US appeals court lets Texas resume ban on most abortions

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal appeals court Friday night quickly allowed Texas to resume banning most abortions, just one day after clinics across the state began rushing to serve patients again for the first time since early September.

Abortion providers in Texas had been bracing for the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals to act fast, even as they booked new appointments and reopened their doors during a brief reprieve from the law known as Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, an appointee of President Barack Obama, suspended the Texas law that he called an “offensive deprivation” of the constitutional right to an abortion. But in a one-page order, the New Orleans-based appeals court temporarily set aside Pitman's ruling for now while it considers the state's appeal.

The court gave the Biden administration, which had brought the lawsuit, until Tuesday to respond.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents several Texas abortion clinics, urged the U.S. Supreme Court to “step in and stop this madness.'"


Boosters, employer mandates drive increase in US vaccines

The number of Americans getting COVID-19 vaccines has steadily increased to a three-month high as seniors and people with medical conditions seek boosters, and government and employer mandates push more workers to take their first doses.

Demand is expected to spike in a few weeks if regulators authorize the Pfizer vaccine for elementary school children, and some states are reopening mass vaccination clinics in anticipation.

In Missouri, a mass vaccination site at a former Toys R Us store is set to open Monday. Virginia plans to roll out nine large vaccination centers over the next few weeks, including one at the Richmond International Raceway.

Colorado opened four mass vaccination sites in mid-September, largely to deal with employer mandates, and officials saw a 38% increase in vaccinations statewide during the first week.

The total number of doses being administered in the U.S. is climbing toward an average of 1 million per day, almost double the level from mid-July — but still far below last spring. The increase is mainly due to boosters, with nearly 10% of the nation’s over-65 population already getting third shots, but there are signs of increased demand from other groups as well.


US official: American, Taliban officials to talk on evacuees

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials will meet with senior Taliban officials on Saturday and Sunday for talks aimed at easing the evacuations of foreign citizens and at-risk Afghans from Afghanistan, a U.S. official said Friday.

The focus of talks in Doha, Qatar, would be holding Afghanistan's Taliban leaders to commitments that they would allow Americans and other foreign nationals to leave Afghanistan, along with Afghans who once worked for the U.S. military or government and other Afghan allies, the official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak by name about the meetings.

The Biden administration has fielded questions and complaints about the slow pace of U.S.-facilitated evacuations from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan since the last U.S. forces and diplomats left there at the end of August.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday that 105 U.S. citizens and 95 green-card holders had left since then on flights facilitated by the U.S. That number had not changed for more than a week.


What Peace Prize says about freedom in Russia, Philippines

MOSCOW (AP) — The Nobel Peace Prize sometimes recognizes groundbreaking efforts to resolve seemingly intractable conflicts, such as once-sworn enemies who sat down and brokered an end to war. In other years, the recipient is someone who promoted human rights at great personal cost.

The prestigious award also can serve as a not-so-subtle message to authoritarian governments and leaders that the world is watching.

What does the selection of two journalists, Maria Ressa, 58, of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov, 59, of Russia, say about freedom of expression and the history of dissent in the countries of the 2021 peace prize winners?

“It is a battle for facts. When you’re in a battle for facts, journalism is activism," Ressa said Friday.

RUSSIA


McConnell says he won't help Dems raise debt limit again

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday he would not again help Democrats extend the government's borrowing authority, raising fresh doubts about how Congress will avert a federal default when a temporary patch expires in December.

McConnell issued his warning in a letter to President Joe Biden a day after the Senate approved a $480 billion boost in the federal debt limit, enough to last about two months. In an eleventh-hour turnabout, the Kentucky Republican was among 11 GOP senators who provided decisive support Thursday for a procedural move that opened the door for subsequent Senate passage of that measure with only Democratic support.

Some GOP senators openly criticized their leaders not holding out longer against Democrats' efforts to extend the debt limit, which they said would have sharpened their message that a still-developing multibillion-dollar package of Biden's top domestic priorities is wasteful and damaging to the economy.

McConnell said Friday that he made his decision to refuse future help because of his opposition to the huge domestic bill and because of a “bizarre spectacle" on the Senate floor by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. After the bill passed, Schumer criticized Republicans for trying to push the country over “the cliff's edge" by opposing the debt limit extension.

“In light of Senator Schumer’s hysterics and my grave concerns about the ways that another vast, reckless, partisan spending bill would hurt Americans and help China, I will not be a party to any future effort to mitigate the consequences of Democratic mismanagement," McConnell wrote.


Biden won't invoke executive privilege on Trump Jan. 6 docs

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House said Friday that President Joe Biden will not block the handover of documents sought by a House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, setting up a showdown with former President Donald Trump, who wants to shield those White House records from investigators.

The letter from White House counsel Dana Remus to the Archivist of the United States comes at the start of a potentially lengthy legal battle over the investigation. Trump, who told his supporters to “fight like hell” the morning of the insurrection and has defended the rioters who beat police and broke into the Capitol, is trying to block Congress from learning more. Biden has so far sided with House Democrats, who have asked for thousands of pages of documents and subpoenaed witnesses connected to Trump.

The House committee investigating the insurrection, which formed over the summer, now has the momentous task of sorting through the details and obtaining documents and testimony from witnesses who may or may not be cooperative. And the jockeying between the two administrations, Congress and the witnesses is certain to delay the investigation and set the stage for messy litigation that could stretch well into 2022.

In a separate development, a lawyer for Steve Bannon said the former White House aide won’t comply with the House committee’s investigation because Trump is asserting executive privilege. Bannon is the only one of the top Trump aides subpoenaed on Sept. 23 who was not working for the Trump administration on Jan. 6.

Two other aides, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former Pentagon aide Kash Patel, are “engaging” with the committee, lawmakers said in a statement.


IS bomber kills 46 inside Afghan mosque, challenges Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Islamic State suicide bomber struck at a mosque packed with Shiite Muslim worshippers in northern Afghanistan on Friday, killing at least 46 people and wounding dozens in the latest security challenge to the Taliban as they transition from insurgency to governance.

In its claim of responsibility, the region's IS affiliate identified the bomber as a Uygher Muslim, saying the attack targeted both Shiites and the Taliban for their purported willingness to expel Uyghers to meet demands from China. The statement was carried by the IS-linked Aamaq news agency.

The blast tore through a crowded mosque in the city of Kunduz during Friday noon prayers, the highlight of the Muslim religious week. It was the latest in a series of IS bombings and shootings that have targeted Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, as well as religious institutions and minority Shiites since U.S. and NATO troops left in August.

The blast blew out windows, charred the ceiling and scattered debris and twisted metal across the floor. Rescuers carried one body out on a stretcher and another in a blanket. Blood stains covered the front steps.

A resident of the area, Hussaindad Rezayee, said he rushed to the mosque when he heard the explosion, just as prayers started. “I came to look for my relatives, the mosque was full," he said.


Reported racist comment from Jon Gruden draws NFL rebuke

A report that Jon Gruden used a racist comment about NFL Players Association leader DeMaurice Smith in an email 10 years ago drew a strong and quick rebuke Friday from the NFL.

A Wall Street Journal story noted that Gruden, then working for ESPN and now coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, referred in a racist way to Smith's facial features.

“The email from Jon Gruden denigrating DeMaurice Smith is appalling, abhorrent and wholly contrary to the NFL’s values,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “We condemn the statement and regret any harm that its publication may inflict on Mr. Smith or anyone else.”

The league is looking into the matter and a person familiar with that probe told The Associated Press that disciplinary action is possible for Gruden. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of any league probe are not made public.

Gruden's comment in an email to then-Washington Football Team President Bruce Allen came during the 2011 lockout of the players by the NFL. Gruden told the newspaper he was angry about the lockout during labor negotiations and he didn't trust the direction the union was taking. He also apologized for the remark, the Journal reported.


Feds won't seek charges against cop in Jacob Blake shooting

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Federal prosecutors announced Friday that they won’t file charges against a white police officer who shot Jacob Blake in Wisconsin last year — a shooting that sparked protests that led to the deaths of two men.

Officer Rusten Sheskey shot Blake, who is Black, during a domestic disturbance in Kenosha in August 2020. The shooting left Blake paralyzed from the waist down and sparked several nights of protests, some of which turned violent. An Illinois man shot three people, killing two of them, during one of the demonstrations.

State prosecutors decided not to file charges against Sheskey earlier this year after video showed that Blake, who was wanted on a felony warrant, was armed with a knife.

The U.S. Department of Justice launched its own investigation days after the shooting. The agency announced Friday that a team of prosecutors from its Civil Rights Division and the U.S. attorney’s office in Milwaukee reviewed police reports, witness statements, dispatch logs and videos of the incident, and determined there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Sheskey used excessive force or violated Blake’s federal rights.

“Accordingly, the review of this incident has been closed without a federal prosecution,” the Justice Department said in a news release.


Lashana Lynch on making history as 007 in 'No Time to Die'

NEW YORK (AP) — Lashana Lynch was in stunt training when she found out she was going to play a 00 agent in the James Bond film “No Time to Die.”

Lynch had already been cast by director Cary Joji Fukunaga and the producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson. But who she was to play had remained a mystery to her. She was doing her best to prep for an undetermined but apparently butt-kicking role.

“Nothing made sense. I’m plunged into stunts and they’re teaching me everything under the sun,” Lynch said in an interview. “And I’m like: Why are you teaching me this? What does it mean?”

Instead, Lynch just heard bits and pieces as she went. It felt, she says, like a TV series that carefully reveals a little each episode. Only when she was in the midst of summersaulting and firing fake guns did the full reveal come. Lynch would be the first Black woman to play a 00 agent in the six decades of James Bond movies.

Not only that, Lynch’s character, Nomi, takes the codename 007, with Daniel Craig’s James Bond AWOL and out of the British Secret Service.

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