News briefs: China reports new virus deaths, spike in cases

Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — China on Thursday reported 254 new daily deaths and a spike in daily virus cases of 15,152, after new methodology was applied in the hardest-hit province of Hubei as to how cases are categorized.

The total deaths from the more than 2-month-old outbreak stood at 1,367, with the total number of confirmed cases mounting to 59,804. The change in categorization appeared to push forward the process to a doctors' on-the-spot diagnosis rather than waiting for the results of laboratory tests.

In breaking down the large number of new cases in China, National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said Hubei at the epicenter had adopted a revised diagnosis and treatment plan aimed at accelerating the identification and treatment of virus cases.

That adds a "clinical diagnosis case" classification to identify suspected cases who appear to have pneumonia so that patients can be accepted as soon as possible and treated as confirmed cases, Mi said, adding that should "reduce severe illness and mortality."

China also replaced its top officials in Hubei and its capital, Wuhan. 

Fear, boredom, adventure fill each day on quarantined ship

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — Fear. Surprising moments of levity. Soul-crushing boredom. 

Life on the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship quarantined in a Japanese port with scores of cases of a new virus, means experiencing all these things, according to interviews by The Associated Press with passengers and a growing stream of tweets and YouTube videos.

At times there's an almost festive atmosphere, as when locals on Jet Skis buzz the ship, shouting greetings. Other times, there's deep worry, like on the days when new cases of the illness are confirmed, pushing the total on the ship to 218 — the largest cluster of infections outside China. One passenger who became ill described the initial terror of being whisked to a hospital while covered in protective plastic, but also of the surprisingly mild symptoms. 

The days pass with petty frustrations and inconveniences — tiny rooms, dirty sheets, boring food — and difficult work for the hundreds of crew members. 

With the number of illnesses increasing, there's also a nagging doubt about whether this kind of quarantine works. Some experts question if keeping more than 3,500 passengers and crew in such close quarters might spread the viral disease, COVID-19.

With impeachment over, critics see Trump 'retribution tour'

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the week since his acquittal on impeachment charges, a fully emboldened President Donald Trump is demonstrating his determination to assert an iron grip on government, pushing his Justice Department to ease up on a longtime friend while using the levers of presidential powers to exact payback on real and perceived foes.

Trump has told confidants in recent days that he felt both vindicated and strengthened by his acquittal in the Senate, believing Republicans have rallied around him in unprecedented fashion while voters were turned off by the political process, according to four White House officials and Republicans close to the West Wing who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

Since then, Trump and his aides have moved with haste to clear his administration of those he sees as insufficiently loyal, reaching all the way back to the time of former special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Democrats and outside analysts are raising red flags that Trump is exhibiting a post-impeachment thirst for vengeance that's gone beyond bending norms and could potentially cause lasting damage to institutions.

Some Republican senators, including Tennessee's Lamar Alexander, Maine's Susan Collins and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, said they found Trump's effort to pressure Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy inappropriate. But they also expressed hope following his acquittal that Trump had learned a lesson from the episode.

Pro-Trump effort raises over $60M in January

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pro-Trump groups raised more than $60 million in January and have more than $200 million on hand for this year's general election, shattering fundraising records on the path toward a goal of raising $1 billion this cycle.

The Republican National Committee and President Donald Trump's campaign have raised more than $525 million since the start of 2019 together with two joint-fundraising committees. The RNC and the Trump campaign provided the figures to The Associated Press. The January haul coincided with most of the Senate's impeachment trial, which resulted in the Republican president's acquittal earlier this month.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said, "We already have 500,000 volunteers trained and activated, and this record-breaking support is helping us grow our grassroots army even more." 

Trump's 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said Democrats' "shameful impeachment hoax and dumpster fire primary process" have contributed to the "record-breaking financial support" for Trump's reelection.

"With President Trump's accomplishments, our massive data and ground operations and our strong fundraising numbers," Parscale said, "this campaign is going to be unstoppable in 2020." 

South Sudan buries reports on oil pollution, birth defects

PALOCH, South Sudan (AP) — The oil industry in South Sudan has left a landscape pocked with hundreds of open waste pits, the water and soil contaminated with toxic chemicals and heavy metals including mercury, manganese, and arsenic, according to four environmental reports obtained by The Associated Press.

The reports also contain accounts of "alarming" birth defects, miscarriages and other health problems among residents of the region and soldiers who have been stationed there. Residents describe women unable to get pregnant and having excessive numbers of miscarriages, and babies born with severe birth defects. 

Abui Mou Kueth's infant son, Ping, was born with six fingers on both hands, one stunted leg, a deformed foot and kidney swelling. 

"I was shocked the first time I saw the baby," she said, cradling him in her arms.

She said he was not able to breastfeed and needed special formula. "I am worried about his future."

2020 hopefuls eye Super Tuesday even as 2 other states loom

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nevada votes next and then South Carolina. But top Democrats vying for their party's presidential nomination are already looking ahead to the biggest prize on the primary calendar: Super Tuesday, the slate of contests when more than a dozen states go to the polls.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is holding a town hall on Thursday night in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia, a day before Sen. Bernie Sanders makes two North Carolina stops, then hits Texas. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, will campaign in California between fundraisers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

All four states vote March 3, along with a crush of others, from Alabama to Colorado and from Maine to Utah, as well as Warren's home state of Massachusetts and Sanders' native Vermont. More than 1,300 delegates to the Democratic National Convention are at stake, about a third of the total.

The focus on Super Tuesday comes at a pivotal point in the campaign. For Sanders and Buttigieg, who have emerged in strong positions after contests in Iowa and in New Hampshire, the travel gives them an opportunity to show their national appeal and woo larger concentrations of nonwhite voters. For struggling candidates like Warren, it's a signal that they are still in the fight. 

And for everyone, it's a chance to prove they won't cede this swath of delegate-rich states to Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor who has spent months building his campaign around Super Tuesday. He campaigned in Tennessee on Wednesday and will be in Texas and North Carolina on Thursday.

Senate moves toward vote restraining Trump on Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan measure limiting President Donald Trump's authority to launch military operations against Iran is moving toward approval in the Senate.

The resolution, authored by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, asserts that Trump must win approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran. Eight Republicans sided with Democrats Wednesday on a procedural motion to force a vote on the issue as soon as Thursday.

Kaine and other supporters said the resolution was not about Trump or even the presidency, but instead was an important reassertion of congressional power to declare war.

Answering a claim by some of Trump's supporters — and Trump himself — that the measure sends a signal of weakness to Iran and other potential adversaries, Kaine said the opposite was true.

"When we stand up for the rule of law — in a world that hungers for more rule of law — and say 'this decision is fundamental, and we have rules that we are going to follow so we can make a good decision,' that's a message of strength,'' Kaine said Wednesday. 

Sudanese gov't reaches settlement deal with USS Cole victims

CAIRO (AP) — Sudan's transitional government said Thursday it has reached a settlement with families of the victims of the 2000 attack on USS Cole in Yemen, in a bid to have the African country taken off the U.S. terrorism list and improve relations with the West.

The settlement is the latest step from Khartoum to get off the terror list. Earlier this week, Sudan's provisional rulers said they had agreed to hand over longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court to face trial on charges of war crimes and genocide during the fighting in the western Darfur region. 

Also, Sudan's interim leader earlier this month met in Uganda with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who announced that Israel and Sudan would normalize relations. Observers and Sudanese officials have said that the settlement with the USS Cole bombing victims was among the last hurdles faced by Sudan. 

At the time of the Oct. 12, 2000 attack in the Yemeni port of Aden that killed 17 sailors and wounded more than three dozen others, Sudan was accused of providing support to al-Qaida, which claimed responsibility for the attack. 

Today, Sudan's interim authorities are desperate to have sanctions, linked to its listing by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terror, lifted. Sudan's justice ministry said the settlement was signed with the victims' families last Friday in Washington but its statement gave no details of the settlement. 

Media seek open hearing on NFL team's emails with church

New Orleans news outlets were set to argue Thursday for an open hearing on the confidentiality of emails between Roman Catholic officials and the city's NFL franchise concerning clergy sex-abuse scandals. 

As The Associated Press reported last month, victims' lawyers allege that hundreds of Saints emails show team executives did behind-the-scenes public relations damage control amid the Archdiocese of New Orleans' clergy abuse crisis. The team has gone to court to keep the emails from being made public, saying court rules would ordinarily keep them under seal and that the plaintiffs' lawyers want them released "for publicity purposes."

A state court hearing is scheduled in New Orleans next week before a court-appointed special master to determine whether they may be released. 

The AP has been allowed to intervene in the effort to get the emails released and lawyers for the news cooperative are being allowed to participate in arguments for release of the emails. However, the Feb. 20 hearing before the special master was to be closed to the public. 

The owners of The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate, WVUE-TV, WWL-TV and WDSU-TV have filed a motion for access to the hearing. 

Snoop Dogg apologizes to Gayle King for rant over Bryant

NEW YORK (AP) — After days of blistering criticism, Snoop Dogg has finally apologized to Gayle King for attacking her over her interview with former basketball star Lisa Leslie about the late Kobe Bryant.

"Two wrongs don't make no right. when you're wrong, you gotta fix it," he said in an Instagram post on Wednesday.

"So with that being said, Gayle King, I publicly tore you down by coming at you in a derogatory manner based off of emotions of me being angry at a question you asked. Overreacted," he said. "I should have handled it way different than that, I was raised way better than that, so I would like to apologize publicly for the language that I used and calling you out your name and just being disrespectful."

Snoop Dogg was furious that the "CBS This Morning" anchor brought up rape allegations from Bryant's past in her interview with Leslie, a friend of Bryant. The retired Lakers star was killed in a helicopter crash last month along with his young daughter and seven others.

Snoop Dogg went on Instagram and called King crude names. He also said she better back off "before we come get you," and posted a slew of insulting photos and memes about her.

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