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USPS to reverse service changes

HELENA, Mont. — The U.S. Postal Service agreed Wednesday to reverse changes that slowed mail service nationwide, settling a lawsuit filed by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock during a pandemic that is expected to force many more people to vote by mail. The lawsuit filed against Postmaster General Louise DeJoy and the U.S. Postal Service on Sept. 9 argued changes implemented in June harmed access to mail services in Montana, resulting in delayed delivery of medical prescriptions, payments, and job applications, and impeding the ability of Montana residents to vote by mail. The postal service agreed to reverse all changes, which included reduced retail hours, removal of collection boxes and mail sorting machines, closure or consolidation of mail processing facilities, restriction of late or extra trips for timely mail delivery, and banning or restricting overtime. The agreement also requires the Postal Service to prioritize election mail. The settlement agreement was reached a day ahead of a hearing in the U.S. court. It applies to all states.

Finnair to sell food in shops

HELSINKI — Finnish carrier Finnair will start selling business class airplane food in supermarkets in a move to keep its catering staff employed and to offer a taste of the airline experience to those missing flying in the COVID-19 times. The state-controlled airline said that in a pilot scheme the handmade meals, called “Taste of Finnair”, would initially be offered at one store as of Thursday. The ready-made dishes include options like reindeer meatballs, Arctic char and Japanese-style teriyaki beef and are suited for Nordic and Asian palates and would cost about 10 euros ($12), Finnair Kitchen said. Finnair is one of the main airlines flying between Europe and Asia. The move comes are airlines around the world try to employ their idled resources during the pandemic and tap into people’s desire to fly when most planes are grounded. Some are offering simulated flights, fake trips where the aircraft takes off and lands in the same location, or even just time to sit in the plane. Kimmo Sivonen, store manager at the K-Citymarket Tammisto which will sell the Finnair meals, told the newspaper Ilta-Sanomat that the dishes have been modified to have less salt and spices than those offered in the air, where people’s sense of taste is dulled by high altitude. Takeaway food sales have boomed in Finland since spring after an estimated 60% of local work force started working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For their part, Finnair and the supermarket hope the meals will appeal to people’s yearning for travel.

Barron had virus, but symptoms

WASHINGTON — Melania Trump said Wednesday that her and the president’s teenage son, Barron, tested positive for the coronavirus not long after his parents, but had no symptoms. She made the revelation in a lengthy note chronicling her personal experience with COVID-19, including being hit with a “roller coaster” of symptoms that she treated naturally with vitamins and healthy food. Mrs. Trump said she is now negative and hopes to resume her duties soon. After she and President Donald Trump tested positive earlier this month, the White House said 14-year-old Barron had tested negative. Barron later tested positive for the virus but had no symptoms, she said Wednesday, adding that he has since tested negative again. “Barron’s fine,” the president told reporters as he departed the White House for a campaign trip to Iowa. Mrs. Trump shared that after she and her husband first received their positive results, “naturally, my mind went immediately to our son.” She said she was relieved when he tested negative at first, but kept thinking about what would happen in the days to come. “My fear came true when he was tested again and it came up positive,” the first lady wrote in a statement released to social media. The first lady said she was “glad the three of us went through this at the same time so we could take care of one another and spend time together.”

Earth breaks Sept. heat record

Earth sweltered to a record hot September last month, with U.S. climate officials saying there’s nearly a two-to-one chance that 2020 will end up as the globe’s hottest year on record. Boosted by human-caused climate change, global temperatures averaged 60.75 degrees (15.97 Celsius) last month, edging out 2015 and 2016 for the hottest September in 141 years of recordkeeping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday. That’s 1.75 degrees (0.97 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century average. This record was driven by high heat in Europe, Northern Asia, Russia and much of the Southern Hemisphere, said NOAA climatologist Ahira Sanchez-Lugo. California and Oregon had their hottest Septembers on record. Earth has had 44 straight Septembers where it has been warmer than the 20th century average and 429 straight months without a cooler than normal month, according to NOAA. The hottest seven Septembers on record have been the last seven.

Mother says she blacked out

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina mother on trial for placing two of her newborns in trash bags and throwing them away about a year apart told investigators she blacked out from the pain of delivering the second child alone, waking up 15 minutes later and finding the boy’s face blue. Alyssa Dayvault did not show up for her trial this week on two counts of homicide by child abuse, but the case is moving forward with her lawyers putting on a defense. Prosecutors on Wednesday played a recording of Dayvault’s interview with police who were called after Dayvault showed up at the hospital with an infection caused when she did not deliver the placenta along with the baby boy in December 2018. Dayvault told investigators in the recording she hid the pregnancy from both her longtime boyfriend and her mother. She said she delivered the baby alone in her North Myrtle Beach home. And after passing out from the pain and discovering the unconscious baby, she put him in a trash bag and threw him away, the recording showed. Dayvault also told investigators this had happened before. In November 2017, she said, she also gave birth alone, this time to a girl, and threw her body away after the baby had her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, the court heard. She hid the pregnancy that time too, and there were no complications so no one knew.

3 Pilot Flying J convictions out

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A U.S. appellate panel on Wednesday tossed convictions for the former president of Pilot Flying J and two of his former employees related to a rebate scheme to cheat trucking companies out of millions of dollars. A split three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that jurors should not have been played recordings of racist language by the former president, Mark Hazelwood. “The district court admitted the recordings on the theory that if the defendant was reckless enough to use language that could risk public outrage against the company, he was a ‘bad businessman,’ and as a bad businessman, he was also reckless enough to commit fraud,” Judge Richard Suhrheinrich wrote for the majority. “This is vintage bad character evidence — and precisely the type of reasoning the Federal Rules of Evidence forbid.” The jury heard secret recordings of Hazelwood using racial slurs and profanely criticizing his board of directors and his boss’s football team and fans. Hazelwood later apologized for his language. Hazelwood was convicted in 2018 of conspiracy, wire fraud and witness tampering. Former company Vice President Scott “Scooter” Wombold was convicted of wire fraud, and former account representative Heather Jones was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.

Russia approves 2nd vaccine

MOSCOW — Russian authorities have given regulatory approval to a second coronavirus vaccine after early-stage studies, two months after a similar move prompted widespread criticism from scientists both at home and abroad. Russian President Vladimir Putin made the announcement on Wednesday, during a televised meeting with government officials. “We now need to increase production of the first vaccine and the second vaccine,” Putin said, adding that the priority was to supply the Russian market with the vaccines. The peptide-based, two-shot vaccine, EpiVacCorona, was developed by the Vector Institute in Siberia and tested among 100 volunteers in early-stage, placebo-controlled human trials, which lasted more than two months and were completed two weeks ago. The volunteers were between 18 and 60 years old. The scientists have yet to publish the results of the study. In comments to the media, scientists developing the vaccine said that it produced enough antibodies to protect the person who had it from the virus and that the immunity it creates could last for up to six months.

She dismembered Tinder date

LEXINGTON, Neb. — A jury found a woman guilty Wednesday of the killing another woman who disappeared after a Tinder date and whose dismembered remains were later found in trash bags along rural Nebraska roads. Jurors took less than four hours to find Bailey Boswell, 26, guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and improper disposal of human remains in the 2017 killing of 24-year-old Sydney Loofe. Boswell’s defense had argued she was forced by her boyfriend to go along with the killing and dismemberment, but state prosecutors said Boswell acted in tandem with Aubrey Trail, 54, to meet and kill Loofe. Boswell could become the first woman sent to death row in Nebraska when she’s sentenced at a later date. Trail was found guilty last year and also faces a possible death penalty.

Barrett keeps Dems at bay

WASHINGTON — Over and over, Amy Coney Barrett said she’d be her own judge if confirmed to the Supreme Court. But she was careful in two long days of Senate testimony not to take on the president who nominated her, and she sought to create distance between herself and past positions, writings on controversial subjects and even her late mentor. Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court to take the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seems inevitable, as even some Senate Democrats acknowledged in Senate hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday. The shift would cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the court and would be the most pronounced ideological change in 30 years, from the liberal icon to the conservative appeals court judge. The 48-year-old judge skipped past Democrats’ pressing questions about ensuring the date of next month’s election or preventing voter intimidation, both set in federal law, and the peaceful transfer of presidential power. She also refused to express her view on whether the president can pardon himself. “It’s not one that I can offer a view,” she said in response to a question Wednesday from Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont. When it came to major issues that are likely to come before the court, including abortion and health care, she repeatedly promised to keep an open mind and said neither Trump nor anyone else in the White House had tried to influence her views. “No one has elicited from me any commitment in a case,” she said.

Fire crews deploy to NoCal

SAN FRANCISCO — Fire crews from across the state were being deployed to Northern California, where hot, windy conditions Wednesday renewed the threat of fire in the region where massive blazes already have destroyed hundreds of homes and killed or injured dozens of people this year. Most of the huge fires that erupted over the past eight weeks are now fully or significantly contained and skies once stained orange by heavy smoke are blue again. Containment means that firefighters have lines holding in a fire, though it doesn’t mean a fire has stopped burning. But the gains made by thousands of firefighters assigned to the blazes that have scorched more than 4.1 million acres this year could be hampered if new fires ignite, said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire. “If a new fire breaks out, that fire will be able to grow very quickly under these conditions,” Berlant said. The National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning for extreme fire danger from 5 a.m. through Friday morning. With bone-dry humidity and wind gusts possibly hitting 55 mph, Pacific Gas & Electric, the largest utility in the nation, warned that it may cut power starting Wednesday evening to as many as 54,000 customers in 24 counties. Preemptive electricity cuts are a strategy aimed at preventing fires from being started by power lines that have been damaged or knocked down amid high winds. PG&E equipment sparked several massive blazes that destroyed tens of thousands of homes and killed more than 100 people since 2017.

Astronomical spending in Mont.

BILLINGS, Mont. — Political groups fighting for control of the U.S. Senate have poured more than $118 million into the contest between Montana’s Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and Republican incumbent Steve Daines, a record shattering figure for the sparsely-populated state that dwarfs spending on a per-voter basis in all other Senate battleground states. The cash deluge comes amid growing Republican worries they could lose control of the chamber, and as Democrats seek to reverse a years-long GOP surge in Montana including President Donald Trump winning the state by more than 20 percentage points in 2016. For residents of Big Sky Country it means an unrelenting barrage of advertisements any time they turn on their computers, televisions and radios or open their mailboxes. That’s set to persist through the final weeks of the election with another $22 million teed up for television, radio and digital ads targeting a fast-shrinking pool of undecided voters, according to data from the ad-tracking firm Kantar/CMAG. By the time it’s over, the two campaigns and outside groups that span the political spectrum — from the NRA Victory Fund to Planned Parenthood — are expected to spend a combined $184 on advertising for each of the state’s 729,000 registered voters. That figure does not include $6 million for mailers, door-to-door canvassing and other expenses that show up on Federal Election Commission filingss.

Private bar exam results released

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The dean of South Carolina’s largest law school is apologizing for forwarding an email that contained the names of students who failed the exam to become a lawyer and the confidential bar exam grades of every student. University of South Carolina School of Law Dean William Hubbard said he was so excited last week when he got the official email that 82% of his students passed that he forwarded it without noticing the attachments that were supposed to remain private. “It was totally an accident, an accident I deeply regret,” Hubbard said. “I’ve sent a personal email to every one of those students, and I’ve had an email dialogue with some of them and some phone conversations and plan to make myself available to any student who wants to meet.” Names of students who fail the bar exam are supposed to never be published and scores for those who passed are not revealed. Hubbard said he thought he was just forwarding a letter with the overall results for the school.

Bank profits remain esilient

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Unemployment remains high, many small businesses are struggling, and there are few signs that Congress and the White House can soon agree on another stimulus package to help the U.S. economy in the pandemic. But Wall Street banks are on the rebound after slumping the first six months of the year. JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Bank of America saw their profits partly recover in the third quarter from the depths of the coronavirus-caused recession earlier this year. The turnaround stems mostly from improvements in the U.S. economy that allowed these big banks to set aside less money to cover potentially bad loans — $5 billion in the third quarter versus $33 billion in the second quarter. “It’s the same story at every bank in the industry right now: lower credit costs are helping restore profitability,” said Kyle Sanders, an analyst who covers the financial services industry for Edward Jones. The health of the banking sector is a proxy for the U.S. economy, since the banks’ fortunes largely rise or fall depending on whether borrowers are repaying their debts. Trillions of dollars of stimulus and reopening economies have helped partly lift the U.S. economy out of its historic contraction, which in turn has kept banks from having to write down or write off loans.

Two US citizens released

WASHINGTON — Two Americans and the remains of a third held captive by Iranian-backed militants in Yemen were released on Wednesday in exchange for the return of about 250 of the Houthi rebels from Oman, according to the White House and sources in the region. Oman’s state news said the American captives were flown out of Yemen on an Omani plane. It said 250 “Yemeni brothers” who received treatment in Oman have been returned to Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on two flights as part of the exchange. “The United States welcomes the release today of U.S. citizens Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada from Houthi custody in Yemen,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien said in a statement. “We send our condolences to the family of Bilal Fateen, whose remains will be repatriated as well.” O’Brien did not mention the exchange, but thanked the leaders of Oman and Saudi Arabia for their help in securing the release of the two.

Online plays attract starry casts

NEW YORK — Broadway theaters may be dark, but there will be plenty of new online productions of some of classic plays this fall with some starry self-isolating actors, including Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Patti LuPone, Laura Linney and David Alan Grier. Producer Jeffrey Richards on Wednesday unveiled a weekly play run of livestreamed works to benefit The Actors Fund. They will stream on Broadway’s Best Shows and ticket buyers can access the events through TodayTix starting at $5. The series will last seven weeks. The push begins Oct. 14 with Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man” starring Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Zachary Quinto, Phylicia Rashad, Vanessa Williams, Reed Birney, Stacy Keach and Elizabeth Ashley. On Oct. 20, a production of Kenneth Lonergan’s “This Is Our Youth” will star Lucas Hedges, Paul Mescal and Grace Van Patten. David Mamet’s “Race” is up on Oct. 29, starring David Alan Grier and Ed O’Neill.

Asks for jail release until trial

CHICAGO — A judge said Wednesday that she will decide soon whether to allow Jerry Harris, a star of the Netflix documentary series “Cheer,” to be released from jail and placed on home confinement while he awaits trial on child pornography charges. The issue before U.S. District Judge Heather McShain is whether she believes a plan to release Harris that includes around-the-clock monitoring will be enough to prevent him from victimizing young boys. A motion from Harris’ attorneys filed ahead of a court hearing Wednesday argues that the mental health treatment that the 21-year-old suburban Chicago man needs is not available in federal jail. The document also said that Harris has asthma, which puts him at greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19. The judge did not say when she would issue her ruling, only that it would be soon.

Walmart to spread out deals

NEW YORK — Walmart says it will spread out its traditional one-day Black Friday deals over three weekends in November in an effort to reduce crowds in its stores during a pandemic. The nation’s largest retailer said Wednesday that more of its doorbuster deals will be reserved for online, as a way to steer more shoppers away from its stores. The discounter, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, will kick off the deals online Nov. 4, with new deals in stores on Nov. 7. The second event will begin online Nov. 11, followed by a similar sales event in stores Nov. 14. It will wrap up its discounts online Nov. 25 with new discounts in stores Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving and the traditional Black Friday. Walmart said it will go back to limiting the number of customers inside its stores to 20% of the store’s capacity during the three big store events, as it had during the early phase of the pandemic. The stores will open at 5 a.m. during the three Black Friday events. It said customers will form a single line to enter the store. And workers will hand out sanitized shopping carts to customers. There will be so-called Health Ambassadors placed at entrances to greet customers and remind them to put on a mask. For the first time, the discounter will also offer shoppers curbside pickup at its stores for Black Friday orders.

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