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Navy finds failures that led to blaze destroying ship

Daily News - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 02:47

By Lolita C. Baldor | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A Navy report has concluded there were sweeping failures by commanders, crew members and others that fueled the July 2020 arson fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard, calling the massive five-day blaze in San Diego preventable and unacceptable.

While one sailor has been charged with setting the fire, the more than 400-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, lists three dozen officers and sailors whose failings either directly led to the ship’s loss or contributed to it. The findings detailed widespread lapses in training, coordination, communication, fire preparedness, equipment maintenance and overall command and control.

“Although the fire was started by an act of arson, the ship was lost due to an inability to extinguish the fire,” the report said, concluding that “repeated failures” by an “inadequately prepared crew” delivered “an ineffective fire response.”

It slammed commanders of the amphibious assault ship for poor oversight, and said the main firefighting foam system wasn’t used because it hadn’t been maintained properly and the crew didn’t know how to use it. The report is expected to be released Wednesday.

U.S. Navy officials on Tuesday said that while crews at sea consistently meet high firefighting standards, those skills drop off when ships move into maintenance periods. The Bonhomme Richard was undergoing maintenance at the time of the fire.

During maintenance there are more people and organizations involved with the ship, including contractors. And the repairs often involve equipment and chemicals that present different hazards and challenges.

The report describes a ship in disarray, with combustible materials scattered and stored improperly. It said maintenance reports were falsified, and that 87% of the fire stations on board had equipment problems or had not been inspected.

It also found that crew members didn’t ring the bells to alert sailors of a fire until 10 minutes after it was discovered. Those crucial minutes, the report said, caused delays in crews donning fire gear, assembling hose teams and responding to the fire.

Sailors also failed to push the button and activate the firefighting foam system, even though it was accessible and could have slowed the fire’s progress. “No member of the crew interviewed considered this action or had specific knowledge as to the location of the button or its function,” the report said.

The report spreads blame across a wide range of ranks and responsibilities, from the now retired three-star admiral who headed Naval Surface Force Pacific Fleet — Vice Adm. Richard Brown — to senior commanders, lower ranking sailors and civilian program managers. Seventeen were cited for failures that “directly” led to the loss of the ship, while 17 others “contributed” to the loss of the ship. Two other sailors were faulted for not effectively helping the fire response. Of the 36, nine are civilians.

Adm. William Lescher, the vice chief of naval operations, has designated the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet to handle any disciplinary actions for military members. The Navy officials said the disciplinary process is just beginning. One official said the key challenge in making improvements will be addressing the “human factor,” including leadership skills and ensuring that everyone down to the lowest ranking sailors understands their responsibilities, and can recognize problems and correct them.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the report ahead of its public release.

Specifically, the report said failures of Vice Adm. Brown; Rear Adm. Scott Brown, the fleet maintenance officer for the Pacific Fleet; Rear Adm. William Greene, the fleet maintenance officer for U.S. Fleet Forces Command; Rear. Adm. Eric Ver Hage, commander of the regional maintenance center; Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander of Navy Region Southwest; Capt. Mark Nieswiadomy, commander of Naval Base San Diego; and Capt. Tony Rodriguez, commander of Amphibious Squadron 5, all “contributed to the loss of the ship.”

The report also directly faults the ship’s three top officers — Capt. Gregory Thoroman, the commanding officer; Capt. Michael Ray, the executive officer; and Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez — for not effectively ensuring the readiness and condition of the ship.

“The execution of his duties created an environment of poor training, maintenance and operational standards that directly led to the loss of the ship,” the report said of Thoroman. And it said Ray, Hernandez and Capt. David Hart, commander of the Southwest Regional Maintenance Center, also failed in their responsibilities, which directly led to the loss of the ship.

The report only provides names for senior naval officers. Others were described solely by their job or rank.

More broadly, the crew was slammed for “a pattern of failed drills, minimal crew participation, an absence of basic knowledge on firefighting” and an inability to coordinate with civilian firefighters.

“The loss of the USS Bonhomme Richard was a completely avoidable catastrophe,” said U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee. He said he read the report “with shock and anger,” and will look into the matter carefully to “determine the full extent of the negligence and complacency that occurred.”

The ship was undergoing a two-year, $250 million upgrade pierside in San Diego when the fire broke out. About 115 sailors were on board, and nearly 60 were treated for heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation and minor injuries. The failure to extinguish or contain the fire led to temperatures exceeding 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas, melting sections of the ship into molten metal that flowed into other parts of the ship.

Due to the damage, the Navy decommissioned the ship in April. In August, Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays was charged with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel. He has denied setting the fire.

The blaze began in the lower storage area, which Mays’ duty station had access to, according to a court document. Investigators found three of four fire stations on the ship had evidence of tampering, including disconnected firehoses, and highly flammable liquid was found near the ignition site.

Efforts to put out the fire were hampered because the ship’s crew and other outside fire response departments and organizations were not coordinated, couldn’t communicate effectively, hadn’t exercised together and weren’t well trained, the report said.

The report, written by Vice Adm. Scott Conn, included a number of recommended changes and improvements that have been endorsed by Lescher. The Navy set up a new fire safety assessment program that conducts random inspections, and has taken steps to increase training. Nearly 170 of those inspections have already been done, and officials said they are finding good results.

The Navy also conducted a historical study, looking closely at 15 shipyard fires over the last 12 years. It found recurring trends including failures to comply with fire prevention, detection and response policies.

As a result, Navy leaders are expanding the staffing and responsibilities of the Naval Safety Center, to perform audits and unannounced assessments of Navy units. The final costs are still being calculated.

Categories: Stati Uniti d'America

UCLA welcomes ESPN’s ‘College GameDay,’ keeps focus on Oregon

Daily News - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 02:44

The UCLA football players will not have the opportunity to participate in on-campus festivities that come with ESPN’s “College GameDay” setting up on campus Saturday morning, despite being part of the reason the college football pregame show is on campus.

The Bruins will instead focus on their showdown with No. 10 Oregon in its homecoming game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, a few hours after the show airs from Wilson Plaza on the Westwood campus.

“We have a hotel on campus,” Bruins defensive lineman Odua Isibor said. “But we’ll be focused (on the game). … We’re a strict, business-oriented operation so we’ll wake up, do our morning workouts and straight on a schedule to the game.”

The game will air on ABC at 12:30 p.m., the earliest start for a UCLA game this season, but students and fans will have to be on campus in the early hours of Saturday morning to be a part of the show experience.

“I think it’s cool,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for our fans and student body, especially after last year when nobody could go to games and now everybody gets to attend.”

UCLA Athletic Director Martin Jarmond suggests people show up to campus close to 4 a.m., when access to the designated area for the show will open. The show will be televised on ESPN from 6 to 9 a.m.

Jarmond mentioned in a statement on social media that “there will be giveaways, free food, energy, and lots of good times to be had.”

“I think it will be a really fun atmosphere having ‘GameDay’ there,” UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich said. “It will be really exciting.”

Dulcich and starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson mentioned they were familiar with the show and have watched it on occasion at a younger age.

“It’s a big deal,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I know it hasn’t been done here in a while so it’s an exciting time for the team, the community and the campus. It should be fun, but at the end of the day we still got to go out and win the game.”

The show has traveled to eight games involving the Bruins (5-2 overall, 3-1 Pac-12), including three against Oregon (5-1, 2-1), but it will be just the second time for a UCLA home game and the first time on campus.

The Bruins hold a 3-5 record in those games and 1-2 against the Ducks.

The first “College GameDay” visit for UCLA was at the Rose Bowl, featuring the second-ranked Bruins defeating No. 11 Oregon 41-38 in overtime on Oct. 17, 1998. It was also the first time the show had come out for a game between two Pac-10 (now Pac-12) teams.

With the opportunity to have the show on campus instead of back in Pasadena, UCLA will have the opportunity to show off the campus and its traditions to a national audience.

The show will also share its own traditions, including a segment that involves the broadcast crew sharing their insights and predictions on select games. Lee Corso likes to rally the crowd on set when picking the featured game, in this case UCLA vs. Oregon, by reaching under the desk to pull out and wear a mascot head (or other school-related attire) to represent his pick.

The show also welcomes a celebrity guest picker each week that holds some affiliation or connection to the host university. Country singer Kane Brown (Georgia), actor Ashton Kutcher (Iowa) and New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (Penn State) have all appeared as guests this season.

The Chargers will have a bye week this week, creating the possibility of running back Joshua Kelley (UCLA) and quarterback Justin Herbert (Oregon) to join the show.

Kelley was on campus Tuesday to visit with the team during practice. He became the eighth Bruin to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons in 2019. Kelley has several former teammates, including center Duke Clemens, tackle Sean Rhyan and Thompson-Robinson, still on the team.

never a dull moment with this guy pic.twitter.com/VhxJgfcTR6

— UCLA Football (@UCLAFootball) October 19, 2021

SOMETHING TO PROVE

The San Diego State Aztecs’ Twitter account has encouraged its fans to show up to the UCLA campus on Saturday morning to represent the undefeated Aztecs and “show the nation who’s got the best football team in CA!”

SDSU fans are encouraged to also reach out to the school’s marketing department for pre-made signs to wave around during the show.

Ranked No. 22 in the latest AP Top 25 poll, SDSU (6-0) holds nonconference victories over the Pac-12’s Arizona and Utah.

Aztec fans, @CollegeGameDay is coming to Southern CA this Saturday, let's show the Nation who's got the best football team in CA! Bring your @SDSU signs to the 6 am show b4 the Oregon-UCLA game. If you plan to attend & would like a pre-made sign, email GoAztecsMarketing@sdsu.edu. pic.twitter.com/D6t6yyhWzO

— San Diego State Aztecs (@GoAztecs) October 18, 2021

TOP BACK

Running back Zach Charbonnet is listed as the starting running back on the Bruins’  two-deep depth chart for the game against Oregon.

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It’s the first time the junior is listed as the Bruins’ No. 1 running back, despite leading the team in rushing with 697 yards through the first seven games of the season.

Charbonnet rushed for 131 yards last week against Washington. Brittain Brown has been listed as the starter and had a 146-yard rushing performance against Arizona.

Categories: Stati Uniti d'America

Coronavirus: Woman who refused to wear mask in Costa Mesa grocery store goes on trial

Daily News - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 02:42

A maskless woman accused of refusing to leave a Costa Mesa grocery store has become the only person to go on trial in Orange County after allegedly refusing to follow face-covering mandates at local businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic.

A jury will soon decide whether Marianne Campbell Smith is guilty of a pair of misdemeanor charges, including trespassing and obstructing a business or customers, for allegedly refusing to leave busy Mother’s Market near the Triangle Square during an anti-mask protest on Aug. 15, 2020.

A second woman who entered the store with Smith – Jennifer Marie Sterling – headed off a jury trial by taking a plea deal requiring her to plead no contest to an infraction for refusing to leave when ordered by a police officer upon an owner’s request. She received a suspended sentence rather than any time behind bars, court records show.

The criminal case is an outlier for Orange County police and prosecutors, who largely focused on education and outreach rather than arrests and criminal charges when it came to mask mandates and other coronavirus restrictions.

During the pandemic, only one local business owner – the operator of a Costa Mesa bar – was charged with flouting Covid limits. And with the exception of Smith and Sterling, no other arrests or charges tied to covid-related business mandates were reported.

Questioning by Smith’s attorney during her trial raised the possibility that Smith had health issues that prevented her from wearing a mask. That explanation was also cited by her online supporters.

During her trial this week in a Westminster courtroom, Smith wore a plastic face shield, as local courts continue to require all visitors and employees to wear face coverings. Around a dozen of Smith’s supporters watched from the courtroom gallery.

According to testimony, a bustling shopping day at the high-traffic grocery store was disrupted by a planned protest that forced employees to close the market’s main doors, minutes after Smith, Sterling and another woman walked into the business without masks.

The store manager at the time, Eric Katz, testified that he stepped in front of Smith and the other women to prevent them from entering the market. Katz described the women as pushing past him, though he acknowledged they did not make physical contact with store employees.

Katz testified that he and a security guard hired to help with the protest followed Smith, Sterling and the other woman around the store – through the produce and bread sections – as he told them at least five times that they needed to either put a face covering on or leave. The manager said he gave them the option of using an online service such as Instacart, or simply providing a list of groceries employees could bring out to them.

“She discussed doing it for her freedom,” Katz said of why Smith told him she wasn’t wearing a mask.

Smith – who was carrying a sign reading, “Healthy people do not wear masks” and Sterling – who was wearing a skirt with “Trump” written on it – eventually walked up to the checkout line, where Smith tried to pay for a container of food and a bag of chips. When employees refused to ring her up, Smith left $5 near the register, according to the surveillance footage.

At the same time, a group of around two dozen protestors had moved from the parking lot to the entrance to the market, leading employees to close the main door and helping those inside the store exit through the back. Surveillance footage showed the group brandishing signs and flags reading “Trump 2020,” “Keep America Great,” and “Keep your politics off our faces.”

Costa Mesa Officer Robert Hanson testified that he was one of numerous officers who were stationed near the protest – a group that included SWAT team members. Hanson and a group of officers entered the market and arrested Smith and Sterling. The third woman, who has not been named during the trial, apparently left the market before police arrived.

Hanson described the protestors yelling “shame, shame, shame” and comparing the police to Nazis as they brought Smith and Sterling out of the market.

During an interview with police played in court, Smith said it was discrimination not to let her in the store without a mask, and said she had the right to shop at the market. Under cross-examination by Smith’s attorney – Frederick Fascenelli – the officer agreed that Smith told them, “I can’t wear a mask,” and acknowledged that they didn’t follow up by asking her why.

The defense attorney during his questioning of the store manager and the officer repeatedly indicated that Smith had a card indicating that she had some sort of medical condition. Fascenelli also repeatedly questioned the store manager about local health orders that he said seemed to allow people people with health conditions to avoid wearing masks.

The manager said in court that the market’s mask policy was handed down from their corporate leaders based on health guidance at the state, local and federal levels that often shifted during the pandemic.

Smith told the judge on Tuesday that she does not plan to testify. Closing arguments in the trial are expected to take place on Wednesday.

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What We Learned in the Latest Campaign Cash Reports

NY Times - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 02:42
Financial disclosures show who has the early money edge in key races, as well as the value of a Trump endorsement.
Categories: Stati Uniti d'America

Controversial Redondo power plant operations extended through 2023

Daily News - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 02:33

With California struggling to meet electricity demands as it transitions to clean energy, regulators on Tuesday, Oct. 19, approved another extension to keep the outdated, gas-fired Redondo Beach power plant operating through 2023.

The decision was met with frustration and disappointment by city residents and council members, who are eager to end the periodic air pollution that they attribute to the AES-run plant and replace it with a park and restoration of wetlands. A state grant of $4.8 million toward acquiring and improving the land has been withdrawn because of delays in closing the plant.

“You have to send a message right here, today, that there won’t be any more extensions, that this will be the last extension,” Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand told the State Water Resources Control Board before it voted unanimously Tuesday to give the final approval needed to keep the plant open two more years.

Board Chairman Joaquin Esquivel declined to offer any such assurances, saying he couldn’t predict future circumstances and couldn’t speak for the future actions of regulators.

“Obviously, this decision doesn’t come easily,” Esquivel said. “(But) we have to consider the needs of the whole state.”

With the exception of Los Angeles Power and Water operations, all of the state’s ocean-cooled, gas-fired power generators were scheduled to close at the end of 2020. That decision was made in 2010 because of the damage to marine life when seawater is sucked into the plant.

But after rolling blackouts in August of last year, energy analysts predicted future supply shortfalls, a result of climate-change induced heat waves and the comparatively slow pace of developing clean energy. So last year regulators approved extending the life of old generators in Huntington Beach, Long Beach and Oxnard through 2023, and those in Redondo Beach through 2021.

The extensions through 2023 were approved with little or no local opposition. The plants in Huntington Beach and Long Beach had constructed more efficient, air-cooled replacement generators, and have been operating both old and new units, with most residents apparently resigned to ongoing operations. Oxnard supported the extension because of the income it would bring the city.

But in Redondo Beach, the plant sits amid a heavily urbanized area and the city has been eager to remove the industrial use. Residents and city council members addressing the board Tuesday — as well as two council members from neighboring Hermosa Beach — emphasized concerns about air pollution from the plant.

“Please show us that you value the lives of those affected most by this inefficient power plant,” pleaded Hermosa Beach City Councilwoman Stacey Armato.

While the state is transitioning to clean energy, most comes from solar and wind power that fades in the evening. In August through early October, when high temperatures and the use of air conditioning puts the greatest demands on the electricity grid, energy supplies can run low in the evening. That’s when the old power generators are needed.

The region’s temperatures are being driven upward by climate change, as  Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, noted at Tuesday virtual meeting.

“I find it extremely ironic that we’re trying to deal with climate change by continuing to operate these plants that contribute to climate change,” said Muratsuchi, who represents Redondo Beach and opposed extending the plant’s life.

Also on the opponents’ side were the Sierra Club, Heal the Bay and the Surfrider Foundation. Supporting the extension were labor union representatives, the California Chamber of Commerce, the Carson Chamber of Commerce and the LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce.

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Adding to opponents’ ire was the voluntary offer of AES, the plant operator, to donate $1.5 million to help with preservation efforts at the Cerritos Wetlands on the Los Angeles-Orange county line, and the Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach. Critics called, apparently in vain, for the money to be spent for projects in and around Redondo Beach

The five water board members said they took no joy in extending the plant life. Board member Sean Maguire pointed out that the Diablo nuclear plant is scheduled to close in 2024, and was apprehensive that the closure of that plant would put more pressure on energy supplies.

“I am concerned about kicking the can down the road,” he said. “I don’t want to be here a year from now and go through this again. I want to make sure this is successful.”

Categories: Stati Uniti d'America

Kidnappers in Haiti Demand $17 Million to Free Missionary Group

NY Times - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 02:33
A gang abducted 17 people associated with a Christian aid group, including five children. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.
Categories: Stati Uniti d'America

Navy probe finds major failures in fire that destroyed ship

Daily News - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 02:28

By LOLITA C. BALDOR

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Navy report has concluded there were sweeping failures by commanders, crew members and others that fueled the July 2020 arson fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard, calling the massive five-day blaze in San Diego preventable and unacceptable.

While one sailor has been charged with setting the fire, the more than 400-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, lists three dozen officers and sailors whose failings either directly led to the ship’s loss or contributed to it. The findings detailed widespread lapses in training, coordination, communication, fire preparedness, equipment maintenance and overall command and control.

“Although the fire was started by an act of arson, the ship was lost due to an inability to extinguish the fire,” the report said, concluding that “repeated failures” by an “inadequately prepared crew” delivered “an ineffective fire response.”

It slammed commanders of the amphibious assault ship for poor oversight, and said the main firefighting foam system wasn’t used because it hadn’t been maintained properly and the crew didn’t know how to use it. The report is expected to be released Wednesday.

U.S. Navy officials on Tuesday said that while crews at sea consistently meet high firefighting standards, those skills drop off when ships move into maintenance periods. The Bonhomme Richard was undergoing maintenance at the time of the fire.

During maintenence there are more people and organizations involved with the ship, including contractors. And the repairs often involve equipment and chemicals that present different hazards and challenges.

The report describes a ship in disarray, with combustible materials scattered and stored improperly. It said maintenance reports were falsified, and that 87% of the fire stations on board had equipment problems or had not been inspected.

It also found that crew members didn’t ring the bells to alert sailors of a fire until 10 minutes after it was discovered. Those crucial minutes, the report said, caused delays in crews donning fire gear, assembling hose teams and responding to the fire.

Sailors also failed to push the button and activate the firefighting foam system, even though it was accessible and could have slowed the fire’s progress. “No member of the crew interviewed considered this action or had specific knowledge as to the location of the button or its function,” the report said.

The report spreads blame across a wide range of ranks and responsibilities, from the now retired three-star admiral who headed Naval Surface Force Pacific Fleet — Vice Adm. Richard Brown — to senior commanders, lower ranking sailors and civilian program managers. Seventeen were cited for failures that “directly” led to the loss of the ship, while 17 others “contributed” to the loss of the ship. Two other sailors were faulted for not effectively helping the fire response. Of the 36, nine are civilians.

Adm. William Lescher, the vice chief of naval operations, has designated the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet to handle any disciplinary actions for military members. The Navy officials said the disciplinary process is just beginning. One official said the key challenge in making improvements will be addressing the “human factor,” including leadership skills and ensuring that everyone down to the lowest ranking sailors understands their responsibilities, and can recognize problems and correct them.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the report ahead of its public release.

Specifically, the report said failures of Vice Adm. Brown; Rear Adm. Scott Brown, the fleet maintenance officer for the Pacific Fleet; Rear Adm. William Greene, the fleet maintenance officer for U.S. Fleet Forces Command; Rear. Adm. Eric Ver Hage, commander of the regional maintenance center; Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander of Navy Region Southwest; Capt. Mark Nieswiadomy, commander of Naval Base San Diego; and Capt. Tony Rodriguez, commander of Amphibious Squadron 5, all “contributed to the loss of the ship.”

The report also directly faults the ship’s three top officers — Capt. Gregory Thoroman, the commanding officer; Capt. Michael Ray, the executive officer; and Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez — for not effectively ensuring the readiness and condition of the ship.

“The execution of his duties created an environment of poor training, maintenance and operational standards that directly led to the loss of the ship,” the report said of Thoroman. And it said Ray, Hernandez and Capt. David Hart, commander of the Southwest Regional Maintenance Center, also failed in their responsibilities, which directly led to the loss of the ship.

The report only provides names for senior naval officers. Others were described solely by their job or rank.

More broadly, the crew was slammed for “a pattern of failed drills, minimal crew participation, an absence of basic knowledge on firefighting” and an inability to coordinate with civilian firefighters.

“The loss of the USS Bonhomme Richard was a completely avoidable catastrophe,” said U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee. He said he read the report “with shock and anger,” and will look into the matter carefully to “determine the full extent of the negligence and complacency that occurred.”

The ship was undergoing a two-year, $250 million upgrade pierside in San Diego when the fire broke out. About 115 sailors were on board, and nearly 60 were treated for heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation and minor injuries. The failure to extinguish or contain the fire led to temperatures exceeding 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas, melting sections of the ship into molten metal that flowed into other parts of the ship.

Due to the damage, the Navy decommissioned the ship in April. In August, Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays was charged with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel. He has denied setting the fire.

The blaze began in the lower storage area, which Mays’ duty station had access to, according to a court document. Investigators found three of four fire stations on the ship had evidence of tampering, including disconnected firehoses, and highly flammable liquid was found near the ignition site.

Efforts to put out the fire were hampered because the ship’s crew and other outside fire response departments and organizations were not coordinated, couldn’t communicate effectively, hadn’t exercised together and weren’t well trained, the report said.

The report, written by Vice Adm. Scott Conn, included a number of recommended changes and improvements that have been endorsed by Lescher. The Navy set up a new fire safety assessment program that conducts random inspections, and has taken steps to increase training. Nearly 170 of those inspections have already been done, and officials said they are finding good results.

The Navy also conducted a historical study, looking closely at 15 shipyard fires over the last 12 years. It found recurring trends including failures to comply with fire prevention, detection and response policies.

As a result, Navy leaders are expanding the staffing and responsibilities of the Naval Safety Center, to perform audits and unannounced assessments of Navy units. The final costs are still being calculated.

Categories: Stati Uniti d'America

Democrats, Scaling Back Budget Bill, Press for Compromise by Week’s End

NY Times - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 02:26
As they worked to shrink their marquee domestic policy bill, President Biden told Democrats that a proposal to provide two years of free community college would most likely have to be dropped.
Categories: Stati Uniti d'America

House Panel Recommends Contempt Charge for Stephen Bannon

NY Times - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 02:26
The committee scrutinizing the Jan. 6 Capitol riot said the former White House counselor had “multiple roles relevant to this investigation.”
Categories: Stati Uniti d'America

Halloween horror movie picks: 10 great fright flicks from 2020-21

Daily News - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 02:12

There has been no shortage of scares over the last couple of years.

Most of them, of course, came from the real world — as COVID-19 put all of us, to some degree or another, in very real danger.

Yet, there’s also been a fair share of spooky things coming from the movie world. And those are the type of ones we’re looking for during the Halloween season.

Much of the entertainment industry was shut down for over a year due to the pandemic, yet the horror film machine just kept right on pumping out ghastly good offerings during that time period. Indeed, 2020 and 2021 have been great years for horror releases — some of which hit the big screens (often the drive-ins) and others went straight to streaming platforms.

Here is a look at 10 of our favorite releases from the past two years. All of them are widely available to stream/rent/purchase right now. So, pick one (or all 10) and have yourself a happy Halloween!

‘Freaky’

Nobody is doing better work these days in the horror-comedy genre than Christopher Landon. Having given the world the wonderful “Happy Death Day” and the solid sequel “Happy Death Day 2U” — which are both built on a “Groundhog Day”-esque storyline — the director hits another one out of the park with this film that can be considered a kind of horror movie version of “Freaky Friday.” Vince Vaughan and Kathryn Newton are brilliant as a serial killer and high school student who end up switching bodies through the usual dark evil spell mumbo-jumbo.

‘The Wretched’

It’s a chilling supernatural horror film, with a few scenes — is that a monster crawling out of that deer carcass? — which could end up keeping you up at night. The film stars John-Paul Howard as Ben Shaw, who suspects that there is something wrong going on with his neighbors. (Spoiler alert: He’s right.) “The Wretched” is truly a movie that lives up to its name, yet in all the right ways, and it’s highly recommended for anyone who likes witch stories.

Related Articles ‘Becky’

Wait a second – a horror movie starring Kevin James? Kevin James from those goofy “Zookeeper” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” flicks and “The King of Queens” TV sitcom? Yes, that Kevin James. And he’s very convincing in his cinematic turn to the dark side, playing an ex-con who might just have bitten off more than he can chew when he tangles with 13-year-old Becky (Lulu Wilson) in this home-invasion tale.

‘Spiral’

“Saw” has been one of horror’s most consistently entertaining franchises, beginning with the stone-cold classic first film in 2004 and continuing through several well-directed sequels. This 2021 offering is a worthy addition to the legacy as well as a plausible reboot, delivering plenty of new avenues to further explore in the “Saw” storyline for years to come. Chris Rock stars in the film and adds a sense of humor to the mix — something that the franchise has never really had before.

‘The Toll’

How safe are you really when you jump into that rideshare vehicle? You might be thinking twice about using an app to arrange your next ride after seeing this Canadian thriller, which tells the story of a woman who simply needs a lift from the airport to see her father one late night and instead ends up on a nightmare journey involving a supernatural creature known as the “Toll Man.” (Note: This is not to be confused with the 2021 film of the same name starring Michael Smiley.)

‘Gaia’

Two forest rangers encounter more than they bargained for when they enter into the woods in this entirely engrossing South African eco-horror film, which had its world premiere at the South by Southwest film festival in 2021. One of the rangers runs across two survivalists — a father and son, who are living way, way off the grid — but it becomes increasingly hard to survive as some kind of evil draws steadily closer. The movie’s folklore-horror vibe should please fans of “Midsommar” and “The VVitch.”

‘Separation’

Rupert Friend — whose spin as CIA operative Peter Quinn helped make the Showtime political thriller “Homeland” one of the best TV shows of all time — is on top of his game in the role of graphic novel artist Jeff Vahn, who must battle dark forces in order to save his daughter. The jumping off point of the film is a bad marriage and impending divorce, and the horror that follows serves to underscore how damaging these situations can be for the children.

‘Till Death’

We loved Megan Fox in the 2009 horror-comedy “Jennifer’s Body” and then managed to go 10-plus years without seeing her in another movie. (We’re not “Transformers” fans and somehow managed to miss 2016’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.”) Yet, we’re back on the Fox bandwagon after catching the actress in this (quite literally) chilling survival tale of a wedding anniversary celebration gone oh-so very wrong. Feel free to join us, but note that the bandwagon is already getting crowded with all the people cheering Fox on for this “comeback” role.

‘Come Play’

This is the movie that affirms all of those parental fears about kids spending way too much time on their iPads, smart phones and other screens. So, in other words, kids might want to persuade their parents to watch something else lest they face some stiff screen-time limitations, because this chilling release tells the tale of a monster that preys on a young boy through his smart device. Yes, in this movie, there’s an app for that.

‘Willy’s Wonderland’

Let’s just state the obvious here: Nicolas Cage has been the single greatest thing about the movie business over the past few years, always coming across as pure, unadulterated Nicolas Cage no matter what a particular role calls for. He once again shines brightly, in a very stoic kind of way, in this delightfully ridiculous movie that could lead to nightmares for all of us who grew up celebrating our birthdays at Chuck E. Cheese.

Bonus pick: ‘Malignant’

James Wan is the greatest — and certainly most successful – horror filmmaker of his generation, having masterminded the “Saw,” “Conjuring” and “Insidious” franchises. The director has yet another winner on his hands with “Malignant,” which takes viewers on a thrill ride of unexpected twists, convincing scares and over-the-top action as it unravels the tale of a troubled woman and the mounting number of gruesome deaths surrounding her.

“Malignant” isn’t widely available to stream, but we’re still including it on our list because it’s the best horror movie of the last two years. It was released simultaneously in theaters and HBO Max earlier this fall, although it’s since been pulled from the Max. “Malignant” will reportedly be available for digital purchase beginning on Oct. 22, with Blue-ray and DVD versions to follow on Nov. 30. But keep your eyes open for its return to streaming at some point.

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Trump's Pentagon Chief Ruled Out Ramping Up Troops at US-Mexico Border

NY Times - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 02:12
Top national security aides to former President Trump also talked him out of launching military raids against drug cartels inside Mexico.
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How Tweeting Can Be Like Pro Wrestling, and Other Observations

NY Times - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 02:09
Peter Thiel, decency and the supposed “pro-wrestlization” of tweeting.
Categories: Stati Uniti d'America

House panel votes to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress

Daily News - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 02:04

By Mary Clare Jalonick | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection voted unanimously Tuesday to hold former White House aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress after the longtime ally of former President Donald Trump defied a subpoena for documents and testimony.

Still defending his supporters who broke into the Capitol that day, Trump has aggressively tried to block the committee’s work by directing Bannon and others not to answer questions in the probe. Trump has also filed a lawsuit to try to prevent Congress from obtaining former White House documents.

But lawmakers have made clear they will not back down as they gather facts and testimony about the attack involving Trump’s supporters that left dozens of police officers injured, sent lawmakers running for their lives and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Tuesday that Bannon “stands alone in his complete defiance of our subpoena” and the panel will not take no for an answer.

He said that while Bannon may be “willing to be a martyr to the disgraceful cause of whitewashing what happened on January 6th — of demonstrating his complete loyalty to the former President,” the contempt vote is a warning to other witnesses.

“We won’t be deterred. We won’t be distracted. And we won’t be delayed,” Thompson added.

The Tuesday evening vote sends the contempt resolution to the full House, which is expected to vote on the measure Thursday. House approval would send the matter to the Justice Department, which would then decide whether to pursue criminal charges against Bannon.

The contempt resolution asserts that the former Trump aide and podcast host has no legal standing to rebuff the committee — even as Trump’s lawyer has argued that Bannon should not disclose information because it is protected by the privilege of the former president’s office. The committee noted that Bannon, fired from his White House job in 2017, was a private citizen when he spoke to Trump ahead of the attack. And Trump has not asserted any such executive privilege claims to the panel itself, lawmakers said.

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, one of just two Republicans on the committee, said: “Mr. Bannon’s and Mr. Trump’s privilege arguments do appear to reveal one thing, however: They suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th. And we will get to the bottom of that.”

The committee says it is pursuing Bannon’s testimony because of his apparent role in the events of Jan. 6, including his communications with Trump ahead of the siege, his efforts to get the former president to focus on Jan. 6, the day Congress certified the presidential vote, and his comments on Jan. 5 that “all hell is going to break loose” the next day.

Bannon “appears to have had multiple roles relevant to this investigation, including his role in constructing and participating in the ‘stop the steal’ public relations effort that motivated the attack” and “his efforts to plan political and other activity in advance of January 6th,” the committee wrote in the resolution recommending contempt.

The Biden White House has rejected Bannon’s claims, with Deputy Counsel Jonathan Su writing Bannon’s lawyer this week to say that “at this point we are not aware of any basis for your client’s refusal to appear for a deposition.” Biden’s judgment that executive privilege is not justified, Su wrote, “applies to your client’s deposition testimony and to any documents your client may possess.”

Asked last week if the Justice Department should prosecute those who refuse to testify, Biden said yes. But the Justice Department quickly pushed back, with a spokesman saying the department would make its own decisions.

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While Bannon has said he needs a court order before complying with his subpoena, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former White House and Pentagon aide Kashyap Patel have been negotiating with the committee. It is unclear whether a fourth former White House aide, Dan Scavino, will comply.

The committee has also subpoenaed more than a dozen people who helped plan Trump rallies ahead of the siege, and some of them are already turning over documents and giving testimony.

The vote came a day after Trump sued the committee and the National Archives to fight the release of documents the committee has requested. Trump’s lawsuit, filed after Biden said he’d allow the documents’ release, claims that the panel’s August request was overly broad and a “vexatious, illegal fishing expedition.” Trump’s suit seeks to invalidate the entirety of the congressional request, calling it overly broad, unduly burdensome and a challenge to separation of powers. It requests a court injunction to bar the archivist from producing the documents.

The Biden administration, in clearing the documents for release, said the violent siege of the Capitol more than nine months ago was such an extraordinary circumstance that it merited waiving the privilege that usually protects White House communications.

Associated Press Writers Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Zeke Miller, Nomaan Merchant and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

Categories: Stati Uniti d'America

China’s Bullying Is Becoming a Danger to the World and Itself

NY Times - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 02:01
Does Xi understand the cost of the distrust he's fostering at home and abroad?
Categories: Stati Uniti d'America

LA County tees up agreement with Metro for mental-health crisis response teams

Daily News - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 01:54

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday, Oct. 19, to negotiate an agreement for county mental health teams to respond to crises aboard Metro trains and buses.

Supervisor Janice Hahn recommended letting the county’s Department of Mental Health work to strike a deal with Metro.

“Anyone who has taken Metro knows there is a need for mental health professionals on our transit system,” Hahn said. “Our county mental health professionals are trained to handle difficult situations and connect people with the long-term treatment and support they need.”

Hahn, who also sits on the Metro board, co-authored a motion last year with fellow board member and Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin to rethink public safety on the transit system and establish a Public Safety Advisory Committee.

Hahn said Metro staffers reached out to DMH in advance of recommendations by that committee to talk about negotiating an agreement.

The Board of Supervisors’ vote also gives DMH the authority to enter into a contract if an agreement is reached.

Supervisor Hilda Solis co-authored the motion.

“This potential partnership between our Department of Mental Health and Metro is crucial to re-imagining how we can assist and support residents who experience mental health crises on buses and rail cars throughout Metro’s transit network,” Solis said.

DMH currently runs two types of crisis teams. One is a Mental Evaluation Team, or MET, that pairs a specially trained law enforcement officer with a licensed mental health clinician to respond to the highest-risk situations. The goal is to divert individuals struggling with mental illness to treatment and minimize the use of force and involvement in the criminal justice system.

The other type of team is an unarmed Psychiatric Mobile Response Team (PMRT) made up of at least one licensed mental health clinician and one other mental health professional. None of the PMRT teammates are members of law enforcement.

The county is working to expand the number of PMRT teams available and provide coverage around the clock. Teams are expected to be accessible through a new national mental health crisis hotline, 988, next summer.

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Democrats race to get Biden’s plan across finish line

Daily News - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 01:50

By Lisa Mascaro and Matthew Daly | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — With a centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s climate change strategy all but dashed, Democratic lawmakers headed to the White House Tuesday searching for new ways to narrow, reshape and swiftly wrap up negotiations on what had been his sweeping $3.5 trillion budget plan.

Nearly 20 centrist and progressive lawmakers met in separate groups with Biden as Democrats review a menu of alternative emission-reducing strategies — one of the most crucial issues for voters who support the president and his party — and race to reach accord on his overall package.

Among the climate-change-fighting proposals being considered are a tax on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels such as oil and coal, a methane emissions fee and tax breaks for energy providers who hit certain emissions goals.

The Democrats need to find tactics that can be accepted by both centrists and progressives, whose votes are all needed in the evenly divided Senate. Senators want to reach a framework this week ahead of month-end deadlines.

“Our goal is to continue to make progress,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said simply of the day’s fast-moving events.

Biden’s main climate-fighting plan seems all but dead. A key holdout, conservative Sen. Joe Manchin from coal-state West Virginia, has made it clear he opposes the president’s proposal to have the government impose penalties on electric utilities that fail to meet clean energy benchmarks and provide financial rewards to those that do, in line with Biden’s goal of achieving 80% “clean electricity” by 2030.

The alternative strategies being compiled and assessed could align with Manchin’s stated goal of keeping a “fuel neutral” approach to federal policy that does not favor renewable energy sources over coal and natural gas that are dominant in his state — though the senator told reporters a carbon tax was not in the mix.

“Everybody’s talking,” Manchin said.

Tackling climate change has been a cornerstone of the president’s signature domestic policy package, a sweeping plan to bolster federal social services while addressing the climate crisis — all funded by tax hikes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals.

Biden wants to show progress on his entire package, now being scaled back to about $2 trillion, by the time he departs for a global climate summit next week. And he’s not alone.

“There was universal — universal — agreement in that room that we have to come to an agreement and we got to get it done,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after a lengthy lunch at the Capitol that senators described as “lively” and “spirited.”

Schumer said he, Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are talking daily.

“What I told our caucus was, everyone is going to be disappointed in certain things but everyone is going to be glad about certain things,” Schumer said. “And overall getting something done of this magnitude for the American people is a huge, huge, huge accomplishment.”

Failure to act on climate change would have far-reaching consequences in the U.S. and abroad. Advocates warn that inaction could cost the U.S. billions of dollars in weather-related disasters and threaten to uproot millions of Americans in hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and floods.

Without Manchin’s support, however, Biden’s initial climate proposal, the Clean Energy Performance Plan — also called the Clean Energy Payment Plan — is almost certain to be eliminated from the package, lawmakers and aides say. It would offer grants to power companies that increase clean energy generation by 4% each year and fine those that do not.

“I’ve been told it would be prudent to plan alternatives,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

Instead, lawmakers are eyeing a package of tax changes from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chairman of the Finance Committee, who has argued that the bulk of greenhouse gas emission cuts would come from an energy tax overhaul he is spearheading.

Among tax changes his committee is considering are tax credits for energy producers that reduce emissions, and pollution fees to be paid by industries for every ton of planet-warming carbon dioxide they emit. A carbon tax is seen by economists as the most effective way to cut fossil fuel emissions, and the American Petroleum Institute, the chief lobbying arm of the oil and gas industry, has endorsed the idea of a price on carbon emissions.

Psaki said that the administration has “multiple pathways” to meet Biden’s pledge to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030.

“No one policy, in our view, makes or breaks our chances,” she said.

This is the daily backdrop as the president works to position the U.S. to regain a leadership position in climate change strategies, preparing to depart for the U.N. Climate Summit at the end of the month. Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry has warned against failure in Congress.

Biden met for nearly two hours with the first group of lawmakers, progressives, who emerged confident a deal was within reach. Moderate lawmakers were meeting next.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the first group and Biden did not discuss a carbon tax. She said the climate pieces of the overall bill are among the “most challenging,” but she also said the group feels “even more optimistic” about striking agreement on Biden’s priority package.

For months, Manchin has publicly and repeatedly rejected the size and scale of Biden’s plan, and the coal-state senator has particularly objected to the green energy strategies.

He and other centrist lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have forced Biden to concede that the final price tag will likely be much smaller, likely around $2 trillion — largely paid for with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, those earning more than $400,000 per year.

Before the larger afternoon meetings, Biden met Tuesday with both Manchin and Sinema at the White House, Psaki said.

As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Manchin is testing the patience of his colleagues who see a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape government programs slipping away to his personal preferences. Sinema missed Tuesday’s lunch, but has appeared more open to the climate change provisions, though her views are closely held. With Republicans fully opposed to Biden’s plans, the president needs all Democrats in the 50-50 split Senate for passage.

Senators said they were confident Manchin and Sinema were on board with this week’s goal to wrap up talks.

Time slipping, Congress has set an Oct. 31 deadline for passage of Biden’s big package — though even that could slide.

Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Alex Jaffe, Farnoush Amiri and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

Categories: Stati Uniti d'America

LA County votes to ramp up services for LGBTQ+ jail population

Daily News - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 01:48

By ELIZABETH MARCELLINO | City News Service

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday, Oct. 19 to expand mental health treatment and other supportive services for LGBTQ people, both inside and out of county jails.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the motion’s lead author, said the proposal also addresses a concern that too many women — including those who are pregnant or elderly — are being needlessly jailed.

“Women need help, but instead, our custody system often re-traumatizes people who are already victims of poverty and violence,” Kuehl said. “Today’s action calls for us to better understand specific custody subpopulations including the cisgender female, lesbian-gay-bisexual and transgender populations, what factors drive them into the justice system, and how we might provide the services that could prevent justice involvement.”

The motion calls for implementing a series of recommendations detailed in a report issued by the county’s Gender Responsive Advisory Committee.

“There are better ways to protect public safety than locking up people who simply need help,” Kuehl said.

In addition to more in-jail support for women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, the board’s vote also supports additional research to identify inmates who can safely be released from jail to community treatment.

There are about 1,300 inmates held daily at Century Regional Detention Facility, the county’s women’s jail in Lynwood.

A 2020 RAND Corporation analysis estimated that roughly one-third of women in county jail have mental health issues and that nearly three-quarters of those women could be safely treated outside a jail setting. However, releasing them would require significantly ramping up the number of available inpatient and outpatient beds in the community.

Kuehl said building up that infrastructure is a key focus as the county implements its “Care First, Jails Last” vision. That strategy aims to reduce the overall jail population through diversion programs and by funding more community-based support services in hopes of slowing the rate of incarceration.

Women are the fastest growing population in U.S. prisons and jails, and an estimated 86% of women in jail nationwide have been victims of sexual violence, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

There are roughly 115 pregnant women currently in county jail, according to Peter Espinoza, who heads the county’s Office of Diversion & Reentry.

“The trauma that a vast majority of these women have experienced prior to the moment that they come into our care is overwhelming,” Espinoza told reporters during a Monday briefing on the motion. “Most of us could never survive that kind of trauma.”

Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who co-authored the motion, recalled voting more than 20 years ago on a state public safety bill aimed at “stopping belly chaining and shackling pregnant women who are in active labor as they are being transported from prison or jail to deliver. Just barbaric ideology, barbaric practice.”

Jailing mothers-to-be can also have generational consequences, as infants unable to be cared for by extended family end up in the foster care system.

Eunisses Hernandez, a community activist who chairs the county’s Gender Responsive Advisory Committee, said the county should go even further in recognizing that many women and LGBTQ individuals in jail are often the victims of trauma and sexual abuse.

“We believe L.A. County should adopt a goal of ending the incarceration of two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning and transgender, gender-nonconforming and or inter-sex people and cisgendered women,” Hernandez told reporters Monday.

Reliable data on the LGBTQ+ population in Los Angeles County jails is not currently available, but Kuehl cited a “guesstimate” of 850 individuals. A national survey indicates that roughly one-third of women behind bars across the country identify as lesbian or bisexual.

“The county has to pay closer attention to sexual orientation and gender identity in the custody population, because we can’t serve people’s needs effectively if we don’t know who they are,” Kuehl said.

Mitchell zeroed in on racial inequities evident in the disproportionate number of Black women jailed for crimes that the GRAC report characterizes as largely rooted in issues of substance abuse and poverty.

“Black women comprise only 9% of all the women in L.A. County, yet they make up 33% of jail bookings among women,” Mitchell said. “The racial and gender inequities in our jail system are real and must be addressed.”

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During the effort to release inmates during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, “Women didn’t keep up proportionately to the releases of men, and you have to ask why,” Mitchell said, noting that women are often jailed for less violent crimes.

The county has committed more than $450 million to a host of initiatives related to the “Care First, Jails Last” plan, based on the latest budget update by county CEO Fesia Davenport.

Still, change is likely to be slow in coming, according to several speakers during Monday’s briefing.

Some of the progress must ultimately be driven by deputy district attorneys and judges who control charging and sentencing decisions.

“It’s much like turning the Titanic. There are 280 judges in Los Angeles County that hear criminal cases,” Espinoza said. “The systems change and cultural change that needs to take place is going to take time.”

The Kuehl/Mitchell motion referenced a goal to shut down Men’s Central Jail without a replacement as central to that vision, although that particular objective is opposed by both Sheriff Alex Villanueva — who runs the jails — and Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

Both Barger and the sheriff agree that the dangerously decrepit jail must be closed, but believe a replacement is needed to house and treat inmates who cannot be safely released, particularly given the current lack of community infrastructure.

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Submarine Spy Case: Couple Stewed Over Money and Politics

NY Times - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 01:27
Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, charged with trying to sell classified nuclear secrets to a foreign power, struggled with finances, family and the state of America.
Categories: Stati Uniti d'America

Racism Is Declared a Public Health Crisis in New York City

NY Times - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 01:17
The Board of Health passed a resolution directing the Health Department to work toward a “racially just recovery” from the coronavirus pandemic.
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Should Pregnant Women Get a Covid-19 Booster Shot?

NY Times - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 01:08
Experts strongly agree that the shots benefit the mother as well as the fetus.
Categories: Stati Uniti d'America