Biden aims to vaccinate 70% of American adults by July 4
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday set a new vaccination goal to deliver at least one shot to 70% of adult Americans by July Fourth as he tackles the vexing problem of winning over the “doubters” and those unmotivated to get inoculated.
Demand for vaccines has dropped off markedly nationwide, with some states leaving more than half their available doses unordered. Aiming to make it easier to get shots, Biden called for states to make vaccines available on a walk-in basis and he will direct many pharmacies to do likewise.
His administration for the first time also is moving to shift doses from states with weaker demand to areas with stronger interest in the shots.
“You do need to get vaccinated,” Biden said from the White House. “Even if your chance of getting seriously ill is low, why take the risk? It could save your life or the lives of somebody you love.”
Biden’s goal equates to delivering at least the first shot to 181 million adults and fully vaccinating 160 million. It’s a tacit acknowledgment of the declining interest in shots.
‘Horrible’ weeks ahead as India’s virus catastrophe worsens
NEW DELHI (AP) — COVID-19 infections and deaths are mounting with alarming speed in India with no end in sight to the crisis and a top expert warning that the coming weeks in the country of nearly 1.4 billion people will be “horrible.”
India’s official count of coronavirus cases surpassed 20 million Tuesday, nearly doubling in the past three months, while deaths officially have passed 220,000. Staggering as those numbers are, the true figures are believed to be far higher, the undercount an apparent reflection of the troubles in the health care system.
The country has witnessed scenes of people dying outside overwhelmed hospitals and funeral pyres lighting up the night sky.
Infections have surged in India since February in a disastrous turn blamed on more contagious variants of the virus as well as government decisions to allow massive crowds to gather for Hindu religious festivals and political rallies before state elections.
The reported caseload is second only to that of the U.S., which has one-fourth the population of India but has recorded over 32 million confirmed infections. The U.S. has also reported more than 2 1/2 times as many deaths as India, at close to 580,000.
US report: Taliban will likely curtail Afghan women’s rights
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. intelligence agencies are warning that any gains in women’s rights in Afghanistan made in the last two decades will be at risk after U.S. troops withdraw later this year.
An unclassified report released Tuesday by the Director of National Intelligence says the Taliban remain “broadly consistent in its restrictive approach to women’s rights and would roll back much of the past two decades’ progress if the group regained national power.”
It’s the latest U.S. warning of the consequences of the Afghan withdrawal now underway, two decades after an American-led coalition toppled the Taliban. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that there would possibly be “some really dramatic, bad possible outcomes” for Afghan forces left on their own to counter the Taliban, but also noted, “We frankly don’t know yet.” And CIA Director William Burns told Congress in April that the American ability “to collect and act on threats will diminish.”
President Joe Biden has set a September deadline for U.S. forces to withdraw. While Biden and his top officials have stressed that they will not end their engagement with Afghanistan or advocacy for human rights, the U.S. has also openly warned of gains for the Taliban, which has been locked in an insurgency with coalition and Afghan forces and already controls swaths throughout the country.
During the Taliban’s rule in the 1990s, women were largely confined to their homes, and girls had no access to education. Despite protestations from the U.S. and Europe, the Taliban brutally enforced its extreme version of Islamic Sharia law with little consequence. It was only after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the group that had hosted Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network that democratic governance and respect for human rights in Afghanistan became a Western priority.
Judge orders Justice Dept. to release Trump obstruction memo
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge has ordered the release of a legal memorandum the Trump-era Justice Department prepared for then-Attorney General William Barr before he announced his conclusion that President Donald Trump had not obstructed justice during the Russia investigation.
The Justice Department had refused to give the March 24, 2019, memorandum to a government transparency group that requested it under the Freedom of Information Act, saying the document represented the private advice of lawyers and was produced before any formal decision had been made and was therefore exempt from disclosure under public records law.
But U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, in a sharp rebuke of Barr, said the Justice Department had obscured “the true purpose of the memorandum” when it withheld the document.
She said the memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel contained “strategic, as opposed to legal advice” and that both the writers and the recipients already understood that Trump would not be prosecuted. Though government agencies may withhold from disclosure documents that reflect internal deliberations before a decision is made, that protection does not apply in this case since a conclusion had already been reached, the judge wrote.
“In other words, the review of the document reveals that the Attorney General was not then engaged in making a decision about whether the President should be charged with obstruction of justice; the fact that he would not be prosecuted was a given,” Jackson said in an order dated Monday.
Chauvin’s lawyer seeks new trial, hearing to impeach verdict
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The defence attorney for the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of killing George Floyd has requested a new trial, saying the court abused its discretion, and he wants a hearing to have the verdict impeached because of what he says is jury misconduct, according to a court document filed Tuesday.
Derek Chauvin, who is white, was convicted last month of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the May 25 death of Floyd. Evidence at trial showed Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes as the Black man said he couldn’t breathe and went motionless.
Defence attorney Eric Nelson said he is requesting a new trial in the interests of justice. He said there were abuses of discretion that deprived Chauvin of a fair trial, prosecutorial and jury misconduct and that the verdict was contrary to law.
A request for a new trial is routine following a guilty verdict and often mirrors issues that will be raised on appeal, said Mike Brandt, a Minneapolis defence attorney who has been closely following the case. If this request is denied, it can add another layer of decisions for Nelson to appeal. Brandt and others have said Chauvin’s convictions are unlikely to be overturned.
Nelson cited many reasons in his request for a new trial. He said Judge Peter Cahill abused the discretion of the court and violated Chauvin’s right to due process and a fair trial when he denied Nelson’s request to move the trial to another county due to pretrial publicity.
Wind, rain pound South amid flood fears and water rescues
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Relentless winds and rain pummeled large swaths of the South on Tuesday, causing tornadoes, sparking a flash flood emergency in Alabama and damaging homes from Texas to Virginia. The storms prompted boat rescues, toppled trees and power lines and raised the threat of flash floods elsewhere in the region.
The National Weather Service issued the flash flood emergency for the Birmingham, Alabama, area at the start of rush hour, warning that torrential rains — as much as 5 inches (13 centimetres) in some areas — had already fallen and another 2 inches (5 centimetres) were possible before the storm system continued eastward.
Jefferson County Emergency Management officials in the Birmingham area urged residents to stay off the roads because so many were flooded.
In the Birmingham suburb of Homewood, residents huddled on the second-floor balcony of an apartment complex that became flooded. Fire department rescuers in a small boat paddled through the parking lot past submerged cars, slowly removing at least 13 people from the flooding. Some were taken out with their pets.
Strong winds blowing behind a line of storms were toppling trees across central Alabama, where soil was saturated with water.
US birth rate falls to lowest point in more than a century
NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. birth rate fell 4% last year, the largest single-year decrease in nearly 50 years, according to a government report being released Wednesday.
The rate dropped for moms of every major race and ethnicity, and in nearly age group, falling to the lowest point since federal health officials started tracking it more than a century ago.
Births have been declining in younger women for years, as many postponed motherhood and had smaller families.
Birth rates for women in their late 30s and in their 40s have been inching up. But not last year.
“The fact that you saw declines in births even for older moms is quite striking,” said Brady Hamilton, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the lead author of the new report.
Cheney could be ‘toast’ in fight with Trump over GOP future
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy wants his party to stand firmly with Donald Trump, despite the former president’s false claims about the election being stolen from him.
No. 3 GOP leader Liz Cheney is trying to steer the party far from Trump’s claims about his defeat, charting a future without him.
The party, it became more apparent Tuesday, does not have room for both.
Cheney’s political future was increasingly in peril as McCarthy signalled he would no longer protect his lieutenant from those seeking her ouster from House GOP leadership, opening the possibility of a vote to remove her from the job as soon as next week. One Republican aide granted anonymity to discuss the situation said simply, “She’s toast.”
What could be seen as a skirmish between minority party leaders trying to find a way back to the majority has become a more politically profound moment for Republicans and the country. The party of Abraham Lincoln is deciding whether to let Trump’s false claims about the election of Democrat Joe Biden go unchecked — or to hold him accountable, as Cheney does, by arguing the country cannot “whitewash” the former president’s role in the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Overpass collapse on Mexico City metro kills at least 24
MEXICO CITY (AP) — The death toll from the collapse of an overpass on the Mexico City metro rose to 24 Tuesday as crews untangled train carriages from the steel and concrete wreckage that fell onto a roadway.
Monday night’s accident was one of the deadliest in the history of the subway, and questions quickly arose about the structural integrity of the mass transit system, among the world’s busiest.
Another 27 people remained hospitalized of the more than 70 injured when the support beams collapsed about 10:30 p.m. as a train passed along the elevated section, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said.
On Tuesday, a crane carefully lowered a train car containing four bodies to the ground.
Of the 24 killed, 21 died at the scene, while the others died at hospitals. Only five have been identified so far. Children were among the fatalities, Sheinbaum said.
Netanyahu misses deadline, political future in question
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday failed to meet a midnight deadline to put together a new governing coalition, raising the possibility that his Likud party could be pushed into the opposition for the first time in 12 years.
The deadline closed a four-week window granted to Netanyahu by Israel’s figurehead president. The matter now bounces back to President Reuven Rivlin, who announced just after midnight that he would contact on Wednesday the 13 parties with seats in parliament to discuss “the continuation of the process of forming a government.”
Rivlin is expected in the coming days to give one of Netanyahu’s opponents a chance to form an alternative coalition government. He also could ask the parliament to select one of its own members as prime minister. If all else fails, the country would be forced into another election this fall — the fifth in just over two years.
The turmoil does not mean that Netanyahu will immediately be forced out as prime minister. But he now faces a serious threat to his lengthy rule just as his corruption trial is kicking into high gear. His opponents, despite deep ideological differences, already have been holding informal talks in recent weeks in hopes of forging a power-sharing agreement.
Netanyahu had struggled to secure a parliamentary majority since March 23 — when elections ended in deadlock for the fourth consecutive time in the past two years. Despite repeated meetings with many of his rivals and unprecedented outreach to the leader of a small Islamist Arab party, Netanyahu was unable to close a deal.
The Associated Press