February 18, 2021

Life expectancy in the U.S. dropped by an entire year in the first half of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic started ravaging the northeastern part of the country and spreading south, according to preliminary data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). "This is a huge decline," Robert Anderson, who oversees the numbers for the CDC, told The Associated Press. "You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this."

The decline in life expectancy means that a baby born in the first half of 2020 can expect to live 77.8 years, down from 78.8 years in 2019. Life expectancy for Black Americans dropped a stunning 2.7 years, to 72 years old, reversing a 27-year gradual closure of the gap between white and Black life expectancy. White Americans saw their life expectancy drop 0.8 years, to 78, and Hispanics experienced a 1.9-year decline, to 79.9 years old.

"What is really quite striking in these numbers is that they only reflect the first half of the year," Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo at the University of California, San Francisco, told AP. "I would expect that these numbers would only get worse." They will get worse for everyone, but because the deaths in the first half of the year were concentrated in areas with large Black and Latino populations, there will probably be a greater share of white deaths in the full-year numbers, the NCHS's Elizabeth Arias, lead author of the paper, told The Washington Post.

COVID-19 wasn't the only reason for the decrease in life expectancy. With more than 3 million recorded deaths. 2020 was the deadliest year in U.S. history. Included in those statistics are an uptick in fatal strokes and heart attacks and a record number of drug overdose deaths, 81,000 from May 2019 to May 2020. Life expectancy, with few modest exceptions, had risen steadily in the U.S. since the mid-20th century. Peter Weber

February 11, 2021

The National Park Service confirmed Wednesday that Bruce Springsteen was arrested last November on charges of driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, and consuming alcohol in a closed area at Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey. Springsteen, 71, "was cooperative throughout the process," an NPS spokeswoman tells The Wall Street Journal. He will appear in federal court, probably remotely, later this month.

Springsteen was featured in a two-minute Jeep ad that aired during Sunday's Super Bowl, and Jeep said it has removed the ad from its YouTube and social media pages. "It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the details of a matter we have only read about and we cannot substantiate," Jeep said in a statement. "But it's also right that we pause our Big Game commercial until the actual facts can be established. Its message of community and unity is as relevant as ever. As is the message that drinking and driving can never be condoned."

The Gateway National Recreation Area covers 27,000 acres in New York and New Jersey, circling New York Harbor; the New Jersey segment centers around Sandy Hook beach. Springsteen was arrested Nov. 14. Peter Weber

February 2, 2021

The Atlanta rapper Silento, best known for his 2015 hit "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)," was arrested Monday and charged with the murder of his cousin, Frederick Rooks, the DeKalb County Police Department said. Silento, the stage name of 23-year-old Ricky Lamar Hawk, was being held without bond in a DeKalb County jail late Monday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Police found Rooks, 34, dead with multiple gunshot wounds early Jan. 21, and they used security cameras from multiple residents to recreate what happened.

Hawk told the Journal-Constitution in 2015 that he put "Watch Me" on YouTube after he lost the talent show at DeKalb's Redan High School, to prove the haters wrong. It has since been watched more than 1.8 billion times and spawned its own dance craze. His first album, Fresh Outta High School, came in out in 2018. Hawk has more recently gotten in trouble with the law, the Journal-Constitution reports. He was arrested twice in one week last April, for domestic violence and gun charges in California, then arrested again in DeKalb County in October for driving at more than 140 mph on I-85. Peter Weber

January 25, 2021

President Biden plans to sign an executive order on Monday requiring government agencies to increase purchases of American-made products, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal reports. The policy is part of the "Buy American" initiative Biden promised during his campaign. Biden reportedly hopes to harness the purchasing power of the U.S. government, the biggest buyer in the world, to boost domestic manufacturing and supply chains hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Biden's Buy American initiative shares some elements of former President Donald Trump's domestic preference policy under his America First plan, which centered around tariff hikes targeting China and other trading partners.

Canada's foreign minister, Marc Garneau, said Sunday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had expressed concerns to Biden about the Buy American program in a Friday phone call. A senior Biden administration official told the Journal that Biden's order seeks to strengthen the U.S. supply chain, after the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted critical weaknesses. "We remain very committed to working with partners and allies to modernize international trade rules to make sure that we can use our taxpayer dollars to stir investments in our own countries and strengthen supply chains," the official said. Harold Maass

January 4, 2021

With just over two weeks left in President Trump's presidency, the White House is still putting out his daily schedule, but the schedules keep "sounding weirder and weirder," CNN's Kevin Liptak observed Sunday night. He was specifically pointing to the guidance for how Trump will spend Monday, before he heads to Georgia to campaign for the Republican incumbents in twin Senate special elections on Tuesday. "President Trump will work from early in the morning until late in the evening," the White House said late Sunday. "He will make many calls and have many meetings."

There's a clear didn't-read-the-book-report vibe to Trump's official schedule, but we also know, thanks to Georgia's secretary of state and Trump's Twitter feed, that what Trump is working on and calling people about these days is his doomed effort to overturn his loss in the Nov. 3 election. The man who defeated him, President-elect Joe Biden, is also traveling to Georgia to campaign, his office said Sunday. Biden may have meetings and phone calls planned for Monday as well, but that didn't make his schedule. Peter Weber

October 27, 2020

President Trump signed an executive order last week that could turn tens of thousands of nonpartisan career civil service jobs into "excepted service" positions, stripping federal scientists, public health experts, attorneys, regulators, and other policy professions of civil service protections. These career employees would essentially become political appointees whom the president could fire without cause or recourse.

Ronald Sanders, appointed by Trump to head the Federal Salary Council, cited this order when resigning Sunday, telling The Washington Post on Monday, "I don't want to sound too corny here, but it was just a matter of conscience."

Trump's order "is nothing more than a smoke screen for what is clearly an attempt to require the political loyalty of those who advise the president, or failing that, to enable their removal with little if any due process," Sanders wrote in his resignation letter. "I simply cannot be part of an administration that seeks ... to replace apolitical expertise with political obeisance. Career federal employees are legally and duty-bound to be nonpartisan; they take an oath to preserve and protect our Constitution and the rule of law ... not to be loyal to a particular president or administration."

Sanders, a lifelong Republican who has worked in federal personnel positions over four decades, said in his letter he "cannot in good conscience continue" to serve a president who "seeks to make loyalty to him the litmus test for many thousands of career civil servants." On MSNBC Monday night, Rachel Maddow applauded his letter a "very, very rare Trump administration profile in courage."

Trump's executive order "would be a profound reimagining of the career workforce, but one that may end up as a statement of purpose rather than anything else," the Post notes. "The order fast-tracks a process that gives agencies until Jan. 19 to review potentially affected jobs. That’s a day before the next presidential inauguration. An administration under Democratic nominee Joe Biden would be unlikely to allow the changes to proceed." Peter Weber

January 7, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence official swore in Kelly Loeffler, a wealthy Republican donor and businesswoman, as Georgia's new U.S. senator on Monday. She is replacing former Sen. Johnny Isakson, 75, who resigned in December amid poor health. About 20 senators were present for the Senate ceremony, including one Democrat, Doug Jones (Ala.).

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) chose Loeffler over President Trump's favored candidate, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), a move widely seen "as a bid to court suburban and female voters, many of whom have reacted to Trump's harsh rhetoric and hard-right policies by moving away from the GOP," The Associated Press reports. Facing criticism that she is too moderate, Loeffler toured Georgia on a "pro-Second Amendment, pro-Trump, pro-military, and pro-wall" platform before moving to Washington. She has pledged $20 million of her own fortune to win the seat in November.

Loeffler, 49, told AP after being sworn in that she has not spoken to Trump since her appointment was announced, adding that she is "going to work very hard" to "earn the trust and support of the president." Loeffler has already said she will not vote to convict Trump in his impeachment trial. "I don't think there was due process followed in the House proceeding," she told AP, providing no details. She is now the ninth female Republican in the Senate; 17 of the chamber's 47 Democrats are women. Peter Weber

July 8, 2019

Four-star Adm. William Moran unexpectedly announced his retirement Sunday, two months after the Senate confirmed him as the U.S. Navy's top uniformed officer and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff starting Aug. 1. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said in a statement that "Moran recently brought to my attention that over the past two years he maintained a professional relationship with an individual who was held accountable and counseled for failing to meet the values and standards of the Naval profession," and "that relationship has caused me to call his judgment into question."

Spencer did not identify the individual, but other officials said Moran had sought public affairs counsel from retired Cmdr. Chris Servello, removed as top spokesman for current Navy Chief of Operations Adm. John Richardson in 2017 after making unwanted sexual advances on female junior officers while dressed as Santa at a 2016 Christmas party. He was allowed to retire last May. "It's hard not to feel disappointment and disbelief," Servello told The Associated Press. "This is terrible news for the Navy, and beyond that, I don't have anything to add."

After a Pentagon inspector general found last October that Richardson had been too slow in removing Servello, Spencer had said he was "completely confident" in Richardson's abilities and found he had done an "outstanding job."

Richardson will now stay on as the Navy's top admiral past his scheduled retirement Sept. 1, until Spencer submits a new candidate for President Trump's approval and nomination. Moran's sudden resignation comes amid churn at the Pentagon, which hasn't had a Senate-confirmed defense secretary since December, AP notes. Acting Secretary Pat Shanahan withdrew from consideration in June, and Trump hasn't formally nominated current acting Secretary Mark Esper, the former Army secretary. There is also no confirmed deputy defense secretary, and other top military positions are about to turn over. Peter Weber

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