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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

Original Publication Date December 05, 2021 - 9:06 PM

Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

As the omicron coronavirus variant spreads in southern Africa and pops up in countries all around the world, scientists are anxiously watching a battle play out that could determine the future of the pandemic. Can the latest competitor to the world-dominating delta overthrow it?

Some scientists, poring over data from South Africa and the United Kingdom, suggest omicron could emerge the victor.

“It’s still early days, but increasingly, data is starting to trickle in, suggesting that omicron is likely to outcompete delta in many, if not all, places,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School.

But others said Monday it’s too soon to know how likely it is that omicron will spread more efficiently than delta, or, if it does, how fast it might take over.

“Especially here in the U.S., where we’re seeing significant surges in delta, whether omicron’s going to replace it I think we’ll know in about two weeks,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

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US plans diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. will stage a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing t o protest Chinese human rights abuses, the White House confirmed Monday, a move that China has vowed to greet with “firm countermeasures.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said U.S. athletes will continue to compete and will “have our full support,” but added “we will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games.”

“U.S. diplomatic or official representation would treat these games as business as usual in the face of the PRC’s egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang, and we simply can’t do that,” Psaki told reporters during Monday's briefing.

“We have a fundamental commitment to promoting human rights. And we feel strongly in our position and we will continue to take actions to advance human rights in China and beyond,” Psaki added.

The announcement came as Biden prepares to host a White House Summit for Democracy, a virtual gathering of leaders and civil society experts from more than 100 countries that is set to take place Thursday and Friday. The administration has said Biden intends to use the meeting “to announce both individual and collective commitments, reforms, and initiatives to defend democracy and human rights at home and abroad.”

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Justice Department sues Texas over new redistricting maps

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Justice Department sued Texas on Monday over its new redistricting maps, saying the plans discriminate against minority voters, particularly Latinos, who have fueled the state’s population boom.

The lawsuit claims the Republican-controlled state violated part of the Voting Rights Act in drawing new district boundaries for its congressional delegation and state legislature. It's the Biden Justice Department's first legal action challenging a state's maps since states began redrawing their maps this year to account for population changes.

The lawsuit notes that most of Texas’ population growth over the past decade came from Black, Latino and Asian people, but alleges that the new maps scatter these voters across districts, diluting their votes and denying them opportunities to choose their representatives. It also argues the maps pack Black and Latino communities into bizarre-shaped districts — a Dallas-area one is described as “seahorse” shaped — while preserving seats for white Republicans.

“This is not the first time that Texas has acted to minimize the voting rights of its minority citizens,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said during a news conference with Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Decade after decade, courts have found that Texas has enacted redistricting plans that deliberately dilute the voting strength of Latino and Black voters and that violate the Voting Rights Act.”

The litigation comes as Republicans and Democrats jockey for an edge in the once-a-decade redistricting process, which has already reached new levels of gerrymandering. The lawsuit also plays out during a changed legal landscape for redistricting challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that it won’t referee partisan gerrymandering disputes — maps drawn to benefit a political party.

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Emmett Till investigation closed by feds; no new charges

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department said Monday it is ending its investigation into the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till, the Black teenager from Chicago who was abducted, tortured and killed after witnesses said he whistled at a white woman in Mississippi.

The announcement came after the head of the department's civil rights division and other officials met with several of Till's relatives.

Till's family members said they were disappointed there will continue to be no accountability for the infamous killing, with no charges being filed against Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman accused of lying about whether Till ever touched her.

“Today is a day we will never forget," Till's cousin, the Rev. Wheeler Parker, said during a news conference in Chicago. "For 66 years we have suffered pain. ... I suffered tremendously.”

The killing galvanized the civil rights movement after Till’s mother insisted on an open casket, and Jet magazine published photos of his brutalized body.

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Biden-Putin talks on Ukraine crisis rooted in older dispute

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Cold War ended 30 years ago this month, but one unresolved issue — how closely Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, can ally with the West — is now creating some of the deepest U.S.-Russian tensions in years.

The dispute over Ukraine’s status and its growing alignment with U.S.-led NATO will be at the center of President Vladimir Putin's video meeting Tuesday with President Joe Biden, whose administration says an extensive Russian military buildup near Ukraine points to a potential invasion.

Russia denies any intention of invading and says Washington and Kyiv are the ones stirring up trouble.

Putin has his own demands: A binding assurance that Ukraine will not join NATO and that the Western alliance will not add forces in states near Russia.

“I want to make it crystal clear: Turning our neighbors into a bridgehead for confrontation with Russia, the deployment of NATO forces in the regions strategically important for our security, is categorically unacceptable,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said last week, echoing Putin.

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Myanmar's Suu Kyi convicted in further blow to democracy

BANGKOK (AP) — Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader of Myanmar who was ousted in a de facto coup this year, was convicted on two charges Monday and handed a four-year sentence that was quickly cut in half — in proceedings widely criticized as a further effort by the country’s military rulers to roll back the democratic gains of recent years.

The verdict — on charges of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions — serves to cement a dramatic reversal of fortunes for the Nobel Peace laureate, who spent 15 years under house arrest for resisting the Southeast Asian nation’s generals but then agreed to work alongside them when they promised to usher in democratic rule.

The case is only the first in a series brought against the 76-year-old Suu Kyi since her arrest on Feb. 1 — the day the army seized power, claiming massive voting fraud in last year’s election. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won that vote in a landslide, and independent election observers did not detect any major irregularities.

Just as the takeover has been met with fierce resistance, so too was the verdict, including a spirited protest in the central city of Mandalay, where demonstrators chanted slogans and sang songs popularized during pro-democracy protests in 1988.

They also took to social media, which has been an important arena for resistance to the military. Htoo Ko, a medical doctor and popular travel blogger who is also an activist, wrote: “They have expended their maximum effort in carrying out evil. The people will be free only if we win the revolution, so work harder for the revolution.”

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Could others be charged, liable in Michigan school shooting?

A prosecutor continues to criticize the decision to keep a teenager in a Michigan school before a shooting that killed four students last week, raising questions about whether staff and the school district will face liability — criminal or civil — in the tragedy.

“We should all be looking at the events that led up to that horrific event,” Karen McDonald told ABC's “Good Morning America.” “And as a community, as a school, as a nation talk about what we could have done different so that didn’t happen. And in this case a lot could have been done different.”

Ethan Crumbley, 15, is charged with shooting fellow students at Oxford High School after a meeting with counselors and his parents. A teacher was troubled by a drawing of a gun, a bullet and a person who appeared to have been shot, along with messages stating “My life is useless” and “The world is dead,” investigators said.

A look at some of the issues:

COULD SCHOOL STAFF FACE CHARGES?

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NYC to impose vaccine mandate on private sector employers

NEW YORK (AP) — From big Wall Street banks to corner grocery stores, all private employers in New York City will have to require their workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the mayor announced Monday in the most sweeping vaccine mandate of any state or big city in the U.S.

The move by Mayor Bill de Blasio comes as cases are climbing again in the U.S. and the worrisome but little-understood omicron variant is gaining a toehold in the nation's largest city and elsewhere around the country.

“We in New York City have decided to use a preemptive strike to really do something bold to stop the further growth of COVID and the dangers it’s causing to all of us,” he said.

De Blasio, a Democrat with just weeks left in office, said the mandate will take effect Dec. 27, with in-person workers needing to provide proof they have received at least one dose of the vaccine. And they will not be allowed to get out of the requirement by agreeing to regular COVID-19 testing instead.

The measure will apply to roughly 184,000 businesses not covered by previous vaccine mandates, ranging from multinational corporations to mom-and-pop businesses in the city of 8.8 million people, according to a spokesperson for the mayor. The city's private-sector workforce is 3.7 million.

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Pence's former top aide cooperating with Jan. 6 panel

WASHINGTON (AP) — The former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence is cooperating with the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Marc Short was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and accompanied Pence as he fled his post presiding over the Senate and hid from rioters who were calling for his hanging. Short is cooperating with the panel after receiving a subpoena, according to the person, who was granted anonymity to discuss the private interactions.

Former President Donald Trump was openly criticizing his vice president even as the insurrectionists broke into the building because Pence had said he would not try to unilaterally reject the electoral count as Congress certified President Joe Biden’s victory. Pence didn’t have the legal power to do so, but Trump pressured him anyway.

As Pence’s top aide, Short was also present for several White House meetings ahead of the insurrection. At one point, Trump banned Short from the White House grounds because he objected to the pressure on Pence to reject the legitimate election results.

CNN first reported Short’s cooperation and subpoena.

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Heisman finalists: Young, Hutchinson, Pickett, Stroud

NEW YORK (AP) — Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud were announced Monday as finalists for the Heisman Trophy.

The Heisman will be presented Saturday in New York, returning to its usual routine and date — second Saturday in December — after it was forced to delay and go virtual last year due to the pandemic.

There are some changes this year. The site of the presentation is moving from a theater in Midtown Manhattan, near Times Square, to a smaller venue on the West Side near Lincoln Center.

The process by which Heisman finalists are determined has also been modified. The Heisman Trust announced that starting with this season, there will be four finalists — no more, no fewer — invited to the award presentation ceremony.

In the past the Heisman has invited at least three and as many as six players to the presentation. The number was determined by distribution of vote, with the cut-off decided by the gap between vote-getters.

News from © The Associated Press, 2021
The Associated Press

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