Alex Jones ordered to pay $49.3M total over Sandy Hook lies

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – A Texas jury on Friday ordered Infowars´ Alex Jones to pay $49.3 million in total damages to the parents of a first-grader killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which the conspiracy theorist falsely called a hoax orchestrated by the government in order to tighten U.S.gun laws.

The amount is less than the $150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among 19 children and six educators killed in the deadliest classroom shooting in U.S. history.

The trial is the first time Jones has been held financially liable for peddling lies about the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut.

Jurors at first awarded Heslin and Lewis $4.1 million in compensatory damages, which Jones called a major victory.But in the final phase of the two-week trial, the same Austin jury came back and tacked on an additional $45.2 million in punitive damages.

Punitive damages are meant to punish defendants for particularly egregious conduct, beyond monetary compensation awarded to the individuals they hurt.A high punitive award is also seen as a chance for jurors to send a wider societal message and a way to deter others from the same abhorrent conduct in the future.

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‘What recession?’: US employers add 528,000 jobs in July

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S.employers added an astonishing 528,000 jobs last month despite flashing warning signs of an economic downturn, easing fears of a recession and handing President Joe Biden some good news heading into the midterm elections.

Unemployment dropped another notch, from 3.6% to 3.5%, matching the more than 50-year low reached just before the pandemic took hold.

The economy has now recovered all 22 million jobs lost in March and April 2020 when COVID-19 slammed the U.S.

The red-hot numbers reported Friday by the Labor Department are certain to intensify the debate over whether the U.S.is in a recession.

“Recession – what recession?´´ wrote Brian Coulton, chief economist at Fitch Ratings. “The U.S. economy is creating new jobs at an annual rate of 6 million – that´s three times faster than what we normally see historically in a good year.”

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China cuts off vital US contacts over Pelosi Taiwan visit

WASHINGTON (AP) – China cut off contacts with the United States on vital issues Friday – including military matters and crucial climate cooperation – as concerns rose that the Communist government’s hostile reaction to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit could signal a lasting, more aggressive approach toward its U.S. rival and the self-ruled island.

China’s move to freeze key lines of communication compounded the worsening of relations from Pelosi´s visit and from the Chinese response with military exercises off Taiwan, including firing missiles that splashed down in surrounding waters.

After the White House summoned China’s ambassador, Qin Gang, late Thursday to protest the military exercises, White House spokesman John Kirby on Friday condemned the decision to end important dialogue with the United States as “irresponsible.”

The White House spokesman blasted China’s “provocative” actions since Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory. But Kirby noted that some channels of communication remain open between military officials in the two countries. He repeated daily assurances that the U.S. had not changed its policy toward the Communist mainland and the self-ruled island.

“Bottom line is we´re going to continue our efforts to keep opening lines of communication that are protecting our interests and our values,” Kirby said. He declined to speak about any damage to long-term relations between China and the United States, calling that a discussion for later.

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Israeli strikes on Gaza kill 10, including senior militant

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes Friday on Gaza, killing at least 10 people, including a senior militant, according to Palestinian officials. Israel said it targeted the Islamic Jihad militant group in response to an “imminent threat” following the recent arrest of another senior militant.

Hours later, Palestinian militants launched a barrage of rockets as air-raid sirens wailed in Israel and the two sides drew closer to another all-out war. Islamic Jihad claimed to have fired 100 rockets.

Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers have fought four wars and several smaller battles over the last 15 years at a staggering cost to the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

A blast was heard in Gaza City, where smoke poured out of the seventh floor of a tall building. Video released by Israel’s military showed the strikes blowing up three guard towers with suspected militants in them.

In a nationally televised speech, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country launched the attacks based on “concrete threats.”

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7 adults, 3 kids dead in house fire; criminal probe underway

NESCOPECK, Pa. (AP) – Fire tore quickly through a house in the wee hours of Friday, killing seven adults and three children and horrifying a volunteer firefighter who arrived to battle the blaze only to discover that the victims were his family, authorities said.

A criminal investigation into the fire is underway, authorities said. The children who died in the fire were ages 5, 6 and 7, Pennsylvania State Police said in a news release.

Nescopeck Volunteer Fire Co. firefighter Harold Baker told the Citizens’ Voice newspaper of Wilkes-Barre that the 10 victims included his son, daughter, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, three grandchildren and two other relatives.

He told WNEP-TV that 13 dogs were also in the home but did not say if he knew whether any survived.

The fire in Nescopeck was reported around 2:30 a.m. One person was found dead inside the single-family home shortly after emergency responders arrived, while two other victims were found later in the morning.

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Sinema gives her nod, and influence, to Democrats’ big bill

WASHINGTON (AP) – Sen. Joe Manchin sealed the deal reviving President Joe Biden´s big economic, health care and climate bill. But it was another Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who intently, quietly and deliberately shaped the final product.

Democrats pushed ahead Friday on an estimated $730 billion package that in many ways reflects Sinema’s priorities and handiwork more than the other political figures who have played a key role in delivering on Biden’s signature domestic policy agenda.

It was Sinema early on who rejected Biden’s plan to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, as she broke with party’s primary goal of reversing the Trump-era tax break Republicans gave to corporate America.

Sinema also scaled back her party’s long-running plan to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies as a way to reduce overall costs to the government and consumers. She limited which drugs can be negotiated.

Her insistence on climate change provisions forced the coal-state Manchin to stay at the table to accept some $369 billion in renewable energy investments and tax breaks. She also is tucking in more money to fight Western droughts.

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SUV barrels through Native American parade; 15 injured

A New Mexico man who was driving drunk without a valid license barreled through a parade that celebrates Native American culture in the western part of the state, injuring at least 15 people, officials said Friday.

Jeff Irving, 33, was arrested late Thursday and faces charges that include aggravated driving while intoxicated, fleeing from officers and injuring parade-goers and two Gallup police officers who tried to stop the vehicle, court documents said.

In a statement, New Mexico State Police said that investigators have no reason to suspect the crime was motivated by hate. No one was killed. The people who were hurt, including the police officers, suffered mostly minor injuries, said New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and his family were among those almost hit as the Chevrolet Tahoe drove through the parade route. The vehicle sped through downtown Gallup about 15 minutes after the nighttime parade started that served as the kick-off event for the 10-day Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial Centennial Celebration.

Irving´s blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit for driving, according to court records. His license had been revoked or suspended for another drunken driving charge and the SUV had no registration or insurance, police said.

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Indiana House passes abortion ban, sends to Senate

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – The Indiana House on Friday voted for a ban on nearly all abortions in the state, sending the legislation back to the state Senate to confer on House changes.

House members advanced the near-total abortion ban 62-38 with limited exceptions, including in cases of rape and incest, and to protect the life and physical health of the mother.

If the Senate approves the bill as is, Indiana lawmakers will become the first in the nation to pass new legislation restricting access to abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court´s ruling in June that overturned the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision that made the procedure legal nationwide. The measure then would go to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who has not indicated whether he would sign it.

Republican Rep. Wendy McNamara of Evansville, who sponsored the bill, told reporters after the vote that the legislation “makes Indiana one of the most pro-life states in the nation.”

Outside the House chamber, abortion-rights activists often chanted over lawmakers’ remarks, carrying signs like “Roe roe roe your vote” and “Build this wall” between church and state. Some House Democrats wore blazers over pink “Bans Off Our Bodies” T-shirts.

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NCAA hoops leagues grapple with unequal pay for women’s refs

The NCAA earned praise last year when it agreed to pay referees at its men´s and women´s basketball tournaments equally. The gesture only cost about $100,000, a tiny fraction of the roughly $900 million networks pay annually to broadcast March Madness.

Now, as the NCAA examines various disparities across men’s and women’s sports, pressure is rising to also pay referees equally during the regular season. Two Division I conferences told The Associated Press they plan to equalize pay, and another is considering it. Others are resisting change, even though the impact on their budgets would be negligible.

“The ones that are (equalizing pay) are reading the writing on the wall,” said Michael Lewis, a marketing professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

The details of NCAA referee pay are closely guarded, but The Associated Press obtained data for the 2021-22 season that show 15 of the NCAA´s largest – and most profitable — conferences paid veteran referees for men’s basketball an average of 22% more per game.

That level of disparity is wider than the gender pay gap across the U.S. economy, where women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to the 2020 census. And it is an overwhelming disadvantage for women, who make up less than 1% of the referees officiating men´s games.

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‘Golden Girls’ LA pop-up restaurant has the golden touch

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) – Picture it: A vacant Beverly Hills bistro has been transformed into the set of a 1980s sitcom about four women living in Miami – but it’s also a working restaurant.

Reservations have been going fast at the newly opened The Golden Girls Kitchen. Some patrons have come from out of state to see the pop-up eatery.

Joe Saunders, of Cranston, Rhode Island, his two teenage children and their mother were visiting Northern California when they learned about the pop-up. So they made a special trip south just to see it.

“I was a little hesitant about coming but my kids’ mom really wanted to come,” said Saunders, who was wearing a T-shirt referencing the sitcom’s fictitious Shady Pines retirement home. “It’s been a good time…the lasagna, digitechos the strawberry daiquiri and I’m going to have a piece of cake with ice cream, too.”

Thirty years after “The Golden Girls” ended on NBC, fans still can’t let go of the sitcom about four housemates – Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia – bonding over aging, dating and cheesecake. The first month of reservations sold out before the pop-up opened July 30, which the internet deems National Golden Girls Day. It’s just the latest example of the comedy rising to pop culture relevancy again. In just the past few months, the first ever Golden-Con fan convention was held in Chicago and a pilot for an animated, futuristic “Golden Girls” series is being shopped around.

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