September 30, 2020

Republican Convention, Stimulus, the Muppets: Your Thursday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest.

Credit…The New York Times

1. More than four million people in the U.S. are now known to have been infected with the coronavirus, according to a Times database.

And it’s not just cases that are rising. The numbers of hospitalizations and deaths reported in the U.S. each day have also been increasing. Cases are trending upward in 39 states, as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and are decreasing in only two.

Credit…Will Dickey/The Florida Times-Union, via Associated Press

2. President Trump said that he had canceled the portion of the Republican National Convention slated for Jacksonville, Fla., referring again to “the China virus.”

“The timing for the event is not right,” Mr. Trump said during a coronavirus briefing at the White House. “To have a big convention is not the right time.”

Credit…John Tully for The New York Times

3. About 30 million American workers — one out of every five — are collecting jobless benefits.

The number comes as new state unemployment claims rose last week for the first time since early in the pandemic, to over 1.4 million, amid renewed fears of a downturn.

Millions who make a living by cobbling together work have fallen through a hole in the safety net, including Annie Frodeman, above, who worked as an airport ramp agent and at a job registering emergency room patients.

The White House and Senate Republicans are nearing an agreement on a relief bill. But the senators are skipping the payroll tax cut the Trump administration had been pushing for.

Credit…Johannes Eisele/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

4. A judge ordered Michael Cohen released from prison, saying officials retaliated against him for writing a book about President Trump.

The judge said Mr. Cohen, pictured in May, was sent back to prison this month after several weeks of medical furlough because of his desire to publish a book before the election about his years as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer.

The judge ordered that Mr. Cohen be released to serve the rest of his sentence in home confinement in Manhattan.

Credit…Mike Baker/The New York Times

5. Our reporter was with the mayor of Portland, Ore., when he was tear-gassed last night.

Ted Wheeler was left coughing and wincing in the middle of his own city Wednesday night after federal officers deployed tear gas into a crowd of thousands of protesters that Mr. Wheeler had joined outside the federal courthouse.

He called it an “egregious overreaction” on the part of the federal officers. But some protesters mocked the Democratic mayor, recalling the city police’s use of tear gas on demonstrators in recent months.

In some ways, the scenes of officers in riot gear in Portland have a long American lineage in federal responses to domestic unrest, but there is something different in this moment, too, legal scholars say. Some fear Mr. Trump is trying to take on a job that the Constitution did not give the federal government.

Credit…House Television, via Associated Press

6. Former President Barack Obama made his most significant showing yet in the 2020 presidential race.

Appearing in a video alongside Joe Biden, the two covered a range of topics in the 15-minute, socially distanced conversation. But one theme carried throughout: casting President Trump as unbefitting of the office, while trumpeting the credentials of Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

And in Congress, two women have been the focus of criticism and attacks.

In a rare use of profanity on the House floor, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recounted in detail how a Republican colleague accosted her and referred to her with a sexist vulgarity. Representative Liz Cheney, a leading House Republican, has come under fire from her fellow Republicans, including Mr. Trump, amid accusations that she is not loyal enough to the president.


7. Scientists have published the largest DNA study to date of people with African ancestry in the Americas. The results are a sobering look at the past.

The report, by scientists from the consumer genetics company 23andMe, included more than 50,000 people, 30,000 of them with African ancestry. Much of the findings corresponded with the historical record, but there were some surprises.

For example, U.S. participants showed significant Nigerian ancestry, though the historical record does not show evidence of enslaved people arriving directly in the U.S. from Nigeria. One theory is that enslaved people were sent from Nigeria to the British Caribbean, and then further traded to the U.S.

Another disturbing finding: While 60 percent of the arriving enslaved Africans were men, it was mostly enslaved women who contributed to the current gene pool — in some areas far more. Enslaved men often died before they had a chance to have children. Enslaved women were often raped and forced to have children.

Credit…Noah H. Rose

8. Buzzzzz. Swack.

Out of thousands of species of mosquitoes, only a few like to bite humans. And even within the same species, mosquitoes from different places can have varying preferences.

To reach those findings, a team of Princeton researchers and a group of local collaborators spent three years driving around sub-Saharan Africa collecting the eggs of mosquitoes responsible for Zika, yellow fever and dengue, like the one above. They concluded that human-loving mosquitoes tend to come from areas with a dry climate and dense human population — most likely because humans provide the water the mosquitoes need to breed.

Also from our Science desk: Vampire bats — they’re just like us! When the social mammals fall ill, they have fewer interactions with family and friends, a new study suggests.

Credit…Muppets Studio/Disney+

9. It’s time to re-re-re-meet the Muppets.

“Muppets Now,” a new series on Disney+ that debuts on July 31, is the latest attempt to take Kermit the Frog and his fuzzy companions back to their anarchic sketch comedy roots, this time for the YouTube era.

Miss Piggy hosts a beauty and lifestyle video blog. Honeydew and Beaker work from Muppet Labs, testing inventions like the Infern-O-Matic, which reduces everyday items to piles of ashes.

And “Almost Famous” turns 20 this year. We talked to the cast and crew of the coming-of-age-rock tale about Billy Crudup’s signature scene on top of a roof — he nearly missed his jump — and other secrets from the making of the “I am a golden god!” scene.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

10. And finally, sparkling wines … just because.

Beyond champagne, excellent bubbly now comes in a diversity of styles from all over, including unexpected places like the Finger Lakes in New York, northwestern Italy and Germany. Our wine columnist, Eric Asimov, set out to find 12 sparkling wines that offer their own personalities — and need no special occasion.

Humans, after all, are fascinated with fizziness. “We are taken with what sparkles,” Eric writes. “The pleasure is visual; it’s aural, as in the seductive sound of a pop and pour; and it’s tactile.”

Have an effervescent night.

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