Category: USA

news from USA

Capsized Boat Found Near Florida; 39 People Missing

The U.S. Coast Guard searched on Tuesday for 39 people missing for several days after a boat believed to be used for human smuggling capsized off Florida’s coast en route from the Bahamas. 

A good Samaritan called the Coast Guard early Tuesday after rescuing a man clinging to the boat 72 kilometers (45 miles) east of Fort Pierce, the maritime security agency reported on Twitter.

The man said he was with a group of 39 others who left the island of Bimini in the Bahamas on Saturday night. He said the boat capsized in severe weather and that no one was wearing life jackets. 

The Coast Guard is calling it a suspected human smuggling case. Officials said on Twitter that they are searching by air and sea over a roughly 218-kilometer (135-mile) area extending from Bimini to the Fort Pierce Inlet.

A cold front late Saturday brought rough weather to the Bimini area. Tommy Sewell, a local bonefishing guide, said there were 32 kph (20 mph) winds and fierce squalls of rain on Sunday into Monday.

Migrants have long used the islands of the Bahamas as a steppingstone to reach Florida and the United States. They typically try to take advantage of breaks in the weather to make the crossing, but the vessels are often dangerously overloaded and prone to capsizing. There have been thousands of deaths over the years. 

The Coast Guard patrols the waters around Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Bahamas.

For the most part, the migrants are from Haiti and Cuba, but the Royal Bahamas Defense Force has reported apprehending migrants from other parts of the world, including from Colombia and Ecuador earlier this month. 

On Friday, the Coast Guard found 88 Haitians in an overloaded sail freighter west of Great Inagua, Bahamas. 

“Navigating the Florida straits, Windward and Mona Passages … is extremely dangerous and can result in loss of life,” the Coast Guard said in a statement last weekend. 

Last July, the Coast Guard rescued 13 people after their boat capsized off Key West as Tropical Storm Elsa approached.

The survivors said they had left Cuba with 22 people aboard. Nine went missing in the water. 

 

your ad here

State Department Releases Annual Trafficking in Persons Report

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated human trafficking, the U.S. State Department said in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report released Tuesday. 

“This year’s Trafficking in Persons Report sends a strong message to the world that global crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and enduring discriminatory policies and practices, have a disproportionate effect on individuals already oppressed by other injustices,” U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in the report’s introduction.

“These challenges further compound existing vulnerabilities to exploitation, including human trafficking,” he said. 

In the report, Blinken calls for other countries to join the United States to improve “our collective efforts to comprehensively address human trafficking.” 

He said doing so requires mitigating “harmful practices and policies that cause socioeconomic or political vulnerabilities that traffickers often prey on.” 

The report said the COVID-19 pandemic has brought “unprecedented repercussions for human rights and economic development globally, including in human trafficking.” 

“Governments across the world diverted resources toward the pandemic, often at the expense of anti-trafficking efforts, resulting in decreased protection measures and service provision for victims, reduction of preventative efforts, and hindrances to investigations and prosecutions of traffickers,” the report said. 

The report explained that those involved in anti-trafficking efforts “found ways to adapt and forged new relationships to overcome the challenges.” It added that traffickers were also adept in altering their methods. 

Some specific cases mentioned in the report include examples in India and Nepal in which young poor girls left school to help support their families due to the pandemic’s economic impact. Some, the report said, were forced into marriage for money. 

The report cites incidents in the United States, the United Kingdom and Uruguay in which landlords forced female tenants who were economically hurt by the pandemic to have sex with them when the tenant could not pay rent. 

In Haiti, Niger and Mali, “gangs” working in camps for displaced people used lax security caused by the pandemic to force residents into sex-for-money acts. 

In Myanmar (formerly Burma), which has been roiled by COVID-19 and political unrest, the report said 94% of households saw a decline in income, leaving some members vulnerable to sex trafficking. 

“If there is one thing we have learned in the last year, it is that human trafficking does not stop during a pandemic,” Kari Johnstone, senior official and principal deputy director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said in the report’s introduction.

“The concurrence of the increased number of individuals at risk, traffickers’ ability to capitalize on competing crises, and the diversion of resources to pandemic response efforts has resulted in an ideal environment for human trafficking to flourish and evolve,” Johnstone said. 

 

your ad here

COVID Cases Surge Among US Children as Omicron Sweeps America

In mid-January the average number of daily new COVID cases in the U.S. fluctuated between 750,000 and 800,000, according to the CDC COVID Data Tracker. Children under five remain one of the most vulnerable groups since they cannot be vaccinated yet. In the first week of January, over half a million young children were diagnosed with COVID-19, an 80% increase compared to late December 2021. Mariia Prus has the story, narrated by Anna Rice. Video editor – Kim Weeks.

your ad here

Delay in Creating New US Cybersecurity Board Prompts Concern

It’s a key part of President Joe Biden’s plans to fight major ransomware attacks and digital espionage campaigns: creating a board of experts that would investigate major incidents to see what went wrong and try to prevent the problems from happening again — much like a transportation safety board does with plane crashes.

But eight months after Biden signed an executive order creating the Cyber Safety Review Board it still hasn’t been set up. That means critical tasks haven’t been completed, including an investigation of the massive SolarWinds espionage campaign first discovered more than a year ago. Russian hackers stole data from several federal agencies and private companies.

Some supporters of the new board say the delay could hurt national security and comes amid growing concerns of a potential conflict with Russia over Ukraine that could involve nation-state cyberattacks. The FBI and other federal agencies recently released an advisory — aimed particularly at critical infrastructure like utilities — on Russian state hackers’ methods and techniques.

“We will never get ahead of these threats if it takes us nearly a year to simply organize a group to investigate major breaches like SolarWinds,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Such a delay is detrimental to our national security and I urge the administration to expedite its process.”

Biden’s order, signed in May, gives the board 90 days to investigate the SolarWinds hack once it’s established. But there’s no timeline for creating the board itself, a job designated to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

In response to questions from The Associated Press, DHS said in a statement it was far along in setting it up and anticipated a “near-term announcement,” but did not address why the process has taken so long.

Scott Shackelford, the cybersecurity program chair at Indiana University and an advocate for creating a cyber review board, said having a rigorous study about what happened in a past hack like SolarWinds is a way of helping prevent similar attacks.

“It sure is taking, my goodness, quite a while to get it going,” Shackelford said. “It’s certainly past time where we could see some positive benefits from having it stood up.”

The Biden administration has made improving cybersecurity a top priority and taken steps to bolster defenses, but this is not the first time lawmakers have been unhappy with the pace of progress. Last year several lawmakers complained it took the administration too long to name a national cyber director, a new position created by Congress.

The SolarWinds hack exploited vulnerabilities in the software supply-chain system and went undetected for most of 2020 despite compromises at a broad swath of federal agencies and dozens of companies, primarily telecommunications and information technology providers. The hacking campaign is named SolarWinds after the U.S. software company whose product was exploited in the first-stage infection of that effort.

The hack highlighted the Russians’ skill at getting to high-level targets. The AP previously reported that SolarWinds hackers had gained access to emails belonging to the then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

The Biden administration has kept many of the details about the cyberespionage campaign hidden.

 

The Justice Department, for instance, said in July that 27 U.S. attorney offices around the country had at least one employee’s email account compromised during the hacking campaign. It did not provide details about what kind of information was taken and what impact such a hack may have had on ongoing cases.

The New York-based staff of the DOJ Antitrust Division also had files stolen by the SolarWinds hackers, according to one former senior official briefed on the hack who was not authorized to speak about it publicly and requested anonymity. That breach has not previously been reported. The Antitrust Division investigates private companies and has access to highly sensitive corporate data.

The federal government has undertaken reviews of the SolarWinds hack. The Government Accountability Office issued a report this month on the SolarWinds hack and another major hacking incident that found there was sometimes a slow and difficult process for sharing information between government agencies and the private sector, The National Security Council also conducted a review of the SolarWinds hack last year, according to the GAO report.

But having the new board conduct an independent, thorough examination of the SolarWinds hack could identify inconspicuous security gaps and issues that others may have missed, said Christopher Hart, a former National Transportation Safety Board chairman who has advocated for the creation of a cyber review board.

“Most of the crashes that the NTSB really goes after … are ones that are a surprise even to the security experts,” Hart said. “They weren’t really obvious things, they were things that really took some deep digging to figure out what went wrong.”

your ad here

White House Girds for Possible Russia Action in Ukraine

Washington has put 8,500 military personnel on heightened alert for possible deployment to Europe and will evacuate some embassy personnel from Ukraine, as tensions rise between Russia and NATO countries over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s continued mobilization of troops near the Ukrainian border. VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from Washington.

your ad here

Guinea, Vanuatu Have UN Vote Restored After Paying Dues 

Guinea and Vanuatu had their ability to vote at the United Nations restored on Monday, having been denied the right at the beginning of the month over their failure to pay their dues to the world body, a UN spokeswoman said. 

“The General Assembly took note that Guinea, Iran and Vanuatu have made the payments necessary to reduce their arrears below the amounts specified in Article 19 of the Charter,” U.N. spokeswoman Paulina Kubiak said. 

“This means that they can resume voting in the General Assembly,” she said. 

Under Article 19, any country can have their voting rights in the General Assembly suspended if their payment arrears are equal to or greater than the contribution due for the past two full years. 

The payment Friday of more than $18 million by Iran, via an account in Seoul and most likely with the approval of the United States, which has imposed heavy financial sanctions on Tehran, had been announced at the end of last week by UN sources and confirmed by South Korea.

For their part, Guinea had to pay at least $40,000 and Vanuatu at least $194 to recover their right to vote.

Kubiak later added three other countries that lost their U.N. voting rights in early January had also recovered them after paying the minimum arrears required last week. 

Those countries were Sudan, which had to pay about $300,000, Antigua and Barbuda, which owed some $37,000 and Congo-Brazzaville, with around $73,000 in arrears, said the spokeswoman. 

On the other hand, Venezuela, which is facing a minimum payment of nearly $40 million, and Papua New Guinea, which must pay just over $13,000, remain deprived of the right to vote, according to the U.N.

They are the only two countries out of the 193 members of the United Nations that will not be able to participate in votes this year.

your ad here

Biden Administration Considers Technology Sanctions if Russia Invades Ukraine

In the months since Russia began massing troops on the border of Ukraine, the Biden administration has, on multiple occasions, warned that any further aggression by Moscow toward its neighbor would be met with unprecedented levels of sanctions. Now, the White House appears to be dropping some specific hints about what those sanctions might look like. 

 

According to multiple confirmed media reports, the administration has begun laying the groundwork for a ban on the sale of high-technology products containing U.S.-made components or software to Russia.

 

The plan echoes steps the Trump administration took against the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei in 2020, barring vendors from selling the company semiconductors it needed to produce mobile telephone handsets. The ban had devastating consequences for Huawei’s business. Once the world leader in smartphone sales, it has fallen to 10th overall since the ban was put in place. 

 

The extent to which the administration intends to cut off Russian supplies of high-tech gear is unclear, and that’s probably intentional, experts said. 

 

“As with any sort of major event, or crisis, or potential invasion, government leaders want options … from strongest to weakest and everything in the middle, in terms of actions that can be taken,” Kevin Wolf, a former assistant secretary of Commerce for export administration in the department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, told VOA. 

 

Wolf, now a partner with the law firm Akin Gump in Washington, said that the administration is unlikely to signal exactly what action it will take unless Russia forces its hand by trying to take over more of Ukraine’s territory.

 

In 2014, in an earlier invasion, Russia took control of Crimea, a region of Ukraine, and continues to support local militias that control parts of the country’s Donbass region. 

 

Extraterritorial reach 

The U.S. appears to be considering the application of a new doctrine, the foreign direct product rule, to Russia. First put forward under the Trump administration, the rule would make it illegal under U.S. law for any entity in the world to sell high-technology equipment to Russia if that equipment was made or tested using U.S. technology. 

 

Theoretically, that could apply to virtually any product in the world that contains semiconductors, given the prevalence of U.S. technology and software involved in the devices’ manufacturing process. 

 

The rule relies on the implicit threat that companies that rely on U.S. technology or software to produce their products — even if the physical components of the products themselves originate outside the U.S. — could find themselves cut off from crucial licenses or equipment if they refuse to honor the U.S. export ban. 

 

The extreme reach of the rule, into the business dealings of non-U.S. firms, makes it politically fraught, according to Jim Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

 

However, speaking with VOA, Lewis said, “Using force against Ukraine really justifies it.” 

 

‘No more iPhones for Russia’ 

The U.S. has a wide range of options when it comes to blocking the transfer of technology to Russia, both in terms of the entities within Russia that the sanctions affect and the companies outside Russia that would be subject to them. (The U.S. already has export controls in place that target Russia’s defense sector, so anything the Biden administration applies would be in addition to those existing sanctions.) 

 

At the more targeted end of the spectrum, the administration could identify specific companies, making it illegal to sell U.S. technology to them. More broadly, the U.S. could impose sectorwide restrictions, barring the export of technology to, for example, the Russian civil aviation industry.

 

At the far end of the spectrum would be a flat-out ban on the sale of all U.S.-related technology to Russia.

 

“If they go for the maximum approach, that means no more iPhones for Russia,” said Lewis, of CSIS. 

 

Pushing Moscow toward China? 

If the U.S. does move forward with extensive technological sanctions against Russia, it will be difficult for Moscow to fill the gap with domestic production, said Jeffrey Edmonds, a senior analyst at the security think tank CNA. 

“Russia has always been fairly weak when it comes to things like microchips, microelectronics and electronics in general,” Edmonds told VOA. “That’s coupled with the fact that Russia has a very weak entrepreneurial system, in that most of the technology companies in that whole sector are really run by government-sponsored organizations that are highly inefficient and subject to high levels of corruption.” 

 

The result could be to push Moscow toward China, which has already been working to create a domestic manufacturing base that, in the future, might be able to provide Russia with homegrown equipment that would render U.S. sanctions ineffective. 

 

In an email exchange with VOA, research analysts Megan Hogan and Abigail Dahlman, at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, pointed out that United Nations data indicate that Russia already imports some 68% of its consumer IT products from China. 

 

“In the short term, the application of the (foreign direct product) rule will provide the Chinese government with further evidence of Western powers, particularly the U.S., meddling in Eastern affairs, validating the Chinese government’s … anti-foreign sanctions measures and further straining U.S.-China relations,” Hogan and Dahlman wrote. “Chinese tech companies will likely be forced to choose between access to the U.S. market and access to the Chinese market, with penalties associated with either decision.” 

 

They continued, “In the long term, the U.S. risks expediting China’s development of its own domestic semiconductor industry. China’s largest chip manufacturer, SMIC (Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation), is currently years behind its competitors in terms of its manufacturing technology and capacity. While China is already making moves to improve its domestic semiconductor manufacturing (as is the U.S.), U.S. technology sanctions on Russia are likely to expedite the process at the cost of the American semiconductor industry.” 

 

your ad here

US Stocks Stage Dramatic Intraday Recovery 

Following the worst week for U.S. stocks since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, market volatility continued Monday — partly due to worries about Russian military movements near Ukraine.  

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 100 points after six consecutive days of losses. For most of Monday’s session, it appeared there would be a significant seventh day of losses, with the benchmark index in a free-fall, dropping 1,100 points (3.3%) before staging an extraordinary recovery.  

It was the sharpest one-day comeback for the Dow and the S&P 500 index since October 2008.  

The tech-laden Nasdaq composite closed 0.6% higher earlier in the day, trading more than 4% lower.  

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization announced Monday it is dispatching ships and jet fighters to eastern Europe following the increase in Russian military forces near Ukraine.  

The U.S. Defense Department also announced Monday it has placed 8,500 troops on standby for possible deployment to central and eastern Europe to bolster NATO defenses. The previous day, the State Department instructed the families of U.S. diplomats in Ukraine to leave the country.  

“The market already had downward momentum. Throwing in some geopolitical headlines was essentially another reason to sell,” according to Tom Essaye, president of Sevens Report Research. 

Investors have been anxiously eyeing anticipated action by the Federal Reserve to stem inflation because interest rate hikes could throttle growth for the U.S. economy.  

A decision on interest rates by the Fed is expected on Wednesday.  

The remarkable afternoon turnaround for the stock market followed a U.S. Treasury auction of two-year notes. 

“There was a lot of demand for that Treasury auction that came out at 1 p.m.,” Essaye told VOA. “People around the market looked and said, ‘Wow, maybe bond investors and traders aren’t quite as nervous about the Fed going crazy on rate hikes as everybody else is.’” 

The White House brushed off concern about the market volatility.  

“We focus on the trends of the economy, not any one day,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a routine briefing Monday.  

“The market is up about 15%” compared to when Joe Biden took over from Donald Trump as U.S. president, noted Psaki, adding that “unlike his predecessor, the president does not look at the stock market as a means by which to judge the economy.” 

your ad here

US Supreme Court to Hear Challenges to Race-Based College Admissions 

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said it will hear two cases that could determine if race can be used as a factor for college admission. 

The cases, brought by the conservative group Students for Fair Admissions, targets Harvard, the country’s oldest private school, and the University of North Carolina, one of the nation’s oldest public schools. 

The group maintains Harvard discriminates by using a quota-like system that disproportionately rejects qualified Asian applicants thus violating their civil rights. 

“Harvard’s mistreatment of Asian-American applicants is appalling,” the plaintiffs wrote in their brief in the Harvard case. “That Harvard engages in racial balancing and ignores race-neutral alternatives also proves that Harvard does not use race as a last resort.” 

Harvard says race is only one consideration for admission. 

“Harvard does not automatically award race-based tips but rather considers race only in a flexible and non-mechanical way; consideration of race benefits only highly qualified candidates; and Harvard does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants,” the school wrote the court in its brief. 

At UNC, Students for Fair Admissions is demanding a colorblind admissions process. 

“Public schools have no legitimate interest in maintaining a precise racial balance,” Students for Fair Admissions wrote in its brief to the court.

Both cases are seen as landmark challenges to affirmative action policies in university admissions. Affirmative action seeks to address disadvantages and discrimination certain groups have historically faced in America and ensure equal access of opportunity in education, employment and other areas. 

 

UNC Charlotte’s website says it enrolls “a diverse, competitive class of scholars” each year and that the university prides itself “on being one of the most diverse public universities” in the state. The site adds: “Having a diverse student body gives our students the opportunity to learn from other students from different backgrounds and cultures … to create a holistic and informed academic and social experience.” 

 

Institutions of higher learning that prioritize achieving racially-diverse student bodies have at times been accused of watering down admissions criteria for certain minority applicants and, in effect, penalizing more qualified applicants from other groups. 

 

Chief Justice John Roberts has been an outspoken critic of affirmative action, famously declaring in a 2006 opinion, “It is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race.” 

 

The cases will likely be heard during the Supreme Court’s 2022 term, which starts in October. 

Some information in this report comes from Reuters. 

your ad here

Trial Begins for Cops Accused of Violating George Floyd’s Rights 

The federal trial for three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights as Derek Chauvin pinned the Black man’s neck to the street began Monday with opening statements, after a jury of 18 people was swiftly picked last week.

J. Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are broadly charged with depriving Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority. All three are charged for failing to provide Floyd with medical care and Thao and Kueng face an additional count for failing to stop Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter in state court last year. 

Legal experts say prosecutors have to prove Kueng, Lane and Thao willfully violated Floyd’s constitutional rights, while defense attorneys are likely to blame Chauvin for Floyd’s murder, which was videotaped and triggered worldwide protests, violence and a reexamination of racism and policing.

Floyd, 46, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pressed him to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes while Floyd was facedown, handcuffed and gasping for air. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down his legs. Thao kept bystanders from intervening. 

Attorneys for the Floyd family have said bystander video shows that the three officers “directly contributed to [Floyd’s] death and failed to intervene to stop the senseless murder.” 

On Thursday, 18 people were chosen for the jury; 12 will deliberate and six will be alternates. Two of the jurors — one expected to deliberate and one alternate — appear to be of Asian descent. The rest appear to be white. The jurors include people from the Twin Cities area, the suburbs and southern Minnesota. The court declined to provide demographic information. 

Federal prosecutions of officers involved in on-duty killings are rare. Prosecutors face a high legal standard to show that an officer willfully deprived someone of their constitutional rights. Essentially, prosecutors must prove that the officers knew what they were doing was wrong, but did it anyway. 

The indictment charges Thao, who is Hmong American; Lane, who is white; and Kueng, who is Black, with willfully depriving Floyd of the right to be free from an officer’s deliberate indifference to his medical needs. The indictment says the three men saw Floyd clearly needed medical care and failed to aid him.

Thao and Kueng are also charged with a second count alleging they willfully violated Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not stopping Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. It’s not clear why Lane is not mentioned in that count, but evidence shows he asked twice whether Floyd should be rolled on his side.

Both counts allege the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.

U.S. District Judge Magnuson told jurors that the trial could last four weeks. It’s not known whether any of the three officers will testify. It’s also not clear whether Chauvin will testify, though many experts who spoke to The Associated Press believe he won’t.

Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a separate state trial in June on charges they aided and abetted both murder and manslaughter.

your ad here

New Conservative Target: Race as Factor in COVID Treatment

Some conservatives are taking aim at policies that allow doctors to consider race as a risk factor when allocating scarce COVID-19 treatments, saying the protocols discriminate against white people. 

The wave of infections brought on by the omicron variant and a shortage of treatments have focused attention on the policies. 

Medical experts say the opposition is misleading. Health officials have long said there is a strong case for considering race as one of many risk factors in treatment decisions. And there is no evidence that race alone is being used to decide who gets medicine.

The issue came to the forefront last week after Fox News host Tucker Carlson, former President Donald Trump and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio jumped on the policies. In recent days, conservative law firms have pressured a Missouri-based health care system, Minnesota and Utah to drop their protocols and sued New York state over allocation guidelines or scoring systems that include race as a risk factor.

JP Leider, a senior fellow in the Division of Health Policy and Management at the University of Minnesota who helped develop that state’s allocation criteria, noted that prioritization has been going on for some time because there aren’t enough treatments to go around.

“You have to pick who comes first,” Leider said. “The problem is we have extremely conclusive evidence that (minorities) across the United States are having worse COVID outcomes compared to white folks. … Sometimes it’s acceptable to consider things like race and ethnicity when making decisions about when resources get allocated at a societal level.”

Since the pandemic began, health care systems and states have been grappling with how to best distribute treatments. The problem has only grown worse as the omicron variant has packed hospitals with COVID-19 patients.

Considerable evidence suggests that COVID-19 has hit certain racial and ethnic groups harder than whites. Research shows that people of color are at a higher risk of severe illness, are more likely to be hospitalized and are dying from COVID-19 at younger ages.

Data also show that minorities have been missing out on treatments. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published an analysis of 41 health care systems that found that Black, Asian and Hispanic patients are less likely than whites to receive outpatient antibody treatment.

Omicron has rendered two widely available antibody treatments ineffective, leaving only one, which is in short supply.

The Food and Drug Administration has given health care providers guidance on when that treatment, sotrovimab, should be used, including a list of medical conditions that put patients at high risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19. The FDA’s guidance says other factors such as race or ethnicity might also put patients at higher risk. 

The CDC’s list of high-risk underlying conditions notes that age is the strongest risk factor for severe disease and lists more than a dozen medical conditions. It also suggests that doctors and nurses “carefully consider potential additional risks of COVID-19 illness for patients who are members of certain racial and ethnic minority groups.” 

State guidelines generally recommend that doctors give priority for the drugs to those at the highest risk, including cancer patients, transplant recipients and people who have lung disease or are pregnant. Some states, including Wisconsin, have implemented policies that bar race as a factor, but others have allowed it.

St. Louis-based SSM Health, which serves patients in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin, required patients to score 20 points on a risk calculator to qualify for COVID-19 antibody treatment. Non-whites automatically got seven points.

State health officials in Utah adopted a similar risk calculator that grants people two points if they’re not white. Minnesota’s health department guidelines automatically assigned two points to minorities. Four points were enough to qualify for treatment.

New York state health officials’ guidelines authorize antiviral treatments if patients meet five criteria. One is having “a medical condition or other factors that increase their risk for severe illness.” One of those factors is being a minority, according to the guidelines.

The protocols have become a talking point for Republicans after The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by political commentators John Judis and Ruy Teixeira this month complaining that New York’s policy is unfair, unjustified and possibly illegal. Carlson jumped on Utah’s and Minnesota’s policies last week, saying “you win if you’re not white.”

Alvin Tillery, a political scientist at Northwestern University, called the issue a winning political strategy for Trump and Republicans looking to motivate their predominantly white base ahead of midterm elections in November. He said conservatives are twisting the narrative, noting that race is only one of a multitude of factors in every allocation policy.

“It does gin up their people, gives them a chance in elections,” Tillery said. 

After the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative law firm based in Madison, sent a letter to SSM Health on Friday demanding that it drop race from its risk calculator, SSM responded that it already did so last year as health experts’ understanding of COVID-19 evolved.

“While early versions of risk calculators across the nation appropriately included race and gender criteria based on initial outcomes, SSM Health has continued to evaluate and update our protocols weekly to reflect the most up-to-date clinical evidence available,” the company said in a statement. “As a result, race and gender criteria are no longer utilized.”

America First Legal, a conservative-leaning law firm based in Washington, D.C., filed a federal lawsuit Sunday against New York demanding that the state remove race from its allocation criteria. The same firm warned Minnesota and Utah last week that they should drop race from their preference factors or face lawsuits.

Erin Silk, a spokeswoman for New York state’s health department, declined to comment on the lawsuit. She said the state’s guidance is based on CDC guidelines and that race is one of many factors that doctors should consider when deciding who gets treatment. 

She stressed that doctors should consider a patient’s total medical history and that no one is refused treatment because of race or any other demographic qualifier.

Minnesota health officials dropped race from the state’s criteria a day or two before receiving America Legal First’s demands, Leider said. They said in a statement that they’re committed to serving all Minnesotans equitably and are constantly reviewing their policies. The statement did not mention the letter from America Legal First. Leider said the state is now picking treatment recipients through a lottery. 

Utah dropped race and ethnicity from its risk score calculator on Friday, among other changes, citing new federal guidance and the need to make sure classifications comply with federal law. The state’s health department said that instead of using those as factors in eligibility for treatments, it would “work with communities of color to improve access to treatments” in other ways.

Leider finds the criticism of the race-inclusive policies disingenuous. 

“It’s easy to bring in identity politics and set up choices between really wealthy folks of one type and folks of other types,” he said. “It’s hard to take seriously those kinds of comparisons. They don’t seem very fair to reality.”

your ad here

Assange Wins First Stage in Effort to Appeal US Extradition

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday won the first stage of his effort to overturn a U.K. ruling that opened the door for his extradition to U.S. to stand trial on espionage charges.

The High Court in London gave Assange permission to appeal the case to the U.K. Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court must agree to accept the case before it can move forward.

“Make no mistake, we won today in court,” Assange’s fiancee, Stella Moris, said outside the courthouse, noting that he remains in custody at Belmarsh Prison in London.  

“We will fight this until Julian is free,” she added.

The Supreme Court normally takes about eight sitting weeks after an application is submitted to decide whether to accept an appeal, the court says on its website.  

The decision is the latest step in Assange’s long battle to avoid a trial in the U.S. on a series of charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents more than a decade ago.

Just over a year ago, a district court judge in London rejected a U.S. extradition request on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. U.S. authorities later provided assurances that the WikiLeaks founder wouldn’t face the severe treatment his lawyers said would put his physical and mental health at risk.  

The High Court last month overturned the lower court’s decision, saying that the U.S. promises were enough to guarantee Assange would be treated humanely.

Those assurances were the focus of Monday’s ruling by the High Court.  

Assange’s lawyers are seeking to appeal because the U.S. offered its assurances after the lower court made its ruling. But the High Court overturned the lower court ruling, saying that the judge should have given the U.S. the opportunity to offer the assurances before she made her final ruling.

The High Court gave Assange permission to appeal so the Supreme Court can decide “in what circumstances can an appellate court receive assurances from a requesting state … in extradition proceedings.”

Assange’s lawyers have argued that the U.S. government’s pledge that Assange won’t be subjected to extreme conditions is meaningless because it’s conditional and could be changed at the discretion of American authorities.

The U.S. has asked British authorities to extradite Assange so he can stand trial on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse linked to WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of leaked military and diplomatic documents.

Assange, 50, has been held at the high-security Belmarsh Prison since 2019, when he was arrested for skipping bail during a separate legal battle. Before that, he spent seven years holed up inside Ecuador’s Embassy in London. Assange sought protection in the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.

American prosecutors say Assange unlawfully helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk.  

Lawyers for Assange argue that their client shouldn’t have been charged because he was acting as a journalist and is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that guarantees freedom of the press. They say the documents he published exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

your ad here

US Envoy: Iran Nuclear Agreement Unlikely without Release of US Prisoners

The United States is unlikely to strike an agreement with Iran to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal unless Tehran releases four U.S. citizens Washington says it is holding hostage, the lead U.S. nuclear negotiator told Reuters on Sunday. 

The official, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley, repeated the long-held U.S. position that the issue of the four people held in Iran is separate from the nuclear negotiations. 

He moved a step closer, however, to saying that their release was a precondition for a nuclear agreement. 

“They’re separate and we’re pursuing both of them. But I will say it is very hard for us to imagine getting back into the nuclear deal while four innocent Americans are being held hostage by Iran,” Malley told Reuters in an interview. 

“So even as we’re conducting talks with Iran indirectly on the nuclear file we are conducting, again indirectly, discussions with them to ensure the release of our hostages,” he said in Vienna, where talks are taking place on bringing Washington and Tehran back into full compliance with the deal. 

In recent years, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners, mostly on espionage and security-related charges. 

Rights groups have accused Iran of taking prisoners to gain diplomatic leverage, while Western powers have long demanded that Tehran free their citizens, who they say are political prisoners. 

Tehran denies holding people for political reasons. 

Message sent

Malley was speaking in a joint interview with Barry Rosen, a 77-year-old former U.S. diplomat who has been on hunger strike in Vienna to demand the release of U.S., British, French, German, Austrian and Swedish prisoners in Iran, and that no nuclear agreement be reached without their release. 

Rosen was one of more than 50 U.S. diplomats held during the 1979-1981 Iran hostage crisis. 

“I’ve spoken to a number of the families of the hostages who are extraordinarily grateful for what Mr. Rosen is doing but they also are imploring him to stop his hunger strike, as I am, because the message has been sent,” Malley said. 

Rosen said that after five days of not eating he was feeling weak and would heed those calls. 

“With the request from Special Envoy Malley and my doctors and others, we’ve agreed (that) after this meeting I will stop my hunger strike but this does not mean that others will not take up the baton,” Rosen said. 

The indirect talks between Iran and the United States on bringing both countries back into full compliance with the landmark 2015 nuclear deal are in their eighth round. Iran 

refuses to hold meetings with U.S. officials, meaning others shuttle between the two sides. 

The deal between Iran and major powers lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities that extended the time it would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it chose to. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons. 

Then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018, reimposing punishing economic sanctions against Tehran. Iran responded by breaching many of the deal’s nuclear restrictions, to the point that Western powers say the deal will soon have been hollowed out completely.   

Leverage

Asked if Iran and the United States might negotiate directly, Malley said: “We’ve heard nothing to that effect. We’d welcome it.” 

The four U.S. citizens include Iranian American businessman Siamak Namazi, 50, and his father Baquer, 85, both of whom have been convicted of “collaboration with a hostile government.” 

Namazi remains in prison. His father was released on medical grounds in 2018 and his sentence later reduced to time served. 

While the elder Namazi is no longer jailed, a lawyer for the family says he is effectively barred from leaving Iran. 

“Senior Biden administration officials have repeatedly told us that although the potential Iranian nuclear and hostage deals are independent and must be negotiated on parallel tracks, they will not just conclude the nuclear deal by itself,” said Jared Genser, pro bono counsel to the Namazi family. 

“Otherwise, all leverage to get the hostages out will be lost,” he added. 

The others are environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 66, who is also British, and businessman Emad Shargi, 57. 

your ad here

More Women, Minorities Take Up Truck Driving Due to High Demand

A shortage of truck drivers in the U.S. has led to all kinds of troubles for consumers and businesses. That has led to some trucking companies doing all they can to get new drivers on the road. VOA’s Aunshuman Apte has more from New York City.

Camera: Aunshuman Apte                       Produced by: Aunshuman Apte 

your ad here

Yellowstone Park Visits Hit Record in 2021, Straining Staff

A record number of visitors flocked to Yellowstone National Park last year despite fewer hotel rooms and campsites being available because of the coronavirus pandemic and construction projects.

About 4.86 million visits were tallied in 2021, breaking the prior record set in 2016. It’s a million more people than visited in 2020. 

Known worldwide for its wolves, bears and other wildlife and thermal features such as the Old Faithful geyser, Yellowstone will mark its 150th anniversary in 2022. It straddles the borders of northwestern Wyoming, southern Montana and eastern Idaho.

Visits to national parks across the U.S. have been trending up in recent years. Others such as Utah’s Zion National Park also set new visitor records in 2021 as tourism bounced back from the shutdowns imposed during the early days of the pandemic.

At Yellowstone, a rush of people from May through September last year strained employees and park services. It came as the park was understaffed through the summer because of worker housing caps and difficulty recruiting new employees, park officials have said.

There were also 20% fewer campsites and hotel rooms in 2021 compared to previous years. That meant hundreds of thousands of visitors left the park at night and would re-enter after staying elsewhere. Each time they entered the park counted as a separate visit.

Park officials said they are trying to find a way to differentiate between new visits and people who enter the park multiple times on the same trip.

Yellowstone’s road corridors and parking lots can get crowded, but they make up less than one-tenth of 1% of its 8,903 square kilometers (3,400 square miles) — an area about 150 times the size of New York’s Manhattan Island. 

Most visitors stay within a half-mile of those roads, according to park officials. Park crowds drop sharply during winter when much of it is inaccessible except by snowmobile or skiing.

your ad here

Yellowstone Park Visits Hit Record in 2021, Straining Staff

A record number of visitors flocked to Yellowstone National Park last year despite fewer hotel rooms and campsites being available because of the coronavirus pandemic and construction projects.

About 4.86 million visits were tallied in 2021, breaking the prior record set in 2016. It’s a million more people than visited in 2020. 

Known worldwide for its wolves, bears and other wildlife and thermal features such as the Old Faithful geyser, Yellowstone will mark its 150th anniversary in 2022. It straddles the borders of northwestern Wyoming, southern Montana and eastern Idaho.

Visits to national parks across the U.S. have been trending up in recent years. Others such as Utah’s Zion National Park also set new visitor records in 2021 as tourism bounced back from the shutdowns imposed during the early days of the pandemic.

At Yellowstone, a rush of people from May through September last year strained employees and park services. It came as the park was understaffed through the summer because of worker housing caps and difficulty recruiting new employees, park officials have said.

There were also 20% fewer campsites and hotel rooms in 2021 compared to previous years. That meant hundreds of thousands of visitors left the park at night and would re-enter after staying elsewhere. Each time they entered the park counted as a separate visit.

Park officials said they are trying to find a way to differentiate between new visits and people who enter the park multiple times on the same trip.

Yellowstone’s road corridors and parking lots can get crowded, but they make up less than one-tenth of 1% of its 8,903 square kilometers (3,400 square miles) — an area about 150 times the size of New York’s Manhattan Island. 

Most visitors stay within a half-mile of those roads, according to park officials. Park crowds drop sharply during winter when much of it is inaccessible except by snowmobile or skiing.

your ad here