February 14, 2020

"The Democratic primaries are off and running," and after the Nevada caucuses, "the next actual primary is my home state of South Carolina," Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show. "Assuming they don't secede between now and then, South Carolina is holding their primary on Saturday, Feb. 29 — that's leap day, a day that only exists once every four years, just like the South Carolina Democratic Party. The South Carolina electorate is a whole new ballgame for the Dems," because it's not blindingly white like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Joe Biden "is currently leading among black voters, with 27 percent," followed by "former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with 22 percent," Colbert said. "Now that sounds surprising, but Bloomberg has been out there in the African American community, shaking hands and frisking babies." He's also "been accused in several lawsuits of creating an uncomfortable workplace environment for women, but he won't release women who sued him from their nondisclosure agreements," he added. "Oh good, yet another New York billionaire with a questionable history with women. Next we're going to find out about his sons, Merrick and Bloom Jr." There's a photo. It's disturbing.

Yes, "the real threat to Bloomberg's campaign is his past," Trevor Noah said at The Daily Show. "While Bloomberg is out there trying to win the black vote in 2020, he's on tape in 2015 talking about black people like they're crime piñatas. ... Getting caught on tape encouraging police to arrest black people is definitely going to hurt you with black voters. It's the same way you would lose white voters if a tape came out of you saying that pets aren't the same as babies."

Bloomberg is trying to explain away his stop-and-frisk comments, but in real life "he encouraged his police department to treat black people like they were all criminals," Noah said. "As much as he tries to move forward and get out of this, reporters won't let this story go. They keep hassling him at events, questioning him about his motives, just trying to find any little thing that he's done wrong. It must so frustrating for him. And to that, I say: Mike Bloomberg, welcome to the world of stop-and-frisk."

Noah also compared Bloomberg to Tyrion Lannister in an elaborate 2020 campaign–Game of Thrones analogy.

Noah also compared Trump to too much GoT, and warned Democrats against ideological purity, between scenes. Watch below. Peter Weber

8:16 a.m.

Members of the U.S. women's national soccer team are requesting $66 million in damages under their gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, according to papers filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The trial in the case is scheduled to start in early May.

Players on the women's national team filed the lawsuit last March saying the fact that their players on the men's team were paid more reflected institutionalized gender discrimination. U.S. Soccer said in a statement that the women players "are paid differently because they specifically asked for and negotiated a completely different contract than the men's national team," one that "provides significant additional benefits" the men don't get, including guaranteed annual salaries and paid child-care assistance, The Associated Press reports. Harold Maass

8:15 a.m.

Researchers at MIT reported Thursday that they have harnessed artificial intelligence to identify a completely new antibiotic compound that killed all but one of the antibacterial-resistant pathogens they tested it on. Drug-resistant bacteria are a large and growing problem, causing 2.8 million infections and 35,000 deaths in the U.S. each year and more in developing countries, STAT News reports. The computer learning model developed at MIT, described in the journal Cell, has the potential to identify many new types of antibiotics.

The researchers named the compound halicin, after HAL, the initially useful, eventually murderous sentient computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. They also discovered eight more promising antibacterial compounds, two of which appear very powerful. They tried out halicin on mice and plan to work with a nonprofit or drugmaker to see if it's effective and safe in humans.

The MIT team's machine-learning model independently looked for certain properties — in this case, the ability to kill E. coli and not harm humans — among about 2,500 molecules in a drug repurposing database. Halicin was originally considered as a treatment for diabetes.

The model helps researchers find "leads among chemical structures that in the past we wouldn't have even hallucinated that those could be an antibiotic," Nigam Shah, a Standford professor of biomedical informatics who wasn't involved in the study, told STAT News. "To use a crude analogy, it's like you show an AI all the different means of transportation, but you've not shown it an electric scooter," he added. "And then it independently looks at an electronic scooter and says, 'Yeah, this could be useful for transportation.'"

In this case, said MIT medical engineering professor James Collins, the platform "revealed this amazing molecule which is arguably one of the more powerful antibiotics that has been discovered." Collins is a senior author of the study along with MIT computer scientist Regina Barzilay. You can read more about their work at STAT News and MIT. Peter Weber

6:43 a.m.

President Trump's replacement of acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, a respected career official in a historically nonpartisan role, with U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell, a vocal Trump loyalist with scant intelligence or management experience, raised eyebrows and some amount of alarm in Washington. Along with Maguire, acting Deputy DNI Andrew Hallman and ODNI General Counsel Jason Klitenic are heading for the exits. These aren't isolated moves.

"The president has been focused lately on officials who are allegedly disloyal to him, particularly at the Justice Department, the National Security Council, the Pentagon, and the State Department," The Washington Post reports, citing Trump aides. "And has heard from outside advisers that 'real MAGA people can't get jobs in the administration,' in the words of an administration official."

Since Senate Republicans voted down his impeachment charges, Trump has sacked several people who testified or were otherwise linked to the impeachment inquiry — Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his twin brother at the National Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Pentagon policy chief John Rood — and some he considered otherwise insufficiently loyal or pliable, like Deputy National Security Adviser Victoria Coates, U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu, and, "over fierce objections of some White House aides," Sean Doocey, the head of the White House Presidential Personnel Office, the Post reports.

By ousting Doocey and replacing him with Johnny McEntee, the president's 29-year-old former "body man" with no experience in government staffing, "Trump has centralized his efforts to purge the ranks of his perceived opponents," the Post reports. "Trump has instructed McEntee, who lost his job in 2018 over concerns about his online gambling, to install more loyalists in government positions."

It's important to remember what "loyalist" means here, Adam Serwer writes at The Atlantic. "Public officials swear an oath to the Constitution, not to Donald Trump. The purged officials were removed for their disloyalty to the latter, not the former." In other words, "if you don't agree with the king, you're gone," Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) told The Daily Beast. "That has a chilling effect on people being willing to tell the truth, and that makes us less safe." Peter Weber

4:48 a.m.

President Trump berated outgoing acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire on Valentine's Day because he was upset over an election security intelligence briefing for the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 13, several major newspapers reported late Thursday. Trump was reportedly angry that Shelby Pierson, the election threat czar at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, had briefed lawmakers without his knowledge, and also that she had told them Russia is currently interfering in the 2020 election with the goal of helping Trump win re-election.

Specifically, Trump was furious that Pierson had briefed House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), The Washington Post reports. "Trump erroneously believed that Pierson had given the assessment exclusively" to Schiff, and he "also believed that the information would be helpful to Democrats if it were released publicly." It isn't clear where Trump got the impression Schiff was the only person at the bipartisan briefing, but "Trump learned about Pierson's remarks from Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the committee's ranking Republican and a staunch Trump ally," the Post reports. Nunes was at the briefing.

Trump has "fixated on" Schiff, "pummeling him publicly with insults and unfounded accusations of corruption," since Schiff started leading Trump's impeachment, The New York Times reports. In October, Trump even "refused to invite lawmakers from the congressional intelligence committees to a White House briefing on Syria because he did not want Mr. Schiff there."

Accounts differ on how much the election interference briefing weighed on Trump's decision to replace Maguire with Richard Grenell, a loyalist who is currently U.S. ambassador to Germany — the Post says the incident "ruined Maguire's chances of becoming the permanent intelligence chief," while two administration officials tell the Times the timing was coincidental and Maguire was never a contender — but "Trump's suspicions of the intelligence community have often been fueled by Nunes, who was with the president in California on Wednesday when he announced on Twitter that Grenell would become the acting director," the Post reports.

Some of Maguire's top aides are leaving, too, including acting deputy DNI Andrew Hallman, the Times reports, paving the way for "Grenell to put in place his own management team." Kash Patel, the Nunes aide "who helmed efforts to push back against the FBI's Trump-Russia investigation, has just started working in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence," The Daily Beast reports. Peter Weber

2:25 a.m.

The good news for American farmers is that China will buy almost $4 billion more in U.S. agricultural goods this fiscal year versus 2019, according to projections Thursday from Robert Johansson, chief economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The less-good news is that China pledged to buy about $40 billion in U.S. agricultural exports this year, and Johansson forecast that China will purchase about $14 billion. Those numbers aren't exactly comparable — Johansson's projection was for fiscal 2020, which ends Sept. 30.

These new figures, the first released by the USDA since the U.S. and China de-escalated President Trump's trade war by signing a "Phase One" agreement in January, mean "it's either going to be a boom fourth quarter for U.S. farmers, or that extra $12.5 billion in American agriculture purchases promised by China for this year isn't happening," Bloomberg reports. Also, the $14 billion figure doesn't include seafood and ethanol, both included in the Phase One deal.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue predicted Thursday that China would surpass the $14 billion estimate. Johansson said the X-factors include how long the COVIC-19 coronavirus debilitates China, Brazil's record crop harvest, and how much pork China needs after African swine fever decimated its herds. Outside analysts are skeptical. "There's still a lot of uncertainty out there in terms of 'will the Chinese comply?'" AgResource president Dan Basse told Bloomberg Thursday. If China ends up buying just $4 billion more from U.S. farmers, the U.S. "may have to act in terms of putting additional tariffs back on the Chinese and reinvigorating the trade war."

"Before the Sino-U.S. trade war, China was the largest customer for U.S. ag exports with purchases of around $21 billion a year," notes Successful Farming. After Trump threw up tariffs and China retaliated by cutting back agricultural imports, farmers were hit hard, even with Trump's two huge bailouts. Trump touted the Phase One deal in December, telling farmers to buy "more land" and "bigger tractors" to prepare for a Chinese bonanza. Peter Weber

2:03 a.m.

Finn Lanning was surprised when one of his new students, a "studious and smart and funny" 12-year-old named Damien, came up to him before Thanksgiving in 2018 and said he wouldn't be returning after the holiday break.

Lanning is a math and science teacher at AXL Academy in Aurora, Colorado. Damien told him that he has an autoimmune diseases called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, which affects his kidneys. He was in foster care, but because of his medical needs, they couldn't find the right placement for him, and he was going to have to move into the hospital. Soon after, his kidneys shut down, and he had to have dialysis treatments for 12 hours every day.

Lanning visited Damien once a week, and was stunned when he learned that Damien needed a kidney transplant, but without stable housing, wasn't eligible to be on the donation list. It didn't matter to Lanning that he had no experience as a parent — he had to be there for Damien. He applied to be his foster father, and last March, was approved. "I'd really thought a lot about this decision," Lanning told People. "I didn't want to be another person in a long line who'd made a commitment to him and then couldn't keep it. I wanted him to trust me and feel comfortable."

Damien was put on the list, and in June, underwent a kidney transplant. Because of complications with his autoimmune disease, he had to go through two months of intense treatments, but has been in remission since September. Damien went back to school in August, and enjoys swimming, playing sports, and cooking with Lanning. "You kind of lose hope after awhile when you're living in the hospital," he told People. "But now I can settle in, go to school, make friends, and live a good life." Seeing the world through Damien's eyes has brought a new joy to Lanning, who "never expected this to be my life, but I'm so happy it is. We're in it together." Watch a video of the pair from 2019 below. Catherine Garcia

12:56 a.m.

President Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday night that he is considering nominating Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) as director of national intelligence.

The director of national intelligence oversees the 17 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community. Since the resignation of Dan Coats in August, there has not been a permanent director of national intelligence; Joseph Maguire has served in an acting role since last year, but on Wednesday, Trump announced he will be replaced by U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell.

This is a position that requires Senate confirmation, and Collins is known for being one of Trump's most ardent defenders, a quality that was on display during the House impeachment inquiry. Collins announced earlier this year that he is running for Senate in Georgia against Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), who was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to fill the seat vacated by former Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned due to health reasons.

Collins entering the race has caused infighting among Republicans, and if he is picked as director of national intelligence, he'll likely drop his Senate bid. Prior to becoming a congressman, Collins worked as a lawyer and served in the military as a chaplain. Catherine Garcia

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