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National Science Foundation ‘urgent’ coronavirus grants miss target

The country is feeling a lot of stress thanks to the coronavirus, and it’s got the National Science Foundation intrigued. So intrigued, in fact, that it is spending millions of taxpayer dollars on more than 25 studies of how various demographics are handling stress. There’s the study of New York parents handling the pains of…

National Science Foundation ‘urgent’ coronavirus grants miss target

The country is feeling a lot of stress thanks to the coronavirus, and it’s got the National Science Foundation intrigued.

So intrigued, in fact, that it is spending millions of taxpayer dollars on more than 25 studies of how various demographics are handling stress. There’s the study of New York parents handling the pains of being forced into helping homeschool their children, and the study of how “at-risk” people are adjusting to the stress of the virus.

There’s a study of whether access to green space has helped college kids cope when campuses closed and they were sent back home. Which is not to be confused with the $163,033 study of how graduate students are coping with stress. Or the $75,319 study of how undergraduate engineering students are handling stress.

The NSF has doled out more than $75 million in what is known as Rapid Response Research or “RAPID” grant funding over the last couple of months, as it seeks to improve understanding of the pandemic.

Much of the money seems like a good bet. There are projects to test how to extend the life of the N95 masks that can filter out the coronavirus, or to use algorithms to try to figure out which already approved drugs can be repurposed to try to treat COVID-19.

And then there are more experimental ideas such as testing whether drones can be used to apply disinfectant over a large area, or whether smarter ventilation in public buildings can reduce the spread of the virus.

But the NSF is also spending millions of dollars on softer social sciences, such as sociology and cultural anthropology investigations that critics say look a lot like the sort of work journalists publish, free to taxpayers, every day.

Congress, eager to help, allocated an additional $75 million to the agency in the coronavirus stimulus law in March, which has already been spent, and the agency dipped into its regular budget to fund what it considers “urgent” research.

“NSF is specifically supporting fast-track, fundamental, and transformational research activity associated with (i) improving our understanding of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus causing COVID-19; (ii) developing a predictive understanding of the spread of the virus; and (iii) enabling approaches that mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 on public health, society and the economy,” NSF spokesman Mike England told The Washington Times in an email.

But spending watchdogs said some of the projects stray far from urgent needs, particularly at a time when the federal budget is already stretched to breaking by other coronavirus obligations such as boosting unemployment payments, paying small businesses to keep their doors open and funding food assistance programs.

“The National Science Foundation should focus on the hard sciences during the peak of this pandemic. Instead, the agency is spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on soft and superfluous studies that will not impact the lives of regular people in a meaningful way,” said Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of OpenTheBooks.com, which tracks government spending.

His organization flagged projects such as the $200,000 spent on an oral history archive recording New Yorkers’ experiences during the pandemic; a $198,985 study of whether people who search online for coronavirus information in Spanish get different information than those who Google in English; and a $135,825 examination of the psychology of panic-buying.

“In a national emergency, Congress should be directing taxpayer dollars toward the actual problem, not how people feel about the problem,” Mr. Andrzejewski said.

But Mr. England, the NSF spokesman, defended the multitude of studies on matters such as stress levels amid coronavirus, saying they are “consistent” with the agency’s goals, and the pandemic gives them opportunities that “cannot be replicated in a lab.”

“Once the pandemic resolves, these research opportunities will be gone,” he said. “There is overlap in some of these projects because, as with all science and engineering, we do not know for sure in advance which approaches will work, or which ones will lead to solutions that can be implemented. Therefore, we try to cast as wide a net as possible.”

For some of the projects, it’s not clear what the government might be getting back.

One proposal by researchers at Virginia Tech, which was awarded $98,185, says it will use “construal level theory by empirically distinguishing between the spatial and psycho-social dimensions of the construct of psychological distancing and calibrating the psychological impacts of immersion in online environments during a period of limited in-person interactions.”

The proposal continues: “The team investigates how digital media and technology consumption influence construal level and how the interaction of these two factors shape individuals’ risk perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors over time. Our research thus moves beyond simplistic explanations of the direct linkage between psychological distance, construal level, and judgments and decisions to a more nuanced understanding of interactions between construal mindsets and overload, stress, and fear.”

Other projects include:

• Studying two Virginia high schools to see how student-teacher relationships have changed. That is costing taxpayers $150,763.

• Tracking internet traffic patterns to see if stay-at-home orders worked, at a cost of $91,928.

• Examining whether people who are curious about science know more about the pandemic than those who are less curious. That proposal won $91,928.

• Studying how funeral homes have reacted to the crisis, at a cost to taxpayers of $97,509.

• A $197,475 look at how New Yorkers are making use of parks and other open spaces. That project is being led by Timon McPhearson, a professor of urban ecology at the New School.

“The Twitter data collection is only a portion of the research we’re conducting,” he told The Times. “We are also tracking a number of changes to New York City energy use, park use and more in order to document how much social distancing policies are driving behavior changes, and how these behavior changes in turn impact the ecological spaces and infrastructure of New York City.”

Initial results of the work are posted at www.urbansystemslab.com/covid19.

The Times reached out to a number of other researchers who won funding. Most didn’t reply, while several declined to answer questions about their work.

That included researchers at Johns Hopkins University who won $200,000 in taxpayer money for their work updating an online “dashboard” of coronavirus cases, deaths and recoveries worldwide.

That site, which has gotten heavy use from the public, reporters and even official Washington, was up and running well before the NSF awarded its grant. Hopkins researchers declined to say why they needed the additional funds.

There are also a number of coronavirus data collections online that aren’t funded by taxpayers, including several run by media organizations.

That overlap between what news organizations produce for free and what taxpayers fund through the NSF is a frequent complaint for critics of the agency.

Mr. England said they had awarded 400 COVID-related grants as of May 12, all but six of them under the RAPID program, at a cost of $77.4 million.

That’s more than the $75 million in emergency money Congress approved, but Mr. England said they’re able to tap regular NSF funds to help what they see as an “urgent” need.

He said final numbers on how many proposals were accepted versus rejected will come later.

Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said the NSF should be trying to save money during coronavirus, not boost spending. He suggested canceling nonessential spending and tightening the standards for new grants.

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National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien: After Hong Kong, China will target Taiwan next

EXCLUSIVE China’s recent takeover of Hong Kong is raising fears Taiwan is the next target in Beijing’s aggressive push for regional control, said White House National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien. China’s buildup of military forces for over a decade, notably with missiles and other forces dubbed anti-access, area denial systems, has been a longstanding…

National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien: After Hong Kong, China will target Taiwan next

EXCLUSIVE

China’s recent takeover of Hong Kong is raising fears Taiwan is the next target in Beijing’s aggressive push for regional control, said White House National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien.

China’s buildup of military forces for over a decade, notably with missiles and other forces dubbed anti-access, area denial systems, has been a longstanding threat, he said.

“I’m especially concerned about Taiwan given the behavior of China in Hong Kong. The guardrails seem to be off the [Chinese Communist Party] at this point,” Mr. O’Brien said in an interview with The Washington Times.

China’s imposition of a draconian national security law in Hong Kong has undermined the former British colony’s democratic system that since 1984 had been guaranteed to remain independent of communist rule for 50 years.

“The swift termination of the democratic experiment that was Hong Kong without any sense of shame was something that took the world and some of us by surprise,” Mr. O’Brien said aboard an Air Force C-40 aircraft after a speech last week in Iowa.

The takeover was swift and efficient and effectively shut down Hong Kong’s democratic system, he said.

“So, the next place they would look and the place they talk about incessantly is Taiwan,” Mr. O’Brien said.

China recently conducted aggressive military activities toward Taiwan, an island located 100 miles off the southern Chinese coast that was formed by Nationalist Chinese forces that fled the mainland in 1949.

Large-scale war games near Taiwan earlier this month were accompanied by bellicose rhetoric from state-run China media that noted China could use similar maneuvers as a prelude for an invasion.

Additionally, significant numbers of Chinese warplanes, both fighter jets and bombers, in recent days have been conducting provocative incursions across the unofficial dividing line in the Taiwan Strait separating Taiwan from the mainland.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Senior Col. Tan Kefei told reporters in Beijing on Thursday that China will do “whatever it takes” to prevent Taiwan from declaring formal independence.

Col. Tan said recent military exercises were intended to “target foreign interference” and “Taiwan separatists” — Beijing’s term for Taiwanese who favor independence rather than future integration.

“If Taiwan separatist forces dare to attempt Taiwan’s secession under any circumstances, we will do whatever it takes to thwart their efforts,” he said.

China’s ruling Communist Party wants Taiwan to rejoin the mainland under its “one country, two systems” formulation that would allow Taipei to keep its democratic system.

But China’s credibility regarding the pledge was undermined after the crackdown on Hong Kong, the first — and failed — test case for the one country, two systems formula.

Chinese threats against Taiwan increased after the recent visit to Taiwan by Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach, who visited the island for the funeral of Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui.

Mr. O’Brien said recent threats against Taiwan are a sign that Taipei needs to increase its defense capabilities.

“The Taiwanese need to get very serious about spending money on defense,” he said, noting Taiwan’s annual defense spending has been about 1.2% of GDP for many years.

Taiwan recently formalized a deal to buy 66 F-16 fighters worth an estimated $8 billion. The Taiwanese military also is buying 135-mile-range air launched cruise missiles, capable of hitting Chinese targets across the strait.

“Taiwan needs to demonstrate resolve and will, and I think that Taiwan is starting to move in that direction,” Mr. O’Brien said.

Mr. O’Brien urged Taipei to adopt the Reagan-era policy of “peace through strength” which has also been a policy of President Trump.

“Look, peace through strength works,” he said. “We want to see peace across the Taiwan Strait and we want to see the mainland and Taiwan getting along and have great relations.”

Mr. O’Brien said China’s recent aggressiveness are being watched around the world.

“The bullying and the threats against Taiwan are opening the eyes of not just of people in America but I’m hearing from people all over the world, other world leaders and other national security advisers who have been somewhat taken aback by the aggressiveness of China with respect to Taiwan,” he said.

Asked if the United States would defend Taiwan from a mainland attack, Mr. O’Brien said: “China knows our position on that and it’s been consistent and clear across Republican and Democratic administration’s since the Taiwan defense act, since we switched our recognition from Taipei to Beijing. They understand our position and there have been no change in this administration. That’s been conveyed to them very clearly.”

The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act does not explicitly obligate a U.S. defense of Taiwan.

The U.S.-Taiwan defense treaty was jettisoned as part of the deal that gave Beijing full U.S. diplomatic recognition.

However, the act states that the United States will “maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.”

On the subject of the China’s mishandling of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, Mr. O’Brien said the president has said China should be held accountable for the disease and the economic consequences.

“And it should not just be the United States holding China accountable,” he said. “China has caused almost a million deaths worldwide. China’s caused trillions in economic damage around the world.”

Mr. O’Brien said China has been the origin of several viruses and needs to better control such outbreaks.

“China needs to get its house in order,” he said. “They can’t keep being the hotbed of viruses. Whether they come from labs or wet markets, it doesn’t matter, they can’t keep being the hotbed of viruses that affect the entire world which they have been.”

Second, China has to “do something to make things right for the rest of the world,” Mr. O’Brien said.

“Whether that is debt relief for every country they’ve infected or caused damage to, or some other program, China ought to be the country itself taking responsibility for what it did to the world. It shouldn’t be up to others to hold them accountable. It should up to China itself coming forward to do the right thing.”

On a potential international incident that could impact the U.S. presidential election, Mr. O’Brien said “We’re alert every day for any type of event.”

An unpredictable event such as an attack, terrorist attack or some type of military provocation, could be carried out to try and influence the Nov. 3 election.

Numerous “bad actors” are operating around the world including China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela along with Islamic terrorist groups.

“So we’re on alert 24/7,” Mr. O’Brien said. “There are a lot of bad actors that don’t want to see the president reelected. They don’t like peace through strength, they don’t like America holding them to account.”

“So if there were some country that thought they could create an incident or spark an event that would reflect negatively on the president, it wouldn’t surprise me. Our eyes are open and we’re going to monitor things carefully.”

There are no specific indications of potential terrorist attack planning related to the election but Mr. O’Brien said there are “many, many terrorist organizations” operating today.

“We’ve done a pretty good job curbing them and taking leaders off the battlefield. We’ll continue to do that,” he said.

“But I’m sure there are terrorist plotting every day to kill Americans,” he noted. “The problem they’ve got is that we’ve got folks in JSOC and the CIA and other organizations that are working every day harder than they are to disrupt their plots.”

JSOC is the acronym for the Joint Special Operations Command, the North Carolina-based military unit that has been leading overt and covert counterterrorism operations.

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Republican National Convention focuses on what makes America great

ANALYSIS/OPINION: “I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” These words were spoken on Tuesday night as part of a naturalization ceremony at the White House. It was inspiring to see our new fellow Americans take their oath of citizenship.  This is…

Republican National Convention focuses on what makes America great

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

These words were spoken on Tuesday night as part of a naturalization ceremony at the White House. It was inspiring to see our new fellow Americans take their oath of citizenship. 

This is why America is and will be great in the future. Despite our challenges, people worldwide want to come to our country because of freedom and opportunity. First lady Melania Trump echoed that sentiment when she spoke of how her family viewed America as the land of freedom and opportunity. 

The Democratic National Convention seemed not only down on President Trump but also down on America. Thankfully, Republicans chose to focus on what makes our nation great and laid out plans for making it even better in the future. 

Sen. Tim Scott capped off the opening night with a perfect address. His inspirational story set the tone for the convention when he said, “Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime. And that’s why I believe the next American century can be better than the last. We have work to do, but I believe in the goodness of America.”

With the backdrop of Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home in Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence shared ordinary Americans’ stories doing extraordinary things. Sarah Hughes and her 8-year-old son, Jack, shared their gratitude for our expansion of parental school choice.

I am so grateful to the Wisconsin State Legislature members who voted for our plan that offers choices for families all across the state. No matter where they come from or what they look like, every child deserves access to an excellent education. Whether it is a traditional public school, a charter school, a private school (often with a voucher, credit or scholarship), or a homeschool experience, we trust parents to make the right choices for their children. It was nice to see it highlighted at the Republican National Convention. 

The video also featured Jordan McLinn and his mother, Laura, from Indiana. Jordan was at Mike Pence’s side when he signed the “Right to Try” legislation as governor in 2015. He stood next to Mr. Trump three years later, when it became federal law.  

The measure gives seriously ill patients increased access to investigational drugs that might otherwise take years to get through the bureaucratic process of government approval. It gives terminally ill patients a right to try a drug that may cure their disease. 

Natalie Harp, a cancer survivor, also raised the “Right to Try” law when she credited it, and Mr. Trump signed it into law to save her life. I remember hearing the president talk about this very issue in the same auditorium two years ago. He understood the hopelessness felt by so many people with a terminal illness. This law gives them hope.

These stories are a powerful reminder of the president’s and vice president’s deep and abiding love for America and the American people. It is why they are an excellent and effective team. 

At the beginning of their convention week, the Trump campaign released a comprehensive agenda for the next four years. In contrast, the Democratic convention seemed to focus on all things anti-Trump. A casual observer might think that the president alone was responsible for the global pandemic. The facts paint a much different picture. 

In March, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx told the president and vice president that they needed to take action or more than 2.2 million Americans could die. In turn, they took action. Remember the phrase “Bend the Curve?” We bent it.  

While we mourn with those who mourn, there is no doubt that the Trump administration’s actions saved lives. Based on the projections by Drs. Fauci and Birx in March, the actions taken by the president and vice president and their team helped save potentially hundreds of thousands of lives. 

In contrast, Joe Biden’s former chief of staff said just last year about H1N1: “We did everything wrong.” He also noted that it was “purely a fortuity that this isn’t one of the great mass-casualty events in American history.” These are the facts and not the rhetoric we heard at the Democratic National Convention.

Last weekend, Joe Biden told ABC News anchor David Muir that he would shut the entire country down — as early as January — if that is what his advisers told him to do. Americans do not want to be locked in their homes for months or even years at a time.  

We can be safe, and we can be open in a society based on freedom and opportunity for all. As we vote, we should remember that we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him @ScottWalker.

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National Association of Police Organizations endorses Trump

The National Association of Police Organizations endorsed President Trump’s reelection Wednesday, citing his “steadfast and very public support” for law enforcement. In a brief letter to Mr. Trump, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, NAPO President Michael McHale said the president’s support was critical in the wake of the attacks on…

National Association of Police Organizations endorses Trump

The National Association of Police Organizations endorsed President Trump’s reelection Wednesday, citing his “steadfast and very public support” for law enforcement.

In a brief letter to Mr. Trump, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, NAPO President Michael McHale said the president’s support was critical in the wake of the attacks on law enforcement following the death of George Floyd.

The president’s outspoken public praise of law enforcement appreciated “during this time of unfair and inaccurate opprobrium being directed at our members by so many,” said Mr. McHale.

“We particularly value you directing the Attorney General to aggressively prosecute those who attack our officers,” he wrote.

The group, which represents more than 1,000 police unions and 241,000 sworn officers, did not endorse a candidate in the 2016 presidential election. It endorsed the Obama-Biden ticket in 2008 and 2012.

The decision to side with Mr. Trump this year delivered a blow to presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden, who prides himself on being a “union man” and longtime ally of police.

The NAPO endorsement revealed the depth of the cracks in Mr. Biden’s police support since he sided with racial justice protesters and fellow Democrats who have been hammering police departments with accusations of racism and brutality.

Officials from other police unions told The Times that they felt abandoned when Mr. Biden refused to condemn attacks on police following the death of Mr. Floyd, a Black man who died under the knee of a White police officer in Minneapolis.

“Biden seems to have abandoned the police and his support for the police because it is not popular to support the police at this time,” said Paul DiGiacomo, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, the second-largest labor union representing New York City Police Department officers.

“It’s disappointing, but most politicians are doing that,” he continued. “I feel that if you support us, stand your ground. We don’t deserve not to be supported.”

In recent weeks, Mr. Biden has tried to appeal to both police and protesters. He called for concrete changes to law enforcement but stopped short of embracing extreme leftist proposals to defund and dismantle police departments.

Mr. Biden says he does not support the defund-the-police movement but said some funding should be “absolutely” redirected from police to social programs.

Last month, the Biden campaign unveiled a criminal justice plan that proposes an additional $300 million for community policing to improve relationships with officers and residents. He also pledged to create a national police review board within his first 100 days in office.

Mr. Biden has called for an end of the transfer of military weapons to local police departments, a ban on chokeholds and a national “use of force standard.”

The police union officials who praised Mr. Biden’s landmark anti-crime legislation in the 1990s and considered him a stalwart defender of the men and women in blue, say his current rhetoric is surprising.

“I think police officers and associations look at Joe Biden today, and it’s hard not to contrast the candidate today with the senator of 15 or 20 years ago,” said Bill Johnson, executive director of NAPO. “Mr. Biden, like a lot of candidates, moved to the left party during the primaries, but once it was clear that he was going to be the nominee, he didn’t stop.”

Mr. Biden’s new police overhaul plan would roll back parts of the 1994 crime legislation that he championed. The get-tough 1994 bill was viewed as a liability for him with Black voters this year.

Tom Scotto, who previously served as president of NAPO, worked closely with Mr. Biden on anti-crime legislation and considers him a friend. He wished the Democratic candidate would more forcefully condemn the attacks on police but said he still considers Mr. Biden to be a steadfast supporter of law enforcement.

“I find it impossible to believe that Joe’s support for law enforcement has wavered unless he tells me it to my face,” he said. “There is nobody, but nobody, but nobody in the entire Congress of the United States that has done more for law enforcement than Joe Biden. He’s done more than 20 members of Congress today put together.”

Others are skeptical.

Mr. DiGiacomo said he believes Mr. Biden’s failure to distance himself from the “defund the police” movement may have cost him other endorsements from unions.

“Right now, I can’t see any police or law enforcement group backing him after what he said dancing around the subject of policing in America,” he said.

While Mr. Biden walks a fine line between police and protesters, Mr. Trump stood firmly on a law-and-order platform.

The contrast could not be sharper.

On Monday, Mr. Trump held a White House event honoring law enforcement where he said Democrats’ “anti-cop crusade” is causing the violent crime plaguing major cities.

“It’s all far-left cities where they have no understanding of what has to be done,” Mr. Trump said of recent spikes in crime. “If that’s what you want for a country, you probably have to vote for ‘Sleepy’ Joe Biden, because he doesn’t know what’s happening. But you’re not going to have it with me.”

Mr. Trump also signaled that his administration will take more aggressive action against violent crime. Last week, the Justice Department ramped up the number of federal agents to combat rising violence in Kansas City.

Mr. Johnson said law enforcement officers have noticed the difference between the two candidates.

“It is very fair to say that officers are concerned by what they’ve seen and not seen,” he said. “It would be so welcome to receive even just a word of encouragement and, on the other side, condemn the violence and deadly attacks that are ongoing against the police.

“The public presentation of Mr. Biden’s campaign regarding law enforcement makes us very concerned about what his administration would look like with support for rank and file officers,” he said.

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