Lightning Strikes Two People Dead Near White House 

A Secret Service officer patrols Lafayette Park near the White House in Washington, D.C. after a lightning strike critically injured four people on August 4, 2022. (Photo by Bryan Olin Dozier/NurPhoto)

 

Two people were killed and two more were in critical condition on Friday after a lightning strike near the White House the night before, police in the US capital said.

The lightning hit Lafayette Square, a small park across the street from the White House, shortly before 7:00 pm (2300 GMT) Thursday, leaving two men and two women with “critical life-threatening injuries,” according to a statement from Washington’s fire and emergencies department.

All the victims were taken to local hospitals, but on Friday morning the Metropolitan Police confirmed that two of them — 75-year-old Donna Mueller and 76-year-old James Mueller, both from Janesville in Wisconsin — had been pronounced dead.

READ ALSOUS Says Russia Will Fake Scene Around Mass POW Deaths To Blame Ukraine

The other two adults remain in critical condition, police said.

A White House spokeswoman said the Biden administration was “saddened by the tragic loss of life.”

“We are praying for those still fighting for their lives,” added Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement.

US Secret Service and park police rushed to help the four after witnessing the strike, fire and emergency services department spokesman Vito Maggiolo said in a statement posted on social media.

Photos posted by the department on social media showed multiple ambulances and at least one fire truck with flashing lights working at the scene.

Witness David Root told NBC he heard a “horrific boom.”

“I just couldn’t believe it,” he was quoted as saying. “Was surreal. I have never seen anything like this in my entire life.”

He said he had been sheltering beneath a tree when he saw the lightning strike across the park.

The people “weren’t moving,” he said, so he and others ran over to give help.

The Washington Post said the four were found some 100 feet from the statue of former US president Andrew Jackson which marks the center of the square.

The strike was part of a severe thunderstorm that hit the American capital on Thursday evening.

“Trees are not safe places,” Maggiolo told the Post.

“Anybody that goes to seek shelter under a tree, that’s a very dangerous place to be.”

AFP

Biles, Denzel Washington, Steve Jobs Among Winners Of Top US Honor

(COMBO) This combination of file pictures created on July 01, 2022 shows (L-R, top) Simone Biles, Denzel Washington; former Democratic US Representative Gabby Giffords; US football player Megan Rapinoe; Khizr Khan, a Goldstar father; Apple CEO Steve Jobs; US Republican Senator from Arizona John McCain; AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. (Photos by AFP)

 

 

Gymnastics star Simone Biles, actor Denzel Washington and the late tech visionary Steve Jobs have been named as recipients of America’s highest civilian honor, the White House said Friday.

President Joe Biden designated 17 Americans to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, three of them posthumous.

The White House said the medal recognizes “exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.”

Among the recipients is Megan Rapinoe, the Olympic gold medalist soccer star, two-time Women’s World Cup champion and outspoken advocate on equality, race and LGBTQ issues.

Ahead of a ceremony on July 7, the White House said those honored had “overcome significant obstacles… and acted with bravery to drive change in their communities — and across the world — while blazing trails for generations to come.”

One posthumous recipient this year is John McCain, a one-time Republican presidential nominee, long-time senator from Arizona, and Vietnam War veteran who won a Purple Heart.

Previous winners of the presidential medal include the basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Motown singer Diana Ross and the actor Robert De Niro.

White House Calls On China To ‘Immediately Release’ Hong Kong Cleric Zen

WASHINGTON, DC – File Photo of the White House. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Anna Moneymaker / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

 

 

The White House called Wednesday for the immediate release by Chinese authorities of detained democracy advocates in Hong Kong, including Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen.

“Freedom of expression (is) critical to prosperous and secure societies,” principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

The United States calls on authorities in China and Hong Kong “to cease targeting Hong Kong’s advocates and to immediately release (those) who had been unjustly detained and charged, like the cardinal Joseph Zen,” she said.

White House To Propose New Minimum Tax On Billionaires

US President Joe Biden speaks about the counterterrorism operation in Syria from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 3, 2022. SAUL LOEB / AFP
In this file photo, US President Joe Biden speaks about the counterterrorism operation in Syria from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 3, 2022. SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

US President Joe Biden’s administration will include more taxes on the wealthiest Americans in its 2023 budget proposal, due to be released on Monday, US media reported Saturday.

The “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax” would require the 700 or so American households worth more than $100 million to pay at least 20 percent on their full income, the Washington Post and other US media reported, citing a White House document.

“This minimum tax would make sure that the wealthiest Americans no longer pay a tax rate lower than teachers and firefighters,” said the document, cited by the Post.

READ ALSO: Russian Army Takes Control Of Chernobyl Staff Town, Ukraine

A study by the Biden administration this autumn found that 400 billionaire households paid an average of only 8.2 percent in taxes on their income between 2010 and 2018, a rate often well below that of many American households.

The tax would also target unrealized gains in the value of liquid assets, such as stocks, which are not taxed until they are sold.

The new measure, which requires congressional approval to be enacted, could raise up to $360 billion in new revenue over ten years, the document cited by the Post said.

A longstanding goal of the political left, the plan could dramatically change the tax paid by US billionaires.

Tech titan Elon Musk would, for example, have to pay an additional $50 billion in taxes, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos some $35 billion more, according to calculations by University of California Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman, cited by the Post.

AFP

UK, US, Other Countries Tell Nationals To Leave Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen are at work to receive the delivery of FGM-148 Javelins, an American man-portable anti-tank missile provided by the US to Ukraine as part of military support, at Kyiv’s airport Boryspil on February 11, 2022, amid the crisis linked with the threat of Russia’s invasion.
PHOTO: Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP

 

Britain on Friday urged its nationals in Ukraine to “leave now while commercial means are still available” amid fears about an escalation of the crisis on the Russia/Ukraine border.

The Foreign Office “now advises against all travel to Ukraine. British nationals in Ukraine should leave now while commercial means are still available”, it said in an update on its website.

Also on Friday, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called on Americans to immediately leave Ukraine, warning a Russian attack “is likely to begin with aerial bombing and missile attacks that could obviously kill civilians.”

The United States also updated its travel advisory on Ukraine to a level 4, the highest in its four-tier system, on Thursday. The U.S. Department of State urged Americans not to travel to Ukraine “due to the increased threats of Russian military action and COVID-19.”

READ ALSO: ‘Russia Could Invade Ukraine Any Day,’ US Warns

Americans currently in Ukraine were told to leave immediately via private or commercial means.

The U.S. travel advisory also stated that the U.S. government will be unable to evacuate Americans if Russian military action occurs in Ukraine.

The White House issued a warning Friday that any U.S. citizens still in Ukraine should leave in the next “24 to 48 hours.”

Several EU countries have also asked their nationals to leave Ukraine, notably Belgium, Estonia, and Lithuania.

Belgium on Saturday advised its nationals to leave Ukraine.

Belgium joins the US and several European countries, who have called on their citizens in Ukraine to leave the country for fear war breaks out.

“Nationals who are currently in Ukraine and whose presence is not strictly necessary in the country are strongly advised to leave the country,” the Belgian foreign ministry said on its website.

It said it strongly advised against travel to the country, adding that an evacuation could not be guaranteed.

The ministry said that in case of a “sudden deterioration, communication links including internet and telephone lines could be seriously affected” and air links hampered.

The European Union has told non-essential staff from its diplomatic mission in Ukraine to leave the country but has not issued an evacuation order.

AFP

 

US Court Rejects Trump Bid To Keep Capitol Riot Documents Secret

Man Bags 15 Years In Prison For N5.2m Fraud
A file photo of a court gavel.

 

A US federal appeals court on Thursday rejected former president Donald Trump’s bid to prevent the release of White House records relating to the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

The appeals court agreed with a lower court ruling that President Joe Biden could waive executive privilege on the records so that they could be handed over to a Congressional panel investigating the violence by Trump supporters.

Trump, who has been accused of fomenting the attack on the US Congress, sought to exercise his privilege as a former president to keep the documents and phone records that might relate to the attack a secret.

READ ALSO: US Senate Blocks Biden Vaccine Mandate

But the court said Biden’s judgment carried more weight in the case.

“The right of a former president certainly enjoys no greater weight than that of the incumbent,” the appeals court said in its ruling.

“In this case, President Biden, as the head of the Executive Branch, has specifically found that Congress has demonstrated a compelling need for these very documents and that disclosure is in the best interests of the nation,” the court said.

Supreme Court Appeal Expected

The ruling did not trigger the immediate release of the records. The appeals court said that Trump’s lawyers would have two weeks to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

There, Trump’s attorneys are expected to request a new freeze on the release while the high court reviews the unprecedented case.

“Regardless of today’s decision by the appeals court, this case was always destined for the Supreme Court,” said Trump spokeswoman Liz Harrington.

“President Trump’s duty to defend the Constitution and the Office of the Presidency continues, and he will keep fighting for every American and every future administration.”

The appeals court said the public interest was greater than Trump’s own in relation to the records, which are held by the National Archives.

“That public interest is heightened when, as here, the legislature is proceeding with urgency to prevent violent attacks on the federal government and disruptions to the peaceful transfer of power,” it said.

The records are sought by the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 violence, in which hundreds of Trump supporters forced the shutdown of Congress and delayed a joint session to confirm that Joe Biden had won the November 2020 election over Trump and would become president.

“We applaud the Court’s decisive ruling, which respects the Select Committee’s interest in obtaining White House records and the President’s judgment in allowing those records to be produced,” the special committee’s Democratic chairman Representative Bennie Thompson and Republican vice-chair Liz Cheney said in a joint statement Thursday.

Documents that Trump hoped to block include records from his top aides and memos to his former press secretary.

The more than 770 pages include records of his former chief of staff Mark Meadows, his former senior advisor Stephen Miller and his former deputy counsel Patrick Philbin.

Trump had also hoped to block the release of the White House Daily Diary — a record of his activities, trips, briefings, and phone calls.

Another trove of documents Trump does not want Congress to see includes memos to his former press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, a handwritten note on the January 6 events, and a draft text of his speech at the “Save America” rally, which preceded the attack.

“Today, the Courts have once again rejected the former President’s campaign to obstruct Congress’s investigation into the January 6th insurrection,” Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a statement after the ruling.

“No one can be allowed to stand in the way of the truth – particularly not the previous President, who incited the insurrection.”

Investigation Advances 

The January 6 committee meanwhile continued to push ahead in its investigation.

Witness and document requests indicate it is seeking to determine whether the White House played a role in encouraging or even plotting the January 6 attack as part of Trump’s effort to prevent Biden from taking office.

Cheney, the committee’s vice-chair, said it had now heard from nearly 300 witnesses, including four on Thursday: former Trump aide and Pentagon official Kash Patel; Ali Alexander, who helped organize the pro-Trump rally at the White House before the Capitol attack; and two others.

When Trump political consultant Steve Bannon refused to testify on his role on January 6, he was held in contempt, and then arrested by the Justice Department.

Next week, the committee is expected to also rule Meadows in contempt for refusing to testify.

“The investigation is firing on all cylinders,” Cheney said on Twitter.

“President Trump is trying to hide what happened on January 6th and to delay and obstruct. We will not let that happen.”

AFP

Kamala Harris Becomes First Female To Hold US Presidential Power

File photo: US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a press conference in Mexico City, on June 8, 2021.(Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AE / AFP)

 

President Joe Biden will transfer power to Vice President Kamala Harris during the “brief” time Friday he is under anesthesia for a colonoscopy as part of a regular health check, the White House said.

Biden, the oldest person to hold the presidency in US history, went to the Walter Reed Medical Center just outside of Washington early Friday on the eve of his 79th birthday.

The White House described the appointment as Biden’s “routine annual physical.” It was his first since taking office in January.

Despite the administration’s stressing that there was nothing unusual in the hospital visit, Biden’s departure by motorcade from the White House early Friday was announced at the last minute.

READ ALSO: Biden Apologises For Trump Exit From Climate Accord

His public schedule, issued the previous night, listed only the traditional ceremony to “pardon” a turkey ahead of Thanksgiving and departure for a weekend at home in Delaware.

During a colonoscopy examination, Biden will be anesthetized and as in past practice the vice president will assume power, which includes control over the US armed forces and the nuclear weapons arsenal.

“President Biden will transfer power to the vice president for the brief period of time when he is under anesthesia. The vice president will work from her office in the West Wing during this time,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

Harris, 57, is the first woman to hold the vice presidency and made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Party nomination in 2020, before being picked as Biden’s running mate. However briefly, her temporary holding of presidential powers will also make history.

Psaki noted that a similar temporary transfer of power, “following the process set out in the Constitution,” had been carried out when president George W. Bush underwent the same procedure in 2002 and 2007.

Psaki said that a written “summary” of the findings from the president’s exam would be released “later this afternoon.”

Any details on Biden’s health are sure to be closely watched, given speculation on whether he will stand by his stated intention to seek a second term in 2024.

Biden pledged before his election a year ago to be “totally transparent” with voters about all aspects of his health.

‘Vigorous’ 

In a letter released by his election campaign in December 2019, Biden’s physician had described him as “a healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency.”

Biden does not smoke or drink, and prior to his election worked out at least five days per week, according to the letter.

He was vaccinated early on against Covid-19 and received a booster shot in September.

The health check comes at a crucial moment in his presidency, with the House of Representatives adopting Biden’s huge “Build Back Better” social spending agenda. Earlier this week, Biden signed into law another package to fund the biggest national infrastructure revamp in more than half a century.

The twin victories come after weeks of falling approval ratings for Biden and setbacks for his Democratic party ahead of next year’s midterm elections when the Republicans are widely predicted to take control of at least the lower house of Congress.

After returning from hospital, Biden was due to participate in the annual tradition of issuing a presidential “pardon” to a turkey, with the bird being spared from next week’s Thanksgiving meals. He was then due to fly to his family home in Delaware for the weekend.

AFP

Fully Vaccinated Foreign Visitors Can Enter US From Nov 8 – White House

WASHINGTON, DC – The United States announced Friday that it will allow entry to foreign travelers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, by both land and air, starting November 8.

 

 

The United States announced Friday that it will allow entry to foreign travelers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, by both land and air, starting November 8.

“This policy is guided by public health, stringent, and consistent,” tweeted White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz in announcing the news.

READ ALSO: Four Migrants Dead, 21 Missing Off Coast Of Spain

Under the new policy that was outlined last month, vaccinated travelers will still need to undergo testing and contact tracing to enter the United States.

White House Pushes 24-Hour Service To Relieve US Port Snarls

File Photo: WASHINGTON, DC , Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP

 

The Port of Los Angeles and its longshoreman union will provide 24-hour service to alleviate backlogs that have exacerbated global supply chain problems, senior Biden administration officials said Wednesday.

US President Joe Biden plans to announce the commitments at a meeting Wednesday with the leaders of the giant West Coast port and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

The White House has also won commitments from companies including Walmart, FedEx and UPS to work extended hours and move towards 24 hours a day in some operations, officials said.

While more costly in terms of providing overtime pay, there are benefits to companies providing round-the-clock service. For example, truckers working overnight will encounter less traffic, an administration official said.

The announcements come as myriad supply chain and logistics problems pose fresh challenges to the global economic recovery from the worst months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund warned that supply chain disruptions are driving price increases as it trimmed its growth outlook in an increasingly uneven global recovery.

And US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urged Americans not to panic despite the rising prices and shortages of some goods, adding that price increases are not likely to last.

There are several factors behind the shortages of key raw materials and finished goods now plaguing retailers, including factory outages in countries that have imposed lockdowns due to Covid-19; unexpected demand spikes for some goods as behavior changed during the pandemic; and a nationwide labor crunch.

But the backlog at US ports has been a major contributing factor to the problem, with the neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach at times having 60 or more vessels offshore unable to anchor. The California ports are a key gateway for goods made in Asia.

Officials said that Long Beach had already shifted to 24-hour service and that Los Angeles was now committing to the same.

Administration officials said they understood that almost all of the supply chain is controlled by the private sector, adding that the hope is that 24-hour commitments or aspirational pledges would encourage more private-sector players to step up.

AFP

Biden To Host Kenyan President Kenyatta 

File photo: US President Joe Biden speaks on the American Jobs Plan, following a tour of Tidewater Community College in Norfolk, Virginia on May 3, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

Joe Biden will welcome Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday, in the first visit by an African leader to the White House during his presidency.

The summit will be part of “Biden’s commitment to the US partnership with Africa based on principles of mutual respect and equality,” a White House statement said Tuesday.

It said Biden and Kenyatta would discuss “the need to bring transparency and accountability to domestic and international financial systems,” amid a push by the Biden administration to fight both corruption and inequities overseas.

The two will also “discuss efforts to defend democracy and human rights, advance peace and security, accelerate economic growth and tackle climate change,” the White House said.

Biden has vowed to promote democracy overseas. Once-stable Kenya saw deadly political violence after 2017 elections, but Kenyatta has since made up with his former rival Raila Odinga.

Biden took office vowing a new commitment to Africa after the disinterest of his predecessor Donald Trump, who was the first president in decades not to visit sub-Saharan Africa.

But Biden has only gone on one international trip and has trimmed the number of visitors at the White House amid continued precautions against Covid-19.

Much of the Biden administration’s attention in Africa has turned to Ethiopia, a longtime US ally that has disappointed Washington with a nearly year-old offensive in the Tigray region.

Ethiopia launched the operation late last year in response to attacks on an army camp by the then ruling party in Tigray, where UN officials say that hundreds of thousands are facing severe hunger.

Kenyatta, speaking Tuesday after a UN Security Council meeting on Ethiopia, called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities by both sides.”

“We do not believe that there is a military solution, and we need to urgently have all parties coming across the table in order for us to be able to ensure that all humanitarian corridors are actually opened,” he told reporters.

“We will continue to push — not just as Kenya, as a neighbor and a member of the Security Council but also through the African Union.”

AFP

White House Offers Nicki Minaj Phone Call After Viral Vaccine Claims

 

Nicki Minaj arrives for the 2018 Met Gala on May 7, 2018, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. – The Gala raises money for the Metropolitan Museum of Arts Costume Institute. The Gala’s 2018 theme is Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

 

The White House has offered to arrange a phone call between Nicki Minaj and one of its doctors, multiple US outlets reported after the rapper sparked widespread derision over claims a cousin’s friend had become impotent after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Minaj on Wednesday claimed she had been invited to the White House in the wake of her viral tweets about an unnamed acquaintance in her native Trinidad and Tobago — an invitation she said she accepted.

But a White House official told multiple US outlets that Minaj had only been offered an educational phone call.

“As we have with others, we offered a call with Nicki Minaj and one of our doctors to answer questions she has about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine,” the official said.

The Grammy-nominated rapper sparked a media storm Monday when she said she had skipped New York’s star-studded Met Gala this week due to its requirement that attendees be vaccinated, saying she would only get the jab once she had “done enough research”.

She said a friend of a cousin in Trinidad had experienced swollen testicles after getting the vaccine — claims that sparked a formal rebuttal from the Caribbean nation’s health minister.

“One of the reasons why we could not respond yesterday in real-time to Miss Minaj is that we had to check and make sure that what she was claiming was either true or false,” Terrence Deyalsingh told a press conference.

“Unfortunately, we wasted so much time yesterday running down this false claim.”

British and US health officials have also condemned the claims.

Experts say there is no evidence that vaccines affect fertility or male genitalia.

COVID-19: White House Says 50% Of Americans Fully Vaccinated

A health care worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine to a young woman during a vaccination event hosted by Miami Heat at FTX Arena in Miami, on August 5, 2021. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP

 

Half of the US population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the White House said Friday, as inoculations rise in response to the surging Delta variant of the novel coronavirus.

“50% of Americans (all ages) are now fully vaccinated. Keep going!,” Cyrus Shahpar, White House COVID-19 data director, said in a tweet.

That means more than 165 million people have received either the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson shot.

The threshold of half of all adult Americans fully vaccinated was reached in late May.

Shahpar said the seven-day average of newly vaccinated people is up 11 percent from last week and up 44 per cent over the past two weeks.

For four straight weeks, the average number of people getting vaccinated each day has risen, White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients said Thursday.

The United States is the nation hardest hit by the pandemic with 615,000 deaths.

Biden has been pressing hard for Americans to get vaccinated ever since he took office in January.

The aggressive vaccination program had raised hopes of a return to some semblance of normal life this summer, but the plan did not pan out because of the Delta variant.

After peaking in April, the rate of new inoculations fell off sharply.

Daily new cases, deaths and hospitalisations are up sharply in recent weeks, and cities like New York and Los Angeles are imposing new restrictions such as demanding proof of vaccination for entering indoor venues like restaurants and gyms.

Last week there was an average of 90,000 new coronavirus cases per day. Florida and Texas accounted for a third of them, the White House said.

That figure marks a 43 per cent rise from the previous week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

The level of community transmission of the virus is “high” or “substantial” in 85 percent of the country, the CDC says.

Hospitalizations are up to a nationwide daily average of around 7,300 per day in the seven days. Deaths are up sharply at around 380 per day.

Breakout cases of infection among vaccinated people are still rare but preliminary research shows that when they do happen, the risk of contagion is greater than with previous strains of the virus.

And this poses a higher risk for the non-vaccinated who come into contact with infected vaccinated people.

In light of all these numbers the CDC changed course recently and recommended the wearing of masks indoors in high-risk areas, even for people who are vaccinated.