FDA panel endorses lower-dose Moderna COVID shot for booster

U.S. health advisers said Thursday that some Americans who received Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine at least six months ago should get a half-dose booster to rev up protection against the coronavirus.

The panel of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously to recommend a booster shot for seniors, as well as younger adults with other health problems, jobs or living situations that put them at increased risk from COVID-19.

The recommendation is non-binding but it’s a key step toward expanding the U.S. booster campaign to millions more Americans. Many people who got their initial Pfizer shots at least six months ago are already getting a booster after the FDA authorized their use last month — and those are the same high-risk groups that FDA's advisers said should get a Moderna booster.

But there's no evidence that it's time to open booster doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine to everybody, the panel stressed — despite initial Biden administration plans to eventually do that.

The coronavirus still is mostly a threat to unvaccinated people — while the vaccinated have strong protection against severe illness or death from COVID-19.


Jan. 6 panel moves against Bannon, sets contempt vote

WASHINGTON (AP) — A congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection moved aggressively against close Trump adviser Steve Bannon on Thursday, swiftly scheduling a vote to recommend criminal contempt charges against the former White House aide after he defied a subpoena.

The chairman of the special committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said the panel will vote Tuesday to recommend charges against Bannon, an adviser to Donald Trump for years who was in touch with the president ahead of the most serious assault on Congress in two centuries.

“The Select Committee will not tolerate defiance of our subpoenas,” Thompson said in a statement. Bannon, he said, is “hiding behind the former president’s insufficient, blanket and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke. We reject his position entirely.”

If approved by the Democratic-majority committee, the recommendation of criminal charges would go to the full House. Approval there would send them to the Justice Department, which has final say on prosecution.

The showdown with Bannon is just one facet of a broad and escalating congressional inquiry, with 19 subpoenas issued so far and thousands of pages of documents flowing to the committee and its staff. Challenging Bannon's defiance is a crucial step for the panel, whose members are vowing to restore the force of congressional subpoenas after they were routinely flouted during Trump’s time in office.


Bow-and-arrow killings in Norway seen as an 'act of terror'

KONGSBERG, Norway (AP) — The bow-and-arrow rampage by a man who killed five people in a small town near Norway's capital appeared to be a terrorist act, authorities said Thursday, a bizarre and shocking attack in a Scandinavian country where violent crime is rare.

Police identified the attacker as Espen Andersen Braathen, a 37-year-old Danish citizen, who was arrested on the street Wednesday night about a half-hour after authorities were alerted.

They said he used the bow and arrow and possibly other weapons to randomly target people at a supermarket and other locations in Kongsberg, a town of about 26,000 where he lived.

Witnesses said their quiet neighborhood of wooden houses and birch trees was turned into a scene of terrifying cries and turmoil.

“The screaming was so intense and horrifying there was never any doubt something very serious was going on," said Kurt Einar Voldseth, who had returned home from an errand when he heard the commotion. "I can only describe it as a ‘death scream,’ and it burned into my mind.”


Robert Durst sentenced to life for murder of best friend

LOS ANGELES (AP) — New York real estate heir Robert Durst was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without chance of parole for the murder of his best friend more that two decades ago.

Durst, 78, was convicted in Los Angeles Superior Court last month of first-degree murder for shooting Susan Berman point-blank in the back of the head at her home in December 2000.

The killing had been a mystery that haunted family and friends for 15 years before Durst was arrested in 2015 following his ill-considered decision to participate in a documentary that unearthed new evidence and caught him in a stunning confession.

Berman's death left a permanent hole in the lives of family members who remembered her Thursday for her adventurousness, her creativity, and her deep and loyal love.

“It has been a daily, soul consuming and crushing experience," said Sareb Kaufman, who considered Berman his mother after his father dated her. “I’ve lost everything many times over because of him."


US to restore full pension of FBI official fired under Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe has won back his full pension as part of a settlement of his lawsuit arising from his firing during the Trump administration more than three years ago, his lawyers announced Thursday.

McCabe, a frequent target of then-President Donald Trump's ire, was fired in March 2018 after the Justice Department's inspector general concluded he had authorized the release of information to a newspaper reporter and then misled internal investigators about his role in the leak. The termination by Jeff Sessions, the attorney general at the time, came hours before McCabe was due to retire, denying the FBI official his pension.

The settlement agreement vacates that decision, expunges from his personnel folder any references to having been fired and entitles McCabe, who joined the FBI in 1996, to his full pension.

“Politics should never play a role in the fair administration of justice and civil service personnel decisions,” McCabe said in a statement. He added that he hopes “this result encourages the men and women of the FBI to continue to protect the American people by standing up for the truth and doing their jobs without fear of political retaliation.”

McCabe has denied intentionally deceiving anyone, was never criminally charged and has blasted his firing as politically motivated and part of the Trump administration’s “ongoing war on the FBI.” Trump, who at the time was relentlessly railing against the FBI for its investigation into ties between Russia and his 2016 presidential campaign, called the termination a “great day for Democracy" shortly after it was announced.


Hearing set abruptly in 2018 Florida school massacre case

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A last-minute court hearing is set Friday in Florida for Nikolas Cruz, the man police said has confessed to the 2018 massacre of 17 people at a suburban high school.

The hearing in Broward County Circuit Court was scheduled abruptly Thursday and does not describe the purpose. But WSVN-TV reported without citing sources by name that Cruz will plead guilty to all 17 murder counts against him. Cruz's attorneys did not respond to calls, texts and emails from The Associated Press.

Cruz also would plead guilty to 17 counts of attempted murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, according to the report. The hearing is before Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, court records show. No trial date had been set.

Cruz would still face a jury to determine whether he gets the death penalty or life in prison, the report said. Prosecutors have always insisted that Cruz deserves death for the slayings.

The Broward County state attorney’s office issued a statement Thursday night saying Cruz's lawyers would have to comment on any possible guilty plea.


Boeing pilot involved in Max testing is indicted in Texas

DALLAS (AP) — A former Boeing pilot was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on charges of deceiving safety regulators about the 737 Max jetliner, which was later involved in two deadly crashes.

The indictment charges Mark A. Forkner with giving the Federal Aviation Administration false and incomplete information about an automated flight-control system that played a role in the crashes, which killed 346 people.

Prosecutors said that because of Forkner's alleged deception, the system was not mentioned in pilot manuals or training materials.

An attorney for Forkner did not immediately respond for comment. Boeing and the FAA declined to comment.

Forkner, 49, was charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud. Federal prosecutors said he is expected to make his first appearance in court on Friday in Fort Worth, Texas. If convicted on all counts, he could face a sentence of up to 100 years in prison.


Biden signs debt limit hike, but December standoff looms

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law a bill raising the nation's debt limit until early December, delaying the prospect of an unprecedented federal default that would cause economic disaster.

The House passed the $480 billion increase in the country’s borrowing ceiling on Tuesday, after the Senate approved it on a party-line vote last week. The eventual approval came after a protracted standoff with Senate Republicans, who derailed initial Democratic efforts with filibusters, delays that require 60 votes to halt.

Ultimately, a handful of Senate Republicans agreed to join Democrats and voted to end GOP delays and move to a final vote on the legislation, but Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said Republicans will offer no support for another increase in December.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had warned that the U.S. would hit its borrowing limit Monday, an unprecedented situation that she and others cautioned could lead to economic catastrophe for a nation still reeling from a global pandemic. Routine government payments to Social Security beneficiaries, disabled veterans and active-duty military personnel would potentially be delayed, and the economic fallout in the U.S. could ripple through global markets.

The passage of the short-term debt ceiling increase ensures that, for now, the U.S. will continue to meet its obligations. But it sets up another potential cliff at the end of the year — at a time when lawmakers will also be working to pass a federal funding bill to avert a government shutdown.


Murdaugh charged with taking insurance money in maid's death

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A prominent South Carolina lawyer has been charged with stealing insurance settlements meant for the sons of his late housekeeper that a lawsuit said total more than $4 million, state police said Thursday.

Alex Murdaugh was arrested at a drug rehab facility in Orlando, Florida, where his attorneys said he has spent the past six weeks since claiming he was shot in the head on the side of a lonely road near his home, authorities said.

The arrest is the latest development in six state police investigations into Murdaugh, including the deaths of his wife and son, millions of dollars missing from the huge law firm founded a century ago by his great-grandfather and trying to arrange his own death so his surviving son could collect on a $10 million life insurance policy.

Thursday's arrest on two felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses involves Murdaugh’s housekeeper for decades, Gloria Satterfield, the State Law Enforcement Division said in a statement.

Murdaugh told Satterfield's sons at her February 2018 funeral that he would get insurance settlements for her death and take care of them, according to a lawsuit filed by the sons. Murdaugh managed to secure more than $4 million from his insurers, but he only told the sons about a $500,000 settlement and then never sent them a dime, the lawsuit said.


Nursing schools see applications rise, despite COVID burnout

STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Nurses around the U.S. are getting burned out by the COVID-19 crisis and quitting, yet applications to nursing schools are rising, driven by what educators say are young people who see the global emergency as an opportunity and a challenge.

Among them is University of Connecticut sophomore Brianna Monte, a 19-year-old from Mahopac, New York, who had been considering majoring in education but decided on nursing after watching nurses care for her 84-year-grandmother, who was diagnosed last year with COVID-19 and also had cancer.

“They were switching out their protective gear in between every patient, running like crazy trying to make sure all of their patients were attended to,” she said. “I had that moment of clarity that made me want to jump right in to health care and join the workers on the front line.”

Nationally, enrollment in bachelor's, master’s and doctoral nursing programs increased 5.6% in 2020 from the year before to just over 250,000 students, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Figures for the current 2021-22 school year won't be available until January, but administrators say they have continued to see a spike in interest.

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