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‘Big Pile’ Of Live Eels Dumped In Lake In NYC Park; Impact Not Yet Known

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NEW YORK (AP) — Andrew Orkin was taking a break from his evening jog to sit by Prospect Park Lake when he turned around and was startled to see a tangle of wriggling snakes.

“And quite a big pile — fully alive,” said Orkin, a music composer who lives near the Brooklyn park.

They turned out to be eels that had escaped from one of two large plastic bags that split open as a man dragged them to the shoreline. After dumping the eels in the lake, the man walked away, explaining to bystanders that “I just want to save lives.”

The illegal release late last month became a curiosity on social media, but the dumping of exotic animals in urban parks isn’t new. In cities across the country, nonnative birds, turtles, fish and lizards have settled into, and often disturbed, local ecosystems.

New Yorkers free thousands of non-native animals every year, many of them abandoned pets that quickly die. But others can survive, reproduce and end up causing lasting harm.

“People like animals and they sometimes think they’re doing a good thing by letting them go,” said Jason Munshi-South, urban ecologist at Fordham University. “Most will die. Some will become a problem, and then there’s no going back.”

New York state and city officials say it’s too soon to know how the eels in Prospect Park might affect local species. But based on photos taken by bystanders, officials identified them as swamp eels native to Southeast Asia like those that have been found in at least eight states.

Asian swamp eels on display for sale at a market in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.



Asian swamp eels on display for sale at a market in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.

Once introduced — often after being purchased at local live fish markets, officials say — the eels eat almost anything including plants, insects, crustaceans, frogs, turtles and other fish. And they could prey upon or compete with the park’s native species for however long they survive, said Katrina Toal, deputy director of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation’s Wildlife Unit.

There are no plans to eradicate the eels. Since they’re nocturnal and spend most of their time burrowed in the sediment of lakes, rivers and marshes, spotting and removing them from the lake could be impossible.

“This kind of species is a little tricky. They’re well hidden,” Toal said. “We’ re not going to go out there and try to trap any of them.”

Without having witnessed the release, officials from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which is investigating the incident, could not specify the number of eels released last month. Bystanders described seeing more than 100 of them.

DEC officials say they will look for swamp eels during the agency’s next survey in the spring, but don’t expect them to make it through the winter.

However, said University of Toronto freshwater ecologist Nicholas Mandrak, “Even if they don’t survive, they could have negative short-term impacts.”

If some Prospect Park transplants survive for a few years, climate change could feasibly warm up city waters enough to render them hospitable for swamp eels, Mandrak said.

“We shouldn’t come to an immediate conclusion that because they’re found in Asia they couldn’t survive in New York City,” he said.

The exotic species previously has shown up in western New York state’s Hemlock and Canadice lakes in 2019 and Queens’ Meadow Lake in 2017. Elsewhere, biologists have found Asian swamp eels in waterways in Hawaii, Georgia, New Jersey, Maryland, Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania.

New York City has a long history of people introducing exotic species into its parks.

In 1890, Shakespeare enthusiasts released a flock of about 60 European starlings in Central Park that grew into a current population of hundreds of millions nationwide that outcompete native birds, destroy crops and occasionally snarl jet engines.

For decades, pet Red-eared slider turtles have been abandoned in city ponds, creating a major nuisance that has crowded out local painted turtles and fueled green algae blooms.

Voracious, sharp-toothed Northern snakehead fish — introduced by way of pet stores, live food markets and aquarium hobbyists across the U.S. — have been spotted in New York’s Harlem Meer and Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

And descendants of escaped or released monk parakeets and Italian wall lizards are scattered across the city’s boroughs.

The eels are just the latest episode. “This is an unusual and eye-catching story,” Toal said, “but something that happens far more often is people release one unwanted pet.”

Follow Marion Renault on Twitter: @MarionRenault

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.





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Russian State TV Drops Deranged Love Letter to Its Darling ‘Trumpushka’

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Guido Bergmann/Bundesregierung via Getty Images

Russian state media is, at least on the surface, jubilant about the outcome of the video summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, which was focused on addressing Russia’s potential further incursion into Ukraine. State media outlet Vesti described the talks as “historic negotiations.” State TV host Olga Skabeeva summed up the aftermath of the meeting during Wednesday’s broadcast of Russia’s 60 Minutes: “WWIII is cancelled—for now.”

Suggesting that the delay afforded by the summit is merely temporary, Skabeeva quoted U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, who said that Putin wants not only to create a Soviet Union 2.0, but to control Eastern Europe as a whole. “All I would like to say about that—the sooner, the better,” she said. “Russia won the first round,” Vladimir Shamanov, who heads Moscow’s parliamentary defense committee, added.

The shadow of former President Donald J. Trump hovered over talks between the United States and Russia. On Tuesday, as the summit was about to begin, Skabeeva alleged that Trump’s approval ratings were much higher than Biden’s. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pointed out that the special channel used for the video exchange between the presidents was created during Trump’s tenure: “This is a secure channel. It was created according to decisions that were made by previous administrations. It was inactive, but technologically maintained in a working state. Now we have decided to use it for the heads of state. It creates the effect of a rather personal communication and… makes it possible to discuss very, very secretive topics.”

Retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, who served as a senior official in the Trump administration’s Department of Defense, gave an interview to Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti complaining that Biden “disregarded Russia’s interests” and demonstrated his “inability to compromise.” This, Macgregor complained, serves as cause for Putin’s “surprise and dismay” with the stance of the current American leadership.

Macgregor is apparently comfortable with Kremlin-funded state media, having sat down for multiple interviews on RT over the years. He went on: “Washington has only one interest in the current crisis—to prevent unnecessary war between Ukraine and Russia. But Biden and his friends deliberately ignored this interest because it would involve compromise. As a morally righteous leftist, he is incapable of compromise.”

Every time Trump makes a derogatory statement about his successor, Russian state media has showcased and applauded his commentary. The former president’s position on Ukraine garnered special attention—and praise, with experts pontificating that under Trump, there would be no need for such a summit. Two weeks before the talks between Biden and Putin, Trump appeared on Fox News for an interview with Sean Hannity. He said, in part: “I don’t want to fight the battle for Ukraine, they’ve got to fight their own battles.”

Russian Propaganda Brags of Putin’s Military Blackmail Against the U.S.

Trump’s words delighted pro-Kremlin propagandists. State TV show The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev aired a translated clip of his statements to Hannity, and host Vladimir Soloviev introduced it by pointing out: “Things were so good under Trump… Listen to Trumpushka.” After listening to Trump dismiss the idea of helping Ukraine fight off Russian aggression, Soloviev sighed: “[He is] so sorely missed.”

A day earlier, Soloviev had played a clip of Trump’s interview with Mark Levin, on Fox News’ Life, Liberty and Levin, in which the former U.S. president bashed the Mueller report for undermining U.S. relations with Russia. At the conclusion of Trump’s commentary, Soloviev pumped his fist and exclaimed: “He said it well. Thank you, Donald Fredovych!”

Just hours after Biden concluded his video summit with Putin, Trump put out a statement through his Save America PAC, in which he said: “Vladimir Putin looks at our pathetic surrender in Afghanistan… He then looks at Biden. He is not worried!” Russian state media immediately broadcast Trump’s comments on the Rossiya-24 TV channel.

Though most Russian experts and pundits had mainly negative expectations for the summit, they acted pleasantly surprised in its aftermath. The most recent version of the National Defense Spending Act (NDAA) for 2022 was released the day of the Biden-Putin talks. Missing from the final legislation was a provision passed by the House that directed Biden to impose sanctions over Nord Stream 2, as well as an amendment that would have banned Americans from purchasing Russian sovereign debt. Also missing was an amendment to a defense budget bill by Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), which sought to punish 35 Russian officials, businessmen and Kremlin propagandists. The list was compiled by the Anti-Corruption Foundation, or FBK, a group linked to jailed Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

Biden Tells Putin Where to Shove His ‘Red Lines’

During his evening broadcast on Tuesday, state TV host Vladimir Soloviev offered up his hot take on the call. “They [the U.S.] didn’t try to project external strength… or to insult the Russian side or President Putin… The news kept coming in: the [potential] sanctions against Nord Stream 2 have been taken out. The amendment to the Defense Budget pertaining to the sovereign debt of the Russian Federation has been removed. The amendment with the list of 35 personal sanctions has been cancelled, where I was named.” Soloviev happily grinned and giggled.

Politologist Dmitry Drobnitsky concurred: “We forced them to show all of their cards. They opened up a box of candy, even though it was not their biggest one.”

Now, Russian state media outlets are forecasting that Trump would likely win over Biden in 2024 should he decide to run—and perhaps anticipating his return with an even bigger box of candy for Putin.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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Covid passport a ‘leash,’ says Brazil’s President Bolsonaro

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AFP

Kenyan president presents incorrect figures for economic growth in State of the Nation Address

In his televised State of the Nation Address on November 30, 2021, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta wrongly claimed that the country’s economy grew by 0.3 percent in 2020. This is false; official data show that the economy actually shrunk by the same margin.In his speech, Kenyatta praised his government for the country’s economic performance during the Covid-19 pandemic.“In this regard, while most economies in the world shrunk, Kenya’s economy grew at 0.3 percent during the 2020 period despite t



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Matt Gaetz Chills Critics With ‘Terrifying’ Prediction About GOP In 2022

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Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) on Tuesday envisioned an extremist Republican takeover of House oversight in a speech that critics slammed as “terrifying.”

“We are going to take power after this next election and when we do, it’s not going to be the days of Paul Ryan and Trey Gowdy and no real oversight and no real subpoenas,” Gaetz told a press conference highlighting conditions that alleged U.S. Capitol rioters are enduring at the District of Columbia jail.

“It’s going to be the days of Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene and Dr. Gosar and myself doing everything” to get answers to (debunked) claims about FBI involvement in the deadly violence on Jan. 6, he added.

Gaetz is reportedly under investigation in a federal sex trafficking probe.

The congressman and the lawmakers he named ― Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) ― all voted to overturn the 2020 election result and have peddled Donald Trump’s election fraud conspiracy theories.

That Gaetz suggested House oversight would fall under their control was cause for much concern on social media.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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Scott Peterson faces new life sentence in wife’s 2002 death

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Nearly 17 years after being sentenced to die, Scott Peterson will be resentenced Wednesday to life in prison in the 2002 slayings of his pregnant wife and unborn son that gripped the world then and since.

The California Supreme Court ruled a year ago that his jury was improperly screened for bias against the death penalty. Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager, who came to fame as one of three prosecutors in Peterson’s trial, opted this time to settle for life without parole.

Wednesday’s hearing is expected to be brief but could be emotional, with statements from some family members of 27-year-old Laci Peterson, who was eight months pregnant when she was killed carrying the boy the couple planned to name Connor.

“You are going to burn in hell for this,” Laci’s father, Dennis Rocha, who died in 2018, yelled at Peterson during his first sentencing. “Your life is done.”

Up to 16 of her family and friends are to be seated in the jury box, and up to 16 of his supporters elsewhere in the courtroom.

Prosecutors say they expect either written or spoken statements from Laci’s mother, Sharon Rocha, and her brother and sister, Brent Rocha and Amy Rocha.

Defense attorney Pat Harris said Tuesday that Peterson is prepared to speak if the judge allows it, something Peterson didn’t do during his initial trial and sentencing.

“This would be the first (time) that he speaks substantively about the case,” said Harris, who also participated in the original trial. He expects Peterson’s supporters to also be in the courtroom to show their support, but they are not allowed to speak.

Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo, who will resentence Peterson, is separately considering if Peterson was prejudiced by juror misconduct.

But she opted to resentence Peterson first, over the objections of his lawyers, to resolve a problem with his status.

He has been in San Quentin State Prison, home to California’s death row, since he was condemned to death in March 2005. That followed his conviction in November 2004 during a trial that was moved 90 miles (145 kilometers) to San Mateo County because of worldwide publicity.

But Massullo said he couldn’t stay on death row once prosecutors said they would not again seek his execution. He has since been moved to the county jail for resentencing and is expected to remain there until Massullo decides on whether he should get a new trial.

She plans about a weeklong hearing from Feb. 25 through March 4 to hear defense claims that the woman known as Juror 7 falsely answered questions during the selection process.

They say she actively sought to join the jury and later co-authored a book on the case. Richelle Nice has not been named in court papers but co-authored the book with six other jurors.

Defense lawyers contend she was biased because she had been a crime victim, which she did not disclose during jury selection. They learned only later that she had been beaten by a boyfriend in 2001 while she was pregnant. She obtained a restraining order during another pregnancy against a boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend because she was fearful the woman would harm her unborn child.

Nice said in a court filing that she didn’t think the restraining order was a lawsuit that she had to disclose on her jury form, nor did she “feel ‘victimized’ the way the law might define that term.”

Massullo will have 90 days after next year’s hearing to decide if Peterson should get a new trial.

Prosecutors say Peterson took his wife’s body from their Modesto home on Christmas Eve 2002 and dumped her from his fishing boat into the San Francisco Bay, where they washed ashore in April 2003.

Defense attorneys say new evidence points to nearby burglars, though investigators say they were ruled out as suspects.

Supreme Court justices said in their August 2020 decision overturning his death sentence that there was considerable circumstantial evidence incriminating Peterson in the first-degree murder of Laci and the second-degree murder of Connor.

It included that the bodies washed ashore near where Peterson admitted he was fishing on the day they disappeared. He had researched ocean currents, bought a boat without telling anyone, and couldn’t explain what type of fish he was trying to catch that day.

Also, in the weeks after Laci disappeared but before the bodies washed ashore, he sold his wife’s car, looked into selling their house, and turned the baby nursery into a storage room.

Peterson was eventually arrested after Amber Frey, a massage therapist living in Fresno, told police that they had begun dating a month before his wife’s death, but that he had told her his wife was dead.



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Omicron significantly reduces Covid antibodies generated by Pfizer vaccine, study finds

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Health workers giving out Covid vaccines in Gaza on Tuesday – BLOOMBERG

People who have previously had Covid or been vaccinated have far less protection against omicron than they do for other variants, according to the first data of its kind.

Scientists from South Africa grew live samples of the omicron variant and performed lab experiments to see if, and how, omicron was affected by antibodies in blood samples from 12 people who had been vaccinated. Six of the people also had previously had Covid.

The world has been waiting for these neutralising studies to gauge how pre-existing immunity from both vaccination and prior infection will hold up against omicron.

The study shows how many antibodies are needed in order to stop the virus from replicating and is an early indicator of how effective the worrying new variant is at avoiding our immune system.

In reality, the picture is far more complex as human immune systems have other lines of defence that work in tandem with antibodies, such as T-cells.

The new study is the first to show how omicron compares to previous variants, such as beta and delta, on a level playing field and the preliminary data shows antibodies in blood samples are 41 times less effective for omicron than for the 2020 strain.

“This doesn’t mean vaccines will be 40x less effective,” said Dr Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert at the University of St Andrews who was not involved in the research.

However, it will be several weeks before real-world data is available and more nuanced evaluations are possible.

Before omicron emerged, beta was the variant which scientists had found was most adept at dodging antibodies.

In similar experiments, the team of academics found that beta triggered just a three-fold decrease in the number of neutralising antibodies.

Real-world studies subsequently showed that beta diminished the ability of vaccines to prevent infection by around 40 per cent.

“The results we present here with omicron show much more extensive escape,” the researchers of the new study write.

However, people who had been vaccinated and previously infected with the old coronavirus strain had higher antibody levels than in those who were just vaccinated.

“Previous infection, followed by vaccination or booster is likely to increase the neutralisation level and likely confer protection from severe disease in omicron infection,” the scientists say.

Dr Alex Sigal, one of the authors of the paper, said: “There is a very large drop in neutralisation of omicron by [Pfizer] immunity relative to ancestral virus.

“Omicron escape from [Pfizer vaccination] neutralisation is incomplete. Previous infection and vaccination still neutralises.”

Ash Otter, a research scientist working on the coronavirus for the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Twitter that the inferior protection was to be expected, given what we know about omicron’s myriad mutations.

“Key thing to stress is [that the] data is small, but [it] looks like we don’t lose complete neutralisation in those with [three time] antigen exposures (eg infection and two doses).”

This, he added, increases confidence in the theory that boosters will be effective against omicron to some degree.

Dr Rupert Beale, head of the cell biology lab at the Francis Crick Institute, agreed, tweeting out: “It looks like three jabs could still be very useful.”

“Those who received two doses of vaccine still retained neutralisation,” said Dr Cevi.

“Hybrid immunity provides much better neutralisation, which means we could expect fairly good results in boosted individuals.”



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Kyle Rittenhouse Profanely Trash-Talks LeBron James For His Tweet During Trial

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Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse is now mouthing off at LeBron James.

Rittenhouse ― who was found not guilty last month on all charges after he shot two people dead and wounded another during a 2020 protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin ― addressed a tweet from James where the basketball star mocked Rittenhouse’s weeping during the trial.

“What tears????? I didn’t see one,” James wrote in the Nov. 10 tweet. “Man knock it off! That boy ate some lemon heads before walking into court.”

On The Blaze’s “You Are Here” podcast Monday, Rittenhouse had his say.

“I was a Lakers fan, too, before he said that,” Rittenhouse said. “I was really pissed off that he said that, cause I like LeBron and then I’m like, ‘You know what, fuck you, LeBron.’”

As of Tuesday afternoon, James had yet to comment on social media.

One of Rittenhouse’s attorneys, Mark Richards, had recommended that Rittenhouse stay out of the public eye and start his life over. Instead, Rittenhouse, 18, has visited former President Donald Trump (who called him a “nice young man”), bashed President Joe Biden on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, and talked smack about a celebrity athlete to another conservative outlet.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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Devin Nunes leaving Congress to become CEO of Trump media company

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Devin Nunes leaving Congress to become CEO of Trump media company



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