News to Know (6/23/2021)

WASHINGTON – The U-S will fall short of President Biden’s goal to have 70-percent of adults vaccinated against COVID-19 by July 4th. The White House downplayed the deadline but noted a pressing need to increase the vaccination rate, especially for people under the age of 30. (Biden outlines vaccine plan, set to miss global-sharing goal)

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Police are looking for video evidence after a shooting that left three people dead and four others injured in Saint Louis. Two victims were found dead outside of a convenience store Monday night. A third person apparently collapsed in a nearby schoolyard. Police describe those three victims as adult men in their thirties. There’s no word yet on the condition of the injured victims. The motive is still unclear. Officers have been canvassing the city’s Ville neighborhood for video evidence of the incident

OKLAHOMA COUNTY, Okla. – An Oklahoma inmate is back in custody after he was accidentally released nearly two months ago from the Oklahoma County Detention Center. Administrators with the detention center were first alerted Friday that 37-year-old Remundo Cuevas was accidentally released. Jail officials say they acted immediately and notified local authorities that have fugitive tax forces. The jail also put out a fugitive warrant for his arrest. Cuevas turned himself in after learning he was being looked for. Jail officials are now looking into what caused this issue.

BRANSON, Mo. – We now know the name of the 11-year-old boy who is in the hospital after being seriously injured on the Branson Coaster. He’s Aalondo Perry from Tennessee. Branson fire officials responded to a call at the Branson Coaster on the 76 Strip. Aalondo was trapped under the coaster. Aalondo’s grandmother,  Shelandra Ford, says Aalondo is blind in his right eye and 15 percent blind in his left. We have no official word on the cause of the accident, but Ford says he thought the ride had ended when it stopped on the tracks he stood up– and the ride started back up knocking him down. (12-year-old boy injured in Branson roller coaster accident)

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Heated debate before US Catholic bishops vote on Communion

In impassioned debate Thursday, U.S. Catholic bishops clashed over how to address concerns about Catholic politicians, including President Joe Biden, who continue to receive Communion despite supporting abortion rights.

Some bishops said a strong rebuke of Biden is needed because of his recent actions protecting and expanding abortion access. Others warned that such action would portray the bishops as a partisan force during a time of bitter political divisions across the country.

The issue is by far the most contentious agenda item at the national meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is being held virtually. It will conclude Friday soon after an announcement of how the bishops cast their secret ballots on the Communion dispute.

If a majority of bishops approve, the USCCB’s doctrine committee will draft a statement on the meaning of Communion in the life of the church that would be submitted for a vote at a future meeting, probably an in-person gathering in November. One section of the document is expected to include a specific admonition to Catholic politicians and other public figures who disobey church teaching on abortion and other core doctrinal issues.

Bishop Donald Hying of Madison, Wisconsin, said he speaks with many people who are confused by a Catholic president who advances “the most radical pro-abortion agenda in history,” and action from the bishops’ conference is needed.

“They’re looking for direction,” Hying said.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego countered that the USCCB would suffer “destructive consequences” from a document targeting Catholic politicians.

“It would be impossible to prevent the weaponization of the Eucharist,” McElroy said. “We will invite all of the political animosities that divide our nation into the heart of the Eucharistic sacrament.”

Biden, who attends Mass regularly, says he personally opposes abortion but doesn’t think he should impose that position on Americans who feel otherwise. He’s taken several executive actions during his presidency that were hailed by abortion-rights advocates.

The chairman of the USCCB doctrine committee, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, said no decisions have been made on the final contents of the proposed document. He said bishops who are not on the committee would have chances to offer input, and the final draft would be subject to amendments before it is put up to a vote.

Rhoades also said the document would not mention Biden or other individuals by name, and would offer guidelines rather than imposing a mandatory national policy.

This would leave decisions about Communion for specific churchgoers up to individual bishops and archbishops. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, has made clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion at churches in the archdiocese.

Gregory was among the dozens of bishops joining in Thursday’s debate, urging colleagues to defeat the measure and allow more time for candid, in-person dialogue before moving ahead.

“The choice before us at this moment is either we pursue a path of strengthening unity among ourselves or settle for creating a document that will not bring unity but may very well further damage it,” Gregory said.

The chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, disagreed that the bishops were being too hasty and said Biden had forced their hand.

“It’s not the bishops who have brought us to this point – it’s some of our public officials,” he said. “This is a Catholic president doing the most aggressive things we’ve ever seen on life at its most innocent.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, one of the most outspoken advocates of a USCCB rebuke to Biden, said the bishops’ credibility is already questioned by many Catholics and would erode further if they did not move forward with the document.

“The eyes of the whole country are on us right now,” he said. “If we do not act courageously in presenting this teaching document clearly and convincingly on this core Catholic value, how can we expect to be taken seriously on any other topic?”


Georgia officials seek to remove 102,000 voters from rolls

ATLANTA – Georgia’s secretary of state is making public a list of nearly 102,000 voters who will be removed from the rolls unless they act to preserve their registration.

Republican Brad Raffensperger announced the list Friday, part of an every-other-year bid to remove voters who may have died or moved away. The state has about 7.8 million voters and his office said the removals include about 67,000 voters who submitted a change of address form to the U.S. Postal Service, and about 34,000 voters who had election mail returned.

Voter purges in Georgia became a hot-button issue during the 2018 governor’s race between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp. Secretary of state before being elected governor, Kemp oversaw aggressive voter purges during his tenure. More than 1.4 million voter registrations were cancelled in Georgia between 2012 and 2018.

In the current purge, election officials said, cancellation notices will be mailed and those who respond within 40 days will have their registration switched back to active. Anyone who is removed could register again.

On a monthly basis, the secretary of state been removing voters who were convicted of felonies or who died.

Raffensperger said more than 18,000 voters were removed last month after Georgia concluded they had died based on information from Georgia’s own death registry or from the Electronic Registration Information Center, a partnership among 30 states and the District of Columbia. Officials said they have no record that any of those 18,000-plus cast ballots in the November 2020 general election or the January runoff.

The removals are much smaller than the more than 300,000 voters that Raffensperger sought to remove from Georgia’s registration lists in 2019. That year, Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group founded by Abrams, sued to stop a portion of the removals.

During the lawsuit, Raffensperger agreed to keep 22,000 voters on the rolls after finding it was moving too soon to cancel their registrations. A federal judge, though ruled against Fair Fight Action’s argument that Georgia should have to keep another 98,000 voters registered.

In 2019, Georgia purged 287,000 voters, while nearly 5,000 either voted or got in touch to keep their registration from being cancelled.

Georgia law says voters should be moved to inactive status if they have no contact with the state for a period of time. The General Assembly voted in 2019 to lengthen the no-contact period to five years. Inactive registrations are later removed if voters miss the next two general elections, giving them a total of nine years.

Only 276 voters will be removed under those “use it or lose it” provisions this year.

“Making sure Georgia’s voter rolls are up to date is key to ensuring the integrity of our elections,” Raffensperger said in a statement Friday. “That is why I fought and beat Stacey Abrams in court in 2019 to remove nearly 300,000 obsolete voter files before the November election, and will do so again this year. Bottom line, there is no legitimate reason to keep ineligible voters on the rolls.”


Lowering lumber prices


Sky high lumber prices caused by the pandemic have had an impact on Joplin’s Create N Sip Studios by making popular do-it-yourself wooden signs unaffordable.

“I would be offering a lot more wood classes. It’s really hard for me to keep up with the inventory on it to be able to offer it as often as I once was. And so it’s now mainly a specialty kind of class and offered to only private parties,” said Create N Sip’s owner, John Coleman.

But this could be a temporary situation for the art studio and others who rely on affordable lumber.

The Wall Street Journal reports that futures for July delivery ended Tuesday at almost $1,010 per thousand board feet, down 41% from the record of a bit over $1,711 which was reached in early May.

And as for the prices that distributors pay from sawmills, Fortune.com says that the cash price of lumber is down 20% from the all-time high set on May 28.

But the operation manager of Pittsburg’s Broadway Lumber warns consumers that won’t translate into an immediate price drop at your local lumber yard.

“The futures are (a prediction of) the future. The current prices will not reflect that immediately, obviously,” said Broadway Lumber Operation Manager Byron Boldrini.

But that doesn’t mean lower store prices won’t eventually come back to customers as the lumber market stabilizes, which is what Boldrini thinks is behind the current price and futures drop.

“It’s a calming down of events that have just skyrocketed over the last several months. Now, people are just becoming more cautious and a lot of large buyers have decided to take it easy and therefore, stabilize the price because the demand has gone down,” said Boldrini.

And if the market stays calm with lumber prices lowering at the lumber yard, wooden sign classes and a whole lot more will come back to Create N Sip.

“Once prices get down, I’ll be able to afford to offer up more of the projects that I used to and even add some of the ones that I thought about adding before this situation happened,” said Coleman.


Southern Baptist board OKs probe into sex abuse controversy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee said Friday it is contracting an outside firm to investigate its actions amid accusations that top denominational leaders mishandled sex abuses cases, despite calls from some critics for a more independent probe.

Ronnie Floyd announced the hiring of international consulting company Guidepost Solutions to review the allegations made by Russell Moore, who resigned last month as president of the denomination’s influential Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

In letters to SBC officials that became public, Moore accused Floyd and Mike Stone, who at the time was chairman of the Executive Committee, of trying to stall efforts to hold churches accountable for their handling of abuse cases and of seeking to intimidate and retaliate against those who advocated on the issue.

Floyd and Stone, who is now a candidate to become president of the SBC, have denied those claims. On Thursday a former assistant to Moore released clandestinely recorded audio clips from meetings with Floyd and Stone to bolster Moore’s allegations.

Guidepost will be tasked with reviewing the allegations and providing training for the committee.

Rachael Denhollander, an attorney and prominent advocate for fellow abuse survivors who has been urging an independent investigation, called Guidepost “a highly qualified firm, well able to do the job.”

But she cautioned that the company must have free rein in its investigation including access to materials that might otherwise be shielded under attorney-client privilege, and she said the full findings must be released publicly.

The announcement comes as more than 16,000 delegates are expected at the SBC’s annual meeting next week in Nashville, the largest gathering of the country’s biggest Protestant denomination in a quarter-century, and amid controversies over sexual abuse, race and the role of women in ministry.

Two pastors have planned to propose at the meeting that the SBC create a task force to pick an independent investigator, an idea that has won prominent endorsements.

One of the proponents, Tennessee pastor Grant Gaines, said Friday that the announcement by Floyd is a step in the right direction but he plans to go forward with the idea. The task force should comprise Southern Baptists and sexual abuse experts to do the hiring and oversight and should be responsible for reporting findings to the denomination and the public, he said.

“At the end of the day, we do not believe the Executive Committee should be trusted to hold themselves accountable,” Gaines said.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Christa Brown, a longtime advocate for fellow survivors of abuse within Southern Baptist churches. She has called for an even more independent commission composed of people not affiliated with the denomination and with a mandate to hear and report on cases of abuse and cover-up.

“So long as (the Executive Committee) controls purse strings, I’d expect problems,” Brown said.


Governor: Texas building new border barrier; no details yet


AUSTIN, Texas – Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has offered no details on his plans to construct new barrier along the border with Mexico while also launching an aggressive campaign to arrest migrants – moves that set up another clash with the Biden administration over immigration.

Abbott did not say how much new barrier Texas would erect, where it would be installed along the state’s 1,200 miles (1,930 kilometers) of border or what it would look like when he made the announcement Thursday in a room full of sheriffs in the border city of Del Rio. He promised more would be revealed next week.

A top official in one of Texas’ largest border counties, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, said Friday that he sees the goal as putting in place new barriers that would give state troopers grounds to arrest migrants who go around or damage it – and then put them in jail for six months.

“I understand why he wants to do it. It’s a tool that gets him to a Class B misdemeanor,” Cortez said. He was skeptical of whether jail would deter migrants who travel hundreds of miles and risk death to get to the U.S.

Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze on Friday did not provide more details about the barrier plan and referred questions about arrests to a letter that Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey sent to other governors Thursday asking them to send their own law enforcement ranks to the border. The letter tells governors their officers would arrive with the “power to arrest migrants who illegally cross the border into our territory.”

Legal experts said the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that the power to enforce immigration law is in the hands of the federal government, including striking down efforts by Arizona Republicans a decade ago.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas declined to comment on the Texas governor’s plans while visiting a city cybersecurity center in Los Angeles shortly after Abbott’s announcement. Biden suspended construction of a border wall upon taking office, and on Friday, his administration announced a plan to divert funding from what was former President Donald Trump’s signature project.

Abbott, who is up for reelection next year and has not ruled out a White House run in 2024, has made immigration a central issue since Biden took office and taken increasing action over what he says is the new administration’s failure to slow the flow of crossings.

“Long term, only Congress and the president can fix our broken border,” Abbott said in Del Rio. “But in the meantime, Texas is going to do everything possible, including beginning to make arrests, to keep our community safe, to keep the cartels and smugglers out, and to keep your community safe.”

While easing since March, large numbers showing up at the border have severely challenged the Biden administration. Vice President Kamala Harris delivered a message to those thinking of making the journey during a visit this week to Guatemala City: “Do not come.”

Abbott earlier this month moved to shutter more than 50 shelters in Texas that house about 4,000 migrant children, arguing that the federal government can’t force the state to keep issuing licenses in response to a federal problem. The Biden administration has threatened to sue unless that order is rescinded.

The Trump administration built more than 450 miles (725 kilometers) of border wall, almost all of it replacing smaller designs or dilapidated sections.

Cortez said he would support Abbott’s help to build more jail capacity but would want the county kept in charge of the extra space. Farther down the border in rural Starr County, Judge Eloy Vera said his 270-bed jail is near capacity but still has room, and said Abbott’s description of the border is not what he sees in his area.

Stephen Yale-Loehr, who teaches immigration law at Cornell Law School, said the federal government likely would challenge whether the state has authority to construct barriers along the border.

“While states can do certain things under state law regarding immigration, erecting barriers along the border or arresting migrants is beyond the pale in my view,” he said.


Former Wisconsin teacher to plead guilty to filming students

MADISON, Wis. – A former Wisconsin high school teacher accused of secretly videotaping undressed students during field trips in Wisconsin and Minnesota has reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

David Kruchten, 38, of Cottage Grove, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of attempting to produce child pornography, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Friday. He would face at least six years in prison if U.S. District Judge James Peterson accepts the deal filed Thursday. A hearing is set for June 21.

Prosectuors allege Kruchten used his position as a business teacher at Madison East High School to file students during field trips using hidden cameras.

According to court documents, he accompanied East High’s DECA business club students on overnight trips to Wisconsin Dells and Lake Geneva as well as Minneapolis in 2019. Students discovered hidden cameras planted in air fresheners in their hotel rooms during the Minneapolis trip. Investigators discovered similar air freshener cans in photos taken by students during the Wisconsin trips.

Kruchten was charged last year with multiple counts of attempting to produce child pornography. He resigned from his teaching job in February 2020.


End of an era: American will drop its in-flight magazine

FORT WORTH, Texas – After more than half a century in airplane seatback pockets, the American Airlines in-flight magazine American Way is going away.

An airline spokeswoman said Friday that American will retire the magazine and its online version at the end of June.

American says it’s the oldest continuously published magazine in the airline industry, dating back to 1966. American Way went from yearly to quarterly and then monthly, filled with stories about the airline, destinations it served, and an assortment of other features. There were also airport terminal maps and other information toward the back. It spawned imitators at many other airlines.

The pandemic hastened the demise of in-flight magazines, as airlines pulled them last year to prevent people from thumbing through pages that had been touched by other passengers. Delta and Southwest dropped theirs, and British Airways stopped stocking paper copies of “High Life” while keeping the online version.

But the days of the in-flight magazine were numbered anyway, as passengers began spending more time browsing other information and entertainment on their phones, tablets and laptops.

American said it will provide other in-flight programming to give customers “more of what they want” while reducing paper waste and unnecessary weight on planes.


McDonald’s latest company to be hit by a data breach

McDonald’s has become the latest company to be hit by a data breach after unauthorized activity on its network exposed the personal data of some customers in South Korea and Taiwan.

McDonald’s Corp. said Friday that it quickly identified and contained the incident and that a thorough investigation was done.

“While we were able to close off access quickly after identification, our investigation has determined that a small number of files were accessed, some of which contained personal data,” the burger chain said.

McDonald’s said its investigation determined that only South Korea and Taiwan had customer personal data accessed, and that they would be taking steps to notify regulators and also the customers who may be impacted. No customer payment information was exposed.

McDonald’s said it will look at the investigation’s findings, coupled with input from security resources, to identify ways to further enhance its existing security measures.

Businesses across various sectors are being targeted by cybercriminals, including some very high profile cases in recent weeks. On Wednesday, JBS SA, the world’s largest meat processing company, revealed that it had paid the equivalent of $11 million to hackers who broke into its computer system last month.

And Colonial Pipeline, which transports about half of thec fuel consumed on the East Coast, last month paid a ransom of 75 bitcoin – then valued at roughly $4.4 million – in hopes of getting its system back online. On Monday the Justice Department announced that it had recovered most of the ransom payment.


Emergency Broadband program enrolls 2.3 million in 3 weeks

The following is information from the FCC:

WASHINGTON, June 7, 2021—Today FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program enrolled over 2.3 million households into the subsidy program initiated by Congress.  Since mid-May, households in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and American Samoa were approved to receive a discount on their monthly internet bills and have selected a participating EBB provider to receive internet service at home.

“I am thrilled to see that the great need for affordable broadband support is being met with over 2 million households enrolled in three short weeks.  I’ve also said we need good data to know how the program is progressing and to inform any long-term efforts to address broadband affordability.  This information is now available to the public as we always intended,” said Rosenworcel.

Additionally, at the agency’s direction, USAC debuted a new data dashboard for advocates, members of Congress, and the general public to track the progress of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.  The dashboard contains information related to nationwide and state-specific enrollment figures, will report the amount of program funds disbursed once participating providers start to file claims and will be updated regularly by USAC staff.  You can access the EBB data dashboard here.

Over 1000 broadband providers have agreed to take part in the program.  The benefit is available to eligible new, prior, and existing customers of participating providers.  Customers can sign up by contacting a participating provider, enroll online at https://www.getemergencybroadband.org, or sign up via mail.  To learn more or learn where to access a mail-in application, call (833) 511-0311.

Households can qualify several ways such as through their use of existing assistance programs like SNAP, Medicaid, Lifeline or if a child received reduced-price school meals programs in the last two school years.  The Emergency Broadband Benefit is also available to households who are eligible for a broadband provider’s existing COVID relief program, to those who have received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year, and to those low-income households who suffered a significant loss in income during the pandemic due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020.