In Brief: September 24, 2020

US experts vow ‘no cutting corners’ as vaccine tests expand

WASHINGTON — A huge international study of a COVID-19 vaccine that aims to work with just one dose is getting underway as top U.S. health officials sought Wednesday to assure a skeptical Congress and public that they can trust any shots the government ultimately approves.

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Hopes are high that answers about at least one of several candidates being tested in the U.S. could come by year’s end, maybe sooner.

“We feel cautiously optimistic that we will be able to have a safe and effective vaccine, although there is never a guarantee of that,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, told a Senate committee.

President Donald Trump is pushing for a faster timeline, which many experts say is risky and may not allow for adequate testing. On Wednesday he tweeted a link to news about the new Johnson &Johnson vaccine study and said the Food and Drug Administration “must move quickly!”

“President Trump is still trying to sabotage the work of our scientists and public health experts for his own political ends,” Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state, said before ticking off examples of pressure on the FDA.

200,000 dead; Trump vilifies science, prioritizes politics

NEW YORK — “I did the best I could,” President Donald Trump said.

Huddled with aides in the West Wing last week, his eyes fixed on Fox News, Trump wasn’t talking about how he had led the nation through the deadliest pandemic in a century. In a conversation overheard by an Associated Press reporter, Trump was describing how he’d just publicly rebuked one of his top scientists — Dr. Robert Redfield, a virologist and head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Redfield had angered the president by asserting that a COVID-19 vaccine wouldn’t be widely available to the general public until summer or fall of 2021. So hours later, with no supporting evidence, Trump called a news conference to say Redfield was “confused.” A vaccine, Trump insisted, could be ready before November’s election.

Mission accomplished: Fox was headlining Trump’s latest foray in his administration’s ongoing war against its own scientists.

It is a war that continues unabated, even as the nation’s COVID-19 death toll has reached 200,000 — nearly half the number of Americans killed in World War II, a once unfathomable number that the nation’s top doctors just months ago said was avoidable.

Pence, Ivanka bring law-and-order tour to city of Floyd

MINNEAPOLIS — Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump are bringing President Donald Trump’s law-and-order campaign message to Minneapolis on Thursday, showing support for law enforcement in the city where George Floyd’s death sparked angry and sometimes violent protests that spread around the world.

Pence and President Trump’s daughter planned to host a listening session with a “Cops for Trump” group, as well as with residents who the Trump reelection campaign says have been “negatively impacted by crime and violent extremism.”

The visit comes about a month after Donald Trump met with small-business owners whose stores in Minneapolis were damaged in violence that erupted after Floyd’s death. Trump did not visit the scene of protests nor the site where police held Floyd down as they tried to arrest him for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store; the schedule for Thursday doesn’t include those places either.

The visit also will be a day after a Kentucky grand jury weighing charges in Breonna Taylor’s death indicted a single former police officer on charges of shooting into neighboring apartments, but chose not to indict any officers directly in her death.

Trump is eager to put Minnesota in play four years after he narrowly lost the state to Hillary Clinton, with a strategy that depends largely on driving up turnout in the rural areas where he runs strongest. For some in Minneapolis, the campaign’s law-and-order message is calculated, divisive and damaging.

From wire sources

Saudi king’s rare address to UN showcases monarch in charge

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman made a rare address to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, using the moment to highlight the foundational notions of his regime — his steadfast commitment to the Palestinians, his stature as custodian of Islam’s holiest sites and his assertion that Iran is responsible for much of the region’s instability.

The prerecorded speech to world leaders suggested that the 84-year-old king, who delivers only a handful of public remarks each year, retains oversight of high-level policies despite the immense powers amassed by his son, the crown prince.

In delivering his remarks, he became only the second Saudi king to deliver a speech to the world assembly. The first was his late brother, King Saud, in 1957 at U.N. headquarters in New York. And like his brother’s speech 63 years prior, King Salman noted the sacred role of Islam in Saudi Arabia and the importance that entails.

“We in the kingdom, due to our position in the Muslim world, bear a special and historic responsibility to protect our tolerant Islamic faith from attempts by terrorist organizations and extremist groups to pervert it,” Salman said.

He emphasized at the top of his speech that he was speaking from “the birthplace of Islam, the home of its revelation” — a reference to the Muslim belief that the word of God was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad some 1,400 years ago in the mountainous caves of Mecca.

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Long lines of mourners pay respects to Ginsburg at court

WASHINGTON — With crowds of admirers swelling outside, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was remembered Wednesday at the court by grieving family, colleagues and friends as a prophet for justice who persevered against long odds to become an American icon.

The court’s eight justices, masked along with everyone else because of the coronavirus pandemic, gathered for the first time in more than six months for the ceremony to mark Ginsburg’s death from cancer last week at age 87 after 27 years on the court.

Washington already is consumed with talk of Ginsburg’s replacement, but Chief Justice John Roberts focused on his longtime colleague.

The best words to describe Ginsburg are “tough, brave, a fighter, a winner,” Roberts said, but also “thoughtful, careful, compassionate, honest.”

The woman who late in life became known in admiration as the Notorious RBG “wanted to be an opera virtuoso, but became a rock star instead,” Roberts said. Ginsburg’s two children, Jane and James, and other family members sat on one side of the casket, across from the justices.

Utility equipment eyed as possible source of fire near LA

LOS ANGELES — Federal investigators are looking into whether a huge wildfire near Los Angeles was sparked by Southern California Edison utility equipment, according to the company.

Edison has turned over a section of an overhead conductor from its transmission facility in the area where the Bobcat Fire started more than two weeks ago, company spokesman David Song said Wednesday.

The initial report of fire was near Cogswell Dam in the San Gabriel Mountains at 12:21 p.m. on Sept. 6.

In an incident report filed with the state Public Utilities Commission last week, Edison said its nearby equipment experienced an issue five minutes earlier, 12:16 p.m.

A circuit at a nearby substation experienced a “relay operation,” indicating its equipment detected some kind of disturbance or event, Song said.

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For NBA players, Taylor grand jury decision ‘not enough’

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — LeBron James sent the word to the Los Angeles Lakers in a group text on Wednesday afternoon, and basketball suddenly seemed irrelevant.

A grand jury in Kentucky had finally spoken. And James was letting his team know that NBA players, who have spent months seeking justice for Breonna Taylor, did not get what they wanted.

“Something was done,” Lakers guard Danny Green said, “but it wasn’t enough.”

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Wednesday’s decision by the grand jury, which brought no charges against Louisville police for Taylor’s killing and only three counts of wanton endangerment against fired Officer Brett Hankison for shooting into Taylor’s neighbors’ homes, was not unexpected by many NBA players and coaches. While there were no drugs in Taylor’s apartment, her boyfriend shot and wounded a police officer. State Attorney General Daniel Cameron said the officers’ shots that killed Taylor were fired in self-defense.

“I know we’ve been using our platform down here to try to bring about education and a voice in a lot of players on our team, especially also spoken out on justice for Breonna Taylor,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We have not gotten that justice.”

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