Category: USA

Officers Who Defended Capitol from Trump Supporters Honored

Law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 were honored Tuesday with Congressional Gold Medals nearly two years after they fought supporters of then-President Donald Trump in a brutal and bloody attack.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised the “heroes” as she opened the ceremony in the the stately Capitol Rotunda, which was overrun that day when Trump supporters roamed the halls trying to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election.

In bestowing Congress’ highest honor, Pelosi praised the heroes for “courageously answering the call to defend our democracy in one of the nation’s darkest hours.”

To recognize the hundreds of officers who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the medals will be placed in four locations — at U.S. Capitol Police headquarters, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Capitol and the Smithsonian Institution. President Joe Biden said when he signed the legislation last year that a medal will be placed at the Smithsonian museum “so all visitors can understand what happened that day.”

The ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda comes as Democrats, just weeks away from losing their House majority, race to finish a nearly 18-month investigation of the insurrection. Democrats and two Republicans conducting the probe have vowed to uncover the details of the attack, which came as Trump tried to overturn his election defeat and encouraged his supporters to “fight like hell” in a rally just before the congressional certification.

Awarding the medals is among Pelosi’s last ceremonial acts as she prepares to step down from leadership. When the bill passed the House more than a year ago, she said the law enforcement officers from across the city defended the Capitol because they were “the type of Americans who heard the call to serve and answered it, putting country above self.”

“They enabled us to return to the Capitol,” and certify Biden’s presidency, she said then, “to that podium that night to show the world that our democracy had prevailed and that it had succeeded because of them.”

Dozens of the officers who fought off the rioters sustained serious injuries. As the mob of Trump’s supporters pushed past them and into the Capitol, police were beaten with American flags and their own guns, dragged down stairs, sprayed with chemicals and trampled and crushed by the crowd. Officers suffered physical wounds, including brain injuries and other lifelong effects, and many struggled to work afterward because they were so traumatized.

Four officers who testified at a House hearing last year spoke openly about the lasting mental and physical scars, and some detailed near-death experiences.

Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges described foaming at the mouth, bleeding and screaming as the rioters tried to gouge out his eye and crush him between two heavy doors. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who rushed to the scene, said he was “grabbed, beaten, tased, all while being called a traitor to my country.” Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn said a large group of people shouted the N-word at him as he was trying to keep them from breaching the House chamber.

At least nine people who were at the Capitol that day died during and after the rioting, including a woman who was shot and killed by police as she tried to break into the House chamber and three other Trump supporters who suffered medical emergencies. Two police officers died by suicide in the days that immediately followed, and a third officer, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and later died after one of the rioters sprayed him with a chemical. A medical examiner determined he died of natural causes.

Several months after the attack, in August 2021, the Metropolitan Police announced that two more of their officers who had responded to the insurrection had died by suicide. The circumstances that led to their deaths were unknown.

The June 2021 House vote to award the medals won widespread support from both parties. But 21 House Republicans voted against it — lawmakers who had downplayed the violence and stayed loyal to Trump. The Senate passed the legislation by voice vote, with no Republican objections.

Pelosi, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell attended the ceremony and awarded medals. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee also attended.

The Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow, has been handed out by the legislative branch since 1776. Previous recipients include George Washington, Sir Winston Churchill, Bob Hope and Robert Frost. In recent years, Congress has awarded the medals to former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason, who became a leading advocate for people struggling with Lou Gehrig’s disease, and biker Greg LeMond.

Signing the bill at the White House last year, Biden said the officers’ heroism cannot be forgotten.

The insurrection was a “violent attempt to overturn the will of the American people,” and Americans have to understand what happened, he said. “The honest and unvarnished truth. We have to face it.”

 

Unsubstantiated Price Hikes Upped US Drug Spending $805 Million in 2021

Price increases among seven out of 10 drugs in 2021 are behind an $805 million increase in U.S. spending from the year before and were not supported by clinical evidence, an influential U.S. pricing research firm said on Tuesday. 

The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) said the spending increase in 2021 was less than the $1.67 billion rise in the previous year. This is the third year the group has looked at the top 250 drugs by spending and assessed if those driving U.S. spending increases were justified.

“Last year, a huge part of the (increase in) spending was all one drug … this year, we saw the increase was more spread out across different drugs,” ICER’s Chief Medical Officer David Rind told Reuters. 

In 2020, Abbvie’s rheumatoid arthritis therapy Humira led to an almost $1.4 billion increase in U.S. drug spending, accounting for more than 80% of the total increase. 

Rind said Humira dropped off the list of the 10 costliest prescription drugs because its net price hike was lower in 2021. Since there was no single drug that drove the increase in spending this year, the rise is also relatively smaller compared with 2020, he added. 

Bausch Health’s Xifaxan, an antibiotic drug for traveler’s diarrhea, led to an increase of nearly $175 million in spending, among the highest this year. 

Johnson & Johnson’s schizophrenia therapy Invega Sustenna and Amgen’s osteoporosis drug Prolia followed closely with spending increases of $170 million and $124 million, respectively. 

The three drugmakers did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. 

President Joe Biden’s signature Inflation Reduction Act will allow the government to choose 10 drugs to negotiate the prices of from among the 50 costliest drugs for Medicare, the government health care program for people age 65 and older or disabled, starting in 2026. 

Ukrainian Community in Indiana Bands to Help Motherland

According to the U.S. census, there are over a million Americans of Ukrainian descent. They are a diverse group, but Russia’s war on Ukraine has brought many of them together. Iryna Matviichuk visited one small group in Indiana, in this story narrated by Anna Rice.

Colorado Suspect Formally Charged for LGBTQ Club Shooting that Killed Five

The suspect accused of killing five people inside a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub last month before patrons stopped the attack was formally charged on Tuesday with murder, hate crimes and assault. 

The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, appeared for a hearing in El Paso District Court where the charges against the 22-year-old were read. Aldrich has been held without bond since the November 19 rampage at Club Q in Colorado Springs. In addition to the five people killed, 22 others suffered gunshot wounds or other injuries. 

Aldrich, who was clad in body armor, stormed the club armed with a rifle and handgun and opened fire indiscriminately, police and witnesses said. 

Those killed were identified as Kelly Loving, 40; Daniel Aston, 28; Derrick Rump, 38; Ashley Paugh, 34; and Raymond Green Vance, 22. 

Two men with military backgrounds subdued Aldrich until police arrived. A former Army major and decorated Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, Richard Fierro, told reporters that he disarmed Aldrich and pistol-whipped him into submission. 

In his booking photo, Aldrich appeared battered, with face and neck bruises apparently sustained when beaten by the bar’s patrons. 

The other man credited with subduing Aldrich, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas James, said in a written statement that he just wanted “to save the family I found.” 

Although authorities have not publicly identified a motive, the Colorado shooting was reminiscent of the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, where a gunman killed 49 people before police shot him dead. 

If convicted of first-degree murder, Aldrich faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole. 

Colorado no longer has a death-penalty statute. However, Aldrich could face a death sentence in federal court if prosecutors decide to charge him with crimes under the U.S. code, which still has capital punishment on its books for certain crimes. 

Lawyers assigned to represent Aldrich from the Colorado public defender’s office have said in court filings that their client identifies his gender as nonbinary and prefers “they” and “them” pronouns. 

District Attorney Michael Allen said after Aldrich’s initial court appearance on November 23 that the suspect’s gender identity would have no bearing on how the case would be prosecuted. 

Aldrich was previously arrested in June 2021 in Colorado Springs after the suspect had threatened to detonate a bomb and harm their mother with multiple weapons, according to a news release from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. 

 

Georgia Voters Are Set to Decide the Final Senate Contest in the Country

Georgia voters on Tuesday are set to decide the final Senate contest in the country, choosing between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican football legend Herschel Walker after a four-week runoff blitz that has drawn a flood of outside spending to an increasingly personal fight.

This year’s runoff has lower stakes than the two in 2021, when victories by Warnock and fellow Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff gave Democrats control of the Senate. The outcome of Tuesday’s contest will determine whether Democrats have an outright 51-49 Senate majority or control a 50-50 chamber based on Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote.

The runoff brings to a close a bitter fight between Warnock, the state’s first Black senator and the senior minister of the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, and Walker, a former University of Georgia football star and political novice who has waged his bid in the mold of former President Donald Trump.

A victory for Warnock would solidify Georgia’s status as a battleground heading into the 2024 presidential election. A win for Walker, however, could be an indication that the Democratic gains in the state might be somewhat limited, especially given that Georgia Republicans swept every other statewide contest last month.

In that election, Warnock led Walker by about 37,000 votes out of almost 4 million cast but fell shy of a majority, triggering the second round of voting. About 1.9 million votes already have been cast by mail and during early voting, an advantage for Democrats whose voters more commonly cast ballots this way. Republicans typically fare better on voting done on Election Day, with the margins determining the winner.

Last month, Walker, 60, ran more than 200,000 votes behind Republican Gov. Brian Kemp after a campaign dogged by intense scrutiny of his past, meandering campaign speeches and a bevy of damaging allegations, including claims that he paid for two former girlfriends’ abortions — accusations that Walker has denied.

Warnock, whose victory in 2021 was in a special election to serve out the remainder of GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, sounded a confident note Monday during a packed day of campaigning. He predicted that he had convinced enough voters, including independents and moderate Republicans who supported Kemp, that he deserves a full term.

“They’ve seen that I will work with anybody that helps me to do good work for the people of Georgia,” said the 53-year-old senator. “I think they’re going to get this right. They know this race is about competence and character.”

Walker campaigned Monday with his wife, Julie, greeting supporters and offering thanks rather than his usual campaign speech and full-throated attacks on Warnock.

“I love y’all, and we’re gonna win this election,” he said at a winery in Ellijay, comparing it to championships he won as an athlete. “I love winning championships.”

Warnock’s campaign has spent about $170 million on the campaign, far outpacing Walker’s nearly $60 million, according to their latest federal disclosures. But Democratic and Republican party committees, along with other political action committees, have spent even more.

The senator has paired his push for bipartisanship with an emphasis on his personal values, buoyed by his status as senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. And, beginning with the closing stretch before the November 8 general election, Warnock added withering takedowns of Walker, using the football star’s rocky past to argue that the political newcomer was “not ready” and “not fit” for high office.

Walker, who used his athletics fame to coast to the GOP nomination, has sought to portray Warnock as a yes-man for President Joe Biden. Walker has sometimes made the attack in especially personal terms, complete with accusing Warnock of having his “back bent” and “being on his knees, begging” at the White House — a searing charge for a Black challenger to level against a Black senator about his relationship with a white president.

A multimillionaire businessman, Walker has inflated his philanthropic activities and business achievements, including claiming that his company employed hundreds of people and grossed tens of millions of dollars in sales annually, even though later records indicate he had eight employees and averaged about $1.5 million a year. He has suggested that he’s worked as a law enforcement officer and said he graduated college, though he has done neither.

Walker was also forced to acknowledge during the campaign that he had fathered three children out of wedlock whom he had never before spoken about publicly — in direct conflict with Walker’s yearslong criticism of absentee fathers and his calls for Black men, in particular, to play an active role in their kids’ lives.

His ex-wife has detailed violent acts, saying Walker once held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her. Walker has never denied those specifics and wrote of his violent tendencies in a 2008 memoir that attributed the behavior to mental illness.

Warnock has countered with his individual Senate accomplishments, touting a provision he sponsored to cap insulin costs for Medicare patients while reminding voters that Republicans blocked his larger idea to cap those costs for all insulin-dependent patients. He hailed deals on infrastructure and maternal health care forged with Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, mentioning those GOP colleagues more than he did Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer or other Democrats in Washington.

After the general election, Biden, who has struggled with low approval ratings, promised to help Warnock in any way he could, even if it meant staying away from Georgia. Bypassing the president, Warnock decided instead to campaign with former President Barack Obama in the days before the runoff election.

For his part, Walker was endorsed by Trump but avoided campaigning with him until the campaign’s final day: The pair conducted a conference call Monday with supporters, according to a Republican National Committee spokesperson.

Walker’s candidacy is the GOP’s last chance to flip a Senate seat this year. Dr. Mehmet Oz of Pennsylvania, Blake Masters of Arizona, Adam Laxalt of Nevada and Don Bolduc of New Hampshire, all Trump loyalists, already lost competitive Senate races that Republicans once considered part of their path to a majority.

Walker has differentiated himself from Trump in a notable way. Trump has spent two years falsely claiming that his loss in Georgia and nationally was fraudulent, despite the fact that numerous federal and local officials, a long list of courts, top former campaign staffers and even his own attorney general have all said there is no evidence of the fraud he alleges.

At his lone debate against Warnock in October, Walker was asked whether he’d accept the results even if he lost. He replied with one word: “Yes.”

Kirstie Alley, Emmy-Winning ‘Cheers’ Star, Dies at 71

Kirstie Alley, who won an Emmy for her role on “Cheers” and starred in films including “Look Who’s Talking,” died Monday. She was 71. 

Alley died of cancer that was only recently discovered, her children True and Lillie Parker said in a post on Twitter. Alley’s manager Donovan Daughtry confirmed the death in an email to The Associated Press. 

“As iconic as she was on screen, she was an even more amazing mother and grandmother,” her children’s statement said. 

She starred opposite Ted Danson as Rebecca Howe on “Cheers,” the beloved NBC sitcom about a Boston bar, from 1987 to 1993. She joined the show at the height of its popularity after the departure of original star Shelley Long. 

Alley would win an Emmy for best lead actress in a comedy series for the role in 1991. She would take a second Emmy for best lead actress in a miniseries or television movie in 1993 for playing the title role in the CBS TV movie “David’s Mother.” 

She had her own sitcom on the network, “Veronica’s Closet,” from 1997 to 2000. 

In the 1989 comedy “Look Who’s Talking,” which gave her a major career boost, she played the mother of a baby whose inner thoughts were voiced by Bruce Willis. She would also appear in the 1990 sequel “Look Who’s Talking Too.” 

John Travolta, her co-star in both films, paid her tribute in an Instagram post. 

“Kirstie was one of the most special relationships I’ve ever had,” Travolta said, along with a photo of Alley. “I love you Kirstie. I know we will see each other again.” 

She would play a fictionalized version of herself in the 2005 Showtime series “Fat Actress,” a show that drew comedy from her public and media treatment over her weight gain and loss. 

And in recent years she appeared on several reality shows, including “Dancing With the Stars.” 

A native of Wichita, Kansas, Alley attended Kansas State University before dropping out and moving to Los Angeles. 

Her first television appearances were as a game show contestant on “The Match Game” in 1979 and Password” in 1980. 

She made her film debut in 1982’s “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.”

Biden to Visit Arizona Computer Chip Facility

U.S. President Joe Biden is traveling to Arizona on Tuesday to visit a computer chip facility, underscoring the Grand Canyon state’s position in the emerging U.S. semiconductor ecosystem.

Biden will visit a Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) plant in north Phoenix. He will tour the plant and deliver remarks celebrating his economic plan and the “manufacturing boom” it has caused, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during Monday’s briefing.

TSMC is the world’s largest contract manufacturer of semiconductor chips.

In August, Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act, legislation aimed at countering China’s massive subsidies to its chip industry. It includes about $52 billion in funding for U.S. companies for the manufacturing of chips, which go into technology like smartphones, electric vehicles, appliances and weapons systems.

 

Arizona is among the states trying to attract federal funding.

The president will be on hand in Phoenix to celebrate the TSMC plant’s “first tool-in,” which is the moment when a building is ready for manufacturing equipment to move in.

Projects in the region are creating thousands of new jobs including the TMSC facility in north Phoenix, the technology firm Intel expanding southeast of the city and suppliers from around the world moving in.

A 3,700-square-meter cleanroom at nearby Arizona State University in Tempe is helping to meet the workforce demands of Arizona’s burgeoning semiconductor sector. There, students, companies and startups work on hardware innovations.

With 30,000 engineering students, Arizona State is home to the country’s largest college of engineering and a driver in meeting next-generation demand.

“Chips and Science Act is a once in a lifetime opportunity. This is the moment. This is the moment to build out capabilities, infrastructure, expertise,” Kyle Squires, dean of engineering schools at Arizona State University, told VOA recently. “We’re bringing this capability back into the U.S. You’ve got to have a workforce ready to engage it.”

VOA’s Michelle Quinn contributed to this report.

Sale Jumpstarts Floating, Offshore Wind Power in US Waters

Tuesday marks the first-ever U.S. auction of leases to develop commercial-scale floating wind farms in the deep waters off the West Coast.

The live, online auction for the five leases — three off California’s central coast and two off its northern coast — has attracted strong interest and 43 companies from around the world are approved to bid. The wind turbines will float roughly 25 miles offshore.

The growth of offshore wind comes as climate change intensifies and the need for clean energy grows. It also is getting cheaper. The cost of developing offshore wind has dropped 60% since 2010 according to a July report by the International Renewable Energy Agency. It declined 13% in 2021 alone.

Offshore wind is well established in the U.K. and some other countries but is just beginning to ramp up off America’s coasts, and this is the nation’s first foray into floating wind turbines. Auctions so far have been for those anchored to the seafloor.

Europe has some floating offshore wind — a project in the North Sea has been operating since 2017 — but the potential for the technology is huge in areas of strong wind off America’s coasts, said Josh Kaplowitz, vice president of offshore wind at the American Clean Power Association.

“We know that this works. We know that this can provide a huge slice of our electricity needs, and if we’re going to solve the climate crisis we need to put as many clean electrons online as we can, particularly given increases in load demand with electric vehicles,” he said. “We can reach our greenhouse gas goals only with offshore wind as part of the puzzle.”

Similar auctions are in the works off Oregon’s coast next year and in the Gulf of Maine in 2024. President Joe Biden set a goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 using traditional technology that secures wind turbines to the ocean floor, enough to power 10 million homes. Then the administration announced plans in September to develop floating platforms that could vastly expand offshore wind in the United States.

The California sale is designed to promote a domestic supply chain and create union jobs. Bidders can convert part of their bids into credits that benefit those affected by the wind development — local communities, tribes and commercial fishermen.

As envisioned, the turbines — possibly nearly as tall as the Eiffel Tower — will float on giant triangular platforms roughly the size of a small city block or buoyant cylinders with cables anchoring them underwater.

They’ll each have three blades longer than the distance from home plate to the outfield on a baseball diamond, and will need to be assembled onshore and towed, upright, to their open-ocean destination.

Modern tall turbines, whether on or offshore, can produce more than 20 times more electricity than shorter machines, say, from the early 1990s.

As for visibility, “in absolutely perfect conditions, crystal clear on the best days, at the highest point, you might be able to see small dots on the horizon,” said Larry Oetker, executive director of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Conservation and Recreation District, which has been preparing its deep-water port for the projects.

Offshore wind is a good complement to solar energy, which shuts down at night. Winds far out to sea are stronger and more sustained and also pick up in the evening, just when solar is going offline yet demand is high, said Jim Berger, a partner at the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright who specializes in financing renewable energy projects.

California has a 2045 goal of carbon neutrality. But “when the sun goes down, we’re relying more on fossil fuel generation,” Berger said. “These projects are huge so when you add a project or a couple projects, you’re adding significantly to the power generation base in the state,” he said.

The lease areas have the potential to generate 4.5 gigawatts of energy, enough for 1.5 million homes, and could bring big changes to communities in the rural coastal regions nearest the leases.

But some are also wary of the projects, despite favoring a transition to clean energy.

Environmentalists are concerned about the impacts on threatened and endangered whales, which could become entangled in the cables that will anchor the turbines. There are also concerns about birds and bats colliding with the turbine blades and whales being struck by vessels towing components to the site. Federal regulators have set a boating speed limit for the project of less than 12 mph to address that concern, said Kristen Hislop, senior director of the marine program at the Environmental Defense Center.

Tribes in the vast coastal regions also worry about damage to their ancestral lands from turbine assembly plants and transmission infrastructure. They fear that the farms will be visible on clear days from sacred prayer spots high in the mountains.

USS Arizona Survivor: Honor Those Killed at Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona sailor Lou Conter lived through the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor even though his battleship exploded and sank after being pierced by aerial bombs.

That makes the now 101-year-old somewhat of a celebrity, especially on the anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, assault. Many call him and others in the nation’s dwindling pool of Pearl Harbor survivors heroes.

Conter rejects the characterization.

“The 2,403 men that died are the heroes. And we’ve got to honor them ahead of everybody else. And I’ve said that every time, and I think it should be stressed,” Conter said in a recent interview at his Grass Valley, California, home north of Sacramento.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Navy and the National Park Service will host a remembrance ceremony at Pearl Harbor in honor of those killed.

Last year about 30 survivors and some 100 other veterans of the war made the pilgrimage to the annual event. But the U.S. Navy and the National Park Service anticipate one or two survivors will likely attend in person this year. Another 20 to 30 veterans of World War II are also expected to be there.

Conter won’t be among them. He attended for many years, most recently in 2019. But his doctor has told him the five-hour flight, plus hours of waiting at airports, is too strenuous for him now.

“I’m going on 102 now. It’s kind of hard to mess around,” Conter said.

Instead, he plans to watch a video feed of this year’s 81st anniversary observance from home. He’s also recorded a message that will be played for those attending.

Conter’s autobiography “The Lou Conter Story” recounts how one of the Japanese bombs penetrated five steel decks on the Arizona and ignited more than 1 million pounds of gunpowder and thousands of pounds of ammunition.

“The ship was consumed in a giant fireball that looked as if it engulfed everything from the mainmast forward,” he wrote.

He joined other survivors who were tending to the injured, many of whom were blinded and badly burned. The sailors only abandoned ship when their senior surviving officer was sure they had rescued all those still alive.

The Arizona’s 1,177 dead account for nearly half the servicemen killed in the bombing. The battleship today sits where it sank 81 years ago, with more than 900 of its dead still entombed inside.

Conter wasn’t injured at Pearl Harbor, during World War II or the Korean War.

This year’s remembrance ceremony is the first to be open to the public since the 2019 ceremony. The pandemic forced the adoption of strict public health measures for the last two years.

David Kilton, the National Park Service’s chief of interpretation for Pearl Harbor, said he’s not sure how many people will attend but they’re anticipating between 2,000 to 3,000 people.

It will be held at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial visitors center, which overlooks the water and the white structure built to honor those killed on the Arizona.

Organizers have set a theme of “Everlasting Legacy” for this year’s ceremony, highlighting how fewer and fewer survivors remain.

“We honestly have to know and be prepared that eventually we won’t have the ability to connect with their stories and have them with us anymore,” Kilton said. “And it’s hard to come to grips with that reality.”

Conter went to flight school after Pearl Harbor, earning his wings to fly PBY patrol bombers, which the Navy used to look for submarines and bomb enemy targets. He flew 200 combat missions in the Pacific with a “Black Cats” squadron, which conducted dive bombing at night in planes painted black.

One night in 1943, he and his crew had to avoid a dozen or so nearby sharks after they were shot down near New Guinea.

When one sailor expressed doubt that they would survive, Conter responded “baloney.”

“Don’t ever panic in any situation. Survive is the first thing you tell them. Don’t panic or you’re dead,” he said. They were quiet and treaded water until another plane came and dropped them a lifeboat hours later.

In the late 1950s, he was made the Navy’s first SERE officer — which is an acronym for survival, evasion, resistance and escape. He spent the next decade training Navy pilots and crew on how to survive if they’re shot down in the jungle and captured as a prisoner of war. Some of his pupils used his instruction to live through years as POWs in Vietnam.

These days, he spends his time going to his favorite breakfast spot twice a week and going out for Mexican food every Friday night. He enjoys visiting with friends and watching TV.

Conter hasn’t forgotten his shipmates. He said he’d like the military to try to identify 85 Arizona sailors who were buried as unknowns in a Honolulu cemetery after the war.

“They should never give up on that issue. If they’re ever identified, I’m sure their families would want to bury them at home or wherever, but they should never give up on trying to identify them,” he said.

Arizona Certifies 2022 Election Despite Republican Complaints

Arizona’s top officials certified the midterm election results Monday, formalizing victories for Democrats over Republicans who falsely claimed the 2020 election was rigged.

The certification opens a five-day window for formal election challenges. Republican Kari Lake, who lost the race for governor, is expected to file a lawsuit after weeks of criticizing the administration of the election.

Election results have largely been certified without issue around the country, but Arizona was an exception. Several Republican-controlled counties delayed their certification despite no evidence of problems with the vote count. Cochise County in southeastern Arizona blew past the deadline last week, forcing a judge to intervene on Friday and order the county supervisors to certify the election by the end of the day.

“Arizona had a successful election,” Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, said before signing the certification. “But too often throughout the process, powerful voices proliferated misinformation that threatened to disenfranchise voters.”

The statewide certification, known as a canvass, was signed by Hobbs, Republican Governor Doug Ducey, Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, a Ducey appointee.

When the same group certified the 2020 election, Ducey silenced a call from then-President Donald Trump, who was at the time in a frenetic push to persuade Republican allies to go along with his attempts to overturn the election he lost.

“This is a responsibility I do not take lightly,” Ducey said. “It’s one that recognizes the votes cast by the citizens of our great state.”

Republicans have complained for weeks about Hobbs’ role in certifying her own victory over Lake in the race for governor, though it is typical for election officials to maintain their position while running for higher office. Lake and her allies have focused on problems with ballot printers that produced about 17,000 ballots that could not be tabulated on site and had to be counted at the elections department headquarters.

Lines backed up in some polling places, fueling Republican suspicions that some supporters were unable to cast a ballot, though there’s no evidence it affected the outcome. County officials say everyone was able to vote and all legal ballots were counted.

Hobbs planned to immediately petition the Maricopa County Superior Court to begin an automatic statewide recount required by law in three races decided by less than half a percentage point. The race for attorney general was one of the closest contests in state history, with Democrat Kris Mayes leading Republican Abe Hamadeh by just 510 votes out of 2.5 million cast.

The races for superintendent of public instruction and a state legislative seat in the Phoenix suburbs will also be recounted, but the margins are much larger.

Once a Democratic stronghold, Arizona’s top races went resoundingly for Democrats after Republicans nominated a slate of candidates backed by Trump who focused on supporting his false claims about the 2020 election. In addition to Hobbs and Mayes, Democratic Senator Mark Kelly was reelected and Democrat Adrian Fontes won the race for attorney general.

US Envoy: Iran Should Not Be Member of UN Commission on Women

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has again emphasized her opposition to Iran’s participation on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. 

In a post on Twitter on Sunday, Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, “The Iranian government should not be on the @UN_CSW – an international body dedicated to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. Removing Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women is the right thing to do.”

A draft resolution proposed by the United States, regarding the removal of Iran from the commission, will be up for a vote at the U.N. later this month. 

The draft reads in part: “The policies of the Islamic Republic are strongly in conflict with human rights and the rights of women and girls and the mission of the Women’s Authority Commission and are condemned. And the Islamic Republic of Iran should be removed from the Commission on the Status of Women immediately before the end of the current term.”

Tehran recently started the four-year term on the commission. The commission, which meets every year in March, aims to promote gender equality and empower women. 

Last month, Greenfield said that Iran’s membership on the commission is an “ugly stain” on the body’s credibility. “In our view, it cannot stand.” 

Thomas-Greenfield’s comments in November were made at an informal gathering of Security Council members, known as an Arria meeting, focused on the mass protests that started in Iran on September 16, following the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, 22. The Kurdish woman was arrested in Tehran by so-called morality police for wearing her headscarf “improperly.”

 

Police say she had a heart attack while in custody, but her family disputes that. Iranian authorities have rejected the family’s request for a committee of independent doctors to investigate her death.

Cameroon Welcomes US Indictment of Suspected Separatist Sponsors

Cameroon’s government is praising U.S. authorities for arresting three Cameroonian Americans accused of supporting separatist violence in the country’s western regions. The three, arrested a week ago and indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice, allegedly raised funds to abduct persons and use weapons of mass destruction in a foreign country.

Cameroon’s government has for years been urging the U.S. and Europe to crack down on separatists operating outside the country. Government forces have been battling separatist groups for five years.

John Billy Eko, inspector general in Cameroon’s External Relations Ministry, said the arrest of the three Cameroonian-born U.S. citizens indicates the U.S. has come to understand that some people who sponsor the separatist conflict live in America.

“We remain cautious and vigilant because the indictment is perhaps only the first phase of a judicial process which began with our government’s persistence in convincing American authorities to take action [against separatist sponsors],” he said. “So, we await trial and sentencing. There are many, many more unindicted co-conspirators and accomplices in the United States and elsewhere who were not cited in this indictment.”

Cameroonian lawyers in the U.S. say they have filed complaints against 200 Cameroonians and American citizens of Cameroon origin in the U.S. who are suspected accomplices to separatist violence.

Armed groups seeking to separate two predominantly English-speaking regions from Cameroon and its French-speaking majority launched their military campaign in 2017.

Eko said that since then Cameroon has appealed to friendly nations to take actions against separatist supporters working within their national territories.

On November 28, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the charges against Claude Chi, Lah Nestor Langmi and Francis Chenyi, all Cameroonian-born U.S. citizens in their 40s. The three arrested defendants are charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a conspiracy to kidnap persons and use weapons of mass destruction in Cameroon.

The U.S Department of Justice says in addition to more than $350,000 the defendants raised through voluntary donations, the three men conspired with others to kidnap civilians in Cameroon and hold them for ransom.

It says in some instances, U.S. citizens were extorted for ransom payments to secure the release of their kidnapped relatives living in Cameroon, with ransom payments subsequently transferred to separatist fighters to fund their operations.

“We have examined the case filed into court by the United States prosecutor. We had previously condemned kidnapping for ransom and the use of Ambazonia forces for personal benefit,” said Capo Daniel,spokesperson of the Ambazonia Governing Council, one of the chief separatist groups. “This war remains the primary cause of the chaos and the emergence of criminal gangs and cartels that seek to use Ambazonia to legitimize their criminal activity.”

Before last week’s indictment, Christopher John Lamora, U.S. ambassador to Cameroon, had condemned abductions for ransom and attacks on education.

“I have seen a lot of videos where people are calling for violence, where people are suggesting that killing students and preventing them from going to school is somehow a valid approach to resolving social concerns. It isn’t,” said Lamora, speaking to Cameroon state broadcaster CRTV. “The people in the diaspora, be they in the United States or elsewhere, who have been calling over the past several years for violence to stop. There is no question about that.”

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison for the material support charges, up to three years in prison for receiving money from a ransom demand charge and up to 20 years in prison for the money laundering conspiracy charge, according to the U.S Department of Justice.

Trump Rebuked for Call to Suspend Constitution Over Election

Former President Donald Trump faced rebuke Sunday from officials in both parties after calling for the “termination” of parts of the Constitution over his lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

Trump, who announced last month that he is running again for president, made the claim over the weekend on his Truth Social media platform.

“A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” he wrote. “Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”

Incoming House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries on Sunday described Trump’s statement as strange and extreme and said Republicans will have to make a choice whether to continue embracing Trump’s anti-democratic views.

“Republicans are going to have to work out their issues with the former president and decide whether they’re going to break from him and return to some semblance of reasonableness or continue to lean in to the extremism, not just of Trump, but Trumpism,” Jeffries said.

Trump, who is the first to be impeached twice and whose term ended with his supporters violently storming the Capitol in a deadly bid to halt the peaceful transition of power on Jan. 6, 2021, faces escalating criminal investigations, including several that could lead to indictments. They include the probe into classified documents seized by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago, and ongoing state and federal inquiries related to efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Asked about Trump’s comments Sunday, Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said he “vehemently” disagrees and “absolutely” condemns the remarks, saying they should be a factor as Republicans decide who should lead their party in 2024.

“There is a political process that has to go forward before anybody is a frontrunner or anybody is even the candidate for the party,” he said. “I believe that people certainly are going to take into consideration a statement like this as they evaluate a candidate.”

Rep.-elect Mike Lawler, R-New York, also objected to the remarks, saying it was time to stop focusing on the “grievances of prior elections.”

“The Constitution is set for a reason, to protect the rights of every American,” Lawler said. “I think the former president would be well-advised to focus on the future, if he is going to run for president again.”

Trump’s comments came after Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, said he would reveal how Twitter engaged in “free speech suppression” leading up to the 2020 election. But files released Friday, which focused on the tech company’s confused response to a story about Biden’s son Hunter, do not show Democrats trying to limit the story.

The White House on Saturday assailed Trump, saying: “You cannot only love America when you win.”

“The American Constitution is a sacrosanct document that for over 200 years has guaranteed that freedom and the rule of law prevail in our great country,” spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. “Attacking the Constitution and all it stands for is anathema to the soul of our nation.”

Jeffries appeared on ABC’s “This Week,” Turner spoke on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and Lawler was on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Shootings at Power Substation Cause North Carolina Outages

Two power substations in a North Carolina county were damaged by gunfire in what is being investigated as a criminal act, causing damage that could take days to repair and leaving tens of thousands of people without electricity, authorities said Sunday.

In response to ongoing outages, which began just after 7 p.m. Saturday across Moore County, officials announced a state of emergency that included a curfew from 9 p.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday. Also, county schools will be closed Monday.

“An attack like this on critical infrastructure is a serious, intentional crime and I expect state and federal authorities to thoroughly investigate and bring those responsible to justice,” Gov. Roy Cooper wrote on Twitter.

Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said at a Sunday news conference that authorities have not determined a motivation. He said someone pulled up and “opened fire on the substation, the same thing with the other one.”

“No group has stepped up to acknowledge or accept that they’re the ones that done it,” Fields said, adding “we’re looking at all avenues.”

The sheriff noted that the FBI was working with state investigators to determine who was responsible. He also said “it was targeted.”

“It wasn’t random,” Fields said.

 

Fields said law enforcement is providing security at the substations and for businesses overnight.

“We will have folks out there tonight around the clock,” Fields said.

More than 41,000 electric customers in the county remained without power on Sunday afternoon, according to poweroutage.us.

 

With cold temperatures forecast for Sunday night, the county also opened a shelter at a sports complex in Carthage.

Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks said multiple pieces of equipment were damaged and will have to be replaced. He said while the company is trying to restore power as quickly as possible, he braced customers for the potential of outages lasting days.

“We are looking at a pretty sophisticated repair with some fairly large equipment and so we do want citizens of the town to be prepared that this will be a multiday restoration for most customers, extending potentially as long as Thursday,” Brooks said at the news conference.

Tim Locklear, the county’s school superintendent, announced classes will be canceled Monday.

“As we move forward, we’ll be taking it day by day in making those decisions,” Locklear said.

The Pilot newspaper in Southern Pines reported that one of its journalists saw a gate to one of the substations had been damaged and was lying in an access road.

“A pole holding up the gate had clearly been snapped off where it meets the ground. The substation’s infrastructure was heavily damaged,” the newspaper reported.

The county of approximately 100,000 people lies about an hour’s drive southwest of Raleigh and is known for golf resorts in Pinehurst and other communities.

FDA Change Ushers In Cheaper, Easier-to-Get Hearing Aids

It’s now a lot easier — and cheaper — for many hard-of-hearing Americans to get help.

Hearing aids can now be sold without a prescription from a specialist. Over-the-counter, or OTC, hearing aids started hitting the market in October at prices that can be thousands of dollars lower than prescription hearing aids.

About 30 million people in the United States deal with hearing loss, according to the Food and Drug Administration. But only about 20% of those who could use a hearing aid seek help.

Here’s a closer look:

Who might be helped

The FDA approved OTC hearing aids for adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss. That can include people who have trouble hearing phone calls or who turn up the TV volume loud enough that others complain.

It also can include people who have trouble understanding group conversations in noisy places.

OTC hearing aids aren’t intended for people with deeper hearing loss, which may include those who have trouble hearing louder noises, like power tools and cars. They also aren’t for people who lost their hearing suddenly or in just one ear, according to Sterling Sheffield, an audiologist who teaches at the University of Florida. Those people need to see a doctor.

Hearing test

Before over-the-counter, you usually needed to get your hearing tested and buy hearing aids from a specialist. That’s no longer the case.

But it can be hard for people to gauge their own hearing. You can still opt to see a specialist just for that test, which is often covered by insurance, and then buy the aids on your own. Check your coverage before making an appointment.

There also are a number of apps and questionnaires available to determine whether you need help. Some over-the-counter sellers also provide a hearing assessment or online test.

Who’s selling

Several major retailers now offer OTC hearing aids online and on store shelves.

Walgreens drugstores, for example, are selling Lexie Lumen hearing aids nationwide for $799. Walmart offers OTC hearing aids ranging from about $200 to $1,000 per pair. Its health centers will provide hearing tests.

The consumer electronics chain Best Buy has OTC hearing aids available online and in nearly 300 stores. The company also offers an online hearing assessment, and store employees are trained on the stages of hearing loss and how to fit the devices.

Overall, there are more than a dozen manufacturers making different models of OTC hearing aids.

New devices will make up most of the OTC market as it develops, Sheffield said. Some may be hearing aids that previously required a prescription, ones that are only suitable for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.

Shoppers should expect a lot of devices to enter and leave the market, said Catherine Palmer, a hearing expert at the University of Pittsburgh.

“It will be quite a while before this settles down,” she said.

What to watch for

Look for an OTC label on the box. Hearing aids approved by the FDA for sale without a prescription are required to be labeled OTC.

That will help you distinguish OTC hearing aids from cheaper devices sometimes labeled sound or hearing amplifiers — called a personal sound amplification product or PSAP. While often marketed to seniors, they are designed to make sounds louder for people with normal hearing in certain environments, like hunting. And amplifiers don’t undergo FDA review.

“People really need to read the descriptions,” said Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

And check the return policy. That’s important because people generally need a few weeks to get used to them, and make sure they work in the situations where they need them most. That may include on the phone or in noisy offices or restaurants.

Does the company selling OTC devices offer instructions or an app to assist with setup, fit and sound adjustments? A specialist could help too, but expect to pay for that office visit, which is rarely covered by insurance.

Sheffield said hearing aids are not complicated, but wearing them also is not as simple as putting on a pair of reading glasses.

“If you’ve never tried or worn hearing aids, then you might need a little bit of help,” he said.

The cost

Most OTC hearing aids will cost between $500 and $1,500 for a pair, Sheffield said. He noted that some may run up to $3,000.

And it’s not a one-time expense. They may have to be replaced every five years or so.

Hearing specialists say OTC prices could fall further as the market matures. But they already are generally cheaper than their prescription counterparts, which can run more than $5,000.

The bad news is insurance coverage of hearing aids is spotty. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer coverage of devices that need a prescription, but regular Medicare does not. There are discounts out there, including some offered by Medicare Advantage insurer UnitedHealthcare in partnership with nonprofit organization AARP.

Shoppers also can pay for the devices with money set aside in health savings accounts or flexible spending accounts.

Don’t try to save money by buying just one hearing aid. People need to have the same level of hearing in both ears so they can figure out where a sound is coming from, according to the American Academy of Audiology.

Blinken Vows US Support for Israel Despite Unease Over Government

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the U.S. will not shrink from its unwavering support for Israel despite stark differences with Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu and concerns the Biden administration may have about potential members of his incoming right-wing government.

Speaking to a left-leaning group that some on the right accuse of being too sympathetic to the Palestinians and Iran, Blinken said the United States will remain a stalwart friend of Israel even as it pursues goals that Netanyahu has opposed, including a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a restoration of the languishing 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The partnership, he said, “has never been stronger than it is today.”

Blinken said the Biden administration would engage with Netanyahu’s government based on its policies and not on personalities, including potential senior Cabinet ministers who have expressed vehement anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab views in the past.

But, Blinken also warned that the U.S. would object to policies that marginalize the Palestinians or make a two-state resolution more difficult and would be detrimental to Israel’s long-term security or future as a Jewish democratic state.

“We expect the new Israeli government to continue to work with us to advance our shared values,” he said. “We will engage the government by the policies it pursues, rather than individual personalities.”

U.S. officials have expressed concerns about the possible positions in Netanyahu’s government of at least two right-wing Israeli politicians: Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

Ben-Gvir, a lawmaker known for anti-Arab vitriol and provocative stunts, has been offered the job of national security minister, a powerful position that will put him in charge of Israel’s police force. Meanwhile, Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism party, which shares anti-Palestinian and anti-gay views, has been offered oversight over the Israeli agency for Palestinian civil affairs.

Blinken noted that the U.S.-Israel relationship is seven decades old and the Biden administration would “speak honestly” with the new Israeli government as well as the Palestinians, whose leaders he said must also refrain from raising tensions that endanger a two-state solution.

He pointed out that the Biden administration continues to support its predecessor’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and is working to expand former President Donald Trump’s “Abraham Accords” that saw several Arab nations normalize relations with Israel. He lauded the recent completion of a maritime border accord between Israel and Lebanon.

Blinken’s comments came at the annual conference of J Street, a pro-Israel group that has distinguished itself from the much larger and older American Israel Public Affairs Committee by advancing positions supported by the Democratic party.

George Clooney, Gladys Knight Among Kennedy Center Honorees

Performers such as Gladys Knight or the Irish band U2 usually would be headlining a concert for thousands but at Sunday’s Kennedy Center Honors the tables will be turned as they and other artists will be the ones feted for their lifetime of artistic contributions.

Actor, director, producer and human rights activist George Clooney, groundbreaking composer and conductor Tania Leon, and contemporary Christian singer Amy Grant will join Knight, and the entire crew of U2 in being honored by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The organization honors a select group of people every year for their artistic influences on American culture. President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their respective spouses are slated to attend.

The 61-year-old Clooney — the actor among this year’s musically leaning group of honorees — has television credits going back to the late 1970s but became a household name with the role of Doug Ross in the television show ER.

From there he starred in movies such as “Batman & Robin,” “Three Kings,” “Ocean’s Eleven” (and Twelve and Thirteen), and his most recent movie “Ticket to Paradise.” He also has extensive directing and producing credits including “Good Night, and Good Luck.” He and his wife, humanitarian rights lawyer Amal Clooney, created the Clooney Foundation for Justice, and he’s produced telethons to raise money for various causes.

“To be mentioned in the same breath with the rest of these incredible artists is an honor. This is a genuinely exciting surprise for the whole Clooney family,” said Clooney in a statement on the Center’s website.

Knight, 78, said in a statement that she was “humbled beyond words” at receiving the Kennedy honor. The Georgia-born Knight began singing gospel music at the age of 4 and went on to a career that has spanned decades.

Knight and family members started a band that would later be known as “Gladys Knight & The Pips” and produced their first album in 1960 when Knight was just 16. Since then, she has recorded dozens of albums with such classic hits as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Along the way she has acted in television shows and movies. When Knight and the band were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Mariah Carey described Knight as “… a textbook you learn from.”

Sometimes the Kennedy Center honors not just individuals but groups; “Sesame Street” once got the nod.

This year it’s the band U2. The group’s strong connection to America goes back decades. They performed in Washington during their first trip to America in 1980. In a statement the band — made up of Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. — said they originally came to America with big dreams “fueled in part by the commonly held belief at home that America smiles on Ireland.”

“And it turned out to be true, yet again,” read the statement. “It has been a four-decade love affair with the country and its people, its artists, and culture.”

U2 has sold 170 million albums and been honored with 22 Grammys. The band’s epic singles include “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Lead singer Bono has also become known for his philanthropic work to eradicate poverty and to raise awareness about AIDS.

Christian music performer Amy Grant said in an interview with The Associated Press that she had never even been to the Kennedy Center Honors even though her husband, country musician Vince Gill, has performed during previous ceremonies. Grammy winner Grant is well known for crossover pop hits like “Baby, Baby,” “Every Heartbeat” and “That’s What Love is For.” She has sold more than 30 million albums, including her 1991 record “Heart in Motion,” that introduced her to a larger pop audience.

Composer and conductor Tania Leon said during an interview when the honorees were announced that she wasn’t expecting “anything spectacular” when the Kennedy Center initially reached out to her. After all, she has worked with the Kennedy Center numerous times over the years going back to 1980 when she was commissioned to compose music for a play.

But the 79-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner said she was stunned to learn that this time the ceremony was going to be for her.

Leon left Cuba as a refugee in 1967 and eventually settled in New York City. She’s a founding member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem and instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series.

Keep COVID Military Vaccine Mandate, Defense Chief Says

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he wants to keep the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place to protect the health of the troops, as Republican governors and lawmakers press to rescind it.

This past week more than 20 Republican governors sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking that the administration remove the mandate, saying it has hurt the U.S. National Guard’s ability to recruit troops. Those troops are activated by governors to respond to natural disasters or unrest.

Congress may consider legislation this coming week to end the mandate as a requirement to gather enough support to pass this years’ defense budget, which is already two months late.

Austin said he would not comment on pressure from the Hill.

“We lost a million people to this virus,” Austin told reporters traveling with him Saturday. “A million people died in the United States of America. We lost hundreds in DOD. So this mandate has kept people healthy.”

“I’m the guy” who ordered the military to require the vaccine, Austin added. “I support continuation of vaccinating the troops.”

Last year Austin directed that all troops get the vaccine or face potential expulsion from the military; thousands of active duty forces have been discharged since then for their refusal to get the shots.

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