LOS ANGELES — Larry King, the suspenders-sporting everyman whose broadcast interviews with world leaders, movie stars and ordinary Joes helped define American conversation for a half-century, died Saturday. He was 87. King died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his production company, Ora Media, tweeted. No cause of death was given, but a spokesperson said Jan. 4 that King had COVID-19, had received supplemental oxygen and had been moved out of intensive care. His son Chance Armstrong also confirmed King’s death, CNN reported. A longtime nationally syndicated radio host, from 1985 through 2010 he was a nightly fixture on CNN, where he won many honours, including two Peabody awards. With his celebrity interviews, political debates and topical discussions, King wasn’t just an enduring on-air personality. He also set himself apart with the curiosity he brought to every interview, whether questioning the assault victim known as the Central Park jogger or billionaire industrialist Ross Perot, who in 1992 rocked the presidential contest by announcing his candidacy on King’s show. In its early years, “Larry King Live” was based in Washington, which gave the show an air of gravitas. Likewise King. He was the plainspoken go-between through whom Beltway bigwigs could reach their public, and they did, earning the show prestige as a place where things happened, where news was made. King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews. In 1995 he presided over a Middle East peace summit with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He welcomed everyone from the Dalai Lama to Elizabeth Taylor, from Mikhail Gorbachev to Barack Obama, Bill Gates to Lady Gaga. Especially after he relocated to Los Angeles, his shows were frequently in the thick of breaking celebrity news, including Paris Hilton talking about her stint in jail in 2007 and Michael Jackson’s friends and family members talking about his death in 2009. King boasted of never overpreparing for an interview. His nonconfrontational style relaxed his guests and made him readily relatable to his audience. “I don’t pretend to know it all,” he said in a 1995 Associated Press interview. “Not, `What about Geneva or Cuba?' I ask, `Mr. President, what don’t you like about this job?' Or `What’s the biggest mistake you made?' That’s fascinating.” At a time when CNN as the lone player in cable news was deemed politically neutral, and King was the essence of its middle-of-the-road stance, political figures and people at the centre of controversies would seek out his show. And he was known for getting guests who were notoriously elusive. Frank Sinatra, who rarely gave interviews and often lashed out at reporters, spoke to King in 1988 in what would be the singer’s last major TV appearance. Sinatra was an old friend of King’s and acted accordingly. “Why are you here?” King asks. Sinatra responds, “Because you asked me to come and I hadn’t seen you in a long time to begin with, I thought we ought to get together and chat, just talk about a lot of things.” King had never met Marlon Brando, who was even tougher to get and tougher to interview, when the acting giant asked to appear on King’s show in 1994. The two hit it off so famously they ended their 90-minute talk with a song and an on-the-mouth kiss, an image that was all over media in subsequent weeks. After a gala week marking his 25th anniversary in June 2010, King abruptly announced he was retiring from his show, telling viewers, “It’s time to hang up my nightly suspenders.” Named as his successor in the time slot: British journalist and TV personality Piers Morgan. By King’s departure that December, suspicion had grown that he had waited a little too long to hang up those suspenders. Once the leader in cable TV news, he ranked third in his time slot with less than half the nightly audience his peak year, 1998, when “Larry King Live” drew 1.64 million viewers. His wide-eyed, regular-guy approach to interviewing by then felt dated in an era of edgy, pushy or loaded questioning by other hosts. Meanwhile, occasional flubs had made him seem out of touch, or worse. A prime example from 2007 found King asking Jerry Seinfeld if he had voluntarily left his sitcom or been cancelled by his network, NBC. “I was the No. 1 show in television, Larry,” replied Seinfeld with a flabbergasted look. “Do you know who I am?” Always a workaholic, King would be back doing specials for CNN within a few months of performing his nightly duties. He found a new sort of celebrity as a plainspoken natural on Twitter when the platform emerged, winning over more than 2 million followers who simultaneously mocked and loved him for his esoteric style. “I’ve never been in a canoe. #Itsmy2cents,” he said in a typical tweet in 2015. His Twitter account was essentially a revival of a USA Today column he wrote for two decades full of one-off, disjointed thoughts. Norm Macdonald delivered a parody version of the column when he played King on “Saturday Night Live,” with deadpan lines like, “The more I think about it, the more I appreciate the equator.” King was constantly parodied, often through old-age jokes on late-night talk shows from hosts including David Letterman and Conan O’Brien, often appearing with the latter to get in on the roasting himself. King came by his voracious but no-frills manner honestly. He was born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger in 1933, a son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who ran a bar and grill in Brooklyn. But after his father’s death when Larry was a boy, he faced a troubled, sometimes destitute youth. A fan of such radio stars as Arthur Godfrey and comedians Bob & Ray, King on reaching adulthood set his sights on a broadcasting career. With word that Miami was a good place to break in, he headed south in 1957 and landed a job sweeping floors at a tiny AM station. When a deejay abruptly quit, King was put on the air — and was handed his new surname by the station manager, who thought Zeiger “too Jewish.” A year later he moved to a larger station, where his duties were expanded from the usual patter to serving as host of a daily interview show that aired from a local restaurant. He quickly proved equally adept at talking to the waitresses, and the celebrities who began dropping by. By the early 1960s King had gone to yet a larger Miami station, scored a newspaper column and become a local celebrity himself. At the same time, he fell victim to living large. “It was important to me to come across as a ‘big man,”’ he wrote in his autobiography, which meant “I made a lot of money and spread it around lavishly.” He accumulated debts and his first broken marriages (he was married eight times to seven women). He gambled, borrowed wildly and failed to pay his taxes. He also became involved with a shady financier in a scheme to bankroll an investigation of President John Kennedy’s assassination. But when King skimmed some of the cash to pay his overdue taxes, his partner sued him for grand larceny in 1971. The charges were dropped, but King’s reputation appeared ruined. King lost his radio show and, for several years, struggled to find work. But by 1975 the scandal had largely blown over and a Miami station gave him another chance. Regaining his local popularity, King was signed in 1978 to host radio’s first nationwide call-in show. Originating from Washington on the Mutual network, “The Larry King Show” was eventually heard on more than 300 stations and made King a national phenomenon. A few years later, CNN founder Ted Turner offered King a slot on his young network. “Larry King Live” debuted on June 1, 1985, and became CNN’s highest-rated program. King’s beginning salary of $100,000 a year eventually grew to more than $7 million. A three-packs-a-day cigarette habit led to a heart attack in 1987, but King’s quintuple-bypass surgery didn’t slow him down. Meanwhile, he continued to prove that, in his words, “I’m not good at marriage, but I’m a great boyfriend.” He was just 18 when he married high school girlfriend Freda Miller, in 1952. The marriage lasted less than a year. In subsequent decades he would marry Annette Kay, Alene Akins (twice), Mickey Sutfin, Sharon Lepore and Julie Alexander. In 1997, he wed Shawn Southwick, a country singer and actress 26 years his junior. They would file for divorce in 2010, rescind the filing, then file for divorce again in 2019. The couple had two sons — King’s fourth and fifth kids, Chance, born in 1999, and Cannon Edward, born in 2000. In 2020, King lost his two oldest children, Andy King and Chaia King, who died of unrelated health problems within weeks of each other. He had many other medical issues in recent decades, including more heart attacks and diagnoses of type 2 diabetes and lung cancer. Through his setbacks he continued to work into his late 80s, taking on online talk shows and infomercials as his appearances on CNN grew fewer. “Work,” King once said. “It’s the easiest thing I do.” Funeral arrangements and a memorial service will be announced later in co-ordination with the King family, “who ask for their privacy at this time," according to the tweet from Ora Media. ___ Former AP Television Writer Frazier Moore contributed biographical material to this report. Andrew Dalton, The Associated Press
MADRID — Spain’s top military commander has been forced to resign after he and other high-ranking officers violated established protocols and received the COVID-19 vaccine ahead of time. Spain’s defence ministry confirmed to The Associated Press on Saturday that Minister Margarita Robles had accepted the resignation of Chief of Staff Gen. Miguel Ángel Villarroya. His resignation comes after online news site El Confidencial Digital reported that Villarroya and other top brass had broken national protocols for Spain’s vaccination strategy, which currently only allows nursing home residents and medical workers to receive shots. Several public officials have jumped the vaccine queue in recent weeks, including a regional health chief for southeast Murcia, who also resigned. ___ THE VIRUS OUTBREAK: Immigrant wariness a hurdle for U.S. vaccine efforts. UK doctors urge government to review policy of delaying 2nd virus vaccine shot for 12 weeks. Hong Kong in lockdown to contain the coronavirus. Mexico president OKs states acquiring vaccines. French doctors suggest way to slow virus spread: Don’t talk on public transportation. Life in the Chinese city of Wuhan has some normalcy a year after deadly pandemic erupted there. ___ Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak ___ HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING: ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska health officials say they are considering moving up teachers on the state’s vaccine list as more students have restarted in-person instruction. A top vaccine official with the state Department of Health and Social Services made the announcement. The state has prioritized health care workers, seniors 65 years or older and long-term care residents and staff. Teachers 50 years or older, residents that have two or more high-risk health conditions and other essential workers will be prioritized next. State officials say conversations about vaccinating teachers are happening both in Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office and among a scientific and medical advisory committee that helped develop the state’s vaccine policy. ___ MECCA, Calif. — Advocacy groups are heading into farm fields in California to bring vaccines and information to migrant labourers in Spanish and other languages. Some immigrants in the country illegally may fear that information taken during vaccinations could be turned over to authorities and not seek out vaccines. Those who speak little or no English may find it difficult to access shots. These challenges are particularly worrying for Latino immigrants, who make a large portion of the workforce in industries where they have a significant risk of exposure. In California’s sprawling Riverside County, home to a $1.3 billion agriculture industry, a health care non-profit went to a grape farm to register workers for vaccine appointments. The Desert Healthcare District and Foundation also shares information about the virus and how to get tested on WhatsApp in Spanish. The National Day Laborer Organizing Network has used a Spanish-language radio show on social media to share information. ___ PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. — A multipurpose arena in Prescott Valley will be the latest large venue in Arizona to become a COVID-19 vaccination site. Cottonwood-based Spectrum Healthcare on Monday will open an appointment-only site called “Vaccination Station” inside Findlay Toyota Center, a 5,100-seat facility that has hosted events including basketball games, rodeos, concerts and ice shows. The Daily Courier reports that Spectrum plans to administer shots to as many as 1,000 people daily. Pima County already opened a drive-through vaccination site in Tucson at Kino Sports Complex. The state plans to open a site at the Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Feb. 1. Arizona has the worst infection rate in the country with 1 in every 141 residents diagnosed with the coronavirus in the past week. The Department of Health Services on Friday reported 8,099 new cases and 229 more deaths. That increased the state’s confirmed pandemic totals to 708,041 cases and 12,001 deaths. ___ MEXICO CITY — Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has given state governors permission to acquire coronavirus vaccines on their own. With coronavirus infections and COVID-19 deaths at record highs in recent days, the federal government hasn’t received enough vaccine for the country’s 750,000 front-line medical workers. So state governors have been calling for permission to obtain vaccines on their own, and the president said Friday they can do so as long as they inform federal officials and use only approved vaccines. Also, López Obrador announced Mexico plans to start vaccinating teachers and other school personnel in one of the country’s 32 states this weekend with an eye toward resuming in-person classes there in late February. Officials reported more than 21,000 confirmed infections Friday, a day after the country listed a record 22,339 cases. Deaths related to the virus in the previous 24 hours reached 1,440. Mexico ranks No. 4 in deaths with more than 147,000, behind the U.S., Brazil and India. ___ LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s medical agency says it has identified the first case in the country of the new coronavirus variant believed to have originated in South Africa. The agency says the new variant was found in a South African resident of Lisbon. Medical authorities have already suggested a massive surge in infections is from the spread of a variant identified in southeast England. Portugal’s hospital COVID-19 wards and ICUs are on average around 90% full. Daily deaths reached a new record for a fifth day in a row at 234 on Friday, bringing the total to 9,920 in a country of 10.3 million. The country also faces the challenge of holding a general election on Sunday. ___ LONDON — A leading politician in Wales has resigned from a senior post after he and colleagues had a drinking session inside the Welsh parliament buildings while pubs and bars are closed during a coronavirus lockdown. Paul Davies says he was stepping down as leader of the Welsh Conservatives “for the sake of my party, my health and my own conscience.” Another Welsh Conservative lawmaker, Darren Millar, was quitting as the party’s chief whip. ___ PARIS — French doctors have new advice to slow the spread of the virus: Stop talking on public transport. The French Academy of Doctors issued guidance saying people should “avoid talking or making phone calls” in subways, buses or anywhere in public where social distancing isn’t possible. Masks have been required since May, but travellers often loosen or remove them to talk on the phone. Other French experts are urging more dramatic measures — notably a third lockdown. France’s hospitals hold more COVID patients than in October, when President Emmanuel Macron imposed a second lockdown. Virus patients occupy more than half of the country’s intensive care beds. Infections in France are gradually rising this month, at more than 20,000 per day. France currently has the longest virus curfew in Europe, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and restaurants and tourist sites have been closed since October. The government has so far sought to avoid a full new lockdown. Protests are expected around France on Saturday against virus-related layoffs and to support those arrested for holding a techno rave party despite virus restrictions. France has registered 72,647 confirmed virus-related deaths. ___ LONDON — Britain’s main doctors’ organization says it is concerned about the U.K.’s decision to give people a second dose of coronavirus vaccine up to 12 weeks after the first, rather than the shorter gap recommended by manufacturers and the World Health Organization. The U.K., which has Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, adopted the policy in order to give as many people a first dose of the vaccine as quickly as possible. So far almost 5.5 million people have received a first dose of either a vaccine made by Pfizer or one developed by AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca has said it believes a dose of its vaccine offers protection after 12 weeks, but Pfizer says it has not tested the efficacy of its jab after such a long gap. The British Medical Association urged England’s chief medical officer to “urgently review” the policy for the Pfizer vaccine. It says there was “growing concern from the medical profession regarding the delay of the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine as the U.K.’s strategy has become increasingly isolated from many other countries.” Pfizer says its second dose should take place 21 days after the first. The WHO says the second shots of coronavirus vaccines can been given up to six weeks after the first. ___ HONG KONG — Thousands of Hong Kong residents were locked down in their homes Saturday in an unprecedented move to contain a worsening coronavirus outbreak in the city. Authorities said 16 buildings in the city’s Yau Tsim Mong district would be locked down until all residents were tested. Residents would not be allowed to leave their homes until they received test results. “Persons subject to compulsory testing are required to stay in their premises until all such persons identified in the area have undergone testing and the test results are mostly ascertained,” the government statement said. The restrictions, which were announced at 4 a.m. in Hong Kong, were expected to end within 48 hours, the government said. Hong Kong has been grappling to contain a fresh wave of the coronavirus since November. Over 4,300 cases have been recorded in the last two months, making up nearly 40% of the city’s total. ___ WUHAN, CHINA — A year ago, a notice sent to smartphones in Wuhan at 2 a.m. announced the world’s first coronavirus lockdown, bringing the bustling central Chinese industrial and transport centre to a virtual standstill almost overnight. It would last 76 days. Early Saturday morning, however, residents of the city where the virus was first detected were jogging and practicing tai chi in a fog-shrouded park beside the mighty Yangtze River. Life has largely returned to normal in the city of 11 million, even as the rest of the world grapples with the spread of the virus’ more contagious variants. The scourge has killed more than 2.1 million people worldwide. Traffic was light in Wuhan but there was no sign of the barriers that a year ago isolated neighbourhoods and confined people to their housing compounds and even apartments. Wuhan accounted for the bulk of China’s 4,635 deaths from COVID-19, a number that has largely stayed static for months. The city has been largely free of further outbreaks since the lockdown was lifted on April 8, but questions persist as to where the virus originated and whether Wuhan and Chinese authorities acted fast enough and with sufficient transparency to allow the world to prepare for a pandemic. ___ SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is reporting a one-day record of 764 COVID-19 deaths but the rate of new infections is falling. The deaths reported Friday by the California Department of Public Health top the previous mark of 708 set on Jan. 8. In the last two days California has recorded 1,335 deaths. Hospitalizations and newly confirmed cases have been falling, however, and health officials are growing more optimistic that the worst of the latest surge is over. The 23,024 new cases reported Friday are less than half the mid-December peak of nearly 54,000. Hospitalizations have fallen below 20,000, a drop of more than 10% in two weeks. ___ PORTLAND, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown on Friday defended her decision to reject federal guidelines and prioritize teachers for the COVID-19 vaccine before the elderly, stating that if all of Oregon’s seniors were vaccinated first teachers would likely not be vaccinated before the school year and many students would not return to in-person learning. In officials from the Oregon Health Authority presented a new vaccination timeline that delays the eligibility for seniors 65 to 69 years old to be vaccinated until March 7 and those 70 to 74 pushed back to Feb. 28. Last week, Oregon officials announced a change to the vaccine distribution — instead of vaccinating teachers and seniors at the same time, teachers would be vaccinated beginning Jan. 25 and people 80 or older beginning Feb. 8. ___ WASHINGTON — New research finds full doses of blood thinners such as heparin can help moderately ill hospitalized COVID-19 patients avoid the need for breathing machines or other organ support. The preliminary results come from three large, international studies testing various coronavirus treatments and haven’t yet been published. The U.S. National Institutes of Health and other sponsors released the results Friday to help doctors decide on appropriate care. Nearly all hospitalized COVID-19 patients currently get low doses of a blood thinner to try to prevent clots from forming. The new results show that “when we give higher doses of blood thinners to patients who are not already critically ill, there is a significant benefit in preventing them from getting sicker,” said Dr. Matthew Neal, a trauma surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and one study leader. However, the researchers say these drugs don’t help and may harm people who are more seriously ill. ___ The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Inside the White House, President Joe Biden presided over a focused launch of his administration, using his first days in office to break sharply with his predecessor while signing executive orders meant as a showy display of action to address the historic challenges he inherited. But outside the gates at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., there are signs everywhere that those crises are as deep and intractable as ever. The coronavirus pandemic surges, the economy teeters and Republicans in Congress have signalled objections to many of Biden’s plans. Biden is looking to jump-start his first 100 days in office with action and symbolism to reassure a divided and weary public that help is in the offing. He also knows that what a president can do on his own is limited so he is calling for Congress to act while he is being candid with Americans that dark days are ahead. “The crisis is not getting better. It’s deepening,” Biden said Friday about the impact of pandemic. “A lot of America is hurting. The virus is surging. Families are going hungry. People are at risk of being evicted again. Job losses are mounting. We need to act.” “The bottom line is this: We’re in a national emergency. We need to act like we’re in a national emergency,” he said. Biden’s first moments as president were meant to steady American democracy itself. He took the oath just before noon Wednesday in front of a Capitol that still bore scars from the insurrection that took place precisely two weeks earlier and was aimed at stopping Biden’s ascension to power. The violence underscored the fragile nature of the peaceful transfer of power and led to the historic second impeachment of Donald Trump. Biden resisted calls to move the inauguration to a more secure indoor setting. He was intent on preserving the usual inauguration trappings as a signal that normalcy could be achieved even though there were signs everywhere that things were far from normal: a military presence that resembled a war zone, guests on the dais wearing masks, a National Mall filled with 200,000 American flags standing in for the American people who were asked to stay away because of the pandemic. Biden was plain-spoken and direct about the confluence of crises the nation faces. More than 410,000 Americans have lost their lives to the pandemic, millions are out of work and the aftershocks of a summer reckoning with racial justice are still felt. “You can hear this collective sigh of relief that Trump is gone, but we have no time for a sigh of relief because of the cascading crises,” said Eddie Glaude Jr., chair of the department of African American studies at Princeton University. “We don’t want to assume that the election of Biden solves everything. The scale of the problems is immense and the question for us is do we respond at scale.” The changes within the White House have been swift. After Trump’s departure, his final staffers cleared out and a deep clean began. The White House had been the site of multiple COVID-19 outbreaks and, in a physical manifestation of a new approach to the virus, plastic shields were placed on desks and scores of new staffers were told to work from home. New pictures were hung on the West Wing walls and the Oval Office received a fast makeover. Gone were a painting of Andrew Jackson and the Diet Coke button of the desk; in came images of Robert Kennedy and Cesar Chavez. But the most important symbol, the clearest break from the previous administration, came from the president himself. When Biden sat down at the Resolute Desk to sign his first batch of his executive orders on Wednesday, he was wearing a mask. Trump had resisted wearing one, putting one on only occasionally and instead turning mask-wearing into a polarizing political issue Biden urged all Americans to wear a mask for the next 100 days and used his platform to model the same behaviour, one of several ways he tried to change the tone of the presidency in his first few days. Daily press briefings returned, absent the accusations of “fake news” that marked only sporadic briefings in the Trump era. Biden held a virtual swearing-in for hundreds of White House staffers, telling them to treat each other with respect or they would dismissed, a marked change from the contentious, rivalry-driven Trump West Wing. Calls to the leaders of Canada and Mexico were made without drama. The executive actions Biden signed during the week were a mix of concrete and symbolic actions meant to undo the heart of Trump’s legacy. Biden halted construction of the border wall, rejoined the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accord and bolstered the means for production for vaccines. But the might of the executive actions pales in comparison to the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that he requested from Congress. Biden has not ruled out asking Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to push it through by tactics requiring only Democratic support. But the president, who spent decades in the Senate, hoped to persuade Republicans to support the measure. “Leaning on executive action makes sense at the start, you can get things going and show momentum right away without waiting for Congress,” said Robert Gibbs, former press secretary for President Barack Obama. “But this is going take a while. Like it was for us in 2009, change doesn’t come overnight." "Everything he inherited is likely to get worse before we see improvement,” Gibbs said. “One thing you learn on January 20th is that you suddenly own all of it.” Just two Cabinet nominees were confirmed by week's end, to the frustration of the White House. But with the Friday night announcement that Trump’s impeachment trial will not begin until the week of Feb. 8, Biden aides were optimistic that the Senate would confirm more before then. The trial looms as an unwelcome distraction for the Biden team. But while Trump will shadow the White House, Biden aides have noted that the former president commands far less attention now that his Twitter account is gone. They have expressed confidence that the Senate can balance the impeachment proceedings with both Cabinet confirmations and consideration of the COVID-19 relief bill. Biden has made clear that steering the nation through the pandemic will be his signature task and some Republicans believe that Trump’s implosion could create an opening to work across the aisle on a relief deal. “There is a very narrow permission structure for congressional Republicans who want to move past the Trump era and want to establish their own political identities,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist who was a senior adviser on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Romney is now a Utah senator. “There is an old saying: ‘Make the main thing the main thing.’ And the Biden White House knows that’s the main thing,” Madden said. “If they can improve the pandemic response in the next 100 days, then they can move on to other priorities, they’ll have the capital for legislative fights. But they need to get it right.” ___ Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire Jonathan Lemire, The Associated Press
MOSCOW — Protests erupted in dozens of cities across Russia on Saturday to demand the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin's most prominent foe. Police arrested more than 2,100 people, some of whom took to the streets in temperatures as frigid as minus-50 Celsius (minus-58 Fahrenheit). In Moscow, thousands of demonstrators filled Pushkin Square in the city centre, where clashes with police broke out and demonstrators were roughly dragged off by helmeted riot officers to police buses and detention trucks, some beaten with batons. Navalny’s wife Yulia was among those arrested. Police eventually pushed demonstrators out of the square. Thousands then regrouped along a wide boulevard about a kilometre (half-mile) away, many of them throwing snowballs at the police before dispersing. The protests stretched across Russia’s vast territory, from the island city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk north of Japan and the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk, where temperatures plunged to minus-50 Celsius, to Russia’s more populous European cities. The range demonstrated how Navalny and his anti-corruption campaign have built an extensive network of support despite official government repression and being routinely ignored by state media. “The situation is getting worse and worse, it’s total lawlessness," said Andrei Gorkyov, a protester in Moscow. "And if we stay silent, it will go on forever.” The OVD-Info group that monitors political arrests said at least 795 people were detained in Moscow and more than 300 at another large demonstration in St. Petersburg. Overall, it said 2,131 people had been arrested in some 90 cities. Undeterred, Navalny's supporters called for protests again next weekend. Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 when he returned to Moscow from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a severe nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin and which Russian authorities deny. Authorities say his stay in Germany violated terms of a suspended sentence in a 2014 criminal conviction, while Navalny says the conviction was for made-up charges. The 44-year-old activist is well known nationally for his reports on the corruption that has flourished under President Vladimir Putin's government. His wide support puts the Kremlin in a strategic bind — risking more protests and criticism from the West if it keeps him in custody but apparently unwilling to back down by letting him go free. Navalny faces a court hearing in early February to determine whether his sentence in the criminal case for fraud and money-laundering — which Navalny says was politically motivated — is converted to 3 1/2 years behind bars. Moscow police on Thursday arrested three top Navalny associates, two of whom were later jailed for periods of nine and 10 days. Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later. Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to the Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent. Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no traces of poison and have challenged German officials to provide proof of his poisoning. Russia refused to open a full-fledged criminal inquiry, citing a lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned. Last month, Navalny released the recording of a phone call he said he made to a man he described as an alleged member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, who purportedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up. The FSB dismissed the recording as fake. Navalny has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for a decade, unusually durable in an opposition movement often demoralized by repressions. He has been jailed repeatedly in connection with protests and twice was convicted of financial misdeeds in cases that he said were politically motivated. He suffered significant eye damage when an assailant threw disinfectant into his face. He was taken from jail to a hospital in 2019 with an illness that authorities said was an allergic reaction but which many suspected was a poisoning. Daria Litvinova And Jim Heintz, The Associated Press
The United States is closely watching the more infectious variant of COVID-19 after British officials warned that it may also be more deadly, U.S. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said on Saturday. But U.S. health officials are somewhat more worried about a separate variant from South Africa, although that one has not yet been identified among U.S. cases of the novel coronavirus, he told MSNBC in an interview. Collins noted the UK's data was preliminary, and said it was unclear why those with the UK variant faced a higher risk of death, whether by changes in the virus itself or other external causes such as pressures on the healthcare system.
Italy reported 488 coronavirus-related deaths on Saturday, up from 472 the day before, while the daily tally of new infections fell further to 13,331 from 13,633. Italy has now registered 85,162 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak came to light last February, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the sixth-highest in the world. The total number of intensive care patients was little changed at 2,386, against 2,390.
WASHINGTON — It's taken only days for Democrats gauging how far President Joe Biden's bold immigration proposal can go in Congress to acknowledge that if anything emerges, it will likely be significantly more modest. As they brace to tackle a politically flammable issue that's resisted major congressional action since the 1980s, Democrats are using words like “aspirational” to describe Biden's plan and “herculean” to express the effort they'll need to prevail. A cautious note came from the White House on Friday when press secretary Jen Psaki said the new administration views Biden's plan as a “first step” it hopes will be “the basis" of discussions in Congress. Democrats' measured tones underscore the fragile road they face on a paramount issue for their minority voters, progressives and activists. Immigration proponents advocating an all-out fight say Democrats' new hold on the White House and Congress provides a major edge, but they concede they may have to accept less than total victory. Paving a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally, the centerpiece of Biden's plan, is “the stake at the summit of the mountain,” Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration group America’s Voice, said in an interview. He said proponents may have to accept “stepping stones" along the way. The citizenship process in Biden's plan would take as little as three years for some people, eight years for others. It would make it easier for certain workers to stay in the U.S. temporarily or permanently, provide development aid to Central American nations in hopes of reducing immigration and move toward bolstering border screening technology. No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois said in an interview this week that the likeliest package to emerge would start with creating a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers. They are over 1 million immigrants who’ve lived in the U.S. most of their lives after being brought here illegally as children. Over 600,000 of them have temporary permission to live in the U.S. under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Former President Barack Obama created that program administratively, and Durbin and others want to protect it by enacting it into law. Durbin, who called Biden's plan “aspirational,” said he'll push for as many other elements as possible, including more visas for agricultural workers and others. “We understand the political reality of a 50-50 Senate, that any changes in immigration will require co-operation between the parties,” said Durbin, who is on track to become Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. He said Senate legislation likely “will not reach the same levels” as Biden’s proposal. The Senate is split evenly between the two parties, with Vice-President Kamala Harris tipping the chamber to Democrats with her tie-breaking vote. Even so, passing major legislation requires 60 votes to overcome filibusters, or endless procedural delays. That means 10 Republicans must join all 50 Democrats to enact an immigration measure, a tall order. “Passing immigration reform through the Senate, particularly, is a herculean task,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who will also play a lead role in the battle. He said Democrats “will get it done” but the effort will require negotiation. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who's worked with Democrats on past immigration efforts, said “comprehensive immigration is going to be a tough sale” this year. “I think the space in a 50-50 Senate will be some kind of DACA deal,” he said. Illustrating the bargaining ahead, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate who’s sought earlier immigration compromises, praised parts of Biden's plan but said she wants changes including more visas for the foreign workers her state's tourism industry uses heavily. Democrats' hurdles are formidable. They have razor-thin majorities in a House and Senate where Republican support for easing immigration restrictions is usually scant. Acrid partisan relationships were intensified by former President Donald Trump's clamourous tenure. Biden will have to spend plenty of political capital and time on earlier, higher priority bills battling the pandemic and bolstering the economy, leaving his future clout uncertain. Democrats also must resolve tactical differences. Sharry said immigration groups prefer Democrats push for the strongest possible bill without concessions to Republicans' demands like boosting border security spending. He said hopes for a bipartisan breakthrough are “a fool’s errand” because the GOP has largely opposed immigration overhauls for so long. But prevailing without GOP votes would mean virtual unanimity among congressional Democrats, a huge challenge. It would also mean Democrats would have to eliminate the Senate filibuster, which they may not have the votes to do, or concoct other procedural routes around the 60-vote hurdle. “I'm going to start negotiating" with Republicans, said Durbin. He said a bipartisan bill would be better “if we can do it" because it would improve chances for passage. Democrats already face attacks from Republicans, eyeing next year's elections, on an issue that helped power Trump's 2016 victory by fortifying his support from many white voters. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Biden’s proposal would “prioritize help for illegal immigrants and not our fellow citizens.” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who heads the Senate Republican campaign committee, said the measure would hurt “hard-working Americans and the millions of immigrants working their way through the legal immigration process." Democrats say such allegations are false but say it's difficult to compose crisp, sound-bite responses on the complex issue. It requires having “an adult conversation” with voters, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., said in an interview. “Yeah, this is about people, but it's about the economy" too, said Spanberger, a moderate from a district where farms and technology firms hire many immigrants. “In central Virginia, we rely on immigration. And you may not like that, but we do." Alan Fram, The Associated Press
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The developer of the Pebble Mine in Alaska has filed an appeal with the Army Corps of Engineers that asks the agency to reconsider the developer's application to build a gold mine upstream from Bristol Bay. The Army Corps of Engineers rejected Pebble Limited Partnership's application in November on the grounds that the mine would not comply with the Clean Water Act. The proposed mine was to be built on state land, but dredging and filling in federal waters and wetlands requires a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska Public Media reported. Pebble CEO John Shively said the Corps' decision was rushed and came only days after the company filed its final document. Opponents to the proposed mine have said the project would pose a threat to important salmon spawning streams and could ruin the area's sport and commercial fisheries. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy had announced two weeks ago that the state would appeal the permit rejection. Dunleavy said the decision endangers the state’s right to develop its own resources. The Associated Press
LONDON — A major British doctors' group says the U.K. government should “urgently review” its decision to give people a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine up to 12 weeks after the first, rather than the shorter gap recommended by the manufacturer and the World Health Organization. The U.K., which has Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, adopted the policy in order to give as many people as possible a first dose of vaccine quickly. So far almost 5.9 million people in Britain have received a shot of either a vaccine made by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech or one developed by U.K.-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University. AstraZeneca has said it believes a first dose of its vaccine offers protection after 12 weeks, but Pfizer says it has not tested the efficacy of its jab after such a long gap. The British Medical Association on Saturday urged England’s chief medical officer to “urgently review the U.K.’s current position of second doses after 12 weeks.” In a statement, the association said there was “growing concern from the medical profession regarding the delay of the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as Britain's strategy has become increasingly isolated from many other countries.” “No other nation has adopted the U.K.‘s approach,” Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the BMA council, told the BBC. He said the WHO had recommended that the second Pfizer vaccine shot could be given up to six weeks after the first but only “in exceptional circumstances.” “I do understand the trade-off and the rationale, but if that was the right thing to do then we would see other nations following suit,” Nagpaul said. Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, defended the decision as “a reasonable scientific balance on the basis of both supply and also protecting the most people.” Researchers in Britain have begun collecting blood samples from newly vaccinated people in order to study how many antibodies they are producing at different intervals, from 3 weeks to 24 months, to get an answer to the question of what timing is best for the shots. The doctors’ concerns came a day after government medical advisers said there was evidence that a new variant of the virus first identified in southeast England carries a greater risk of death than the original strain. Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said Friday “that there is evidence that there is an increased risk for those who have the new variant,” which is also more transmissible than the original virus. He said the new strain might be about 30% more deadly, but stressed that “the evidence is not yet strong” and more research is needed. Research by British scientists advising the government said although initial analyses suggested that the strain did not cause more severe disease, several more recent ones suggest it might. However, the number of deaths is relatively small, and fatality rates are affected by many things, including the care that patients get and their age and health, beyond having COVID-19. Britain has recorded 97,329 deaths among people who tested positive, the highest confirmed virus toll in Europe and the fifth-highest in the world. The U.K. is in a lockdown to try to slow the latest surge of the virus, and the government says an end to the restrictions will not come soon. Pubs, restaurants, gyms, entertainment venues and many shops are closed, and people are required to stay largely at home. The British government is considering tightening quarantine requirements for people arriving from abroad. Already travellers must self-isolate for 10 days, but enforcement is patchy. Authorities are considering requiring arrivals to stay in quarantine hotels, a practice adopted in other countries including Australia. “We may need to go further to protect our borders,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday. ___ Follow AP coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at: https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak Jill Lawless, The Associated Press
HONOLULU — People following a violent movement that promotes a second U.S. civil war or the breakdown of modern society have been showing up at recent protests across the nation armed and wearing tactical gear. But the anti-government “boogaloo” movement has adopted an unlikely public and online symbol: the so-called Hawaiian shirt. The often brightly colored, island-themed garment, known in Hawaii as an aloha shirt, is to people across the world synonymous with a laid back lifestyle. But in Hawaii, it has an association with aloha — the Native Hawaiian spirit of love, compassion and mercy. The shirts are being worn by militant followers of the boogaloo philosophy — the antithesis of aloha — at demonstrations about coronavirus lockdowns, racial injustice and, most recently, the presidential election. Boogaloo is a loosely affiliated far-right movement that includes a variety of extremist factions and political views. The name is a reference to a slang term for a sequel -- in this case, a second civil war. “You have everyone from neo-Nazis and white nationalists to libertarians,” said Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups in the U.S. "And while ideologically there might be some differentiation among people who identify with the movement, what unites them is their interest in having complete access to firearms and the belief that the country is heading towards a civil war.” Miller said those who follow boogaloo, sometimes referred to as “Boogaloo Bois,” believe that "people need to rise up against the government, which they see as tyrannical and essentially irredeemable, and that the only solution to righting what they see as their perceived grievances is to overthrow the state.” Those adhering to the philosophy often target law enforcement, Miller said, because the police are the most accessible symbol of the government at public gatherings. People affiliated with the movement have been linked to real-world violence, including a string of domestic terrorism plots. The movement has also been promoted by white supremacists, but many supporters insist they’re not truly advocating for violence. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach people associated with the movement were unsuccessful. “If you look at their online spaces, their rhetoric is extremely violent," Miller said. "A lot of it is kind of under this veneer of irony and humour, but there’s something very real to all of it.” When social media sites began banning the use of the word “boogaloo” and those associated with the movement, followers started using different terms to mask their online identities and intentions. “They’ll adopt a slogan that sounds benign in order to evade scrutiny, in order to evade bans. And so with the boogaloo, what you got is sort of variations of that term showing up in online spaces," Miller said. “One of them was ‘big luau,’ and that is then what led to using Hawaiian imagery and then the Hawaiian shirts.” Miller added that she doesn't believe “they’re really thinking about the meaning of the symbols that they’re using.” "For them, it’s a reference to show that they’re in the know that they’re part of this culture, that they can identify each other at public gatherings like this. And I think that’s really how it functions. It is creating kind of a sense of camaraderie.” But to those who live in Hawaii, especially Native Hawaiians, the aloha spirit attached to the commercialized patterns on the shirts has deeper meaning. “The aloha shirt is one thing but aloha itself is another, and the principles of aloha are deeply rooted in our culture,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, a Native Hawaiian activist who has led peaceful protests against the building of a telescope on a Hawaii peak indigenous people consider sacred. “The principles of aloha are based on love, peace, harmony, truth.” "It creates the space for compassion to come into our heart, rather than the contrary of that, which would be hate, loathing, anti-Semitism, you know, racism,” Pisciotta said. Many Native Hawaiians share a sense of frustration with U.S. and state government because of the way the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown. They have long fought against the exploitation and commercialization of their land by large corporations and government entities, but in a mostly peaceful way. “Hawaiians are facing desecration of our burials ... of our sacred places. But it’s in our choice of how we want to respond and address the powers that be," Pisciotta added. "If you want the end result to be based in peace, then you have to move in peace and move in aloha.” "Aloha is about also reducing suffering, reducing, deescalating anger,” she added. "It’s human to become angry, it's human to feel frustrated. It’s human to want to lash out. But but it’s also human to find compassion.” Dale Hope, whose parents owned a garment factory in Honolulu that he went on to run and create quality aloha shirts with an eye toward detailed and authentic Hawaiian imagery, said the imagery being used at protests among extremists is misguided. “I don’t think they really understand the value and the meaning of what these shirts represent,” he said. “I think they’re an easy way for them to stand out in the crowd and to get a lot of attention. But I don’t I don’t think they have a clue as to what the meaning and the virtues of aloha are with love and compassion and sharing.” Hope wrote the book “The Aloha Shirt" about the early days of the textile industry in Hawaii and the meaning behind the aloha symbolism. Aloha shirts first emerged in Hawaii in the 1930s and became accepted business wear locally in the 1960s. They often feature island motifs such as native plants, ocean waves and other scenes that play a prominent role in Native Hawaiian legends and hula chants. Some also show Chinese calligraphy or Japanese carp, reflecting the many cultures that have shaped modern Hawaii. Hope said some designers in Hawaii go out and chant and ask Hawaiian gods for respect before they begin the process of making the symbols on the shirts. “We’ve always tried to do things with respect and honour, whatever the subject is that we’re trying to portray on a piece of textile," Hope said. “I think the aloha shirt is a representation of your passion and your love for this wonderful place that we call home. Hawaii is a unique, wonderful group of islands out in the middle of the Pacific." Caleb Jones, The Associated Press
The takeover in 2016 by right-wing extremists of a federal bird sanctuary in Oregon. A standoff in 1992 between white separatists and federal agents in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. The 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people. Right-wing extremism has previously played out for the most part in isolated pockets of America and in its smaller cities. The deadly assault by rioters on the U.S. Capitol, in contrast, targeted the very heart of government. And it brought together, in large numbers, members of disparate groups, creating an opportunity for extremists to establish links with each other. That, an experts says, potentially sets the stage for more violent actions. “The events themselves, and participation in them, has a radicalizing effect. And they also have an inspirational effect. The battle of Capitol Hill is now part of the mythology,” said Brian Michael Jenkins, a terrorism expert and senior adviser to the president of the RAND Corporation think-tank . Mary McCord, a former acting U.S. assistant attorney general for national security, said the climate for the insurrection had been building throughout the Trump presidency. She cited the 2017 “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that killed one person, aggressive demonstrations at statehouses by armed protesters railing against COVID-19 public health safety orders and mass shootings by people motivated by hate. “All have led to this moment,” McCord, now a visiting law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, said in an email. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors U.S. extremists, has recorded a 55% increase in the number of white nationalist hate groups since 2017. Among those who participated in the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol were members of the Oath Keepers, which often recruits current and former military, police or other first responders; the Proud Boys neo-fascist group; followers of QAnon, which spreads bizarre conspiracy theories; racists and anti-Semites; and others with nearly blind devotion to then-President Donald Trump. “January 6th was kind of a Woodstock of the angry right,” Jenkins said in an interview. “The mere fact those groups were coming together, mingling, sharing this anger, displaying this passion — it is going to have effects.” But what happens next? Will Jan. 6 be a high-water mark for right-wing extremists, or lead to other attacks on America's democracy? Right now, the movement — if it can be called that — seems to be on pause. Supposedly planned armed protests at all 50 state capitals and Washington this past week that the FBI issued a nationwide warning about drew virtually no one. That could indicate the groups are demoralized, at least temporarily. Donald Trump is no longer president and his social media reach has been severely curtailed, with Twitter banning him. The extremists had come together in Washington on Jan. 6 because of their fervent belief in Trump's lies that the presidential election had been stolen, and in response to Trump's tweeted declaration that the protest in Washington “will be wild.” But now, some are clearly angry that Trump disassociated himself with the very insurrection that he stoked. They're upset that he failed to come to the rescue of rioters who were arrested while he was still president and are still being detained and charged. Online, some people associated with the Proud Boys, which adored Trump, appear to have dumped him. “No pardons for middle class whites who risked their livelihoods by going to ‘war' for Trump," a Telegram channel associated with the group said after Trump issued many pardons, but none for the insurrectionists. Another posting on the channel said: “I cannot wait to watch the GOP completely collapse. Out of the ashes, a true nationalist movement will arise.” Believers in QAnon are also reeling after Trump left office without fulfilling their baseless belief that he would vanquish a supposed cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibals, including top Democrats, operating a child sex trafficking ring. Among them was Ron Watkins, who helps run an online messaging board about QAnon conspiracy theories. “We gave it our all. Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able,” Watkins wrote on Telegram after President Joe Biden was sworn in and Trump flew off to Florida. Jenkins said the next phase for the extremist groups and people who saw Trump as a saviour could transform into a broader national movement in which factions co-ordinate and combine their assets. Or the widespread condemnation of the insurrection could cause the movement to shrink, leaving more determined elements to strike out on their own and launch attacks. Jenkins recalled the 1970s, when some anti-Vietnam War militants hardened into the Weather Underground, which launched a bombing campaign. Among places targeted were the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon, but the only people who died were three militants who accidentally blew themselves up. “I think given the events of this past year, and especially what we’ve seen in the last couple of months, this puts us into new territory," Jenkins said "And you don't put this back in the box that easily." ___ Associated Press writers Amanda Seitz in Chicago and Garance Burke in San Francisco contributed to this report. ___ Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky Andrew Selsky, The Associated Press
Germany expects British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc to deliver 3 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in February despite the company's latest production problems, Health Minister Jens Spahn told Bild am Sonntag newspaper. AstraZeneca informed European Union officials on Friday it would cut deliveries of its COVID-19 vaccine to the bloc by 60% to 31 million doses in the first quarter of the year due to production problems, a senior official told Reuters. The decrease deals another blow to Europe's COVID-19 vaccination drive after Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech slowed supplies of their vaccine to the bloc this week, saying the move was needed because of work to ramp up production.
Support for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has overseen the world's second deadliest coronavirus outbreak, has fallen sharply, a Datafolha poll shows, as a brutal second wave and a lack of vaccines sours views of his far-right government. However, despite his declining support, a majority of Brazilians are now against him being impeached, a second Datafolha poll found. According to one of the polls, Bolsonaro's administration was rated as bad or terrible by 40% of respondents, up from 32% in an early-December survey.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte lashed out at suppliers of COVID-19 vaccines on Saturday, saying delays in deliveries amounted to a serious breach of contractual obligations. Italy will have to rethink its whole vaccination programme if supply problems persist, a senior health official warned on Saturday, after Rome was forced to cut its daily rollout of COVID-19 shots by more than two thirds. Pfizer Inc last week said it was temporarily slowing supplies to Europe to make manufacturing changes that would boost output.
The United States plans to reverse the Trump administration's "draconian" immigration approach while working on policies addressing the causes of migration, President Joe Biden told his Mexican counterpart, the White House said on Saturday. In a Friday call with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Biden outlined his plan to create new legal pathways for immigration and improve the process for people requesting asylum, according to an account of the call released by the White House.
Hundreds of people marched in central Tunis on Saturday against inequality and police brutality, in defiance of a ban on demonstrations and as security forces tried to block off the city's main central avenue. Protesters chanted "the people want the fall of the regime" - a chant popularised during the so-call Arab Spring a decade ago - and held up banners and slogans decrying the security response to more than a week of demonstrations and nightly clashes between youths and police in cities across Tunisia. The protests, 10 years after a popular revolt against autocratic rule introduced democracy in Tunisia, represent the biggest bout of political unrest in several years, with police detaining hundreds of people.
Democrats plan to move quickly on one of the first bills of the new Congress, citing the need for federal election standards and other reforms to shore up the foundations of American democracy after a tumultuous post-election period and deadly riot at the Capitol. States have long had disparate and contradictory rules for running elections. But the 2020 election, which featured pandemic-related changes to ease voting and then a flood of lawsuits by former President Donald Trump and his allies, underscored the differences from state to state: Mail-in ballots due on Election Day or just postmarked by then? Absentee voting allowed for all or just voters with an excuse? Same-day or advance-only registration? Democrats, asserting constitutional authority to set the time, place and manner of federal elections, want national rules they say would make voting more uniform, accessible and fair across the nation. The bill would mandate early voting, same-day registration and other long-sought reforms that Republicans reject as federal overreach. “We have just literally seen an attack on our own democracy,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, referring to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. “I cannot think of a more timely moment to start moving on democracy reform.” The legislation first introduced two years ago, known as the For the People Act, also would give independent commissions the job of drawing congressional districts, require political groups to disclose high-dollar donors, create reporting requirements for online political ads and, in a rearview nod at Trump, obligate presidents to disclose their tax returns. Republican opposition was fierce during the last session. At the time, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., labeled it the “Democrat Politician Protection Act” and said in an op-ed that Democrats were seeking to “change the rules of American politics to benefit one party.” While Democrats control Congress for the first time in a decade, the measure's fate depends on whether enough Republicans can be persuaded to reconsider a bill they have repeatedly rejected. If not, Democrats could decide it's time to take the extraordinary and difficult step of eliminating the Senate filibuster, a procedural tool often used by the minority party to block bills under rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation. Advocates say the bill is the most consequential piece of voting legislation since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. House Democrats vowed two years ago to make the bill a priority, and they reintroduced it this month as H.R. 1, underscoring its importance to the party. “People just want to be able to cast their vote without it being an ordeal,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, a Democrat from Maryland who is the lead sponsor of the House bill. “It’s crazy in America that you still have to navigate an obstacle course to get to the ballot box.” Current plans would have the full House take up the bill as soon as the first week of February. The Senate Rules Committee would then consider a companion bill introduced in the Senate, and a tie vote there could allow it to move out of committee and to the floor as early as next month, said Klobuchar, who is expected to become the committee’s next chair. A quick vote would be remarkable considering the Senate also is likely to be juggling Trump’s impeachment trial, confirmation of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet choices and another round of coronavirus relief. While states have long had different voting procedures, the November 2020 election highlighted how the variability could be used to sow doubt about the outcome. The bill’s supporters, which include national voting and civil rights organizations, cited dozens of pre-election lawsuits that challenged procedural rules, such as whether ballots postmarked on Election Day should count. They also pointed to the post-election litigation Trump and his allies filed to try to get millions of legitimately cast ballots tossed out. Many of those lawsuits targeted election changes intended to make voting easier. That included a Pennsylvania law the state’s Republican-led legislature passed before the pandemic to make absentee ballots available to all registered voters upon request. Government and election officials repeatedly have described the election as the most secure in U.S. history. Even former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, a Trump ally, said before leaving his post that there was no evidence of widespread fraud that would overturn the result. “The strategy of lying about voter fraud, delegitimizing the election outcome and trying to suppress votes has been unmasked for the illegitimate attack on our democracy that it is, and I think that it opens a lot more doors to real conversations about how to fix our voting system and root out this cancer,” said Wendy Weiser, head of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy institute. Along with the election reform bill, the House two years ago introduced a related bill, now known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in honour of the late civil rights activist and congressman. House Democrats are expected to reintroduce it soon after it had similarly stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. That bill would restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that had triggered federal scrutiny of election changes in certain states and counties. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling set aside the method used to identify jurisdictions subject to the provision, known as preclearance, which was used to protect voting rights in places with a history of discrimination. In general, state election officials have been wary of federal voting requirements. But those serving in states led by Democrats have been more open and want to ensure Congress provides money to help them make system upgrades, which the bill does. “If you still believe in what we all learned in high school government class, that democracy works best when as many eligible people participate, these are commonsense reforms,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, a Democrat who oversaw California’s elections before being appointed to the seat formerly held by Vice-President Kamala Harris. But Republican officials like Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill remain opposed. Merrill said the federal government’s role is limited and that states must be allowed to innovate and implement their own voting rules. “Those decisions are best left up to the states, and I think the states are the ones that should determine what course of action they should take,” Merrill said, noting that Alabama has increased voter registration and participation without implementing early voting. “To just say that everything needs to be uniform, that’s not the United States of America,” Merrill said. In the Senate, a key question will be whether there is enough Republican support for elements of the voting reform bill to persuade Democrats to break off certain parts of it into smaller legislation. For now, Democrats say they want a floor vote on the full package. Edward B. Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University, said Democrats should consider narrow reforms that could gain bipartisan support, cautioning that moving too quickly on a broad bill runs the risk of putting off Republicans. “It would seem to me at this moment in American history, a precarious moment, the right instinct should be a kind of bipartisanship to rebuild common ground as opposed to ‘Our side won, your side lost and we are off to the races,’” Foley said. ___ Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Christina A. Cassidy, The Associated Press
Passengers on public transport systems should avoid talking to one another or on the phone in order to minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus, the French National Academy of Medecine said. Academy member Patrick Berche said on BFM TV on Saturday that if there were only three people in a subway car there was no problem, but if you were only two centimetres away from the next person it made sense not to converse or talk on the phone. The academy - which was founded in 1820 - criticised a recent government recommendation to wear only surgical masks in public, rather than masks made of fabric.
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When COVID-19 first swarmed the United States, one health insurer called some customers with a question: Do you have enough to eat? Oscar Health wanted to know if people had adequate food for the next couple weeks and how they planned to stay stocked up while hunkering down at home. “We’ve seen time and again, the lack of good and nutritional food causes members to get readmitted" to hospitals, Oscar executive Ananth Lalithakumar said. Food has become a bigger focus for health insurers as they look to expand their coverage beyond just the care that happens in a doctor’s office. More plans are paying for temporary meal deliveries and some are teaching people how to cook and eat healthier foods. Benefits experts say insurers and policymakers are growing used to treating food as a form of medicine that can help patients reduce blood sugar or blood pressure levels and stay out of expensive hospitals. “People are finally getting comfortable with the idea that everybody saves money when you prevent certain things from happening or somebody’s condition from worsening,” said Andrew Shea, a senior vice-president with the online insurance broker eHealth. This push is still relatively small and happening mostly with government-funded programs like Medicaid or Medicare Advantage, the privately run versions of the government's health program for people who are 65 or older or have disabilities. But some employers that offer coverage to their workers also are growing interested. Medicaid programs in several states are testing or developing food coverage. Next year, Medicare will start testing meal program vouchers for patients with malnutrition as part of a broader look at improving care and reducing costs. Nearly 7 million people were enrolled last year in a Medicare Advantage plan that offered some sort of meal benefit, according to research from the consulting firm Avalere Health. That’s more than double the total from 2018. Insurers commonly cover temporary meal deliveries so patients have something to eat when they return from the hospital. And for several years now, many also have paid for meals tailored to patients with conditions such as diabetes. But now insurers and other bill payers are taking a more nuanced approach. This comes as the coronavirus pandemic sends millions of Americans to seek help from food banks or neighbourhood food pantries. Oscar Health, for instance, found that nearly 3 out of 10 of its Medicare Advantage customers had food supply problems at the start of the pandemic, so it arranged temporary grocery deliveries from a local store at no cost to the recipient. The Medicare Advantage specialist Humana started giving some customers with low incomes debit cards with either a $25 or $50 on them to help buy healthy food. The insurer also is testing meal deliveries in the second half of the month. That's when money from government food programs can run low. Research shows that diabetes patients wind up making more emergency room visits then, said Humana executive Dr. Andrew Renda. “It may be because they’re still taking their medications but they don’t have enough food. And so their blood sugar goes crazy and then they end up in the hospital,” he said. The Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer Anthem connected Medicare Advantage customer Kim Bischoff with a nutritionist after she asked for help losing weight. The 43-year-old Napoleon, Ohio, resident had lost more than 100 pounds about 11 years ago, but she was gaining weight again and growing frustrated. The nutritionist helped wean Bischoff from a so-called keto diet largely centred on meats and cheeses. The insurer also arranged for temporary food deliveries from a nearby Kroger so she could try healthy foods like rice noodles, almonds and dried fruits. Bischoff said she only lost a few pounds. But she was able to stop taking blood pressure and thyroid medications because her health improved after she balanced her diet. “I learned that a little bit of weight gain isn’t a huge deal, but the quality of my health is," she said. David Berwick of Somerville, Massachusetts, credits a meal delivery program with improving his blood sugar, and he wishes he could stay on it. The 64-year-old has diabetes and started the program last year at the suggestion of his doctor. The Medicaid program MassHealth covered it. Berwick said the non-profit Community Servings gave him weekly deliveries of dry cereal and premade meals for him to reheat. Those included soups and turkey meatloaf Berwick described as “absolutely delicious.” “They’re not things I would make on my own for sure,” he said. “It was a gift, it was a real privilege.” These programs typically last a few weeks or months and often focus on customers with a medical condition or low incomes who have a hard time getting nutritious food. But they aren't limited to those groups. Indianapolis-based Preventia Group is starting food deliveries for some employers that want to improve the eating habits of people covered under their health plans. People who sign up start working with a health coach to learn about nutrition. Then they can either begin short-term deliveries of meals or bulk boxes of food and recipes to try. The employer picks up the cost. It's not just about hunger or a lack of good food, said Chief Operating Officer Susan Rider. They're also educating people about what healthy, nutritious food is and how to prepare it. Researchers expect coverage of food as a form of medicine to grow as insurers and employers learn more about which programs work best. Patients with low incomes may need help first with getting access to nutritional food. People with employer-sponsored coverage might need to focus more on how to use their diet to manage diabetes or improve their overall health. A 2019 study of Massachusetts residents with similar medical conditions found that those who received meals tailored to their condition had fewer hospital admissions and generated less health care spending than those who did not. Study author Dr. Seth Berkowitz of the University of North Carolina noted that those meals are only one method for addressing food or nutrition problems. He said a lot more can be learned “about what interventions work, in what situations and for whom.” A lack of healthy food “is very clearly associated with poor health, so we know we need to do something about it,” Berkowitz said. ___ Follow Tom Murphy on Twitter: @thpmurphy ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Tom Murphy, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The words of Donald Trump supporters who are accused of participating in the deadly U.S. Capitol riot may end up being used against him in his Senate impeachment trial as he faces the charge of inciting a violent insurrection. At least five supporters facing federal charges have suggested they were taking orders from the then-president when they marched on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 to challenge the certification of Joe Biden's election win. But now those comments, captured in interviews with reporters and federal agents, are likely to take centre stage as Democrats lay out their case. It's the first time a former president will face such charges after leaving office. “I feel like I was basically following my president. I was following what we were called to do. He asked us to fly there. He asked us to be there," Jenna Ryan, a Texas real estate agent who posted a photo on Twitter of herself flashing a peace sign next to a broken Capitol window, told a Dallas-Fort Worth TV station. Jacob Chansley, the Arizona man photographed on the dais in the Senate who was shirtless and wore face paint and a furry hat with horns, has similarly pointed a finger at Trump. Chansley called the FBI the day after the insurrection and told agents he travelled “at the request of the president that all ‘patriots’ come to D.C. on January 6, 2021,” authorities wrote in court papers. Chanley’s lawyer unsuccessfully lobbied for a pardon for his client before Trump's term ended, saying Chansley “felt like he was answering the call of our president.” Authorities say that while up on the dais in the Senate chamber, Chansley wrote a threatening note to then-Vice-President Mike Pence that said: “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.” Trump is the first president to be twice impeached and the first to face a trial after leaving office. The charge this time is “inciting violence against the government of the United States.” His impeachment lawyer, Butch Bowers, did not respond to call for comment. Opening arguments in the trial will begin the week of Feb. 8. House Democrats who voted to impeach Trump last week for inciting the storming of the Capitol say a full reckoning is necessary before the country — and the Congress — can move on. For weeks, Trump rallied his supporters against the election outcome and urged them to come to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to rage against Biden's win. Trump spoke to the crowd near the White House shortly before they marched along Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill. “We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen,” Trump said. “You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.” Later he said: “If you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.” He told supporters to walk to the Capitol to “peacefully and patriotically” make your voices heard. Trump has taken no responsibility for his part in fomenting the violence, saying days after the attack: “People thought that what I said was totally appropriate.” Unlike a criminal trial, where there are strict rules about what is and isn’t evidence, the Senate can consider anything it wishes. And if they can show that Trump’s words made a real impact, all the better, and scholars expect it in the trial. "Bringing in those people's statements is part of proving that it would be at a minimum reasonable for a rational person to expect that if you said and did the things that Trump said and did, then they would be understood in precisely the way these people understood them," said Frank Bowman, a constitutional law expert and law professor at University of Missouri. A retired firefighter from Pennsylvania told a friend that that he travelled to Washington with a group of people and the group listened to Trump's speech and then “followed the President’s instructions” and went to the Capitol, an agent wrote in court papers. That man, Robert Sanford, is accused of throwing a fire extinguisher that hit three Capitol Police officers. Another man, Robert Bauer of Kentucky, told FBI agents that “he marched to the U.S. Capitol because President Trump said to do so,” authorities wrote. His cousin, Edward Hemenway, from Virginia, told the FBI that he and Bauer headed toward the Capitol after Trump said “something about taking Pennsylvania Avenue." More than 130 people as of Friday were facing federal charges; prosecutors have promised that more cases — and more serious charges — are coming. Most of those arrested so far are accused of crimes like unlawful entry and disorderly conduct, but prosecutors this week filed conspiracy charges against three self-described members of a paramilitary group who authorities say plotted the attack. A special group of prosecutors is examining whether to bring sedition charges, which carry up to 20 years in prison, against any of the rioters. Two-thirds of the Senate is needed to convict. And while many Republicans — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky— have condemned Trump's words, it remains unclear how many would vote to convict him. “While the statements of those people kind of bolsters the House manager's case, I think that President Trump has benefited from a Republican Party that has not been willing to look at evidence,” said Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law who testified before the House Judiciary Committee during Trump's first impeachment hearings in 2019. “They stood by him for the entire first impeachment proceeding, thinking that the phone call with the president of the Ukraine was perfect and I’m sure they will think that was a perfect speech too. There is nothing yet to suggest that they would think otherwise," Gerhardt said. ____ Richer reported from Boston. Alanna Durkin Richer And Colleen Long, The Associated Press