Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Wake-Up Call: Afghan Evac Deadline Remains Aug 31

President Biden said yesterday that he's holding to his August 31st deadline for ending the evacuation of Americans and at-risk Afghans from Afghanistan via flights out of the airport in Kabul, citing the threat from ISIS-K, the Islamic State (ISIS) group's affiliate in Afghanistan. Speaking from the White House, Biden said, "Every day we’re on the ground is another day that we know ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both us and allied forces and innocent civilians." He said that while the Taliban is cooperating, it's a, quote, "tenuous situation," adding, "We run a serious risk of it breaking down as time goes on." However, he also said he'd asked for contingency plans that would adjust the timeline if necessary. The Pentagon said 21,600 people had been evacuated in the 24 hours that ended Tuesday morning, with Biden saying the total is now over 70,000 people flown out in the airlift.

Congressmen Fly to Kabul:
Two congressmen, Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton and Republican Rep. Peter Meijer (top), flew unannounced into Kabul yesterday in the middle of the evacuation, stunning the State Department and U.S. military personnel who had to divert resources to provide them with security and information. The two flew in and out on charter flights and were in Kabul only for a few hours. They said in a statement, "As Members of Congress, we have a duty to provide oversight on the executive branch. We conducted this visit in secret, speaking about it only after our departure, to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement last night to, quote, "reiterate that the Departments of Defense and State have requested that Members not travel to Afghanistan and the region during this time of danger."

➤SUPREME COURT ORDERS ADMIN. TO REINSTATE POLICY REQUIRING ASYLUM-SEEKERS TO WAIT IN MEXICO: The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday ordered the Biden administration to reinstate a policy implemented under former President Donald Trump that requires people seeking asylum in the U.S. to wait in Mexico. The high court refused to stay a lower court ruling ordering the policy put back in place, saying the administration likely violated federal law in trying to end the program. The three liberal justices dissented from the action, for which the court offered little explanation. It did, however, cite its opinion from last year when it turned down the Trump administration's attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that lets young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children stay in the country.

➤'WASH. POST': INTELLIGENCE REPORT INCONCLUSIVE ON COVID ORIGINS: President Biden received a classified intelligence report yesterday that was inconclusive about the origins of the coronavirus, including on the issue of whether it jumped from an animal to a human or escaped from a Chinese lab, according to the Washington Post. Officials say elements of the report are expected to be declassified within days for potential public release. The report was the result of an investigation Biden ordered carried out within 90 days, quote, "that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion" on the origins of the virus. But the Post cited scientists familiar with the debate as saying it could take years of research to determine the origin.

➤HARRIS' TRIP TO VIETNAM DELAYED SEVERAL HOURS OVER POSSIBLE HAVANA SYNDROME CASES: Vice President Kamala Harris' trip from Singapore to Vietnam was delayed by several hours Tuesday due to an investigation into two possible cases in Hanoi of Havana Syndrome, the mysterious health problems first reported in U.S. diplomats and other government employees in the Cuban capital starting in 2016. It was later judged to be safe for Harris to make the planned stop in Vietnam, which is part of her trip to Southeast Asia. There have been two cases of unexplained health incidents among U.S. personnel in Vietnam in the past week, according to officials. Similar Havana Syndrome cases have been reported in Americans serving in other countries, including Germany, Austria, Russia and China, and even two possible incidents in the Washington, D.C., area.

➤HOUSE PASSES LEGISLATION TO STRENGTHEN VOTING RIGHTS LAW, BUT FACES POOR PROSPECTS IN THE SENATE: The House passed legislation yesterday that would strengthen the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that was weakened by the Supreme Court in recent years, but it was approved on a strict party-line vote, with no Republicans voting in favor of it. Democrats view the measure, called the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act after the late Georgia congressman and civil rights icon, as a way to push back against voting restrictions that have been passed in Republican-led states. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday, "Democracy is under attack from what is the worst voter suppression campaign in America since Jim Crow." But the legislation's prospects aren't good in the Senate, where Senate Republicans can use the filibuster to block the measure, which they charge is a Democratic "power grab."

➤TV ACADEMY REVOKES CUOMO'S EMMY AWARD: The International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences revoked former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's special Emmy Award yesterday, hours after he stepped down from office in the wake of an investigation finding that he sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo was awarded the special Emmy last year for his daily televised briefings in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic when New York was hit hard. Cuomo's leadership during the crisis drew national and even international praise, and led the Academy to award him its Founders Award last November. Academy President and CEO Bruce L. Paisner said in announcing the award that the briefings, quote, "worked so well because [Cuomo] effectively created television shows, with characters, plot lines, and stories of success and failure." The Academy's action now isn't unprecedented -- in 2017 it reversed its decision to give the Founders Award to actor Kevin Spacey after he was accused of sexual misconduct.

➤MISTRIAL DECLARED IN AVENATTI EMBEZZLEMENT TRIAL: A mistrial was declared yesterday in the embezzlement trial in California of attorney Michael Avenatti for allegedly stealing nearly $10 million dollars in settlement money from five of his clients. U.S. District Judge James V. Selna ruled that federal prosecutors failed to turn over relevant financial evidence to Avenatti, who's been representing himself in the case. Selna scheduled a tentative new trial date in October. Avenatti was sentenced just last month to 2 1/2 years in prison in a separate $25 million extortion case in New York. Avenatti represented Stormy Daniels in her lawsuits against Donald Trump in 2018 and became a cable news favorite for his brash attacks on the then-president.

➤HERSCHEL WALKER RUNNING FOR U.S. SENATE IN GEORGIA: Former NFL player and University of Georgia running back Herschel Walker filed paperwork yesterday to run for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, adding to the field of Republicans vying for the nomination to face incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock in 2022. The 59-year-old Walker, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1982, has never run for office before and has been living in Texas. Walker is supported by former President Donald Trump, who has a relationship with him dating back to the 1980s, when he played for a Trump-owned team in the United States Football League. Walker spoke at the 2020 Republican National Convention.

USAToday photo 8/25/21
➤KRISPY KREME NOW OFFERING TWO FREE DOUGHNUTS A DAY TO COVID-VACCINATED: Krispy Kreme is doubling its free doughnut offer for people who are vaccinated against Covid-19, now offering them two free doughnuts a day from August 30th until September 5th. The promotion comes after the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine. Starting in March, Krispy Kreme has been offering a free doughnut a day for the rest of the year to people who are vaccinated as a way to encourage getting the shots. The chain said it's given away more than 2.5 million doughnuts through the deal so far. Customers need to show their vaccination card to get free doughnuts.

➤LIQUOR STORE SALES ROSE DURING PANDEMIC AT RATE SIMILAR TO BAR SALES DROP:  During the early days of the pandemic Americans did more drinking at home as bars and restaurants were forced to close. Columbia University researchers found that between March and September 2020, beer, wine, and liquor store sales totaled $41.9 billion—20 percent higher than during the same months in 2019, and 18 percent higher than between August 2019 and February 2020. Meanwhile, restaurant sales dropped 27 percent between March and September 2020. And in September 2020, sales at restaurants and bars were about 15 percent below pre-pandemic levels, while beer, wine and liquor sales were 17 percent higher and have since stayed close to that level. Researchers note that excessive drinking at home could be an unhealthy way of coping with stress about pandemic-related issues, and also pointed out that drinking at home has been linked with domestic violence.

➤FORGET 10,000 STEPS—“MINUTES MOVED” IS THE MORE IMPORTANT TARGET, EXPERTS SAY:   If you’ve been trying to get 10,000 steps a day it might be time to change your goal. Health experts say 10,000 steps a day is an arbitrary measurement, and research suggests 7,000- 8,000 steps a day is usually enough to have health benefits. Also, personal trainer Harvey Lawton says that daily activity is the “unsung hero” when it comes to expending energy. He explains, “Moving in varying ways and through different planes of motion allows you to learn about your body, your joint health, and where weaknesses may lie—something that may not necessarily be highlighted nor corrected by achieving a daily step goal alone.” Also Amanda Paluch, with the University of Massachusetts says she encourages focusing on your “minutes moved” rather than stressing about steps, noting that while a daily step count goal isn’t bad, the main goal should really be to not be too sedentary and to stay consistent.

➤BIG TEN, ACC, PAC-12 ANNOUNCE ALLIANCE: The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 announced an alliance yesterday that aims to create stability in college sports, less than a month after the SEC invited Texas and Oklahoma to join from the Big 12. The commissioners from the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 pledged to collaborate on on a range of issues and committed to members playing more football and basketball games against each other. They also suggested they wouldn't be poaching each other’s schools.

⚾ORIOLES LOSE 19TH STRAIGHT GAME: The Baltimore Orioles were beaten 14-8 by the Los Angeles Angels last night for their 19th straight loss, MLB's longest losing streak since 2005, when the Kansas City Royals lost 19 in a row. The all-time record is 23 straight losses by the 1961 Philadelphia Phillies.

⚾DIAMONDBACKS PITCHER SMITH SUSPENDED 10 GAMES FOR FOREIGN SUBSTANCE: Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Caleb Smith was suspended for 10 games Tuesday and fined an undisclosed amount for having a foreign substance on his glove during a game last week against the Philadelphia Phillies. Smith had his glove taken after he came off the field in the eighth inning and was ejected. Smith's suspension is the second of a pitcher this season under MLB's crackdown on their use of sticky substances to better grip the ball. Smith is appealing his suspension.

⚾MOLINA TO RETURN FOR 19TH AND FINAL SEASON WITH THE CARDINALS: Catcher Yadier Molina has agreed to a one-year extension with the St. Louis Cardinals -- reportedly for $10 million -- in what will be his 19th and final season with the team, the Cardinals announced yesterday. The 39-year-old Molina has spent his entire career with the Cardinals, helping lead them to two World Series titles in 2006 and 2011 and being named an All-Star 10 times.

🎾U.S. OPEN TO HAVE MENTAL HEALTH PROVIDERS, QUIET ROOMS FOR PLAYERS: The U.S. Tennis Association announced yesterday that players at the U.S. Open, which begins next Monday, will have access to licensed mental health providers and quiet rooms. It's part of a new initiative by the USTA, which said it wants to, quote, "ensure that a comprehensive and holistic approach will be taken with all aspects of player health, including mental health." The issue of mental health came to fore when Naomi Osaka, the world's Number Two women's player, pulled out of the French Open after the first round, citing mental health concerns, and then skipped Wimbledon. She spoke about having strong anxiety when speaking to the media and suffering bouts of depression.

➤PARALYMPICS OPEN IN TOKYO: Just over two weeks after the end of the Tokyo Olympics, the Paralympics began Tuesday with the opening ceremony. The Paralympics are also being held in Tokyo using the same Olympic facilities, and are also being held without fans due to the pandemic. There are 4,403 disabled athletes competing in this year's Paralympics, which is a record number. Among the small number of dignitaries on hand for the opening ceremony was Douglas Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris.

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