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Vaccines making Thanksgiving easier, but hot spots remain

The U.S. is facing its second Thanksgiving of the pandemic in better shape than the first time around, thanks to the vaccine, though some regions are seeing surges of COVID-19 cases that could get worse as families travel the country for gatherings that were impossible a year ago.

Nearly 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated. That leaves tens of millions who have yet to get a shot in the arm, some of them out of defiance. Hospitals in the cold Upper Midwest, especially Michigan and Minnesota, are filled with COVID-19 patients who are mostly unvaccinated.

Michigan hospitals reported about 3,800 coronavirus patients at the start of the week, with 20% in intensive care units, numbers that approach the bleakest days of the pandemic's 2020 start. The state had a seven-day new-case rate of 572 per 100,000 people Tuesday, the highest in the nation, followed by New Hampshire at 522.

In the West, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Montana also ranked high. Some Colorado communities, including Denver, are turning to indoor mask orders to reduce risk, a policy that has also been adopted in the Buffalo, New York, area and Santa Cruz County, California.

The statistics in Michigan are "horrible,” said Dr. Matthew Trunsky, a respiratory specialist at Beaumont Health in suburban Detroit.


Child is 6th death in Waukesha parade crash; suspect charged

An 8-year-old boy became the sixth person to die Tuesday as a result of a man driving his SUV into a suburban Milwaukee Christmas parade, with a criminal complaint alleging that the suspect in the case steered side-to-side with the intent of striking marchers and spectators.

Darrell Brooks Jr., 39, was charged with five counts of first-degree intentional homicide, a charge that carries a mandatory life sentence if convicted. He rocked back and forth in his seat and cried throughout his court hearing on Tuesday, his attorney’s arm on his back, as the charges against him were detailed. His bail was set at $5 million, and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for Jan. 14.

“The nature of this offense is shocking," said Waukesha Court Commissioner Kevin Costello.

Additional charges related to the sixth death and the more than 60 people injured will be coming later this week or next, said Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper. The criminal complaint said 62 people were injured, up from the 48 previously announced by police.

Brooks is accused of speeding away from police and entering the Waukesha Christmas parade on Sunday night, refusing to stop even as an officer banged on the hood of his SUV. Another officer fired three shots into the vehicle, but it did not stop.


Biden aims to do what presidents often can't: Beat inflation

WASHINGTON (AP) — LBJ tried jawboning. Richard Nixon issued a presidential edict. The Ford administration printed buttons exhorting Americans to “Whip Inflation Now.’’

Over the years, American presidents have tried, and mostly floundered, in their efforts to quell the economic and political menace of consumer inflation.

Now, President Joe Biden is giving it a shot.

Confronting a spike in gasoline and other consumer prices that's bedeviling American households, Biden on Tuesday ordered the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the U.S strategic petroleum reserve. The move, done in coordination with several other major nations, is intended to contain energy costs. Oil markets, having anticipated the move, were unimpressed with the details: Oil prices actually rose on the news.

It was just the latest step Biden has taken to show he is doing everything he can to combat inflation as gasoline and food prices, in particular, have imposed a growing burden on American households. On Monday, he announced that he would reappoint Jerome Powell as chair of the Federal Reserve, a move meant in part to reassure financial markets that Washington is serious about containing consumer prices. Last month, he announced a deal to ease supply backlogs at the Port of Los Angeles by extending operations there to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Jury awards $26M in damages for Unite the Right violence

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A jury ordered 17 white nationalist leaders and organizations to pay more than $26 million in damages Tuesday over the violence that erupted during the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

After a nearly monthlong civil trial, the jury in U.S. District Court deadlocked on two key claims but found the white nationalists liable on four other claims in the lawsuit filed by nine people who suffered physical or emotional injuries during the two days of demonstrations.

Attorney Roberta Kaplan said the plaintiffs' lawyers plan to refile the suit so a new jury can decide the two deadlocked claims. She called the amount of damages awarded from the other counts “eye opening.”

"That sends a loud message,” Kaplan said.

The verdict, though mixed, is a rebuke to the white nationalist movement, particularly for the two dozen individuals and organizations accused in a federal lawsuit of orchestrating violence against African Americans, Jews and others in a meticulously planned conspiracy.


Jury holds pharmacies responsible for role in opioid crisis

CLEVELAND (AP) — CVS, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies recklessly distributed massive amounts of pain pills in two Ohio counties, a federal jury said Tuesday in a verdict that could set the tone for U.S. city and county governments that want to hold pharmacies accountable for their roles in the opioid crisis.

Lake and Trumbull counties blamed the three chain pharmacies for not stopping the flood of pills that caused hundreds of overdose deaths and cost each of the two counties about $1 billion, said their attorney, who in court compared the pharmacies' dispensing to a gumball machine.

How much the pharmacies must pay in damages will be decided in the spring by a federal judge.

It's the first time pharmacy companies completed a trial to defend themselves in a drug crisis that killed a half-million Americans over the past two decades.

The counties convinced the jury that the pharmacies played an outsized role in creating a public nuisance in the way they dispensed pain medication into their communities.


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Oath Keepers, Proud Boys subpoenaed by Jan. 6 House panel

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection issued more subpoenas Tuesday, this time to extremist organizations, including the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers as well as their leaders, in an attempt to uncover the plotting and execution of the deadly attack.

“The Select Committee is seeking information from individuals and organizations reportedly involved with planning the attack, with the violent mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6th, or with efforts to overturn the results of the election," Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chairman of the panel, said in a statement.

The subpoenas are the latest in a wide net the House panel has cast in an effort to investigate the riot, when supporters of former President Donald Trump, fueled by his false claims of a stolen election, assaulted police and smashed their way into the Capitol to interrupt the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.

The committee has already interviewed more than 150 people across government, social media and law enforcement, including some former Trump aides who have been cooperative. The panel has subpoenaed more than 20 witnesses, and most of them, including several who helped plan the “Stop the Steal” rally the morning of Jan. 6, have signaled they will cooperate.

The latest subpoenas were issued to the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and 1st Amendment Praetorian organizations as well as their members, requesting documents and testimony.


Jury gets case of white men charged in Ahmaud Arbery's death

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — Jurors in the case of three white men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery deliberated for about six hours Tuesday without reaching a verdict as they weighed prosecution arguments that the defendants provoked the fatal confrontation against defense attorneys' insistence that their clients acted in self-defense.

After initially indicating they wanted to work into the evening, the jurors were soon dismissed by the judge with instructions to resume deliberations Wednesday morning.

“We are in the process of working to reach a verdict," the foreperson told Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley.

After more than two weeks of testimony and closing arguments, the prosecution got the last word because it carries the burden of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski spent two hours Tuesday morning hammering at defense attorneys’ attempts to blame the 25-year-old Black man for his own death. Defense attorneys said Arbery lashed out violently with his fists to resist a lawful citizen’s arrest by the defendants.


US to require vaccines for all border crossers in January

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will require essential, nonresident travelers crossing U.S. land borders, such as truck drivers, government and emergency response officials, to be fully vaccinated beginning on Jan. 22, the administration planned to announce Tuesday.

A senior administration official said the requirement, which the White House previewed in October, brings the rules for essential travelers in line with those that took effect earlier this month for leisure travelers, when the U.S. reopened its borders to fully vaccinated individuals.

Essential travelers entering by ferry will also be required to be fully vaccinated by the same date, the official said. The official spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to preview the announcement.

The rules pertain to non-U.S. nationals. American citizens and permanent residents may still enter the U.S. regardless of their vaccination status, but face additional testing hurdles because officials believe they more easily contract and spread COVID-19 and in order to encourage them to get a shot.

The Biden administration pushed back the requirement for essential travelers by more than two months from when it went into effect on Nov. 8 for non-essential visitors to prevent disruptions, particularly among truck drivers who are vital to North American trade. While most cross-border traffic was shut down in the earliest days of the pandemic, essential travelers have been able to transit unimpeded.


Elizabeth Holmes expresses remorse in her criminal trial

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Biotechnology entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes, a former billionaire accused of engineering a massive medical scam, expressed some remorse while on the witness stand Tuesday, but denied trying to conceal that her company's blood-testing methods weren't working as she had promised.

In her third day of testimony during the high-profile criminal trial, Holmes acknowledged making some mistakes as CEO of Theranos, a company she founded in 2003 when she was just 19. But she repeatedly emphasized that she made most of her decisions with the help of other executives and a respected board that included former cabinet members in various presidential administrations.

Holmes, now 37, also made it clear that she never stopped believing that Theranos would revolutionize health care with a technology that was supposed to be able to detect a wide range of diseases and other problems by testing just a few drops of blood, even when confronted with adversity.

“It is never smooth," Holmes testified. “There's always challenges."

Theranos eventually collapsed after a series of explosive articles i n The Wall Street Journal and an audit by federal regulators exposed serious and potentially dangerous flaws in the company's blood tests. The scandal wiped out Holmes' fortune, which was estimated at $4.5 billion in 2014 when she was the subject of a glowing cover story on Fortune magazine.


It's not just Peng. China is cracking down on MeToo movement

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Huang Xueqin, who publicly supported a woman when she accused a professor of sexual assault, was arrested in September. Wang Jianbing, who helped women report sexual harassment, was detained along with her. Neither has been heard from since. Meanwhile, several other women's rights activists have faced smear campaigns on social media and some have seen their accounts shuttered.

When tennis star Peng Shuai disappeared from public view this month after accusing a senior Chinese politician of sexual assault, it caused an international uproar. But back in China, Peng is just one of several people — activists and accusers alike — who have been hustled out of view, charged with crimes or trolled and silenced online for speaking out about the harassment, violence and discrimination women face every day.

When Huang helped spark a grassroots #MeToo movement in China in 2018, it gained fairly wide visibility and achieved some measure of success, including getting the civil code to define sexual harassment for the first time. But it was also met with stiff resistance from Chinese authorities, who are quick to counter any social movement they fear could challenge their hold on power. That crackdown has intensified this year, part of wider efforts to limit what's acceptable in the public discourse.

“They’re publicly excluding us from the legitimacy, from the legitimate public space,” said Lu Pin, an activist who now lives in the U.S. but is still active on women's rights issues in China. “This society’s middle ground is disappearing.”

In a sign of how threatening the #MeToo movement and activism on women's rights is to Chinese authorities, many activists have been dismissed as tools of foreign interference — a label used to discredit their concerns as fabrications by China’s enemies meant to destabilize it.

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