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A jab on the job: Companies, unions offer COVID-19 vaccines

Marie Watson wanted to be among the first in line when she and other essential workers became eligible for the coronavirus vaccine — and with good reason.
The maintenance parts buyer for a Mission Foods tortilla plant in Pueblo, Colorado, had lost her father to COVID-19 in the fall and was told by a doctor last year that she herself almost certainly had the virus.
So when her union, the United Food Workers and Commercial Workers, secured appointments for the plant’s 200 workers, she jumped in her car and drove to a nearby drive-thru clinic for the first of two doses.
“There was this sense of relief,” Watson said. “This was more confirmation that I’m on my way to being normal.”
A growing number of labor unions and companies are securing shots for their employees as eligibility widens. Some large companies such as Amazon are offering workplace vaccinations through licensed health care providers, while smaller outfits are booking appointments for workers at outside locations.
For employers, the vaccines are a critical step toward restoring normalcy at a time when they expect a spike in demand for their services as more people get inoculated. They are also betting that employees who did not initially trust the vaccine will have a change of heart when they see co-workers receiving it.
For workers, employer assistance with the vaccine eliminates hurdles, including transportation issues or maneuvering through a patchwork of websites to find appointments. That access could help to narrow the racial and socioeconomic gaps that have opened in the country’s vaccination drive.
While many essential workers have spent weeks trying to get time slots, Watson got her shot days after Colorado extended eligibility to food workers.
Iliana de la Vega, owner of the Mexican restaurant El Naranjo in Austin, Texas, said she secured appointments for all 12 of her employees out of gratitude that they stuck with her through shutdown orders and capacity restrictions that ate into their pay.
Some workers hesitated at first but were quickly persuaded with the promise of a day off, De la Vega said.
“A couple of them said, ‘We are not sure.’ I said, ‘That’s not an option. Take it or leave it. Who knows when you will be able to get it again?'” de la Vega said.
Despite the growing number of companies offering on-site vaccinations, there are signs that some may have lost interest. In March, when vaccine eligibility was widening and distribution efforts improving in the U.S., a survey by the consulting firm Gartner found 30% of companies planned to bring vaccines to their employees. That was down from 42% in January, when distribution was still spotty and obtaining appointments was still extremely difficult for most people.
“The speed of the rollout has exceeded their expectations so companies are realizing they can take a back seat,” said Brian Kropp, chief of research at Gartner’s human resources practice.
Vaccinating employees is also less urgent for a growing number of companies that are adopting permanent remote-work policies, Kropp said. While nearly two-thirds of companies plan to reopen their workplaces by the end of this year, the majority say they will allow many employees to keep working from home at least some days, according to Gartner, which surveyed 300 companies.
Nonetheless, prominent companies continue to join the list of those offering on-site vaccinations.
Ford Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers opened up on-site vaccinations Monday in Michigan, Kansas and Ohio. In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine had initially put a stop to workplace clinics out of concern they would tie up supply, but he allowed them to resume last week as demand dropped at the state’s mass vaccination sites.
Amazon launched its long-anticipated on-site vaccinations last month in Kansas, Missouri and Nevada. Warehouse and other front-line workers can sign up for shots at kiosks or through Amazon’s employee app.
Yogurt maker Chobani, which employs 2,200 people in the U.S., partnered with a local pharmacy to vaccinate hundreds of its employees at its Twin Falls, Idaho, plant, according to the company’s chief People and Culture Officer Grace Zuncic.
American Airlines, Subaru, chicken producer Mountaire Farms, and agricultural equipment maker Vermeer are among 40 companies that brought vaccines to their employees through partnerships with Premise Health, a direct health care provider. American Airlines is administering vaccines at airports in Chicago, Charlotte, Tulsa and Dallas-Fort Worth, according to the company.
At least 25,000 people have been vaccinated through the partnerships, said Premise President Jami Doucette. He expects that number to climb into the millions.
Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest food companies, said it has vaccinated nearly 40,000 employees — nearly one-third of its workforce — at vaccination events in 16 states. Tyson also expanded its on-site event last week to include eligible family members of employees.
Bob Reinhard, who is leading Tyson’s vaccination effort, said a minority of employees have refused to get vaccinated while some others are interested but want more information and don’t want to go first.
“That secondary group is now coming around,” Reinhard said.
Employer-organized vaccination events, along with incentives such as bonuses or paid time off, allow companies to keep track of how many employees get vaccinated. Employer are legally allowed to require the vaccine, but the vast majority have shied away from doing so; some say it doesn’t make sense to do so until everyone is eligible and there is sufficient supply.
Still, the idea is gaining some traction. While Gartner’s March survey showed just 8% of companies planned to require employees to show proof of vaccinations, that number was up from 2% in January.
Chobani, which says it has avoided outbreaks at its plants and has seen few positive cases among employees, has not ruled out requiring the vaccines, Zuncic said. The company plans to assess how many of its workers have been vaccinated by midyear.
“It’s a discussion that continues,” Zuncic said. “We want to get a pulse and sense of how far along we are.”

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Coast Guard: Search for missing crew to be suspended

CUT OFF, La. (AP) — The U.S. Coast Guard said it will suspend the search for crew members who disappeared when a lift boat capsized off Louisiana last week at sunset Monday, and authorities do not expect to find more survivors from the vessel.
The grim news from Capt. Will Watson, commander of the Coast Guard Sector New Orleans, comes after days of searching for the missing workers from the oil industry lift boat Seacor Power, which capsized Tuesday during a fierce storm in the Gulf of Mexico about eight miles (13 kilometers) south of Port Fourchon. Six of the 19 workers on the boat were rescued within hours of the wreck; five more bodies were found in the water or on board the vessel in the days since then. Eight remain missing.
Watson said officials had just come from briefing the families on the news.
“There was a lot of hugging and a lot of crying. There was a lot of sadness and grief,” he said.
The president of the Seacor Marine, which owns the boat, said during the news conference that divers from a company they have contracted with will continue to search the entire vessel. John Gellert said they are about halfway through the vessel as of midday Monday. Gellert also said that divers from a company Seacor contracts with were on the scene four hours after the ship capsized.
“We are steadfast in our efforts to return those who remain missing,” Gellert said. But he added that efforts will depend on the weather, not just on the surface but below the surface. “The currents are currently very strong. That will determine diving windows. When we are able to dive we will dive continuously.”
Families who have been waiting for days for any news of their loved ones were already preparing for the worst earlier Monday. Arlana Saddler, the youngest sister of missing worker Gregory Walcott, told the AP earlier that she was trying to be realistic about her brother’s chances of survival.
“I’m being real. This is the seventh day, and even if they made it through the boat turning over and all that, there’s no food, no water. You’re talking seven days,” she said.
Many families have been questioning why the ship was out in such stormy seas. Gellert said while there were warnings of bad weather, what the boat actually encountered when it was offshore was significantly worse than expected.
“There were warnings. There were not warnings on the magnitude of which we encountered,” he said. “The weather they were forecasted to encounter was well within the limits of the vessel. The weather that they encountered was well beyond the forecast, as far as we know, at this time.”
Gellert said the decision on whether to go or not was entirely up to the captain, but he emphasized that the captain had the company’s full support. The captain, David Ledet, 63, was among the dead.
“He was one of our best captains. He was very prudent and conservative,” he said.
The coroner’s office has identified the other four people whose bodies have been recovered: Anthony Hartford, 53, of New Orleans; James Wallingsford, 55, of Gilbert, Louisiana; Ernest Williams, 69, of Arnaudville; and Lawrence J. Warren, 36, of Terrytown, Louisiana.
The Seacor Power is a lift boat. Such vessels have three legs that can be lowered to the sea floor to raise the ship off the water to serve as a temporary offshore platform. The boats are often used in the offshore oil industry. When they are traveling the legs stick straight up in the air.
Gellert said it appeared the legs were full retracted — meaning all the way up and a position he described as its “most vulnerable” — at the beginning of the voyage but there are indications that the captain was trying to lower the legs when the ship capsized.
“As far as we can make out there was about five feet of leg that was retracted from the hull, which leads us to believe the captain was starting, trying to jack down,” said Gellert. He said it takes about a minute to move the legs down five feet. The ship capsized in about 50 to 55 feet of water.
Late Sunday, officials told family members that they had recovered another body — the fifth since the operation began. The coroner on Monday identified the body as that of Lawrence J. Warren, 36, of Terrytown, Louisiana. Frank Boeckl was Warren’s uncle. He choked up while lovingly talking about his nephew “Larry,” but said he was glad that he had been found and that the family’s ordeal was over.
“We just feel so blessed that we are able to take him home, and we hope for the rest of the families that they are able to take their loved ones home, too,” he said. “We’re going to be able to take him home, and that’s it. I just really pray for all the other families.”
Andrew Ehlers, marine accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board that is investigating, estimated that it could be as long as two years before an official determination is made of what happened. He said they will be looking at three main areas: people involved in the case both on the ship and on land, the ship and equipment, and the weather.
Investigators are asking for anyone with information about the ship, people who might have served on it before and have photos or videos of it, or people who were out on the water that day to reach out.

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Winners of $20M contest make concrete to trap carbon dioxide

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Organizers of a $20 million contest to develop products from greenhouse gas that flows from power plants announced two winners Monday ahead of launching a similar but much bigger competition backed by Elon Musk.
Both winners made concrete that trapped carbon dioxide, keeping it out of the atmosphere, where it can contribute to climate change. Production of cement, concrete’s key ingredient, accounts for 7% of global emissions of the greenhouse gas, said Marcius Extavour, XPRIZE vice president of climate and energy.
“So it’s not surprising that the winning teams focused on reducing emissions associated with concrete, which will be a game-changer for global decarbonization,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Musk, the electric car and space entrepreneur, has pledged $100 million for researchers who can show how to trap huge volumes of carbon dioxide straight from the atmosphere and store the gas permanently. That competition will kick off Thursday, which is Earth Day.
“We want teams that will build real systems that can make a measurable impact and scale to a gigaton level. Whatever it takes. Time is of the essence,” Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, said in February.
Both contests are organized by XPRIZE, which encourages new technology by putting up prize money for demonstrating achievements. Most famously, Mojave Aerospace Ventures won a $10 million XPRIZE in 2004 by being first to fly a privately funded, reusable rocket plane into space multiple times.
The $20 million prize announced Monday had two parts: One at a coal-fired power plant in Wyoming and the other at a gas-fired power plant in Alberta, Canada. The contest focused on using carbon dioxide nabbed from the plants’ smokestacks, and the winners showed they can trap the emissions in cement, making stronger concrete in some cases.
The winner at the Wyoming plant, Los Angeles-based CarbonBuilt, used carbon dioxide to cure concrete, trapping it in a process that also emitted less of the greenhouse gas compared with traditional cement production, according to XPRIZE.
The winner in Alberta was CarbonCure Technologies, based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, which showed it can inject carbon dioxide into water used to wash out cement trucks and mixers at a cement plant, resulting in a mix that makes stronger concrete, according to XPRIZE.
The two winners will split $15 million. Ten finalists split the other $5 million in 2018.
The U.S. portion of the contest took place at the Wyoming Integrated Test Center, a facility at a coal-fired power plant near the city of Gillette that hosts research into ways to trap and use carbon dioxide in real-world scenarios.
Gov. Mark Gordon has often touted the research center as an example of Wyoming’s interest in finding solutions to climate change — potentially preserving the state’s declining coal industry in the process.
U.S. coal production has declined by half over the last 15 years or so as utilities get more electricity from renewables and cheaper natural gas. About 40% of U.S. coal comes from Wyoming, more than any other state by far.
The state covered three-quarters of the $20 million cost of the Wyoming Integrated Test Center, which opened in 2018.
“Managing carbon, there’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all,” said Jason Begger, the center’s managing director. “A cement plant might not make a lot of sense at a power plant in Wyoming, but it might make a heck of a lot of sense in Japan.”
Wyoming officials have expressed interest in participating in the Musk-funded XPRIZE contest but hasn’t heard back from him, Gordon spokesman Michael Pearlman said.

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Oregon gun storage law would be among the toughest in the US

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A proposed gun storage law that would be among the toughest in the U.S. is headed for a vote in the Oregon Legislature, with backers saying it will save lives and opponents contending it could lead to deaths.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, a less sweeping gun storage bill was signed into law Monday by Gov. Jared Polis., who said: “It’s a sensible measure to help avoid immeasurable heartbreak.”
Colorado’s new law creates the offense of unlawful storage of a firearm if a person stores a gun knowing that a juvenile could access it without permission or if a resident of the premises is ineligible to possess a firearm.
Oregon’s bill generated testimony from hundreds of people, mostly in writing because there wasn’t enough time to take all the oral testimony.
A vote in Oregon’s House of Representatives on the bill, initially scheduled for Monday, was pushed back by a week to enable Democratic representatives to work with the Senate “to guarantee the bill is on track to pass and be enacted,” said Hannah Kurowski, spokeswoman for the majority House Democrats.
Among those testifying was Paul Kemp, whose brother-in-law Steve Forsyth was killed with a stolen gun in a mass shooting at a Portland-area shopping mall in 2012.
“I will never forget the screams I heard when we had to tell my teenage nephew that his father had been killed at the mall,” Kemp said.
But opponents say forcing people to keep guns locked up could waste precious moments if they need to defend themselves against armed intruders.
Jim Mischel, of Sheridan, Oregon, described how his wife woke up when he was away one night in 1981. She heard a noise, went to investigate and saw that a man had broken into their home.
She returned to the bedroom and tried to get to a pistol that was in a locked gun box in the nightstand.
“She was unable to get the box unlocked and the pistol out before he got into the bedroom and threatened her with his gun,” Mischel said. “She has never recovered.”
The debate in Oregon over guns mirrors similar discussions being held nationwide, with little movement on gun control even as the number of mass shootings climbs again as the nation eases coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Massachusetts is the only state that requires that all unattended firearms be stored with locking devices in place, according to the Giffords gun safety advocacy group. Penalties for violations can range from imprisonment to thousands of dollars in fines.
States that have passed laws requiring some level of firearms safe storage include California, Connecticut and New York, said Allison Anderman, senior counsel at Giffords.
Similar bills this session have failed in Illinois, Kentucky, Montana, New Mexico and Virginia, Anderman said.
Oregon’s bill mandates that gun owners secure unattended weapons with trigger locks or in locked compartments. Those who don’t would be strictly liable for any injuries or property damage. If a minor gets ahold of an unsecured firearm, the gun’s owner would face a maximum $2,000 fine.
Tensions are running high as the Oregon Legislature considers this and other gun bills, even leading to death threats.
Recently, six Republican state senators stayed for a vote on a different firearms bill, instead of doing a walkout in what has become a tactic for them to prevent a vote from taking place. That bill would ban guns from the Capitol and other state buildings and allow local jurisdictions to decide whether people with a concealed handgun license can bring guns into public buildings.
They voted “nay” on the bill instead of joining a GOP boycott to deny a quorum. All six GOP senators who stayed got threatening emails. They have been turned over to the Oregon State Police for investigation
“You should be shot,” said one of the emails.
Advocates for the gun storage bill have said it would reduce suicides. Anderman said putting anything between a person’s impulse to take their own life and a gun could give the person a moment to reconsider.
Elizabeth Klein testified in favor of the bill “on behalf of my deceased brother,” who killed himself with a gun.
“My family is devastated by my brother’s gun suicide. It always seems preventable to me,” Klein wrote.
Safe storage could also reduce school shootings. Minors who commit those attacks often obtain the gun from their home or the home of a relative or friend.
Opponents have said the bill is an infringement on the constitutional right to bear arms.
“As usual, the Second Amendment is under attack because attacking it is a perennial favorite with Democrats and has been for years,” said James Purvine of Eugene, Oregon, who testified in writing to the House Committee on Health Care about the bill.

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GOP targets ballot drop boxes in Georgia, Florida, elsewhere

ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta-area voters looking to return their ballots using a drop box in next year’s gubernatorial election will have to do some searching.
Just eight boxes will be spread across Fulton County’s nearly 529 square miles — or about one for every 100,000 registered voters. That’s down from the 38 drop boxes that were available to voters last fall. It’s the result of a broad new law pushed by Georgia Republicans in response to former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.
Georgia is one of several states controlled politically by Republicans that are seeking additional restrictions on voting, citing security concerns. A favorite target is ballot drop boxes, which have been used for years in states with expansive mail voting and which millions of voters used last year as a way to avoid polling places during the pandemic.
Democrats say the boxes are more secure than regular mailboxes, and their use was largely trouble-free last fall. Even Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who signed the restrictive bill into law, posted a video on his Twitter account that showed him using a drop box to cast his ballot last year, flashing a thumbs up sign afterward.
“They loved ballot drop boxes until Trump and the Republicans started losing,” said state Rep. Erica Thomas, a Democrat from metro Atlanta.
For election officials and voters across the country, drop boxes seemed like an ideal solution to two major problems in 2020: a coronavirus pandemic that raised fears about crowded polling places and reports of mail delays that threatened on-time delivery of ballots.
The boxes were targeted a few times by vandals, but few other problems were reported across the country. Even so, Republicans say they want to ensure the boxes will be a secure way to cast a ballot.
“It’s a continued narrative where you try to pit security against accessibility, and you have to choose one or the other,” said Hillary Hall, a former county elections clerk in Colorado who now works with election officials across the country through the National Vote at Home Institute. “It’s a false choice.”
Drop boxes have been used for years in states such as Colorado, Oregon and Washington, where ballots are mailed to all registered voters ahead of every election.
Placement can vary widely. In some places, they’re located inside public buildings, available only during office hours. Elsewhere, they are outside and accessible at any hour, typically with video surveillance or someone monitoring in-person.
“I’m just so glad we had that option,” said Cynthia Vaughn, a retired financial manager from Atlanta who used a drop box at her local library in November and again for the state’s January Senate runoff.
She said slashing access to them will be especially hard on those who don’t have ready access to a vehicle or public transit: “Driving extra miles to get somewhere to drop off a ballot doesn’t adhere to the whole point that it should be easy and accommodating for everyone to vote.”
They were so popular in Florida last year that nearly 1.5 million voters used them, according to Florida Supervisors of Elections, a statewide group of local election officials. Even so, a bill pending in the Florida Senate would limit their use to hours when in-person early voting is offered. An earlier version would have eliminated them entirely, but that was revised after election supervisors opposed it.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, acknowledged during a legislative hearing that he was not aware of any problems with drop boxes in Florida last year. Nevertheless, he said they introduced security gaps into the state’s mail voting process that must be closed.
“I don’t think we should sit on our laurels or congratulate ourselves on a successful election,” Baxley said. “Our time is better spent learning lessons from problems in other states to make sure we are prepared for 2022 and beyond.”
No state reported any significant problems with drop boxes last year.
Democrats complained the bill would preclude voters from dropping off ballots in the days just before an election, when early voting is no longer available and voters are worried about relying on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver their ballots on time.
Republican lawmakers in other states, including Michigan and Wisconsin, also have proposed new limits, though the chances of many of them becoming law are slim because Democrats control the governor’s offices.
As part of a broad GOP-led election overhaul in Iowa this year, lawmakers approved legislation to limit drop boxes in future elections to just one per county. Previously, state law did not say how many drop boxes counties could operate. Lawmakers in Texas, where the GOP is in full control, also are debating how voters can return ballots.
Election experts say outdoor drop boxes are arguably more secure than a regular U.S. Postal Service mailbox sitting on a sidewalk, especially when video surveillance is used. They are typically large, heavy and anchored to the ground.
Democrats in Congress, as part of their proposal to establish national election standards, want to require states to offer drop boxes. Their goal is one for every 20,000 registered voters in most counties by the 2022 midterm elections. For counties with fewer than 20,000 registered voters, a minimum of one drop box would be required.
In Georgia, drop boxes were permitted last year under an emergency rule prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. State Republicans have defended the new law as making drop boxes a permanent option for voters and requiring all counties to have at least one. But critics say the new limits mean there will be fewer drop boxes available in the state’s most populous communities.
“There weren’t any issues with the drop boxes, and that’s the point,” said Georgia Sen. Jen Jordan, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Fulton County. “It’s definitely going to impact voters and their ability to access the ballot and cast their vote.”
In fast-growing Cobb County north of Atlanta, officials had 16 drop boxes available in November but will be permitted about five under the new law. Janine Eveler, the county’s elections director, said 60% of all returned absentee ballots last fall came through a drop box.
For the entire metro Atlanta area, Democrats estimate the number of drop boxes will fall from 94 last year to no more than 23 for future elections based on the new formula of one drop box per 100,000 registered voters.
Republican Sen. Brian Strickland, whose district sits south of Atlanta, said lawmakers were focused on making sure drop boxes were written into the law, available for future elections with strong security measures in place.
“If the provision we have is not workable — this is the first time we have tried this — I’m sure you will see us go back and amend that to allow additional drop boxes if more are needed,” he said.

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New York AG investigating Cuomo’s use of aides on book

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s attorney general is investigating whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo broke the law by having members of his staff help write and promote his pandemic leadership book.
In a letter dated April 13, made public Monday, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli authorized Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the work state employees did on drafting and editing the book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” which was released last fall.
James’ office confirmed it received the referral letter but declined further comment, citing an “ongoing investigation.”
Cuomo and his spokespeople have acknowledged that senior members of his staff helped with the book, but they’ve insisted the work was done on a voluntary basis on their private time.
DiNapoli, an independently elected fiscal officer, asked James to investigate the “alleged commission of any indictable offense or offenses in violation of” laws barring public officials from using state resources for private purposes.
DiNapoli authorized the attorney general to convene a grand jury, if she chose to do so, and prosecute anyone believed to have violated those laws.
A spokesperson for Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, dismissed the idea of an investigation as a political stunt.
“We have officially jumped the shark,” he said in a statement. “The idea there was criminality involved here is patently absurd on its face and is just the furthering of a political pile-on. Any state official who volunteered to assist on this project did so on his or her own time and without the use of state resources.”
“This is Albany politics at its worst,” he added. “Both the Comptroller and the Attorney General have spoken to people about running for Governor and it is unethical to wield criminal referral authority to further political self-interest‎.”
The inquiry adds to a pile of trouble facing Cuomo, who like DiNapoli and James is a Democrat.
The attorney general is separately investigating allegations that Cuomo sexually harassed women, including one who accused him of groping her breasts. The state Assembly is investigating whether to impeach Cuomo over the sexual harassment claims, and other matters, including his administration’s decision to conceal data related to COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
Federal prosecutors are also probing Cuomo’s handling of COVID-19 data.
Cuomo has denied touching anyone inappropriately and defended his administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes as having saved lives.
Cuomo received permission from state ethics commissioners last year to write his book — with conditions.
He had to write the book on “his own time and not on state time,” according to state ethics rules. And, “no state property, personnel or other resources” could be used.
Yet, several people who work for the state did work on the book, including Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa and the Director of Governor’s Offices Stephanie Benton, according to reports in The New York Times, The Times-Union, of Albany, and the USA TODAY State News Network.
Cuomo’s office hasn’t provided direct responses to a list of questions from The Associated Press about which aides were involved with the book, or the type of work they did.
Azzopardi has said Cuomo’s office made every effort to ensure no state resources were used.
The governor said Monday that he asked some people who he mentioned in the book to “review” it.
“On the book, some people volunteered to review the book,” Cuomo said in a teleconference call with reporters. “You look at the people who are mentioned in the book. I wanted to make sure they were okay with the mention.”
Azzopardi denied that any lower-level aides transcribed parts of the book. “To the extent an aide printed out a document, it appears incidental,” he said.
Azzopardi has also disputed criticism about Cuomo discussing the book in news conferences and media appearances: “An offhand mention about writing a book, or answering questions from the media about it in no way is an advertisement of endorsement of it.”
Cuomo has repeatedly declined to reveal how much he was paid to write the book.
The governor, who allows reporters to view personal income tax filings each year, said Monday that he would disclose financial details in those tax documents: “You will see everything you want to see in the personal income taxes.”

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Biden’s virtual climate summit: Diplomacy sans human touch

WASHINGTON (AP) — There will be no hands to shake or backs to slap, no way to look a foreign leader in the eye. The small human moments that define statecraft will be reduced to images on a screen.
President Joe Biden, a most hands-on politician, this week will host a major climate summit with dozens of world leaders — all of them stuck on Zoom.
Biden has made clear that he wants to reassert U.S. leadership on the world stage, including on climate change, after four tumultuous, often inward-looking years of President Donald Trump. But as much as the White House staff has tried to dress up the remote meetings he has held so far, while eyeing the climate summit Thursday and Friday as an important moment, the president has made no secret of how much he misses diplomacy with a more personal touch.
“There’s no substitute for face-to-face discussions,” Biden said Friday as he welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to the White House for his first in-person world leader meeting.
“I greatly appreciate the chance to spend time with you in person and to exchange our ideas face to face,” he added.
Biden has expressed to aides and advisers how much he misses the in-person interactions and friendly asides that typically happen on the sidelines of international meetings, moments that can often lead to foreign policy breakthroughs, according to three White House officials not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions. He was disappointed, at times, with the stilted nature of his first remote bilateral meeting, held with Canada’s Justin Trudeau in February.
The White House has announced that South Korea’s Moon Jae-in will travel to Washington in May for Biden’s second in-person foreign leader meeting. And there are hopes the president will make his own overseas trip in June. But until then, expectations for major diplomatic developments have been reined in — and the climate summit is no exception.
Streamed 100% live with no backroom give-and-take, the summit will be more geared to sending a message about America’s return to the climate fight and nudging the world toward a greener planet than about specific deals or action.
The world is still trying to figure out what the climate gathering will be, but experts know what it’s not: Don’t expect negotiations akin to those that produced the historic 2015 Paris climate accord.
In Paris, “every comma, every period and every sentence was negotiated 100 times,” said Christiana Figueres, the former U.N. climate chief who was one of the chief architects behind the 6-year-old pact. By contrast, this week’s summit, she says, “is a public confirmation of intent for every country to come forward with its current best effort.”
Climate activists may hope for dramatic moments when countries like Japan, South Korea or even China are suddenly inspired by Biden and announce they will stop funding other nations’ coal power plants. But Henry “Jake” Jacoby, who cofounded the MIT Center for Global Change Science, just laughs at the idea: “On a Zoom call with 40 nations of the world watching? Yeah, not a chance.”
The summit instead is about planting seeds for a November climate meeting in Scotland, where expectations and stakes are higher. But because of in-person restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic and the short time period since Biden took office, this week’s meeting is more of a show-and-tell among leaders, all streamed to whomever wants to watch it. The real action comes later.
The bulk of the diplomacy over the next seven months will be done not by presidents, but behind the scenes by diplomats, such as the recent travels by special U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, said Nigel Purvis, a former State Department climate negotiator in the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
The in-person meetings in Scotland are meant to pull everything together, which still could work, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday.
Biden has made clear he understands the necessity of doing meetings remotely: first, to safeguard the health of the leaders as well as the large traveling party that comes with a visit from a head of state. Moreover, keeping things remote helps set an example that his administration is still discouraging travel amid a rise in virus variants and COVID-19 cases.
But he has not always enjoyed the virtual substitutes. He struggled with the mute button at a remote fundraiser and watched as German Chancellor Angela Merkel forgot to silence her own feed and interrupted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a virtual Group of Seven leaders’ meeting in February.
Biden’s foreign policy outreach to this point has lacked the small moments amid summits and state visits meant to flatter and make memories for foreign dignitaries.
President Barack Obama took Dmitry Medvedev to a burger joint in 2010 when the Russian president visited Washington. Obama’s younger daughter, Sasha, who was studying Chinese at her private D.C. school at the time, had a memorable moment trying out some simple phrases with China’s Hu Jintao during his 2011 state visit.
Vladimir Putin’s 2001 visit to George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, included a barbecue dinner, a lesson on how to dance the Cotton-Eye Joe and a ride in the Republican president’s pickup truck.
Such moments are difficult to create in the pandemic era, but that hasn’t stopped Biden and his team from trying to bring some small flourishes to virtual statecraft. For example, Biden opened his recent virtual meeting with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan with a video of George W. Bush talking about the coalition’s beginnings after the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean. It was part of an effort to stress bipartisanship and continuity in the alliance.

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Out of sight but center stage, jurors weigh Chauvin’s fate

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The jurors who sat quietly off-camera through three weeks of draining testimony in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial in George Floyd’s death moved into the spotlight Tuesday, still out of sight but now in control of verdicts awaited by a skittish city.
The jury of six white people and six people who are Black or multiracial was set for its first full day of deliberations. The jury, anonymous by order of the judge and sequestered now until they reach a verdict, spent just a few hours on their task Monday after the day was mostly consumed by closing arguments in which prosecutors argued that Chauvin squeezed the life out of Floyd last May in a way that even a child knew was wrong.
The defense contended that the now-fired white officer acted reasonably and that the 46-year-old Floyd died of a heart condition and illegal drug use.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, all of which require the jury to conclude that his actions were a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death and that his use of force was unreasonable.
The most serious charge carries up to 40 years in prison.
“Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher said in closing arguments, referring to the bystander video of Floyd pinned to the pavement with Chauvin’s knee on or close to his neck for up to 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as onlookers yelled at the officer to get off.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson countered by arguing that Chauvin did what any reasonable police officer would have done after finding himself in a “dynamic” and “fluid” situation involving a large man struggling with three officers.
As Nelson began speaking, the now-fired Chauvin removed his COVID-19 mask in front of the jury for one of the very few times during the trial.
With the case drawing to a close, some stores were boarded up in Minneapolis. The courthouse was ringed with concrete barriers and razor wire, and National Guard troops were on patrol. Floyd’s death set off protests last spring in the city and across the U.S. that sometimes turned violent.
The city has also been on edge in recent days over the deadly police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, in a nearby suburb on April 11.
About 300 protesters marched in the streets outside the courthouse shortly after the jury got the case, lining up behind a banner reading, “Justice 4 George Floyd & all stolen lives. The world is watching.”
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell had the final word Monday, offering the state’s rebuttal argument. The prosecutor, who is Black, said the questions about the use of force and cause of death are “so simple that a child can understand it.”
“In fact, a child did understand it, when the 9-year-old girl said, ‘Get off of him,'” Blackwell said, referring to a young witness who objected to what she saw. “That’s how simple it was. `Get off of him.’ Common sense.”
Under the law, police have certain latitude to use force, and their actions are supposed to be judged according to what a “reasonable officer” in the same situation would have done.
Nelson noted that officers who first went to the corner store where Floyd allegedly passed a counterfeit $20 bill were struggling with Floyd when Chauvin arrived as backup. The defense attorney also pointed out that the first two officers on the scene were rookies and that police had been told that Floyd might be on drugs.
“A reasonable police officer understands the intensity of the struggle,” Nelson said, noting that Chauvin’s body camera and badge were knocked off his chest.
Nelson also showed the jury pictures of pills found in Floyd’s SUV and pill remnants discovered in the squad car. Fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in Floyd’s system.
The defense attorney said the failure of the prosecution to acknowledge that medical problems or drugs played a role “defies medical science and it defies common sense and reason.”
During the prosecution’s argument, Schleicher replayed portions of the bystander video and other footage as he dismissed certain defense theories about Floyd’s death as “nonsense.” He said Chauvin killed Floyd by constricting his breathing.
Schleicher rejected the drug overdose argument, as well as the contention that police were distracted by hostile onlookers, that Floyd had “superhuman” strength from a state of agitation known as excited delirium, and that he suffered possible carbon monoxide poisoning from auto exhaust.
The prosecutor sarcastically referred to the idea that it was heart disease that killed Floyd as an “amazing coincidence.”
“Is that common sense or is that nonsense?” Schleicher asked the jury.
Blackwell, his fellow prosecutor, likewise rejected the defense theory that Floyd died because of an enlarged heart: “The truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin’s heart was too small.”
Earlier, Schleicher described how Chauvin ignored Floyd’s cries and continued to kneel on him well after he stopped breathing and had no pulse. Chauvin was “on top of him for 9 minutes and 29 seconds and he had to know,” Schleicher said. “He had to know.”
He said Chauvin heard Floyd, “but he just didn’t listen.”
The prosecutor said Floyd was “not a threat to anyone” and was not trying to escape when he struggled with officers but instead was terrified of being put into the tiny backseat of the squad car.
He said a reasonable officer with Chauvin’s training and experience — he was a 19-year Minneapolis police veteran — should have sized up the situation accurately.
Chauvin showed little expression as he watched himself and the other officers pinning Floyd to the ground on bodycam video played by his attorney. He cocked his head to the side and occasionally leaned forward to write on a notepad.
An unidentified woman occupied the single seat set aside in the pandemic-spaced courtroom for a Chauvin supporter.
Floyd’s brother Philonise represented the family in court in the morning, followed later by a nephew, Brandon Williams.
Schleicher also noted that Chauvin was required to use his training to provide medical care to Floyd but ignored bystanders, rebuffed help from an off-duty paramedic and rejected a suggestion from another officer to roll Floyd onto his side.
“He could have listened to the bystanders. He could have listened to fellow officers. He could have listened to his own training,” Schleicher said. “He knew better. He just didn’t do better.”
After closing arguments were done, Judge Peter Cahill rejected a defense request for a mistrial based in part on comments from California Rep. Maxine Waters, who said “we’ve got to get more confrontational” if Chauvin isn’t convicted of murder.
The judge told Chauvin’s attorney: “Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned.” He called her comments “abhorrent” and “disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch.”

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Walter Mondale, Carter’s vice president, dies at 93

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, a liberal icon who lost one of the most lopsided presidential elections after bluntly telling voters to expect a tax increase if he won, died Monday. He was 93.
The death of the former senator, ambassador and Minnesota attorney general was announced in a statement from his family. No cause was cited.
Mondale followed the trail blazed by his political mentor, Hubert H. Humphrey, from Minnesota politics to the U.S. Senate and the vice presidency, serving under Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981.
In a statement Monday night, Carter said he considered Mondale “the best vice president in our country’s history.” He added: “Fritz Mondale provided us all with a model for public service and private behavior.”
President Joe Biden said of Mondale: “There have been few senators, before or since, who commanded such universal respect. … It was Walter Mondale who defined the vice presidency as a full partnership, and helped provide a model for my service.”
Mondale’s own try for the White House, in 1984, came at the zenith of Ronald Reagan’s popularity. His selection of Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York as his running mate made him the first major-party presidential nominee to put a woman on the ticket, but his declaration that he would raise taxes helped define the race.
On Election Day, he carried only his home state and the District of Columbia. The electoral vote was 525-13 for Reagan — the biggest landslide in the Electoral College since Franklin Roosevelt defeated Alf Landon in 1936. (Sen. George McGovern got 17 electoral votes in his 1972 defeat, winning Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.)
“I did my best,” Mondale said the day after the election, and blamed no one but himself.
“I think you know I’ve never really warmed up to television,” he said. “In fairness to television, it never really warmed up to me.”
Years later, Mondale said his campaign message had proven to be the right one.
“History has vindicated me that we would have to raise taxes,” he said. “It was very unpopular, but it was undeniably correct.”
In 2002, state and national Democrats looked to Mondale when Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., was killed in a plane crash less than two weeks before Election Day. Mondale agreed to stand in for Wellstone, and early polls showed him with a lead over the Republican candidate, Norm Coleman.
But the 53-year-old Coleman, emphasizing his youth and vigor, out-hustled the then-74-year-old Mondale in an intense six-day campaign. Mondale was also hurt by a partisan memorial service for Wellstone, in which thousands of Democrats booed Republican politicians in attendance. One speaker pleaded: “We are begging you to help us win this election for Paul Wellstone.”
Polls showed the service put off independents and cost Mondale votes. Coleman won by 3 percentage points.
“The eulogizers were the ones hurt the most,” Mondale said after the election. “It doesn’t justify it, but we all make mistakes. Can’t we now find it in our hearts to forgive them and go on?”
It was a particularly bitter defeat for Mondale, who even after his loss to Reagan had taken solace in his perfect record in Minnesota.
“One of the things I’m most proud of,” he said in 1987, “is that not once in my public career did I ever lose an election in Minnesota.”
Years after the 2002 defeat, Mondale returned to the Senate to stand beside Democrat Al Franken in 2009 when he was sworn in to replace Coleman after a drawn-out recount and court battle.
Mondale started his career in Washington in 1964, when he was appointed to the Senate to replace Humphrey, who had resigned to become vice president. Mondale was elected to a full six-year term with about 54% of the vote in 1966, although Democrats lost the governorship and suffered other election setbacks. In 1972, Mondale won another Senate term with nearly 57% of the vote.
His Senate career was marked by advocacy of social issues such as education, housing, migrant workers and child nutrition. Like Humphrey, he was an outspoken supporter of civil rights.
Mondale tested the waters for a presidential bid in 1974 but ultimately decided against it. “Basically I found I did not have the overwhelming desire to be president, which is essential for the kind of campaign that is required,” he said in November 1974.
In 1976, Carter chose Mondale as No. 2 on his ticket and went on to unseat Gerald Ford.
As vice president, Mondale had a close relationship with Carter. He was the first vice president to occupy an office in the White House, rather than in a building across the street. Mondale traveled extensively on Carter’s behalf, and advised him on domestic and foreign affairs.
While he lacked Humphrey’s charisma, Mondale had a droll sense of humor.
When he dropped out of the 1976 presidential sweepstakes, he said, “I don’t want to spend the next two years in Holiday Inns.”
Reminded of that shortly before he was picked as Carter’s running mate, Mondale said, “I’ve checked and found that they’re all redecorated, and they’re marvelous places to stay.”
Mondale never backed away from his liberal principles.
“I think that the country more than ever needs progressive values,” Mondale said in 1989.
That year, Democrats tried to persuade him to challenge Minnesota GOP Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, but he decided against making the race, saying it was time to make way for a new generation.
“One of the requirements of a healthy party is that it renews itself,” he said at the time. “You can’t keep running Walter Mondale for everything.”
That paved the way for Wellstone to win the Democratic nomination, and go on to upset Boschwitz. Wellstone had been preparing to take on Mondale in a primary but would have been a heavy underdog.
The son of a Methodist minister and a music teacher, Walter Frederick Mondale was born Jan. 5, 1928, in tiny Ceylon, Minnesota, and grew up in several small southern Minnesota towns.
He was only 20 when he served as a congressional district manager for Humphrey’s successful Senate campaign in 1948. His education, interrupted by a two-year stint in the Army, culminated with a law degree from the University of Minnesota in 1956.
Mondale began a law practice in Minneapolis and ran the successful 1958 gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Orville Freeman, who appointed Mondale state attorney general in 1960. Mondale was elected attorney general in the fall of 1960 and was reelected in 1962.
As attorney general, Mondale moved quickly into civil rights, antitrust and consumer protection cases. He was the first Minnesota attorney general to make consumer protection a campaign issue.
After his White House years, Mondale served from 1993-96 as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Japan, fighting for U.S. access to markets ranging from cars to cellular phones.
He helped avert a trade war in June 1995 over autos and auto parts, persuading Japanese officials to give American automakers more access to Japanese dealers and pushing Japanese carmakers to buy U.S. parts.
Mondale kept his ties to the Clintons. In 2008, he endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for president, switching his allegiance only after Barack Obama sealed the nomination.
When Democrats came to him after Wellstone’s death, Mondale was working at the Minneapolis law firm of Dorsey & Whitney and serving on corporate and nonprofit boards. He returned to the firm after the brief campaign.
Mondale and his wife, Joan Adams Mondale, were married in 1955. During his vice presidency, she pushed for more government support of the arts and gained the nickname “Joan of Art.” She had minored in art in college and worked at museums in Boston and Minneapolis.
The couple had two sons, Ted and William, and a daughter, Eleanor. Ted Mondale served six years in the Minnesota Senate and made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1998. William Mondale served for a time as an assistant attorney general. Eleanor Mondale, who became a broadcast journalist and TV host, died of brain cancer in 2011.
Joan Mondale died in 2014 at age 83 after an extended illness.

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Mother: Girl, boyfriend fought before Tenn. school shooting

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee woman said she called police about a physical fight involving her daughter and the girl’s boyfriend before he was fatally shot by officers in a high school bathroom.
Regina Perkins said she called police last Monday on 17-year-old as Anthony J. Thompson Jr., the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.
Police said Thompson had a gun inside Austin-East Magnet High School in east Knoxville later Monday and was shot to death in a confrontation with officers in a bathroom.
Perkins said Thompson and her daughter, a junior, had dated for nine months. The girl called Perkins from an assistant principal’s office earlier Monday, saying she was upset and wanted to leave school early. Perkins said she allowed her to sign out and go home, where the girl indicated she and Thompson got into a scuffle during an argument.
Perkins said she tried without success to reach Thompson’s mother before calling police. An officer came to her home to take a statement. Perkins said she also exchanged text messages with Thompson, telling him that an officer would be coming to the school.
“Anthony was aware that I had called the police and made a report,” Perkins said.
Not long after that, Perkins said she saw a helicopter above the school and learned that the school was on lockdown. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said police responded to a report of a possible gunman about 15 minutes before the school’s 3:30 p.m. dismissal.
Perkins said she now wishes she had never called police.
“I am so sorry, and I never meant for anything to happen to him,” Perkins said. “We are mourning, my daughter is grieving the loss of her first love and we also want answers and justice in this case.”
During the shooting, a school resource officer was wounded by a gunshot, which the TBI said did not come from the student’s gun, raising the possibility that the officer could have been hit by police gunfire. The resource officer was shot in the leg and is recovering after surgery.
A local prosecutor has denied a request by Knoxville’s mayor to release video footage of the shooting, saying the public will be allowed to see the body camera evidence at some point.
The shooting occurred as the community reels from off-campus gun violence that has left three other Austin-East students dead this year.
It also comes as more classrooms are reopening to students after months of remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic, a period that saw a drop in mass killings in the U.S. The nation has seen a series of mass shootings in recent weeks.