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Rep. Ilhan Omar calls for ‘appropriate action’ to be taken against Rep. Lauren Boebert after she shared anti-Muslim story

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 08:12

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. Washington Post photo by Katherine Frey

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., called for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to take “appropriate action” against Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., Friday after Boebert shared an anti-Muslim story about Omar during Thanksgiving break.

During an event in her Colorado district, Boebert told the audience about an encounter with Omar in the Capitol, describing another encounter with Omar as “not my first ‘Jihad Squad’ moment,” according to a video posted on Twitter.

“I was getting into an elevator with one of my staffers,” Boebert told the laughing crowd. “You know, we’re leaving the Capitol and we’re going back to my office and we get an elevator and I see a Capitol police officer running to the elevator. I see fret all over his face, and he’s reaching, and the door’s shutting, like I can’t open it, like what’s happening. I look to my left, and there she is. Ilhan Omar. And I said, ‘Well, she doesn’t have a backpack, we should be fine.’ "

On Twitter on Friday, Omar called for Boebert to be disciplined by House leaders.

“Saying I am a suicide bomber is no laughing matter,” Omar tweeted. “@GOPLeader and @SpeakerPelosi need to take appropriate action, normalizing this bigotry not only endangers my life but the lives of all Muslims. Anti-Muslim bigotry has no place in Congress.”

Omar had, earlier on Thursday, said the story was made up and called Boebert a “buffoon.”

“Anti-Muslim bigotry isn’t funny & shouldn’t be normalized,” Omar said on Twitter. “Congress can’t be a place where hateful and dangerous Muslims tropes get no condemnation.”

In a statement, Democratic congressional leaders - including Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland - said Boebert has repeatedly made targeted Islamophobic comments against Omar and she should retract her latest story, which they said is fictionalized.

“This language and behavior are far beneath the standard of integrity, dignity and decency with which the Constitution and our constituents require that we act in the House,” they said.

Democratic leadership also called on McCarthy to correct Boebert.

“Leader McCarthy and the entire House Republican Leadership’s repeated failure to condemn inflammatory and bigoted rhetoric from members of their conference is outrageous,” they said. “We call on the Republican Leadership to address this priority with the Congresswoman and to finally take real action to confront racism.”

On Friday, Boebert tweeted an apology, saying she had reached out to Omar.

“I apologize to anyone in the Muslim community I offended with my comment about Rep. Omar. I have reached out to her office to speak with her directly,” Boebert tweeted. “There are plenty of policy differences to focus on without this unnecessary distraction.”

Boebert’s apology came after her comments drew bipartisan criticism online, with Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., calling her “TRASH” on Twitter and retweeting a message in support of Boebert’s primary challenger, Marina Zimmerman.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., called Boebert’s comments “upsetting for many reasons.”

“Yes, it’s anti-Muslim, and [Omar] has a young child who will see this. Even worse, this slur will inspire more death threats to Ilhan and her family,” Swalwell tweeted. “[Boebert] should be held accountable but so too should @GOPLeader McCarthy who condones it.”

Spokesmen for Omar, Boebert and McCarthy did not immediately respond to requests for further comment on the episode.

Tips to set yourself up for success in your new job as a remote employee

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 07:40

Mary Smith started a new, remote job in June, and created a FaceTime co-working group. "My co-workers are my best friends," she said, "because I had the freedom to choose." She's pictured at her home on July 19, 2021. Photo by Nitashia Johnson for the Washington Post

The last time you began a new job, you arrived at the building early, shook your manager’s hand, sat through a half-day orientation under the watchful eye of an HR clerk, and cleaned out the debris your predecessor left at your new workstation. Before you finished your first day, you’d met a dozen co-workers. Several welcomed you aboard.

Monday you start your new job — remote. How do you set yourself up for success?

Get a running start

If you haven’t already, scour your new employer’s website and social media page.

If you lack expertise in any software programs or interaction tools you’ll use, locate online tutorials.

Set up your workspace for optimal productivity.

If you’re coming from a period of un- or underemployment, or you’ve grown overly casual as your interest in your now former job waned, you may need to set boundaries with family, friends or your own self. While remote work offers you flexibility, too much slack can douse your new job success.

[How employers can lure workers back to the office]

In-depth with your manager

When working remotely, it’s important to be proactive and take initiative. Because your manager influences your future, invest time and effort in developing a solid relationship.

Clarify your manager’s expectations and learn how you can most effectively work with and for him/her. Ask:

How would you prefer me to communicate with you?

Would you prefer me to text you questions as they come up or send you a “when’s a good time to connect?” email when I have several saved up?

What are my priorities?

What do you want me to accomplish in my first week and month?

Ask for regular meetings. During these meetings, ask “Is there anything you want me to stop or start doing? What am I doing that you want me to continue?” Keep your manager updated on the work you’re doing and progress you’re making.

Let your new manager know you’re prepared to work hard. Ask what tools and processes you need to learn. Ask for reports to read and short courses and webinars to take.

Ask if there are one or two individuals in addition to your manager for you to connect with so you won’t wear out your welcome with too many questions.

Find ways to connect

Connect with each of your teammates and ask four or five key questions. You need to know what’s the best time of day and way to communicate with them, whether email, phone or video chat.

Be aware that while you need them, some may see you as an interruption. Let them know you’re interested in and willing to help them when you can. During these conversations, be careful with statements that might be misinterpreted. Because you can’t read the emotional cues you’d pick up on in a face-to-face interaction, it can be easy to create offense. Thank them for spending time with you.

Realize it’s a new ecosystem

Even and especially if you feel like a stranger in a strange land, invest time and effort into getting a feel for your employer’s culture and team or department’s dynamics.

Learn who to go to for what and what resources you can access. Absorb your employer’s onboard materials and training documents.

Create your own cheat sheet with lists of co-worker and stakeholder names, and their areas of interests or responsibilities.

Finally, celebrate. May this be your best job ever.

Omicron brings COVID-19 vaccine inequity ‘home to roost’

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 07:38

A woman receives an AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine in Abuja, Nigeria, on Nov 19, 2021. The emergence of the new omicron variant and the world’s desperate and likely futile attempts to keep it at bay are reminders of what scientists have warned for months: The coronavirus will thrive as long as vast parts of the world lack vaccines. (AP Photo/Gbemiga Olamikan, File) (Gbemiga Olamikan/)

LONDON — The emergence of the new omicron variant and the world’s desperate and likely futile attempts to keep it at bay are reminders of what scientists have warned for months: The coronavirus will thrive as long as vast parts of the world lack vaccines.

The hoarding of limited COVID-19 shots by rich countries — creating virtual vaccine deserts in many poorer ones — doesn’t just mean risk for the parts of the world seeing shortages; it threatens the entire globe.

That’s because the more the disease spreads among unvaccinated populations, the more possibilities it has to mutate and potentially become more dangerous, prolonging the pandemic for everyone.

“The virus is a ruthless opportunist, and the inequity that has characterized the global response has now come home to roost,” said Dr. Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, one of the groups behind the U.N.-backed COVAX shot-sharing initiative.

Perhaps nowhere is the inequality more evident than in Africa, where under 7% of the population is vaccinated. South African scientists alerted the World Health Organization to the new omicron variant last week, though it may never be clear where it first originated. Researchers are now rushing to determine whether it is more infectious or able to evade current vaccines.

COVAX was supposed to avoid such inequality — but instead the initiative is woefully short of shots and has already abandoned its initial goal of 2 billion doses.

Even to reach its scaled-back target of distributing 1.4 billion doses by the end of 2021, it must ship more than 25 million doses every day. Instead, it has averaged just over 4 million a day since the beginning of October, with some days dipping below 1 million, according to an Associated Press analysis of the shipments.

Shipments in recent days have ramped up, but nowhere near the amount needed.

Meanwhile, richer nations often have a glut of shots, and many are now offering boosters — something the WHO has discouraged because every booster is essentially a dose that is not going to someone who’s never even gotten their first shot. Despite the U.N. health agency’s appeal to countries to declare a moratorium on booster shots until the end of the year, more than 60 countries are now administering them.

“What it highlights are the continuing and fundamental risks to everyone associated with not seriously addressing the inequalities still at play globally in the fight against disease and poor health,” said Dr. Osman Dar, director of the One Health Project at the Chatham House think tank.

Anna Marriott, health policy manager for Oxfam, said COVAX was limited from the outset after being pushed to the back of the vaccine queue by rich countries.

“The COVAX team may be delivering as fast as they can, but they can’t deliver vaccines they haven’t got,” Marriott said.

Just 13% of vaccines COVAX contracted for and 12% of promised donations have actually been delivered, according to calculations by the International Monetary Fund from mid-November. About a third of the vaccines dispensed by COVAX have been donations, according to the vaccine alliance known as Gavi, and the initiative is now partly a clearinghouse for those donated doses, the very situation it was set up to avoid.

Last week, COVAX sent out a news release praising a European Union pledge to ship 100 million vaccines to Africa by the end of the year — but only 1/20 of that amount was actually on planes.

Asked about the logistical challenges of distributing the other 94 million doses in only six weeks, Aurelia Nguyen, managing director of COVAX maintained that arrangements “are in place to move a vast number of doses between now and the end of the year.”

In a statement, she said the issue was ensuring that “conditions are right on the ground for doses to be administered.”

In minutes released ahead of an executive meeting this week, Gavi fretted that the perception that rich countries are dumping older or lesser vaccines on poor countries could undermine the whole project. On Monday, in a joint statement with WHO and the African Union among others, it admonished that “the majority of the donations to date have been ad hoc, provided with little notice and short shelf lives.”

Fury over dose dumping is already very real. In Malawi and South Sudan, tens of thousands of out-of-date doses were destroyed.

But it’s not just getting the vaccines into poorer countries that’s a problem, according to some experts. COVAX is “falling short on getting vaccines from the (airport) tarmac into people’s arms,” said Dr. Angela Wakhweya, senior director for health equity and rights at CARE.

Authorities in Congo, for instance, returned their entire COVAX shipment this summer when they realized they would not be able to administer doses before they expired.

In a “risk management” report on COVAX, Gavi warned that “poor absorption” of vaccines by developing countries could lead to “wastage” of some doses. One problem is logistics — just getting the doses in the right country at the right time. But just as important is the ability of often underfunded national health systems to distribute the shots where they’re most needed, along with syringes and other necessary gear. A third issue is persuading sometimes hesitant people to get the vaccines.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, however, has disputed distribution is a problem, saying the only obstacle to immunization in poor countries is supply.

Most COVAX doses distributed so far have been AstraZeneca’s vaccine, a shot that has yet to be authorized in the U.S. and whose botched rollout in Europe helped fuel anti-vaccine sentiment when the vaccine was linked to rare blood clots. The vaccines mostly used in the U.S. and much of Europe — made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — have only been available in tiny amounts via COVAX.

The U.S., which blocked vaccine sales overseas and exports of key ingredients for months, has donated 275 million doses in all, more than any other country but still less than a third of what the Biden administration pledged. The European Union, which has in general allowed vaccines manufactured in the bloc to be sold anywhere in the world, has actually delivered about a third of its 400 million promised doses.

Efforts to ramp up global production beyond a select group of manufacturers have stalled, which many activists and scientists blame on pharmaceutical companies’ opposition to waive intellectual property rights for the highly lucrative vaccines.

Given that the pandemic has so far not devastated Africa as many had initially feared, some scientists on the continent are now discussing whether to withdraw their vaccine requests.

“I think what Africa could do to really shame the world is to stop asking for vaccines,” said Christian Happi, a Nigerian virologist who sat on the scientific advisory board of CEPI. “The vaccines have not arrived, and anyways it may turn out that we don’t need them as much as the West.”

___

Hinnant reported from Paris. Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed from Washington.

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey stepping down as CEO

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 07:20

In this Oct. 28, 2020, file photo, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey appears on a screen as he speaks remotely during a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington. (Michael Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP, File) (Michael Reynolds/)

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey will step down as CEO of the social media platform, the company announced. He will be succeeded by Twitter’s current Chief Technology Officer Parag Agrawal.

Dorsey will remain on the board until his term expires in 2022.

Agrawal has been CTO since 2017 and at Twitter since 2011.

In a letter posted on his Twitter account, Dorsey said he was “really sad...yet really happy” about leaving the company and that it was his decision.

not sure anyone has heard but,

I resigned from Twitter pic.twitter.com/G5tUkSSxkl

— jack⚡️ (@jack) November 29, 2021

Dorsey has faced several distractions as CEO, starting with the fact that he’s also founder and CEO of the payments company Square. Critics have long complained that the arrangement has divided his attention to Twitter’s detriment.

Twitter shares rose 5% to $49.47 in morning trading after the announcement.

Dorsey became Twitter CEO in 2007, but was forced out the next year. He returned to the role in 2015.

While Twitter has high-profile users like politicians and celebrities and is a favorite of journalists, its user base lags far behind old rivals like Facebook and YouTube and newer ones like TikTok. It has just over 200 million daily active users, a common industry metric.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

Shares of Twitter are surging on a report that co-founder Jack Dorsey will step down as the company’s chief executive.

Twitter’s stock, which has consistently underperformed the market, jumped more than 10% at the opening bell Monday before trading was halted pending news.

CNBC first reported that Dorsey may step down soon, citing anonymous sources.

Twitter Inc. did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press early Monday. On Sunday, Dorsey sent the tweet “I love Twitter.”

Dorsey is also the top executive at Square, a financial payments company that he founded, and some big investors have openly questioned whether he can be effective leading both.

Last year, the company came to an agreement with two of those activist investors that kept Dorsey in the top job and gave a seat on the company board to Elliott Management Corp., which owned about 4% of Twitter’s stock, and another to Silver Lake.

Twitter was caught up in the heated political atmosphere leading up to the 2020 election. Former President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter, with Dorsey defending the move, saying the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and Trump’s tweets after the event resulted in a risk to public safety and created an “extraordinary and untenable circumstance” for the company. Trump sued the company, along with Facebook and YouTube, in July for alleged censorship.

The early days of Twitter began with a tweet sent by Dorsey on March 21, 2006, that read “just setting up my twttr.” Twitter went through a period of robust growth during its start, but as the growth slowed the San Francisco company began tweaking its format in a bid to make it easier and more engaging to use.

What we know and don’t know about omicron variant

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 07:11

Travelers wearing protective face masks arrive at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. Israel on Sunday approved barring entry to foreign nationals and the use of controversial technology for contact tracing as part of its efforts to clamp down on a new coronavirus variant. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit) (Ariel Schalit/)

The World Health Organization says it could still take some time to get a full picture of the threat posed by omicron, a new variant of the coronavirus as scientists worldwide scramble to assess its multiple mutations.

Stock markets swooned, some public gatherings got canceled, and countries across the globe suspended incoming flights after scientists in South Africa last week identified the new version that appears to have been behind a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in the country’s most populous province.

Over the weekend, the list of countries that have spotted the new variant in travelers grew. Portugal detected 13 cases linked to the new variant among members of a single soccer club — only one of whom had recently traveled to South Africa.

On Friday, WHO designated it as a “variant of concern,” its most serious designation of a COVID-19 variant, and called it “omicron” as the latest entry into its Greek alphabet classification system designed to avoid stigmatizing countries of origin and simplify understanding.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT OMICRON?

By Sunday, U.N. health agency issued a statement on omicron that boiled down to: We don’t know much yet.

It said it wasn’t clear whether omicron is more transmissible — more easily spread between people — compared to other variants like the highly transmissible delta variant. It said it wasn’t clear if infection with omicron causes more severe disease, even as it cited data from South Africa showing rising rates of hospitalization there — but that could just be because more people are getting infected with COVID-19, not specifically omicron.

From just over 200 new confirmed cases per day in recent weeks, South Africa saw the number of new daily cases rocket to more than 3,200 on Saturday, most in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

Now, up to 90% of the new cases in Gauteng are caused by it, according to Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform.

“There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with omicron are different from those from other variants,” WHO said. It said there’s no evidence — yet — that COVID vaccines, tests and treatments are any less effective against the new version.

WHY ARE SCIENTISTS WORRIED ABOUT THIS NEW VARIANT?

So far, the main difference with other variants appears to be that there may be an increased risk of reinfection with omicron — in other words, that people who’ve already had COVID-19 could get reinfected more easily.

The variant appears to have a high number of mutations — about 30 — in the coronavirus’ spike protein, which could affect how easily it spreads to people.

Some experts say that could mean that vaccine makers may have to adapt their products at some point.

Sharon Peacock, who has led genetic sequencing of COVID-19 in Britain at the University of Cambridge, said the data so far suggest the new variant has mutations “consistent with enhanced transmissibility,” but said that “the significance of many of the mutations is still not known.”

Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, described omicron as “the most heavily mutated version of the virus we have seen,” including potentially worrying changes never before seen all in the same virus.

WHAT SETS OMICRON APART?

Scientists know that omicron is genetically distinct from previous variants including the beta and delta variants, but don’t know if these genetic changes make it any more transmissible or dangerous. So far, there is no indication the variant causes more severe disease.

It will likely take weeks to sort out if omicron is more infectious and if vaccines are still effective against it.

Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London said it was “extremely unlikely” that current vaccines wouldn’t work, noting they are effective against numerous other variants.

Even though some of the genetic changes in omicron appear worrying, it’s still unclear if they will pose a public health threat. Some previous variants, like the beta variant, initially alarmed scientists but didn’t end up spreading very far.

“We don’t know if this new variant could get a toehold in regions where delta is,” said Peacock of the University of Cambridge. “The jury is out on how well this variant will do where there are other variants circulating.”

To date, delta is by far the most predominant form of COVID-19, accounting for more than 99% of sequences submitted to the world’s biggest public database.

HOW DID THIS NEW VARIANT ARISE?

The coronavirus mutates as it spreads and many new variants, including those with worrying genetic changes, often just die out. Scientists monitor COVID-19 sequences for mutations that could make the disease more transmissible or deadly, but they can’t determine that simply by looking at the virus.

Peacock said the variant “may have evolved in someone who was infected but could then not clear the virus, giving the virus the chance to genetically evolve,” in a scenario similar to how experts think the alpha variant — which was first identified in England — also emerged, by mutating in an immune-compromised person.

ARE TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS JUSTIFIED?

Depends on who you ask.

Israel is banning foreigners from entering the country and Morocco stopped all incoming international air travel. Scores of countries in Europe, North America, Africa and beyond restricted flights from southern Africa.

Given the recent rapid rise in COVID-19 in South Africa, restricting travel from the region is “prudent” and would buy authorities more time, said Neil Ferguson, an infectious diseases expert at Imperial College London.

But WHO noted that such restrictions are often limited in their effect and urged countries to keep borders open.

South Africa’s government said the country was being treated unfairly because it has advanced genomic sequencing and could detect the variant quicker and asked other countries to reconsider the travel bans.

Trump allies work to place supporters in key election posts across the country, spurring fears about future vote challenges

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 06:37

Election challengers seek entrance to a Detroit facility to observe the counting of absentee ballots on Nov. 4, 2020. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges (Salwan Georges/)

In Michigan, local GOP leaders have sought to reshape election canvassing boards by appointing members who expressed sympathy for former president Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 vote was rigged.

In two Pennsylvania communities, candidates who embraced election fraud allegations won races this month to become local voting judges and inspectors.

And in Colorado, 2020 doubters are urging their followers on conservative social media platforms to apply for jobs in election offices.

A year after local and state election officials came under immense pressure from Trump to subvert the results of the 2020 White House race, he and his supporters are pushing an ambitious plan to place Trump loyalists in key positions across the administration of U.S. elections.

The effort goes far beyond the former president’s public broadsides against well-known Republican state officials who certified President Biden’s victory, such as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. Citing the need to make elections more secure, Trump allies are also seeking to replace officials across the nation, including volunteer poll watchers, paid precinct judges, elected county clerks and state attorneys general, according to state and local officials, as well as rally speeches, social media posts and campaign appearances by those seeking the positions.

If they succeed, Trump and his allies could pull down some of the guardrails that prevented him from overturning Biden’s win by creating openings to challenge the results next time, election officials and watchdog groups say.

“The attacks right now are no longer about 2020,” said Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, D. “They’re about 2022 and 2024. It’s about chipping away at confidence and chipping away at the reality of safe and secure elections. And the next time there’s a close election, it will be easier to achieve their goals. That’s what this is all about.”

A spokesman for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.

Supporters of the former president who are seeking offices that would give them oversight of elections say they just want to make the system secure.

Voters have a right “to scrutinize the election process,” Kristina Karamo, a candidate for Michigan secretary of state, told several hundred demonstrators gathered on the lawn of the state Capitol in Lansing last month in support of a “forensic” audit of the 2020 results.

Karamo - who shot to prominence after making unsubstantiated allegations that she witnessed fraudulent voting as a poll challenger in Detroit - said one of her top priorities as the state’s top election administrator would be to “make sure every citizen across the state of Michigan’s voice is heard. That way illegal ballots do not nullify legal votes.”

Few states have seen more fervor for replacing election officials than Michigan, where the push extends from candidates for statewide office down to the most local level of election administration - county boards of canvassers, whose members served as bulwarks against Trump’s efforts in 2020.

One leader of the effort to challenge the 2020 vote in the state, West Michigan lawyer Matthew DePerno, is seeking the GOP nomination for attorney general. DePerno, who waged a failed legal battle over an election-night vote-counting error in Antrim County, has built his campaign around a vow to expose fraud.

“The elites in this state, the elected officials they don’t want you - the voter, the common man, the taxpayer - they don’t want you to see the voting data,” DePerno told the cheering crowd at the Lansing rally, adding: “The Democrats and the establishment don’t understand the power of the grass roots movement in Michigan.”

Neither DePerno nor Karamo responded to requests for comment.

Trump has endorsed both candidates, part of a wave of Republican contenders across the country who have embraced the former president’s false assertions about the 2020 election - including 10 running for secretary of state and eight running for attorney general, according to a tally by The Washington Post.


Matthew DePerno, who is seeking the GOP nomination for Michigan attorney general, addresses Trump supporters in Lansing on Oct. 12. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges (Salwan Georges/)

Earlier this year, the GOP-led Michigan Senate Oversight Committee issued a report that found no evidence of widespread or systematic fraud in Michigan’s 2020 election.

But the 2020 vote is such an animating force among Republican activists in Michigan that there is now intense focus in some large counties on the four-member canvassing boards charged with verifying the vote, certifying the results and transmitting the numbers to a state board for final certification.

These boards are typically made up of an even number of Republicans and Democrats, who in the past approached certification as a ministerial duty determined by the outcome of the popular vote.

But last fall, multiple Republican canvassers came under fire from pro-Trump forces for voting to certify the results. William Hartmann and Monica Palmer, the two Republican board members in Wayne County, home of Detroit, received calls directly from Trump, they later said in interviews.

Both initially voted not to certify, then reversed themselves after receiving promises that the vote would be audited. They then tried unsuccessfully to rescind their votes.

This year, Palmer was replaced with Robert Boyd, a Republican who said in an interview that he probably would not have voted to certify the 2020 results.

“No deals are to be made with an election,” Boyd said, referring to Hartmann’s and Palmer’s decision to certify in exchange for the pledge of an audit. “I wanted to make sure that it wouldn’t happen that way again.”

Boyd said he sought the post because “I am really interested in the integrity of elections, and I am a Christian, so I want to make sure that we do the best job we can and be as transparent as we can . . . so elections can be trusted.”

Hartmann said he regretted losing Palmer’s experience and expressed wariness about some of those being nominated to canvassing boards around the state.

“I am concerned about this,” Hartmann said in an interview in late October, before he was hospitalized this month with covid-19. “When you are on that board, you are sort of a nonpartisan. It doesn’t matter which party you are in, it matters how the numbers shake out. I am concerned that they are appointing people with strong views. We need to make decisions off the law. Not on gut emotion.”

Boyd was selected by the Wayne County Board of Commissioners from a pool of three people nominated by the county GOP committee to succeed Palmer, all of whom have expressed support for Trump’s false claims of fraud. The others were Josephine Brown, who has spoken publicly about attending the Jan. 6 rally in Washington to protest the outcome and has said she probably wouldn’t have certified the 2020 result; and Hima Kolanagireddy, whom Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani called as a witness to voter fraud at a legislative hearing last year in Lansing.

Kolanagireddy said in an interview that she withdrew her nomination because of the threatening environment. Brown did not respond to a request for comment. The Wayne County Republican Committee did not respond to email inquiries.

GOP officials also have replaced local canvassing board members in other key counties in the state, as the Detroit News first reported. In Michigan’s third-largest county, Macomb, Republican officials appointed to the canvassing board a former Republican poll challenger, Nancy Tiseo, who tweeted shortly after the 2020 election that Trump should suspend meetings of the electoral college and have “military tribunals” investigate claims about election fraud. Tiseo did not respond to a request for comment.

“This is a great big flashing red warning sign,” said Jeff Timmer, former chair of the Michigan Republican Party and a Trump critic. “The officials who fulfilled their legal duty after the last election are now being replaced by people who are pledging to throw a wrench in the gears of the next election. It tells you that they are planning nothing but chaos and that they have a strategy to disrupt the certification of the next election.”

In Genesee County, home of Flint, Michelle Voorheis, a 13-year Republican veteran of the county canvassing board, said in an interview that she believes the local GOP committee did not renominate her this year because she defended the outcome of the last election on social media.

“It makes me sad,” said Voorheis, who has participated in national and local GOP politics for decades and recently served as Genesee party chair. “I vouched for the integrity of the 2020 election, I answered peoples’ questions on Facebook and tried to explain there was no evidence” of widespread fraud.

She was replaced on the Board of Canvassers by Eric Stewart, a local pastor. In an email to The Post, Stewart did not address a question about his views on the 2020 election, but he said he was looking forward to working with the other election officials. “All I am focused on is doing the job I have been asked to do with the team members I will be working with,” he wrote.

The county clerk, Democrat John Gleason, said in an interview Friday that Stewart impressed him and had not raised questions about fraud, unlike some other GOP nominees. But Gleason lamented Voorheis’s departure, which he blamed on pressure from what he called “wacko” Republicans.

The local GOP chairman, Matthew Smith, did not respond to an email seeking comment. Smith pleaded guilty last week to a misdemeanor for “malicious use of telecommunication services,” admitting that he called Houghton County Election Clerk Jennifer Kelly, a Democrat, in March 2020, to harass her. She has said Smith threatened to kill her dogs. Since the election, Kelly has contended with a wave of claims by local residents that 2020 election was rigged.

Similar upheaval is taking place in other states. In two Pennsylvania counties earlier this month - Lancaster and York - a handful of candidates who have supported Trump’s false 2020 claims won elections to serve as local election judges and election inspectors, according to research by the States United Democracy Center, a nonpartisan group focused on free and fair elections.

“Having election deniers run elections is like having arsonists take over the fire department,” said Joanna Lydgate, who leads the organization.

“We have every reason to believe that what happened in those two counties - individuals who promote lies about the 2020 election running for and winning local seats - is happening in other places around the state and nationwide,” she added.

One of the winning candidates for election judge in Windsor Township, Pa., was Shane Lehman, who embraced claims of fraud on his Facebook page after the 2020 election and has shared statements from state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R, who has been pushing for an audit of the 2020 results in Pennsylvania. Lehman did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.


IFILE - n this March 3, 2020 file photo, Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, center, reads the results from the first round of ballots for the 2020 presidential primary elections at the Mesa County election office in Grand Junction, Colo. (McKenzie Lange/The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel via AP) (McKenzie Lange/)

Some activists have encouraged Trump supporters to get hired inside election offices in Colorado and Pennsylvania, according to social media posts viewed by The Post.

One activist from Colorado who is a member of a Telegram channel called “Colorado Election Audit News” shared a job listing for an “IT Technical Project Manager” in the office of Griswold, the Colorado secretary of state.

The activist, Barb Crossman, declined to talk about the job posting or whom she hoped would fill it. Instead, she wrote in an email that she was hoping to invite Trump ally Stephen K. Bannon to Mesa County, Colo., to bring attention to the case of Tina Peters, the clerk barred by a judge from supervising an election after she admitted copying the hard drives of election equipment in search of evidence of corruption.

Crossman wrote: “We have to get the TRUTH out because our Colorado courts are so so so corrupted!!!”

Colorado officials said they have collected additional election job listings that have been shared on conservative social media sites.

Griswold said in an interview that she was “aware that election conspiracists are encouraging people to apply for jobs in our office.” But she added that safeguards are in place that will screen out such applicants.

“Many of the positions require a high level of expertise or skill that just can’t be falsified” she said. “Positions are available only to Colorado residents. You have to pass reference checks and background checks.”

Still, the evidence is mounting that some local officials are receptive to arguments that the 2020 vote was tainted. The FBI is investigating the incident in Colorado involving Peters and another in Ohio in which a county official appears to have provided an outsider access to a government computer system to assess claims of fraud.

The push to take over the country’s election administration is being fueled by figures including Bannon, a former senior adviser to Trump who has promoted a blueprint he and others call the “precinct strategy” to take over every level of the GOP, from statewide officeholders to volunteer poll watchers and local committee members.


Stephen K. Bannon talks to reporters after appearing in federal court on Nov. 15, after being charged with contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Matt McClain

“We’re taking over school boards, we’re taking over the Republican Party - through the precinct committee strategy,” Bannon said on an episode of his “War Room” podcast broadcast Nov. 12. “We’re taking over all the elections.”

“They’re there to have a free and fair count,” Bannon added, referring to those seeking election and voting oversight positions. “And we’re going to continue that and we’re going to get to the bottom of 3 November and we’re going to decertify the electors. Okay? And you’re going to have a constitutional crisis. But you know what? We’re a big and tough country, and we can handle that.”

The movement is also getting oxygen from local GOP organizations across the country. In Myrtle Beach, S.C., where the state GOP recently gathered, county Republicans who have embraced Trump’s false election claims staged a separate event called the “I Pledge Allegiance Tour.” They have also pushed for an audit in surrounding Horry County, despite the fact that Trump won overwhelmingly there.

“We took over the Republican Party in South Carolina. We kicked out the RINO b------,” Tracy Beanz Diaz, a state executive committeewoman who has touted QAnon theories, said at a Florida conference this year, according to footage reviewed by The Post. (RINO stands for Republican In Name Only and has been invoked by Trump and his allies to refer to those in the party viewed as insufficiently loyal to him.) Diaz did not respond to a request for comment.

Some national Republican leaders have shown more reluctance to fully embrace Trump’s false claims, but as the GOP base has followed the former president’s lead, party officials have faced building pressure to address concerns about election security.

In a presentation to donors last spring obtained by The Post, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel announced the formation of a “Committee on Election Integrity” that has placed public-records requests in numerous states “to ensure election officials are administering elections in a free, fair and transparent manner.”

The party is also growing its Election Day poll-watching operation into a permanent infrastructure staffed with attorneys and organizers year-round, according to RNC officials. Target states will have their own director focused on recruiting, training and deploying volunteers and poll watchers.

“We’re doing more recruitment ahead of time, instead of just a few months before Election Day,” Justin Riemer, chief counsel at the RNC, said in an interview.

Riemer said the party plans legal action in up to 10 states, including key battlegrounds. He said the replacement of election officials doesn’t particularly concern him. “The election officials who you’re seeing removed or potentially removed are the elections officials who have messed things up,” he said. “Like any job, if you don’t perform, you’re going to be replaced.”


Former president Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Oct. 9 in Des Moines. Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford (Jabin Botsford/)

Meanwhile, Trump is demanding fealty to the lie that he won in 2020 and has thrown his weight behind candidates who have touted claims of fraud. In Georgia, he has endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., who is challenging Raffensperger for secretary of state after the incumbent refused Trump’s entreaties to reverse Biden’s win in the state.

“People do not understand why you and Governor Brian Kemp adamantly refuse to acknowledge the now proven facts, and fight so hard that the election truth not be told,” the former president wrote in an open letter in September calling on Raffensperger to decertify the 2020 results.

Hice and Trump have been in touch throughout the year, Trump advisers said. Hice declined a request for an interview.

Trump has tried to spur 2020 reviews in other states - even after a recount of ballots in Arizona’s Maricopa County reaffirmed Biden’s victory earlier this year. He recently began promoting claims that the Wisconsin Election Commission “committed felony crimes” related to voting practices at nursing homes during the pandemic.

The former president is briefed some mornings by his spokeswoman, Liz Harrington, who promoted false claims about election fraud before she left the RNC last December, according to people familiar with the matter. Harrington collects allegations of fraud posted online and has written many of Trump’s detailed statements, particularly those attacking local politicians, according to Trump advisers. Harrington did not respond to requests for comment.

Some Republicans have refused to follow the party’s new direction - and worry that it will push away reasonable voters.

“Mainstream elected officials have become so fearful of these people that it’s pushing them to the crazy fringe,” said Walter Whetsell, a GOP consultant in South Carolina. “They fear them. I’m not positive there are significantly more of them. I’m certain they are emboldened and louder than they’ve ever been before.”

Others have urged the party faithful to look ahead and stop litigating the 2020 results.

“We have to talk about the future,” said Henry Barbour, an RNC committeeman from Mississippi. “Most people in Mississippi are concerned about gas prices, covid overreach. I think candidates are making a mistake getting in those weeds.”

He added: “I don’t hear people in Mississippi talking about whether the election was or wasn’t stolen.”

Marc Elias, a leading Democratic election lawyer, said the public should pay attention to the surge of pro-Trump forces taking over the local workings of elections, because it was at that level where the system withstood its most difficult test last year.

“The closest call was not on the floor of the House or the floor of the Senate,” Elias said, referring to efforts leading up to Jan. 6 to persuade Congress not to accept the electoral college count. “The closest call was at the Wayne County Canvassing Board, where Republicans tried to intimidate appointees not to certify the results.”

It didn’t work. But it’s a different board now, Elias said.

The Washington Post’s Emma Brown and Alice Crites in Washington and Kayla Ruble in Lansing, Mich., contributed to this report.

Democratic midterm fears mount as policies fail to resonate with voters

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 06:29

President Biden delivers remarks on the economy in the South Court Auditorium in the White House complex on Nov. 23, 2021. Washington Post photo by Demetrius Freeman. (Demetrius Freeman/)

At a virtual fundraiser late last month, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., shared a blunt assessment about the Democratic Party.

“Democrats are terrible at messaging,” she said, according to notes taken by one attendee. “It’s just a fact.”

The admission surprised some attendees for its frankness, but it’s a sentiment that is widely shared among other lawmakers, donors and party leaders. The concerns are growing more urgent as Democrats gear up for grueling midterm elections, in which most in the party expect to lose control of the House and many are also increasingly pessimistic about retaining a majority in the Senate.

Beyond a struggle to sell the nuts-and-bolts of legislation, there are deeper fears among Democrats that the party lacks a cohesive and convincing argument to win over voters in next year’s elections. Democrats are eager to tout the bills they have passed in President Joe Biden’s first year, but a strategy tying together the disparate pieces of legislation - from lowering the cost of child care and eldercare to combating climate change to building roads and bridges - is still lacking.

And two of the biggest worries for voters - the economy and the pandemic - continue to drag down Biden and the Democrats. With inflation already a top concern, markets plummeted on Friday as a new coronavirus variant prompted the United States and other countries to impose travel restrictions amid fears of another resurgence.

“I’m not going to argue that it’s working right now, but I need it to work when it matters, and if it’s going to work, we need to get the accomplishments and the record of results that the American people will support. We are doing that,” Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said when asked about frustration in the party with the White House strategy to promote its agenda.

When discussing their pitch to voters, Democrats from the president to rank-and-file lawmakers often spout a laundry list of policies they have passed, many of which are individually popular. The problem is that most voters have not given Democrats credit for implementing the measures. Democrats faced a similar quandary after passing the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package in March, when strategists found that Democrats received no meaningful political boost despite united Republican opposition to the broadly popular package.

“History teaches the elected representatives who do it aren’t always rewarded in the next election,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who is running for re-election next year. “But if we can show some results, and inflation is under control if it comes down, I think people will be in a much different frame of mind about Congress.”

Meanwhile, Republicans are starting to coalesce around a midterm strategy centered on the argument that the Biden administration has been marked by incompetence - from the chaotic withdrawal in Afghanistan to rising prices to prolonged and messy negotiations on Capitol Hill.

White House officials vehemently disagree with that characterization and argue that passing popular policies is the party’s best political strategy. They remain confident Democrats will be rewarded for their legislative success, which includes the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure plan and potential passage of the social spending and climate package known as Build Back Better.

But the Biden administration, and Democrats, continue to be whipsawed by events.

On Wednesday, the White House welcomed the news that jobless claims plunged to their lowest level in more than 50 years. But supply chain bottlenecks and rising inflation continue to threaten Democrats’ economic message, worrying some in the party about growing too confident that conditions will fully improve by next year’s elections.

And on Friday, the World Health Organization’s announcement of a new “variant of concern” named omicron amounted to another major setback.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Wednesday that the party is in “lockstep” with a message centered on saving lives through vaccines, lowering costs for American families and creating jobs.

“We are the first, as Democrats, to wring our hands and criticize each other, and I think that’s unfortunate, because we know what we’re doing,” she said. “We know who we’re fighting for, and we know that this is about making sure everybody’s got a fair shot to succeed in our country, and that is embedded in our DNA as Democrats.”

Yet senior Democratic strategists remain concerned that the White House has not shown enough urgency in making the party’s case before the midterms, including a more aggressive public schedule by Biden. Some fear that if the White House does not change course soon, there will not be enough time to fix the problem by next November.

“Joe Biden right now is the father of our country, and I just want to see him out there every day telling us what the plan is,” Maloney said. “I’d like to see him do dozens of these events in important markets all over the country where people need to know what we’re doing, and nobody can do it like he does.”

Biden traveled to New Hampshire and Michigan this month after signing the infrastructure legislation into law, and White House officials say he, Vice President Kamala Harris and other Cabinet members will continue to fan out across the country in the coming months. Maloney said House Democrats were also planning to hold 1,000 events around the country to sell the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Still, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and other senior officials have been listening to Democrats outside the White House on ways to refine their political message, according to people familiar with the discussions. There have also been talks about how the White House will be staffed to plan for the midterm election season.

Concerns about the party’s midterm strategy also dominated a private briefing for Senate Democrats earlier this month with some of the party’s top strategists and pollsters. Organized by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the chair of the caucus’s Steering and Outreach Committee, the presenters included Anita Dunn, a former senior adviser to Biden who is still actively involved in White House political operations, and pollsters Geoff Garin and Pete Brodnitz.

Much of the meeting centered on Democratic messaging and the party’s struggles to sell its agenda, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the conversation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions. Democrats fretted about the defeat of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in this month’s Virginia gubernatorial election and about the broader trends that contributed to poor Democratic results in other contests.

Ultimately, the strategists urged Democrats to focus their pitch on the economy, particularly as it relates to Biden’s Build Back Better plan. They also argued that the Biden agenda, as it was developing through legislation, would be a strong issue to run on in the midterms. But one presenter advised the lawmakers to stay away from talking about the social safety net, concerned that the phrasing would turn people off, and instead focus on job creation and improving wages.

Many senators in the room concurred, worrying that the party was not getting credit with voters. Post-election research of Virginia voters conducted by Democratic-aligned groups validated those worries, finding that voters “couldn’t name anything that Democrats had done” and were “unhappy with the direction of the country” and the economy.

“To me the highest message priority for 2022 is to make sure we get credit for having defeated covid and secured the economic recovery,” said Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic strategist. “If we can’t get credit with voters for big important things we’ve done, we are unlikely to get credit for things which largely haven’t happened yet. As the incumbent party, we will be judged by whether we’ve made people’s lives better, not on what legislation we’ve passed.”

Early November polling by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee found the party could make the most gains in swing districts by talking about what it can do to secure the supply chain, boost manufacturing and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil - all responses to current attacks against Democrats, according to a slide deck circulated by the group.

Messages about taxing large corporations also won over voters, as did fixing highways, roads and bridges. Separate questions found that Democrats had an opportunity to gain support by attacking Republicans on their efforts to ban abortion, block an increase in the debt ceiling and block negotiation of prescription drug prices.

At the Democratic National Committee, Jaime Harrison, the party’s chair, has settled on the slogan, “Democrats deliver,” arguing that it allows the party to focus on the legislation it has passed and draw contrasts with Republicans.

“Democrats will remain focused on our strategy and message because we know it’s what the American people want and need, which stands in stark contrast to the obstruction and extremism we see on the other side,” Harrison said.

But some Democrats have encountered difficulties in proving to voters that they, not the Republicans, are delivering results.

Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., who is running for re-election in a tough swing district, already saw the challenge of selling the Build Back Better legislation, which Democrats hope to soon pass. One constituent, she said, firmly believes the extra money in her bank account from the child tax credit is thanks to former President Donald Trump. The tax credit was instituted and is likely to be extended in legislation supported only by Democrats.

“I had to explain that whole thing with her,” Wild said, attributing it to Trump’s persistent self-promotion.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said selling the infrastructure bill should be an easier lift because voters can visualize and soon see progress. During her first event just one day after the infrastructure bill passed the House, Dingell fell into a pothole in her district and immediately exclaimed, “This is what we’re going to fix!”

“We need to go out and tell people what that money is for, build realistic expectations - maybe we’ll fix the pothole I fell in last Saturday quicker, but we’re going to build those roads in the next five years,” she said. “We’re going to talk about all the things that are in this bill so people know what’s there.”

The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.

Biden pushes shots, not more restrictions as variant spreads

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 06:23

President Joe Biden talks about the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 from the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Nov. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) (Susan Walsh/)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will urge Americans to get vaccinated including booster shots as he seeks to quell concerns Monday over the new COVID-19 variant omicron, but he won’t immediately push for more restrictions to stop its spread, his chief medical adviser said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and Biden’s leading COVID-19 adviser, said Monday that there were as yet still no cases of the variant identified in the U.S. but that it was “inevitable” that it would make its way into the country.

Speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Fauci said scientists hope to know in the next week or two how well the existing COVID-19 vaccines protect against the varian t, and how dangerous it is compared to earlier strains.

“We really don’t know,” Fauci said, calling speculation “premature.”

The new variant poses the latest test to Biden’s efforts to contain the pandemic, mitigate its impacts on the economy and return a sense of normalcy to the U.S. during the holiday season.

Biden was to speak Monday about the urgency of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect against variants, especially as roughly 80 million Americans aged 5 and up haven’t yet received any shots. But Biden was not expected to announce any new virus-related restrictions, beyond last week’s move to restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region, effective Monday.

Other nations were also moving to close their borders or reinstate lockdowns amid a host of other severe measures to prevent the omicron variant from spreading, but Fauci indicated that the U.S. was not following suit.

Asked if more U.S. restrictions were imminent, Fauci said, “I don’t think so at all.” Later, on “CBS Mornings,” he said, “Let’s not be talking about lockdowns.”

Fauci said there was no need to panic about the new variant, but “we should be concerned, and our concern should spur us to do the things that we know work,” such as vaccinations.

The move to limit most travel from the countries where omicron was first identified was meant to provide time for the U.S to learn more about the variant and to “intensify” the domestic vaccination campaign, Fauci said.

“It buys you a couple of weeks because if you can keep things out in force for a couple of weeks you can do a lot of things,” he told CBS.

Still, he said omicron would eventually reach the U.S. and could, like the delta variant before it, become the dominant strain, since omicron “has a transmissibility advantage” over other variants.

Pharmaceutical companies are already adjusting their existing COVID-19 vaccines to better attack the omicron variant, but Fauci said Americans should make it a priority to get either their first shots or a booster dose now, rather than waiting for a new formulation.

“I would strongly suggest you get boosted now,” he said.

He added that depending on what scientists learn about the omicron variant in the coming weeks “we may not need” targeted boosters to contain that strain of the virus.

Any omicron-specific vaccine probably could not begin to be produced for another two or three months, so getting boosters now is a “very important initial line of defense,” Dr. Paul Burton, chief medical officer for the vaccine-maker Moderna, said Monday.

Burton said Moderna and other vaccine companies are testing existing COVID-19 vaccines to determine how effective they are against the omicron variant.

“If we need to manufacture an omicron-specific variant, it’s going to take some weeks, two to three months is probably what we’re looking at to be able to really begin to manufacture,” Burton told ABC.

On 2nd try, Swedes elect 1st female prime minister Andersson

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 05:31

Current Finance Minister and Social Democratic Party leader Magdalena Andersson, right, is applauded after being appointed to new Swedish Prime Minister following a voting in the the Swedish parliament in Stockholm, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (Jonas Ekstromer/TT via AP) (Jonas Ekströmer/TT/)

Magdalena Andersson, who last week was Sweden’s first female prime minister for a few hours before resigning because a budget defeat made a coalition partner quit, was on elected again on Monday as the Nordic nation’s head of government.

In a 101 -173 vote with 75 abstentions, the 349-seat Riksdag elected Andersson, leader of the Social Democrats, as prime minister. She will form a one-party, minority government. Her Cabinet is expected to be named Tuesday. Formally, she will be installed following an audience with King Carl XVI Gustav, Sweden’s figurehead monarch.

Andersson served as prime minister for seven hours before stepping down last week after the Greens left her two-party coalition. Their move followed the rejection of her government’s budget proposal in favor of one presented by opposition parties including the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats, who are rooted in a neo-Nazi movement.

Under the Swedish Constitution, prime ministers can be named and govern as long as a parliamentary majority — a minimum of 175 lawmakers — is not against them.

“It feels good and I am eager to start,” Andersson said of her appointment.

Andersson who was finance minister before becoming prime minister, said she would present her government policies Tuesday when her Cabinet is named. However, she said she has she had three priorities — welfare, climate and combating violence. Sweden has seen a rise in organized crime activity in the past few years and several gang-related shootings have occurred in the three main cities, Stockholm, Goteborg and Malmo.

Andersson repeated she would govern Sweden with the opposition’s budget which was was based on the government’s own proposal but of the 74 billion kronor ($8.2 billion) that the government wanted to spend on reforms, just over 20 billion kronor ($2.2 billion) will be redistributed next year. The approved budget aims at reducing taxes, increased salaries for police officers and more money to different sectors of Sweden’s judiciary system.

In a speech to parliament, Center Party leader Annie Loof said a female prime minister “means a lot to many girls and women, to see this glass ceiling shattered. I am proud that (the Center Party) is involved and makes this possible.” Her party abstained from voting for or against Andersson, paving the way for her election.

Andersson’s appointment as prime minister had marked a milestone for Sweden, viewed for decades as one of Europe’s most progressive countries when it comes to gender relations, but which had yet to have a woman in the top political post.

Sweden is the last Nordic country to have a woman prime minister. The current government leaders in Denmark and Finland are women, Mette Frederiksen and Sanna Marin, respectively. Norway’s first prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland took office in 1981 while Johanna Sigurdardottir became Iceland’s first female prime minister in 2009.

With 10 months to the next election, Andersson said, smiling, that she hopes to hold the job for 10 years.

Food, gas prices pinch families as inflation surges globally

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 05:29

Vendor Judit Sos sells eggs in a food market in Budapest, Hungary, Nov. 20, 2021. From appliance stores in the United States to food markets in Hungary and gas stations in Poland, rising consumer prices fueled by high energy costs and supply chain disruptions are putting a pinch on households and businesses worldwide. As economies recover from lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, increased consumer demand has helped lead to rising inflation. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh) (Laszlo Balogh/)

BUDAPEST, Hungary — From appliance stores in the United States to food markets in Hungary and gas stations in Poland, rising consumer prices fueled by high energy costs and supply chain disruptions are putting a pinch on households and businesses worldwide.

Rising inflation is leading to price increases for food, gas and other products and pushing many people to choose between digging deeper into their pockets or tightening their belts. In developing economies, it’s especially dire.

“We’ve noticed that we’re consuming less,” Gabor Pardi, a shopper at an open-air food market in Hungary’s capital, Budapest, said after buying a sack of fresh vegetables recently. “We try to shop for the cheapest and most economical things, even if they don’t look as good.”

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic impact of the crisis is still being felt even after countries raced out of debilitating lockdowns and consumer demand rebounded. Now, another surge of infections and a new coronavirus variant, omicron, are leading countries to tighten their borders and impose other restrictions, threatening the global economic recovery.

Omicron has raised new fears that factories, ports and freight yards could be forced to close temporarily, putting more strain on global commerce and sending prices even higher.

“A new round of infections could further aggravate supply chains, putting even more upward pressure on inflation,’’ said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

The economic reverberations are hitting central and Eastern Europe especially hard, where countries have some of the highest inflation rates in the 27-nation European Union and people are struggling to buy food or fill their fuel tanks.

A butcher at the Budapest food market, Ildiko Vardos Serfozo, said she’s seen a drop in business as customers head to multinational grocery chains that can offer discounts by buying in large wholesale quantities.

“Buyers are price sensitive and therefore often leave us behind, even if our products are high quality. Money talks,” she said. “We notice that inflation is not good for us. ... I’m just glad my kids don’t want to continue this family business, I don’t see much future in it.”

In nearby Poland, Barbara Grotowska, a 71-year-old pensioner, said outside a discount supermarket in the capital of Warsaw that she’s been hit hardest by her garbage collection fee nearly tripling to 88 zlotys ($21). She also lamented that the cooking oil she uses has gone up by a third of its price, to 10 zlotys ($2.40).

“That’s a real difference,” she said.

The recent pickup in inflation has caught business leaders and economists around the world by surprise.

In spring 2020, the coronavirus crushed the global economy: governments ordered lockdowns, businesses closed or slashed hours and families stayed home. Companies braced for the worst, canceling orders and putting off investments.

In an attempt to stave off economic catastrophe, wealthy countries — most notably the United States — introduced trillions of dollars worth of government aid, an economic mobilization on a scale unseen since World War II. Central banks also slashed interest rates in a bid to revive economic activity.

But those efforts to jump-start economies have had unintended consequences: as consumers felt more emboldened to spend the money they had received through government assistance or low-interest borrowing, and vaccine rollouts encouraged people to return to restaurants, bars and shops, the surge in demand tested the capacity of suppliers to keep pace.

Ports and freight yards were suddenly clogged with shipments, and prices began to rise as global supply chains seized up — especially as new outbreaks of COVID-19 sometimes shut down factories and ports in Asia.

The rise in prices has been dramatic. The International Monetary Fund predicts that world consumer prices will rise 4.3% this year, the biggest jump since 2011.

It is most pronounced in the developing economies of central and Eastern Europe, with the highest annual rates recorded in Lithuania (8.2%), Estonia (6.8%) and Hungary (6.6%). In Poland, one of Europe’s fastest-growing economies, inflation came in at 6.4% in October, the highest rate in two decades.

Several shoppers at a vegetable stand in Warsaw said they are anxious about rising prices for staples like bread and cooking oil and are expecting the situation to get worse in the new year, when energy prices are set to rise.

Piotr Molak, a 44-year-old vegetable vendor, said he has not yet had to raise prices on the potatoes, apples or carrots he sells but the cherry tomatoes he imports from Spain and Italy, which he buys in euros, have gotten far more expensive as Poland’s currency, the zloty, has weakened.

“We will mostly feel this in the new year when electricity goes up,” Molak said. “We are really going to feel it when we have to spend more on our home than on pleasure.”

The weakening of currencies across central and Eastern Europe against the U.S. dollar and euro is pushing up the price of imports and fuel and exacerbating the pinch from supply backups and other factors.

Hungary’s currency, the forint, has lost around 16% of its value against the dollar in the last six months and slipped to a historic low against the euro last week. That’s part of a strategy by Hungary’s central bank to keep the country competitive and attract foreign companies seeking cheap labor, said Zsolt Balassi, a portfolio manager at Hold Asset Management in Budapest.

But prices on imported goods have skyrocketed, and global oil prices set in U.S. dollars have pushed fuel costs to record levels.

“As the Hungarian forint, and actually all regional currencies, are more or less constantly weakening, this will constantly raise oil prices in our currencies,” Balassi said.

In response to record fuel prices, which peaked this month at 506 forints ($1.59) for gasoline and 512 forints ($1.61) for diesel per liter, Hungary’s government announced a 480-forint ($1.50) cap at filling stations.

While giving some relief, Hungary’s upcoming elections, in which the right-wing governing party faces the most serious challenge since it was elected in 2010, were likely a factor, Balassi said.

“This is obviously a political decision which has huge economic disadvantages, but probably it makes the households happy,” he said.

The political nature of some economic decisions is not limited to Hungary.

Poland’s central bank, also facing a weakening currency, has been accused by critics of allowing inflation to rise too high for too long to encourage economic growth and bolster support for the ruling party.

The bank surprised markets with the timing and size of two base interest rate hikes in October and November in a bid to ease prices, while Hungary’s central bank has raised rates in smaller increments six times this year.

Still, if central banks move too aggressively too soon to control inflation, it could short-circuit the economic recovery, said Carmen Reinhart, chief economist at the World Bank.

She worries about higher food prices that primarily hurt the poor in developing countries, where a disproportionate share of family budgets goes toward keeping food on the table.

“Food prices are a barometer for social unrest,’’ Reinhart said, noting that the Arab Spring uprisings that began in 2010 were caused partly by higher food prices.

Anna Andrzejczak, a 41-year-old who works for an environmental foundation in Poland, was still a child when Communism ended there in 1989 and has only a vague memory of the hyperinflation and other economic “tumult” that came with the transition to a market economy.

But she feels the prices going up “every time I fill my tank,” with fuel costs having risen some 35% in the last year.

“We’ve had a period of stability in past years, so this inflation now is a big shock,” Andrzejczak said. “We don’t have the price increases that we had then, but I think this will cause big stress.”

Wary, weary world slams doors shut, fearing omicron variant

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 05:17

People pass through Waterloo train station, in London, during the morning rush hour, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) (Matt Dunham/)

BRUSSELS — Countries around the world slammed their doors shut again to try to keep the new omicron variant at bay Monday, even as more cases of the mutant coronavirus emerged and scientists raced to figure out just how dangerous it might be.

Japan announced it would bar entry of all foreign visitors, while new cases of the variant identified days ago by researchers in South Africa appeared in places such as Hong Kong and Australia. New cases in Portugal and Scotland might already point toward local spread of the variant outside of southern Africa.

“There might already be some community transmission of this variant in Scotland,” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said after Scotland reported its first six cases.

The infections showed the near impossibility of keeping the genie in the bottle in a globalized world of travel and open borders.

Yet, many tried to do just that, even against the urging of the World Health Organization, which noted that border closings often have limited effect and can wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods.

Some argued that such restrictions could provide valuable time to analyze the new variant. Little is known about it, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade the protection of vaccines.

The WHO warned, however, that “the likelihood of potential further spread of omicron at the global level is high. Depending on these characteristics, there could be future surges of COVID‐19, which could have severe consequences.”

While the initial global response to COVID-19 was criticized as slow and haphazard, the reaction to the new variant came quickly.

“This time the world showed it is learning,” said European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, singling out South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for praise. “South Africa’s analytic work and transparency and sharing its results was indispensable in allowing a swift global response. It no doubt saved many lives.”

The WHO has praised Botswana as well as South Africa for quickly alerting the world to the presence of the new variant — and many have warned the countries should not be punished for their speed.

But that did not hold von der Leyen back from pushing the 27-nation EU toward imposing an immediate ban on flights from seven southern African nations — similar to measures many countries have taken.

Cases had already been reported in Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands before Portuguese authorities identified 13 cases of omicron among team members of the Belenenses professional soccer club. Authorities reported that one member recently traveled to South Africa. Its game against Benfica over the weekend had be abandoned at halftime for lack of players.

Quarantining also became an issue when Dutch military police had to arrest a husband and wife who left a hotel where they were being held after testing positive and boarded a plane bound for Spain.

“Quarantine is not obligatory, but we assume people will act responsibly,” spokeswoman Petra Faber said.

Taking no chances, Japan, which has yet to detect any omicron cases, reimposed border controls that it eased earlier this month for short-term business visitors, foreign students and workers.

“We are taking the step as an emergency precaution to prevent a worst-case scenario in Japan,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said. The new measures begin Tuesday.

Israel likewise decided to bar entry to foreigners, and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming flights for two weeks starting Monday.

Despite the global worry, scientists cautioned that it is still unclear whether omicron is more alarming than other versions of the virus that has killed more than 5 million people.

And in some parts of the world, authorities were moving in the opposite direction.

In Malaysia, officials went ahead with the partial reopening of a bridge connecting it to the city-state of Singapore. And New Zealand announced it will press ahead with plans to reopen internally after months of shutdown, though it is also restricting travel from nine southern African nations.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that she didn’t anticipate any further restrictions and that bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland can reopen, ending a coronavirus lockdown that began in August.

“We’ve come through the past two years of COVID in better shape than nearly anywhere in the world,” Ardern said, pointing to low death rates, a growing economy and high vaccination rates.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, meanwhile, said no data as yet suggests the new variant causes more serious illness than previous versions.

Collins echoed several experts in saying the news should make everyone redouble their efforts to use the tools the world already has, including vaccinations, booster shots and measures such as mask-wearing.

The U.S. is banning travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries starting Monday. “It’s going to give us a period of time to enhance our preparedness,” the United States’ top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Fauci said it will take approximately two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity and other characteristics of omicron, according to dthe White House.

___

Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. Associated Press journalists from around the world contributed to this report.

Markets begin to claw back Friday’s losses as variant fears ease

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 05:13

A screen above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shows the closing number for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) (Richard Drew/)

Global markets were solidly green on Monday as traders took confidence from reports that the omicron variant could be less dangerous than feared.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield jumped as much as 7 basis points to 1.54%. That unwound some of Friday’s 16 basis point plunge -- the steepest since March 2020.

U.S. equity futures climbed, with contracts on the Nasdaq 100 regaining more than half the Nov. 26 losses, while oil rebounded more than 5%.

South African health experts, including the doctor who first sounded the alarm about the omicron variant, indicated that symptoms linked to the coronavirus strain have been mild so far. While the World Health Organization urged caution, steady gains for many risk assets Monday suggested traders were reconsidering their worst-case scenarios for the new mutation.

“The ‘shoot first, question later’ reflex on Friday has abated at the margin,” said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank in Singapore. “Essentially, this is the morning after where passions are tempered, although caution is not completely dispensed with.”

Traders retained their slightly diminished expectations for Federal Reserve tightening as the mutation spurred uncertainty about the economic outlook. Futures signal the first rate hike may not happen until July next year, compared with last Wednesday’s pricing which saw traders plump for June.

The 5-year Treasury yield jumped as much as 8 basis points to 1.24%, shrinking the gap to 30-year rates by 2 basis points. U.K. 10-year yields climbed 5 basis points to 0.88%, while their German peers rose three basis points to minus 0.31%.

There was evidence of some dip buying in Asia, where stock benchmarks pared earlier losses. Friday’s turmoil was likely exacerbated by the virus news breaking at an illiquid time in markets thanks to a U.S. holiday.

“The Treasuries rally on Friday may have been a little overdone in thinner than usual conditions post-Thanksgiving,” said Su-Lin Ong, head of Australian economic and fixed-income strategy at Royal Bank of Canada. “It would be premature to assume the absolute worst.”

Monday’s increase in yields also helped push the dollar higher against the yen, euro and Swiss franc. And oil’s rebound helped risk currencies strengthen, especially commodity-linked ones like the Mexican peso, South African rand and Australian dollar.

Frustrated by vaccine inequity, a South African lab is on the cusp of replicating Moderna’s shot

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 05:08

Scientists re-enact the calibration procedure of equipment at an Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines facility in Cape Town, South Africa, Tuesday Oct. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Jerome Delay/)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa - In an industrial area of this seaside city, a little-known biotech company is entering a pivotal phase of making Africa’s first coronavirus vaccine by attempting to replicate Moderna’s highly effective mRNA-based shot.

Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines is racing to make a vaccine because, despite donation pledges, supply is short and just 6 percent of Africa’s 1.2 billion people have been inoculated.

Getting Africa - and other parts of the world - vaccinated has gained new urgency with the emergence of a new variant, dubbed omicron, that was first detected by South African scientists. Health officials have warned since the start of the pandemic almost two years ago that the coronavirus will continue to evolve and spread as long as significant populations remained unvaccinated.

With help from the World Health Organization (WHO) and international consultants, including from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Afrigen has become part of the African continent’s first training and technology transfer hub for mRNA vaccines, a step toward answering calls from global health officials for Africa to develop its own vaccine-manufacturing capability to avoid supply shortages during a crisis.,

What’s missing is the vaccine formula. Moderna refuses to share its recipe, citing intellectual property, so Afrigen has used publicly available information and help from outside advisers to begin making the vaccine.

If Moderna were to share information, Afrigen managing director Petro Terblanche said, the company could produce a replica within a year. Without it, the time estimate balloons to three years.

“It will be an interesting debate when we get to Phase 3, and we have a vaccine ready for low-income countries,” she said, “and Moderna says, ‘No, you can’t proceed.’”

Moderna, for its part, announced last month that it would spend up to $500 million to build its own vaccine plant in Africa - with Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa as possible sites - to make up to 500 million doses of mRNA vaccines each year. Moderna spokeswoman Colleen Hussey did not respond to a request for comment.

Afrigen’s team of scientists hopes, ultimately, to transfer the technology to other manufacturers in developing regions, in an effort to avoid a repeat of the global coronavirus vaccine inequity that has left poorer countries scrambling for supplies during the worst pandemic in a century.

Now, with the genetic sequence for the vaccine in hand, the Afrigen team is preparing to develop the first complete lab sample, which they will then compare to Moderna’s version.

The challenge for Afrigen is to ensure the vaccine can be developed at scale and that its quality is always the same, said Martin Friede, coordinator of the WHO’s Initiative for Vaccine Research, which is leading the technology transfer effort in Africa.

“It’s like saying you know how to make a loaf of bread but you are now asked to set up a process to make 100,000 loaves per day,” Friede said.

Afrigen is working toward creating a vaccine that is less expensive than Moderna’s and will not require freezing in storage - both essential for widespread distribution in poorer countries.

“All eyes are on us,” said Caryn Fenner, Afrigen’s technical director. “If one really thinks about the bigness of it and its significance, it almost cripples you.”

At the World Trade Organization, trade ministers had been scheduled to begin meetings Tuesday over a contentious proposal by South Africa and India to temporarily waive intellectual property rights on coronavirus vaccines and therapies or find a way to allow developing countries to access the technologies. The meeting has been postponed because of the omicron variant. No new date has been set.

The novel mRNA process uses the genetic code for the spike protein of the coronavirus and is thought to trigger a better immune response than other vaccines. Scientists believe the technology could be used to make drugs that tackle other ailments, such as cancer or malaria.

African countries have historically depended on Western donors and U.N.-backed programs such as the vaccine alliance known as Gavi, a partnership of donors and pharmaceutical companies that buys vaccines at lower prices and makes them available to countries that need them. Covax, a vaccine marketplace that was meant to secure coronavirus inoculations for developing countries, has struggled to access enough supplies during the pandemic.

The solution, said Friede of the WHO, is for African countries to make the vaccines themselves.

“Our objective is to make something as close as possible to Moderna’s without pretending it is a 100 percent carbon copy,” he said. “Unless Moderna tells us and shares all of their procedures - which probably they won’t - we can’t make a pure copy. Even without Moderna telling us how to make their vaccine, we will be able to make something which is close to their vaccine.”

The head of the WTO, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, speaking before the meeting was postponed, said reaching an agreement that gave poorer countries access to drugmakers’ technology would be difficult. It would require a “reasonable compromise” by all sides, she said, not just to agree on sharing intellectual property rights but also on lowering trade restrictions on vaccine supply chains, and improving transparency of vaccine production, distribution and contracts.

“Right now the process isn’t moving,” Okonjo-Iweala said in an interview. “This is a pandemic. If we can’t come to a meeting of minds now, then we will miss the timing.”

Moderna has said it will not prosecute those found to be infringing on its covid-related patents during the pandemic, which amounts to an informal waiver, said Marie-Paule Kieny, a French virologist who chairs the U.N.-backed Medicine Patent Pool, which is part of the WHO’s efforts in Africa.

The concern with a waiver, Kieny said, is what happens once the pandemic ends. Any broader waiver agreed on at the WTO talks would likely have a time limit, she said, without a commitment from the drugmakers to enter into licensing agreements.

She said companies should negotiate now with drugmakers such as Moderna to reach formal licensing agreements before the pandemic is over.

Friede acknowledged that any company that takes the Afrigen vaccine to commercial production may need a license from Moderna once the U.S. drugmaker’s waiver expires.

“It would depend on whether the production occurred during the pandemic and the Moderna waiver was still applicable, and whether Moderna has granted patents in countries of manufacture,” he said. “If this indeed happens during the pandemic, we assume the Moderna waiver would still be valid. In this case, there will be no clear role for the WTO unless it is for a mechanism that goes beyond the pandemic.”

Even if there is a deal at the WTO meeting, Okonjo-Iweala said it would take several years for manufacturers in Africa and elsewhere to build capacity to make their own vaccines.

“When we are talking about manufacturing in Africa, we are really thinking of the medium to longer term - for the next pandemic, that is,” she said.

South Africa argues that a temporary waiver would allow vaccine manufacturing to start sooner than waiting for licensing agreements and open the way for further collaboration, including technology transfers. Large Western manufacturers, however, argue that a waiver would stifle innovation when it is needed the most. They also say there will be enough vaccines on the world market by mid-2022 to meet supply demands.

Fatima Hassan, a human rights lawyer who heads the Health Justice Initiative in South Africa, accused Moderna of “deliberate divide and rule strategies” by not supporting the technology hub that Afrigen is part of and then announcing it would build its own vaccine plant in Africa.

“It’s quite incredible that given the public funding and the public investment that there isn’t a single manufacturing license for the global South. It’s all fill and finish,” she said, referring to an existing contract with Johnson & Johnson in which South African facilities put the final touches on vaccines but don’t have access to their recipe. “These companies are playing God.”

Richard Hatchett, who heads the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations that is managing the supply of vaccines to poor countries through Covax, acknowledged that the concentration of vaccine manufacturing in just a handful of countries - the United States, Europe, India and China - has led to global supply inequities.

“The pandemic has revealed that the system we had and the way we had vaccine manufacturing configured was unable to produce an equitable outcome for the world or even an efficient outcome for the world,” Hatchett said. “It is a debate that the world needs to have.”

Matthew McConaughey says he will not run for Texas governor

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 04:59

Actor Matthew McConaughey said Sunday evening that he has decided not to run for Texas governor after considering the idea for several months.

In a three-minute video posted to his Twitter and Instagram accounts, McConaughey said he was humbled to be regarded as a possible candidate but that it is a path he is “choosing not to take at this moment.”

“As a simple kid born in the little town of Uvalde, Texas, it never occurred to me that I would one day be considered for political leadership,” he said. “It’s a humbling and inspiring path to ponder.”

Jeffrey Epstein’s accusers finally get to see someone face a trial: Ghislaine Maxwell

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 04:54

Ghislaine Maxwell, founder of the TerraMar Project, attends a press conference on the Issue of Oceans in Sustainable Development Goals, at United Nations headquarters, June 25, 2013. (United Nations Photo/Rick Bajornas via AP, File) (Rick Bajornas/)

NEW YORK — Victims of sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein are finally getting their day in court. The long-awaited trial of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell begins Monday in Manhattan.

Prosecutors allege that Maxwell, 59, was a central figure in Epstein’s sex criminal enterprise, helping him recruit and sexually abuse girls in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Epstein, 66, was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell in August 2019 while awaiting trial on similar federal charges. His death was ruled a suicide, although his brother has said he doesn’t believe Epstein killed himself.

For Epstein’s accusers — many of whom were in Palm Beach, Florida, where he maintained a mansion — the trial of Maxwell is the culmination of a decadelong crusade to force federal prosecutors to first arrest Epstein and now hold one of his top associates accountable.

While Epstein and Maxwell have been universally vilified on social media, the case is not a slam-dunk for prosecutors, who face several obstacles in proving guilt. Maxwell’s family contends that she, too, was a victim who was exploited by Epstein and is now being unjustly tried for crimes that he committed.

One of the biggest challenges for prosecutors is time: More than two decades have passed since the alleged abuse occurred. Maxwell, whose wealth has been assessed at more than $20 million, has marshaled her considerable resources in an effort to destroy their case.

Defense lawyers have lined up a team of high-priced experts to testify about the psychological aspects of victimization and such topics as the science of memory, grooming, post-traumatic stress disorder and the “halo effect” — a tendency for positive impressions of a person in one area to positively influence one’s opinion or feelings in other areas — all intended to cast doubt in the minds of the jurors.

The daughter of the late British media baron Robert Maxwell, Ghislaine Maxwell was once a fixture on the New York social scene who possessed a Rolodex of names and direct phone numbers to former presidents, world leaders, billionaires and celebrities. In addition to being his girlfriend, Maxwell functioned as as one of Epstein’s recruiters, victims say, luring women and underage girls to his opulent homes around the world, including in Palm Beach, Manhattan, the Virgin Islands and New Mexico, to engage in massages that turned into sex acts. Sometimes she joined in the sex, the accusers allege.

Four women have been cited as victims in the indictment, two of whom were 14 when they were allegedly sexually abused. The judge has yet to decide whether evidence will be introduced at trial about other accusers.

At least two other women (who are not part of this case) have publicly claimed that they were trafficked by Epstein and Maxwell to powerful and wealthy men, including Prince Andrew and Harvard lawyer Alan Dershowitz. Both men have denied the allegations, and it’s not clear whether those women will testify.

It also remains to be seen whether any names of other powerful men will be revealed during the case. At least one of Epstein’s alleged co-conspirators is scheduled to testify. Prosecutors have made clear that the case will not focus on people who were a part of Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking enterprise — other than Maxwell.

Epstein’s so-called “black book” of famous people, which prosecutors say was compiled by Maxwell, will be presented as evidence against her, although U.S. Circuit Court Judge Alison Nathan has said she will not allow the case to turn into an exercise in naming individuals not directly connected to the charges in the indictment.

Maxwell’s legal team has filed a flurry of legal motions in recent weeks focused on undermining the credibility of the accusers and portraying them as consenting to sex in exchange for money.

“Depending on the age of the accusers during the time frame of the conspiracy, consent may be an appropriate and viable defense,’’ Maxwell’s attorneys said in one motion, noting that in Florida at the time the crimes were allegedly committed, “individuals under the age of 18 could be charged with commission of the crime of prostitution.”

Maxwell’s team has succeeded in convincing Nathan to instruct jurors to narrowly consider the testimony of two of the accusers, who were above the age of consent in the jurisdictions where the alleged crimes occurred: London and New Mexico.

They have also argued that the four accusers had a financial incentive to accuse Maxwell — to improve their payouts from a compensation fund for victims of Epstein. They have subpoenaed the administrator of the fund for information about the women over the objection of prosecutors.

Maxwell’s attorneys, however, were unsuccessful in persuading the judge to block prosecutors from calling the women “victims.”

The judge also rejected Maxwell’s bid to call psychiatrist Ryan C.W. Hall as an expert witness. While portions of his expected testimony were heavily redacted from court filings, Hall was one of the psychiatrists hired by Epstein in 2009 to evaluate a number of accusers who sued him in civil court. Hall conducted an interview with “victim No. 4″ over a decade ago, and Maxwell’s attorneys had hoped to use his evaluation to discredit that accuser.

Maxwell’s trial comes almost three years to the day after the publication of “Perversion of Justice,” a Miami Herald investigation that detailed how Epstein and his team of high-profile attorneys manipulated the criminal justice system, allowing him to escape federal prosecution. Despite the FBI having evidence that he sexually assaulted at least 34 girls, Epstein served just 13 months in the Palm Beach county jail on charges that he solicited one minor.

The Herald’s series led federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York to take a new look at the case, and Epstein was arrested in July 2019. In the ensuing fallout from the Herald series, the prosecutor in charge of the 2005 case, Alexander Acosta, resigned as secretary of labor under then-President Donald Trump. Several CEOs who associated with Epstein have retired or other otherwise stepped down from their leadership roles.

Despite Epstein’s death, the federal probe into his alleged crimes continued, and in July 2020, Maxwell was arrested at her home on a 156-property in rural New Hampshire that had been purchased months earlier through an anonymous shell company. Maxwell had toured the home under a pseudonym.

Maxwell has been denied bail four times as prosecutors successfully argued that her wealth and British citizenship make her a flight risk. She has been closely monitored during the 15 months she has been behind bars at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Brooklyn. She and her attorneys have repeatedly complained that conditions in the jail are inhumane, including a practice by staff of shining flashlights at her at night, disturbing her sleep.

Jill Steinberg, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Justice Department official who handled cases of child exploitation, said the trial will be a test of how jurors weigh evidence involving sexual abuse in the “Me Too” era.

“There is more of an awareness of victimization and why people become victims,” said Steinberg, who is now in private practice.

She said a defense strategy that hinges on maligning the minor victims or portraying them as consenting to the sexual activities in exchange for money may backfire.

“The fact is that they are minors and it doesn’t matter whether they consented or not,” she said.

The trial is expected to last six weeks. Unlike other high-profile trials, it will not be televised because cameras are generally not permitted in U.S. federal courtrooms.

THE MAXWELL CHARGES

— Enticement and conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts.

— Enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts.

— Conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sex activity.

— Transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sex activity.

— Sex trafficking.

— Two counts of perjury (these charges will be tried separately and are not part of the current case).

Omicron coronavirus variant poses ‘very high’ global risk, WHO warns

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 04:45

Commuters walk through ticket barriers in Waterloo train station, London, after disembarking from a train, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) (Matt Dunham/)

The World Health Organization is warning countries that the omicron coronavirus variant poses “very high” global risk - and is likely to spread internationally.

“The likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high,” the WHO said Sunday in a preliminary technical brief. It recommended that governments worldwide enhance their ability to sequence coronavirus variants, report any local cases of omicron to the global health body and speed up their vaccination drives.

The newly identified omicron variant has 26 to 32 spike mutations, the WHO brief states, “some of which are concerning” in that they could make it more transmissible and better able to evade the body’s immune defenses.

“Depending on these characteristics, there could be future surges of COVID-19, which could have severe consequences, depending on a number of factors including where surges may take place,” the report says. “The overall global risk related to [omicron] is assessed as very high.” It added that “evidence for this assessment contains considerable uncertainty” and is subject to change.

The WHO recommends several actions that its member states should immediately take. Some are new, such as guidance on the marker that can be used to detect the newest variant. Some are consistent with well-known measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, such as advice for governments to encourage people to wear masks, keep a safe distance from one another and avoid crowds to limit the spread of the virus.

As some governments have shut down borders and others are reinforcing public health rules, officials around the world stressed that the measures are designed to buy time to learn more about how the omicron variant spreads, what symptoms it causes and how it reacts to existing coronavirus vaccines. The Biden administration is encouraging more people to seek out booster doses to bolster their immunity to the coronavirus as the world awaits answers.

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