France Records More Than 50,000 Daily COVID-19Cases

France on Saturday said more than 50,000 people had tested positive for coronavirus in the past 24 hours, as COVID-19 cases rocketed despite millions receiving a vaccine booster shot. The country recorded 51,624 new daily cases of Covid, health authorities said. France’s record daily cases number was nearly 118,000 in mid-April, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. France has recorded an average of almost 41,000 new cases a day over the past week, compared with less than 28,000 a week ago. Some 694 people had been admitted to hospitals in the past 24 hours, including 119 who were critically ill. The coronavirus killed 113 people over the same period. Cases have shot up as France heads into winter. Health Minister Olivier Veran has for the moment ruled out a lockdown but urged all adults in the country of 67 million to sign up for a third COVID-19 vaccine shot by mid-January. “Ten million French people have gotten a booster jab to maintain their protection against Covid,” he wrote on Twitter. After January 15, residents aged 18 to 64 will have to show proof of a booster vaccine no more than seven months after the second dose to maintain a valid COVID-19 pass, which is required to enter restaurants, bars, gyms and other public venues. In total, 119,457 people have died of COVID-19 in France since the start of the pandemic. …

Explainer: How Unusual to Charge Parents in School Shooting?

Guns used in U.S. school shootings have often come from the homes of young perpetrators, but parents are rarely charged for the violence that occurs, experts say. That’s what makes the case against Ethan Crumbley’s parents uncommon, following the fatal shooting of four students at Oxford High School in southeastern Michigan. Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said Jennifer and James Crumbley ignored opportunities to intervene, just a few hours before the bloodshed. Jennifer and James Crumbley are charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, while their son, Ethan Crumbley, 15, is charged as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes.  The Crumbley parents, who were taken into custody early Saturday, and their lawyers haven’t commented on the shooting or the charges. Here’s a look at the issues facing the parents: What do we know about the gun? The semi-automatic handgun used in the shooting Tuesday was purchased by James Crumbley on November 26 while his son stood by at the shop, according to investigators. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Jennifer Crumbley referred to it on social media as a “Christmas present” for her son, and Ethan posted a picture of it on social media, calling it his “new beauty,” McDonald said. With some very limited exceptions, minors in Michigan aren’t allowed to possess guns. But there is no Michigan law that requires owners to keep guns locked away from kids. “So many states do. There’s 23 states plus Washington, D.C., that have some form of a secure storage law,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said. Will involuntary manslaughter be tough to prove? “It’s an unusual charge to bring,” said Eve Brensike Primus, who teaches criminal procedure at University of Michigan law school. Police said Ethan Crumbley emerged from a bathroom and started shooting other students in the hallway at Oxford High. A few hours earlier, he and his parents had met with school officials. A teacher had found a drawing on his desk with a gun pointing at the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” according to the prosecutor. Ethan Crumbley, who had no disciplinary record, was told to get counseling but was allowed to stay in school. His backpack was not checked for a weapon, McDonald said. Primus said authorities must show gross negligence by the parents and causation, or the act of causing something.  “The prosecutor is going to need facts to support the argument that these … Continue reading “Explainer: How Unusual to Charge Parents in School Shooting?”

US Not Panicking Over China’s Newfound Military Might

Top U.S. defense officials admit recent Chinese military advancements, including the test of a hypersonic weapon system, are reason to worry, only the secretary of defense says if Beijing was hoping to intimidate or scare the U.S., that is not happening. “America isn’t a country that fears competition,” Lloyd Austin is set to tell government officials and defense companies in a speech later Saturday at the Regan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California. “We’re facing a formidable challenge,” he says in prepared remarks. “And we’re going to meet this one with confidence and resolve—not panic and pessimism.” Top U.S. military officials have repeatedly raised concerns for months, warning Beijing is “closing the gap” as it aims to surpass the United States as the world’s preeminent military power in the coming decade. Washington’s senior-most military officer, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went as far as to compare China’s hypersonic test this past July to Russia’s launch of the world’s first artificial satellite in the 1950s, which sparked the space race that dominated the next several decades. “I don’t know if it’s quite a Sputnik moment, but I think it’s very close to that,” Milley told Bloomberg Television last month. “It has all of our attention.” A Pentagon report released last month on China’s military power concluded that Beijing is “increasingly willing to confront the United States and other countries in areas where interest diverge,” and warned that China is likely to have at least 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030. Only Defense Secretary Austin, just back from a trip to Seoul where he met with his South Korean counterpart, has been seeking to lessen the anxiety that has been growing in Washington and elsewhere. During a joint news conference with South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook this past Wednesday, Austin called China’s hypersonic test “a capability but certainly not the only capability.” “We have concerns,” he said, adding, “My job is to focus on the broader picture.” In prepared remarks Saturday, Austin says the U.S. “has been stepping up its efforts” to counter China’s rise as a military power, looking to pour more money into research and development, and testing, of new systems that will allow the U.S. to be more lethal from afar. He also says money is being spent on drone and stealth technologies, and efforts are being made to make sure existing … Continue reading “US Not Panicking Over China’s Newfound Military Might”

Kremlin Says Biden and Putin to Discuss Ukraine Crisis Next Week

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to discuss rising tensions Tuesday along the Russian-Ukranian border, where a Russian troop buildup is seen by the West as a sign of a potential invasion. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the meeting Saturday to Interfax news agency, saying it would take place on Tuesday evening. The White House did not immediately comment on the announcement. In addition to Russia’s military buildup, the Kremlin said Biden and Putin would discuss bilateral relations and the implementation of agreements reached at their Geneva summit in June. On Friday, Biden told reporters he has been developing a set of initiatives that will make it “very, very difficult” for Russia to escalate the situation at its border with Ukraine, where Moscow has been building up troops and equipment for weeks.  The situation at Ukraine’s eastern border has raised fears Moscow is planning to invade its neighbor. Russian aggression was the focus this week of a NATO foreign ministers meeting, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warning Russia that any escalation of the situation would come at a high price. In turn, Moscow has suggested the U.S. and Ukraine might launch their own offensive. The Washington Post reported Friday that Russia is planning a multifront offensive into Ukraine, involving up to 175,000 troops, as early as next year, citing U.S. officials and an intelligence document obtained by the newspaper. The Post says the unclassified U.S. intelligence document it obtained contains satellite photos and shows about 70,000 Russian troops massing in four locations near Ukraine’s border. The U.S. Defense Department says it is “deeply concerned by evidence” Russia is planning “aggressive actions” against Ukraine.  However, department spokesman Lt. Col. Tony Semelroth had no comment on the report that the potential Russian offensive could include 175,000 troops operating on multiple fronts.  “We will not get into intelligence assessments,” Semelroth said. “However, we are deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for aggressive actions against Ukraine. As we have said, we continue to support de-escalation in the region and a diplomatic resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.” Earlier Friday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Russia has now massed more than 94,000 troops near Ukraine’s border, suggesting to him that they could be preparing for a large-scale military offensive at the end of January.  When asked about the situation during remarks at the White House … Continue reading “Kremlin Says Biden and Putin to Discuss Ukraine Crisis Next Week”

Thousands Block Roads Across Serbia in anti-Government Protest

Thousands of people blocked roads across Serbia in an anti-government demonstration targeting two new laws that environmentalists say will let foreign companies exploit local resources. Serbia’s government has offered mining rights to two companies, China’s Zijin copper miner and Rio Tinto. Green activists say the projects will pollute land and water in the Balkan nation. The protest is a headache for the ruling Peoples’ Progressive Party led by the President Aleksandar Vucic ahead of parliamentary and presidential election next year. Thousands gathered on the main bridge in the capital, Belgrade, chanting “Rio Tinto go away from the Drina River.” They held banners reading: “Stop investors, save the nature, We are not giving away the nature in Serbia,” and “For the land, the water and the air.” Roadblocks have been set up all over Serbia including the second largest city of Novi Sad in western Serbia, in Sabac, Uzice, and Nis in the south and in Zajecar in the East. “The reason (for the protest) is to protect our land, water and air. We do not want it to be sold cheaply,” said Stefan, a student protesting in Belgrade. Rio Tinto has promised to adhere to all domestic and EU environmental standards, but environmentalists say its planned $2.4 million lithium mine would irreversibly pollute drinking water in the area. The protesters are angry about a referendum law passed last month which will make it harder for people to protest polluting projects, as well as a new expropriation law, which makes it easier for the state to acquire private land. President Vucic, on his Instagram profile, published a picture of the village of Gornje Nedeljice, where Rio Tinto has already started buying land for its future lithium project. Vucic said once the environmental study on the project is complete, he would call a referendum to allow people to decide whether the project should go through. “Everything we build today we are leaving to our children,” Vucic wrote on Instagram. …

Pope Francis Warns Political Populists Threaten Democracy in Europe and Elsewhere

Pope Francis warned Saturday that democracy in Europe and elsewhere is being threatened by populist politicians, who appeal to disgruntled citizens with easy solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. The pope’s remarks were made during a visit to Athens, Greece, widely viewed as the birthplace of democracy, the second and last stop on a Mediterranean trip aimed at calling attention to the plight of migrants and refugees. “We cannot avoid noting with concern how today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy,” Francis said in a speech at the presidential palace. Francis did not name countries or world leaders, but he cautioned people to be wary of politicians with “an obsessive quest for popularity, in a thirst for visibility, in a flurry of unrealistic promises.” The pope said the birth of democracy thousands of years ago evolved into a “great house of democratic peoples” in the European Union, “and the dream of peace and fraternity that it represents for so many peoples.” He said the dream is being further jeopardized by financial and other hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic, potentially fueling nationalist sentiments and making authoritarianism seem “compelling and populism’s easy answers appear attractive.”  “The remedy is not to be found in an obsessive quest for popularity, in a thirst for visibility, in a flurry of unrealistic promises…but in good politics,” Francis declared. The pope said only multilateralism can effectively tackle poverty, the environment and other crises that confront the global community.  “Politics needs this, in order to put common needs ahead of private interests,” he said. Some information in this report also came from The Associated Press and Reuters. …

France’s Macron Defends Saudi Visit After Khashoggi Murder

French President Emmanuel Macron insisted Friday he hadn’t forgotten the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as he defended his decision to visit Saudi Arabia during his Gulf tour. On Saturday, Macron will become one of the first Western leaders to meet the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, since Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Khashoggi’s murder sparked international outrage that continues to reverberate. But Macron said it was impossible to engage with the region while ignoring the powerful Saudis. “Who can think for one second that we can help Lebanon and preserve peace and stability in the Middle East if we say: ‘We’re not going to speak to Saudi Arabia, the most populated and most powerful country in the Gulf?’” he told media in Dubai, the first stop of his tour. “It doesn’t mean that I endorse anything, that I’ve forgotten, that we’re not demanding partners,” he said, adding that he was acting “for our country and in the interests of the region.” Macron will fly to the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah on Saturday after an overnight stay in Qatar, another resource-rich Gulf country where France will defend their World Cup football title next year. On Oct. 2, 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to file paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancée. According to U.S. and Turkish officials, a waiting Saudi hit squad strangled him and dismembered his body, which has never been retrieved.    …

Fugitive Parents of US Teen Accused in Deadly School Shooting Arrested

Police in the Midwestern U.S. state of Michigan say they have arrested the parents of a teenager charged with four counts of first-degree murder in a shooting Tuesday at his high school. Jennifer and James Crumbley were arrested early Saturday in Detroit, according to police. A prosecutor had filed involuntary manslaughter charges against the parents in connection with the deaths. The parents, however, failed to appear in court Friday, causing police to issue a fugitive warrant for the couple who were charged with four counts of manslaughter for ignoring warning signs ahead of the school shooting and giving their son access to a gun. The couple’s lawyer, Shannon Smith, told authorities they left town earlier in the week for their own safety, according to the Associated Press. U.S. marshals had issued wanted posters for the parents, offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the couple’s arrest. The Crumbleys were charged three days after their 15-year-old son, Ethan, allegedly opened fire at Oxford High School in the town of Oxford, Michigan, killing four students and wounding seven other people. Karen McDonald, the chief prosecutor in Oakland County, Michigan, said in an interview with WJR-AM radio in Detroit, Michigan that the Crumbleys’ actions prior to the killings went “far beyond negligence.” Prosecutors said Ethan Crumbley had displayed several warning signs before the school shooting, including drawing a picture of a handgun and a bleeding figure with the words “Blood everywhere” and “The thoughts won’t stop — help me” written on the sheet. They also said a teacher had seen the teenager searching online for ammunition on his phone and alerted school officials. James and Jennifer Crumbley were summoned to the school a few hours before the shooting but “resisted” the idea of taking their son home from school, according to McDonald.   Parents in the U.S. are seldom charged in school shootings involving their children, experts say. If convicted, the Crumbleys could face up to 15 years in prison. Ethan Crumbley has been charged as an adult with two dozen crimes, including first-degree murder and terrorism, for allegedly killing the students with a semiautomatic gun that investigators said Crumbley’s father had bought legally last week. Michigan law does not require gun owners to keep weapons locked away from children. Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest shooting in a U.S. school this year, according to Education Week. It was also the latest in … Continue reading “Fugitive Parents of US Teen Accused in Deadly School Shooting Arrested”

Where’s the Snow? US Rockies Winter Starts With a Whimper

Denver’s winter has started with a whimper, and the parched mountains to the west aren’t faring much better. The Mile High City has already shattered its 87-year-old record for the latest measurable snowfall set on Nov. 21, 1934, and it’s a little more than a week away from breaking an 1887 record of 235 consecutive days without snow. The scenario is playing out across much of the Rocky Mountains, as far north as Montana and in the broader Western United States, which is experiencing a megadrought that studies link to human-caused climate change. It’s only the second time since 1976 that Salt Lake City has gone snowless through November, and amid the unseasonably warm weather in Montana, a late-season wildfire fueled by strong winds ripped through a tiny central Montana farming town this week. The warm and dry weather has drawn crowds to restaurant and bar patios in Denver, and the city’s parks and trails have been bustling with people basking in the sunshine in shorts, short sleeves and occasionally flip-flops. As enjoyable as the weather is, climate scientists and meteorologists are warning that prolonged drought could threaten the region’s water supply and agriculture industry. It also could hurt tourism, which relies heavily on skiers, snowboarders, rafters and anglers. “Every day that goes by that we don’t see precipitation show up and we see this year-to-year persistence of drought conditions, it just adds to a deficit. And we continue to add to this deficit year after year, particularly in the Colorado River Basin,” said Keith Musselman, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Derek Greenough moved to Denver a few months ago and immediately bought a snowboard with the hope of soon hitting the slopes. But on Wednesday, he was enjoying the warm weather in a city park. “I’m from central New York so I expected it to be somewhat like there, which they have about 5 feet (1.5 meters) of snow right now,” said Greenough, 27, who was wearing a tank top and exercise shorts. “Today, I figured that on the first day of December it would be snowing, at least something, but here we are. It’s a nice day. … I don’t think I’ll be snowboarding anytime soon.” Denver’s high Wednesday hit 23 degrees Celsius, tying the record set in 1973. The National Weather Service is predicting similar conditions over the weekend with only a slight chance of … Continue reading “Where’s the Snow? US Rockies Winter Starts With a Whimper”

US State Department Phones Hacked With Israeli Company Spyware, Sources Say

Apple Inc. iPhones of at least nine U.S. State Department employees were hacked by an unknown assailant using sophisticated spyware developed by the Israel-based NSO Group, according to four people familiar with the matter. The hacks, which took place in the last several months, hit U.S. officials either based in Uganda or focused on matters concerning the East African country, two of the sources said. The intrusions, first reported here, represent the widest known hacks of U.S. officials through NSO technology. Previously, a list of numbers with potential targets including some American officials surfaced in reporting on NSO, but it was not clear whether intrusions were always tried or succeeded. Reuters could not determine who launched the latest cyberattacks. NSO Group said in a statement Thursday that it did not have any indication their tools were used but canceled access for the relevant customers and would investigate based on the Reuters inquiry. “If our investigation shall show these actions indeed happened with NSO’s tools, such customer will be terminated permanently and legal actions will take place,” said an NSO spokesperson, who added that NSO will also “cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have.” NSO has long said it only sells its products to government law enforcement and intelligence clients, helping them to monitor security threats, and is not directly involved in surveillance operations. Officials at the Uganda Embassy in Washington did not comment. A spokesperson for Apple declined to comment. A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the intrusions, instead pointing to the Commerce Department’s recent decision to place the Israeli company on an entity list, making it harder for U.S. companies to do business with them. NSO Group and another spyware firm were “added to the Entity List based on a determination that they developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used this tool to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers,” the Commerce Department said in an announcement last month. Easily identifiable NSO software is capable of not only capturing encrypted messages, photos and other sensitive information from infected phones, but also turning them into recording devices to monitor surroundings, based on product manuals reviewed by Reuters. Apple’s alert to affected users did not name the creator of the spyware used in this hack. The victims notified by Apple included American citizens and were easily … Continue reading “US State Department Phones Hacked With Israeli Company Spyware, Sources Say”

Belarus Labels RFE/RL’s Telegram, YouTube Channels ‘Extremist’

A Belarusian court has designated the official Telegram channel of RFE/RL’s Belarus Service and some of the broadcaster’s social media accounts as extremist in a continued clampdown on independent media and civil society,  The decision to label RFE/RL’s accounts “extremist” – including its YouTube channel – was made by the Central District Court on December 3 based on information provided by the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption, known as GUBOPiK.  In a statement, GUBOPiK said that anyone subscribing to channels or other media designated as “extremist” may face jail time or other penalties, such as fines.  “RFE/RL adamantly rejects this ridiculous label,” RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in response to the news.  “We are committed to continuing to provide objective news and information to the Belarusian people, who are in need of independent media more now than ever. The Lukashenko regime continues to make clear that their disregard for the truth and their efforts to restrict access to independent information know no bounds,” he added.  Authorities in Belarus have declared hundreds of Telegram channels, blogs and chatrooms “extremist” after the country was engulfed in protests following the August 2020 presidential election, which authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko claimed to have won and that the opposition says was rigged.  In response, the government has cracked down hard on the pro-democracy movement, arresting thousands of people and pushing most of the top opposition figures out of the country. There have also been credible reports of torture and ill treatment, and several people have died.  Dozens of news websites have been blocked in Belarus and independent media shuttered as part of a sweeping crackdown on information in the wake of the protests.  Website blocked last year The website of RFE/RL’s Belarus Service has been blocked within Belarus since August 21, 2020, while the accreditations of all locally based journalists working for foreign media, including RFE/RL, were annulled by Belarusian authorities in October 2020.  Lukashenko, who has run the country since 1994, has denied any fraud in the election and refuses to negotiate with the opposition on a political transition and new elections.  The West has refused to recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate leader of Belarus and has imposed several waves of sanctions against the government and other officials accused of aiding and benefiting from the crackdown.  On Thursday, the European Union, the United States and other key Western allies further tightened the sanctions … Continue reading “Belarus Labels RFE/RL’s Telegram, YouTube Channels ‘Extremist’”

UN Recap: November 28-December 3, 2021

Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch. Omicron travel bans  U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday that South Africa and seven nations surrounding it were being collectively punished for having been transparent about detecting and reporting infections from a new COVID-19 variant called omicron.  UN Chief Denounces COVID ‘Travel Apartheid’ Against Southern Africa Humanitarian crises The United Nations appealed Thursday for a record $41 billion to help 183 million of the world’s most vulnerable people suffering from multiple crises, including poverty, hunger, conflict and the impact of COVID-19. COVID, Conflicts Prompt UN to Make Record Appeal for Humanitarian Aid  Afghanistan, Myanmar representation  The nine countries who currently sit on the U.N. General Assembly committee that approves credentials for representatives at the world body decided Wednesday to postpone any action on competing claims for representatives for the Afghan and Myanmar seats. On December 6, the wider General Assembly is expected to approve their decision to let the current envoys stay put for now.  UN Committee: No Change for Now in Afghanistan, Myanmar Envoys  In brief — Humanitarian assistance has started to trickle into northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The U.N. said Friday that from November 24 to November 30, four convoys with 157 trucks loaded with humanitarian supplies arrived in the regional capital, Mekelle. They were the first deliveries since October 18. Fuel shortages continue to hamper the aid response. The U.N. says no fuel has reached the region since August 2. More than 5.2 million people in Tigray are in urgent need of assistance after months of a de facto government blockade on the region. — On Thursday, U.N. headquarters went on lockdown briefly as a man with a shotgun loaded with a single round of ammunition held to his chin caused a three-hour standoff with New York City police outside the gate. Later identified as William Tingler, 65, of Florida, he eventually surrendered peacefully to police when they agreed to take documents he wanted delivered to the United Nations. He was taken to an area hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Quote of note “Our concern is for a cease-fire. That absolutely must happen. Humanitarian aid needs to reach all those that have suffered from this conflict, and we absolutely need to resolve these problems through political discussions and through dialogue.” — Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African … Continue reading “UN Recap: November 28-December 3, 2021”

China Deepens Informal Alliance With Russia

China and Russia have strengthened their political, economic and military relations this year, despite their uneasy history in the past, as both countries say they resent what they call growing pressure from the West. So far this year, the two have held a series of military exercises and issued joint diplomatic statements aimed at Western countries. On November 27, for example, an essay by both countries’ ambassadors to Washington protested the upcoming U.S.-led Summit for Democracy for creating divisions in the world. Neither Russia nor China appeared on the list of 110 invitees. Russia depends on China’s massive industrial economy for oil and gas exports as environmental rules in the European Union complicate energy imports there, said Vassily Kashin, senior fellow at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He said two-way relations were at their strongest since the 1950s. “Most importantly, we have a common position concerning the global order, which is that we don’t like the U.S. global order, so this close partnership is based on common opposition to the U.S.-led global order,” Kashin said. Western democracies from the United States to Australia and throughout Europe have strengthened their own ties this year at a time of concern about China’s policies. Western governments have signaled opposition to Beijing’s aggressive language on Taiwan, its crackdown on dissenters in Hong Kong and its policies targeting a Muslim minority in China’s Xinjiang region. Countries, including the West and some in Southeast Asia, further resent China’s “wolf warrior diplomacy” approach that has seen China’s Communist Party become more vocal about promoting its views among overseas audiences. In foreign relations, experts say Beijing has been using “increasingly assertive tactics” to “aggressively defend their home country,” often in the cyber world. China and Russia in turn hope to stop a return to U.S.-driven soft power of the Barack Obama-George W. Bush presidencies, when smaller countries saw the United States as “more acceptable leaders” among great powers, said Alan Chong, associate professor at the Singapore-based S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. Chinese soft power, Chong said, “has taken a hit” because of President Xi Jinping’s comments that make him sound strong at home at the expense of solidarity and friendship overseas. China sees U.S. President Joe Biden as “a very tough opponent,” he added. Western governments have called out China this year particularly over its perceived aggression toward Taiwan, a self-ruled island that … Continue reading “China Deepens Informal Alliance With Russia”

Parents of US Teen Accused in Deadly School Shooting Charged with Involuntary Manslaughter

The parents of the teenager who allegedly shot and killed four students at a U.S. high school have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the deaths.  Karen McDonald, the chief prosecutor in Oakland County, Michigan, charged Jennifer and James Crumbley on Friday with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, declaring their actions prior to the killings went “far beyond negligence.”  The Crumbleys were charged three days after their 15-year-old son, Ethan, allegedly opened fire at Oxford High School in the Midwestern town of Oxford, Michigan, killing four students and wounding seven other people.  Experts say parents in the U.S. are seldom charged in school shootings involving their children. If convicted, the Crumbleys could face up to 15 years in prison.  Ethan Crumbley has been charged as an adult with two dozen crimes, including murder and terrorism, for allegedly killing the students with a semi-automatic gun that investigators said was legally bought by his father last week.  Michigan law does not require gun owners to keep weapons locked away from children, but McDonald said that is no excuse.  “All I can say at this point is those actions on mom and dad’s behalf go far beyond negligence,” she in an interview with WJR-AM radio in Detroit, Michigan.  Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest shooting in a U.S. school this year, according to Education Week. It was also the latest in a long series of mass shootings at U.S. schools that spans decades. Information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.    …

Biden Says He has a Plan to Protect Ukraine from Russia

U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters Friday he has been developing a set of initiatives that will make it “very, very difficult” for Russia to escalate the situation at its border with Ukraine, where Moscow has been building up troops and equipment for weeks. The situation at Ukraine’s eastern border has raised fears Moscow is planning to invade its neighbor. Russian aggression was the focus this week of a NATO foreign ministers meeting, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warning Russia any escalation of the situation would come at a high price. Earlier Friday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Russia has now massed more than 94,000 troops near Ukraine’s border, suggesting to him they could be preparing for a large-scale military offensive at the end of January. When asked about the situation during remarks Friday at the White House, Biden told reporters he has been in constant contact with U.S. allies in Europe, and with Ukraine. He said Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan have been engaged extensively. Biden said his administration is “putting together what I believe to be will be the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do. But that’s in play right now.” The president offered no details of what his initiatives might be. Diplomatic efforts have been underway to ease tensions in the region this week. Blinken met in Stockholm on Thursday with both Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. The Kremlin said Friday arrangements are also being made for a video call between Biden and Putin in the coming days. Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse. …

German Minister Warns Omicron Could Make Bad Situation Worse 

Top German health officials Friday warned that the omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was likely to worsen the fourth wave of infections the nation is facing and was threatening to overwhelm the health care system.  German Health Minister Jens Spahn and Lothar Wieler, president of the  Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, spoke with reporters in Berlin.  Spahn said that at the current rate of infection, Germany will almost certainly have more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units in coming weeks, with the number likely to peak around Christmas. The two health officials spoke a day after federal and state leaders announced tough new restrictions on unvaccinated people, preventing them from entering nonessential stores, restaurants, and sports and cultural venues. It was the same day Germany reported its first case involving the omicron variant.  Wieler said the nation should be prepared for the possibility omicron could lead to even more cases than the delta variant in a shorter period of time. He said restrictions announced Thursday must also be implemented nationwide to prevent infections from collapsing the health system. The German parliament is expected to consider a vaccine mandate. If approved, it would take effect in February.  Spahn noted that the share of unvaccinated residents who are infected and seriously ill is much higher than their share of the overall population. He said there was good news on the vaccination front: The nation is likely to meet its goal of administering 30 million booster doses before Christmas. He told reporters 10 million doses had already been injected, 10 million had been delivered and 10 million more were to be delivered next week. Spahn said the important thing now was to vaccinate more people each week until the end of the year.  The Koch Institute on Friday reported 74,352 new COVID-19 cases and 390 additional deaths.  Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. …