Worsening opioid crisis overshadowed in presidential race

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The coronavirus outbreak and the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic have been a dominating theme in this year’s presidential race.

That has overshadowed debate over how to handle the nation’s drug overdose crisis, which has contributed to the deaths of more than 470,000 Americans over the last two decades.

The overdose death toll is only getting worse. It reached a new high of 71,000 in 2019, the vast majority related to opioids.

Aside from a brief and heated exchange during the first debate, addiction has barely registered in the presidential race.

More than 17% of Washington voters have returned ballots

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington voters are getting their ballots in early ahead of next month’s election.

Numbers released Tuesday by the secretary of state’s office show 17.6% of the state’s more than 4.8 million voters have already cast their votes two weeks before Election Day.

In 2016, just 6.2% of the ballots had been returned in the same timeframe.

Ballots in some areas, including Thurston County, were sent out two weeks ago, and ballots in the rest of the of the state were sent out last week.

Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman has said that counties should be prepared for a potential turnout of up to 90%.

Trump ups pressure on Barr to probe Bidens as election nears

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday called on Attorney General William Barr to immediately launch an investigation into unverified claims about Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter, effectively demanding that the Justice Department muddy his political opponent and abandon its historic resistance to getting involved in elections.

With just two weeks to go before Election Day, Trump for the first time explicitly called on Barr to investigate the Bidens and even pointed to the nearing Nov. 3 election as reason that Barr should not delay taking action.

Trump has been leveling accusations of corruption against Biden without verified evidence for months, but is stepping up the pressure in the final days of the campaign.

“We’ve got to get the attorney general to act,” Trump said in an interview on “Fox & Friends.” “He’s got to act, and he’s got to act fast. He’s got to appoint somebody.

This is major corruption, and this has to be known about before the election.”

Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University, suggested that Trump’s pressure campaign on Barr has moved into uncharted territory for presidential politics.

“The question is, Does Barr erode the guidelines and reforms from the post-Watergate era and move forward with this?” Zelizer said. “We are seeing a total politicization of the justice system in the final stages of an election.”

Oregon State researchers mobilize to study impact of wildfire smoke on wine

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University scientists have analyzed almost 500 samples of wine and grapes from throughout Oregon in recent weeks to better understand the impact of smoke on wine.

Wildfires devastated much of the West Coast of the United States last month, continuing a recent trend of wildfires occurring during the grape harvest in California, Oregon and Washington, three of top four wine-producing states in the U.S.

Grapes absorb smoke from the fires and at high enough levels that the smoke can negatively impact the flavor of the wine and lead to significant negative economic impacts for grape growers and winemakers.

In the immediate aftermath of this year’s fires, wine researchers at Oregon State, who had already been studying the impact of smoke on wine, mobilized to help grape growers and winemakers throughout Oregon. Elizabeth Tomasino and Michael Qian, who both study the chemistry of wine, started accepting samples of smoke-impacted grapes.

After processing the grapes and wine in their labs, they use a gas chromatography-mass spectrometer to analyze the compounds in them.

That analysis provides grape growers and winemakers a sense of how severely their grapes or wine have been impacted by the smoke and can help them decide whether it is worth harvesting the grapes or processing them into wine.

“From a research standpoint, it’s a lot of information that is going to be very useful for current projects and upcoming ones, but from an industry standpoint it may be quite disappointing,” said Tomasino, an associate professor of enology in the Department of Food Science and Technology in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Mike Rava, who grows 40 acres of grapes in Silverton, about five miles from where fires were burning last month, has made two trips to Oregon State in recent weeks to drop off samples with Tomasino.

In a typical year, he would sell his grapes to a winery for around $250,000. After the fires this year, he was trying to decide whether it was worth even picking the grapes. He was appreciative to receive feedback from Tomasino and supportive of their research effort.

“Since our vineyard site was so close to the fires – we’re so extreme with our site’s levels of smoke taint– I think this puts us in a very good data collection area to see if somehow we can save this wine; then we’re going to be learning something,” Rava said.

While the Oregon State researchers are able to provide some guidance to grape growers and winemakers, many questions remain about the impact of smoke on wine. These include:

  • Understanding what compounds in smoke contribute to a smoky tasting wine and what thresholds of those compounds wine drinkers will accept.
  • Determining the key compounds that contribute to smoke taint aromas in different grape varieties and wines.
  • Understanding how to remove those compounds without impacting the quality of wine.
  • Determining at what point in grape development the fruit is most vulnerable to smoke exposure.
  • Determining the relationship between characteristics of a smoke event – such as intensity, duration, proximity, particle size, type of fuel – to grape and wine impacts.
  • Developing standardized, reliable and affordable smoke testing methods for grape growers and winemakers.

“We definitely can get these answers,” Tomasino said. “It is just going to take some time.”

Last year, Oregon State researchers started to address these questions with funding from the American Vineyard Foundation, Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research and the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The University of California, Davis and Washington State University are collaborators on the USDA grant. Next year the three universities plan to submit a proposal for a larger grant to expand the research. Data they are gathering now from the grape and wine samples they have collected will be used in their grant proposal.

Tomasino and Qian are part of the Oregon Wine Research Institute, a collaboration between Oregon State, the Oregon wine industry and other academic partners. Other Oregon State researchers who are part of the Oregon Wine Research Institute and conducting smoke exposure research and Extension outreach include James Osborne, Patty Skinkis and Alec Levin.

Utah’s Democratic, GOP candidates for governor unite for joint ad

(CBS NEWS) – Opposing candidates in Utah’s gubernatorial race released ads on Tuesday that are as shocking as they are heartwarming.

Republican Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox and law professor Chris Peterson, a Democrat, appear together to call for civility among voters.

“I’m not sure this has ever been done before…but as our national political dialogue continues to decline, my opponent and I decided to try something different,” Cox tweeted Tuesday.  “Let’s make Utah an example to the nation.”

“We can disagree without hating each other,” Cox says in one of the ads, in which he stands next to Peterson.

“We can debate issues without degrading each other’s character,” Peterson said.

Justice Dept. files landmark antitrust case against Google

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department on Tuesday sued Google for antitrust violations, alleging that it abused its dominance in online search and advertising to stifle competition and harm consumers.

The lawsuit marks the government’s most significant attempt to protect competition since its groundbreaking case against Microsoft more than 20 years ago.

It could be an opening salvo ahead of other major government antitrust actions, given ongoing investigations of major tech companies including Apple, Amazon and Facebook at both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.

“Google is the gateway to the internet and a search advertising behemoth,” U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen told reporters. “It has maintained its monopoly power through exclusionary practices that are harmful to competition.”

Antitrust cases in the technology industry have to move quickly, he said.

Otherwise “we could lose the next wave of innovation.”

Lawmakers and consumer advocates have long accused Google, whose corporate parent Alphabet Inc. has a market value just over $1 trillion, of abusing its dominance in online search and advertising to stifle competition and boost its profits.

Critics contend that multibillion-dollar fines and mandated changes in Google’s practices imposed by European regulators in recent years weren’t severe enough and that structural changes are needed for Google to change its conduct.

First days of voting in Oregon brings large numbers

By SARA CLINE

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Ballots for the 2020 election began to be mailed to Oregonians last Wednesday, and so far more than 88,000 people have cast their vote, following suit with the nationwide early voting trends.

By comparison, at this time during the 2016 presidential election, 12,591 ballots were returned in Oregon.

In 2012 it was less than 10,000.

The Elections Division of the Oregon Secretary of State released the unofficial ballot returns count Monday.

So far the division has recorded 88,406 ballots returned.

Nearly 3 million people are registered to vote in Oregon, a 15% increase from the 2016 election.

A portion of the influx of registered voters in the state can be attributed to Oregon’s Motor Voter Act in 2016, which made voter registration automatic when Oregonians obtain or renew their driver’s licenses.

So far, 3% of registered voters in Oregon have returned their ballots, according to the elections division.

During the last two presidential elections, between 80% and 82% of registered voters in Oregon have returned their ballots.

To no surprise, the county with the most ballots returned thus far is Multnomah County — Oregon’s most populous county.

Nearly 60,000 ballots have been returned, which make up 10.5% of the county’s registered voters. At this time in 2016, the county had received 21,452 ballots.

The avalanche of returned the ballots within the first days of voting has been witnessed across the country.

As of Friday, more than 22 million Americans had already cast ballots in the 2020 election, a record-shattering number of early votes.

High school gathering spurs COVID-19 cases, closes schools

ALBANY, Ore. (AP) — Officials say at least 19 students in Greater Albany Public Schools attended a gathering without masks, spurring new COVID-19 cases and setting back progress made toward holding in-person classes.

The Albany Democrat-Herald reports at least three positive cases have been traced to a gathering with students from West Albany High School, South Albany High School and Lebanon High School.

Schools Superintendent Melissa Goff says in addition to the large gathering, another six students should be quarantining.

The students’ families have been contacted by health authorities but according to Goff, some may not be cooperating with efforts to trace the potential outbreak.

Oregon mask requirements expanded as COVID cases rise

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — As the total number of COVID-19 cases in Oregon nears 40,000 people, health officials announced Monday that face-covering requirements are once again being expanded to include all private and public work spaces, outdoor markets and colleges.

The Oregon Health Authority reported 266 new and presumptive COVID-19 cases Monday and eight deaths. The numbers bring the state’s case tally to 39,794. The death toll is 627.

Currently, Oregonians are required to wear masks at indoor public spaces and outside when they cannot maintain 6 feet of space between others.

The Oregon Health Authority is expanding the requirement to now include all private and public workplaces, including classrooms, offices, meeting rooms, workspaces, outdoor markets, street fairs, private career schools and public and private colleges and universities.

In addition, state health officials also said they recommend that people wear masks rather than face shields.

The expansion of mask requirements emerge as the COVID-19 rate of transmission in Oregon has increased.

For six weeks, Oregon’s COVID-19 cases were in a downward trend. However, since mid-September, officials warned that numbers were again increasing at an alarming rate.

At the current rate of transmission, Oregon Health Authority officials project that new infections will increase substantially to 570 new reported cases a day and 40 hospitalizations.

On Friday the health authority also submitted a draft plan to the federal government for allocating and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine in Oregon, “once a safe and effective vaccine becomes available.”

The health authority’s plan follows federal guidance of a phased approach that “assumes a COVID-19 vaccine will be, at the outset, in limited supply and should be focused on individuals critical to the pandemic response, provide direct care and maintain societal function, as well as those at highest risk for developing severe illness.”

The plan will allow for broadening of the vaccine’s distribution to other high-risk groups and the general population as more doses become available.

Florida begins early voting with no major problems reported

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Floridians began early voting in much of the state Monday with no serious problems reported as the Trump campaign tries to cut into an early advantage Democrats have posted in mail-in votes in the key swing state.

The most populous counties reported wait times of 15 minutes or less at most of their early voting sites Monday afternoon, although a few sites reported waits of up to 90 minutes.

One Palm Beach County site reported a three-hour wait.

One county had to close an early voting site after the elections supervisor and an employee tested positive for the coronavirus and another county had its website go down.