February 21, 2020

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

3:01 p.m.

Ever wonder what the Full House opening credits might have looked like if the show had taken place during a pandemic? Me neither, but John Stamos and the rest of the Full House and Fuller House cast hilariously gave us a demonstration on TikTok on Wednesday afternoon.

The parody video for "Full Quarantine" opens with the classic shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, and includes footage of Uncle Jesse (Stamos) primping his hair, Danny (Bob Saget) sanitizing a mop, and Uncle Joey (David Coulier) "fishing" for pizza. There are a few notable absences, too, including twins MaryKate and Ashley Olsen — plus some mostly understandable Aunt Becky (Lori Loughlin) erasure.

"Stay Safe and Stay Home," the video concludes. "Unlike #FullHouse, this will all go away." Watch it here. Jeva Lange

2:34 p.m.

New York's social distancing measures are working, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday, but the state is still far from being "out of the woods."

Cuomo opened his daily briefing on Wednesday with "good news," saying that "what we have done, and what we are doing, is actually working and it's making a difference," citing the fact that the state's number of new hospitalizations is down.

"We are flattening the curve by what we are doing," Cuomo said.

At the same time, the governor stressed that this flattening can only continue if New York, the hardest hit U.S. state amid the coronavirus pandemic, keeps its social distancing up.

"If we continue doing what we're doing, then we believe the curve will continue to flatten," Cuomo said. "But it's not a time to get complacent. It's not a time to do anything different than we've been doing. ... We have to remain diligent."

But then there was the "terrible" news, Cuomo said: New York has again reported its deadliest day yet with an increase in 779 fatalities in 24 hours. The governor warned the death toll will keep rising.

Later, Cuomo again stressed, "We still have more to do. We are by no means out of the woods. And do not misread what you're seeing in that data and on those charts. That is a pure product of our actions and behavior. If we behave differently, you will see those numbers change. ... If anything, we have to get more diligent, not less diligent."

Cuomo's remarks come after a similar message from Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, who said Wednesday Americans should not take some "early signs of hope" as a signal to stop social distancing.

"If people start going out again, and socially interacting, we could see a very acute second wave very early," she warned. Brendan Morrow

2:31 p.m.

On Thursday, three astronauts will launch from Kazakhstan to make their way to the International Space Station, and the team has been "super vigilant" so as not to bring the novel coronavirus with them.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian astronauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner will orbit Earth four times, reaching their destination six hours later, per NASA.

Having to quarantine is nothing new to astronauts. Even when there isn't an ongoing global pandemic, they are required to isolate for two weeks before launching to ensure they don't bring an illness with them, The Verge reports. But this time, when they entered quarantine, so did the rest of the world, Cassidy said.

In a normal quarantine, the astronauts could have gone to restaurants as long as they were "smart" about where they went, Cassidy told the press, but this time they were isolated to their cottages and only allowed to go get essential food.

Cassidy thought he'd be able to say goodbye to his wife on the day of the launch, but due to the pandemic, she headed back home. The crowds cheering on the astronauts and the media coverage will be noticeably absent on launch day, too. "It'll be completely quiet. There won't be anybody there," Cassidy said, per The Verge. "We'll just kind of walk out. Maybe we'll still play the music and fire the three of us up ourselves. But who knows?"

But even in space, Cassidy can't escape the reality of what is happening on Earth. "I certainly am not going to be disengaged from it thinking it's not my problem," he said. "My family is living it and my friends and my co-workers are living it in real time."

Read more at The Verge. Taylor Watson

2:31 p.m.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) called out her political opponents and the media for their "baseless" claims against in her an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

Loeffler recently came under fire after it was revealed she and other lawmakers sold significant stock holdings after a closed-door briefing about the COVID-19 coronavirus in January. Later, a financial disclosure showed that in February and March she invested in DuPont, a company that makes personal protective equipment used by first responders in the fight against the pandemic.

The senator has consistently denied any ethics violations or that she bought and sold stocks after receiving privileged information, and she doubled down in Wednesday's op-ed. Loeffler explained her investments are managed by third-party advisers who buy and sell stocks on her family's behalf and that those trades are disclosed routinely and in compliance with transparency laws.

Still, though, she said she's had enough of the "distraction" the accusations have caused, and even though they're not required to, both she and her husband are "liquidating our holdings in managed accounts and moving into exchange-traded funds and mutual funds."

Loeffler is facing a challenge from Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), who polls show is surging despite Loeffler's previous standing as the GOP's clear preference, leaving some to suggest that her latest denial and divestment may have been sparked by concerns over losing her seat as much as anything. Tim O'Donnell

1:09 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is out, and former President Barack Obama is maybe, possibly in.

Sanders dropped out of the 2020 race on Wednesday, saying his "path toward victory is virtually impossible" but pledging to stay on primary ballots through the Democratic National Convention to gain influence in the party. That makes former Vice President Joe Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee, and leaves Obama free to campaign for his former second in command.

Obama has refused to endorse a primary candidate since the 2020 Democratic race's jam-packed beginnings, though reports did suggest he was quietly backing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Other reports suggested he wasn't thrilled about Biden getting in the race, and told Biden's campaign staff to make sure he didn't "embarrass himself." Biden meanwhile maintained he specifically asked Obama not to endorse him, though he has promised his presidency would essentially be a third Obama term.

But Sanders' departure leaves Obama with just one choice, effectively compelling him to take a stand as a Biden surrogate. Obama did reportedly expect to perform a lot of party unifying this summer, after all. There's just one problem: Obama didn't end up turning the tides when he did the same for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:07 p.m.

President Trump wasted no time commenting on Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) decision to end his Democratic presidential bid.

Trump took a shot at Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for staying in the primary too long, suggesting she prevented Sanders from developing a wider coalition, and claimed the Democratic National Committee got what it wanted with Sanders' exit.

The president even went so far as to try to lure Sanders voters — many of whom have expressed dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party over the years — across the aisle and support Republicans going forward. That seems unlikely, but analysts view Trump's offer as an attempt to further divide Democrats ahead of the general election in November, when Trump will square off with former Vice President Joe Biden. Tim O'Donnell

12:30 p.m.

Chelsea Handler wants all her fans to be practicing proper precautions when leaving their homes, but she acknowledged that with "masks in short supply, we have to take matters into our own hands."

To help out anyone who's found themselves in a bind, the comedian demoed on Instagram how to transform a bra into a face mask. "Go like this," Handler said, wrapping the undergarment around her face, "and then just hook it together, like that."

Admittedly, going to the grocery store with a bra wrapped around your face could draw some stares, but Handler seemed convinced her method was good enough for anyone — "men included." Jeva Lange

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