Authorities in the US state of Oklahoma on Monday scheduled the execution of a prisoner for November, despite lingering doubts about the man's guilt as the state's parole board has recommended his sentence be commuted.
Julius Jones, 41, was sentenced to death row in 2002 for the murder of a businessman, an accusation Jones has always denied.
Jones, who is Black, claims he was discriminated against during his trial, that he was framed by the real perpetrator and that his first lawyer poorly defended him
His case has been the subject of a documentary series and podcast, and he has received support from several public figures, including Kim Kardashian, who are convinced of his innocence.
Jones has exhausted all appeals and legal remedies, though the Oklahoma Parole Board last week recommended his sentence be commuted to life in prison.
The decision now sits with Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, who has said he plans to carefully review the case.
But the court went ahead and set his execution date for November 18, without waiting for input from the governor, Jones' lawyer Amanda Bass said, along with dates for six other executions.
"Oklahoma must not allow an innocent man to be executed," Bass said in a statement, urging the governor to grant Jones a commutation.
Oklahoma has not carried out a criminal execution in the last six years after suspending the death penalty following two botched lethal injections.
In 2014, inmate Clayton Lockett eventually died after apparently suffering for 43 minutes during a bungled execution attempt, and in 2015, inmate Charles Warner complained he felt like his body was "on fire" before he died during an execution in which officials used a non-standard lethal drug cocktail.
Despite a century of medical advances, more Americans have now died from Covid-19 than the number who succumbed to the 1918 flu pandemic, according to new data.
The latest grim milestone comes as the country is experiencing a fourth-wave driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, with low vaccination uptake in many regions the main cause of death.
Johns Hopkins University tracker showed 675,722 US coronavirus deaths as of Friday, which surpasses the 675,000 US deaths during the influenza outbreak that began in the last year of World War I.
All told, some 50 million died worldwide in the flu pandemic -- sometimes inaccurately referred to as the "Spanish flu" -- making it the deadliest event in human history, according to epidemiologists.
That far exceeds global Covid deaths so far -- around 4.7 million.
But the United States has borne a disproportionate 14 percent of those fatalities, despite making up only five percent of the world's population.
The American population in 1918 was less than a third of what it is now, meaning the flu deaths would be equivalent to some 2.2 million in today's terms.
Unlike today's influenzas, which impact children and the elderly the most, the 1918 flu caused unusually high mortality among young adults.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with no vaccines and no antibiotics for secondary bacterial complications, control efforts were limited in the 1918-19 to non-pharmaceutical measures.
These included "isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings," it said.
Many of the same measures, including face masks, were recommended when the Covid pandemic began.
Now, however, there are also multiple safe and highly effective vaccines that were developed and tested in record-time -- but 24 percent of US adults, or almost 60 million, haven't yet gotten their first dose.
Uptake has been hit by a polarized political climate and what experts call an epistemological crisis, with misinformation supercharging vaccine hesitancy to historically new heights.
Beyond vaccines, effective treatments have been developed such as monoclonal antibodies, corticosteroids to dial down hyperactive immune responses in patients with severe Covid, and advanced ventilators.
As for the 1918 flu, descendants of the H1N1 strain that continue to make up the seasonal influenza viruses we fight today, with far less severity.
Democratic congressional leaders on Monday unveiled plans to suspend the nation's borrowing limit, following a White House warning of "economic catastrophe" unless that ceiling is raised.
The legislation also would fund the government through the end of the year after the current budget lapses on September 30.
But the fate of the plan is unclear since Republicans have vowed to withhold support for raising the debt ceiling, which is needed to fund spending already approved by lawmakers, including the massive rescue packages rolled out during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The American people expect our Republican colleagues to live up to their responsibilities and make good on the debts they proudly helped incur," Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a joint statement.
They warned that "a reckless Republican-forced default could plunge the country into a recession."
Democrats have the majority in both houses of Congress, but the slim margin in the Senate means they will need some Republican support to push it through, since a single Senator can block any legislation that has less than 60 votes.
The measure would suspend the debt limit through December 2022 -- after the midterm congressional elections.
It also would keep the government running through the end of the year while legislators continue to debate two massive spending bills -- an eight-year, $1.2 trillion infrastructure package and a 10-year, $3.5 trillion package with a host of social programs, largely paid for by rolling back tax cuts.
Schumer and Pelosi said the measure unveiled Monday would avoid "an unnecessary government shutdown," and called it "must-pass legislation."
It will also include funds for disaster relief and Afghan evacuee resettlement, with the White House asking for $20 billion for hurricane and wildfire aid and $6 billion for tens of thousands of Afghan refugees.
"We look forward to passing this crucial legislation with bipartisan support through both chambers and sending to the president's desk in the coming weeks," they said.
But Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell once again said Democrats should go it alone.
"They just want bipartisan cover so they can pivot as fast as possible to ramming through an historically reckless taxing and spending spree on a pure party-line vote," he said on Twitter.
That is a stark contrast from his position in 2019, when Republican Donald Trump was president and McConnell argued that failing to raise the borrowing cap "would be a disaster."
Schumer called McConnell's current stance "crass, craven."
"Shame, shame on the Republican Leader," he said in comments on the Senate floor. After pushing for tax cuts, pandemic spending and previous increases in the debt ceiling "what Republicans are doing is nothing short of a dine-and-dash of historic proportions."
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that without an increase the government will run out of cash to fund operations and pay its debts sometime in October.
Failing to raise the debt limit "would produce widespread economic catastrophe" and "compound the damage of the continuing public health emergency," she said in a column Monday in The Wall Street Journal.
The debt ceiling has been raised about 80 times since the 1960s, but the issue has frequently been a political football in polarized Washington, with Republicans engaging in brinksmanship multiple times during the administration of Democrat Barack Obama.
In the aftermath of that conflict in 2011, the United States lost its coveted "AAA" debt rating from Standard and Poor's. That sent shock waves through the markets.
But under Trump, Democrats supported Republican efforts to suspend the debt limit for two years.
The ceiling was reinstated on August 1 with debt at $28.4 trillion, and the Treasury is already shuffling government funds around to continuing paying the bills.
Yellen, who had a phone call with McConnell last week, said even waiting until the last minute could cause a cascade of financial disasters including rising borrowing rates and 50 million seniors missing their government payments.
The Bookings Institution said the 2011 debt limit showdown raised Treasury borrowing costs by $1.3 billion, and in the 2013 impasse -- when Congress waited until the last minute to raise the debt ceiling -- investors dumped Treasury securities, and "those effects ripple throughout financial markets."
Treasury already has begun taking what it calls extraordinary measures to keep from breaching the cap on borrowing, but the steps will become increasingly stringent as the drop dead date approaches.
These include not investing in savings plans and retirement funds for government employees.
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