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Politics
AP
Trump not ready to commit to election results if he loses

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is refusing to publicly commit to accepting the results of the upcoming White House election, recalling a similar threat he made weeks before the 2016 vote, as he scoffs at polls showing him lagging behind Democrat Joe Biden. Trump says it’s too early to make such an ironclad guarantee.

“I have to see. Look ... I have to see,” Trump told moderator Chris Wallace during a wide-ranging interview on ”Fox News Sunday.” “No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.” The Biden campaign responded: “The American people will decide this election. And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”

Trump also hammered the Pentagon brass for favoring renaming bases that honor Confederate military leaders — a drive for change spurred by the national debate about race after George Floyd’s death. “I don’t care what the military says,” the commander in chief said.

The president described the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, as a “a little bit of an alarmist” about the coronavirus pandemic, and Trump stuck to what he had said back in February — that the virus is “going to disappear.” On Fox, he said, “I’ll be right eventually.” The United States tops the global death toll list with over 140,000 and confirmed infections, with 3.7 million.

It is remarkable that a sitting president would express less than complete confidence in the American democracy’s electoral process. But for Trump, it comes from his insurgent playbook of four years ago, when in the closing stages of his race against Hillary Clinton, he said he would not commit to honoring the election results if the Democrat won.

Pressed during an October 2016 debate about whether he would abide by the voters’ will, Trump responded that he would “keep you in suspense.” The president’s remarks to Fox are certain to fuel conversation on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers had already been airing concerns in private about a scenario in which Trump disputes the election results.

Trump has seen his presidential popularity erode over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and in the aftermath of nationwide protests centered on racial injustice that erupted after Floyd’s death in Minneapolis nearly two months.

Trump contends that a series of polls that show his popularity eroding and Biden holding an advantage are faulty. He believes Republican voters are underrepresented in such surveys.

“First of all, I’m not losing, because those are fake polls,” Trump said in the taped interview, which aired Sunday. “They were fake in 2016 and now they’re even more fake. The polls were much worse in 2016.”

Trump was frequently combative with Wallace in defending his administration’s response to the pandemic, weighing in on the Black Lives Matter movement and trying to portray Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, as lacking the mental prowess to serve as president.

Among the issues discussed was the push for wholesale changes in policing that has swept across the nation. Trump said he could understand why Black Americans are upset about how police use force disproportionately against them.

“Of course I do. Of course I do,” the president said, adding his usual refrain that “whites are also killed, too.”

He said he was “not offended either by Black Lives Matter,” but at the same time defended the Confederate flag, a symbol of the racism of the past, and said those who “proudly have their Confederate flags, they’re not talking about racism.”

“They love their flag, it represents the South, they like the South. That’s freedom of speech. And you know, the whole thing with ‘cancel culture,’ we can’t cancel our whole history. We can’t forget that the North and the South fought. We have to remember that, otherwise we’ll end up fighting again. You can’t just cancel all,” Trump said.

Wallace challenged Trump on some of his claims and called out the president at time, such as when Trump falsely asserted that “Biden wants to defund the police.” The former vice president has not joined with activists rallying behind that banner. He has proposed more money for police, conditioned to improvements in their practices.

Trump continues to insist that Biden “signed a charter” with one of his primary rivals on the left, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. At one point in the interview, Trump calls on aides to bring him documentation to support his assertion. Trump, however, is unable to point to language from a Biden-Sanders task force policy document released this month by the Biden campaign.

Trump stood behind his pledge to veto a $740 billion defense bill over a requirement that the Defense Department change the names of bases named for Confederate military leaders. That list includes Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Benning in Georgia.

The president argued there were no viable alternatives if the government ever tried. “We’re going to name it after the Reverend Al Sharpton?” Trump asked, referring to a prominent civil rights leader. “What are you going to name it?”

Trump, 74, stuck to a campaign charge that Biden, 77, is unable to handle the rigors of the White House because of his age. As for polls showing the incumbent is trailing, Trump noted he was thought to be behind for much of the 2016 contest. “I won’t lose,” he predicted.

The president and top advisors have long accused Biden of using the pandemic as an excuse to stay in “his basement” in his Delaware home. Biden has indeed shifted much of his campaign online, but frequently travels in Delaware and Pennsylvania, organizing speeches and small gatherings with voters and community leaders that are within driving distance of his home. Biden’s campaign says it will begin resuming normal travel and campaign activities, but only when health officials and state and local authorities say it is safe.

Questioned about the coronavirus, Trump chided Fauci, the National Institutes of Health expert, and repeated false claims that anybody could get a test and that increased testing was the only reason that the U.S. was seeing more cases. When Wallace cited criticism about the lack of a national plan to confront the virus, Trump said, “I take responsibility always for everything because it’s ultimately my job, too,” and claimed, “I supplied everybody.”

Case are rising because people are infecting each other more than they were when most everyone was hunkered down. The percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus has been on the rise across nearly the entire country.


International
AP
Virus rebounds around the world, deaths top 600,000

BERLIN — The coronavirus pandemic has found fresh legs around the world, as confirmed deaths pass 600,000 and countries from the U.S. to South Africa to India struggle to contain a surge of new infections. Hong Kong issued tougher new rules on wearing face masks, Spain closed overcrowded beaches and Germany reported another outbreak at a slaughterhouse.

Pope Francis said “the pandemic is showing no sign of stopping” and urged compassion for those whose suffering during the outbreak has been worsened by conflicts.

The World Health Organization said that 259,848 new infections were reported Saturday, its highest one-day tally yet.

While the U.S. leads global infections, South Africa now ranks as the fifth worst-hit country in the pandemic with more than 350,000 cases, or around half of all those confirmed on the continent. Its struggles are a sign of trouble to come for nations with even fewer health care resources.

India, which has now confirmed more than 1 million infections, on Sunday reported a 24-hour record of 38,902 new cases.

In Europe, where infections are far below their peak but local outbreaks are causing concern, leaders of the 27-nation European Union haggled for a third day in Brussels over a proposed 1.85 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget and coronavirus recovery fund.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is “a lot of good will, but there are also a lot of positions” in the talks, which have have laid bare divisions about how the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, such as Italy and Spain, should be helped. She said the talks, which were initially scheduled to end on Saturday, could still end without a deal.

As scientists around the world race to find a vaccine to halt the pandemic, Russia’s ambassador to Britain on Sunday rejected allegations by the United States, Britain and China that his country’s intelligence services have sought to steal information about vaccine efforts.

“I don’t believe in this story at all, there is no sense in it,” Ambassador Andrei Kelin said when asked in a BBC interview about the allegations. “I learned about their (the hackers’) existence from British media. In this world, to attribute any kind of computer hackers to any country, it is impossible.”

Confirmed global virus deaths risen to nearly 603,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins. The United States tops the list with over 140,000, followed by more than 78,000 in Brazil. Europe as a continent has seen about 200,000 deaths.

The number of confirmed infections worldwide has passed 14.2 million, with 3.7 million in the United States and more than 2 million in Brazil. Experts believe the pandemic’s true toll around the world is much higher because of testing shortages and data collection issues.

Infections have been soaring in U.S. states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona, with many blaming a haphazard, partisan approach to lifting lockdowns as well as the resistance of some Americans to wearing masks. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Sunday that the situation was so dire in his California city that authorities were considering a new stay-at-home order.

Even where the situation has been largely brought under control, new outbreaks are prompting the return of restrictions.

Following a recent surge in cases, Hong Kong made the wearing of masks mandatory in all public places and told non-essential civil servants to work from home. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the situation in the Asian financial hub is “really critical” and that she sees “no sign” that it’s under control.

Police in Barcelona have limited access to some of the city’s beloved beaches because sunbathers were ignoring social distancing regulations amid a resurgence of coronavirus infections. Authorities in Amsterdam urged people not to visit the city’s famous red light district and have closed off some of the historic district’s narrow streets because they are too busy.

Slaughterhouses also have featured in outbreaks in the U.S., Germany and elsewhere. Authorities in northwestern Germany’s Vechta county said 66 workers at a chicken slaughterhouse tested positive, though most appeared to have been infected in their free time. An earlier outbreak at a slaughterhouse in western Germany infected over 1,400 and prompted a partial lockdown.

Cases in the Australian state of Victoria rose again Sunday, prompting a move to make masks mandatory in metropolitan Melbourne and the nearby district of Mitchell for people who leave their homes for exercise or to purchase essential goods.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said those who fail to wear a mask will be fined 200 Australian dollars ($140).

“There’s no vaccine to this wildly infectious virus and it’s a simple thing, but it’s about changing habits, it’s about becoming a simple part of your routine,” Andrews said.

Speaking on Sunday from his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis renewed his appeal for an immediate worldwide cease-fire that he said “will permit the peace and security indispensable to supplying the necessary humanitarian assistance.”


State
AP
Most young virus cases in Texas county diagnosed this month

HOUSTON — Most of the 85 young children in a South Texas county who are known to have contracted the coronavirus tested positive this month amid a surge in the state, a health official said Sunday.

Nearly all of the children, most of whom are 1 year old or younger, are expected to recover on their own, Annette Rodriguez, the Corpus Christi-Nueces County public health director, told The Associated Press by phone. One of the children died, but officials are still trying to determine if COVID-19 was the cause, she said.

“There’s always that concern that you’re going to have that one baby like we did that passed away,” Rodriguez said. “How many more from this group? What percent will you lose possibly to this virus?”

The county, which is home to about 362,000 people and sits on the Gulf Coast, is one of several COVID-19 hot spots in Texas, which has been hammered by the disease in recent weeks.

On Sunday, the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District reported 122 new cases. That brings the total number of cases to 3,413, which includes 1,921 estimated recovered, 24 deaths and 1,468 estimated active cases.

Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the Department of Defense had sent five teams of Navy doctors to four locations in southern and southwestern Texas to help hospitals where capacity has become stretched.

Rodriguez said during a public health update on Friday that 85 infants in Nueces County had tested positive, though she clarified Sunday that some of the kids were not infants — up to a year old — and were as old as 23 months. Her Friday claim prompted Nueces County’s top elected official, Judge Barbara Canales, to issue a statement Saturday saying the 85 figure reflected the cumulative total since mid-March.

But Rodriguez stressed Sunday that although the oldest of the cases goes back to mid-March, most of them — 60 infants — tested positive from July 1 to July 16.

“But it’s still important. Eighty-five (young children) picking up COVID-19 is very troubling,” Rodriguez said.

The child who died was less than half a year old and tested positive this month. The child was hospitalized and released before dying at home of what officials first believed was sudden infant death syndrome. Officials are now awaiting lab results to determine if the virus was a factor in the death, Rodriguez said.

Nine of the other children were also hospitalized but have since been released, Rodriguez said. The first young child from Nueces County was hospitalized in mid-June.

One of the infants who tested positive is a recent newborn whose mother also has the virus, she said.

Experts in pediatrics and infectious disease say there are still many unanswered questions about how COVID-19 affects children. Several studies suggest, but don’t prove, that children are less likely to become infected than adults and more likely to have only mild symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.5% of the confirmed cases in the U.S. have been in children 4 years old or younger, while 0.2% of the country’s COVID-19 deaths have been in kids from that age group.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

The increasing number of positive tests in younger children in Nueces County is due in part to aggressive testing by the county, especially of family members who live or work in high-risk situations, including senior care centers, jails, group homes and halfway houses, and meatpacking plants, Canales said.

Rodriguez said that although increased testing is part of the reason the disease is being found in Nueces County kids more frequently, she thinks the main reason is the “dramatic” rise in cases in the county.

“The general population has COVID-19 and now their infants are getting COVID-19, as well. I think some of it is community transmission as well,” Rodriguez said, referring to when people test positive for the disease but health officials can’t trace how they got it.


Business
June home sales in Waco see major bump

Christina Cataldo, a school teacher, was growing stir crazy. She was not literally confined to her one-bedroom apartment, it just seemed that way.

“I was working from home, spending my entire day at the kitchen counter. I would cook there, eat there, work there. My whole life centered around that counter. I was going crazy,” said Cataldo, 31, who teaches at Hewitt Elementary School and whose husband, Dan, works at SpaceX, a company with designs on someday sending space travelers to Mars.

Originally from Connecticut, the Cataldos relocated to Houston, then to Waco, as they followed job opportunities. Paying rent to Springs at Cottonwood Creek Apartments would do for the time being. The couple eventually would desire more space, a backyard for the dog, but they were in no hurry.

One might say COVID-19 and market conditions forced their hand. And it appears many found their own favorable conditions to buy a house in Waco last month, 47.4% more than in May and 10.5% more than June last year.

“I had some friends who were refinancing their homes at really low rates,” Cataldo said. “We’d be in the same boat, financing-wise, so we started looking just to see what would happen.”

She retained Roman Novian, with Coldwell Banker Apex Realtors to spearhead the search.

“We would find a house we liked, tell Roman, and the next day it would be gone,” she said, noting the sizzle of Waco’s housing market even as the pandemic short-circuited much of what once passed as normalcy.

Just recently, the Cataldos cornered their elusive first home, a three-bedroom, two-bath residence about 10 minutes from their apartment complex, Cataldo said.

“We paid around $250,000, which was at the upper end of our range,” she said. “The seller gave us a good deal, worked with us on closing, left the washer and dryer. This is the first house we’ve ever bought, and we didn’t know what to expect, but Roman made it a great experience.”

Homes changed hands briskly in June despite less than ideal conditions.

A total of 410 homes were sold last month, according to A.G. Real Estate Associates, using information compiled by a Waco multiple listing service.

That is 39 more than the 371 sold in June last year, well before COVID-19 appeared on the scene. It also represents a more than 47% jump from the 278 homes sold in May and an almost 65% jump from the 249 sold in April, when local agent Ashton Gustafson prepared a market report in which he said “shelter in place was the primary factor for the abrupt change in market activity.”

Further analysis shows the Cataldos bought a home priced in a range that proved popular in June. The average list price, according to A.G. Real Estate Services, was $242,935, while the average sales price was $234,169.

Homes on average sold for 97% of list price. Homes that sold stayed on the market an average of 60 days, one day more than in May.

“Statistics don’t lie,” Novian said of the 410 transactions in June. “We’re still seeing people making moves, putting homes on the market.”

But he also senses hesitation among those weighing possibly the biggest decision in their life, considering conditions at work in today’s economy.

“We have an election coming up, COVID-19, the rioting — they could cause people to hold off until current events slow down,” he said. “Still, in real estate, there is always a need to move. People must have a place to live. There are still buyers and sellers. People are still putting houses on the market. And we’re still getting multiple offers.”

Novian said potential clients started calling him weeks into the pandemic.

“I think they were bored at home, looking online, and decided to do what they’d been thinking about doing a long time,” he said.

It helps that interest rates are falling, Novian said.

The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 2.98% last week, dipping to less than 3% for the first time in at least the 50 years Freddie Mac has been tracking it, the government-back financing firm reported Thursday. The average rate on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage was 2.48%.

“Rates have dropped almost 2 percentage points over the past year and a half, helping drive up homebuying demand and keeping home prices from dropping during the COVID-19-related recession,” according to a post by the Texas A&M Real Estate Center. “For a mortgage in the amount of the national median home price (around $285,000), the rate drops this year would save a borrower more than $100 a month in payments and roughly $50,000 over the course of the loan.”

Andrew Fraijo, a California native and an agent with Magnolia Realty licensed to broker sales in Texas and California, said he sees clients “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” He said “conservative refugees” from California find economic and political conditions locally more to their liking.

“They want to be part of what’s going on in Texas, and Waco is smack dab between the Metroplex and the craziness in Austin. What better place?” Fraijo said. “People 55 and older, meanwhile, are moving here from the Midwest and Northeast because they can’t do cold anymore.”

Already a growing trend before COVID-19 struck, working from home is becoming the new normal for people employing technology to escape larger cities. They can live anywhere and choose to live in Waco, Fraijo said.

Housing inventory remains a shortcoming locally, and agents especially yearn for homes priced at $250,000 or less, he said.

Fraijo said COVID-19 will create a shakeout in the housing market on two fronts: foreclosures will mean “deals to be had, and we will get our fair share, though they will hurt larger metropolitan areas more than us.” Second, older people and those with underlying conditions who fear letting would-be buyers into their homes may become sellers with the virus under control.

Waco residential specialist Pam Tucker-Hanson said she enjoyed sales of $3.2 million in June, with many contracts signed in May and closed in June, and online views of her listings have tripled during the pandemic.

“Overall, the Waco market is great, still trucking along,” Tucker-Hanson said. “The job market has been stable, has not affected the buying demographic. We’re seeing new construction. Robinson has three or four new developments.”

She agreed with others that new residents are spending freely.

“We’re getting a lot of California transplants,” she said. “I actually closed a deal with one today. We’re seeing a lot of out-of-state people, a lot of entrepreneurs who can work from home and it doesn’t matter where they live.”