m a former public school teacher. I taught high school for 14 years. She has no experience and or interest in helping the public school system continue to help create thinking, learning creative adults. She seems out to destroy the public school system.

“Scott Pruitt was head of the EPA. He’s since resigned, but someone who has ties to the oil industry is not a good choice. So selecting good leadership is something that definitely needs to change. I just want our leaders to be the kind of example that I want our children to follow. Even the adults in our community to follow.”

Do you think the election will change anything?

“This election will change everything. This election will decide the trajectory of our nation, whether we value freedom. And I know that conservatives think that that’s their word, but they are the ones who want to take freedoms away. Freedom of choice, freedom of thought, freedom of voice. We need to make sure that the United States remains a democracy.

“We need to make sure that the United States comes back to being a point of light in the world instead of a point of darkness and frankly, a joke. Everything could change based on who becomes president. If Biden becomes president, we stand a chance of making our country kind again. Well, really, no matter how the election goes, I’m concerned about how long it’s going to take to turn our populace back around to a point of kindness.”

What is your biggest concern for the US?

“I am concerned that what people think of as the greatness in America has to do with being big and strong and wealthy. And I grew up learning that being great means that you are kind. You are fair. You are healthy physically and emotionally. You are creative. That’s the kind of greatness that I want to restore to our country. I want to be proud of America again. I don’t think that’s unpatriotic to say. I think that’s the most patriotic thing I can say is that we have beautiful people in this country. We have beautiful land. We need to protect each other and protect our land, and protect our image around the globe.”

Is there anything we haven’t asked about the election that you would like to say?

“It’s so important that people vote. Especially women and people of colour, we underestimate the power that we have. And I wish that people would just take the time to learn and to grow and to vote for the best for most people instead of just for themselves.”

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NIH director says Covid-19 vaccine authorization ‘might not happen’ this year

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French President Emmanuel Macron (2nd L) chairs a meeting with the medical staff of the René Dubos hospital center, in Pontoise, in the Val d'Oise, on October 23, 2020, as the country faces a new wave of infections to the Covid-19.
French President Emmanuel Macron (2nd L) chairs a meeting with the medical staff of the René Dubos hospital center, in Pontoise, in the Val d’Oise, on October 23, 2020, as the country faces a new wave of infections to the Covid-19. Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

France reported a new daily record for coronavirus infections with 42,032 new cases in the past 24 hours, according to numbers released by country’s health agency on Friday.

This brings the total number of confirmed cases in France to 1,041,075, according to French government statistics, and marks the first time the government’s coronavirus case tally has surpassed 1 million. 

France also recorded 298 additional coronavirus deaths, bringing the death toll to 34,508, according to the French Health Agency. 

According to government data, an additional 976 coronavirus patients have been admitted to the hospital, and a further 122 coronavirus patients entered intensive care in the last 24 hours. 

Speaking at a health center this afternoon, French President Emmanuel Macron said he expects France will have to live with the virus until at least the summer of 2021.

“When I listen to the scientists, and the Scientific Council, we foresee [living with the virus] at best until next summer,” Macron said. “It is still too early to say whether we are moving towards wider local re-confinements, we will try each time to reduce the places, the moments when we have identified that the virus was circulating a lot. This is the strategy we will pursue.”

Macron added that the government aims to implement new restrictions in the most targeted way possible. 

From midnight on Friday, France’s nighttime coronavirus curfew will be extended more widely, with 46 million French people affected, announced French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday. 

To note: According to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University, France has recorded 1,048,924 coronavirus cases and 34,236 deaths. CNN’s Paris Bureau is working on clarifying the discrepancy between state statistics and the university’s numbers.

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US COVID-19 deaths could hit 500,000 by February, researchers say

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The death toll from COVID-19 in the United States could exceed 500,000 by February unless nearly all Americans wear face masks, researchers said on Friday, as 14 states set new records for one-day increases in cases.

The latest estimate by the widely cited University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) reflects concern that cold winter weather will drive Americans indoors, where the coronavirus spreads more easily, particularly in confined, poorly-ventilated spaces.

Nationwide, 76,195 new cases were reported on Thursday, according to a Reuters analysis, just shy of the single-day record high of 77,299 reported on July 16. Only India has reported more cases in a single day: 97,894, on September 17.

“We are heading into a very substantial fall/winter surge,” said IHME director Chris Murray, who co-led the research.

The number of possible deaths could drop by 130,000 if 95 percent of Americans covered their faces, the IHME said, echoing a recommendation by Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The country’s Health Secretary Alex Azar has attributed the increase in cases nationwide to individual behaviour, saying household gatherings have become a “major vector of disease spread.”

Asked about President Donald Trump’s claim that the US was “rounding the turn” on the pandemic during Thursday night’s presidential debate, Azar told CNN that Trump was trying to provide hope to Americans waiting for a vaccine.

Pennsylvania, a swing state that is expected to play a crucial role in the November 3 presidential election, reported its largest single-day increase in cases since the pandemic began. “Daily increases are now comparable with what we saw in April 2020,” the Pennsylvania Department of Health said in a statement issued on Friday.

Also reporting record one-day increases were the states of Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

More in hospital

On Thursday, there were 916 reported fatalities in the US, a day after the country recorded over 1,200 new deaths for the first time since August.

Also on Thursday, the number of COVID-19 patients in US hospitals climbed to a two-month high. There are now more than 41,000 people in hospital with coronavirus across the country, up 34 percent since the start of the month, according to a Reuters analysis.

North Dakota, with 887 new cases on both Thursday and Friday, remains the hardest-hit state, based on new cases per capita, followed by South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin.

Eight states reported record numbers of COVID-19 patients in hospital on Friday: Alaska, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation say nearly all Americans should wear masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 [Michael Loccisano/Getty Images via AFP]

In Tennessee, hospitals in Nashville said they had experienced a 40 percent increase in patients admitted for the coronavirus.

Dr Jeff Pothof, an emergency medicine physician at University of Wisconsin Health in Madison, expressed worry about a lack of compliance with public health measures in the state, where some groups have challenged Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ COVID-19 restrictions in court.

“If we don’t get that and we have such tremendous prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities, I don’t see a great way out of this,” Dr Pothof said. “The picture isn’t rosy.”

Chicago Mayor Lori E Lightfoot announced a curfew on non-essential businesses beginning at 10pm on Friday (03:00 GMT on Saturday). She warned residents to avoid social gatherings of more than six people and end all gatherings by 10pm.

Nearly 2,500 people are in hospital with COVID-19 in Illinois, the state’s top public health official, Dr Ngozi Ezike, told a news conference.

The Northeast remains the one region of the county without a significant surge in cases, but infections are trending higher. Boston public schools shifted to online-only learning this week.

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Texas court blocks limits on mail-in ballot drop boxes

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Texas governor previously ordered each county have one drop-off location, drawing concerns over voter suppression.

An appeals court in the US state of Texas ruled Friday that Governor Greg Abbott cannot limit drop-off sites for mail-in ballots to one per county, in what could be a setback for United States President Donald Trump.

Upholding a lower court decision, the Texas Third Court of Appeals ruled that limiting the number of drop boxes would increase the risk that voters could be infected with COVID-19 and would infringe on their right to vote.

Trump has repeatedly criticised mail-in ballots, claiming without evidence that they would lead to widespread voter fraud ahead of the November 3 contest that pits the Republican president against former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump won Texas by nine percentage points in 2016.

Though a Democratic presidential candidate has not won the state in more than four decades, opinion polls suggest that victory may be in reach for Biden, partly due to voters’ dissatisfaction over Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abbott on October 1 issued an order limiting mail-in ballot drop boxes to one per county, regardless of size or population.

The order raised concerns and criticism that it would put a strain on voters in larger counties like Harris, which encompasses the city of Houston and is home to a racially diverse population of over four million people.

Harris County often elects Democratic candidates, such as Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

In its unanimous ruling on Friday, the three-member Texas Third Court of Appeals expressed concerns that limiting drop boxes would increase wait times and create long lines, endangering the health of voters.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said his office would “immediately appeal” to the Texas Supreme Court in a statement released after the ruling.

The court’s decision in Texas is the latest blow to efforts to limit drop-off locations for ballots across the US.

On October 10, a federal judge rejected the Trump re-election campaign’s attempts to limit how mail-in ballots are collected in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

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