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GSA ascertains Biden as winner

WASHINGTON — The General Services Administration ascertained Monday that President-elect Joe Biden is the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election, clearing the way for the start of the transition from President Donald Trump’s administration and allowing Biden to coordinate with federal agencies on plans for taking over on Jan. 20. Trump, who had refused to concede the election, said in a tweet that he is directing his team to cooperate on the transition but is vowing to keep up the fight. Administrator Emily Murphy made the determination after Trump efforts to subvert the vote failed across battleground states, citing, “recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results.” Michigan certified Biden’s victory Monday, and a federal judge in Pennsylvania tossed a Trump campaign lawsuit on Saturday seeking to prevent certification in that state. Yohannes Abraham, the executive director of the Biden transition, said in a statement that the decision “is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track.” He added: “In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration’s efforts to hollow out government agencies.” Trump tweeted shortly after her letter was made public: “We will keep up the good fight and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

Third vaccine effective, cheaper

LONDON — Drugmaker AstraZeneca said Monday that late-stage trials showed its COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective, buoying the prospects of a relatively cheap, easy-to-store product that may become the vaccine of choice for the developing world. The results are based on an interim analysis of trials in the U.K. and Brazil of a vaccine developed by Oxford University and manufactured by AstraZeneca. No hospitalizations or severe cases of COVID-19 were reported in those receiving the vaccine. AstraZeneca is the third major drug company to report late-stage data for a potential COVID-19 vaccine as the world waits for scientific breakthroughs that will end a pandemic that has pummeled the world economy and led to 1.4 million deaths. But unlike the others, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doesn’t have to be stored at freezer temperatures, making it potentially easier to distribute, especially in developing countries. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in one of the dosing regimens tested; it was less effective in another. Earlier this month, rival drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna reported preliminary results from late-stage trials showing their vaccines were almost 95% effective. While the AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored at 2 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius (36 degrees to 46 degrees Fahrenheit), the Pfizer and Moderna products must be stored at freezer temperatures. In Pfizer’s case, it must be kept at the ultra-cold temperature of around minus-70 degrees Celsius (minus-94 Fahrenheit). The AstraZeneca vaccine is also cheaper. AstraZeneca, which has pledged it won’t make a profit on the vaccine during the pandemic, has reached agreements with governments and international health organizations that put its cost at about $2.50 a dose. Pfizer’s vaccine costs about $20, while Moderna’s is $15 to $25, based on agreements the companies have struck to supply their vaccines to the U.S. government.

Jennings first interim ‘Jep’ host

NEW YORK — “Jeopardy!” record-holder Ken Jennings will be the first in a series of interim hosts replacing Alex Trebek when the show resumes production next Monday. Producers announced Monday that Jennings, who won 74 games in a row and claimed the show’s “Greatest of All Time” title in a competition last year, will host episodes that air in January. A long-term host to replace Trebek, who died of cancer on Nov. 8, will be named later. The show is in its 37th year of syndication, and Trebek was its only host. It is still airing shows that Trebek filmed before his death. Art Fleming hosted earlier editions of the game show, including the original “Jeopardy!” that debuted in 1964 on NBC and aired for a decade. Richards said “Jeopardy!” will air repeat episodes for the holiday weeks beginning Dec. 21 and 28, meaning Trebek’s final week of shows will air starting Monday, Jan. 4. Jennings’ episodes begin on Jan. 11.

Israeli PM met crown prince

JERUSALEM — Israeli media reported Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia for a clandestine meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which would mark the first known encounter between senior Israeli and Saudi officials. The reported meeting was the latest move by the Trump Administration to promote normalized ties between Israel and the broader Arab world and reflected the shared concern of all three nations about Iran. The Israeli news site Walla, followed quickly by other Hebrew-language media, cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying that Netanyahu and Yossi Cohen, head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, flew Sunday night to the Saudi city of Neom, where they met with the crown prince. The prince was there for talks with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Bad Bunny tests positive

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Reggaeton superstar Bad Bunny has tested positive for the new coronavirus, his representative said Monday. The announcement came a day after the musician won favorite male Latin artist and favorite Latin album for “YHLQMDLG” at the American Music Awards. Bad Bunny, whose real name is Benito Martinez Ocasio, was scheduled to sing his hit, “Dakiti,” with Jhay Cortez at the event but canceled without explanation, leaving many fans disappointed. The singer, however, presented the award for favorite Latin female artist remotely. Publicist Sujeylee Sola told The Associated Press that Bad Bunny wasn’t showing any major symptoms as of Monday.

China launches moon mission

WENCHANG, China — China launched an ambitious mission on Tuesday to bring back rocks and debris from the moon’s surface for the first time in more than 40 years — an undertaking that could boost human understanding of the moon and of the solar system more generally. Chang’e 5 — named for the Chinese moon goddess — is the country’s boldest lunar mission yet. If successful, it would be a major advance for China’s space program, and some experts say it could pave the way for bringing samples back from Mars or even a crewed lunar mission. The four modules of the Chang’e 5 spacecraft blasted off at just after 4:30 a.m. Tuesday (2030 GMT Monday, 3:30 p.m. EST Monday) atop a massive Long March-5Y rocket from the Wenchang launch center along the coast of the southern island province of Hainan. Minutes after liftoff, the spacecraft separated from the rocket’s first and second stages and slipped into Earth-moon transfer orbit. About an hour later, Chang’e 5 opened its solar panels to provide its independent power source. Spacecraft typically take three days to reach the moon. The mission’s key task is to drill 2 meters (almost 7 feet) beneath the moon’s surface and scoop up about 4.4 pounds of rocks and other debris to be brought back to Earth, according to NASA. That would offer the first opportunity for scientists to study newly obtained lunar material since the American and Russian missions of the 1960s and 1970s. The Chang’e 5 lander’s time on the moon is scheduled to be short and sweet. It can only stay one lunar daytime, or about 14 Earth days, because it lacks the radioisotope heating units to withstand the moon’s freezing nights. The lander will dig for materials with its drill and robotic arm and transfer them to what’s called an ascender, which will lift off from the moon and dock with the service capsule. The materials will then be moved to the return capsule to be hauled back to Earth.

Ex-Fed chair to lead treasury

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden has chosen former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to serve as treasury secretary, a pivotal role in which she would help shape and direct his economic policies at a perilous time, according to a person familiar with the transition plans. Yellen, who is widely admired in the financial world, would be the first woman to lead the Treasury Department in a line stretching back to Alexander Hamilton in 1789. Her nomination was confirmed to The Associated Press by a person who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Biden’s plans. If confirmed as treasury secretary, Yellen would inherit a shaky U.S. economy, weakened by the pandemic recession and now in the grip of a surging viral epidemic that is intensifying pressure on businesses and individuals. Concern is rising that the economy could slide into a “double-dip” recession this winter as states and cities reimpose restrictions on businesses and consumers stay home to avoid contracting the disease.

John Kerry named climate envoy

John Kerry, one of the leading architects of the Paris climate agreement, is getting one more chance to lead the fight against climate change after President-elect Joe Biden named the longtime senator and former secretary of state as climate envoy for national security. Biden’s team gave little immediate detail on Monday about how he envisioned Kerry shaping the new job, which many on social media and on all sides of the climate-action spectrum were quick to dub “climate czar.” But the transition team made clear that it will be a prominent role, with Kerry becoming the first member of the National Security Council to focus exclusively on climate change. It was one of Biden’s first steps in making good on campaign pledges to confront climate damage from fossil fuel emissions more broadly and forcefully than any previous U.S. administration. And it’s a sign of how the incoming administration is heeding warnings that natural disasters from global warming will weaken U.S. defense and spur conflicts around the globe.

Two states can end PP funding

NEW ORLEANS — A federal appeals court ruled Monday that Texas and Louisiana can cut off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood clinics — a move supported by opponents of legal abortion, but opposed by advocates who said it affects a variety of non-abortion health services for low-income women. The ruling was handed down by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. While it expressly reversed decisions in Texas and Louisiana, it also affects Mississippi, which is under 5th Circuit jurisdiction. The issue is likely to go next to the U.S. Supreme Court. Opponents of legal abortion have long sought to deny federal Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics. Abortion rights supporters and advocates for women’s health have argued that the move would reduce access and choice for low-income women seeking cancer screenings, birth control and other non-abortion-related health services — even in states where Planned Parenthood clinics don’t perform abortions. The decision by the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reverses an earlier ruling by a three-judge appellate panel that blocked Texas from enforcing its ban on Medicaid funding of Planned Parenthood. It also expressly reversed a ruling in a separate case blocking Louisiana from banning Planned Parenthood funding. A three-judge panel in 2015 had ruled against the ban and that decision stood when the full court deadlocked 7-7 in 2017, when there were only 14 active judges on the court.

BLM flag, and 21 others, can fly

BARRE, Vt. — A Vermont city approved raising the Black Lives Matter Flag, the “Thin Blue Line” flag and 20 other flags in a resolution that one city councilor called a “compromise” to satisfy opponents of a BLM proposal. The Black Lives Matter flag will be flown at City Hall Park in Barre next month and will be lowered in January, Vermont Public Radio reported Monday. The 22 flags will be flown over the next two years. The resolution passed on a 4-3 vote last week. Barre City Councilor John Steinman said Nov. 18 that the “compromise” resolution aims to “diffuse a contentious, divisive council, and to be responsive to all the citizens of the City of Barre.” “So what I tried to do was to address everyone’s concern, and that made everyone unhappy — I’m sorry,” Steinman said. “But I felt it was the right thing to do, because it represents everyone in the city equally.” Teddy Waszazak, one of three city councilors who opposed Steinman’s resolution, said that “it is ludicrous that somebody would propose the Thin Blue Line flag while also saying that they want unity and to end division.” “We have seen the Thin Blue Line flag fly in Vermont with Confederate flags, with the Don’t Tread on Me flag,” Waszazak said. “And what happened (Tuesday) night shows that we can say, ‘Black lives matter,’ as long as we say, ‘Everything else matters.’ And that completely misses the point.” Following the Black Lives Matter Flag, the Thin Blue Line flag will be raised in January, then a flag for the Green Mountain Boys in February, and then an Irish heritage flag in March. Others included are multiple flags of other countries, the U.S. Marines, Autism Acceptance and the Star of David.

Grandma keeps up tradition

PHOENIX — An Arizona woman who drew widespread attention after opening her Thanksgiving table to a stranger she accidentally texted has kept the tradition going, despite losing her husband to COVID-19. Jamal Hinton, 21, and Dench met in 2016 after the grandmother from the Phoenix suburb of Mesa texted her grandson about coming for Thanksgiving to a number that belonged to Hinton. Hinton jokingly replied he would like to come. Dench told him he was welcome. Hinton tweeted screenshots of their exchange and subsequent meeting. Four years later, their continuing joint celebration has turned into a tradition that social media users have come to expect every Thanksgiving. Dench has been dubbed “Thanksgiving Grandma” on the internet. “I didn’t want to miss Thanksgiving with Jamal,” Wanda Dench told AZFamily.com. This year is definitely different than all the years in the past.” The two don’t just talk in November. Hinton reached out when she and her husband, Lonnie, contracted COVID-19 in March. Dench had a mild case but Lonnie Dench had to be hospitalized and died in April. After her husband’s death, Dench said Hinton and his girlfriend dropped off a care package and a flash drive with video sympathy messages collected from social media. Last Friday, Hinton and Dench celebrated a mini Thanksgiving dinner in Lonnie Dench’s honor. The table included a photo of Lonnie Dench and a candle in front of an empty chair.

Fraudster’s threats continuing

NEW YORK — A notorious fraudster who ripped off online eyeglass customers nationwide as he made gruesome threats against some of them seems to be continuing his pattern of nasty menacing, a judge said Monday. U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe said at the sentencing of Vitaly Borker’s codefendant that he believes Borker was behind nasty messages directed at his former business partner prior to the man’s sentencing. The business partner, Michael Voller, was sentenced to time served after the judge credited his cooperation and testimony against Borker at a hearing before Borker was sent to prison last year for two years. Borker, 44, was freed on Nov. 12 after receiving credit for good behavior. Gardephe said a friend of Voller had received a message that included a call-in phone number for Monday’s remote court proceeding and the words: “Just a friendly reminder the rat is going to be sentenced.” The judge said the note also said: “Let’s pray for the most possible time.” Gardephe said there was no hard evidence that the message came from Borker but it was consistent with previous threats delivered to friends and family of Voller and to customers who complained about services provided by Borker’s online eyeglass repair businesses from 2007 to 2017. on it!” When sentencing Borker last year, Gardephe told Borker he still was not accepting responsibility for his crimes after pleading guilty to fraud and conspiracy for operating a company called OpticsFast. In 2012, customers who were harassed by Borker when he ran an earlier version of the online eyecare business testified that he had threatened them with rape and murder when they complained about his company’s service.

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