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Existing home sales rise in 2020 to highest in 14 years
Author: MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON — Sales of existing homes rose 0.7% in December, pushing the entirety of 2020 to a pace not seen in 14 years and providing one of the few bright spots for a U.S. economy mired in a global pandemic.

Rising sales in the final month of the year lifted activity to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.76 million units, the National Association of Realtors reported Friday.

Sales rose to 6.48 million in 2020, the highest level since 2006 at the height of the housing boom.

The median sales prices was $309,800 in December, up 12.9% from a year ago.

Stocks slip on Wall Street as worldwide rally takes a pause
Author: STAN CHOE

NEW YORK — Wall Street is tapping the brakes on its record-setting rally this week, as markets worldwide take a pause on Friday.

The S&P 500 was 0.5% lower in morning trading, a day after inching up to its second straight all-time high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 240 points, or 0.8%, at 30.963, as of 10:45 a.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was down 0.3%.

The modest losses for global markets started early in Asia and then carried westward amid worries about resurgent coronavirus cases in China and weak economic data from Europe. In the United States, disappointing earnings reports from IBM and some other companies gave cover for investors to sell and book profits after big recent gains. The S&P 500 is still on pace to climb 1.8% this week, its third weekly gain in four.

IBM dropped 10.5% for one of the market’s sharpest losses after reporting weaker revenue for the last three months of 2020 than analysts expected. The tech giant’s revenue has been mostly shrinking for years.

IBM nevertheless also reported a higher profit for the end of 2020 than Wall Street expected. That’s been the big theme so far in the early part of this earnings season, with about 13% of companies in the S&P 500 having reported. With bank and some other industries leading the way, profit reports have consistently come in better than Wall Street had feared.

Seagate Technology fell 6.9% despite joining that cavalcade of companies reporting better earnings than expected. It also gave a forecast for revenue and profit in the current quarter that matched or topped Wall Street’s. Analysts said a lot of that optimism may have already been built into the stock’s price.

Markets have been mostly rallying recently on hopes that COVID-19 vaccines will lead to a powerful economic recovery later this year as daily life gets closer to normal. Hopes are also high that Washington will deliver another dose of stimulus for the economy now that the White House and both houses of Congress are under single control of the Democrats.

President Joe Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion plan to send $1,400 to most Americans and deliver other stimulus for the economy. But his party holds only the slimmest possible majority in the Senate, raising doubts about how much can be approved. Several Republicans have already voiced opposition to parts of the plan.

The coronavirus pandemic is also worsening and doing more damage to the economy by the day. In Europe, a survey of purchasing managers showed on Friday that activity in the manufacturing and services sectors shrank during January in the 19-country eurozone. The data suggests the eurozone’s economy may contract again this quarter.

In European stock markets, France’s CAC 40 fell 0.8%, and Germany’s DAX lost 0.3%. The FTSE 100 in London dropped 0.4%.

In China, where the pandemic began in late 2019, the government has reimposed travel controls after outbreaks in Beijing and other cities. A spike in infections has authorities calling on the public to avoid travel during February’s Lunar New Year holiday, normally the year’s most important family event.

That has “raised some concerns among investors who, after a slow start to the global vaccine rollout, are debating how fast economies can vaccinate the most vulnerable and start returning to business as usual,” said Stephen Innes of Axi in a report.

Stocks in Shanghai slipped 0.4%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 1.6%. Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.4%, and South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.6%.

The U.S. economy has also been taking hits recently, with reports showing weakness in the job market and falling confidence among shoppers. But the data has been mixed.

One report on Friday showed the housing industry continues to be a bright spot for the economy. Sales of previously occupied homes were stronger last month than economists expected. A separate report from IHS Markit gave a preliminary reading on U.S. business activity for January that was also stronger than expected, indicating an acceleration in growth.

One major underpinning for the market seems to have little chance of going away soon: massive support from the Federal Reserve. The central bank is holding short-term interest rates at a record low and making other moves in hopes of boosting markets and the economy.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was holding steady at 1.09%. It has been mostly climbing this month, up from roughly 0.90% at the start of the year, with expectations for increased government borrowing, economic growth and inflation.

A big question on Wall Street is how much more it can climb before criticism blares even louder that stock prices have grown too expensive relative to corporate profits.

Yellen nomination as Treasury secretary clears committee
Author: MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee approved President Joe Biden’s nomination of Janet Yellen to be the nation’s 78th Treasury secretary on Friday, and supporters said they hoped to get the full Senate to approve it later in the day, making her the first woman to hold the job.

The Finance Committee approved her nomination on a 26-0 vote. The administration is urging a quick confirmation vote, saying it’s critical to get the top member of Biden’s economic team in place as the Democratic president seeks to win approval of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon and the incoming chairman of the Finance Committee, said he hoped to get Yellen’s nomination approved by the full Senate later Friday.

Republicans on the committee said they had a number of policy disagreements with Yellen and the Biden administration in such areas as raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy but believed it was important to allow Biden to assemble his economic team quickly.

At her confirmation hearing before the Finance Committee on Tuesday, Yellen had argued that without prompt action the nation faced the threat of a “longer, more painful recession.” She urged quick action on the package that would provide an additional $1,400 in payments to individuals making below $75,000 annually as well as providing expanded unemployment benefits, further aid for small businesses and support for cities and states to prevent layoffs.

The plan also provides more support for vaccine production and distribution.

During the hearing, Yellen faced substantial pushback on the plan from Republicans on the committee who argued that the package was too large, especially at a time that the federal budget deficit has soared above $3 trillion. They also objected to such measures as an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told Yellen that Biden’s plan represented a “laundry list of liberal structural economic reforms.”

As Treasury secretary, Yellen, 74, would occupy a pivotal role in shaping and directing Biden’s economic policies. She would enter the Treasury job after many years serving in other top economic jobs including becoming the first woman to serve as chair of the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018.

Woodland Park Zoo’s new tiger was one of world’s first animals to test positive for coronavirus. She made a full recovery.
Author: Taylor Blatchford, The Seattle Times

The Woodland Park Zoo’s newest tiger, Azul, has a dubious claim to fame: She was one of the first animals in the world to be diagnosed with COVID-19 last spring while living at New York’s Bronx Zoo.

While there’s an inherent risk in transferring an animal from one zoo to another, Woodland Park isn’t worried that Azul could bring the coronavirus to its animals.

She fully recovered last April, along with other tigers and lions that had tested positive. As she continues adjusting to her new home, Woodland Park hopes she’ll be the mother to future tiger cubs.

The 5-year-old Malayan tiger flew to Seattle with her New York City zookeepers in September. She entered the public enclosure this week after a standard 30-day quarantine and time to adjust to her new home.

Azul tested negative before leaving New York, Woodland Park Zoo director of animal health Darin Collins said. She also went through the standard medical examination animals get before moving between zoos: a physical exam, blood tests and other screenings to ensure she was healthy.

“We would never have let her come here if we felt like she was still shedding the virus,” Collins said. “We hope the COVID history is just history in her past and not something we have to concern ourselves with in the future.”

Woodland Park had followed the Bronx Zoo’s outbreak since last spring and had access to Azul’s medical records, Collins said. Woodland Park hasn’t tested Azul because she hasn’t had any COVID-19 symptoms, but it collected and frozen fecal samples that could be tested retroactively.

“She never missed a meal and never behaved as if she didn’t feel well,” Collins said. “We didn’t have any reservations about clearing her from quarantine.”

Azul’s sister Nadia was the first animal in the world to test positive for the coronavirus last spring. Bronx Zoo staff noticed Nadia had a dry cough in late March, and soon several other lions and tigers all showed symptoms.

Four tigers (including Azul) and three lions tested positive. Scientists were still scrambling to ramp up coronavirus testing in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic, and the tests used for the animals were different than those effective on humans, the zoo clarified.

“You cannot send human samples to the veterinary laboratory, and you cannot send animal tests to the human laboratories, so there is no competition for testing between these very different situations,” Bronx Zoo chief veterinarian Dr. Paul Calle said in a statement.

The animals were only mildly ill and soon recovered without special treatment. Big cats do develop coronavirus antibodies when they’re infected that presumably protect them from future infection, Calle said. But like humans, scientists don’t know how long the antibodies last.

The zoo thinks the cats contracted the disease from an asymptomatic staff member. The Bronx Zoo had been closed for weeks, and even when it’s open, guests can’t get close enough to lions and tigers to infect them. Personal protective equipment (PPE) was in short supply at the time, and staff didn’t wear masks around animals early in the pandemic, Calle said.

“Once we recognized the cause, we implemented PPE — masks and gloves and protective clothing — while working around the cats,” Calle said.

Woodland Park Zoo has taken similar measures since last spring to protect both humans and animals. Zoo staff members keep their distance from animals and wear PPE when interacting with them or preparing food.

A small menagerie of other zoo animals have tested positive since last April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports: three tigers at Zoo Knoxville in Tennessee, three snow leopards at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky and three gorillas at the San Diego Zoo.

Woodland Park hasn’t tested any animals for the coronavirus, Collins said, because none have had symptoms consistent with the virus. The zoo needs permission from the Washington Department of Agriculture and the USDA to conduct tests.

Azul has adjusted well to her new environment, Collins said. She’s confident and used to being around people — a result of being partially raised by humans when she was born at the Bronx Zoo.

“She’s an ideal candidate for introduction to another tiger, and one day that will happen here,” Collins said. “As she matures, we want that level of confidence to translate into her ability to associate with a male.”

Azul was sent to Seattle under a breeding recommendation that paired her with 10-year-old Bumi, Woodland Park’s only other Malayan tiger.

The zoo hopes the pair will produce a litter of Malayan tiger cubs, which would be Woodland Park’s first since 2006. Malayan tigers are critically endangered and there are only about 200 left in the wild.

“I have every belief she’s going to be 100% capable and confident in being a mate to Bumi,” Collins said. “Confidence translates into being a good mother, too.”

‘What are we marching for?’ Protesters and observers wonder alike in Portland
Author: Maxine Bernstein, oregonlive.com

PORTLAND — As about 50 people dressed head-to-toe in black stood in a standoff with Portland police blocking a parking lot behind Benson High School, several parents and coaches from a youth soccer program on the nearby field walked up to see what was going on.

“What are they marching for?” one soccer mom asked.

The anarchists, antifa and activists seemed at times to question that themselves.

“Who set this (expletive) up?” Reese Monson asked over a megaphone as the demonstration got underway two hours earlier outside Revolution Hall.

A voice in the crowd yelled back, “We don’t have leaders.”

Those meeting on Inauguration Day outside the Southeast Portland music venue carried on what has become a cat-and-mouse call for disruption in the city over the last few months — a vestige of Portland’s summer protests that often devolved at night into clashes with police.

The latest iteration has wrought extensive property damage recently in downtown and Northeast Portland, including indiscriminate window-smashing.

The “direct action” events have tied Portland’s mayor and police in knots – as well as others in the larger Black Lives Matter movement who want police reform, even abolition, but have condemned the property destruction and have worked to separate themselves from those who advocate vandalism.

An on-the-ground view of Wednesday’s protest shows the lack of cohesion, the divergent ideas of what constitutes free speech in Portland and the turbulence of the crowd.

Monson identified himself as a member of Black Unity PDX, described as a civil rights collective on social media.

He concluded as others shattered windows of the Democratic Party of Oregon headquarters: “We don’t know what that was, that was not us.”

• • •

People started gathering about 2 p.m. outside Revolution Hall — a rare daylight appearance by the loose band of demonstrators.

A Twitter post on PNW Youth Liberation Front’s account had circulated with 189 retweets and 440 likes advertising “J20, decrying “F— THE STATE,” “F— BIDEN,” LANDBACK. F— 12,” and urging “Landback.” It also exhorted explicitly: “No streamers! No peace police!” – a warning that they didn’t want any challenges or recordings of their actions.

Within minutes, a disorganized scrum formed and couple of dozen people clashed with Portland bike officers outside the hall, angered by the police appearance and their questioning of some in the crowd.

When a sergeant removed a banner with poles from one person, the crowd was incensed and yelled, “Move out! Move out!” as they pressed forward toward the police.

The officer returned the banner, not the poles. Police set off a smoke grenade to keep the crowd back and allow the bike cops to ride off.

Within an hour, the crowd had grown to about 200 as they marched through city streets. They wandered west and then north before finally ending behind Benson High in Northeast Portland.

They first headed up Southeast 12th Avenue and turned on Northeast Davis Street.

With two drummers keeping a beat in the middle of the group, marchers yelled chants including “No good cop, no good president!” “Black Lives Matter!” and “No cops, no prisons, total abolition!”

They walked until they hit a literal roadblock at Grand Avenue. People stood in the intersection, about 16 blocks northwest of Revolution Hall, debating which way to go next.

“Take the bridge!” someone shouted, likely referring to the nearby Burnside Bridge.

One man threw a large-sized rock at the back of a passing car. The car continued.

Many shouted they felt unsafe staying still, so those at the head of the march turned north onto Grand as a police speaker blared in the background, ordering people to obey all traffic laws.

When the police loudspeaker directed people to remain on the sidewalks, the crowd ignored the command, chanting, “Off sidewalks and into the streets!”

“I don’t know where the (expletive) I’m going, but I don’t give a (expletive),” yelled marcher Princess Warner, 20.

At the start of the gathering, Warner said she came out to protest to stress that even with a new president in office, the nation must do more to address systemic racism.

“With this Biden administration, I don’t want people forgetting that Black lives still matter,” Warner said. “They never stopped mattering.”

Her friend, Teal Lindseth, 22, said they haven’t been on the streets the past months simply to protest Donald Trump.

“We’re doing marches because Black lives (expletive) matter,” Lindseth said. “Injustice. It’s time for this to be done.

“My 6-year-old should not have to go through what I have gone through,” Lindseth said. “My child should see Black history stuff. In school we don’t even learn enough about that. Biden really needs to change education. Foster care needs to change. There’s so much wrong with this world. It needs to change.”

• • •

As the crowd reached the entry ramp to Interstate 84 off Northeast Grand Avenue, it halted.

“Where the (expletive) are we going?” one man yelled.

Some shouted for everyone to turn around. Another responded, “There’s police cars behind us!”

“This is the worst (expletive) march I’ve ever attended!” another person yelled.

Many cut through a car lot and headed back east on Northeast Ninth Avenue.

About 3:40 p.m., one woman urged unity.

“It’s not about making a riot happen if it’s not going to happen,” she yelled.

Moments later, the group marched past Ninth and Everett Street, where several people suddenly used metal batons and crowbars to smash out windows of the Democratic Party of Oregon headquarters and tagged the building with “F— Biden” messages.

At least three people tagged and broke windows, while several others stood in front, trying to shield them by holding up black umbrellas. Others turned over a dumpster in the street and lit the contents on fire.

Some people demanded media not film or photograph the destruction.

No uniformed police were in sight.

Some in the crowd could be heard murmuring that they weren’t OK with the vandalism.

“That’s not what I came for,” one person said.

• • •

The crowd splintered some after the property damage. Police now trailed the group.

As some people marched north on Northeast Flanders and past the Franz Bakery Outlet, a man inside peered out a window, just watching the demonstrators in black walk by.

Soon, Portland bicycle cops arrived, prompting some in the crowd to warn others that police were closing in.

“Bike cops!” some shouted. Many ran toward Benson High School, just a block away, as others in the group yelled, “Don’t run!”

About 50 people now walked on a path just south of the high school, past people playing tennis on nearby courts.

As the marchers passed by Buckman Field Park south of Benson, a youth soccer coach yelled out from the track, “There’s a lot of kids here! There’s a lot of kids here!”

Someone shouted back not to worry.

Police blocked off a parking lot beside the field behind the high school and ordered no one to enter the lot.

People in the crowd taunted the officers and squeezed little pig toys to make them squeal as the officers stood in a line, blocking the lot and processing some people arrested in the vandalism.

Several parents from the field stood at the edge of the lot, watching the standoff, wondering what was going on.

By then, some in the crowd, like Monson, had left.

Some veered off to Irving Park, where a Defend Democracy Coalition had organized a rally.

Monson said he was headed to Irving Park where “the real movement is happening.”

Police said they arrested eight people, ranging in age from 18 to 38, on allegations including criminal mischief, disorderly conduct and reckless burning. Police said they removed two metal batons and a pry bar from people they alleged were involved in the vandalism to the Democratic Party office. Police also removed four Molotov cocktails from the backpack of one man arrested in connection with the smashing of at least one window after detecting the smell of gasoline coming from his pack, according to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office.

Timber crew finds human remains in rural Clackamas County; death being investigated as homicide
Author: Jim Ryan, oregonlive.com

A timber crew planting trees in rural Clackamas County came upon human remains earlier this month, and the person’s death is being investigated as a homicide, authorities say.

The county sheriff’s office said Friday that a Weyerhaeuser crew found the remains, which include a human skull, two weeks ago at a work site in a steep ravine off a private logging road southeast of Molalla.

The remains predate the devastating wildfires that swept through the area in September, deputies said, and clothing scraps suggest the remains may have been at the location “for some time.”

Authorities recovered items including a white, low-top canvas athletic shoe, size 9 u00bd, and a dark gray metal ring with a squared red stone.

The person has not been identified, and their gender has not been determined. They’re estimated to have been an adult.

Dr. Nici Vance, the state’s forensic anthropologist, has the remains for analysis, according to the sheriff’s office.

Detectives are investigating the person’s death as a homicide.

Authorities ask anyone who has information to call 503-723-4949 or leave a tip online. Tipsters should reference case No. 21-000584.

Salem Capitol protester arrested on attempted assault charge
Author: Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. — A man wanted for his alleged role in an attack on officers at the Oregon State Capitol in December has been arrested.

The Salem Police Department said in a news release that Richard Braatz of Eugene, Ore., was arrested Thursday in Salem while participating in a rally to protest the presidential election results.

Braatz was lodged at the Marion County Correctional Facility on charges of second-degree attempted assault and riot in connection with a special legislative session on Dec. 21.

Demonstrators, some armed, attacked authorities that day with bear spray, broke glass doors and called for the arrest of Gov. Kate Brown. It wasn’t immediately known if Braatz has a lawyer to comment on his case.

“Our preparation for this week afforded us the opportunity to make this arrest,” Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack said in the release. “Officers were committed to the goals set for protest response which include follow up investigation of criminal behavior and proper enforcement action when reasonable and appropriate.”

Oregon doctor sues state board for suspending medical license due to his derision of mask-wearing during pandemic
Author: Maxine Bernstein, oregonlive.com

The Oregon doctor who had his medical license suspended last month for failure to require staff and patients to wear masks in his office is now suing the Oregon Medical Board.

On Dec. 3, the board suspended Steven Arthur LaTulippe’s medical license, finding that his Dallas-based practice presents a serious danger to public health and safety. The board found that he and his staff refused to wear masks in the clinic and urged people who came to the clinic wearing masks to remove them.

LaTulippe on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against the Oregon Medical Board, alleging the suspension violated his due process and free speech rights, contending he’s been penalized due to a “mere difference in medical opinion.”

He contends the admonition to wear masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic has been “largely disputed by reputable studies and medical experts,” and claims he has harmed no one.

An investigator with the state medical board found during a Dec. 2 visit to LaTulippe’s clinic that neither patients nor health providers were wearing masks. There were no screening procedures – such as the taking of patient temperatures – before or upon entry to the clinic, and no hand sanitizer was made available in the waiting area. Instead, an article was posted in the public area of the clinic with a passage highlighted that claimed 94% of individuals who will experience serious effects of COVID-19 have co-morbidities, according to the board’s suspension ruling.

The doctor’s “instruction and example to patients to shun masks” actively promotes transmission of the virus within the extended community, and his advice to patients regarding the failure of masks to prevent viral transmission and potential patient harm due to masks, “are counter to basic principles of epidemiology and physiology and undermine acceptability among Licensee’s patients and the general populace of one of the primary measures known to significantly diminish viral transmission,” the board ruling said.

The suit contends that LaTulippe’s staff do not wear masks because they experience shortness of breath, claustrophobia, and panic attacks.

It alleges that the doctor’s medical license suspension will lead to “irreparable harm,” since many of his patients rely on him for pain treatment and prescriptions. The suit said LaTullipe is the only doctor within a reasonable driving distance of Dallas who specializes in pain and addiction.

LaTulippe ran a family practice clinic called South View Medical Arts in Dallas. He made anti-mask comments during a “Stop the Steal” election rally in Salem on Nov. 7. The video was posted on YouTube by the Multnomah County Republican Party

The suit contends the board violated his free speech rights by referencing his comments at the political rally he attended.

The suit contends the doctor never prevented any patient from wearing a mask in the office, and that he never told any individual patient to remove their mask for any reason other than medical necessity.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, seeks reinstatement of LaTulippe’s medical license, and damages issued against the state medical board.

Massive fire at potato plant forces evacuations
Author: Associated Press

WARDEN — A massive fire at a potato plant in Warden brought fears of an exploding ammonia tank, forcing the evacuation of nearly a third of the town for several hours.

The fire broke out at the Washington Potato Plant in eastern Washington around 5:30 p.m. Thursday in one of the dehydrators, according to Kyle Foreman with the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, KOMO-TV reported.

Employees in the building made it out safely as the flames spread, eventually engulfing much of the plant.

Among the items in the burning building was large ammonia tank that firefighters worried could explode and send a toxic cloud over the region, and officials issued an urgent immediate evacuation notice for the surrounding area.

Officials went door to door urging nearby residents to leave as firefighters asked for help from all fire departments in Grant County to help contain the flames. By 8 p.m., more than two dozen firefighting crews were at the blaze, Foreman said.

The fears of explosion subsided early Friday morning and residents were being allowed back into their homes around 1 a.m., Foreman said.

According to the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, by 7:30 a.m., all residents had returned to their homes and no further evacuations were expected. The fire is reportedly under control, though firefighters will remain on scene throughout the day.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation and there were no injuries reported.

Guard members in D.C. to head home
Author: Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A day after President Joe Biden’s inauguration went off with only a handful of minor arrests and incidents, more than 15,000 National Guard members are preparing to leave Washington, D.C., and head home.

The National Guard Bureau said Thursday that of the nearly 26,000 Guard troops deployed to D.C. for the inaugural, just 10,600 remain on duty. The bureau said the Guard is helping states with coordination and the logistics so that troops can get home.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post and Politico reported that hundreds of Guard troops were forced out of areas of the Capitol they had been using for rest breaks and were relocated to a nearby garage. Photos of the troops in the garage drew outrage from lawmakers.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, tweeted: “Just made a number of calls and have been informed Capitol Police have apologized to the Guardsmen and they will be allowed back into the complex tonight. I’ll keep checking to make sure they are.”

Thousands of Guard troops from all across the country poured into D.C. by the planeload and busload late last week, in response to escalating security threats and fears of more rioting. Guard forces were scattered around the city, helping to secure the Capitol, monuments, Metro entrances and the perimeter of central D.C., which was largely locked down for several days leading up to Wednesday’s inaugural ceremony.

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