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Queen Elizabeth II officially strips Prince Andrew of military affiliations, royal patronages amid sexual assault lawsuit

Britain’s Prince Andrew has had his military affiliations and remaining royal patronages stripped away by his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.  Per BBC, Buckingham Palace said in a statement on Jan. 13:  “With the Queen’s approval and agreement, the Duke of York’s military affiliations and Royal patronages have been returned to the Queen. The Duke of York will continue not to undertake any public duties and is defending this case as a private citizen.”  A royal source added that Prince Andrew “will no longer use ‘His Royal Highness’ in any official capacity.”   Andrew is the second son of Queen Elizabeth II, making him ninth in line to the throne. He shares daughters Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie with his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson.

The announcement comes less than 24 hours after a judge denied the Duke of York’s motion to have a lawsuit brought against him by Virginia Giuffre dismissed.  In August 2021, Giuffre filed a lawsuit against the Duke of York at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, accusing Prince Andrew of sexually abusing her on three separate occasions, claiming he knew that she was being trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein and his associate, Ghislaine Maxwell, while she was under the age of 18.

In December 2021, a jury found Maxwell guilty of five of six counts of federal sex trafficking charges. She faces a sentence of up to 65 years in person. Maxwell’s lawyers argued that it was “Epstein who pulled the strings” and became the focus of federal prosecutors after Epstein was found dead in his jail cell in August 2019. In the complaint Giuffre filed against Prince Andrew, it stated that the alleged sexual and physical abuse of Giuffre caused “significant emotional and psychological distress and harm.” Giuffre is seeking damages for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In a 2019 BBC interview, Prince Andrew denied Giuffre’s sexual assault allegations, saying that he “doesn’t remember meeting” her. Following backlash over the interview, the Duke of York announced he would step back from his public royal duties.

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Supreme Court blocks nationwide vaccine and testing mandate for large businesses

The Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden’s vaccine and testing requirement aimed at large businesses on Thursday, but it allowed a vaccine mandate for certain health care workers to go into effect nationwide.  The President has emphasized the necessity of getting vaccinated against the virus for months and decided to use the mandate on large employers in order to convince Americans to get their shots.

Biden issued a statement praising the ruling on health care workers but criticized the ruling on businesses that will have the much wider effect. “I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law,” Biden said.  Moving forward, Biden said “it is now up to States and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees, and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated.”

Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan issued a dissent: “When we are wise, we know not to displace the judgments of experts, acting within the sphere Congress marked out and under Presidential control, to deal with emergency conditions. Today, we are not wise. In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this Court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed. As disease and death continue to mount, this Court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible.”  The rule would impact some 80 million individuals and requires employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that their employees are fully vaccinated or undergo regular testing and wear a face covering at work. There are exceptions for those with religious objections. During oral arguments, the Biden administration asked if the court says employers can’t require the employees to get the vaccine, it should leave in place an alternate requirement for masking and frequent testing. The majority rejected that request Thursday.

The court allowed to take effect the vaccine policy rolled out in November by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which sought to require the Covid-19 vaccine for certain health care workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs.

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U.S. judge rejects motion to dismiss sex abuse lawsuit against Britain’s Prince Andrew

A U.S. district judge rejected a motion by Britain’s Prince Andrew on Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Virginia Giuffre that alleges he sexually abused her when she was 17.  U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said the 2009 deal “cannot be seen” to benefit Andrew, adding, “Independent of whether the release language applies to Prince Andrew, the agreement, at a minimum, is ‘reasonably susceptible to more than one interpretation’ on the equally important question of whether this defendant may invoke it.”

Prince Andrew’s lawyers argued that the suit should be thrown out because of a 2009 deal that Guiffre signed with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. In 2009, Giuffre accepted $500,000 from Jeffrey Epstein to settle a lawsuit she had filed against him in Florida. Part of that agreement extends protection to “any other person or entity who could have been included as a potential defendant (‘Other Potential Defendants’) from all, and all manner of [claims] that said First Parties ever had… or may have, against Jeffrey Epstein, or Other Potential Defendants.”  Andrew’s lawyers argued that he was among the “Other Potential Defendants” protected under that 2009 deal, and that he should therefore be released from any claims Giuffre might make against him.

Giuffre’s lawyers argued that Andrew was not among the “Other Potential Defendants” that the deal referred to, and was not named in the Florida lawsuit. Giuffre did allege in that suit that she was flown around the world by Epstein to have sexual encounters with men, “including royalty, politicians, academicians, businessmen and/or professional and personal acquaintances.” Giuffre filed the civil suit against Andrew in New York in August, saying she was coerced into sexual encounters with him 2001 by Epstein.  Epstein committed suicide in a Manhattan jail in 2019; his companion Ghislaine Maxwell, was recently convicted of sex trafficking.

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West Virginia Governor Jim Justice says he is “extremely unwell” after testing positive for COVID-19

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has tested positive for COVID-19. Justice, who is vaccinated and boosted, said he sought out tests Tuesday following a “sudden onset of symptoms.”

The governor’s office described his symptoms as “moderate.” However, Justice wrote that he feels “extremely unwell.”  He said in a statement: “I feel extremely unwell at this point, and I have no choice but to postpone my State of the State address to the Legislature. I woke up this morning with congestion and a cough. A little while later, I developed a headache and fever, so I decided to get tested right away. The rapid test that I took came back negative, but by the late afternoon, my symptoms were still getting much worse. My blood pressure and heart rate were extremely elevated, and I had a high fever. Finally, my PCR test results this evening confirmed I was positive.”

Justice has long pushed for vaccines and boosters, but is against mask mandates.  As COVID-19 cases in West Virginia skyrocketed recently, Justice said, “I absolutely do not think it’s time to put in a mask mandate.”   However, Justice continued his endorsement of vaccines, telling reporters he sent a letter to President Joe Biden requesting that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allow West Virginia to immediately start offering fourth doses to some at-risk residents.

Justice is now isolating at home and receiving a monoclonal antibody treatment per his doctors’ recommendation, his office said. Those individuals who came in close contact with the governor is being notified; West Virginia First Lady Cathy Justice tested negative for the virus.

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President Biden calls for change to filibuster in order to pass voting rights legislation during Atlanta trip

During a visit on Tuesday to Atlanta, Presiden Biden called for a change in Senate rules on the filibuster to allow Democrats to pass a voting rights bill. The President and Vice President Harris traveled to Georgia for a series of events to promote legislation designed to safeguard voting rights in an era when some states are taking action to make it tougher to cast a ballot.

During remarks at Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, Biden marked the recent one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. During the riots, supporters of former President Donald Trump attempted to prevent Congress from certifying the election in Biden’s favor.  Said Biden: “Today, we come to Atlanta, the cradle of civil rights, to make clear what must come after that dreadful day, when a dagger was literally held at the throat of American democracy. They want chaos to reign, we want the people to rule. Hear me plainly — the battle for the soul of America is not over.”

Georgia was one of the first states to pass stricter laws on voting after the 2020 presidential election, in which Biden carried the state. Critics have denounced the state for pandering to false claims of election fraud by former President Donald Trump.

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Medicare proposes restricting coverage of Alzheimer’s drug to clinical trials

Medicare officials announced that a new Alzheimer’s drug will be covered only for patients participating in approved clinical trials. In a preliminary decision, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) said on Tuesday that the federal health insurance program should cover the Alzheimer’s drug ‘Aduhelm’ only for use in “CMS-approved randomized controlled trials” and trials supported by the National Institutes of Health.  According to the CMS, “All trials must be conducted in a hospital-based outpatient setting.”  Aduhelm is currently the only Food and Drug Administration-approved monoclonal antibody directed against amyloid beta for the treatment of Alzheimer’s but the CMS said similar drugs provided outside of approved trials are also “nationally non-covered.”

CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement: “CMS has proposed an evidence-based coverage policy after experts reviewed all relevant publicly available evidence and feedback received from stakeholders.” Dr. Lee Fleisher, CMS chief medical officer and director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, said that the decision was also made due to the presence of “potential for harm to patients” who use the drug, adding that “this harm may range from headaches, dizziness and falls, to other potentially serious complications such as brain bleeds. We believe that any appropriate assessment of patient health outcomes must weigh both harm and benefit before arriving at a final decision.”

The CMS will hold a public comment period for the next 30 days and is expected to announce a final decision on whether to cover the drug by mid-April.

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IRS says processing backlogs will likely delay refunds due to staffing shortages

The Internal Revenue Service said on Monday that acute staffing shortages will likely delay tax refunds and other services this year as the agency prepares for the 2022 tax filing season, which will begin on January 24. IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig told reporters that this year’s window for filing tax returns for the year 2021 will run between Jan. 24 though April 18.  Rettig also said that “enormous challenges” faced by the IRS due to severe levels of understaffing will cause delays in many aspects of IRS operations, including sending out refund checks.

Agency officials said they are entering the new filing season with a backlog “several times” the typical level of 1 million unprocessed returns. Staffing issues caused by the pandemic have come in addition to a decade of significant budget cuts to the agency. From 2010 through 2018, IRS funding was cut by 20% in inflation-adjusted dollars, resulting in the elimination of 22% of its staff.

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Real estate heir and convicted murderer Robert Durst dies at 78

California state prison officials announced Monday that real estate heir and convicted murderer Robert Durst has died at age 78 while serving a life sentence.  According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Durst died of natural causes early Monday while being treated at an outside hospital.

Durst was sentenced in Los Angeles County last year for first-degree murder in the 2000 death of Susan Berman. He had been housed at the California Health Care Facility, a state prison for ailing inmates in Stockton, Calif.  Durst died at San Joaquin, Calif., General Hospital; he had been put on a ventilator in October after contracting COVID-19.

Durst was sentenced to life imprisonment for the slaying of Berman, his best friend. Prosecutors accused him of killing Berman to stop her from talking about aiding him in the death of his first wife, Kathleen Durst, who disappeared in 1982 at the age of 29. Kathleen Durst’s body has never been found, but in November authorities in Westchester County, N.Y., charged Durst with second-degree murder in connection with her disappearance. Kathleen Durst’s murder case remained unsolved for decades, and made Durst the subject of a Hollywood film and an HBO documentary.  In 2015, he participated and handed over personal recordings for the HBO documentary The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. The tapes were played in California court during his trial for Berman’s death.

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Five-alarm fire in Bronx, NYC kills at least 19, including nine children

A devastating five-alarm fire broke out in an apartment building in the Fordham Heights neighborhood of the Bronx in New York City on Sunday, killing at least 19 people, including nine children.  More than 200 firefighters with the Fire Department of New York battled the blaze, which was first reported around 11 a.m. in the 19-floor building.

Officials described as one of the worst fires in decades.  NYC Mayor Eric Adams said during a press conference: “This is a horrific, horrific, painful moment for the city of New York and the impact of this fire is going to really bring a level of just pain and despair in our city. This is going to be one of the worst fires we have witnessed during modern times in the city of New York.”  According to data by the National Fire Protection Association, the 19 deaths makes the blaze the third deadliest apartment fire in the United States.

NYC Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro confirmed that the fire may have been sparked by a faulty electric space heater, stating the blaze began in an apartment spanning the building’s second and third floors.  Said Nigro: “The fire consumed that apartment that is on two floors and part of the hallway. The door to that apartment, unfortunately, when the residents left was left open it did not close by itself. The smoke spread throughout the building, thus the tremendous loss of life and other people fighting for their lives at hospitals throughout the Bronx.”

Fire officials said 63 people were deemed to have suffered injuries so far, with at least 32 of them taken to area hospitals. Officials have not released the names of any of the victims. In a press conference Sunday evening, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state would establish a victim’s compensation fund for those impacted by the fire.  Said Hochul: “We are indeed a city in shock. It’s impossible to go into that room, where scores of families, who are in such grief, who are in pain, to see in a mother’s eyes as I held her, who lost her entire family … it’s hard to fathom what they are going through.”

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27 people rescued from floating ice chunk in Green Bay, Wisconsin

Authorities confirmed that least 27 people were rescued from a large chunk of floating ice in Green Bay, Wisc.  The Brown County Sheriff’s Office said in a post on Facebook that deputies worked with firefighters, Department of Natural Resources officials and the Coast Guard to safely remove the people from the ice off the shore of Point Comfort in Green Bay on Saturday.  Luckily, no one was injured in the incident.

In a statement, the Sheriff’s office said: “The Brown County Sheriff’s Office airboat and the U.S. Coast Guard’s airboat out of Sturgeon Bay were great assets during this rescue. Their ability to carry up to eight additional passengers aside from rescue personnel and ability to traverse ice and water terrain greatly cut down on the amount of time and risk this rescue took.”

The sheriff’s office received reports of broken ice around 10:17 a.m. as the ice floated about three-quarters of a mile during the rescue, settling about a mile away from the shoreline once the operation was completed. While the ice remained in “fairly stable condition”, it was “deteriorating rapidly” and cracking as water crashed against the edges.  According to authorities: “Barge traffic yesterday appears to have weakened the ice along the east shore of the Bay, therefore, the ice should be avoided for all recreational use.”  

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