September 17, 2020

They take off and land at the same airport, but for some jetsetters, these "flights to nowhere" are enough.

The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines says because of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a 97.5 percent drop in international travel in the region. Taiwan's EVA Air and Japan's ANA wanted to find a way to make money and ensure their pilots could keep their licenses, so they started offering special scenic flights. Last month, an ANA plane that is typically bound for Honolulu instead flew around for 90 minutes with "a Hawaiian experience on board," Reuters reports.

Qantas is now following in their footsteps, offering a flight that takes off from Sydney and, after flying low over the Australian Outback and the Great Barrier Reef, lands back in Sydney seven hours later. Tickets ranged in price from $575 to $2,765, and with 134 seats available, the flight sold out in 10 minutes. A spokeswoman told Reuters on Thursday it was "probably the fastest selling flight in Qantas history. People clearly miss travel and the experience of flying. If the demand is there, we'll definitely look at doing more of these scenic flights while we all wait for borders to open."

Chen Shu Tze, an engineer from Taipei, took advantage of Tigerair Taiwan's flight to nowhere that travels over South Korea's Jeju island. For $236, she got a seat on the plane and a one-year voucher for round-trip tickets from Taiwan to South Korea, as soon as travel bans are lifted. "The pandemic has a devastating impact on the tourism and airline industry, so I want to help boost the economy, and I miss flying," she told Reuters. Catherine Garcia

12:45 p.m.

"If you look at the data," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' top infectious disease expert, said Sunday, the spread of COVID-19 "among children and from children is not really very big at all. Not like one would have suspected." That's why he supports trying to get kids back in school, he told ABC News' Martha Raddatz.

Instead of shuttering classrooms, Fauci said, the best way to keep children safe from contracting or spreading the coronavirus is to mitigate community spread. So while there's no "one size fits all approach," he suggested bars and restaurants with indoor dining, rather than schools, are places where the virus really thrives. "If you mitigate the things that you know are causing spread in a very, very profound way, a robust way," he said, "you will then indirectly and ultimately protect the children in the school."

As it turns out New York City, which reignited the debate about school closures this month, is shifting more toward that strategy, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday. The city's public schools all closed earlier this month when coronavirus testing hit a 3 percent positivity rate even though transmission rates in the classroom remained low, prompting ample criticism, since bars and restaurants remained open.

Elementary schools will reopen in New York next week, although only students who have already signed up for in-person learning will be eligible. And while middle schools and high schools will remain shut for now, de Blasio said he is revamping how the city manages the education system during the pandemic. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

12:16 p.m.

President Trump claimed Sunday that he has had other world leaders call him to "say how messed up" the U.S. presidential election was.

The comment came during a phone interview with Fox News' Maria Baritromo, during which Trump — without much pushback from Bartiromo — continued to allege President-elect Joe Biden defeated him in the general election with the help of widespread voter fraud, despite there being no evidence of any.

It's unclear who Trump was referring to, if he has indeed received such calls. Most world leaders, including those whom Trump enjoys friendly relationships with like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, have publicly offered their congratulations to Biden.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have kept quiet on Biden's win, but there's no proof they've explicitly expressed sympathy for Trump by deriding the U.S. electoral process either. Regardless, the White House hasn't read out any calls with foreign leaders since October. Tim O'Donnell

11:19 a.m.

In his first one-on-one interview since the general election, President Trump told Fox News' Maria Bartiromo over the phone that he is "ashamed" he once endorsed Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R).

Trump, who throughout the interview repeated allegations of widespread voter fraud without evidence or much pushback from Bartiromo, complained about Georgia's electoral process in particular. The president became the first Republican presidential candidate to lose the state since 1992. He has already sought a mostly ineffective recount, but he's still fuming over his defeat, and he's taken out his on state officials, especially Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. But he let Kemp have it Sunday.

Trump said Kemp has "done absolutely nothing" to assist his efforts to flip the results and admitted "I'm ashamed that I endorsed him."

As several observers pointed out, Kemp has traditionally been a solid supporter of the president, highlighting how quickly Trump's relationships can turn. Tim O'Donnell

10:39 a.m.

Afghanistan officials reported a pair of separate fatal suicide bombings in the country Sunday.

At least 31 Afghan security force members were killed and 24 others wounded after an attacker reportedly drove a military humvee packed with explosives onto an army base outside the city of Ghazni on Sunday and detonated the bomb. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack. Per Reuters, a spokesman for the Taliban did not confirm or deny the group's involvement.

Another suicide bomber targeted the convoy of Attajan Haqbayat, the council chief in the southern Zabul province, on Sunday, killing at least three people and wounding 21 others. Haqbayat survived the attack with minor injuries. No one has claimed responsibility for that incident, either; Reuters notes Haqbayat is an outspoken critic of the Taliban.

The Taliban and the Afghan government are seeking a solution to their decades-long conflict, as the United States prepares to withdraw more troops from the country, but violence has surged throughout the negotiation process. The Taliban and the Islamic State have both carried out in attacks in recent weeks. Read more at The Associated Press and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

10:23 a.m.

David Prowse, a British actor best known for portraying Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, has died after a short illness, his management company announced Saturday. He was 85.

Prowse was a former bodybuilder and weightlifting champion who had several roles in which he played monsters and villains before George Lucas invited him to audition for both Vader and Chewbacca. Prowse said he chose the former because "everyone remembers the villain," per The Guardian.

While he appeared in all three original trilogy films, it was actually James Earl Jones who provided the character's voice, and Lucas cast Sebastian Shaw for the role when Vader's helmet is finally removed at the end of Return of the Jedi. Prowse reportedly had a falling out with Lucas, who banned him from attending official Star Wars conventions.

Despite playing an iconic pop culture figure, Prowse said he was most proud of his role as the "Green Cross Code Man" in a British road safety campaign. Read more at The Guardian and CNN. Tim O'Donnell

7:53 a.m.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unanimously to reject a Republican lawsuit, led by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), that argued the Keystone State's law permitting universal mail-in voting was unconstitutional.

The high court said the "petitioners advocated the extraordinary proposition that the court disenfranchise all 6.9 million Pennsylvanians who voted in the general election," but "failed to allege that even a single mail-in ballot was fraudulently cast or counted." The justices also criticized the petitioners for filing the lawsuit more than a year after the bill was passed by Pennsylvania's GOP legislature. "The want of due diligence demonstrated in this matter is unmistakable," the justices wrote.

The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice meaning the plaintiffs are barred from bringing another action on the same claim.

The decision was yet another blow for the Trump campaign and its allies seeking to overturn election results — there have now been 26 pro-Trump legal challenges tossed out in key swing states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia. Read more at NBC News and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

November 28, 2020

Sarah Fuller, a goalkeeper for Vanderbilt women's soccer team, suited up for the Commodore football team Saturday and became the first woman to play in a Power 5 football game when she took the third quarter kick off.

Two women have played college football at the FBS level — Katie Hnida of New Mexico and April Goss of Kent State — but neither were on a team in the the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, or Pac-12.

Per ESPN, Vanderbilt's expected starting kicker opted out before the season, and several replacements are in quarantine this week because of COVID-19 testing, so Fuller got the call. She told Vanderbilt's website the historical aspect of the situation is "amazing and incredible," but "I'm also trying to separate that because I know this is a job I need to do." Read more at ESPN. Tim O'Donnell

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