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Russian hospitals struggle to cope as COVID-19 cases pass 2 million

Russia’s official COVID-19 case tally passed the two million mark this week as the number of daily deaths and infections hit new highs, prompting government calls for more action to fight the pandemic.

“The situation with COVID is very tense,” a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters Thursday. “This topic is now a priority for the president.”

Despite the surge in cases, which brought Russia’s caseload to 2,015,608 and the death toll to almost 35,000, some patients in one of Moscow’s recently opened pop-up COVID hospitals were surprised to find themselves there.

One patient, Ramil, who declined to give his last name, said he never expected to get the virus and be so ill. 

“I didn’t think something like this would happen,” the 37-year-old said, speaking from his hospital bed.

This temporary COVID-19 hospital, housed in a pavilion that dates back to the Stalin era, can hold up to 1,200 patients. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

‘It’s been really hard’

There were 6,438 new cases in Moscow, the country’s worst-affected area, according to the coronavirus crisis response centre. Russia, which has a population of around 145 million, has the world’s fifth-largest number of cases after the United States, India, Brazil and France. 

It was Ramil’s fourth day labouring to breathe on the COVID ward at the recently transformed pavilion on the grounds of the All-Russia Exhibition Centre, also known as the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy, or VDNKh. 

The historic exhibition site was built under Josef Stalin to glorify the economic and scientific achievements of the U.S.S.R. In mid-October, as the second wave of cases began to take off in the city, the 1,200-bed facility was opened. Two more temporary hospitals have since been created in the city to cope with the surge of cases.  

“I believed [COVID] was real, but I thought it would be easier to get over it. For me personally, it’s been really hard,”  Ramil told a CBC News crew who suited up from head to toe and went inside to look at conditions in the so-called red zone.

Unlike hospital workers — and visiting journalists — who are sealed up tight in protective gear, patients stand out as they are wearing street clothes. 

Members of the CBC Moscow bureau get suited up in protective gear before touring the hospital. (Dmitry Kozlov/CBC News )


Worst cases moved elsewhere

Most, including Ramil, spend their days in bed and move around as little as possible, although for those who are on the mend, there is a small communal area where they can watch movies. 

Those who take a turn for the worse are usually sent to a different facility with an intensive care ward and ventilators.  

Once a patient no longer tests positive for COVID, they can go home.   

And though many of the patients in the airport-hangar-like building have what would be considered mild to moderate symptoms, even those can pack a punch.

“I thought it was like the flu,” said Mikhail, another patient who declined to give his surname.

He was weak, struggling with a high fever and, like many others, needed oxygen to breathe.

“It was really bad. I think I got it on public transport,” he said.

WATCH  | CBC News tours temporary COVID-19 hospital in Moscow:

A well-equipped, high-tech COVID-19 ward set up inside a Moscow convention centre is a stark contrast to the overwhelmed hospitals elsewhere in Russia. CBC News got a first-hand look at the facility and found out what’s creating the disparity in health care. 6:34

Vaccine race

Russia’s government boasts it’s beating back the pandemic by investing in new health care technology and building temporary hospitals, such as the one CBC visited. It’s also conducting trials of three new coronavirus vaccines, including its much-hyped Sputnik V.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova announced 600,000 doses of the still-in-trial Sputnik vaccine would be released to the public in November, along with another 2.2 million doses in December.

Russia has made boastful predictions about its vaccine before, however.  

While its developer, the Gamaleya Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, claims early results demonstrate 92 per cent effectiveness in preventing coronavirus, it has not released data from Phase 3 trials, which are generally the final, large-scale testing phase for new experimental drugs before they can be approved for public use.

And Russia’s government hasn’t followed through on earlier promises to quickly start mass inoculation campaigns during the autumn. 

Russia is testing several vaccines and said it would start releasing doses of one of them, known as Sputnik, to the public this month. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Russia has been registering between 20,000 and 23,000 new cases a day for the past 10 days or so and the government acknowledges the health care system is now pushed to the limit.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said that in 53 of the country’s 85 regions around 90 per cent of hospital beds are in use with admissions still rising.

While Moscow has the heaviest case load, it also has more resources to cope with the situation than other cities and towns in the country.Russia’s vast hospital network has been under intense scrutiny all fall as horror story after horror story emerged on social media, depicting dirty, dilapidated facilities with overflowing morgues and a shortage of doctors to care for patients or do autopsies.

At a hospital in Chelyabinsk, a city in the Ural Mountains, a large oxygen tank meant to supply COVID patients blew up,  destroying the facility but miraculously leaving those inside unscathed.

Russia is officially reporting 34,850 COVID deaths although some demographers and statisticians estimate it may be as high as 102,000.

A visit to the COVID ward ends by getting sprayed off and disinfected. (Dmitry Kozlov/CBC News)

Authorities stress preparedness

In the Moscow hospital CBC News visited, the patients all appeared to be in good hands and getting quality care.  

The facilities were new and modern and while staff appeared busy, there were no obvious signs of exhaustion.

That is likely why Russian authorities brought journalists there — to push the narrative that the country is winning the fight against COVID.

“As of today, we are not racing to keep up,” said Svetlana Zeinalova, the doctor in charge. “The city is well equipped.

“Our medical staff get tired, but they work, and nobody complains. They save people’s lives so that we can stop this pandemic here in Russia.”

Medical specialists rest in the so-called red zone inside the hospital. ‘Our medical staff get tired, but they work, and nobody complains,’ says Svetlana Zeinalova, the doctor in charge at the hospital. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

CBC News was also taken to a separate state-of-the-art diagnostic centre where a team of radiologists and other specialists were testing new equipment to study patients’ lung scans. 

They then upload the results along with their diagnoses so doctors on the hospital floor could scan patients’ health care data on a wrist band and immediately know their condition and treatment regime.

“We have full computer diagnostics and medicines and all the examinations that are required,”  Zeinalova said proudly.

Still, critics associated with Russia’s Western-leaning opposition are urging people to look past the staged hospital tours and see conditions beyond the capital for the mess they are.

WATCH | Hospitals in parts of Russia were already overwhelmed even before recent spike in cases:

Rural regions of Russia, already poorly resourced, are taking the brunt of the latest wave of COVID-19 cases. Many hospitals are running out of room and supplies for new patients, and morgues are overflowing. 1:59

Poor conditions in regions beyond Moscow

Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva, who met up with our crew hours after returning from a tour of hospitals hundreds of kilometres to the north of Moscow, said other regions are very poor and don’t have proper resources.

“There’s a lack of medical workers, a lack of medicines and a lack of everything that is needed to treat coronavirus,” she said.

Vasilyeva heads up a doctor’s union that works closely with opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who remains in Germany after recovering from an assassination attempt involving the nerve gas Novichok.

“I think they try to show that in Russia everything is good, that Russia has no problems with coronavirus and medical staff,” she told CBC News. 

Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva has been delivering donated medical supplies to hospitals struggling to cope with COVID-19 in rural areas. She says the conditions are terrible in many facilities. (Dmitry Kozlov/CBC News)

Vasilyeva said her team packed their vehicles full of personal protection gear purchased with donations and gave it away to hospitals where conditions are much more dire than in Moscow.

“The toilets, the bathrooms — they are really in terrible condition,” she said of one hospital in the town of Nyandoma, in Naydomsky District, about 800 km north of Moscow.

She said paint was peeling off the walls, toilet bowls and sinks were dirty and wretched and the entire ward looked more like something out of a prison than a hospital.

“How can patients be there? And how can you treat patients in such conditions?”

She said her team was also harassed by police, who she feels were acting on political instructions. On their way in between hospitals, she said, they were stopped and accused of drinking, forcing her team to pull over and postpone part of their trip.

“I think the chief doctors and some officials put money in their pockets because I don’t know why such a rich country has such awful, terrible hospitals and clinics,” said Vasilyeva.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said the heads of regions with a high incidence of infections should use their authority to improve the situation.

Medical staff get into an ambulance outside the VDNKh hospital. Patients who take a serious turn for the worse are transferred to a different facility with an intensive care ward and ventilators. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

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Microsoft Says Game Pass Now Has 10 Million Subscribers

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Microsoft launched Xbox Game Pass in 2017, seeking to become the long-fabled “Netflix for games.” The company has never talked about subscriber counts, until now. In its most recent investor call, Microsoft revealed Xbox Game Pass has seen strong growth in the past year and now has a whopping 10 million subscribers. Netflix has somewhere north of 160 million customers, but you gotta start somewhere. No doubt some of this growth is thanks to the pandemic, but Microsoft hopes people will stick around even after they can go outside. 

As the name implies, Xbox Game Pass started on the Xbox One console, but it expanded to PC last year. Both versions of the service have a $ 10 monthly subscription tier that gives you access to more than 100 games and some exclusive discounts. There’s also a $ 15 plan that has both PC and Xbox support, along with Xbox Live Gold — that alone is $ 10 per month. Unlike game streaming services, Game Pass simply gives subscribers the option to download and play any game included in the catalog. 

The service has managed to grow even though it doesn’t always get the newest games. Titles from Microsoft Game Studio launch on day one, but many developers keep their latest titles off Game Pass. Some of the top titles on Game Pass are GTA V, Minecraft, and Doom (2016). The selection is decidedly better on the Xbox, though. None of those games are included for PC gamers. The top PC games include Gears 5, Alien: Isolation, and TABS.

Microsoft says Game Pass subscribers are much more into their games, though. They play twice as much as non-subscribers, and multiplayer engagement has increased 130 percent. Despite its relatively short run, Game Pass now has more subscribers than services like EA Access, PlayStation Now, and GeForce Now. EA and Sony claim 5 million subscribers, but Nvidia is at barely 1 million for a service it has been developing for more than six years. 

Microsoft has the advantage of pushing Game Pass via the Xbox and Windows, and it doesn’t rely on streaming technology like GeForce Now. Microsoft does plan on moving into streaming soon, though. It’s already conducting a test of its xCloud game streaming technology, which will eventually become part of Game Pass. The company hasn’t talked about what such a combination service would cost, though. xCloud could also expand Microsoft gaming to smartphones. There’s already an Android client, but Microsoft is working through various roadblocks with Apple’s restrictive App Store policies.

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COVID-19 wage subsidy bill expected to pass as Parliament reconvenes

The federal government’s wage subsidy legislation is expected to pass today inside the House of Commons after days of negotiations between the government and opposition parties.

A government source tells CBC News that the House will debate for an agreed upon number of hours starting at 12:15 p.m. ET and that the legislation should receive Royal Assent by the end of the day. The Senate is expected to sit around 4 p.m. this afternoon.

The Conservatives have agreed to unanimous consent to get the bill through the House today. 

In a rare move, a draft version of the legislation was shared with opposition parties earlier this week in an attempt to get all parties on board for fast passage of the legislation.

The Conservatives had been pushing the government to agree to more in-person sittings of the House of Commons rather than the virtual sittings the government has proposed and asked the Speaker of the House of Commons to explore.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has raised health and safety concerns over holding regular meetings in a time of physical distancing. 

While the House of Commons health and finance committees are already held virtually, moving other committees to a video or teleconference platform is expected to undergo further study. 

Around 20 MPs are participating in the unusual Saturday sitting, the minimum number of parliamentarians needed for quorum.

The prime minister is in attendance today, as are other party leaders.

In a departure from his daily briefings outside his Rideau Cottage home, Trudeau will instead address Canadians from within the Commons. 

Bill designed to prevent layoffs

The multi-billion-dollar program, called the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), is designed to help companies avoid laying off employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused many businesses to shut their doors as the country comes to a standstill. 

The CEWS is intended to encourage companies to rehire workers by offering a 75 per cent wage subsidy over the next three months to businesses that have lost 30 per cent of their revenue due to the crisis.  Companies will need to reapply for the program each month.

It is estimated to cost the federal government $ 73 billion.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said in a news conference Saturday that money should flow to businesses soon.

“A week ago, we said this would take three to six weeks, obviously now that’s two to five weeks,” Morneau said. “We’re aspiring to do that as rapidly as possible. I’m assured we will be closer to the short end of that time.”

Scheer: Conservatives to ‘facilitate’ bill’s passage

Before the debate, Scheer, Singh and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet delivered remarks on their parties’ plans to support the bill.

Scheer said that he plans to “facilitate” the bill’s passage after the federal government agreed to accept some of his party’s proposed changes.

“When we were satisfied that the bill had been improved, we indicated that we would ensure that today’s session would go smoothly in a collaborative manner,” he said.

The outgoing Conservative leader said he looked forward to the government implementing the party’s suggestions, which include reducing eligibility hurdles for some businesses.

Scheer added that he will continue to push for in-person meetings in the House while accommodating public health advice, given that Parliament is not sitting regularly at this time.

The NPD’s Jagmeet Singh said Saturday that his party will support the legislation necessary for the subsidy to become a reality.

He said that his calls to improve access to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit will be reflected in today’s motion.

WATCH | Singh calls for expanded eligibility in government aid bill:

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said Saturday that pandemic aid needs to be expanded to include those who don’t qualify because of a ‘technicality.’ 0:26

‘Good things’ included in legislation, Bloc says

During his remarks Saturday, the Bloc’s Blanchet said that the draft bill includes “some very good things” for workers and that all federal parties worked to collaborate when it came to reviewing the legislation.

In a letter to the prime minister Tuesday, Blanchet wrote that he welcomed several aspects of the legislation, but noted that it did not include support for businesses struggling with operational costs.

Blanchet said that Finance Minister Bill Morneau has acknowledged those concerns. 

Blanchet also expressed concern that temporary foreign workers were not being tested for COVID-19 upon arriving in Canada. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) responded on Saturday, saying that temporary foreign workers must self-isolate for 14 days before being able to come in contact with anyone in Canada and before they can start working. 

WATCH | Blanchet warns about workers not tested for COVID-19 upon arriving in Canada:

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet says he has an ‘obligation to inform everybody,’ as a plane arrives from Mexico carrying over 150 workers who have not been tested for the novel coronavirus and will not spend 14 days in isolation. 0:38

The Green Party’s Elizabeth May is representing her party’s caucus in the House of Commons Saturday.

According to a statement provided to CBC News, interim leader Jo-Ann Roberts says the Greens have agreed to support the bill.

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GOG Offers 27 Free Games to Help You Pass the Time at Home

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We’re all spending a lot more time indoors lately, and that can be hard on people who are accustomed to getting out there and interacting with their fellow humans. If you need something to help pass the time, GOG has a collection of 27 free games. The “Stay at home and play some games” page includes some new games, some old games, and a few very old games. 

All the games on this list were already free, but now they’re listed in one place for easy access. Separately, GOG is having a spring sale that runs through the end of the month if you want to pick up some newer, more complex games. That said, there’s some cool stuff in the “stay at home” list. Here’s the full collection. 

  • Akalabeth: World of Doom
  • Alder’s Blood Prologue
  • Beneath a Steel Sky
  • Bio Menace
  • Builders of Egypt: Prologue
  • Cayne
  • Doomdark’s revenge
  • Eschalon: Book I
  • Flight of the Amazon Queen
  • GWENT: The Witcher Card Game
  • Hello Neighbor Alpha Version
  • Jill of the Jungle: The Complete Trilogy
  • Legend of Keepers: Prologue
  • The Lords of Midnight
  • Lure of the Temptress
  • Overload – Playable Teaser
  • Postal: Classic and Uncut
  • Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves
  • Shadow Warrior Classic Complete
  • Stargunner
  • Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius
  • Teenagent
  • Treasure Adventure Game
  • Tyrian 2000
  • Ultima 4: Quest of the Avatar
  • Ultima World of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams
  • Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire

GOG is part of CD Projekt Red, so it’s no surprise the free-to-play Gwent card game is on the list. That’s one of the newer, more well-known titles you’ll find on the page. There are also some demos and previews from the last couple of years. 

Beneath a Steel Sky

The most interesting entries on the page are the classic games like Beneath a Steel Sky (1994), Bio Menace (1993), and Stargunner (1996). You can even go way, way back to the dawn of video games with Ultima 4 (1985) and Akalabeth: World of Doom (1979). So, go enjoy some classic games while you wait out this pandemic.

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New Brunswick uses notwithstanding clause in 2nd bid to pass vaccination bill

New Brunswick’s education minister is making rare use of the Canadian Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to ensure his new legislation on mandatory vaccinations won’t be overturned by court challenges.

Dominic Cardy introduced the bill, his second attempt to eliminate non-medical exemptions to vaccination rules, in the legislature on Friday morning.

Section 4 of the bill says the legislation is “declared to operate notwithstanding” 10 provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

That means the bill can’t be struck down by the courts even if it contravenes those sections of the charter. Among those sections are provisions that protect freedom of religion and equal rights regardless of religion.

Cardy said use of the clause could save taxpayers immense legal costs. (CBC)

Cardy said the bill is intended to pre-empt what he calls “an organized, well-financed lobby out there that’s intent on derailing efforts to protect vulnerable children.”

He told reporters the clause will avoid “expensive court costs” resulting from charter challenges “by folks who’ve got nothing but conspiracies and medieval fantasies to base their arguments upon.” 

The bill would eliminate the ability of parents to exempt their children attending public schools from vaccinations on religious, philosophical and other non-medical grounds.

Anti-vaxxers vowed to fight it in court

During three days of hearings in August on an earlier version of the bill, several anti-vaccination activists and parents said it was unconstitutional. Others claimed the science was not conclusive on vaccines and made other debunked assertions. 

One of the opponents, Ted Kuntz of Vaccine Choice Canada, vowed that his group would fight the bill to the Supreme Court of Canada if it passed.

But Cardy’s new version using the notwithstanding clause would make that impossible.

In a statement, Vaccine Choice Canada’s Gisele Baribeau called the new bill “an egregious attempt to impose state and pharma control over Canadian children.” Vaccine Choice Canada is a not-for-profit group that has spread anti-vaccination misinformation; its stated goal is to express concerns about vaccine safety.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the risks associated with vaccines are very low.

Baribeau said Cardy is clearly not interested in parental rights or medical freedoms and called on MLAs to vote down the bill.

The notwithstanding clause was included in the charter as a political compromise when it was adopted in 1982. It was designed to give legislatures the opportunity to override some judicial interpretations of the charter. 

At the time, Premier Richard Hatfield said he would do “everything possible to urge the Legislature of New Brunswick not to use that opportunity, consistent with my firm view that if we are going to have rights, they must be shared by all Canadians.”

The clause has been used only a handful of times by provinces, except when the Parti Québécois government in Quebec added it to every piece of legislation from 1982 to 1985 as a symbolic protest against the charter’s adoption over its objections.

University of New Brunswick law professor Kerri Froc says the clause wasn’t designed to protect laws from legal challenges in advance but to give governments an option if a law were struck down by the courts.

“I’m not a fan of these pre-emptory references to the notwithstanding clause,” she said. “It used to be seen as kind of the nuclear option. Now it seems more like the cost of doing business.”

The clause can only be used to supersede Section 2 and sections 7 to 15 of the charter, and its use expires after five years.

That means a future New Brunswick legislature would have to invoke it again every five years for it to remain in place. Froc said that expiry date is meant to ensure politicians don’t use it too casually.

Far from a sure thing

It’s not clear the bill will pass because Premier Blaine Higgs is allowing all Progressive Conservative MLAs a free vote on the bill, including cabinet ministers.

The Liberals will also be allowed to vote freely on this bill and the Green Party and People’s Alliance already allow their MLAs free votes. 

At least two opposition MLAs are already saying they’re reluctant to support any legislation that suspends charter rights unless there’s a clear need for it.

“It’s a slippery slope we’re going down here,” said Liberal MLA Rob McKee. “It’s a dangerous precedent we’re setting. It’s never been used in New Brunswick before.” 

Liberal MLA Rob McKee supports vaccinations but said Cardy’s bill would set a dangerous precedent. (CBC)

McKee said he supports vaccinations and during the August hearings appeared to lean toward supporting the original bill.

But on Friday he said the province still doesn’t have a “full and complete picture” of vaccination rates among schoolchildren, so the government now has a higher burden to justify a bill that suspends charter rights. 

“I would ask the government to come back with legislation that is charter-compliant without having to resort to this measure,” he said.

Green MLA Megan Mitton, who was hesitant about supporting the bill in August, noted some public health officials have refused to endorse a mandatory vaccination policy and said the use of the notwithstanding clause adds to her concerns.

“I really would like to see this type of legislation be a last resort,” she said.

“I would like to see the government show the evidence that they have done all the other things that public health officials recommend doing before we get to the point of implementing something like this.”

Spotty records

In August, the province had complete immunization records for only 82 per cent of students. Figures provided Friday show a large number of schools still lack verified immunization records.

Cardy’s new bill sets out a process to validate that requests for medical exemptions from the mandatory policy are legitimate.

It would take effect in September 2021, giving time to public health officials to establish a provincewide electronic registry of vaccination records. 

Green MLA Megan Mitton said she expects there will be an ‘interesting’ debate about the amendments in the legislature next week. (CBC)

Cardy introduced his original bill in the spring after two outbreaks of measles in the Saint John area and whooping cough in the Fredericton area, though he said he’d been working on it before that.

Opposition MLAs, who make up a majority of the legislature, voted to send the bill to the law amendments committee for public hearings.

At those hearings, dozens of anti-vaccination activists and other parents spoke against the bill as an infringement on their freedoms. 

That testimony prompted MLAs from all four parties on the committee to waver on supporting the bill as drafted. Several cited the lack of definitive statistics on vaccination rates among schoolchildren.

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Google Is Testing ‘Play Pass’ App and Game Subscription on Android

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Google seems to be planning an answer to the upcoming Apple Arcade service, which the iPhone maker will launch later this year. The so-called “Google Play Pass” has appeared in the Play Store for a small number of users. The service offers a selection of premium apps and games with no ads or in-app purchases for one monthly fee, but it’s unclear when or if Google will actually launch the service. 

The first hint of an app subscription appeared last year on XDA when the site found mention of Play Pass in a new version of the Play Store. The company didn’t have anything to say at the time, but now Play Pass is appearing on phones. This time, Google has confirmed that it is testing an app and game subscription feature. 

Apple Arcade, as the name implies, features games from developers like Konami, Lego, and Sega. Apple is leaning heavily on exclusive titles to push Arcade, but Google’s angle is to offer more than games. Play Pass will feature games like Stardew Valley and Marvel Pinball. No apps are included in the initial test, so we’re not sure exactly what Google is thinking. Although, the Play Pass subscription screen mentions premium music streaming and fitness trackers will be among the free apps. Google promises “hundreds” of apps and games as part of the service. 

The test includes a 10-day free trial to the service, after which Play Pass costs $ 4.99 per month. Of course, Google could modify the cost before officially announcing the service. Subscribers get unlimited access to all the premium apps and games offered under Play Pass, and they won’t see any ads in the content, either. Apps and games that contain in-app purchases will have all of them unlocked. However, Play Pass probably won’t work well with many free-to-play mobile games. Unlocking all those in-app purchases would break experiences built around “pay-to-win” mechanics — you’d instantly win with unlimited crystals, gold, or whatever the premium currency might be. 

Google might choose to announce Play Pass at its yearly October event, but it could just as easily launch it with a blog post. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Play Pass make some sort of appearance at the October event, possibly as a bundled feature in the new Pixel phones. Google already offers free Photos storage on Pixel phones. Why not some free apps to sweeten the deal?

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Microsoft Announces Xbox Game Pass for PC

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Microsoft launched its subscription-based Xbox Game Pass in 2017, and the service has proven popular with avid console gamers. There has always been limited PC integration with Microsoft-developed titles, but the company’s new initiative goes a step further. The new PC version of Game Pass will bring more than 100 games to PC on a subscription basis.

On the Xbox console, those on the Game Pass subscription have access to a few dozen games, including some new releases like Mortal Kombat X and Forza Horizon 4. These games usually appear on Game Pass on the same day as they arrive at retail. It’s important to note that this isn’t a streaming system like Microsoft’s upcoming xCloud product. Game Pass titles are downloaded in a traditional manner and played on your local hardware. You can continue playing them for as long as you keep paying the $ 10 monthly fee.

The newly unveiled PC version of Game Pass will be a similar setup: you download games to install on your PC and render them locally. That means you’ll need a capable gaming PC for Game Pass. Technically, this is an expansion of the PC capabilities already included in Game Pass. Some games available in Xbox Game Pass already work on Windows, but that’s mostly limited to Microsoft titles like Gears of War 4.

Microsoft has partnered with more than 75 developers to start including Bethesda, Deep Silver, Devolver Digital, Sega, and Paradox Interactive. Games on PC Game Pass will launch on the same day as the standard purchased versions. In titles that have DLC and consumable microtransactions, you’ll get up to 10 percent off those purchases. You also get up to 20 percent off the Microsoft Store on Windows.

There are still some details missing, and they happen to be vital details. For instance, we don’t know how much Xbox Game Pass on PC will cost. It’s only $ 10 on the Xbox, but that relies entirely on Microsoft’s hardware, and there aren’t as many games. With more than 100 titles, Microsoft might think it can get away with a higher price like $ 15-20 monthly. Microsoft was also unwilling to provide a specific launch date or full game list. It does say there will be more information available at E3 this year, which kicks off on June 11th.

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U.S. Senate poised to pass bill ending border emergency, Trump vows veto

The U.S. Senate was poised on Thursday to pass a proposal to terminate President Donald Trump's declaration of an emergency at the southern border, defying his threat to veto the measure and heavy lobbying of his fellow Republicans.

Six Republican senators have said they back the measure passed in February by the U.S. House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats. At least four Republicans are needed to pass it in the 100-seat Senate, along with all 45 Democrats and two independents.

But the measure is unlikely to become law given that a two-thirds vote of Congress is needed to override a presidential veto, which Trump vowed to issue if it passed the chamber Thursday.

"I am prepared to veto, if necessary," Trump said in an early-morning post on Twitter before senators took up the measure.

Vice-President Mike Pence met with Republican senators this week to try to tamp down support for the measure, with some Republicans worried that future Democratic presidents could usurp the power of Congress to fund the government and use the emergency declarations to fund their own pet programs.

Pence told senators that Trump would back a second bill offered by Republican Senator Mike Lee, which would end future emergency declarations after 30 days unless Congress votes to extend them.

Lee said on Wednesday the White House had subsequently made clear his bill did "not have an immediate path forward." He added he would vote on Thursday to end the emergency declaration.

Trump doesn't get 'a pass': Pelosi

The other Republican senators who have said they will vote to block Trump's border emergency are Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Kentucky's Rand Paul and Mitt Romney of Utah, who added his name to the list Thursday morning.

At stake are billions of dollars in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that Trump is demanding but Congress has refused to fully provide. The stalemate led to a 35-day partial government shutdown that ended in January.

Debris from a prototype for Trump's proposed wall is demolished to make way for a new section of actual border fencing near San Diego, as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, on February 27. (Jorge Duenes/Reuters)

Under the emergency declaration Trump signed on Feb. 15, he would take money from other federal programs to build the barrier he says is needed.

Democrats deny there is an emergency at the border.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried making it even harder for uncertain Republicans to support Trump's border emergency. She said the House would never even consider the separate bill limiting future declarations by presidents, including Trump. 

"Republican senators are proposing new legislation to allow the president to violate the Constitution just this once in order to give themselves cover," Pelosi said in a statement. "The House will not take up this legislation to give President Trump a pass."

Under a four-decade-old law, presidents have wide leeway in declaring a national emergency. Congress can vote to block a declaration, but the two-thirds majorities required to overcome presidential vetoes make it hard for lawmakers to prevail. Presidents have never before declared an emergency after Congress voted to deny them money for the same purpose.

Court challenges have also been filed asserting it is Congress, not the president, that decides how taxpayer money is spent.

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Nissan Leaf EV First to Pass 400,000 Sales, but Tesla Model 3 Topped 2018

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The numbers are starting to rack up for electrified vehicles. Nissan just announced it has sold 400,000 Nissan Leaf EVs worldwide since the first Leaf whirred off a dealer lot in 2010. By early 2020, it should be a half a million, maybe the very end of 2019 if Nissan Leaf Plus sales get into high gear.

Earlier, Tesla reported it sold almost 146,000 Tesla Model 3’s worldwide in 2018 — way more than any other plug-in vehicle in a single year ever, meaning battery electric vehicles (BEVs) plus plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). Both are proof the market for electrified cars is picking up at a measured pace. As far as the US goes, plug-ins and hybrids each accounted for about 2 percent of the market last year.

Worldwide Nissan Leaf sales peaked last year at 87,000. Top year for US sales was 30,000 in 2014. Last year it was 15,000.

Nissan Leaf sales globally have moved upward most years and this year should probably top 100,000 worldwide sales. US sales have not yet regained the sales of 2013-14. With the Leaf Plus and its 226-mile range, it may be better suited to the longer drives many Americans do. The previous Leaf (still available) got 150 miles on a charge.

Among Nissan’s advantages over Tesla is that Nissan still has about 70,000 Leaf units under the EV tax-credit cap of 200,000 sales. Tesla hit 200,000 last July, and now — for the first two quarters of 2019 — Tesla can only offer half-tax-credits of $ 3,750, while Nissan will be offering $ 7,500 credits for the next 2-3 years, probably.

Tesla Model 3 sold almost 146,000 units globally.

Tesla has been putting up big EV production/sales numbers as a company overall. Its cumulative sales, as reported by Tesla, were more than 500,000 units at the end of 2018. The biggest seller was the Model 3, 146,00 units worldwide, about 140,000 in the US. That is the 35th best-selling vehicle in the US. It is also the best-selling luxury vehicle in the US, well ahead of the Lexus RX SUV (112,000).

Tesla’s sales could slip this year because of the halved tax credit, and it falls to $ 1,875 for the second half of the year before going away entirely Jan. 1, 2020. But Tesla has yet another EV on the way: The Tesla Model Y, a compact SUV, will be announced March 14. The larger Model S sedan and Model X SUV had similar sales last year, 27,000-30,000 each. If the Model Y keeps pace with the Model 3 the way the X tracked the S, then Tesla could get 10,000 sales a month out of the Model Y — if production capability can match demand.

So much about Tesla is a three-ring circus: production capacity (claimed versus actual, indoors versus outdoors under a tent), manufacturing quality, Elon Musk getting his hand slapped for statements that move Tesla stock in ways the SEC doesn’t approve. And yet Tesla continues to grow, has a China factory coming online, and is selling the Model 3 into Europe.

Worldwide, the second best-selling electric car, cumulative, isn’t the Model 3 yet, but the Tesla Model S. Six full selling seasons, the last four at 50,000-55,000 per year, have the Model S at around 250,000 sales worldwide, total. The Model 3 sold only about 2,000 units before 2018, giving it a cumulative total of about 150,000. Others with cumulative sales clustered around 170,000 include the China-market BAIC EC-Series, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, the Chevrolet Volt PHEV (production just wound down), and the PHEV version of the Toyota Prius.

Pure battery electric vehicles get much of the ink. Meanwhile, the plug-in hybrids that Tesla scoffs at have found favor with buyers who appreciate doing virtually all their daily driving on battery power while the vehicle’s combustion engine is ready for a cross-state or cross-country drive.

EVs would sell better if there were more public charging stations outside the main travel corridors of the US — primarily Boston to Washington to Miami, and San Diego up to Seattle. Those will come as more EVs get sold, and more EVs get sold if there are more charging stations. In the current Washington climate, additional EV charging infrastructure will not be funded by the federal government. Check back in 2021.

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White House must return CNN reporter's media pass, judge rules

A U.S. federal judge on Friday ordered the Trump administration to immediately reinstate CNN reporter Jim Acosta's credentials to cover the White House, though a lawsuit over the revocation of the pass continues.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly, an appointee of President Donald Trump, announced his decision following a hearing in Washington. The judge said Acosta's credentials would be returned immediately and reactivated to allow him access to the White House for media briefings and other events.

The White House said it would comply, but planned to develop "rules" for orderly news conferences.

The White House revoked Acosta's credentials last week after he and Trump tangled during a news conference following the midterm elections. CNN sued and asked the judge to issue a temporary restraining order forcing the White House to give back Acosta's credentials at least temporarily. The judge agreed.

Following the ruling, the network tweeted: 

Trump later told reporters that "people have to behave" and warned of future court action against reporters who do not.

"If they don't listen to the rules and regulations, we'll end up back in court and we'll win," Trump said on Friday. "But more importantly, we'll just leave. And then you won't be very happy, because we do get good ratings."

The suit by CNN alleges that Acosta's First and Fifth Amendment rights were violated by suspending his pass.

While the judge didn't rule on the underlying case, he ordered Acosta's credentials returned for now because he said CNN was likely to prevail on its Fifth Amendment claim — that Acosta hadn't received sufficient notice or explanation before his credentials were revoked or been given sufficient opportunity to respond before they were.

The judge said the government could not say who initially decided to revoke Acosta's hard pass and how that decision was reached.

"In response to the court, we will temporarily reinstate the reporter's hard pass," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

"We will also further develop rules and processes to ensure fair and orderly press conferences in the future."

In a statement following the ruling, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the White House would temporarily reinstate Acosta's pass, but added that 'we will also further develop rules and processes to ensure fair and orderly press conferences.' (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

'Irreparable harm'

The White House had spelled out its reasons for revoking Acosta's credentials in a tweet from Sanders and in a statement after CNN filed its lawsuit. But the judge said those "belated efforts were hardly sufficient to satisfy due process."

The judge also found that Acosta suffered "irreparable harm," dismissing the government's argument that CNN could simply send other reporters to cover the White House in Acosta's place.

But the judge also emphasized the "very limited nature" of his ruling Friday. He noted he had not determined that the First Amendment was violated.

The judge told lawyers to file additional court papers in the case by Monday.

Fractious history

Trump has made his dislike of CNN clear since before he took office and continuing into his presidency. He has described the network as "fake news" on Twitter and in public comments.

At last week's news conference, which followed the midterm elections, Trump was taking questions from reporters and called on Acosta, who asked about Trump's statements about a caravan of migrants making its way to the U.S.-Mexico border.

After a terse exchange, Trump told Acosta, "That's enough," several times while calling on another reporter.  

Watch the combative exchange between Trump and Acosta:

The White House suspended CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press pass after accusing him of "placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern" during an exchange with Trump. 0:34

Acosta attempted to ask another question about special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and initially declined to give up a hand-held microphone to a White House intern. Trump responded to Acosta by saying he wasn't concerned about the investigation, calling it a "hoax," and then criticized Acosta, calling him a "rude, terrible person."

The White House pulled Acosta's credentials hours later.

Shifting statements

The White House's explanations for why it seized Acosta's credentials have shifted over the last week.

Sanders initially explained the decision by accusing Acosta of making improper physical contact with the intern seeking to grab the microphone.

But that rationale disappeared after witnesses backed Acosta's account that he was just trying to keep the microphone, and Sanders distributed a doctored video that made it appear Acosta was more aggressive than he actually was.

On Tuesday, Sanders accused Acosta of being unprofessional by trying to dominate the questioning at the news conference.

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