US ramps up vaccinations
The U.S. is entering the second month of the biggest vaccination drive in history with a major expansion of the campaign, opening football stadiums, major league ballparks, fairgrounds and convention centers to inoculate a larger and more diverse pool of people. After a frustratingly slow rollout involving primarily health care workers and nursing home residents, states are moving on to the next phase before the first one is complete, making shots available to such groups as senior citizens, teachers, bus drivers, police officers and firefighters. “It gives you hope,” said David Garvin, a New Yorker who turns 80 next weekend and got a vaccination at a city-run site in Brooklyn on Monday, the first day the state made people over 75 eligible along with various front-line workers. “I’ve been in my room for six months.” In Southern California, 41-year-old nurse Julieann Sparks received a shot through her car window at a drive-thru vaccination site that opened in a parking lot near the San Diego Padres’ baseball stadium. “It really truly was a hassle-free experience,” she said. After receiving a vaccination, drivers had to stay there for 15 minutes so that they could be watched for any reaction.
Burns picked as CIA director
WASHINGTON — William Burns, a well-known figure in diplomatic circles around the world, is President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to lead the CIA, a selection likely to be embraced by the rank-and-file at the nation’s premier spy agency. A former ambassador to Russia and Jordan, Burns, 64, had a 33-year career at the State Department under both Republican and Democratic presidents. He rose through the ranks of the diplomatic corps to become deputy secretary of state before retiring in 2014 to run the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace. He would succeed Gina Haspel, the first female CIA director, who guided the agency under President Donald Trump. Trump frequently disparaged the assessments of U.S. spy agencies, especially about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to help his campaign. Michael Morell, a career intelligence officer and former acting director of the CIA whose name was floated to hold the top position under Biden, praised the pick, an indication that Burns likely will be embraced by the spy agency’s rank and file.
Gorillas test positive for virus
SAN DIEGO — Several gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have tested positive for the coronavirus in what is believed to be the first known cases among such primates in the United States and possibly the world. The park’s executive director, Lisa Peterson, told The Associated Press on Monday that eight gorillas that live together at the park are believed to have the virus and several have been coughing. It appears the infection came from a member of the park’s wildlife care team who also tested positive for the virus but has been asymptomatic and wore a mask at all times around the gorillas. The park has been closed to the public since Dec. 6 as part of the state of California’s lockdown efforts to curb coronavirus cases. Veterinarians are closely monitoring the gorillas and they will remain in their habitat at the park, north of San Diego, Peterson said. For now, they are being given vitamins, fluid and food but no specific treatment for the virus. “Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well,” Peterson said. While other wildlife has contracted the coronavirus from minks to tigers, this is the first known instance of transmission to great apes and it is unknown if they will have any serious reaction. Wildlife experts have expressed concern about the coronavirus infecting gorillas, an endangered species that share 98.4 percent of their DNA with humans and are inherently social animals.
Women can now read at Mass
ROME — Pope Francis changed church law Monday to explicitly allow women to do more things during Mass, granting them access to the most sacred place on the altar, while continuing to affirm that they cannot be priests. Francis amended the law to formalize and institutionalize what is common practice in many parts of the world: Women can be installed as lectors, to read Scripture, and serve on the altar as eucharistic ministers. Previously, such roles were officially reserved to men even though exceptions were made. Francis said he was making the change to increase recognition of the “precious contribution” women make in the church, while emphasizing that all baptized Catholics have a role to play in the church’s mission.
Major snow paralyzes Spain
MADRID — The Spanish capital of Madrid was still trying to get back on its feet Monday after a 50-year record snowfall that paralyzed large parts of central Spain and hampered the delivery of coronavirus vaccines. The blizzard dumped over 20 inches of snow in some areas and a cold front was turning mounds of fluffy white into sheets of ice and crusted drifts. At least 700 roads were still not clear enough, half of them unfit for driving without chains. Temperatures were expected to drop to 12 degrees Fahrenheit in a large swathe of the country later Monday, according to the national AEMET weather agency, prompting authorities to urge people to exercise caution. “We have some very complicated days ahead until the cold snap subsides,” Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said at a televised press conference. “It is necessary to postpone any movement that is avoidable, for safety and in order to not interrupt the works in the road network.” A new batch of 350,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine arrived at half a dozen Spanish airports on Monday, but the doses destined for Madrid had to be diverted to the northern city of Vitoria. Authorities said that police escorts would help the vaccines get through the snow-clogged streets and highways.
US imposes Ukraine sanctions
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday sanctioned more than a half-dozen associates of a Ukrainian lawmaker accused by U.S. officials of interfering in the 2020 presidential election by releasing edited audio recordings of President-elect Joe Biden. The Treasury Department already had imposed sanctions on Andrii Derkach, whom U.S. officials have characterized as an “active Russian agent.” They say he was part of a broader Russian effort to disparage Biden before the election by promoting false claims about his ties to Ukraine. That effort included meetings between Derkach and President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who himself has long pushed unsubstantiated allegations about Biden. On Monday, the department singled out seven Derkach associates, including three former Ukrainian government officials and a current lawmaker, as having worked with him to “make fraudulent and unsubstantiated allegations involving a U.S. political candidate.”
Man gets life for park stabbings
LONDON — A Libyan man who stabbed three friends to death as they sat in an English city park on a summer evening was sentenced Monday to life in prison with no chance of parole. Judge Nigel Sweeney said Khairi Saadallah, 26,, should be given a rare whole-life prison term for the “ruthless and brutal” attack. He said it was “a rare and exceptional case in which just punishment requires you must be kept in prison for the rest of your life.” Friends James Furlong, 36, David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, were enjoying a warm Saturday evening in Forbury Gardens park in Reading when they were stabbed. Each died from a single stab wound in an attack that lasted barely a minute. Three other men were injured. Saadallah, 26, pleaded guilty but denied being motivated by an ideological cause or doing significant planning for the attack. But police said the stabbings were terrorism. Prosecutors said Saadallah, an asylum-seeker who came to Britain in 2012, stabbed the victims while shouting “Allahu akbar” — the Arabic phrase for “God is great.” The judge said the defendant “was seeking to advance a political, religious or ideological cause” and had done substantial planning. He rejected the argument that Saadallah was suffering a mental illness at the time of the attack.
Cumulus comes down on talkers
NEW YORK — The ownership group for several talk radio hosts across the country, including syndicated figures like Mark Levin and Dan Bongino, says its personalities need to tone things down or face firing. Cumulus Media content chief Brian Philips sent an email to managers Wednesday, the day of the U.S. Capitol riot, saying the company had to help induce calm. “There will be no dog whistles about ‘stolen elections,’ ‘civil wars’ or any other language that infers violent public disobedience is warranted, ever,” said the memo, first reported by Inside Music Media. The memo said Cumulus would not tolerate any suggestion by its on-air personalities that the presidential election is not over. “Please inform your staffs that we have ZERO TOLERANCE for any suggestion otherwise,” Philips said in the memo. Cumulus owns 416 radio stations in 86 markets across the country, along with the syndication arm Westwood One.
Trump to honor Belichick
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will present one of the nation’s highest civilian honors to Bill Belichick, the football coach of the New England Patriots and the only coach to win six Super Bowl titles. The presentation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom is expected Thursday. Trump and Belichick have known each other for several years with Trump before his campaign victory in 2016 reading a letter of praise from Belichick at a New Hampshire rally. Belichick said afterward he was not a political person and that he had “a friendship and loyalty to Donald.”
Mega, Powerball jackpots soar
DES MOINES, Iowa — After a long stretch of relatively paltry prizes, U.S. lottery players now have a choice of games that offer combined jackpots of more than $1 billion. The jackpot for Mega Millions’ Tuesday night drawing has climbed to $615 million, and the top prize in the Powerball game reached $550 million ahead of Wednesday’s drawing. It has been nearly two years since the two national lottery games offered such giant prizes and only the second time both jackpots have topped $500 million. The projected Mega Millions grand prize is the eighth largest in U.S. history, and the Powerball jackpot is the 12th biggest. Both still pale in comparison to the largest prize, a $1.58 billion Powerball jackpot won by three players in 2016. Lottery prizes have been growing more slowly since last spring, when officials reduced guaranteed minimums and stop promising specific increases because the coronavirus caused sales to slow. Carole Gentry, a spokeswoman for Maryland Lottery and Gaming, said Monday that the prizes are giant now mainly because it’s been months since anyone won either jackpot. But Gentry also speculated that more people were buying tickets because “it’s something fun to focus on in the new year,” causing prizes to rise more quickly. As fun as it can be to play the games, people should realize their chance of winning the big prizes are incredibly small. The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are one in 292.2 million, and the chances are even worse for Mega Millions at one in 302.5 million. The jackpots promoted by lotteries also refer to winners who take an annuity option, in which prizes are paid out over 30 years. Nearly all winners actually opt for the cash option, which for Mega Millions would now be an estimated $451.8 million and for Powerball is $411.4 million.
4 soldiers die. 40 hurt in crash
MOSCOW — At least four Russian soldiers died and more than 40 others were injured Monday in a traffic crash near Moscow. The Defense Ministry said that a truck driver lost control of his vehicle and rammed into a convoy of military buses on a highway just northwest of the capital. Two of the victims were killed on the spot and two others died on their way to a hospital. More 40 servicemen were injured, and those in grave condition were rushed to hospitals by helicopters. The convoy of buses had stopped after the leading vehicle had a malfunction, and the truck crashed into them from behind.
Fox shuffles daytime lineup
NEW YORK — Fox News Channel is shuffling its daytime lineup and adding a new hourlong opinion show at 7 p.m. Eastern to replace that hour’s current anchor, Martha MacCallum. Both Fox and CNN announced lineup changes Monday, as is often the case for news organizations with a new president about to take power. CNN’s Jake Tapper and Fox’s John Roberts are among those taking on new roles. Starting next Monday, Fox’s 7 p.m. hour will be led by a rotating group of opinion hosts, with a permanent host to be named later. For years, first with Shepard Smith and then with MacCallum, Fox has stressed news instead of opinion in that hour. Yet MacCallum, who had been comfortably ahead in the ratings, has slipped behind both MSNBC and CNN at 7 p.m. since the election, the Nielsen company said. That’s also when Newsmax has seen its greatest success with a strongly pro-Trump show hosted by Greg Kelly. Roberts, Fox’s White House correspondent during the Trump administration, will co-anchor a daily news show from 1 to 3 p.m. Eastern, with Sandra Smith starting Monday, Fox said. Bill Hemmer is moving back to mornings, co-hosting a two-hour “America’s Newsroom” with Dana Perino at 9 a.m. MacCallum is taking over the 3 p.m. Eastern hour from Hemmer, while Harris Faulkner’s daily hour shifts from 1 p.m. to 11 a.m. and changes its name to “The Faulkner Focus.” At CNN, Tapper’s daily news show will increase an hour, running from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern, taking an hour from Wolf Blitzer’s “Situation Room.” Tapper will also be CNN’s lead anchor for all Washington-based events, the network said. Tapper will keep his Sunday “State of the Union” show but time-share with new co-anchor Dana Bash. Both will anchor two Sundays a month.
Army investigating officer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Army is investigating a psychological operations officer who led a group of people from North Carolina to the rally in Washington that led up to the deadly riot in the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump. Commanders at Fort Bragg are reviewing Capt. Emily Rainey’s involvement in last week’s events in the nation’s capital, but she said she acted within military regulations and that no one in her group broke the law. “I was a private citizen and doing everything right and within my rights,” Rainey said Sunday. Rainey, 30, said she led 100 members of Moore County Citizens for Freedom, which describes itself online as a nonpartisan network promoting conservative values, to the Washington rally to “stand against election fraud” and support Trump. She said she didn’t know of anyone who entered the Capitol and that they were headed back to their buses hours before an emergency curfew took effect.
California virus deaths top 30K
LOS ANGELES — California’s coronavirus catastrophe reached a staggering new level Monday as Johns Hopkins University data showed the nation’s most populous state has recorded more than 30,000 deaths since the pandemic started nearly a year ago. Deaths have exploded since a COVID-19 surge began in October. It took California six months to record its first 10,000 deaths. But in barely a month, the total rose from 20,000 to 30,000. Over the weekend, state officials reported a two-day record of 1,163 deaths. Hospitalizations also have exploded and many hospitals are stretched to the limit. California ranks third nationally in coronavirus deaths, behind Texas and New York, which is in the No. 1 position with nearly 40,000.
Officer charged in kidnap-slaying
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Tennessee police officer was charged with kidnapping a man in a squad car while on duty and fatally shooting him. Patric Ferguson, 29, a Memphis police officer since 2018, was charged in the death of Robert Howard, 30, of Memphis. Howard was reported missing Wednesday, Memphis police said in a statement Sunday on Twitter. Ferguson used a personal handgun to allegedly force Howard into the back of a police car and drove him to an area where he was shot, the statement said. An acquaintance, Joshua Rogers, 28, was charged with helping Ferguson relocate Howard’s body.