The leader of a Hawaii anti-vax group caught COVID-19 and almost died. He now supports vaccines and wants his group’s protests to stop.

A poster shows a cartoon of a woman with a hibiscus flower in her hair wearing a blue mask, reading: "wear face protection."
A poster in an airport in Honolulu, Hawaii.

  • The founder of a Hawaii group opposing COVID-19 rules and vaccine mandates has asked people to stop.
  • Chris Wikoff, who was recently hospitalized with COVID-19, previously dismissed it as “a little flu.”
  • He told local media he is considering getting vaccinated now.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The cofounder of a Hawaiian group protesting vaccine mandates and COVID-19 rules is now calling people to end the cause after being hospitalized with the disease himself.

Chris Wikoff, 66, said he no longer wanted to participate in the group and asked for his name to be removed from the members’ list, Hawaii News Now reported Monday.

“I want to mind my own business and isolate,” he told Hawaii News Now.

Wikoff cofounded the Aloha Freedom Coalition in October 2020 in response to a lockdown order which the group said was ruining business and threatening individual liberties, Hawaii News Now reported.

The group now opposes vaccine mandates and vaccine passports. On Sunday it called the White House “traitors” for considering vaccine passports for air travel.

Wikoff said he previously believed vaccine mandates and passports seemed “over-the-top totalitarian control” because he didn’t believe the disease was that serious, Hawai News Now reported.

“We were told the COVID virus was not that deadly, it was nothing more than a little flu,” he told Hawaii News Now.

“Well, I can tell you: it’s more than the little flu.”

Wikoff’s change of position came after he was hospitalized after catching COVID-19 in August, per Hawaii News Now. “I was afraid I was going to die,” he told the outlet.

He urged people to stop participating in the protests and rallies his group was organizing, including those taking part outside of Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor Josh Green’s house, Hawaii News Now reported.

“Before I thought Josh Green was exaggerating the situation and after my experience, he sounds very rational to me,” he said, per Hawaii News Now.

A picture of Wikoff, who according to Hawaii News Now still needs help breathing, can be seen here:

Wikoff says now he is considering getting vaccinated because his family and doctors recommended it, Hawaii News Now reported.

“Probably getting COVID again would be more dangerous than getting the reaction from the vaccines,” he told Hawaii News Now, adding: “The COVID vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective.”

In a statement, the Aloha Freedom Coalition said it would “continue to fight against blanket mandates and for an individual’s right to choose,” Hawaii News Now reported.

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NYC couple describe getting a $257,000 medical bill after their premature baby died in hospital, sparking a grim insurance battle

Pregnant woman in hospital
A pregnant woman (unrelated to the story) in hospital.

  • Two parents lost their daughter after she was born about 13 weeks early.
  • They later received an unexpected medical bill for over $257,000.
  • Their insurer accidentally paid out after they switched providers, and wants to be repaid.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A couple was billed for $257,000 by an insurance company after their premature baby died aged 25 days.

Brittany Giroux Lane and Clayton Lane received a demand for payment this summer, The New York Times reported.

The bill was from Cigna, which paid out the sum to Mount Sinai West hospital in Manhattan in error for the care of Alexandra, who was born 13 weeks prematurely and lived for less than a month.

In reality, the care had already been covered by UnitedHealthcare, which the couple switched to just before she was born. But while trying to get the money from the hospital, Cigna pursued the grieving parents.

Alexandra was born prematurely at the Mount Sinai West hospital in midtown New York 18 months earlier, a few days before Christmas 2018, The New York Times reported.

She died on the morning of Jan 15, 2019, per the Times. But it took around 18 months longer for the first demand to arrive.

“For them, it’s just business, but for us it means constantly going through the trauma of reliving our daughter’s death,” Clayton Lane told the Times.

“It means facing threats of financial ruin. It’s so unjust and infuriating.”

According to The Times, Lane switched her healthcare after giving birth. Cigna was supposed to cover the bill for the 2018 care, while UnitedHealthcare was supposed to take on the bill for care provided in 2019, the Times reported.

But Cigna covered the whole bill, overpaying by $257,000. UnitedHealthcare also paid, meaning that the bill was paid twice in full, per the Times.

Although Cigna was already in talks with the hospital to get a refund, the couple received a notice asking them to pay the amount in full in the summer of 2020. They contacted the hospital, who said it would be dealt with, only to receive another notice in July 2021.

The Lanes have filed a complaint against Cigna.

In a statement, Mount Sinai said: “It is normal business practice to reconcile accounts with insurers in this manner. It is not typical for an insurer to pursue a patient in this way,” the Times reported.

“Our Alexandra was the light of our life,” Ms Lane said in a tweet on Tuesday, adding: “I hope that her story can help people understand challenges in our system.”

Her husband Clayton also tweeted on Tuesday: “The power these billion-dollar corps hold over people’s lives is unreal. But we hope our story encourages @Cigna @MountSinaiNYC Admin and other providers to approach families with kindness and compassion.”

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Lithuania’s defense ministry told people to throw away Chinese-made phones, claiming they can automatically censor people’s texts

Commuters wearing face masks walk past the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro 5G smartphone advertisement
People ask past an ad for the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro 5G smartphone in Hong Kong.

  • Lithuania told people to trash their Chinese-made phones “as fast as reasonably possible.”
  • It said some phones, like Xiaomi’s Mi 10T 5G phone, can censor terms like “democracy movement.”
  • The feature is turned off in the phones in the EU but can be turned back on remotely, it said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Lithuanian government has told people to throw away their Chinese phones and avoid new ones, claiming some of them had the ability to find and censor certain terms like “democracy movement” in people’s texts.

“Our recommendation is to not buy new Chinese phones, and to get rid of those already purchased as fast as reasonably possible,” Lithuania’s deputy defense minister, Margiris Abukevicius, told reporters on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

In a Tuesday report, the Lithuanian defense ministry’s National Cyber Security Centre said that Mi 10T 5G phones sold in Europe by China’s Xiaomi Corp, for example, were able to detect and censor terms including “free Tibet, “long live Taiwan independence” or “democracy movement.”

Discussions about the pro-independence movement in Tibet, sovereignty of Taiwan, and pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong are highly sensitive subjects in China. Those terms are heavily censored on Chinese social media, and people who discuss these topics are punished.

The Lithuanian report said that the censorship function was generally turned off in the phones in the European Union, but that the feature can be turned back on remotely, per Reuters. The report did not say where the feature could be turned on, or by whom.

Xiaomi did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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This artist painted murals to challenge the Taliban after their last rule. Then the militants destroyed them, leaving him fearing for his life.

People painting a mural in Afghanistan.
People painting a mural in Afghanistan.

  • The Taliban painted over dozens of murals, including one of George Floyd, after seizing Kabul.
  • The murals were done by an artist group named Artlords, who wanted to cover up Kabul’s blast walls.
  • Insider spoke to its founder, who fled the country convinced the Taliban would kill him.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Omaid Sharifi wanted to remind people that Afghanistan could be beautiful despite the war.

He wanted to cover Kabul’s blast walls, the huge concrete walls erected to protect buildings from bombings.

“We were fed up with these high blast walls,” he told Insider. “It was making Kabul look like a prison.”

So in 2014 he founded Artlords, a collective of more than 150 artists that painted murals encouraging human rights and social justice in Kabul and other Afghan cities.

Afghan men ride their bicycles walk past blast walls in Kabul
Afghan men ride their bicycles past blast walls protecting the Ministry of Interior Affairs in Kabul in July 2021.

A mural in Afghanistan.
A mural in Afghanistan.

The goal was “to claim back back our space, to paint these ugly, concrete walls and make sure these blast walls are turned into something beautiful,” Sharifi said.

But one of the first things the Taliban did when they retook Afghanistan in mid-August was paint over the murals and, in many cases, replace them with their slogans.

As of last week, around 100 Artlords murals had been covered up, Sharifi said.

One of them was of George Floyd, the Black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis last year. Sharifi said Artlords painted it to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, “to show Afghanistan is not separate from the whole world,” and to connect Floyd’s death with the plight of Afghan refugees around the world.

A wall with murals on it, including one of George Floyd.
A mural showing George Floyd and the words “I can’t breathe” in Kabul on September 4, 2021.

Murals on a wall covered in white paint
An image of the Floyd mural covered up, taken by Omaid Sharifi’s colleague on September 16, 2021.

Sharifi said the Taliban started painting over murals before even announcing their government, leaving him convinced the militants were out to get him first.

“I might be the first to be punished or even killed because the Taliban showed that the first act of their new government was to destroy our murals,” he said.

Omaid Sharifi
Omaid Sharifi in August 2019.

Artlords’ murals went against the Taliban’s principles, Sharifi said: The art promoted empathy and women’s rights, and opposed violence, injustice, and Islamic extremism.

“I knew that I would not be able to have a voice under the Taliban,” he said.

Women paint on a wall
Artlords members painting a message on a wall that reads “I am back because education prevails” at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul in February 2018.

‘Hell on earth’

Sharifi said he was helping paint a mural in Kabul the day the Taliban seized the city.

A post shared by ArtLords (@artlordsnet)

“I saw people panicking and running. We asked them what was happening while painting a mural about empathy, unity, and kindness. And they told us the Taliban were in the city,” he said.

“I asked my staff and colleagues and artists to leave, go to their homes, and make sure their families are safe.”

Sharifi also decided to leave given how the Taliban used to treat artists.

“When I lived in their previous regime, from 1996 to 2001, I remember that any expression of art was banned,” he said. “They destroyed a lot of paintings … the punishment was severe for artists.”

Last time the Taliban were in power, they destroyed books and art, banned many types of music, and killed artists.

Sharifi said he tried for five days to leave Afghanistan, finally managing to escape on August 22 after joining a convoy of cars entering Kabul’s airport around 3 a.m.

For days after the Taliban takeover, that airport was the scene of chaos as people frantically tried to escape, with some latching onto moving jets on the runway.

Sharifi called it “hell on earth.”

Taliban CIA base
Members of the Taliban Badri 313 military unit near the destroyed CIA base in Deh Sabz district on September 6, 2021, after the US pulled its troops out of the country.

Vow to continue

Sharifi is now in a refugee camp in the United Arab Emirates, with only his backpack and no idea of what might come next.

“I have left all my life behind,” he said.

“When I’m talking about this, my eyes are teary.”

Artists paint a mural of killed journalists on a wall
Artlords members painting a mural of journalists who were killed in 2018 in Kabul in September 2018.

He said he and his wife, through working with NGOs, had already evacuated 53 artists and their families to countries including France, Albania, and Uganda. He told Insider last week that 103 members of Artlords – including LGBT artists – were still in Afghanistan, and he’s working to get them out.

But he said Artlords would continue their work, and one day hold exhibitions around the world.

“We will continue painting those murals the Taliban destroyed,” he said.

“We will never stay silent.”

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Labour group with links to Keir Starmer fined £14,250 for failing to declare donations

Keir Starmer
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

  • An influential Labour Party group has been fined £14,250 for failing to declare donations on time.
  • Labour Together’s directors include two senior Labour MPs and a major Labour Party donor.
  • Figures published by the Electoral Commission suggests more than £800,000 was not declared properly.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

An influential Labour Party group with links to the party’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has been fined £14,250 by the UK’s Electoral Commission after failing to declare more than £800,000 in donations within the required 30-day period.

Labour Together counts among its directors high-profile Labour frontbench MPs Lisa Nandy, who is the shadow foreign secretary, and Steve Reed, the shadow communities and local government secretary.

The group had led a high-profile review into the party’s disastrous performance in the 2019 general election, which was later described by the New Statesman as a “blueprint for Starmerism.”

The Electoral Commission fined Labour Together after opening an investigation in December 2020 into multiple breaches of electoral law.

Its investigation found that the group had failed to deliver donation reports within 30 days, inaccurately reported a donation, and failed to make an administrative appointment after having received the donations.

The overdue donations were first published in February 2021. Analysis of the figures by Insider suggested only £165,000 of £970,492 donated between October 2015 and January 2021 were declared on time.

Since February 2021, Labour Together has declared a further £120,000 in donations from its two main backers, Martin Taylor and Trevor Chinn.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by the donors.

The Electoral Commission has also announced the outcome of a separate investigation into the Labour Party, which the watchdog said had failed to deliver accurate quarterly donations reports. The party was fined £1,820.

A former managing director of Labour Together is Morgan McSweeney, who was Starmer’s chief of staff until June 2021. Companies House records for the company behind Labour Together show McSweeney was secretary from July 2017 to April 2020, when Starmer became leader of the Labour Party.

In June, McSweeney was moved to a “strategic role” after the party’s consecutive losses in two Parliamentary by-elections, the Independent reported.

Hannah O’Rourke, director of Labour Together, told Insider on Tuesday: “We accept the findings of the Electoral Commission today, and have already paid the fine.

“The administrative oversight that led to this fine was entirely unintentional. We contacted the Electoral Commission as soon as we became aware of the error, and it was important to us to cooperate fully with their investigation.

“We are now fully transparent and compliant with regards to our donations, and have introduced a range of safeguards to our internal processes to ensure that no similar error can occur in the future.”

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J&J’s vaccine gives 100% protection from severe COVID-19 after a 2nd dose, study says – comparable to the Pfizer or Moderna shots

J&J vaccine
A man receiving a J&J vaccine.

  • A booster dose of J&J vaccine gave comparable protection to other vaccines, the company said.
  • The second shot was found to give 100% against severe disease, it said, citing a study.
  • The second shot was also 94% protective against symptomatic infection.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Two doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine provided an efficacy similar to that of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the company said Tuesday.

The company said in a press release, citing its own studies, that the booster provided:

  • 94% protection against symptomatic infection,
  • 100% protection against severe disease at least 14 days after the second shot.

The second dose was administered 2 months after the first dose, the company said.

The figures are based on a 30,000-patient study, called ENSEMBLE 2, in which a second dose was given to volunteers 56 days apart, STAT News reported.

Of those, 14 cases of moderate-to-severe Covid had gotten two doses, compared to 52 among those given placebo doses. Zero were severely or critically ill, the company said in a press release.

The data has not been peer-reviewed or published in a peer-reviewed journal, The Wall Street Journal noted.

The shot was first presented as a single-dose vaccine, unlike the two-shot regimes for Pfizer and Moderna.

But a clinical study revealed that a single J&J dose was less effective than the other approved vaccines.

The study put the vaccine’s efficacy at 66% at preventing symptomatic disease. By comparison, clinical trials put the the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer efficacy against symptomatic disease at risk 94 and 95%, respectively, although it is difficult to compare trials with different protocols head to head.

A recent CDC study confirmed the gap in efficacy between the shots. The study found that the single-shot J&J vaccine still greatly reduced the risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 – by 71%.

But the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer further reduced the risk, by 93% and 88%, respectively.

US officials have approved only the single-dose approach for the J&J vaccine, and would need to take further steps to authorize second doses.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham dismissed Rudy Giuliani’s election-fraud arguments as the work of a third-grader, book says

Lindsey Graham
Sen. Lindsey Graham with President Donald Trump at the White House in January 2019.

  • Lindsey Graham was reportedly unimpressed with Rudy Giuliani’s voter-fraud arguments.
  • He described them as “third grade”, according to a new book, ‘Peril’, by Woodward and Costa.
  • Graham ultimately voted to certify Joe Biden’s victory over Trump on January 6.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina described Rudy Giuliani’s arguments that the 2020 election had been tainted by mass fraud as suitable for the “third grade,” according to extracts of the new Bob Woodward book “Peril.”

The anecdote was published by The Washington Post the latest in a string of explosive revelations from “Peril.” The book, which Woodward co-wrote with Robert Costa, describes the chaotic end of the Trump administration.

According to the extract Graham, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump, met Giuliani in the White House on January 2 to see what evidence they had assembled to advance their baseless claims of fraud.

At the meeting, Giuliani discussed the election fraud evidence which he claimed could secure Trump a second term.

The meeting was reportedly convened in the West Wing office of Mark Meadows, Donald Trump’s chief of staff. Per the extract, a data official working for Giuliani said that the level of support shown for Joe Biden in some areas was unrealistic.

Graham, though, was reportedly unimpressed.

“Give me some names,” Graham reportedly said. “You need to put it in writing. You need to show me the evidence.”

Several days later Giuliani’s team are said to have sent dossiers of evidence to Graham’s office, which the senator passed to Lee Holmes, the top attorney on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Graham chairs.

Holmes thought the evidence was unpersuasive, and was unable to even establish that some of the source material even existed.

“Holmes found the sloppiness, the overbearing tone of certainty, and the inconsistencies disqualifying,” the authors write, according to the Post. The memos, he determined, “added up to nothing.”

Privately, Graham’s assessment was withering, according to the authors, saying the arguments were suitable for the “third grade.”

Graham was among the Republican members of Congress who’d been receptive to Trump’s voter fraud claims.

He even contacted Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in November to discuss blocking the certification of some postal votes.

But ultimately Graham voted to certify Biden’s election January 6, in a vote that was disrupted by the Capitol riot, when Trump supporters attacked Congress.

“Count me out. Enough is enough. I’ve tried to be helpful,” said Graham on the Senate floor, distancing himself from the campaign to overturn the election.

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After fleeing the Taliban takeover, the founder of Afghanistan’s first all-female news channel vows to continue its work

ZAN TV staff work on screens
The ZAN TV editing room in Kabul, Afghanistan.

  • ZAN TV was founded as a symbol of defiance in Afghanistan, where women’s freedoms were long curbed.
  • But it stopped broadcasting after the Taliban retook control of the country in mid-August.
  • Insider spoke to its founder and another reporter, who fear for their colleagues but vow to go on.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hamid Samar founded Afghanistan’s first all-female news channel in 2017, after his mother said there should be a TV station run by and for women.

He hoped ZAN TV would empower women, and the staff saw it as a symbol of a changing Afghanistan.

It rose to have a peak of 72 staff, training female journalists while covering the news and women’s issues. Men worked there too, but all the presenters and reporters were female.

When the Taliban seized the country in mid-August, the station paused its work, and Samar fled the country, fearing the group’s long and violent opposition to women in public life. At that point, ZAN TV had about 30 staff, some of whom already based outside the country.

The Taliban have said they would protect women, but the last time they were in power they severely limited women’s rights and movements, and punished rule breakers with beatings and death.

After the Taliban takeover, ZAN TV stopped broadcasting on satellite, though some staff in Kabul and outside Afghanistan continued to post infrequently on social media, Samar said.

Samar worries for his colleagues still in Afghanistan, but is determined to help them continue their work.

‘Nobody thought that there would be TV stations just run by women’

Insider also spoke to Fariah Saidi, who has worked for ZAN TV from Canada since 2017, directing the channel’s programs and presenting political shows.

She said she was inspired to join ZAN TV because “the media is always a male-dominant space, not just in Afghanistan but around the world.”

ZAN TV, by contrast, is “for women and it’s run by women, and the aim is to empower Afghan women around the world,” she said.

Fariah Saidi
Fariah Saidi.

That empowerment was to be achieved in two ways: Covering women’s issues, but also showing women in roles that people were not used to seeing.

She said she believed the power of TV could change people’s mindsets and “normalize a lot of things about women that are taboo in certain societies.”

ZAN TV was launched 16 years after the Taliban were last toppled from power – the group controlled Afghanistan from the late 1990s to 2001. Saidi said the launch showed how much the country has changed.

“Nobody thought that there would be TV stations just run by women,” Saidi said. “It was a different idea … It was a big thing for society.”

taliban fighters in kabul
Taliban fighters stand outside the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul on August 15, 2021, after the militants encircled and took over the city.

She said she could see how ZAN TV was managing to help women’s empowerment – at least until the Taliban seized power of the country.

Fleeing Afghanistan with just the clothes on his back

Samar told Insider that the Taliban’s rapid takeover prompted him to flee in a hurry.

He said he left Kabul days after the Taliban seized the city – he doesn’t remember the exact day – with his family on a US military jet. He was brought to Qatar, then Germany, and eventually Wisconsin.

“I was just able to take the shoes and clothes that I was wearing,” he said.

He said he deleted everything from his phone in case he was searched by the Taliban during the escape.

He said he was grateful to be in the US, but sad to leave: “I feel really good to be here. Of course, if was not easy to leave your country.” But the most important thing, he said, was “the safety of my kids and family.”

Hamid Samar sitting at a table, with the flag of Afghanistan in the foreground.
Hamid Samar.

But Samar knows some of his staff – from the female journalists to the men who worked behind the cameras – are still there, and are at risk.

‘In a blink of an eye, their world was upside down’

Saidi said she is still talking to ZAN TV’s female reporters who are stuck in Afghanistan. Her parents are both from Afghanistan, but she was raised outside the country.

“Anyone that I talk to has a sense of heartbreaking loss,” she said. She said that one colleague described being “physically safe, but mentally not safe.”

Saidi said: “My heart goes out to all the girls who worked there. I’ve known this for a very long time the troubles that they went through to be able to get a job, to be able to work on all of this – and in a blink of an eye, their world was upside down. So, for most of them, their life is in danger and their family’s life in danger.”

The ZAN TV logo on a screen
The Zan TV editing room in Kabul, Afghanistan, in May 2017.

Of Samar’s escape, Saidi said: “His life was in danger. His family, his kids’ lives were in danger.”

She said ZAN TV’s leadership was still trying to figure out how employees on the ground can be protected: “Everyone is like, at the very moment, let’s make sure everyone is safe and they’re surviving and they’re alive.”

Samar said that around ten of his local staff had left Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover, but around 20 others were still there.

He said some stayed because they did not want to leave their families behind, and that ZAN TV was “trying our best to keep them safe.”

Taliban fighters with guns outside Kabul airport
Taliban Badri special force fighters arrive at the airport in Kabul on August 31, 2021, after the US pulled all its troops out of the country.

Saidi said many the employees “feel guilty” for putting their families in danger.

“But I let them know it’s not their fault. Once we make sure they’re safe, we will continue our fight for Afghan women.”

Vows to make ZAN TV stronger than before

Samar said he wants ZAN TV to continue, and even grow, despite the Taliban.

“Zan TV is not a project that should just end. People who worked on it want to continue ZAN TV more strongly than what we were in the past,” he said.

He hopes the channel’s female staff in Afghanistan can keep working on it: “Of course they want to continue their work.”

Saidi said she wasn’t sure what would happen next, but hopes the work continues: “For me, I think it’s a completely different story compared to the girls who were born and raised in Afghanistan.”

She said that, compared to them, “I don’t have a lot to lose. Physically, I am not in a place where most of these girls are. But when I think, do I want to give up? I don’t want to give up.”

She said she won’t stop her work, whether ZAN TV can continue or not: “I personally will not give up my work for women … if it’s on TV or any other platform. My work for women in Afghanistan will continue.”

“Back in 1996, the first time the Taliban took over, I was only one year old. I wasn’t even living in Afghanistan at that time. I was obviously not able to do anything at that time.”

“Now it’s like history repeating itself. But I’m 25 now … And if there’s something I can do, I will continue with that.”

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$10 million home owned by Google billionaire Larry Page destroyed by fire

Larry Page
Larry Page, the CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet.

  • A Palo Alto mansion owned by Google billionaire Larry Page has been partially destroyed by fire.
  • The fire was spotted by a neighbor on their security camera.
  • It is unclear who is living on the property, but neighbors claim it’s being used as an office space.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A Palo Alto mansion linked to Google billionaire Larry Page has been partially destroyed by a blazing fire, according to The Daily Beast.

Local firefighters responded to a fire at the 6-bedroom, 5.5-bath home located on Bryant Street on Tuesday morning after a neighbor, who was not home at the time, spotted it on their security camera.

Nobody appeared to be inside the residence at the time and there were no injuries.

It is unclear how the fire started, but firefighters say the blaze was primarily the rear of the home, which is attached to a long driveway and has a basement.

“That structure is done. It’s probably gonna need to be rebuilt,” said Battalion Chief Shane Yarbough, according to Palo Alto Online.

The fire did not reach the main part of the house, although flames also damaged a fence and a tree, Yarbough added.

It is unclear who is currently living in the California mansion, valued at more than $10 million according to county records cited in The Daily Beast.

But neighbors are now demanding answers on whether the property, one of many homes in the area owned by Page, is being used unlawfully as an office for Google workers.

One neighbor told Palo Alto Online that the home is only ever used in the daytime as what appears to be an office space for a small group of tech workers.

Another neighbor told The Daily Beast that the Google co-founder bought the home as a guest house.

Public records confirm that the property is owned by an LLC that has shared two addresses with Page’s family foundation, the Daily Beast reported.

Page owns multiple homes in the area and likes to guards his privacy. His current whereabouts are a mystery, although Insider previously reported that he spent most of the coronavirus lockdown in a remote part of Fiji.

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Texas megachurch preacher and Trump devotee says there is no ‘credible religious argument’ against COVID-19 vaccines

Pastor Robert Jeffress with then-President Donald Trump
Pastor Robert Jeffress participates in the Celebrate Freedom Rally with then-President Donald Trump on July 1, 2017.

  • A preacher at a Texas megachurch is refusing to offer his congregation religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
  • He told the Associated Press that there is no “credible religious argument” for turning down a shot.
  • Religious exemption letters are becoming more widely used as a “loophole” to avoid vaccine mandates, the AP said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As Republican lawmakers rage against President Joe Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandates, the Associated Press reported that religious exemptions are becoming more widely used as a “loophole” to avoid getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

But a Trump-loving preacher at a Texas megachurch has decreed that there is “no credible religious argument” for turning down a shot, the Associated Press said.

The Rev. Robert Jeffress, a pastor at the 12,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, told the news agency that he and his staff are neither “offering” exemption letters nor “encouraging” members of their congregation to seek out religious exemptions from coronavirus vaccine mandates.

“Christians who are troubled by the use of a fetal cell line for the testing of the vaccines would also have to abstain from the use of Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Ibuprofen, and other products that used the same cell line if they are sincere in their objection,” said Jeffress in an email.

Jeffress, who once suggested that he would vote for former President Donald Trump over somebody who embodies the teachings of Jesus, is one of many religious leaders who have recently opposed the use of religious exemption letters.

The AP reported that leaders of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America said Thursday that, aside from medical reasons, “there is no exemption in the Orthodox Church for Her faithful from any vaccination for religious reasons.”

Similarly, the news agency reported that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York have also said that they are not in support of exemption letters, according to the AP.

But not all churches share the same view. The AP said that some Catholic bishops, including those at The Colorado Catholic Conference, have made it easier to object to the vaccine on religious grounds by posting online templates for a letter that priests can sign.

One pastor in Tulsa has even said that he will sign a religious exemption letter if people donate to his church, The Washington Post reported.

According to a senior fellow for religious freedom at the Freedom Forum in Washington, religious exemptions are likely to be at the center of fierce legal battles in the coming months.

“As vaccine mandates continue to expand in schools and workplaces, there is bound to be more litigation on the issue of religious exemptions – especially in cases where no exemptions (except medical) are allowed,” said Charles Haynes in an email to The Washington Post.

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