Lancet medical journal apologizes for referring to women as ‘bodies with vaginas’

Leading medical journal apologizes for referring to women as ‘bodies with vaginas’

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In this photo dated Saturday, July 2, 2016, participants wave flags and dance during the Gay Pride parade in Madrid, Spain. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza) **FILE** more >

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By Sean Salai

The Washington Times

Friday, October 1, 2021

The editor of The Lancet, a leading medical journal in Britain, has apologized for a pro-transgender cover about menstruation that referred to women as “bodies with vaginas.”

Editor-in-chief Richard Horton issued the apology this week in response to blowback from feminist and medical groups against the journal’s effort to be inclusive of biologically born men who now identify as women.

“In this instance, we have conveyed the impression that we have dehumanized and marginalized women,” Mr. Horton said in a statement. “Those who read The Lancet regularly will understand that this would never have been our intention.”

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“Historically, the anatomy and physiology of bodies with vaginas have been neglected,” the journal’s Sept. 25 issue cover proclaimed in blue ink, centering the text on a blank white background.

The line, touting an article about menstruation stigmas, drew harsh criticism.

Feminists and doctors had pointed out that the London-based journal did not likewise refer to men as “bodies with penises.”

Following the apology, they also pointed out that the journal did not remove an electronic image of the cover from its website.

“Despite the outrage at calling women ‘bodies with vaginas’ and an apology from the Editor-in-Chief at The Lancet, the front page still remains,” Jane Chalmers, a senior lecturer in pain sciences at the University of South Australia, wrote in a Sept. 25 tweet.

In her tweet, Ms. Chalmers also suggested an alternative cover tease for the issue: “Historically, we’ve focused too much on men.”

Philippine leader asks officials to ignore corruption probe

Philippine leader asks officials to ignore corruption probe

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In this photo taken from video shown at United Nations headquarters, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, president of the Philippines, remotely addresses the 76th session of the U.N. General Assembly in a pre-recorded message, Tuesday Sept. 21, 2021. (UN Web TV via … more >

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By Jim Gomez

Associated Press

Friday, October 1, 2021

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – The Philippine president says he will prohibit Cabinet officials from attending an ongoing Senate inquiry on suspected irregularities in massive government purchases of medical supplies in a brewing constitutional crisis.

President Rodrigo Duterte told Cabinet members in a televised meeting Thursday night that he‘ll issue a written order barring them and other officials, including three secretaries dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, from attending the inquiry.

The tough-talking president accused critical senators of using the televised hearings to gain political mileage ahead of next year’s national, local and congressional elections.

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He said Sen. Richard Gordon, who leads the inquiry, has failed to produce any evidence of corruption in government purchases of protective masks and face shields after several hearings and had berated invited guests like a “despot.”

“That power to compel people to be there does not include abuse, does not include despotic ways, does not include making a very reckless but deliberate statement which is an affront to the constitution when you say, `I will conduct the investigation until kingdom come,’” Duterte said.

If Cabinet officials ignore Senate summons and are ordered arrested for contempt, Duterte said he would order the police and the military to refrain from helping the Senate sergeant-at-arms enforce the arrests.

“I’m the commander-in-chief anyway of all uniformed personnel of government. I am ordering the police and the military and everybody to stay out of this trouble. Do not get involved, don’t follow, because we have a crisis already,” Duterte said.

Gordon’s committee has been investigating what he and other senators said were the overpricing and other possible irregularities in purchases of masks and other medical supplies from a Philippine company, the Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.

Registered in 2019 with a capital of 625,000 pesos ($12,500), the company managed to secure multi-billion-peso (multi-million-dollar) government contracts to supply the gear as the Duterte administration scrambled to deal with coronavirus surges last year.

A Chinese businessman, who Duterte once appointed as an economic adviser, has been linked to Pharmally as a financier of the medical supplies the company purchased from China and eventually supplied to the Philippine government, Gordon and other senators said, citing testimony from a company official.

Duterte and Pharmally officials have denied allegations the supplies were overpriced. Duterte has also said he authorized health officials to skip the required bidding to deal with the pandemic.

Duterte has shot back by publicly accusing Gordon of misusing funds as chairman of the local Red Cross, an allegation the senator dismissed. Gordon criticized Duterte for defending government and company officials who have been linked to the irregularities and said the Senate investigation wound not be deterred by the president’s threats.

Biden’s approval slumps after a slew of crises: AP-NORC poll

Biden’s approval slumps after a slew of crises: AP-NORC poll

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In this Sept. 24, 2021 photo, President Joe Biden listens during the Quad summit in the East Room of the White House. President Joe Biden’s popularity has slumped — with half of Americans now approving and half disapproving of his … more >

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By Josh Boak and Emily Swanson

Associated Press

Friday, October 1, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden‘s popularity has slumped after a slew of challenges in recent weeks at home and abroad for the leader who pledged to bring the country together and restore competence in government, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Fifty percent now say they approve of Biden, while 49% disapprove. Fifty-four percent approved in August, and 59% did in July. The results come as Americans process the harried and deadly evacuation from Afghanistan, mounted border patrol agents charging at Haitian refugees, the unshakable threat of the coronavirus with its delta variant and the legislative drama of Biden trying to negotiate his economic, infrastructure and tax policies through Congress.

Since July, Biden’s approval rating has dipped slightly among Democrats (from 92% to 85%) and among independents who don’t lean toward either party (from 62% to 38%). Just 11% of Republicans approve of the president, which is similar to July.

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Approval also dipped somewhat among both white Americans (49% to 42%) and Black Americans (86% to 64%).

In follow-up interviews, some of those who had mixed feelings about Biden‘s performance still saw him as preferable to former President Donald Trump. They said that Biden was dealing with a pandemic that began under the former president, an Afghanistan withdrawal negotiated on Trump’s behalf and an economy that tilted in favor of corporations and the wealthy because of Trump’s tax cuts.

“Trump had a lot to do with what’s going on now,” said Acarla Strickland, 41, a health care worker from Atlanta who voted for Biden yet now feels lukewarm about him.

As a mother of four, Strickland said she has benefited from the monthly child tax credit payments that are flowing as part of Biden‘s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. But she feels the government needs to do more to help Americans. Strickland said she borrowed $66,000 to get a master’s degree and fears the debt will never be repaid.

Just 34% of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction, down from about half who said that through the first months of Biden’s presidency. Trump supporters such as Larry Schuth feel as though Biden is damaging the nation by seeking to enlarge government and mismanaging the southern border. The Hilton, New York, resident added that he would like to travel to Canada but can’t because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“If he had a plan to destroy this country and divide this country, I don’t know how you could carry it out any better,” said Schuth, 81. “We’re spending way too much money. We’re planning on spending even more. We don’t have a southern border.”

The poll shows that 47% of Americans approve of how Biden is handling the economy, down from a high of 60% in March but similar to where it stood in August.

The initial burst of optimism from Biden‘s rescue package has been met with the hard realities of employers struggling to find workers and higher-than-expected inflation as supply chain issues have made it harder to find automobiles, household appliances and other goods. The rise of the delta variant and reluctance by some Americans to get vaccinated also slowed hiring in August.

Roni Klass, a tutor in her 70s living in Miami, said she was glad to vote Trump out, but she’s worried about inflation given her dependence on Social Security and wages that have yet to rise.

“When I go to the grocery store, the prices have really shot up,” she said. “My money coming in is not keeping up with the money that I have to spend going out, and I have to cut back as much as I can.”

The poll finds 57% approve of Biden’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. That number is similar to August but remains significantly below where it stood as recently as July, when 66% approved. Still, it remains Biden’s strongest issue in the poll. Close to 9 in 10 Democrats approve of Biden’s handling of the pandemic, compared with about 2 in 10 Republicans. In July, about 3 in 10 Republicans said they approved.

More also approve than disapprove of Biden’s decision to require that most U.S. workers be vaccinated or face regular testing, 51% to 34%, with 14% saying they neither approve nor disapprove. About 8 in 10 Democrats approve; roughly 6 in 10 of Republicans disapprove.

Biden struggles on several issues related to foreign policy. Forty-three percent say they approve of his handling of foreign policy overall, and only 34% approve of his handling of the situation in Afghanistan. Even among Democrats, only 54% say they approve of Biden’s handling of Afghanistan. Just 10% of Republicans say the same.

At the same time, Americans are slightly more likely to approve than disapprove of the decision to remove the last remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan at the end of August, with 45% saying they approve of that decision and 39% saying they disapprove. About two-thirds of Democrats approve of the decision to withdraw troops, compared with about a quarter of Republicans. Roughly two-thirds of Republicans disapprove.

Forty-six percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of national security, while 52% disapprove.

The poll was conducted just after tensions emerged with France over a submarine deal with Australia, but it finds 50% approve of how Biden is handling relationships with allies – similar to his approval rating overall.

Just 35% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of immigration, down from 43% in April, when it was already one of Biden’s worst issues. Immigration is a relative low point for Biden within his own party with 60% of Democrats saying they approve, along with 6% of Republicans.

The president has committed himself toward humane immigration policies, yet the persistent border-crossings and flow of refugees from Haiti and Afghanistan has led to challenging debates and troubling images. Immigration poses a challenge because voters are divided over whether to welcome more foreigners or focus the government more on the needs of existing citizens.

“There isn’t enough money to take care of our own, why do we have to take care of some other country?” said Anthony Beard, 48, a chef from Lansing, Michigan.

Australia to lift 18-month COVID-19 travel ban next month

Australia to lift 18-month COVID-19 travel ban next month

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison discusses travel restrictions during a press conference in Canberra, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. Australia has outlined plans to lift its pandemic ban on its vaccinated citizens traveling overseas from November, but no date has yet … more >

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By Rod McGuirk

Associated Press

Friday, October 1, 2021

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australia has outlined plans to lift a pandemic ban on its vaccinated citizens traveling overseas from November. But no date has yet been set for welcoming international tourists back.

Travel restrictions that have trapped most Australians and permanent residents at home over the past 18 months would be removed when 80% of the population aged 16 and older were fully vaccinated, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.

Australia introduced some of the toughest travel restrictions of any democracy in the world on people entering and leaving the island nation on March 20 last year.

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Most Australians have had to argue for rare exemptions from the travel ban to leave the country. There are a few exceptions from the ban including government employees and essential workers. Tourism is never accepted as a reason to cross the border.

Hundreds of thousands have failed to reach relatives’ death beads, missed funerals or weddings and have yet to be introduced to grandchildren because of restrictions aimed at keeping COVID-19 out of Australia.

New South Wales would likely become the first state to reach the 80% vaccination benchmark and Sydney’s airport the first to open to international travel, Morrison said.

“We’ve saved lives. We’ve saved livelihoods, but we must work together to ensure that Australians can reclaim the lives that they once had in this country,” Morrison said.

Sydney-based Qantas Airways announced international flights would resume from Nov. 14 to London and Los Angeles.

Morrison offered no clue to when other nationalities would be welcome to visit Australia.

“We’ll be working towards complete quarantine-free travel for certain countries, such as New Zealand, when it is safe to do so,” he said.

Australia has its closest relationship with New Zealand, whose citizens are considered Australian permanent residents. The neighbors allowed quarantine-free travel across the Tasman Sea before the delta variant outbreak began in Sydney in June.

The Australian Tourism Export Council, which represents a sector that made 45 billion Australian dollars ($33 billion) a year from international tourists before the pandemic, said the end of the travel ban paved the way for visitors from around the world returning by March.

“It marks a shift in thinking within both the government and community sentiment to reengaging with the world,” the council’s managing director Peter Shelley said in a statement.

A cap on the number of Australian citizens and permanent residents allowed to return each week has left 45,000 people stranded overseas. It’s aimed at reducing pressure on hotel quarantine, which the more contagious delta variant had made more difficult to manage.

The cap would only apply to the unvaccinated under the new regime. Fully vaccinated Australians would be able to quarantine at home and for only a week instead of the current two weeks in a hotel.

Australia on Friday added China’s Sinovac and Indian-made AstraZeneca shots known as Covishield to a list of vaccines that Australians can take and be recognized as fully vaccinated.

Travel restrictions would not be lifted for Australians who chose not to be vaccinated. People who could not be vaccinated for medical reasons or children too young to get the jab would have the same privileges as those inoculated.

Trains packed with commuters as Japan fully ends emergency

Trains packed with commuters as Japan fully ends emergency

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People eat and drink at a restaurant after 8 p.m., the time the government suggests to close under the ongoing state of emergency, in the famed Asakusa tourist spot in Tokyo, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. On Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, … more >

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By Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Friday, October 1, 2021

TOKYO (AP) – Japan fully came out of a coronavirus state of emergency for the first time in more than six months as the country starts to gradually ease virus measures to help rejuvenate the pandemic-hit economy as the infections slowed.

At Tokyo’s busy Shinagawa train station, a sea of mask-wearing commuters rushed to their work despite an approaching typhoon, with some returning to their offices after months of remote work.

The emergency measures, in place for more than half of the country including Tokyo, ended Thursday following a steady fall in new caseloads over the past few weeks, helping to ease pressure on Japanese health care systems.

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Outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga thanked the people for their patience and cooperation, and asked them to stick to their basic anti-virus measures.

“Once again, I seek your cooperation so that we can return to our daily lives feeling safe,” he said.

The lifting of the emergency marked a fresh start for some people.

Office worker Akifumi Sugihara, 46, said he is back to the train station for the first time in about a year. “I had been working from home for more than a year, and I came to the office in Tokyo as (the emergency) was lifted today,” he said. “It’s really been a while. I feel it’s a new start.”

Another office worker, Kaori Hayashi, 37, said it was an ordinary Friday. “In my mind nothing really has changed,” she said. “We still need to be careful. I will stay vigilant and carry on my life as usual.”

Japan is eager to expand social and economic activities while balancing the need to prevent another wave of infections as the weather turns cooler. Officials say the government still needs time to create more temporary COVID-19 treatment facilities and continue vaccinations to prepare for any future resurgence.

The emergency measures have mainly involved requests for eateries to curb alcohol and hours. They can now serve alcohol and operate an hour longer but still have to close at 9 p.m.

Daily reported cases have fallen to below 1,600 as of Wednesday nationwide – less than one-tenth of the mid-August peak of around 25,000. Experts attributed the declining numbers to the progress of vaccinations and to people increased their social distancing efforts after being alarmed by the collapse of medical systems during the summer.

Nearly more than 59% of Japanese people have been fully vaccinated. Japan has had about 1.69 million cases and 17,641 deaths from COVID-19.

Military suicide rates increasing, new Pentagon survey finds

Military suicide rates increasing, new Pentagon survey finds

Austin calls 15% jump in 2020 'troubling'

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In this Jan. 1, 2020, photo, U.S. Army soldiers from the 82nd Airborne board a C-17 aircraft at Fort Bragg, N.C., to be deployed to the Middle East. (Melissa Sue Gerrits/The Fayetteville Observer via AP) **FILE** more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Updated: 4:23 p.m. on
Thursday, September 30, 2021

Suicide rates in the U.S. military increased from 2015 to 2020 and the trend shows no signs of slowing, Pentagon officials acknowledged Thursday while releasing the Department of Defense’s 2020 Annual Suicide Report.

Pentagon officials said 580 active-duty service members died at their own hands in 2020, a 15% jump over the 504 suicides recorded in the previous year. The report shows that the suicide rate for active component military members increased for five years up to that point.

“I feel these losses personally and mourn alongside the families and loved ones of those we have lost,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement. “Each suicide sends forth wave after wave of pain and grief. One such tragedy is too many.”

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Dr. Karin Orvis, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, said military members aren’t immune from the same mental health challenges faced by the civilian community.

“Suicide remains a serious public health issue in our nation and military. Our efforts must address the many aspects of life that impact suicide,” Dr. Orvis said in a statement. “We are continuing to collaborate with federal and non-federal partners to change the conversation around mental health and suicide.”

The data in the study doesn’t indicate a COVID-19 link to the rising military suicide rate. Enlisted members and the young are considered most at risk for suicide, Pentagon officials said.

“The findings are troubling. Suicide rates among our service members and military families are still too high and the trends are not going in the right direction,” Mr. Austin said.

While the report covered a period before the controversial U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Mr. Austin said he realized these are “difficult days” for many people in the Pentagon workforce.

“As I have said, ‘Mental health is health — period.’ We must all do more, at every level, to end the stigma against getting help,” Mr. Austin said. “Reaching out is a sign of strength and resilience.”

Confidential support for veterans is available at websites such as militaryonesource.mil or veteranscrisisline.net.

French drug company Sanofi drops plan for mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine

French drug company Sanofi drops plan for mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine

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This file photo from Nov. 30, 2020 shows the logo of French drugmaker Sanofi at the company’s headquarters, in Paris. The French drug company announced Sept. 29, 2021, that it scrapping its plans for creating its own mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine … more >

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By Shen Wu Tan

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

French drug company Sanofi said on Tuesday it is going to ditch its plans for creating its own mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine due to the existing supply of these shots.

“Taking into account public health needs and given sufficient mRNA COVID-19 vaccines supply can be expected going forward, Sanofi has decided not to pursue the development of its COVID-19 mRNA candidate into a Phase 3 clinical study,” the company said in a statement.

Sanofi said it will instead concentrate on finishing its COVID-19 protein-based vaccine with the help of GlaxoSmithKline.

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Pfizer and BioNTech have dominated the COVID-19 vaccine market in the Western world, delivering about 1.5 billion doses so far, Reuters reported.

Sanofi on Tuesday also announced positive preliminary results for its phase ½ trial of its mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine. However, the company said it will focus its mRNA resources to tackle future pandemics and other infectious diseases where “there is a strong unmet need.” 

Fumio Kishida in line to be Japan’s next prime minister after close party vote

Kishida in line to be Japan’s next prime minister after close party vote

Establishment rallies behind safe choice after two women candidates nixed

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Japan’s former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida attends a press conference at the headquarters of the Liberal Democratic Party after he was elected as party president in Tokyo Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Kishida won the governing party leadership election on Wednesday … more >

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By David R. Sands

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has won a hotly contested leadership race to head Japan’s long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, putting him on track to succeed resigning Yoshihide Suga as prime minister of a key U.S. ally.

For the first time in modern Japanese politics, the race featured two serious female candidates — conservative Sanae Takaichi and the more liberal Seiko Noda — but Mr. Kishida‘s main challenger proved to be popular vaccinations minister Taro Kono, whom he edged by just a single vote in the first round of voting. Mr. Kishida then won decisively, 257-170, in the run-off, as party leaders apparently rallied to the cause of the candidate seen as a steadier hand.

The choice likely signals a period of policy continuity for Tokyo, despite the unpopularity of Mr. Suga, who stepped down after only a year of the job. Mr. Kishida has backed closer ties with the U.S. and a policy of a “free and open Indo-Pacific region” that is viewed as an implicit challenge to China’s aggressive recent moves, but was also less aggressive in his rhetoric toward Beijing than some of his rivals.
The Associated Press reported that Mr. Kishida in his victory speech vowed to tackle “national crises” including COVID-19, the pandemic-battered economy and the falling national birth rate.

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Mr. Kishida was widely viewed as a safe choice for the ruling party, compared to the more outspoken and high-profile Mr. Kono, a fluent English speaker with a significant social media presence.

But Japanese political analysts say the current parliament is likely to be dissolved next month with a general election set for early November. It is not clear if Mr. Kishida‘s low-key image will help the party save off losses in the legislature.

Jesper Koll, a director at the Monex Group, said Wednesday’s result was “a win for the establishment.”

Kishida stands for stability, for not rocking the boat and most importantly, doing what elite technocrats tell him to do,” Mr. Koll told the Reuters news agency.

U.S. wants ‘clarification’ on offer to use Russian military bases to launch Afghan strikes: Austin

U.S. wants ‘clarification’ on Russia’s offer of military bases to launch Afghan strikes, Austin says

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.. (Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Top U.S. military leaders have sought clarification from Moscow about an offer to use Russian military bases in Central Asia as a launching pad for counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday.

Mr. Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Gen. Mark. A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently asked his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, about the matter. The offer for the U.S. to potentially use Russian facilities in neighboring  Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, was made during a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Biden.

Mr. Austin stressed that the U.S. isn’t seeking Russian’s approval for counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan, but he acknowledged the two nations now have a dialogue about sharing resources in the region.

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“I can assure you we are not seeking Russia’s permission to do anything, but I believe … [Gen. Milley] asked for clarification what that offer was.”

Republicans said such cooperation with Moscow is evidence of the difficult position the U.S. now finds itself in thanks to the Biden administration’s total military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“They’ve really left us in a terrible position that we have to ask the Russians to be able to protect the United States from terrorists, and we have to ask them to use their installations,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, Nebraska Republican.

The U.S. has insisted that even after the Afghanistan withdrawal, American drones can strike terrorist targets from “over the horizon,” though military leaders have acknowledged such missions are much more logistically challenging. Permanent American bases near Afghanistan would make the task far easier, but the U.S. so far has not secured an agreement with a nearby nation to house American personnel, planes or vehicles.

While there is no clear solution, powerful Republican lawmakers say working with Russia isn’t the answer.

“Inviting Russia into discussions will not further vital U.S. counterterrorism goals, nor is it the path to the ‘stable and predictable’ relationship with Russia the Biden administration claims it wants,” the top Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, and the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services panels, wrote in a letter late Monday to Mr. Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Where women took shelter from abuse, Taliban now in control

Where women took shelter from abuse, Taliban now in control

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Razia and her 6-year-old daughter Alia, stand inside the women’s section of the Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. When the Taliban took control of a northern Afghan city of Pul-e-Kumri the operator of the only women’s … more >

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By Kathy Gannon

Associated Press

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — When the Taliban seized power, the operator of the only women’s shelter in a northern Afghan city ran away. Left abandoned were 20 women who had fled a variety of domestic horrors, some abused by husbands or family, others forced into early marriages with older men.

Soon after, the Taliban arrived at the shelter in the city of Pul-e-Kumri.

They gave the women two options: Return to their abusive families – some of whom had threatened them with death for leaving – or go with the Taliban, recalled one of the women, Salima, who asked only that her first name be used.

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Most of the women chose to return home, fearing the Taliban more than their families. Salima said she knew of at least one who was since killed, likely by an angry family member.

But Salima decided to leave with the Taliban. She didn’t know what they would do, but she had nowhere else to go, having fled her abusive, drug-addicted husband months earlier. Now she finds herself housed in a prison – but protected and safe, she says.

Whether under Taliban rule or not, women in Afghanistan’s deeply conservative and often tribal society are often subject to archaic codes of behavior that hold them responsible for the honor of their families. They can be killed for simply marrying a man of their choice. They are often married at puberty. Fleeing even an abusive husband is considered shameful. Hundreds of women are jailed for so-called “morality crimes,” including adultery or running away from home, even though they are not officially crimes under the Afghan penal code.

Over the past two decades, activists set up dozens of women’s shelters around Afghanistan. But even before the Taliban takeover, conservative Afghans, including government officials, viewed them with suspicion, as places that help women and girls defy their families or abet “moral crimes.”

Women’s shelters are just one of a myriad of social changes that became more prevalent in the past 20 years or didn’t even exist when the Taliban last took power in 1996 – everything from social media and the internet to businesswomen and women judges. Now since overrunning Kabul and sweeping into power on Aug. 15, the hard-line militant group is wrestling with how to deal with the changes, with the Taliban leadership at times uncertain and fighters on the ground acting on their own.

Salima was taken to Kabul, along with another woman, Razia, who had lived in the shelter nearly a year after fleeing a predatory brother-in-law.

With nowhere to put them, the Taliban put them in the abandoned women’s section of Afghanistan’s main prison, called Pul-e-Charkhi. The prison was empty because when the Taliban took over Kabul, they freed all the inmates, including thousands of men, 760 women and more than 100 children, according to the prison’s new Taliban administrator, Mullah Abdullah Akhund.

The Associated Press was given rare access to the women in the prison. Now there are only six women there, including Salima and Razia.

A massive steel gate leads to the women’s prison. Rolls of barbed wire are strung atop the 20-foot-high walls. Inside, the women move freely with their children. Salima’s 5-year-old daughter Maria and son Mohammad, 6, spend most of their day in a main, large, carpeted room. There is no school and just a giant red teddy bear and a few small toys for their amusement.

“We mostly pray and read the Quran all day,” said Salima.

Salima said that she has no idea what the future holds, but for the present, with no money and no family, she said she feels safe here.

But Mujdha, another woman in the prison, said she wants her freedom. She had been pregnant by a boyfriend but her family refused to let her marry him, and instead forced her to marry a relative. She ran away. “I told them I would never stay with himshe said. The family reported her to the Taliban, who arrested her and her boyfriend.

Mujdha gave birth in prison to a baby daughter 15 days ago, soon after her arrest. She hasn’t seen her boyfriend, jailed elsewhere in the prison, and he has yet to meet his infant daughter.

“I want to leave, but they say I can’t,” she said.

Akhund said a court will decide whether to charge her, adding, “It is wrong that she left her husband. She has no right.”

Since taking power, the Taliban’s response to women’s shelters has varied. In the western city of Herat, several have been shut down, said Suraya Pakzad, a women’s rights activist from Herat who opened several shelters.

Pakzad said Friday in text messages from a place in hiding that she faces threats from all sides – from the Taliban and from the families of the women who found refuge in her shelters.

For the past several years, Pakzad and other women pressed for a voice in the negotiations between the U.S.-backed government of the time and the advancing Taliban. They hoped to ensure rights for women in any final arrangement. Now, in one fell swoop, they are scrambling for their own safety.

Pakzad shared an arrest warrant for her and seven other activists and journalists from western Afghanistan, issued by the new Taliban police chief in Herat. The warrant accuses the eight of “spreading propaganda against the Islamic Emirate” and accuses Pakzad of “involvement with Western countries to spread prostitution.”

But Mahboba Suraj, who runs a shelter for 30 women in Kabul, said the Taliban have come and investigated the shelter and let the women remain there unharmed. She said she was visited by various departments of the new Taliban government, including senior officials.

“The higher ups were absolutely the best. They want to protect us … and understand that they have problems within their own people” who may not be as supportive of women’s shelters, she said.

For now, “they want to have protection for us,” she said. “Thank God, I do believe that. I honestly do.”

Gas stations run dry in Britain as trucker shortage sparks hoarding

Gas stations run dry in Britain as trucker shortage sparks hoarding

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A view of a sign at a petrol station, in Bracknell England, Sunday Sept. 26, 2021. In a U-turn, Britain says it will issue thousands of emergency visas to foreign truck drivers to help fix supply-chain problems that have caused … more >

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By Associated Press –

Sunday, September 26, 2021

LONDON — Thousands of British gas stations ran dry Sunday, an industry group said, as motorists scrambled to fill up amid a supply disruption due to a shortage of truck drivers.

The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents almost 5,500 independent outlets, said about two-thirds of its members were reporting that they had sold out their fuel, with the rest “partly dry and running out soon.”

Association chairman Brian Madderson said the shortages were the result of “panic buying, pure and simple.” 

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“There is plenty of fuel in this country, but it is in the wrong place for the motorists,” he told the BBC. “It is still in the terminals and the refineries.” 

Long lines of vehicles formed at many gas stations over the weekend, and tempers frayed as some drivers waited for hours. Police were called to one London gas station Sunday after a scuffle broke out. Police said a man was arrested on suspicion of assault.

The haulage industry says the U.K. is short tens of thousands of truckers, due to a perfect storm of factors including the coronavirus pandemic, an aging workforce and an exodus of foreign workers following Britain’s Brexit departure from the European Union last year. 

Several countries, including the United States and Germany, also are experiencing a shortage of truck drivers. The problem has been especially visible in Britain, where it has contributed to empty supermarket shelves and shuttered gas pumps. 

After weeks of mounting pressure, the U.K.’s Conservative government announced Saturday that it will issue thousands of emergency visas to foreign truck drivers to help prevent a Christmas without turkey or toys for many British families. The government said it would issue 5,000 three-month visas for truck drivers starting in October, and another 5,500 for poultry workers. 

Industry groups welcomed the new visa plan, although the British Retail Consortium said it was “too little, too late.” 

Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the Confederation of British Industry, said the announcement was “the equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire.” 

Taliban resume brutal reign in Afghanistan with public executions, amputations for criminals

Taliban resume brutal reign in Afghanistan with public executions, amputations for criminals

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People look up at a dead body hanged by the Taliban from a crane in the main square of Herat city in western Afghanistan, on Saturday Sept. 29, 2021. A witness told The Associated Press that the bodies of four … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Hope that a new, softer Taliban would emerge in Afghanistan faded fast Sunday as the U.S. awoke to images of bloody bodies hanging from cranes in the Afghan city of Herat in what Taliban leaders say is a warning to lawbreakers. 

The gruesome footage, regional analysts say, should finally put to rest the Biden administration‘s expectation that the Taliban would take more moderate stances during its second reign over Afghanistan and perhaps distance itself from the strict version of Islamic law that defined its rule in the late 1990s.

Over just the past several days, human rights watchdogs have warned that the Taliban already has begun a major rollback of women’s rights, while Taliban leaders themselves have publicly acknowledged that they will resume executions and amputations for criminals. 

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Those punishments were hallmarks of the Afghan justice system when the Taliban was in control two decades ago.

While U.S. officials and foreign policy specialists feared the Taliban may eventually reinstate such harsh policies, most observers believed the insurgent group would move slowly and present a gentler public image after retaking control of the country late last month following the full withdrawal of American troops. 

But those hopes were shattered late Saturday when witnesses in Herat reported that the Taliban had publicly displayed four bodies of alleged kidnappers, with one of them hung from a crane in the city square. Footage of the scene spread across social media Saturday and Sunday.

Taliban officials did not deny responsibility for the shocking display and said the four men had been caught in a kidnapping scheme. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the men had, in fact, been involved in a kidnapping.

Regardless, some specialists say the grim incident should confirm the worst fears about the latest version of the Taliban.

Taliban killed 4 alleged kidnappers in #Herat today and hanged their bodies using cranes [in] different crowded areas of the city. For those who were claiming T has changed, doesn’t this remind you of Taliban atrocities between 1996-2001? What has changed?” Abdul Ghafoor, director of the Afghanistan Migrants Advice and Support Organization, tweeted late Saturday.

Another Twitter account claiming to represent the fledgling Afghan resistance movement headquartered in the Panjshir valley said that the punishment was unique only in that it was carried out in public.

“What you see in social media is 20% of #Taliban crime, they do it in public & it is part of their program to make people afraid of them. Another 80% of killing [Afghan government] officials & anti Taliban, Panjshiris happens during the night,” reads a Twitter post from the Panjshir account.

For the Biden administration, the developments over the past several days all but eliminate any hope that the Taliban planned to evolve into a more modern, accommodating government. As President Biden’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan unfolded last month, top White House officials routinely made the case that it wasn’t yet clear what this new version of the Taliban might look like. 

“The Taliban also has to make an assessment about what they want their role to be in the international community,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in August.

During negotiations with the U.S. over the past two years, Taliban leaders had insisted that should they regain full power in Afghanistan, the regime would not resemble the brutal Islamist government seen in the 1990s. That government was toppled after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda, which had been granted safe haven by the ruling Taliban.

Among other things, Taliban leaders vowed that during a second reign, women would retain their rights and would be able to attend school. 

That promise already has been broken. Late last week, the Human Rights Watch and San Jose State University’s Human Rights Institute released a joint statement condemning the Taliban‘s treatment of women across the country and specifically in the city of Herat.

“Since taking over the city on Aug. 12, 2021, the Taliban have instilled fear among women and girls by searching out high-profile women, denying women freedom of movement outside their homes, imposing compulsory dress codes, severely curtailing access to employment and education, and restricting the right to peaceful assembly,” the watchdog groups said. “Women in Herat told the two organizations that their lives had been completely upended the day the Taliban took control of the city.”

Honoring women’s rights has been a key factor for the U.S. and other governments mulling whether to offer some sort of formal diplomatic recognition to the Taliban. Incidents such as the one in Herat over the weekend make such recognition far less likely.

Meanwhile, Taliban officials have proudly declared that they will resume executions and the amputation of hands of criminals. The group’s leaders suggested they may avoid such punishments in public areas like soccer stadiums but will instead carry them out behind closed doors.

“Everyone criticized us for the punishments in the stadium, but we have never said anything about their laws and their punishments,” top Taliban official Mullah Nooruddin Turabi told The Associated Press last week. “No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Quran.”

The Biden administration slammed the announcement.

“We condemn in the strongest terms reports of reinstating amputations and executions of Afghans,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters last Friday. “The acts the Taliban are talking about here would constitute clear gross abuses of human rights, and we stand firm with the international community to hold perpetrators of these, of any such abuses, accountable.”

Abortion laws on Down syndrome hit the courts

Abortion laws on Down syndrome hit the courts

British case reflects arguments, complexities in U.S. lawsuits

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FILE – In this June 4, 2019, file photo, anti-abortion advocates gather outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis. A federal appeals court on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, will consider whether Missouri can implement a sweeping law aimed at … more >

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By Alex Swoyer

The Washington Times

Sunday, September 26, 2021

A British court last week dismissed a case brought by a woman with Down syndrome challenging a law that allows abortion of a fetus with mental abnormalities up until birth.

Federal courts in the U.S. also are grappling with laws on aborting a child with Down Syndrome, suggesting the Supreme Court could weigh in on the issue.

Heidi Crowter, a woman with Down syndrome who lives independently, challenged part of the United Kingdom’s Abortion Act, saying she found it “offensive” and discriminatory.

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In Wales, Scotland and England, abortion is authorized up until 24 weeks, but part of the law allows termination of a fetus up to birth if there is “a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped,” according to The Associated Press.

The British court ruled against Ms. Crowter, saying the law strikes a balance between the rights of a woman and the rights of the unborn. Ms. Crowter plans to appeal.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit is expected to rule on a Missouri law out that limits abortion to eight weeks and doesn’t allow abortion if the sole reason is Down syndrome.

Earlier this year, the 6th Circuit reviewed an Ohio law that also banned abortion of a fetus with Down syndrome if that is the only reason for terminating the pregnancy. The court struck down a lower court’s injunction halting the law from taking effect. 

Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said the Ohio and Missouri cases could be appealing to Supreme Court justices. 

“These sorts of cases may be more appealing to the Supreme Court. It is not an absolute ban on abortion at a particular time. Rather, it applies to a very narrow set of cases. As I understand the law, if a woman gives some reason other than Down syndrome, abortions are still permitted,” Mr. Blackman said. 

In 2019, the Supreme Court declined to consider an Indiana law prohibiting abortion based on sex, race or disability after the 7th Circuit struck it down. 

But Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a separate opinion that, while he agreed with his colleagues not to consider Indiana’s law, they will have to confront the issue in the future.

“Given the potential for abortion to become a tool of eugenic manipulation, the Court will soon need to confront the constitutionality of laws like Indiana’s. But because further percolation may assist our review of this issue of first impression, I join the Court in declining to take up the issue now,” Justice Thomas wrote.

The issue of abortion will be on the forefront of the court’s upcoming term when the justices return next month. 

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide if Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks runs afoul of its 1973 ruling in Roe v Wade, which held a woman has a right to an abortion up until the fetus is viable, usually between 24 and 28 weeks. 

A decision in the Mississippi case is expected by the end of June 2022.

— This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Government overpaid millions for veterans’ prosthetic devices: Report

Government overpaid millions for veterans’ prosthetic devices: Report

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SFC Josh Olson, a U.S. Army Paralympic marksman, prosthetic leg supports him in preparation to shoot his rifle at Wagner Range, in Ft. Benning, Ga., Thursday, May 31, 2012. Olson sustained heavy damage to his leg during an ambush attack … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Friday, September 24, 2021

The Veterans Health Administration paid out $10 million more than it should have in 2020 for prosthetic devices such as artificial limbs, according to a new audit released Friday.

According to an investigation by the VHA’s inspector general, “internal weaknesses” in the agency’s prosthetics programs led to overpayments to vendors and missed opportunities for cost savings.

The IG’s audit found that almost $320 million — about 9% of the total prosthetic spending in 2019 — went toward equipment to veterans from vendors outside the agency. Investigators wanted to see if VHA officials were paying “reasonable prices” when they reimbursed the vendors.

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But the VHA never set any pricing guidelines for prosthetic devices that come from outside vendors. The investigators used available Medicare rates to assess if the vendors were charging “reasonable” rates. From October 2019 through March 2020, the VHA was overbilled on more than 41,000 transactions out of about 112,600 orders, according to the report.

“Purchasing agents simply reimbursed vendors at the billed amount. Medical facilities paid vendors varying amounts for the same items, some of them unreasonable,” the investigators said in their study.

Officials with the agency’s Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service (PSAS) said it wasn’t their responsibility to monitor laws and regulations. They relied on the advice of the Office of Regulatory and Administrative Affairs or the Office of General Counsel.

Ensuring that VA hospitals and clinics reimburse vendors for prosthetic devices at a “reasonable price” could save the agency up to $20 million per year, according to the inspector general’s report.

Agency officials said corrective action was already underway to address oversight issues.

British collector launches world’s largest cellphone museum

British collector launches world’s largest cellphone museum

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This photo from Feb. 11, 2009, shows an owner beginning to write a text message on his cellphone in Los Angeles. (Associated Press) **FILE** more >

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By Sean Salai

The Washington Times

Friday, September 24, 2021

A British collector has persuaded communications giant Vodafone to sponsor the world’s largest cellphone museum, presenting his more than 2,000 devices online to teach children about the technology’s history.

The five-year sponsorship deal for the Mobile Phone Museum is the brainchild of Ben Wood, an industry veteran who started collecting the devices from more than 200 manufacturers more than 25 years ago.

“When the online museum launches later this year, we want it to be a rich learning resource and a way to inspire young people to go on to create incredible mobile innovations of their own in the future,” Mr. Wood said.

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With the oldest phone in his collection dating from 1984, Mr. Wood suggested most of the devices will qualify as artifacts for younger generations who weren’t alive to see mobile technology develop.

Max Taylor, Vodafone‘s U.K. consumer director, added: “More than 35 years ago, Vodafone made the U.K.’s first mobile phone call on the Vodafone Transportable VT1, a handset which was the size of a car battery and weighed even more.”

A former Vodafone employee who started working for the company out of college in 1994, Mr. Wood has applied to the Charity Commission for England and Wales to seek government recognition of his website as a charitable museum foundation under British law.

The museum officially opens online on Nov. 23.