The Associated Press
Mike Bowen's warehouse outside Fort Worth, Texas, was piled high with cases of medical-grade N95 face masks. His company, Prestige Ameritech, can churn out 1 million masks every four days, but he doesn't have orders for nearly that many. So he recently got approval from the government to export them.
"I'm drowning in these respirators," Bowen said.
On the same day 1,000 miles north, Mary Turner, a COVID-19 intensive care nurse at a hospital outside Minneapolis, strapped on the one disposable N-95 respirator allotted for her entire shift.
Before the pandemic, Turner would have thrown out her mask and grabbed a new one after each patient to prevent the spread of disease. But on this day, she'll wear that mask from one infected person to the next because N95s — they filter out 95 percent of infectious particles — have supposedly been in short supply since last March.
Turner's employer, North Memorial Health, said in a statement that supplies have stabilized, but the company is still limiting use because "we must remain mindful of that supply" to ensure everyone's safety.
Dozens charged in Capitol riots spewed extremist rhetoric
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — In a text message, a radicalized Trump supporter suggested getting a boat to ferry "heavy weapons" across the Potomac River into the waiting arms of their members in time for Jan. 6, court papers say.
It wasn't just idle talk, authorities say. Investigators found invoices for more than $750 worth of live ammunition and for a firearm designed to look like a cellphone at the Virginia home of Thomas Caldwell, who's charged with conspiring with members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group in one of the most sinister plots in the U.S. Capitol siege.
Right-wing extremists, blessed by Donald Trump, were unleashed last month, and their menacing presence has reignited the debate over domestic extremism and how law enforcement should be handling these groups.
Their talk of civil war, traitors and revolution mirrored fighting words echoed by right-wing social media personalities and websites for months as Trump spread bogus claims about a rigged presidential election.
In nearly half of the more than 200 federal cases stemming from the attack on the Capitol, authorities have cited evidence that an insurrectionist appeared to be inspired by conspiracy theories or extremist ideologies, according to an Associated Press review of court records.
Anatomy of a conspiracy: With COVID, China took leading role
BRUSSELS — The rumors began almost as soon as the disease itself. Claims that a foreign adversary had unleashed a bioweapon emerged at the fringes of Chinese social media the same day China first reported the outbreak of a mysterious virus.
"Watch out for Americans!" a Weibo user wrote on Dec. 31, 2019. Today, a year after the World Health Organization warned of an epidemic of COVID-19 misinformation, that conspiracy theory lives on, pushed by Chinese officials eager to cast doubt on the origins of a pandemic that has claimed more than 2 million lives globally.
From Beijing and Washington to Moscow and Tehran, political leaders and allied media effectively functioned as superspreaders, using their stature to amplify politically expedient conspiracies already in circulation. But it was China -- not Russia – that took the lead in spreading foreign disinformation about COVID-19's origins, as it came under attack for its early handling of the outbreak.
A nine-month Associated Press investigation of state-sponsored disinformation conducted in collaboration with the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, shows how a rumor that the U.S. created the virus that causes COVID-19 was weaponized by the Chinese government, spreading from the dark corners of the Internet to millions across the globe. The analysis was based on a review of millions of social media postings and articles on Twitter, Facebook, VK, Weibo, WeChat, YouTube, Telegram and other platforms.
Chinese officials were reacting to a powerful narrative, nursed by QAnon groups, Fox News, former President Donald Trump and leading Republicans, that the virus was instead manufactured by China.
Vigorous preparation returns as Biden calls other leaders
WASHINGTON — A new-old ritual is taking shape in the Biden White House, one that starts with bulky briefing packages, war-gaming the "what-ifs," and Oval Office discussions about how to talk to this or that particular U.S. ally or adversary.
Twelve times since he took office, President Joe Biden has dialed up a world leader after reinstituting what was a long-held White House standard mothballed by Donald Trump: vigorous preparation. Gone are unnecessary digressions and over-the-top cajoling or haranguing of fellow heads of state.
The changes to telephone diplomacy have been about both style and substance as Biden has sought to send the message to foreign leaders — many embittered by Trump's habit of berating his counterparts and conflating personal interests with U.S. national security — that Biden is determined to reset the U.S. relationship with the world.
"They've come cued in to the idea that they need to manage alliances really well right off the bat," said Matthew Goodman, who served on the White House National Security Council staff during the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations. "It's a central organizing principle as they look to turn the page on Trump and get alliances back on track. The preparation for calls is part of that."
Biden's foreign policy will ultimately be judged on results more than form or preparation. But his approach so far is a marked change from Trump, who seemed to have better rapport with autocrats like Russia's Vladimir Putin and North Korea's Kim Jong Un than with many historic U.S. allies. The former president frequently strayed far from telephone talking points and advice his aides provided for his dialogue with world leaders.
Myanmar police file new charge against Aung San Suu Kyi
YANGON, Myanmar — Police in Myanmar filed a new charge against ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, her lawyer said Tuesday, which may allow her to be held indefinitely without trial.
Lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told reporters after meeting with a judge in a court in the capital, Naypyitaw, that Suu Kyi has been charged with violating Article 25 of the Natural Disaster Management Law, which has been used to prosecute people who have broken coronavirus restrictions.
Suu Kyi, who was ousted in a military coup on Feb. 1, has already been charged with possessing walkie-talkies that were imported without being registered.
The maximum punishment for the COVID-19 violation is three years' imprisonment. However, the new charge may allow her to be held indefinitely without trial because a change in the Penal Code instituted by the junta last week permits detention without court permission.
Ousted President Win Myint was charged under the same law when he and Suu Kyi were detained during the army's takeover. Suu Kyi held the top government post with the title of state counsellor.
Analysis: NATO faces conundrum as it mulls Afghan pullout
ISLAMABAD — After 20 years of military engagement and billions of dollars spent, NATO and the United States still grapple with the same, seemingly intractable conundrum — how to withdraw troops from Afghanistan without abandoning the country to even more mayhem.
An accelerated U.S. drawdown over the past few months, led by the previous U.S. administration, has signaled what may be in store for long-suffering Afghans.
Violence is spiking and the culprits are, well, everyone: the Taliban, the Islamic State group, warlords, criminal gangs and corrupt government officials.
According to NATO's website, there are about 9,600 troops currently in Afghanistan, including 2,500 U.S. troops. NATO defense ministers will meet on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the way forward.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is reviewing his predecessor's 2020 deal with the Taliban, which includes a May 1 deadline for a final U.S. troop withdrawal from the war-ravaged country. In Washington, calls are mounting for the U.S. to delay the final exit or renegotiate the deal to allow the presence of a smaller, intelligence-based American force.
Vaccine delays leave grocery workers feeling expendable
As panicked Americans cleared supermarkets of toilet paper and food last spring, grocery employees gained recognition as among the most indispensable of the pandemic's front-line workers.
A year later, most of those workers are waiting their turn to receive COVID-19 vaccines, with little clarity about when it may come.
A decentralized vaccine campaign has resulted in patchwork of policies that differ from state to state, and even county to county in some areas, resulting in an inconsistent rollout to low-paid essential workers who are exposed to hundreds of customers each day.
"Apparently we are not front-line workers when it comes to getting the vaccine. That was kind of a shock," said Dawn Hand, who works at a Kroger supermarket in Houston, where she said three of her co-workers were out with the virus last week. She watches others getting vaccinated at the in-store pharmacy without knowing when she'll get her turn.
Texas is among several states that have decided to leave grocery and other essential workers out of the second phase of its vaccination effort, instead prioritizing adults over 65 and people with chronic medical conditions.