AP News in Brief 02-12-20

Trial team quits Roger Stone case in dispute over sentence

WASHINGTON — The four lawyers who prosecuted Roger Stone quit the case Tuesday after the Justice Department overruled them and said it would take the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek for President Donald Trump’s longtime ally and confidant.

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The departures raised immediate questions over whether Trump, who earlier in the day had blasted the original sentencing recommendation as “very horrible and unfair,” had at least indirectly exerted his will on a Justice Department that he often views as an arm of the White House.

The department said the decision to undo the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Trump’s tweet — and prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it. Even so, the departures of the entire trial team broke open a simmering dispute over the punishment of a Trump ally whose case has long captured the president’s attention. The episode was the latest to entangle the Justice Department, meant to operate free from White House sway in criminal investigations and prosecutions, in presidential politics.

Teacher unions: Children terrified by active shooter drills

HARTFORD, Conn. — The nation’s two largest teachers unions want schools to revise or eliminate active shooter drills, asserting Tuesday that they can harm students’ mental health and that there are better ways to prepare for the possibility of a school shooting.

The American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association joined with the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund in calling for an end to unannounced drills or drills that simulate gun violence.

“Everywhere I travel, I hear from parents and educators about active shooter drills terrifying students, leaving them unable to concentrate in the classroom and unable to sleep at night,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association. “So traumatizing students as we work to keep students safe from gun violence is not the answer.”

From wire sources

That is why if schools are going to do drills, they need to take steps to ensure the drills do more good than harm.”

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Yang, who created buzz with freedom dividend, ends 2020 bid

Democrat Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur who created buzz for his presidential campaign by talking about his love of math and championing a universal basic income that would give every American adult $1,000 per month, suspended his 2020 bid on Tuesday.

“I am the math guy, and it is clear to me from the numbers that we are not going to win this race,” Yang said in front of a crowd of supporters as votes in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary were being counted.

“This is not an easy decision, or something I made lightly with the team. Endings are hard and I’ve always had the intention to stay in the race until the very end,” he added. ” But I have been persuaded that the message of this campaign will not be strengthened by my staying in the race any longer.”

The 45-year-old was one of the breakout stars of the Democratic primary race, building a following that started largely online but expanded to give him enough donors and polling numbers to qualify for the first six debates. Yang announced his departure from the race shortly before Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet did Tuesday night, bringing the Democratic field to single digits.

He outlasted senators and governors, and after initially self-funding his campaign, he raised more money than most of his rivals, bringing in over $16 million in the final quarter of last year. It was a bigger haul than all but the top four candidates: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

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AP VoteCast: After Iowa, many NH Dems worry about fairness

WASHINGTON — Only 14% of New Hampshire Democrats said they were “very confident” that the process for picking a presidential nominee would be fair, a sign of possible doubts lingering in voters’ minds at the state’s Tuesday primary.

The trouble tabulating results in last week’s Iowa caucuses, an issue that has yet to be fully resolved, may have rattled the faith of some voters amid uncertainty about who is the Democratic front-runner. The skepticism was clearest among Bernie Sanders’ backers, with about 6 in 10 saying they had little or no confidence in the Democratic primary process. Majorities of voters for every other top Democratic contender described the primary process as fair.

The results from AP VoteCast suggest that Sanders’ younger and generally more liberal supporters distrust their fellow Democrats, a potential reflection of the Vermont senator losing the 2016 nomination to Hillary Clinton. These suspicions could set up a bruising round of election contests in the weeks ahead as Democratic voters choose whether it is better to lean into an overtly liberal contender or embrace a more moderate challenger to President Donald Trump in November.

AP VoteCast is a wide-ranging survey of more than 3,000 Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

There is clear tension between liberal and moderate Democrats. Former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar have attempted to carve out a more moderate lane, while Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sanders have found strength as liberals.

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Global experts study promising drugs, vaccines for new virus

GENEVA — The World Health Organization convened outside experts Tuesday to try to speed the development of tests, treatments and vaccines against the new coronavirus, as doctors on the front lines experiment on patients with various drugs in hopes of saving lives in the meantime.

The 400 scientists participating in the two-day meeting — many remotely — will try to determine which approaches seem promising enough to advance to the next step: studies in people to prove if they really work.

“We prioritize what is really urgent, what we absolutely need to know to fight the outbreak, to develop drugs, vaccines,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, co-chair of the meeting and a viral-disease specialist at the French research institution INSERM. That will allow science to “focus on what is the most pressing issue and not to disperse too much the efforts.”

Also on the agenda: Is it possible to build a standing supply of drugs similar to the vaccine stockpiles that exist for diseases such as yellow fever and Ebola?

“If any of these drugs does show an effect, there will be massive demand,” Dr. Graham Cooke, a professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College London, said earlier this week.

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Virus puts Hong Kong protests on ice. Will they return?

The crowd lining up recently on a cold, dark Hong Kong street wasn’t part of the anti-government protest movement that rocked the semi-autonomous Chinese territory for months.

Their demand: surgical masks, now in short supply as fears grow over a new virus that has claimed more than 1,000 lives across the border in mainland China and one in Hong Kong.

The city’s often-tumultuous street protests had already slowed over the past two months. Now they have ground to an almost complete halt as attention focuses on how to avoid a recurrence of the SARS pandemic, which killed about 300 people in Hong Kong in 2002-03.

But with most of the protest demands unmet, it’s too early to declare the movement dead.

RALLIES SHRINK

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Actor Jussie Smollett faces 6 new charges in Chicago

CHICAGO — Actor Jussie Smollett was indicted Tuesday for a second time on charges of lying to police about a racist and anti-gay attack he allegedly staged on himself in downtown Chicago, renewing a divisive criminal case that drew worldwide attention last year.

The indictment came from a special prosecutor who was appointed after Cook County prosecutors dropped the same charges last March.

The new charges were sure to reignite many of the tensions that surrounded Smollett a year ago. When his claims first emerged, he drew a groundswell of support from fans and celebrities and gave an emotional television interview about the attack.

The case came to reflect the polarized state of political discourse in America. Many Democrats initially called it a shocking instance of Trump-era racism and hate, while Republicans depicted it as yet another example of liberals rushing to judgment and disparaging the president’s supporters as bigots.

Special prosecutor Dan Webb said in a statement that Smollett faces six felony counts of disorderly conduct, charges that stem from four separate false reports that he gave to police in which he contended he was a victim of a hate crime “knowing that he was not the victim of a crime.”

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More US firms are boosting faith-based support for employees

NEW YORK — It has become standard practice for U.S. corporations to assure employees of support regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation. There’s now an intensifying push to ensure that companies are similarly supportive and inclusive when it comes to employees’ religious beliefs.

One barometer: More than 20% of the Fortune 100 have established faith-based employee resource groups, according to an AP examination and there’s a high-powered conference taking place this week in Washington aimed at expanding those ranks.

“Corporate America is at a tipping point toward giving religion similar attention to that given the other major diversity categories,” says Brian Grim, founder and president of the Religious Freedom &Business Foundation that’s co-hosting the conference along with the Catholic University of America’s Busch School of Business.

A few companies have long-established faith-in-the-workplace programs, such as Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, which deploys a team of more than 90 chaplains to comfort and counsel employees at its plants and offices. That program began in 2000.

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The report released Tuesday recommends schools concentrate on training teachers to respond to an active shooter incident rather than drilling students.

It also issued guidelines for schools that decide to use drills. Those include never simulating an actual shooting; giving parents, educators and students advance notice of any drill; working with mental health officials to create age-appropriate and trauma-informed drills; and tracking the effects of drills.

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