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Jared Kushner has book deal, publication expected in 2022

Jared Kushner has book deal

Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of former President Donald Trump and one of his top advisers during his administration, has a book deal.

Broadside Books, a conservative imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, announced that Kushner's book will come out in early 2022. Kushner has begun working on the memoir, currently untitled, and is expected to write about everything from the Middle East to criminal justice reform to the pandemic.

“His book will be the definitive, thorough recounting of the administration — and the truth about what happened behind closed doors,” Broadside announced Tuesday.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Kushner was often at the center of the Trump administration's policies — whether brokering the normalization of relationships between Israel and United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — the so-called Abraham Accords — or playing a key role in a criminal justice bill passed by Congress in 2018. He has also been the subject of numerous controversies, whether for his financial dealings and potential conflicts of interest or for the administration's widely criticized handling of COVID-19.

In April 2020, less than two months into the pandemic, Kushner labeled the White House response a “great success story," dismissed “the eternal lockdown crowd” and also said: “I think you’ll see by June a lot of the country should be back to normal and the hope is that by July the country’s really rocking again."

The signing of Kushner comes during an ongoing debate within the book industry over which Trump officials, notably Trump himself, can be taken on without setting off a revolt at the publishing house. Thousands of Simon & Schuster employees and authors signed an open letter this spring condemning the publisher's decision to sign up former Vice President Mike Pence.

At a Simon & Schuster town hall in May, employees confronted CEO Jonathan Karp, who responded that he felt the company had a mission to hear opposing sides of political debates. He also said that he did not want to publish Trump because he didn't think the former president would write an honest book.



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Federal judge blocks Biden's pause on new oil, gas leases

Judge blocks Biden's pause

The Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal land and water was blocked Tuesday by a federal judge in Louisiana, who ordered that plans continue for lease sales that were delayed for the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska waters “and all eligible onshore properties.”

The decision is a blow to Democratic President Joe Biden's efforts to rapidly transition the nation away from fossil fuels and thereby stave off the worst effects of climate change, including catastrophic droughts, floods and wildfires.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty's ruling came in a lawsuit filed in March by Louisiana’s Republican attorney general, Jeff Landry and officials in 12 other states. Doughty said his ruling applies nationwide. It grants a preliminary injunction — technically a halt to the suspension pending further arguments on the merits of the case.

“The omission of any rational explanation in cancelling the lease sales, and in enacting the Pause, results in this Court ruling that Plaintiff States also have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of this claim,” he wrote.

“We are reviewing the judge’s opinion and will comply with the decision," Melissa Schwartz of the Interior Department said in an email. "The Interior Department continues to work on an interim report that will include initial findings on the state of the federal conventional energy programs, as well as outline next steps and recommendations for the Department and Congress to improve stewardship of public lands and waters, create jobs, and build a just and equitable energy future.”

The moratorium was imposed after Biden on Jan. 27 signed executive orders to fight climate change. The suit was filed in March. The Interior Department later canceled oil and gas lease sales from public lands through June — affecting Nevada, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and the bureau’s eastern region.

Biden's orders included a call for Interior officials to review if the leasing program unfairly benefits companies at the expense of taxpayers, as well as the program's impact on climate change.

The 13 states that sued said the administration bypassed comment periods and other bureaucratic steps required before such delays can be undertaken, and that the moratorium would cost the states money and jobs. Doughty heard arguments in the case last week in Lafayette.

Federal lawyers argued that the public notice and comment period doesn't apply to the suspension, that the lease sales aren't required by law and that the Secretary of the Interior has broad discretion in leasing decisions.

“No existing lease has been cancelled as a result of any of the actions challenged here, and development activity from exploration through drilling and production has continued at similar levels as the preceding four years,” lawyers for the administration argued in briefs.

But Doughty sided with the plaintiff states attorneys, who argued that the delay of new leasing cost states revenue from rents and royalties.

“Millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake,” wrote Doughty, who was nominated to the federal bench by President Donald Trump in 2017.

“Local government funding, jobs for Plaintiff State workers, and funds for the restoration of Louisiana’s Coastline are at stake,” he added, alluding to a possible loss of oil and gas revenue that pays for Louisiana efforts to restore coastal wetlands.

Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia are the other plaintiff states.

“This is a victory not only for the rule of law, but also for the thousands of workers who produce affordable energy for Americans,” Landry said in a statement issued shortly after the ruling.



People hurt by parachuting protestor at Euro 2020 game

Parachutes into Euro 2020

Several spectators were treated in the hospital for injuries caused by a protestor who parachuted into the stadium before France played Germany at the European Championship, UEFA said Tuesday.

Debris fell on the field and main grandstand, narrowly missing France coach Didier Deschamps, when the parachutist struck wires for an overhead camera attached to the stadium roof.

The governing body of European soccer called it a “reckless and dangerous” act and said “law authorities will take the necessary action.”

“This inconsiderate act ... caused injuries to several people attending the game who are now in hospital,” UEFA said.

The incident happened just before the start of the Euro 2020 match between the last two World Cup champions. Deschamps was shown ducking into the team dugout to avoid falling debris.

The protestor's parachute had the slogan “KICK OUT OIL!" and “Greenpeace” written on it.

He glided into the stadium and seemed to lose control after connecting with the wires. He veered away from the playing area toward the main grandstand and barely cleared the heads of spectators.

The parachutist managed to land on the field and Germany players Antonio Rüdiger and Robin Gosens were the first to approach him. He was led away by security stewards and given medical attention on the side of the field.

UEFA and one of its top-tier tournament sponsors, Russian state energy firm Gazprom, have previously been targeted by Greenpeace protests.

In 2013, a Champions League game in Basel was disrupted when Greenpeace activists abseiled from the roof of the stadium to unfurl a banner protesting Russian oil and Gazprom, which sponsored the visiting team, German club Schalke.

Greenpeace later donated money to a charity supported by Basel, which was fined by UEFA for the security lapse.

UEFA defended its environmental credentials in Tuesday's statement.

“UEFA and its partners are fully committed to a sustainable Euro 2020 tournament," UEFA said, "and many initiatives have been implemented to offset carbon emissions.”



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Oldest party wins most seats in voting for 'new Algeria'

Oldest party wins most seats

Algeria’s oldest party, previously thought to be on the wane, won the largest number of seats in weekend legislative elections, the country's electoral authority announced Tuesday.

The National Liberation Front, or FLN, secured 105 of 407 parliamentary seats, according to the provisional results. Independent candidates, including young people new to politics and many others who broke away from the FLN, placed second, winning a total 78 seats.

The voting Saturday was meant to open the way to a “new Algeria” heralded by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to end an era of corruption and give the North African nation a new, younger face after a two-decade reign of Abdelaziz Bouteflika as chief of state. Bouteflika was forced to resign in 2019 under pressure from the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement.

However, turnout was dismal with Hirak protesters boycotting the elections, as did traditional opposition parties. The electoral chief, Mohamed Charfi, did not provide a turnout figure in his Tuesday rundown of results, but media outlets calculating the number of voters among the 24 million eligible put the figure at 23% — a historic low.

The moderate Islamist party that has been a mainstay in Algerian politics, the Movement for a Peaceful Society, won 64 seats, double the number it held previously. Another Islamist party will also be increasing its presence in the lower chamber of parliament, going from 12 seats to 40, Mohamed Charfi, head of the electoral authority, told a news conference.

A party which once shared the majority with the FLN, the National Democratic Rally, placed fourth with 55 seats, down from 100 in the outgoing parliament.

The FLN was decried by Hirak protesters seeking to upend a system in place since Algerian independence from France in 1962. The party was born as a fighting force in the independence battle then transformed into the nation's sole political party for nearly three decades, until multiparty elections were allowed in 1989.

It lost 60 seats in the elections, but even without a majority the FLN saved itself as the premier party of Algeria. The results suggested that nationalists, from the FLN to party dissidents elected as independents and gains by another party regarded as an FLN satellite could dominate in the chamber.



US COVID-19 deaths hit 600,000, equal to yearly cancer toll

Virus deaths equal cancer

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 600,000 on Tuesday, even as the vaccination drive has drastically brought down daily cases and fatalities and allowed the country to emerge from the gloom and look forward to summer.

The number of lives lost, as recorded by Johns Hopkins University, is greater than the population of Baltimore or Milwaukee. It is about equal to the number of Americans who died of cancer in 2019. Worldwide, the death toll stands at about 3.8 million.

The milestone came the same day that California and New York lifted most of their remaining restrictions, joining other states in opening the way, step by step, for what could be a fun and close to normal summer for many Americans.

“Deep down I want to rejoice,” said Rita Torres, a retired university administrator in Oakland, California. But she plans to take it slow: “Because it’s kind of like, is it too soon? Will we be sorry?”

With the arrival of the vaccine in mid-December, COVID-19 deaths per day in the U.S. have plummeted to an average of around 340, from a high of over 3,400 in mid-January. Cases are running at about 14,000 a day on average, down from a quarter-million per day over the winter.

The real death tolls in the U.S. and around the globe are thought to be significantly higher, with many cases overlooked or possibly concealed by some countries.

President Joe Biden acknowledged the approaching milestone Monday during his visit to Europe, saying that while new cases and deaths are dropping dramatically in the U.S., “there’s still too many lives being lost,” and “now is not the time to let our guard down.”

The most recent deaths are seen in some ways as especially tragic now that the vaccine has become available practically for the asking.

More than 52% of all Americans have had at least one dose, while almost 44% are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But demand for shots in the U.S. has dropped off dramatically, leaving many places with a surplus of doses and casting doubt on whether the country will meet Biden's target of having 70% of all adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4. The figure stands at just under 65%.

As of a week ago, the U.S. was averaging about 1 million injections per day, down from a high of about 3.3 million a day on average in mid-April, according to the CDC.

At nearly every turn in the outbreak, the virus has exploited and worsened inequalities in the United States. CDC figures, adjusted for age and population, show that Black, Latino and Native American people are two to three times more likely than whites to die of COVID-19.

Also, an Associated Press analysis found that Latinos are dying at much younger ages than other groups. Hispanic people between 30 and 39 have died at five times the rate of white people in the same age group.

Overall, Black and Hispanic Americans have less access to medical care and are in poorer health, with higher rates of conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. They are also more likely to have jobs deemed essential, less able to work from home and more likely to live in crowded, multigenerational households.

With the overall picture improving rapidly, California, the most populous state and the first to impose a coronavirus lockdown, dropped its rules on social distancing and limits on capacity at restaurants, bars, supermarkets, gyms, stadiums and other places, ushering in what has been billed as its “Grand Reopening” just in time for summer.

Disneyland is throwing open its gates to all tourists after allowing just California residents. Fans will be able to sit elbow-to-elbow and cheer without masks at Dodgers and Giants games

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that 70% of adults in the state have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and he announced that the immediate easing of many of the restrictions will be celebrated with fireworks.

“What does 70% mean? It means that we can now return to life as we know it,” he said.

He said the state is lifting rules that had limited the size of gatherings and required some types of businesses to follow cleaning protocols, take people’s temperature or screen them for COVID-19 symptoms. Businesses will no longer have to restrict how many people they can allow inside based on the 6-foot rule.

For the time being, though, New Yorkers will have to keep wearing masks in schools, subways and certain other places.

Massachusetts officially lifted its state of emergency Tuesday, though many restrictions had already been eased, including mask requirements and limits on gatherings.

The first known deaths from the virus in the U.S. were in early February 2020. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 dead. During the most lethal phase of the disaster, in the winter of 2020-21, it took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 deaths.

With the crisis now easing, it took close to four months for the U.S. death toll to go from a half-million to 600,000.



Police: Gunman dead after killing 2 at fire hydrant factory

Gunman kills 2 at factory

A worker who killed two people and wounded two more at an Alabama fire hydrant plant early Tuesday has been found dead, apparently after killing himself in a car, a police chief said.

“The person was deceased from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Police Chief Jamie Smith told Al.com.

The gunfire broke out about 2:30 a.m. at a Mueller Co. plant in Albertville, Smith told news outlets. The gunman then got in a vehicle and left the factory. His body was found hours later inside a car in Guntersville, about 15 miles away, Smith said.

Smith says it wasn't immediately clear what prompted the shooting.

A company representative did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Mueller Co., based in Cleveland, Tennessee, is a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Mueller Water Products Inc., which calls itself a leading maker of water distribution and measurement products in North America. More than 400 people work at the plant in Albertville, giving the city in northwest Alabama its nickname of “Fire Hydrant Capital of the World.”

A maintenance worker from North Carolina arrived at the plant early Tuesday, unaware of the deadly shooting hours earlier. John McFalls said he spent five days in the plant last week and saw nothing out of the ordinary.

“Everyone here was friendly,” he told Al.com. “Radios playing, everybody getting along.”

He swallowed hard as he heard what had happened, the news site reported.

“I was thinking about coming in early this morning and getting the jump on everything,” McFalls said. “It’s kind of shocking, and then it isn’t, given the state of the world.”



Police: 4 dead, 4 hurt in shooting on Chicago's South Side

4 dead, 4 hurt in shooting

An argument in a residence on Chicago's South Side early Tuesday erupted into gunfire, leaving four women dead and four other people injured, police said.

The shooting happened at 5:42 a.m., police said, and no arrests were immediately made. Police had few details about the victims, but it appeared that none of them were juveniles.

Identities and the ages of the dead women weren’t immediately released.

The four injured included a 25-year-old man who was shot in the back of the head and another man who was shot in the back of the head. Their conditions were unknown, according to police.

A 23-year-old man who was shot in the back and a woman who suffered an unspecified gunshot wound were both in critical condition, police said.

A database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University that tracks mass killings — defined as four or more dead, not including the perpetrator — shows this is the 18th mass killing, of which 17 were shootings, so far this year in the U.S.



California man gets prison for coercing women for sex films

Coerced women into porn

A producer for a now-defunct California porn website was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison Monday for coercing or tricking women into appearing in sex videos.

Ruben Andre Garcia, 31, was sentenced for conspiracy and sex trafficking involving San Diego-based GirlsDoPorn.com.

Prosecutors said that Garcia was a recruiter, producer and actor in movies for the website from 2013 to 2017.

He falsely promised models who answered ads that they would remain anonymous and their videos wouldn’t be distributed on the internet but only on privately-sold DVDs overseas, prosecutors said.

In fact, Garcia knew the videos were being posted on fee-based websites and that excerpts were being posted on free sites, including popular sites that received millions of views, prosecutors said.

Some women also alleged that they were coerced or threatened into doing sex scenes.

Garcia and others sometimes coerced victims into finishing sex videos by threatening “to sue the victims, cancel flights home, and post the videos online," according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office. “Hotel room doors were at times blocked by camera and recording equipment, and the victims felt powerless and unable to leave."

“This defendant lured one victim after another with fake modeling ads, false promises and deceptive front companies, ultimately devolving to threats to coerce these women into making sex videos,” authorities said.

“Even when victims told Garcia how the scheme had devastated their lives, he showed no regard for their well-being," acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said. “The crime was utterly callous in nature and there is no excuse or justification for his conduct, which was driven purely by greed."

Garcia pleaded guilty to federal charges last December. He was among six people charged. Most have pleaded guilty to federal charges.

The site’s co-creator, Michael James Pratt, remains at large. A reward of up to $50,000 has been offered for information leading to his arrest.



Reality Winner, NSA contractor in leak case, out of prison

NSA leaker out of prison

A former government contractor who was given the longest federal prison sentence imposed for leaks to the news media has been released from prison to home confinement, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Monday.

Reality Winner, 29, has been moved to home confinement and remains in the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons, the person said. The person could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

She was convicted in 2018 of a single count of transmitting national security information. Prosecutors said at the time that her sentence was the longest ever imposed for leaking government information to the news media.

The former Air Force translator worked as a contractor at a National Security Agency office in Augusta, Georgia, when she printed a classified report and left the building with it tucked into her pantyhose. Winner told the FBI she mailed the document to an online news outlet.

Authorities never identified the news organization. But the Justice Department announced Winner’s June 2017 arrest the same day The Intercept reported on a secret NSA document. It detailed Russian government efforts to penetrate a Florida-based supplier of voting software and the accounts of election officials ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The NSA report was dated May 5, the same as the document Winner had leaked.

In a statement, her lawyer, Alison Grinter Allen, said Winner and her family are working to “heal the trauma of incarceration and build back the years lost.”

She said they are “relieved and hopeful" after her release from prison.



NATO leaders declare China a global security challenge

China a global challenge

NATO leaders on Monday declared that China poses a constant security challenge and is working to undermine global order, and they said they're worried about how fast the Chinese are developing nuclear missiles.

In a summit statement, the leaders said that China’s goals and “assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security.”

While the 30 heads of state and government avoided calling China a rival, they expressed concern about what they said were its “coercive policies,” the opaque ways it is modernizing its armed forces and its use of disinformation.

They called on Beijing to uphold its international commitments and to act responsibly in the international system.

The statement comes as President Joe Biden has stepped up his effort to rally allies to speak in a more unified voice about China’s human rights record, its trade practices and its military’s increasingly assertive behavior that has unnerved U.S. allies in the Pacific.

Biden, who arrived at the summit after three days of consulting with Group of Seven allies in England, pushed for the G-7 communique there that called out what it said were forced labor practices and other human rights violations impacting Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang province. The president said he was satisfied with the communique, although differences remain among the allies about how forcefully to criticize Beijing.

The new Brussels communique states plainly that the NATO nations “will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the alliance.'

The Chinese Embassy to the United Kingdom on Monday issued a statement saying the G-7 communique “deliberately slandered China and arbitrarily interfered in China’s internal affairs,” and exposed the “sinister intentions of a few countries, such as the United States.” There was no immediate reaction from the Chinese government to the new NATO statement.

Biden arrived at his first NATO summit as president as leading members declared it a pivotal moment for an alliance beleaguered during the presidency of Donald Trump, who questioned the relevance of the multilateral organization.

Shortly after arriving at the alliance's headquarters for the first NATO summit of his presidency, Biden sat down with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and underscored the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the alliance charter, which spells out that an attack on one member is an attack on all and is to be met with a collective response.

“Article 5 we take as a sacred obligation,” Biden said. “I want NATO to know America is there.”

It was a sharp shift in tone from the past four years, when Trump called the alliance “obsolete" and complained that it allowed for “global freeloading” countries to spend less on military defense at the expense of the U.S.

Looking forward, Stoltenberg noted myriad challenges still facing the alliance.

“We are meeting at the pivotal time for our alliance, the time of growing geopolitical competition, regional instability, terrorism, cyber attacks and climate change," Stoltenberg said at the start of a joint session of the NATO leaders. “No nation and no continent can deal with these challenges alone. But Europe and North America are not alone."

Biden, who came to Brussels following three days of consultations with Group of Seven leaders in England, was greeted by fellow leaders with warmth and even a bit of relief.

Belgium Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said Biden’s presence “emphasizes the renewal of the transatlantic partnership." De Croo said NATO allies were looking to get beyond four stormy years under the Trump administration and infighting among member countries.

“I think now we are ready to turn the page," de Croo said.



ICC seeks to probe Philippines' deadly crackdown on drug crime

Deadly crackdown probed

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday that she has sought authorization to open an investigation into the Philippine government’s deadly crackdown on drug crime.

Fatou Bensouda said that a preliminary probe she opened in February 2018 “determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed” in the Philippines between July 1, 2016 and March 16, 2019, the date the Philippines withdrew from the court.

The suspected crimes happened “in the context of the government of Philippines ‘war on drugs’ campaign,” Bensouda said in a statement.

President Rodrigo Duterte announced in March 2018 that the Philippines was withdrawing its ratification of the treaty that created the ICC. The decision came into force a year later.

But Bensouda stressed that the court still has jurisdiction over crimes that allegedly happened while the country was still a member of the court.

Bensouda, whose nine-year term as the court’s chief prosecutor ends this week, said that information gathered in the preliminary probe “indicates that members of the Philippine National Police, and others acting in concert with them, have unlawfully killed between several thousand and tens of thousands of civilians during that time.”

She said prosecutors also reviewed allegations of “torture and other inhumane acts, and related events” dating back to Nov. 1, 2011, “all of which we believe require investigation.”

When he announced he was going to withdraw from the court, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte defended his drug crackdown, saying in a 15-page statement that it is “lawfully directed against drug lords and pushers who have for many years destroyed the present generation, specially the youth.”

Judges at the global court have 120 days to issue a decision on the prosecutor’s request.



Florida town accidentally sells municipal water tower

Oops town water tower sold

A small town in Florida accidentally sold its water tower in a blundered real estate transaction.

A businessman purchased a municipal building underneath the city of Brooksville's water tower last April for $55,000 with the goal of converting it into a gym. However, when Bobby Read went to the county to get an address for his new business location, he was told the parcel he bought included the entire water tower site, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Luckily for the town, Read was willing to give it back. County records show he transferred the water tower back to Brooksville through a warranty deed last month. The town of 8,500 residents is located 50 miles north of Tampa.

“I don’t know where the blame falls here,” said Blake Bell, a city council member. “We’re council members and we rely on the city manager. We assume that he has done his due diligence."

City Manager Mark Kutney blamed the use of a bad legal description for what happened. The city's redevelopment agency director resigned after the accidental sale.

“We’re human,” Kutney said. “Sometimes we make a mistake.”



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