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Waterloo East's Stephanie Burge releases the ball down the lane Monday at Cadillac XBC. Burge secured Class 2A's individual state championship.


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First 4 picked to steer new 'worst place to be Black' task force
  • Updated

CEDAR FALLS — The first four members have joined a new task force seeking solutions to the metro area’s dismal characterization as one of the worst places to be Black in America.

Mayor Rob Green named Ward 5 Councilman Frank Darrah and at-large Councilwoman Kelly Dunn to serve on the new task force, Human Rights Commission liaison Toni Babcock told the commission at its meeting Monday night. They’ll be joined by commission chair Willie Barney and new commission member Melissa Heston, the group decided unanimously.

“I think there is a huge amount of work to be done,” Heston said in putting forth her name for consideration.

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Barney noted he was eager to start that work as well.

“I consider myself to be an interrupter, a disrupter to the status quo,” he said. “I believe that I was placed on the earth to make everybody else uncomfortable.”

The four will meet with Green on Tuesday afternoon to discuss moving forward, Babcock said.

The task force was created by the City Council on Feb. 1 to provide direction to the Human Rights Commission by specifically targeting issues brought forth in an annual 24/7 Wall St. report that analyzes U.S. Census data on discrepancies in housing, employment, income and other factors between Black and white residents.

CF Human Rights advises council on new task force

CEDAR FALLS — The City Council agreed to broaden the scope of a new task force trying to solve issues brought to light in an annual 24/7 Wall St. report that continues to show the Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro area as one of the worst places to be Black in America.

The Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro area has ranked in the top five on the “worst” list for the last three years.

Dunn and Darrah had indicated their appetite for the work at council meetings in recent weeks.

“We must show our history of this town,” Dunn said last week. “Why does our city look totally different than the city right next door to us? And we need to recognize there’s reasons for that.”

Darrah also noted he didn’t believe the task force should simply stop at one year of racial equality work, but said he thought “the community should have ongoing conversations around these issues.”

The four initial members will choose between eight and 10 others from the public to serve alongside them to craft a final report by this fall. Barney said those will likely be people from the school district, the Black Hawk County NAACP and other organizations that could be of use in finding solutions.

“The intention is to have individuals as members of the task force who are in a position to broker resources and decision-making power that will affect the work of the task force,” Barney said.

Meetings are tentatively scheduled from 4 to 5:30 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, though that could change depending on members’ preference, Babcock noted.

Everything you need to know about COVID-19 vaccination

National
AP
US tops 500,000 virus deaths (copy)

The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. topped 500,000 Monday, a staggering number that all but matches the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.

The U.S. recorded an estimated 405,000 deaths in World War II, 58,000 in the Vietnam War and 36,000 in the Korean War.

President Joe Biden held a sunset moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony at the White House and ordered American flags lowered at federal buildings for the next five days.

“We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow,” Biden said. “We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur.”

Monday’s grim milestone, as recorded by Johns Hopkins University, comes as states redouble efforts to get the coronavirus vaccine into arms after last week’s winter weather closed clinics, slowed vaccine deliveries and forced tens of thousands of people to miss their shots.

Despite the rollout of vaccines since mid-December, a closely watched model from the University of Washington projects more than 589,000 dead by June 1.

The U.S. toll is by far the highest reported in the world, accounting for 20 percent of the nearly 2.5 million coronavirus deaths globally, though the true numbers are thought to be significantly higher, in part because many cases were overlooked, especially early in the outbreak.

The first known deaths from the virus in the U.S. were in early February 2020. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 deaths. The toll hit 200,000 in September and 300,000 in December, then took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and another month to climb from 400,000 to 500,000.

Average daily deaths and cases have plummeted in the past few weeks. Virus deaths have fallen from more than 4,000 reported on some days in January to an average of fewer than 1,900 per day.

But experts warn that dangerous variants could cause the trend to reverse itself. And some experts say not enough Americans have been inoculated yet for the vaccine to be making much of a difference.

Instead, the drop-off in deaths and cases has been attributed to the passing of the holidays; the cold and bleak days of midwinter, when many people stay home; and better adherence to mask rules and social distancing.

Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency room physician in Lexington, Kentucky, who has treated scores of COVID-19 patients, said he never thought the U.S. deaths would be so high.

“I was one of those early ones that thought this may be something that may hit us for a couple months … I definitely thought we would be done with it before we got into the fall. And I definitely didn’t see it heading off into 2021,” Stanton said.

Kristy Sourk, an intensive-care nurse at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, said she is encouraged by the declining caseload and progress in vaccinating people, but “I know we are so far from over.”

People “are still dying, and families are still isolated from their loved ones who are unable to be with them so that is still pretty heart-wrenching,” she said.

Snow, ice and weather-related power outages closed some vaccination sites and held up shipments across a large swath of the nation, including in the Deep South.

As a result, the seven-day rolling average of administered first doses fell by 20 percent between Feb. 14 and Feb. 21, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The White House said that about a third of the roughly 6 million vaccine doses delayed by bad weather were delivered over the weekend, with the rest expected to be delivered by mid-week, several days earlier than originally expected. White House coronavirus response coordinator Andy Slavitt on Monday attributed the improved timeline to an “all-out, round-the-clock” effort over the weekend that included employees at one vaccine distributor working night shifts to pack vaccines.

In Louisiana, state health officials said some doses from last week’s shipments were delivered over the weekend and were expected to continue arriving through Wednesday. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week’s supply arrived Monday. And in Nashville, Tennessee, health officials were able to vaccinate more than 2,300 senior citizens and teachers over the weekend after days of treacherous weather.

“We’ll be asking the vaccine providers to do a lot,” said Louisiana’s top public health adviser, Dr. Joe Kanter, who expects it to take a week or two to catch up on vaccinations after a storm coated roads with ice and left many areas without running water.

Some hospitals, clinics, community sites and pharmacies that are in Louisiana’s vaccination network will get double allocations of doses this week — just as Gov. John Bel Edwards starts offering shots to teachers, daycare workers, pregnant women and people age 55 to 64 with certain preexisting conditions.

New York City officials expected to catch up on vaccinations after being forced to delay scheduling tens of thousands of appointments last week, the mayor said Monday.

“That means we’ve basically lost a full week in our vaccination efforts,” DeBlasio said.

More than 44 million Americans have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and about 1.6 million per day received either first or second dose over the past seven days, according to the CDC.

The nation’s supply could expand significantly if health regulators approve a single-shot COVID-19 vaccine developed by drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.

The company said it will be able to provide 20 million U.S. doses by the end of March if it gets the green light, and would have capacity to provide 100 million vaccine doses to the U.S. by the end of June.


National
AP
Court won't halt turnover of Trump's tax records
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — In a significant defeat for former President Donald Trump, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to step in to halt the turnover of his tax records to a New York state prosecutor.

The court’s action is the apparent culmination of a lengthy legal battle that had already reached the high court once before.

Trump’s tax records are not supposed to become public as part of prosecutors’ criminal investigation, but the high court’s action is a blow to Trump because he has long fought on many fronts to keep his tax records shielded from view. The ongoing investigation that the records are part of could also become an issue for Trump in his life after the presidency.

In a statement, Trump blasted prosecutors and said the “Supreme Court never should have let this ‘fishing expedition’ happen, but they did.” The Republican claimed the investigation is politically motivated by Democrats in “a totally Democrat location, New York City and State.” And he said he would “fight on” and that “We will win!”

The Supreme Court waited months to act in the case. The last of the written briefs in the case was filed Oct. 19. But a court that includes three Trump appointees waited through the election, Trump’s challenge to his defeat and a month after Trump left office before issuing its order.

The court offered no explanation for the delay, and the legal issue before the justices did not involve whether Trump was due any special deference because he was president.

The court’s order is a win for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who has been seeking Trump’s tax records since 2019 as part of an investigation. Vance, a Democrat, had subpoenaed the records from the Mazars accounting firm that has long done work for Trump and his businesses. Mazars has said it would comply with the subpoena, but Trump sued to block the records’ release.

Vance’s office had said it would be free to enforce the subpoena and obtain the records in the event the Supreme Court declined to step in and halt the records’ turnover, but it was unclear when that might happen. In a three-word statement Monday, Vance said only: “The work continues.”

The court’s action Monday wasn’t the only defeat for Trump, the court also declined to get involved in a handful of cases related to the 2020 election.

The records Vance has been after are more than eight years of Trump’s personal and corporate tax records. Vance has disclosed little about what prompted him to seek them. In one court filing last year, however, prosecutors said they were justified in demanding the records because of public reports of “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization.”

Part of the probe involves payments to two women — porn actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal — to keep them quiet during the 2016 presidential campaign about alleged extramarital affairs with Trump. Trump has denied the affairs.

In July, the justices in a 7-2 ruling rejected Trump’s argument that the president is immune from investigation while he holds office or that a prosecutor must show a greater need than normal to obtain the tax records.

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, whom Trump nominated to the high court, joined that decision. It was issued before Trump’s third nominee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, replaced the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the court.

As part of its July decision, the high court returned the Vance case and a similar case involving records sought by Congress to lower courts. And the court prevented the records from being turned over while the cases proceeded.

Since the high court’s ruling, in the Vance case, Trump’s attorneys made additional arguments that his tax records should not be turned over, but they lost again in federal court in New York and on appeal. It was those rulings that Trump had sought to put on hold.


Artist Candida Deree's table is covered with her fused glass art pieces.


Govt-and-politics
EPA changes stand, sides with ethanol industry in court case
  • Updated

DES MOINES — The federal government announced Monday that it will support the ethanol industry in a lawsuit over biofuel waivers granted to oil refineries under President Donald Trump’s administration.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it is reversing course and will support a January 2020 decision by the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a lawsuit filed by the Renewable Fuels Association and farm groups. The lawsuit is headed to arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court this spring.

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Federal law requires refiners to blend billions of gallons of biofuels in the nation’s gasoline supply or buy credits from refineries that do the blending. Refineries can seek waivers if they can show that meeting the ethanol quotas would create a financial hardship for their companies.

The appeals court concluded the EPA improperly granted exemptions to refineries that didn’t qualify. The court said that refineries should be granted waivers only as extensions, but most refineries seeking exemptions had not continuously received them year after year. The decision effectively limited the EPA’s ability to grant most exemptions. Two refineries appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

Trump, who polls show had overwhelming support among Midwestern farmers, had promised to back policies that helped agriculture, but his EPA approved sharp increases in the waivers, aiding oil refiners and reducing demand for corn-based ethanol.

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Roughly 40% of U.S. corn is used to produce ethanol. The EPA under Trump issued 85 retroactive small refinery exemptions for the 2016-2018 compliance years, undercutting the renewable fuel volumes by a total of 4 billion gallons, (15.1 billion liters) according to the Renewable Fuels Association.

Roughly a month after President Joe Biden took office, his EPA reversed the federal government’s stand, saying the EPA agrees with the appeals court that the exemption was intended to operate as a temporary measure.

“The change reflects the agency’s considered assessment that the Tenth Circuit’s reasoning better reflects the statutory text and structure, as well as Congress’s intent in establishing the RFS program,” the EPA said in a statement.

Biofuels and farm advocates applauded the decision.

“This announcement marks a giant step forward by the new administration to restore the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standard and honor the statutory intent of the program,” said Renewable Fuels Association President Geoff Cooper.

Iowa Republican politicians, who were loyal supporters of Trump but struggled to defend his administration’s ethanol policy, also supported the Biden administration move.

“This is a step to provide much-needed certainty to ethanol and biodiesel producers,” Sen. Joni Ernst said.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds called the decision an “encouraging sign” from the Biden administration.

Petroleum industry groups the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers of America and the American Petroleum Institute did not immediate respond to messages.

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