AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EST News Staff

AP analysis: Federal executions likely a COVID superspreader

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the Trump administration was nearing the end of an unprecedented string of executions, 70% of death row inmates were sick with COVID-19. Guards were ill. Travelling prisons staff on the execution team had the virus. So did media witnesses, who may have unknowingly infected others when they returned home because they were never told about the spreading cases.

Records obtained by The Associated Press show employees at the Indiana prison complex where the 13 executions were carried out over six months had contact with inmates and other people infected with the coronavirus, but were able to refuse testing and declined to participate in contact tracing efforts and were still permitted to return to their work assignments.

Other staff members, including those brought in to help with executions, also spread tips to their colleagues about how they could avoid quarantines and skirt public health guidance from the federal government and Indiana health officials.

The executions at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, completed in a short window over a few weeks, likely acted as a superspreader event, according to the records reviewed by AP. It was something health experts warned could happen when the Justice Department insisted on resuming executions during a pandemic.

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Biden wants fast COVID aid, but minimum wage hike in doubt

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden laid out his case Friday for moving fast to pass $1.9 trillion in coronavirus relief, but even as he opened the door to proceeding without Republicans, he conceded that a key element of his plan — hiking the minimum wage to $15 per hour — was unlikely to become law.

The stakes for the county and economy were amplified Friday morning by the release of the government’s jobs report for January, which showed that hiring had stalled to a pace that could hinder a return to full employment for several years. Some 406,000 people left the labour force last month as deaths from the pandemic have surged.

“A lot of folks are losing hope,” Biden said in a speech at the White House. “I believe the American people are looking right now to their government for help, to do our job, to not let them down. So I’m going to act. I’m going to act fast. I’d like to be doing it with the support of Republicans … they’re just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go.”

The jobs report landed shortly after Senate Democrats cast a decisive vote to muscle the COVID relief plan through the chamber without Republican support, a step toward final approval next month. Vice-President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, her first.

Biden’s speech solidified a marked shift in tone and strategy for a president who entered the White House pledging bipartisanship and met on Monday with 10 Republican senators pushing a slimmed-down $618 billion alternative. Biden concluded in his Friday speech that aid at that level would only prolong the economic pain.

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Biden says ‘erratic’ Trump shouldn’t get intel briefings

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Friday that Donald Trump’s “erratic behaviour” should prevent him from receiving classified intelligence briefings, a courtesy that historically has been granted to outgoing presidents.

Asked in an interview with CBS News what he feared if Trump continued to receive the briefings, Biden said he did not want to “speculate out loud” but made clear he did not want Trump to continue getting them.

“I just think that there is no need for him to have the intelligence briefings,” Biden said. “What value is giving him an intelligence briefing? What impact does he have at all, other than the fact he might slip and say something?”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this week that the issue of granting Trump intelligence briefings was “something that is under review.”

Some Democratic lawmakers, and even some former Trump administration officials, have questioned the wisdom of allowing Trump to continue to be briefed.

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Analysis: A race war evident long before the Capitol siege

A war rages on in America, and it didn’t begin with Donald Trump or the assault on the Capitol.

It started with slavery and never ended, through lynchings and voter suppression, the snarling attack dogs of Bull Connor and the insidious accounting of redlining.

Today’s battles in the race war are waged by legions of white people in the thrall of stereotypes, lies and conspiracy theories that don’t just exist for recluses on some dark corner of the internet.

People like the murderer who fatally shot nine Black parishioners at a church in South Carolina, telling detectives that Black people were taking over the country and raping white women. And the shooter who killed 23 and wounded 23 others at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas — targeting Mexicans, authorities say, because he believed they were invading the country to vote for Democrats.

And the riotous mob, rife with white supremacists, that bought in when Trump and others insisted falsely that the presidential election was stolen, mostly in areas where people of colour live and vote.

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What of ‘Individual-1′? Feds’ Trump campaign case is ‘dead’

NEW YORK (AP) — The federal probe of hush money paid to cover up former President Donald Trump’s alleged extramarital affairs hasn’t been restarted, even though he no longer has the legal shield of the presidency, The Associated Press has learned.

Trump’s exit from the White House last month prompted speculation that U.S prosecutors might revive the investigation that sent his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to prison. Trump himself had been publicly implicated by prosecutors as complicit in Cohen’s campaign finance crimes during his 2016 run for office.

But several people involved in the case say the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan has made no such move, and is unlikely to do so going forward.

An attorney for one key witness described the investigation as “dead,” adding prosecutors have even returned certain evidence they collected — a likely indication no one else will be charged. The attorney spoke on the condition of anonymity because prosecutors have not discussed the case publicly.

One current and one former law enforcement official told the AP that factors beyond presidential immunity prevented Trump from being charged for his role in buying the silence of Karen McDougal and porn actress Stormy Daniels, who said they’d had extramarital affairs with him.

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Trump impeachment trial confronts memories of Capitol siege

WASHINGTON (AP) — The impeachment trial of Donald Trump is more than an effort to convict the former president of inciting an insurrection. It’s a chance for a public accounting and remembrance of the worst attack on the U.S. Capitol in 200 years.

In the month since the Jan. 6 siege by a pro-Trump mob, encouraged by his call to “fight like hell” to overturn the election, defenders of the former president say it’s time to move on.

Trump is long gone, ensconced at his Mar-a-Lago club, and Democrat Joe Biden is the new president in the White House. With the trial set to begin Tuesday, and a supermajority of senators unlikely to convict him on the single charge, the question arises: Why bother?

Yet for many lawmakers who were witnesses, onlookers and survivors of that bloody day, it’s not over.

One by one, lawmakers have begun sharing personal accounts of their experiences of that harrowing afternoon. Some were in the Capitol fleeing for safety, while others watched in disbelief from adjacent offices. They tell of hiding behind doors, arming themselves with office supplies and fearing for their lives as the rioters stalked the halls, pursued political leaders and trashed the domed icon of democracy.

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Oscar winner, ‘Sound of Music’ star Christopher Plummer dies

NEW YORK (AP) — Christopher Plummer, the dashing award-winning actor who played Captain von Trapp in the film “The Sound of Music” and at 82 became the oldest Academy Award acting winner in history, has died. He was 91.

Plummer died Friday morning at his home in Connecticut with his wife, Elaine Taylor, by his side, said Lou Pitt, his longtime friend and manager.

Over more than 50 years in the industry, Plummer enjoyed varied roles ranging from the film “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” to the voice of the villain in 2009’s “Up” and as a canny lawyer in Broadway’s “Inherit the Wind.” In 2019 he starred as murdered mystery novelist in Rian Johnson’s whodunnit “Knives Out” and in the TV suspense drama series “Departure.”

But it was opposite Julie Andrews as von Trapp in 1965 that made him a star. He played an Austrian captain who must flee the country with his folk-singing family to escape service in the Nazi navy, a role he lamented was “humourless and one-dimensional.” Plummer spent the rest of his life referring to the film as “The Sound of Mucus” or “S&M.”

“We tried so hard to put humour into it,” he told The Associated Press in 2007. “It was almost impossible. It was just agony to try to make that guy not a cardboard figure.”

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Fox Business cancels ‘Lou Dobbs Tonight’ after a decade

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Fox Business Network’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” whose host has trumpeted unfounded assertions of voter fraud in the 2020 election, has been cancelled.

In a statement Friday, Fox News Media said the move was part of routine programming alterations that it had foreshadowed in an announcement last fall.

Fox News Media “regularly considers programming changes and plans have been in place to launch new formats as appropriate post-election, including on Fox Business — this is part of those planned changes,” the company said.

Whether the cancellation ends Dobbs’ career with Fox Business wasn’t addressed, and the company had no further comment. The former CNN host started his show at the channel in March 2011, and it became among the most-watched business news channel programs.

The statement appeared to distance the cancellation from a multibillion-dollar defamation lawsuit filed Thursday against Fox and three of its hosts, including Dobbs, by the election technology company Smartmatic. In a previous statement, Fox News said it would “vigorously defend against this meritless lawsuit in court.”

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Super Bowl 55: A Viewer’s Guide to get you through Sunday

Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers marks the biggest day of sports broadcasting for networks.

Here are some things to know about the CBS coverage as well as Super Bowl-related programming on other networks:

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SUPER 21 FOR CBS

This marks the 21st Super Bowl broadcast for CBS, which is the most among all networks. NBC is next with 19 followed by Fox (9) and ABC (7). CBS and NBC both aired the first Super Bowl.

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Jamaica faces marijuana shortage as farmers struggle

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Jamaica is running low on ganja.

Heavy rains followed by an extended drought, an increase in local consumption and a drop in the number of marijuana farmers have caused a shortage in the island’s famed but largely illegal market that experts say is the worst they’ve seen.

“It’s a cultural embarrassment,” said Triston Thompson, chief opportunity explorer for Tacaya, a consulting and brokerage firm for the country’s nascent legal cannabis industry.

Jamaica, which foreigners have long associated with pot, reggae and Rastafarians, authorized a regulated medical marijuana industry and decriminalized small amounts of weed in 2015.

People caught with 2 ounces (56 grams) or less of cannabis are supposed to pay a small fine and face no arrest or criminal record. The island also allows individuals to cultivate up to five plants, and Rastafarians are legally allowed to smoke ganja for sacramental purposes.

The Associated Press

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