States will start getting COVID-19 vaccine Monday, US says


WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s first COVID-19 vaccine will begin arriving in states Monday morning, U.S. officials said Saturday, after the government gave the final go-ahead to the shots needed to end an outbreak that has killed nearly 300,000 Americans.

Trucks will roll out Sunday morning as shipping companies UPS and FedEx begin delivering Pfizer’s vaccine to nearly 150 distribution centers across the states, said Army Gen. Gustave Perna of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine development program. An additional 425 sites will get shipments Tuesday, and the remaining 66 on Wednesday.

Initially, about 3 million doses were expected to be shipped nationwide. It was unclear exactly who would receive the first shots, though health care workers and nursing home residents were the priority. Perna said health authorities would decide.

A similar number of shots will be held back for those recipients’ second dose, which is needed for full protection from COVID-19.

The announcement Saturday kicks off a massive logistical operation involving the federal and state governments, private companies and health care workers to quickly distribute limited vaccine supplies throughout the U.S. It offers hope in a country grappling with surging COVID-19 infections and deaths, which are overwhelming hospitals and raising fears that things will only get worse as people gather over the holidays.

Perna compared the vaccine distribution effort to D-Day, the U.S.-led military offensive that turned the tide in World War II.

“D-Day was the beginning of the end and that’s where we are today,” Perna said a news conference. But he added that it would take months of work and “diligence, courage and strength to eventually achieve victory.”

MaineHealth, a network of 12 hospitals based in Portland, plans to provide an expected first delivery of nearly 2,000 vaccines to doctors, nurses and others facing risk as they treat COVID-19 patients, said Dr. Dora Mills, chief health improvement officer.

“It’s almost hard for me to talk about without tearing up,” Mills said Saturday. “This vaccine gives us some glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.”

The first shipments will leave Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, by truck and then be flown to regional hubs around the country. Medical distributor McKesson and pharmacy chains, including CVS and Rite-Aid, also are involved in the initial rollout and vaccinations at nursing homes and assisted living centers.

In a key distribution challenge, the vaccine, co-developed with BioNTech, must be stored and shipped at ultra-low temperatures — about 94 degrees below zero. Pfizer has developed shipping containers that use dry ice, and GPS-enabled sensors will allow the company to track each shipment and ensure it stays cold.

Distribution sites are mainly large hospitals and other facilities able to meet those ultra-cold storage requirements. Within three weeks, vaccines should be delivered to all vaccination sites identified by states, such as local pharmacies, Perna said.

The vaccine was timed to arrive Monday so health workers could receive the shots and begin giving them, Perna said.

Workers at Mount Sinai Hospital System in New York did a dry run this week to prepare for their shipment. In a clean room, pharmacists practiced making separate doses of a training vaccine and ensuring the freezer was kept at temperatures colder than in Antarctica.

“Not a lot of people have vaccinated for a large pandemic like this,” said Susan Mashni, vice president of pharmacy at Mount Sinai. “So we want to make certain that we get it right. There’s a lot of different moving pieces and parts.”

At a meeting where an expert panel advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on vaccines unanimously endorsed the Pfizer shot, some said local health officials were struggling to ensure the vaccine is distributed fairly and to those most in need and to ease people’s concerns about getting the shot.

But “the funding necessary for state and local health departments to carry out this program has been put in the deep freeze,” said Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, a Seattle physician representing the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the vaccine late Friday. It capped an unprecedented global race to speed vaccines through testing and review, chopping years off the normal development process.

The FDA found the vaccine highly protective with no major safety issues. U.S. regulators worked for months to emphasize the rigor and independence of their review, but President Donald Trump’s administration pressured the agency until the final announcement. A top White House official even threatened to remove FDA chief Stephen Hahn if a ruling didn’t come before Saturday.

Concerns that a shot was rushed out could undermine vaccination efforts in a country with deeply ingrained skepticism about vaccines.

“Science and data guided the FDA’s decision,” Hahn said Saturday. “We worked quickly because of the urgency of this pandemic, not because of any other external pressure.”

While the vaccine was determined to be safe, regulators in the U.K. are investigating several severe allergic reactions. The FDA’s instructions tell providers not give it to those with a known history of severe allergic reactions to any of its ingredients.

The FDA’s vaccine director, Dr. Peter Marks, said the agency will carefully track any reports of allergic reactions in the U.S.

Next week, the FDA will review a vaccine from Moderna and the National Institutes of Health that appears about as protective as Pfizer’s shot. On Friday, the Trump administration said it had purchased 100 million more doses of that vaccine on top of 100 million it previously ordered.

The announcement came after revelations that the White House opted not to lock in an additional 100 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine for delivery in the second quarter of 2021. The Trump administration contends the current orders plus those in the pipeline will be enough to accommodate any American who wants to be vaccinated by the end of the second quarter of 2021.


Lin-Manuel Miranda will write the music for Disney’s ‘Encanto’

(CNN) — Lin-Manuel Miranda has signed on to write the music for Walt Disney Animation Studios’ new animated feature “Encanto.”

“Encanto takes you to Colombia, where a magical family live in a magical home,” Disney announced on Twitter.

The story centers on young girl whose family possesses special powers but she does not.

The musical will feature songs in both Spanish and English and will be released in theaters in November 2021. It will be Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 60th animated film.

“Encanto” is the latest collaboration from “Zootopia” directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush, co-written and co-directed by Charise Castro Smith.

Miranda last worked with Disney for 2019’s “Marry Poppins Returns.” The “Hamilton” creator and Broadway superstar also wrote the hit songs for “Moana,” and won an Oscar for the song “How Far I’ll Go.”

Brandon Bernard executed after Supreme Court denies request for a delay

(CNN) — Brandon Bernard was executed by the federal government on Thursday at the Federal Correctional Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

Bernard, 40, was one of five gang members convicted in Texas of killing Stacie and Todd Bagley — who were youth ministers — in 1999. The gunman, Christopher Vialva, was executed in September, while the other co-defendants were given lesser sentences.

Bernard was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. He was the youngest person in the United States to receive a death sentence in nearly 70 years for a crime committed when he was an adolescent.

Bernard said he had been waiting for his chance to apologize to the family of the Bagleys and his own family for the pain he caused.

“I’m sorry … I wish I could take it all back, but I can’t,” Bernard said to the family of the Bagleys during his three-minute last words. “That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”

The Bagley family thanked Trump and the federal government for carrying out the sentence in their statements.

“I pray that Brandon has accepted Christ as his Savior, because if he has, Todd and Stacie will welcome him into Heaven with love and forgiveness,” Charles Woodard wrote on behalf of the Bagley family.

“It has been a very difficult to wait 21 years for the sentence that was imposed by the judge and jury on those who cruelly participated in the destruction of our children, to be finally completed,” Georgia A. Bagley, Todd’s mother,wrote. “This senseless act of unnecessary evil was premeditated and had many opportunities to be stopped at any time during a 9-hour period. This was torture, as they pleaded for their lives from the trunk of their own car.”

Georgia Bagley spoke to reporters within 30 minutes of the execution and became emotional when she spoke about Bernard’s and Vialva’s apologies.

“The apology and remorse … helped very much heal my heart,” she said, beginning to cry and recompose herself. “I can very much say: I forgive them.”

Bernard’s execution was scheduled this fall by the government. It was the ninth execution since Attorney General William Barr announced restarting federal executions after a 17-year hiatus — a decision that has been fraught with controversy, especially during the global pandemic, and could be halted under President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.

However, that may be too late for the five federal death row inmates scheduled to die before Inauguration Day, January 20.

A high-profile case

Bernard’s case has been in the spotlight for months, grabbing headlines and the attention of both politicians and celebrities who wanted the execution to be stopped.

Kim Kardashian West called for Trump to grant a commutation for Bernard; Rep. Ayana Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts, brought awareness to legislation she introduced last year to end the death penalty at the federal level; the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson called on the President to commute the sentences of and pardon all the inmates scheduled for execution; and 23 elected and former prosecutors filed an amicus brief on Wednesday in support of Bernard’s appeal due to allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

After a lower court judge denied Bernard’s motion to stay the execution on Wednesday, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals denied an emergency motion and the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also denied the appeal on Thursday, according to court documents.

Attorneys Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr joined Bernard’s legal team late on Thursday and had filed a petition with the Supreme Court requesting to delay the execution for two weeks so they could get up to speed on Bernard’s case. The attorneys’ most recent and notable client was President Donald Trump during his impeachment hearings earlier this year.

The Supreme Court denied the petition, with three justices issuing public dissents.

“Brandon’s execution is a stain on America’s criminal justice system. But I pray that even in his death, Brandon will advance his commitment to helping others by moving us closer to a time when this country does not pointlessly and maliciously kill young Black men who pose no threat to anyone,” Bernard’s attorney Robert Owens said in a statement.

The court’s decision left Trump as Bernard’s last hope. The President did not act.

Trump was made aware of the case — and of the calls by celebrities and activists to commute Bernard’s sentence — over the past several days, according to a person familiar with the matter, but he was not swayed to intervene. The person said Trump was unmoved because of the violent nature of the crime. Trump has backed Barr in his push to complete federal executions before his term ends next month.

Owens had sought to have a hearing about newly discovered evidence that was not presented at Bernard’s 2000 trial. Owens argued in Bernard’s appeal that, during a resentencing hearing in 2018 for another co-defendant, it was revealed that the trial prosecutors had withheld evidence that diminished Bernard’s role in the crime.

Prosecutors argued on Wednesday in court documents opposing Bernard’s appellate motion that “the jury heard ample evidence indicating that Bernard did not have a leadership role in the gang — and was not even a full-fledged member.”

“Procedural barriers have prevented him (Bernard) from obtaining a hearing on the merits of his claim. … By denying a stay of execution to Brandon Bernard, the court will allow the government to evade responsibility for hiding critical evidence that would have changed the outcome of Brandon’s sentencing,” Owens said in a news release issued on Wednesday.

Five of the sentencing jurors came forward saying that if they had been aware of the undisclosed information, they would not have agreed to sentence Bernard to death, Owens said.

Executions may pose risk of spreading Covid-19

No state has held an execution since July, and several state executions have been postponed for Covid-related reasons, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Yet the federal government is slated to have executed a total of 13 federal death row inmates before Inauguration Day.

Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center Robert Dunham told CNN in a previous interview that executions are possible super spreader events because of the amount of people involved.

“The decision to move forward with all these super spreader events in the midst of a pandemic that has already killed a quarter of a million Americans is historically unprecedented,” Dunham said.

A federal judge in Indiana denied a motion for a preliminary injunction earlier this week to halt the five upcoming executions because of the risk of spreading the coronavirus throughout the Terre Haute federal prison. The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Indiana Terre Haute Division by attorneys for two non-death row inmates who are concerned that their high-risk clients are susceptible to catching the coronavirus.

According to Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson’s order denying the preliminary injunction, up to 125 people enter the facility for an execution, including nearly 40 out-of-state Bureau of Prisons employees who are part of the execution team.

Since Orlando Hall was put to death on November 19, six members of the execution team as well as more than a dozen other Terre Haute prison staffers have contracted the virus, according to a motion filed on Wednesday on behalf of the non-death row inmates.

“Another inmate from FCI (Federal Correctional Institution) Terre Haute (where plaintiffs are housed) died from COVID-19 this week, one or more additional inmates appear to have recently died from USP Terre Haute, and the number of positive inmate cases at FCC (Federal Correctional Center) Terre Haute now stands at 326 as of December 8, up from 264 on Dec 7 and 202 on Dec 4,” according to the motion.

Attorneys for the Justice Department argued in court documents on Wednesday that the plaintiffs are attempting to re-argue their denied motion for preliminary injunction that states prison staffers, specifically those involved with the executions, can spread the virus to different sections of the facility.

Interactions between the execution team and Federal Correctional Center Terre Haute staffers are “extremely limited, and members of the execution team generally do not even enter the FCI or interact with inmates there. Plaintiffs do not interact with inmates on death row or with anyone in the execution facility,” according to the Justice Department’s opposition to continuing with proceedings for the lawsuit.

The five inmates scheduled to die are all housed at the Indiana federal prison. Alfred Bourgeois is the next inmate scheduled to be executed on Friday. Bourgeois was sentenced to death for the torture and murder of his 2-year-old daughter.

This story has been updated with further developments on Thursday night.

CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

Body cam footage shows raid on former Florida Covid data scientist’s home

By Casey Tolan and Curt Devine, CNN

(CNN) — Florida state police released body camera videos Thursday afternoon showing officers waiting before they entered the home of a former state data scientist and the testy confrontation that followed when she exited — providing new context about a controversial police raid that has attracted national attention this week.

Officers were serving a search warrant Monday morning at the home of Rebekah Jones, a coronavirus data scientist who was fired from the state and has accused Florida officials of covering up the extent of the pandemic.

The state Department of Law Enforcement is investigating whether Jones illegally accessed a state messaging system to send her former colleagues a message urging them to speak out about coronavirus deaths. Jones, who has feuded with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis for months, has denied sending the message.

The two videos released by the department show that Jones didn’t exit her Tallahassee home until about 23 minutes after officers first rang the doorbell, and 15 minutes after they first announced themselves as police. Jones has claimed authorities waited 13 minutes while she got dressed.

Officers are seen calling Jones’ cell phone to ask her to leave the house, while one holds a large hammer.

“Police search warrant, open the door!” officers yell several times. “Make sure the whole block hears us,” one agent tells his colleagues.

<img alt=”Raid of former Florida Covid data scientist&amp;#39;s home could affect other state employees, legal experts warn” class=”media__image” src=”//”>

As Jones exits her house, one officer with his gun drawn appears to point the weapon in her direction, although it’s unclear whether anyone pointed a firearm six inches from Jones’ face, as she has claimed in interviews with CNN. Officers are seen holding her by her back and her arms as she shouts at them not to point a gun at her children.

One of the officers scolds Jones for taking so long after she leaves the house.

“That was not smart what you are doing,” the officer tells Jones. “You need to calm down and get your head (inaudible) because you are making all the wrong decisions.”

“All you had to do was answer the door — there was no doubt who we were,” the officer said.

Jones replies that her lawyer had previously told her not to answer the door. She seems confused about what officers want. “What are they looking for? Are they looking for a person?” she asked at one point.

Law enforcement department Commissioner Rick Swearingen said in a statement that “this video demonstrates that FDLE agents exercised extreme patience.”

“Agents afforded Ms. Jones ample time to come to the door and resolve this matter in a civil and professional manner,” Swearingen said. “As this video will demonstrate, any risk or danger to Ms. Jones or her family was the result of her actions.”

But Jones, who has said she delayed in answering the door because she was getting dressed, responded on Twitter on Thursday that the videos prove she was cooperating.

Officers “were ready to break my door down with a sledgehammer,” she wrote. “This is ‘restraint?’ Really???”

The footage released so far mostly shows interactions outside Jones’ home, although officers did enter and search the house. Jones has said that officers in the house pointed guns at her 2- and 11-year-old children and her husband, which the department has denied, and released her own video of the raid showing officers inside with guns drawn. It’s unclear whether those officers were also wearing body cameras.

In other developments, Jones has now raised more than $200,000 on a GoFundMe page that she says will be used for her legal defense and for “moving expenses so my family can get out of the Governor’s reach.”

US jobless claims jump to 853,000 amid resurgence of virus


WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people applying for unemployment aid jumped last week to 853,000, the most since September, evidence that companies are cutting more jobs as new virus cases spiral higher.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of applications increased from 716,000 the previous week. Before the coronavirus paralyzed the economy in March, weekly jobless claims typically numbered only about 225,000.

The latest figures coincide with a surging viral outbreak that appears to be weakening the job market and the economy and threatening to derail any recovery. Consumers thus far haven’t spent as much this holiday shopping season as they have in previous years, according to credit and debit card data. And in November, employers added jobs at the slowest pace since April. Restaurants, bars and retailers all cut jobs last month.

The total number of people who are receiving state-provided unemployment aid rose for the first time in three months to 5.8 million, the government said, from 5.5 million. That suggests that some companies have sharply pulled back on hiring.

All told, more than 19 million people are still dependent on some type of unemployment benefit. And unless Congress acts soon, nearly half of them will lose that aid in just over two weeks. That’s when two jobless aid programs that the federal government created in the spring are set to expire.

The first program provides unemployment benefits to the self-employed and contract workers, who weren’t eligible in the past. The second program is the one that extends jobless aid for 13 weeks.

Members of Congress and the Trump administration are fighting over a roughly $900 billion relief package that could extend the two programs into the spring, sparing about 9 million unemployed Americans from what would otherwise be deeper financial distress.

A bipartisan group of senators has proposed to extend the supplemental aid for four months and add $300-a-week in federal jobless aid. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday proposed a one-time round of $600 relief checks — half the $1,200 that was provided in the spring. But Mnuchin’s proposal includes no funding for supplemental unemployment aid payments, drawing sharp objections from Democrats in Congress.

With a coronavirus vaccine nearing approval, many economists are optimistic that the economy will rebound strongly next year. But most favor another federal financial relief package to support unemployed workers, small businesses, and state and local governments until then.

New confirmed virus cases are now topping 200,000 a day, up from only about 30,000 in the spring. And the average number of deaths each day in the past seven days has surpassed 2,000, roughly matching its peak in April.

The virus’ acceleration has led many governors to impose stricter curbs on restaurants, gyms and other business activity in states from North Carolina to California and Washington state.

The pandemic appears to have also sharply restricted holiday spending, in part because of stay-at-home orders and other restrictions and in part because many consumers are reluctant to go out shopping. A jump in online shopping hasn’t fully offset a steep decline, compared with last year, in spending at physical stores.

According to data from Opportunity Insights, a research center affiliated with Harvard and Brown universities, spending on debit and credit cards sank nearly 12% in the week that ended Nov. 29 compared with a year earlier. That marked a sharp drop from the previous week, when such spending was down just 2.3% from 12 months earlier.

The steady stream of layoffs across the country has intensified the financial hardships for many Americans.

One of the jobless, Montrell McGraw, says he just had to cancel his car insurance and now can’t drive because his unemployment benefit of just $225 a week isn’t enough to keep up with the payments. He was able to cover all his bills when the federal government provided an extra $600 in jobless aid. But that ended in July.

McGraw, 26, lost his job as a cook at a Hilton Hotel in New Orleans, where he lives, back in March just after the virus erupted in the United States. He says he’s applied for 35 jobs without any luck. His primary work experience is in restaurants, few of which are hiring.

Most of the available jobs he sees involve trucking or work on offshore oil rigs, which require certifications he can’t afford to obtain. McGraw has also worked with an advocacy group, Stand Up Louisiana, in support of extending jobless benefits.

“I didn’t ask for this — no one asked for this pandemic,” he said. “I am trying to play the cards I am dealt with, and I have a really bad hand.”

Over 900 cars paid for each other’s meals at a Dairy Queen drive-thru in Minnesota

By Alisha Ebrahimji, CNN 

(CNN) — What started as a random act of kindness from one man paying for the car behind him in a Dairy Queen drive-thru resulted in over 900 cars also taking part in the pay it forward chain.

There’s no question about it: This year has been tough for so many. Some, fighting battles we may know nothing about. But at a drive-thru in Brainerd, Minnesota, over 100 miles north of Minneapolis, people stepped up in a small way to show one another that they care.

Tina Jensen, the store manager at one of the two Dairy Queens in town, told CNN a man came by the drive-thru window on Thursday and asked if he could pay for his meal and for the car behind him.

Jensen told her cashier this tends to happen once in a while but at most it lasts for 15 or 20 cars and fizzles out.

This time, the chain continued for two and a half days with over 900 cars participating, raking in $10,000 in sales, according to Jensen.

When the next customer came to the fast food chain’s window, Jensen explained what the man in front of them had done — and the acts of kindness continued to multiply.

“The health benefits of a random act of kindness”

“There’s all different types of ways to help people,” Jensen said. “I think this touched a lot of people that we didn’t even know it touched, deeper than we know. And you don’t know what’s going on in a person’s life.”

When the chain closed for the night Thursday, one car left $10 to begin the chain back up Friday morning and again on Saturday morning. Jensen provided updates on the number of cars at each day’s end on the store’s Facebook page.

Heidi Bruse experienced that act of kindness on Friday evening during a dinner run, she told CNN.

“During times like these it kinda restores your faith in humanity a little,” Bruse said. “The way the world is now you see a lot of anger, tension, and selfish behavior. What we witnessed was pure kindness and it was a breath of fresh air really.”

But that wasn’t even the best part. For Bruse, it was going home to tell her family that they played a role in the chain and kept it going.

“Not that we got free ice cream,” she said. “The gesture was way more valuable.”

Like so many others in the restaurant industry, the restaurant has faced some challenges adapting to new business practices during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Faced with having to close my restaurant, I was given a great gift”

“With the lobby shutting down, being only open for take out, being able to open for half your capacity, different things like that,” have played a role in trying to keep morale high, Jensen said. Her top priority is the safety of her customers and crew with increased disinfecting and cleaning measures, she said.

Seeing how positive her staff became with every passing car paying it forward, married to the reactions of her customers when the cashier told them their meal had been taken care of, was touching, Jensen said.

“No matter what’s going on, take care of each other, be positive, be happy and don’t focus on the negative, we’ll get through it,” she said.

As Iran Mourns Nuclear Scientist, Officials Vow to Find His Killers

(NY Times) – We chase the criminals to the end,” the Iranian defense minister said at the funeral of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

The Iranian Defense Ministry on Monday held a funeral for Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, one of Iran’s top nuclear scientists who was assassinated last Friday. Officials promised to find and punish those responsible for his killing.Iranian Defense Ministry, via Associated Press

The Iranian defense minister vowed on Monday to find and punish those responsible for the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, while another senior official offered an account of the attack radically different from initial reports in the Iranian state news media.

“We chase the criminals to the end,” the defense minister, Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami, said at a ceremony mourning Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was shot and killed outside Tehran last Friday while traveling with his bodyguards.

Iranian state news outlets initially reported that gunmen had killed Mr. Fakhrizadeh in a roadside ambush after a truck explosion — and even interviewed a supposed witness. But speaking at the funeral on Monday, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, said that Israel had carried out the attack using sophisticated “electronic devices.”

He did not elaborate, but the Fars news agency, an affiliate of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, said the assassination was carried out with a machine gun operated by remote control.

The new version of events, which could not immediately be confirmed, seemed to represent a coordinated effort at damage control by the nation’s security apparatus after a public and official backlash after the embarrassingly public assassination of Mr. Fakhrizadeh, which Western intelligence officials have said was carried out by Israel.

At the funeral at the headquarters of the Defense Ministry, photographs and footage showed a procession carrying Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s coffin, covered with flowers and draped with the Iranian flag.

It was the latest of expression of fury at the death of Mr. Fakhrizadeh, who for two decades was the brains behind what American and Israeli intelligence described as Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program, though Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful uses only.

But on Monday General Hatami said that the death of the scientist, whom he called a martyr, would make him a model for Iranian youth and only strengthen the nation’s resolve to forge ahead with his work.

Though he did not specify how, General Hatami said the country would take to heart the commands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, to punish the perpetrators and commanders behind the killing. Tehran is assembling an elite group to capture and prosecute the perpetrators, Iran’s judiciary chief, Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, said on Monday. Members include the attorney general and select members of the armed forces and intelligence services.

A protest in Tehran on Saturday against Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times

“Once again, the evil hands of global arrogance and the Zionist mercenaries were stained with the blood of an Iranian son,” the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said on Saturday, echoing phrases that Iranian officials often use in reference to Israel. He added that the country would respond “in due course.”

After that threat, Israel on Saturday put its embassies around the world on high alert, Israeli N12 News reported. The country’s Foreign Ministry said it would not comment on embassy security matters.

The calls for retribution heightened concerns that the situation could escalate. Over the weekend, Germany urged all sides to refrain from retaliatory actions in the last weeks of the Trump administration to preserve hopes for renewed negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program once Joseph R. Biden Jr. assumes the presidency.

Under the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers — a signature foreign policy milestone of the Obama administration — Tehran accepted strict restraints on its ability to produce as much nuclear fuel as it wanted. President Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and reimposed stringent sanctions on Iran.

Mr. Biden is expected to try to restore the accord, perhaps adding limits on Iran’s production and export of sophisticated weapons, but the killing threatens to complicate that effort. Iran’s reaction over the next few weeks is likely to determine whether it will succeed, analysts say.

Judge: Trump administration must take new DACA applications

NEW YORK (AP) — The Trump administration must accept new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects some young immigrants from deportation, a federal judge ruled Friday, in vacating a memo from the acting Homeland Security secretary that had suspended it.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said the government had to post a public notice within three days — including on its website and the websites of all other relevant government agencies — that new DACA applications were being accepted.

The ruling follows one from November where Garaufis said Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf was unlawfully in his position.

On Friday, the judge said that invalidated the memo Wolf had issued in July suspending DACA for new applications and reducing how long renewals were valid from two years down to one year.

Wolf had issued his memo after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in June that President Donald Trump failed to follow rule-making procedures when he tried to end the program.

Garaufis also ordered the government to put together a status report on the DACA program by Jan. 4.

An email seeking comment was sent to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Every time the outgoing administration tried to use young immigrants as political scapegoats, they defiled the values of our nation. The court’s order makes clear that fairness, inclusion, and compassion matter,” said New York state Attorney General Letitia James, who led a number of state attorneys general in one of the lawsuits against the administration.

DACA, which was started in 2012 during the Obama administration, allows certain young immigrants who were brought to the country as children to legally work and shields them from deportation. Those who are approved for it must first go through background checks and regularly renew.

The Trump administration had announced the end of the program in 2017, leading to the legal challenges that wound up in front of the Supreme Court.

In making its ruling, the Supreme Court upheld DACA, saying that the particular way the administration had gone about shutting it down was improper, but that the president did have the authority to do so.

“Dreamers have fought so hard for justice. For the second time, a court has ordered the administration to resume processing DACA applications. It’s time to do the right thing,” Jennifer Molina, a spokesperson for President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, said Friday. “On day one, President-elect Biden will ensure Dreamers and their families have the opportunity to live their lives free of fear and continue to contribute to our country.”

About 650,000 people are currently enrolled in the program.

Hungarian lawmaker resigns after caught fleeing a ‘sex party’ by climbing down a drainpipe

(CNN) — A senior member of the European Parliament from Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party has resigned after he admitted to breaching Belgium’s coronavirus lockdown to attend a private gathering described by national media as a “sex party.”

József Szàjer said in a statement that he was “present” at the “private party,” where police found about 20 people, including diplomats.

According to Sarah Durant, the spokeswoman for the Brussels’ public prosecutor’s office, police were called to an apartment above a bar in the historic city center at 9:30 p.m. last Friday after neighbors “complained of nighttime noise and potential violations of measures linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Officers found about 20 people at the apartment, two of whom, aged 43 and 33, claimed diplomatic immunity, Durrant said.

“The outbreak is so bad in Belgium, some Covid-positive health workers are being asked to keep working ”

During police checks, “a passer-by reported to police that he had seen a man flee down the drainpipe,” Durrant explained.

“The man’s hands were bloody. It is possible that he may have been injured while fleeing. Narcotics were found in his backpack. The man was unable to produce any identity documents. He was escorted to his place of residence, where he identified himself on the basis of a diplomatic passport as S.J. (1961).”

The prosecutor’s office said the 59-year-old Hungarian MEP was being investigated over possession of narcotics. “The procedure is ongoing. Criminal proceedings could only be brought after the waiver of the diplomatic or parliamentary immunity of the above-mentioned persons by the competent authorities.”

Szàjer has denied taking drugs, and said he “deeply” regretted breaking Covid-19 restrictions. “I offered the police to make an instant test, but they did not do it. According to the police they found an ecstasy pill, but it was not mine, I have no knowledge who and how it (was) placed,” he said.

The gathering, a few meters (yards) from the Brussels Central Police station, broke Belgium’s lockdown restrictions, which include an evening curfew and a cap on indoor gatherings to four people.

Official reports were drawn up for those who broke Covid-19 measures. The standard fine for breaking coronavirus restrictions is 250 euros (about $300).

“Hungary bans people from legally changing gender”

“I deeply regret for violating the COVID restrictions, it was irresponsible on my part. I am ready to stand for the fine that occurs,” said Szàjer.

The politician apologized to his family, colleagues and voters and asked them “to evaluate my misstep on the background of thirty years of devotion and hard work.”

“The misstep is strictly personal,” he added. “I am the only one who owes responsibility for it. I ask everyone not to extend it to my homeland, or to my political community.”

Szájer is a founding member of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, led by nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and also one of the co-authors of the country’s controversial constitution in 2010 that defined marriage as being solely between a man and a woman.

Recently, Fidesz has expressed anti-gay views and has voiced strong opposition to worldwide rights for women, girls and LGBTQ people.

Szájer was the head of the Fidesz delegation in the European Parliament and a sat on the Parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

Director Spike Lee changes direction with musical about Viagra

FILE PHOTO: Director Spike Lee, wearing a coat with the number 24 in memory of NBA player Kobe Bryant, poses on the red carpet during the Oscars arrivals at the 92nd Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake

by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Director Spike Lee, best known for making movies about the experience of being Black in America, is switching course with a musical – on the subject of Viagra.

Lee will direct the as-yet-untitled film from a screenplay he has co-written about the discovery and launch of the erectile dysfunction drug. It is based on a 2018 article in Esquire magazine called “All Rise,” producers said on Tuesday.

Original songs and music will be written by the duo behind the 2008 Tony-award winning rock musical “Passing Strange,” about a Black artist’s journey of self discovery.

The 63-year-old Brooklyn native said in a statement that he had grown up hating musicals despite the efforts of his mother. “Finally Going Into My 4th Decade As A Filmmaker I Will Be Directing A DANCIN’, ALL SINGIN’ MUSICAL,” he added.

Lee also directed a movie musical in 1988 called “School Daze.”

Pfizer Inc’s Viagra, first marketed in 1998, was originally developed as a potential treatment for heart-related chest pain.

Lee won his first Oscar in 2019 for the screenplay of Ku Klux Klan satire “BlacKkKlansman.” His more than 50 movies and documentaries include classics such as “Do the Right Thing,” “Malcolm X” and this year’s Vietnam War survivor drama “Da 5 Bloods.”