By Tracy Rucinski
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Families of Boeing 737 MAX crash victims are urging U.S. lawmakers to ensure the planemaker is held accountable for accidents that together killed 346 people by blocking a key legal defense, according to a letter sent on Tuesday and seen by Reuters. Chicago-based Boeing Co <BA.N> is facing around 100 lawsuits by families of 157 victims of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crash and has argued that because the aircraft was certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, it is immune from liability, court filings show.
But families say manufacturers should not be allowed to “hide behind” FAA certification when a certified airplane turns out to be defective.
“No amount of regulation should shield Boeing and other manufacturers from responsibility when airplanes crash and kill innocent people,” they wrote in the letter to bipartisan leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: “Boeing has offered to work with the victims’families to schedule mediations to discuss settlement of claims on terms that fairly compensate them and are committed to this mediation process.”
However, some families are pursuing a jury trial, which would give liability lawyers greater access to Boeing’s internal records and expose the company to deeper scrutiny over its relations with the FAA.
The 737 MAX crash in Ethiopia occurred just five months after a similar disaster on a Lion Air flight in Indonesia. It triggered a global grounding of the aircraft, which has been parked for 18 months.
“Accountability is the best way to encourage the design and manufacture of safe airplanes—so this does not happen again,” said the families of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302.
The letter comes ahead of a Senate Commerce Committee vote on Wednesday on sweeping reforms to how the FAA certifies new aircraft.
Boeing has already settled the majority of lawsuits related to the Lion Air crash but is still the target of a U.S. federal criminal probe and investigations by U.S. lawmakers and aviation and transportation authorities.
(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Tim Hepher and Tom Brown)
Sixty-nine percent of Americans have no confidence in Trump on coronavirus vaccine, poll reveals
Despite president Donald Trump’s claims that a coronavirus vaccine will soon be available, new polling shows that a majority of Americans have no confidence in him to confirm that it is safe.
An ABC News/Ipsos poll released on Sunday shows that 69 per cent of Americans do not have confidence in the president vouching for the effectiveness of a vaccine — 53 per cent saying they have no confidence at all in him doing so.
Conversely, just nine per cent of Americans have a great deal of confidence in the president to confirm the effectiveness of a vaccine, and just 18 per cent have “a good amount” of confidence.
The president has insisted that a vaccine is close to being approved. On Friday he tempered some of his recent comments saying that there will be enough doses for every American by April.
Health experts, including Robert Redfield, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, have spoken of a timeline that makes a vaccine widely available in summer or autumn of 2021.
The president said he thought Mr Redfield had made “a mistake” and was “confused”.
Currently, 72 per cent of Americans are concerned that they, or someone they know, will be infected with Covid-19 — down from 77 per cent in July.
The poll also shows a decrease in the number of Americans that say they are likely to get inoculated by “a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine”. Since May there has been a 10 point fall from 74 per cent to 64 per cent.
This is due almost entirely to more Republicans saying that they are unlikely to get a vaccine. In May 75 per cent said that they would, and that figure has now dropped to 50 per cent. 80 per cent of Democrats say they will get the vaccine.
Neither candidate does especially well in polling as to whether they are trusted to confirm any vaccine’s effectiveness. Democrat Joe Biden performs better than the president with 41 per cent showing confidence in him, but this is against 52 per cent lacking confidence in him.
Respondents were asked which candidate they considered “more honest and trustworthy” no matter who they planned to vote for. Biden led with 58 per cent to Trump’s 39 per cent.
Understandably, Americans are more trusting of public health officials and institutions, but even then, recent accusations of government interference in data and reporting may have hit levels of confidence.
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the CDC have the confidence of 62 per cent and 61 per cent of respondents.
The Food and Drug Administration (57 per cent), Department of Health and Human Services (53 per cent), and World Health Organisation (53 per cent) also all fared well in the poll.
Drug companies performed less well, with 52 per cent saying that they do not have confidence in them.
Polling was conducted between 18-19 September from a nationally representative probability sample of 528 adults.
There have been almost 6.8 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US to date and 200,000 officially recorded deaths.
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Trump’s WeChat Curbs Halted by Judge on Free Speech Concerns
(Bloomberg) — The Trump administration’s curbs on WeChat were put on hold by a California judge, upending an effort to halt use of the Chinese-owned app in the U.S.
Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction at the request of a group of U.S. WeChat users, who argued that prohibitions would violate the free-speech rights of millions of Chinese-speaking Americans who rely on it for communication. The app, which was supposed to disappear from U.S. app stores on Sunday, has 19 million regular users in the U.S. and 1 billion worldwide.
WeChat “serves as a virtual public square for the Chinese-speaking and Chinese-American community in the United States and is (as a practical matter) their only means of communication,” the judge wrote in the ruling, dated Saturday and released early Sunday. Effectively banning it “forecloses meaningful access to communication in their community and thereby operates as a prior restraint on their right to free speech.”
The U.S. administration had argued that WeChat posed a national security threat, but the judge said there was insufficient evidence of that. “Certainly the government’s overarching national-security interest is significant,” she wrote. “But on this record — while the government has established that China’s activities raise significant national security concerns — it has put in scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all U.S. users addresses those concerns.”
The Department of Justice and Commerce Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The U.S. has claimed that WeChat is a threat because its owner, Tencent Holdings Ltd., is intertwined with the Chinese Communist Party, which can use the app to disseminate propaganda, track users, and steal their private and proprietary data. It’s a similar argument that the administration has used to target the TikTok app, while also forcing a sale of that app’s U.S. operations.
The U.S. government on Saturday delayed its plan to prohibit downloads of TikTok, the popular video-sharing app after Trump said he approved Oracle Corp.’s bid for the U.S. operations of TikTok “in concept.” The TikTok ban was also set to go into effect Sunday, but the order has been delayed until Sept. 27. TikTok on Friday filed suit in Washington, D.C.
The WeChat users have said the restrictions on the app are driven by election-year politics.
At a court hearing Saturday, Michael Bien, an attorney for the WeChat users group, said the restrictions on WeChat are a far cry from the “narrowly tailored” measures that the government is required to impose so as not to unnecessarily curtail people’s constitutional rights.
Michael Drezner, a lawyer for the the government, said the anxiety and uncertainly U.S. WeChat users may experience because of the prohibitions doesn’t entitle them to an order halting the implementation of the restrictions. Their reliance on WeChat is the result of China’s ban on other social media, which has made WeChat the exclusive, Chinese government-controlled option for them to communicate with people in China, according to Drezner.
The judge in the case on Friday rejected a request for a preliminary injunction, which users had sought on the grounds that the executive order was too vague. The Commerce Department on Friday detailed which transactions with WeChat and its Chinese parent company won’t be allowed under the Aug. 6 executive order. The judge scheduled the hearing Saturday in response to a revived request from the users group.
The case is U.S. WeChat Users Alliance v. Trump, 3:20-cv-5910, U.S. District Court, District of Northern California (San Francisco).
(Updates with comments from the ruling in third and fourth paragraph.)
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US to hit 200K dead; Trump sees no need for regret
WASHINGTON (AP) — As the coronavirus pandemic began bearing down on the United States in March, President Donald Trump set out his expectations.
If the U.S. could keep the death toll between 100,000 to 200,000 people, Trump said, it would indicate that his administration had “done a very good job.”
In the coming days, the number of U.S. deaths is set to clear the outer band of the president’s projections: 200,000, according to the official tally, though the real number is certainly higher. The virus continues to spread and there is currently no approved vaccine. Some public health experts fear infections could spike this fall and winter, perhaps even doubling the death count by the end of the year.
Yet the grim milestone and the prospect of more American deaths to come have prompted no rethinking from the president about his handling of the pandemic and no outward expressions of regrets. Instead, Trump has sought to reshape the significance of the death tally, trying to turn the loss of 200,000 Americans into a success story by contending the numbers could have been even higher without the actions of his administration.
“If we didn’t do our job, it would be three and a half, two and a half, maybe 3 million people,” Trump said Friday, leaning on extreme projections of what could have happened if nothing at all were done to fight the pandemic. “We have done a phenomenal job with respect to COVID-19.”
Trump’s reelection prospects will hinge in part on whether enough voters agree with that assessment. The challenge he faces in making his case, with just over six weeks before the Nov. 3 election and voting already underway in some states, is clear.
J ust 39% of Americans approve of the president’s handling of the pandemic, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Roughly one-quarter of Republicans say they don’t approve of Trump’s stewardship of the public health crisis, though his overall backing among GOP voters sits at a comfortable 84%.
There’s also little doubt that the death toll in the U.S. has soared past where Trump repeatedly assured the public it would be. In February, when the first coronavirus cases were detected in the U.S., the president said the numbers would be “down to close to zero” within day s. In early April, when U.S. officials estimated at least 100,000 people would die from the pandemic even if all conceivable steps were taken against it, Trump suggested the numbers would be lower, saying: “I think we’re doing better than that.”
He’s shifted again in recent days, saying that the U.S. remains a success story because some models showed the nation could have 240,000 deaths — a threshold that appears likely to be eclipsed by the end of the year.
Well aware of his sluggish standing with voters on the pandemic, Trump has spent recent weeks trying to refocus his race against Democrat Joe Biden on other issues, including promising white suburban voters that he would keep crime in liberal cities from encroaching on their neighborhoods.
Trump will now campaign in particular on the courts, given Friday’s death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, seeking to lure back Republican voters who may have turned on him during the pandemic, with the promise of more conservatives on the high court.
Though the Supreme Court vacancy does significantly jolt the White House race, Biden still wants to keep much of the focus on the coronavirus. He strengthened his standing through the summer by hammering what he calls the Trump administration’s failures to take the virus threat seriously and to provide consistent guidance to the public, including around the effectiveness of wearing face masks.
After revelations in a new book from journalist Bob Woodward that Trump intentionally played down the seriousness of the virus earlier this year, Biden said of a president’s responsibilities: “You’ve got to level with the American people — shoot from the shoulder,” adding, “There’s not been a time they’ve not been able to step up.”
Trump has insisted he wasn’t downplaying the severity of virus when he compared it with the seasonal flu and undercut public health officials who pushed for more stringent mitigation efforts. Yet he’s repeatedly flouted his own administration’s safety guidelines, rarely wearing a mask himself and holding large campaign events with little evidence of social distancing among his crowds.
With the death toll continuing to climb, Trump has also repeatedly passed up opportunities to serve as a unifying force for communities and families grieving the loss of loved ones. Instead, he’s effectively discounted the deaths of Americans who live in Democratic-leaning states, suggesting he has little responsibility for the well-being of those who don’t support him politically.
“If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level that I don’t think anybody in the world would be at,” Trump said this past week about the death toll. “Some of the states, they were blue states and blue state-managed.”
It was a jarring statement from an American president, yet one in keeping with Trump’s handling of the pandemic and his presidency. He’s long taken a transactional approach to his office, and he spent the opening weeks of the pandemic feuding with Democratic governors in hard-hit states, challenging them to lift restrictions that he deemed harmful to the strong economy he’d hoped to ride to a second term.
“He sees everything, including the implications of this terrible virus, in terms of his own political and personal success — ‘How does it affect me and my electability and my popularity,’” said Margaret Susan Thompson, a professor of history and political science at Syracuse University.
The question looming over his presidency now, as Americans mourn 200,000 lives lost, is what the effects of his handling of the pandemic will be on his political future. The answer will come soon enough from his fellow Americans.
EDITOR’S NOTE — AP Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace has covered the White House and politics for the AP since 2007. Follow her at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC
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