Reopening set for I-40 bridge connecting Arkansas, Memphis
The Interstate 40 bridge connecting Arkansas and Memphis is set to reopen next week, the Arkansas Department of Transportation announced Wednesday.
All eastbound lanes of the bridge over the Mississippi River are scheduled to open by 6 a.m. Monday. Westbound lanes are set to open Aug. 6 at a time to be announced later.
The bridge was closed in May after a crack was found on a steel beam during a routine inspection. The closure was estimated to cost the trucking industry $2.4 million per day. All interstate traffic was diverted to the Interstate 55 bridge over the river, known as the "old bridge."
An Arkansas bridge inspector was fired for missing the crack in the bridge’s 2019 and 2020 inspections.
Biden orders tough new vaccination rules for federal workers
President Joe Biden on Thursday announced sweeping new pandemic requirements aimed at boosting vaccination rates for millions of federal workers and contractors as he lamented the “American tragedy” of rising-yet-preventable deaths among the unvaccinated.
Federal workers will be required to sign forms attesting they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else comply with new rules on mandatory masking, weekly testing, distancing and more. The strict new guidelines are aimed at increasing sluggish vaccination rates among the huge number of Americans who draw federal paychecks — and to set an example for private employers around the country.
“Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love die and say, ‘If I’d just got the vaccine,’” Biden said in a somber address from the East Room of the White House. “This is an American tragedy. People are dying who don’t have to die.”
Ex-Cardinal McCarrick charged with sexually assaulting teen
Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was defrocked after a Vatican investigation confirmed he had sexually molested adults as well as children, has been charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy during a wedding reception in Massachusetts in 1974, court records show.
McCarrick is the first cardinal in the U.S. to ever be criminally charged with a sexual crime against a minor, according to Mitchell Garabedian, a well-known lawyer for church sexual abuse victims who is representing the man alleging the abuse by McCarrick.
“It takes an enormous amount of courage for a sexual abuse victim to report having been sexually abused to investigators and proceed through the criminal process,” Garabedian said in an email. “Let the facts be presented, the law applied, and a fair verdict rendered.”
Group: Jailed Belarus journalist needs urgent hospital care
The Belarusian Association of Journalists on Thursday called on authorities in Belarus to transfer a jailed journalist to a civilian hospital so he could get treatment for a coronavirus-induced pneumonia he has reportedly developed in detention.
The association said it filed a request with the Interior Ministry’s penitentiary department and the Health Ministry to urgently hospitalize Andrei Skurko, head of the advertising and marketing department of the prominent Nasha Niva newspaper. Skurko, who used to be the paper’s chief editor from 2006 to 2017, was arrested three weeks ago and is in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk, the capital.
Nasha Niva reported this week that Skurko has been transferred to the facility’s medical ward with “structural changes in his lungs,” and his cellmates were placed in quarantine because Skurko was suspected to have been infected with COVID-19.
New Russian lab briefly knocks space station out of position
A newly arrived Russian science lab briefly knocked the International Space Station out of position Thursday when it accidentally fired its thrusters.
For 47 minutes, the space station lost control of its orientation when the firing occurred a few hours after docking, pushing the orbiting complex from its normal configuration. The station’s position is key for getting power from solar panels and or communications. Communications with ground controllers also blipped out twice for a few minutes.
Flight controllers regained control using thrusters on other Russian components at the station to right the ship, and it is now stable and safe, NASA said.
“We haven’t noticed any damage,” space station program manager Joel Montalbano said in a late afternoon press conference. “There was no immediate danger at anytime to the crew.”
Congress passes bill to fund Capitol security, Afghan visas
Congress overwhelmingly passed emergency legislation Thursday that would bolster security at the Capitol, repay outstanding debts from the violent Jan. 6 insurrection and increase the number of visas for allies who worked alongside Americans in the Afghanistan war.
The $2.1 billion bill now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature. The Senate approved the legislation early Thursday afternoon, 98-0, and the House passed it immediately afterward, 416-11.
Senators struck a bipartisan agreement on the legislation this week, two months after the House had passed a bill that would have provided around twice as much for Capitol security. But House leaders said they would back the Senate version anyway, arguing the money is urgently needed for the Capitol Police and for the translators and others who worked closely with U.S. government troops and civilians in Afghanistan.
The bill loosens some requirements for the visas, which lawmakers say are especially pressing as the U.S. military withdrawal enters its final weeks and Afghan allies face possible retaliation from the Taliban.
FDA allows automatic ‘generic’ swap for brand-name insulin
U.S. regulators took action Wednesday that will make it easier to get a cheaper, near-copy of a brand-name insulin at the drugstore.
Doctors now have to specifically prescribe what’s called a biosimilar or OK substituting it for a more expensive brand-name insulin.
Wednesday’s move by the Food and Drug Administration will allow pharmacists to automatically substitute the cheaper version, just as they do with generic pills for other kinds of drugs.
It’s the FDA’s first approval of an “interchangeable” biosimilar, a near-copy of an injected biologic medicine that’s manufactured inside living cells. It could save diabetics and health plans millions of dollars annually and encourage other drugmakers to create more biosimilar medicines. Health data firm IQVIA projects U.S. savings from increasing use of biosimilars from 2020 through 2024 will top $100 billion.
US economy surpasses pre-pandemic size with 6.5% Q2 growth
Fueled by vaccinations and government aid, the U.S. economy grew at a solid 6.5% annual rate last quarter in another sign that the nation has achieved a sustained recovery from the pandemic recession. The total size of the economy has now surpassed its pre-pandemic level.
Thursday’s report from the Commerce Department estimated that the nation’s gross domestic product — its total output of goods and services — accelerated in the April-June quarter from an already robust 6.3% annual growth rate in the first quarter of the year.
The latest figure fell well below the 8%-plus annual growth rate that many economists had predicted for the second quarter. But the miss was due mainly to clogged supply chains related to the rapid reopening of the economy. Those bottlenecks exerted a larger-than-expected drag on companies’ efforts to restock their shelves. The resulting slowdown in inventory rebuilding, in fact, subtracted 1.1 percentage points from last quarter’s annual growth.
Al Jazeera News
Qatar’s emir approves electoral law for first legislative vote
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has approved an electoral law for the country’s first legislative polls, due to be held in October, his office said.
The vote will be for 30 members, of the 45-seat Shura Council. The remaining one-third of the council will continue to be appointed by the emir.
Appointed and elected members will have the same rights and duties, including “approving the general policy of the government and budget”, as well as exercising control over the executive authority, according to a statement on Thursday by Qatar’s Government Communication Office (GCO).
Members can also present proposals related to the government’s public matters.
Croatia celebrates joining of controversial Adriatic Sea bridge
A major European Union-funded bridge built by a Chinese company has been connected over the Adriatic Sea, linking two swaths of the Croatian coastline that are divided by a small stretch of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territory.
A midnight opening ceremony featuring folk dancers, singing and a huge fireworks display was held on Wednesday on the Peljesac Bridge after the final segment of its span was installed.
The construction, at a cost of 420 million euros ($500m), is 85 percent financed by the EU and is a rare Chinese project in Europe that went through a regular bidding process.
US attorney general tells Texas to overturn immigration order
US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday warned Texas Governor Greg Abbott to “immediately rescind” a new executive order aimed at curbing the travel into the state of undocumented immigrants who may pose a risk of transmitting COVID-19.
“The order violates federal law in numerous respects, and Texas cannot lawfully enforce the executive order against any federal official or private parties working with the United States,” Garland told Abbott in a letter.
He added that if Texas continues to implement the ground restrictions on migrants, then the Department of Justice will “pursue all appropriate legal remedies”.
‘Thousands of children going hungry’ a year after Beirut blast
Hundreds of thousands of children continue to suffer from hunger in Lebanon after last year’s devastating Beirut Port blast and the ongoing economic crisis in the country, a report said.
Since the August 4 explosion, the result of hundreds of tonnes of poorly stored and highly explosive ammonium nitrate igniting, the gap in finances families need for basic survival has increased for almost all wealth groups, Save the Children found in a new analysis.
The poorest families fell about 5.5 million Lebanese pounds ($3,652) short of the 6.1 million pounds ($4,050) needed monthly to afford basic goods, the report added.
Fresh refugee arrivals in Turkey renew anti-migrant sentiments
When a mayor in Turkey’s northwest this week announced plans to charge “foreigners” 10 times more for water and waste services, his words were applauded by many across the country.
Tanju Ozcan, mayor of Bolu from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), later made clear which foreigners he was referring to – refugees whose presence has made Turkey home to the world’s largest refugee population.
Doubling down on his remarks, Ozcan tweeted footage of his comments under the phrase “This hospitality has gone on too long.” He added that Turkey had “become a dump for migrants”.
The CHP later distanced itself from his remarks and prosecutors launched an investigation.
Ex-Chicago Activist Jedidiah Brown Plans 'Walk Home' From Atlanta
Last month, Jedidiah Brown came out to me regarding his status as an ex-Chicagoan exploring a happier and less-stressful life after freeing himself of the "activist" label that defined him back home.
News of his newfound closeness to his true self — a bisexual man with a Georgia driver's license, no longer laser-focused on fighting for justice and change in his hometown — got the attention of folks in Chicago.
"I got a barrage of calls. I spoke with people from the mayor's office, regular citizens who didn't know I was gone and people who said the void of me being gone was clear," Brown said.
WWII Soldier Identified As Plainfield Man After 77 Years
Plainfield native Arthur W. Countryman, who served as a technical sergeant in the Army during World War II, was identified through DNA June 14 by a Department of Defense agency tasked with identifying military personnel. Plainfield police will help escort his remains from Midway Airport to Plainfield's Overman Jones Funeral Home on Thursday.
The 37-year-old was assigned to Company F within the 4th Infantry Division's 12th Infantry Regiment. In 1944, he was part of the unit that battled German forces in Germany's Hürtgen Forest when he was reported killed in action Nov. 20.
His remains, found by a German woodcutter, weren't discovered until 1947. Countryman was then buried at Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium in 1950. In 2019, his body was disinterred and sent to a lab in Nebraska, where he was identified last month.
1st Afghan interpreters to arrive in US as Blinken fails to reach deal in Kuwait
The first Afghans who worked for the U.S. military and diplomatic missions and are being evacuated will arrive in the U.S. late Thursday night or early Friday morning, according to a source familiar with the plans.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that they would arrive "very, very soon," speaking during a press conference in Kuwait. He confirmed that the U.S. and Kuwait have had diplomatic discussions about hosting another group of Afghans, including during the day's meetings, but he did not announce an agreement to do so.
These arrivals are the first after President Joe Biden's pledged to support Afghan interpreters, guides and other contractors who served alongside U.S. troops and diplomats -- many of whom now face threats from the Taliban as the militant group gains strength amid the U.S. military withdrawal.
Former Virginia policeman charged in Capitol riot to stay in jail after buying guns
A former police officer in Virginia accused of entering the Capitol on Jan. 6 has been ordered to stay in jail after buying nearly three dozen guns online, which a federal judge called "a remarkable shopping spree for high-powered assault weapons."
Thomas Robertson was a Rocky Mount, Virginia, police sergeant on the day of the Capitol riot. He was initially charged with misdemeanor violations amounting to trespass but was later charged with a felony. He was released on bail and ordered not to violate any federal laws. The police department fired him.
Robertson pleaded not guilty, and as a condition of his release he was ordered not to violate federal gun laws. But he was arrested earlier this month after the FBI said agents discovered last month that he ordered 34 firearms online to be shipped to a Roanoke gun dealer.
Arkansas becomes third state where court blocks cuts to unemployment aid
Arkansas is now the third state where a judge ruled that pandemic unemployment benefits must be restarted after they had been halted by the governor. The ruling could impact about 69,000 jobless workers in the state who lost their additional jobless benefits on June 26.
The ruling follows similar decisions in Indiana and Maryland, whose governors had cut the pandemic aid on June 19 and July 4, respectively. Since early May, the governors of 26 states have announced they would leave the pandemic aid programs, which are federally funded through September 4. That's sparked lawsuits in several other states, including Florida, Ohio and Texas.
In Arkansas, Judge Herbert Wright ruled that the unemployment benefits must be restored while a lawsuit winds its way through court, citing the potential harm that could be experienced by workers from the loss of the financial support. Wright wrote that the lawsuit — filed on behalf of five Arkansas workers who have struggled to pay for essentials such as food and rent since the benefits ended — has "a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits."
Good News Network
New Mexico Wilderness Area Grows by 50% After Largest-Ever Land Donation
Sabinoso Wilderness Area in New Mexico, an inaccessible and tiny refuge just five years ago, has grown by almost 10,000 acres, or 50% of its total size, after receiving the largest gift in the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) history.
The Cañon Ciruela property was donated by the Trust for Public Land which works to create public spaces from private donations all over America, and was a follow up from another much smaller donation made in 2017 in an effort to grow Sabinoso out from the confines of private landholdings which surrounded it.
Described as “a series of high, narrow mesas surrounded by cliff-lined canyons,” the BLM, who manages wilderness areas in the U.S, called the property “rugged country primarily [of] piñon pine and juniper woodlands with occasional clusters of ponderosa pine. A perennial warm season grass savanna is found on the mesa tops. Streams periodically flow in the canyon bottoms supporting riparian vegetation including willow and cottonwood.”