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    The U.S. government will purchase another 105 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in anticipation of a fall booster campaign. The $3.2 billion agreement comes as federal scientists weigh whether and how to update the vaccines to better protect Americans from the rapidly evolving virus. Federal officials say the purchase agreement includes the option to purchase a total of 300 million doses, including a mix of doses for both adults and children. The first shots would be delivered by early fall, pending a decision by the Food and Drug Administration to revamp and authorize new versions of the currently available vaccines.

      It appears North Carolina’s hemp industry will avoid a shutdown. The General Assembly gave its final approval Wednesday to legislation that would make its products permanently exempt from the state’s controlled substances law. The Senate voted for a House measure that keeps lawful the production and sale of industrial hemp and products derived from hemp like CBD. The bill now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk for his expected signature. North Carolina’s industrial hemp program began as a pilot several years ago and is now operated through a federal production program. Without the legislation, the products would become illegal later this week.

        North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s most recent Cabinet replacements have been confirmed unanimously by the state Senate. The chamber voted separately on Wednesday to confirm Department Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley and Eddie Buffaloe, the Department of Public Safety secretary. Kinsley is the first openly gay Cabinet member in state government history. He succeeded Dr. Mandy Cohen. Buffaloe is the former Elizabeth City police chief and succeeded Secretary Erik Hooks. The General Assembly passed a law in late 2016 subjecting gubernatorial Cabinet appointments to Senate confirmation. Only one of Cooper’s secretaries has been formally rejected since he took office in early 2017.

          A new poll shows an overwhelming and growing majority of Americans say the U.S. is heading in the wrong direction, including nearly 8 in 10 Democrats. The poll, by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, finds that deep pessimism about the economy continues to plague President Joe Biden. Eighty-five percent of U.S. adults polled say the country is on the wrong track. Seventy-nine percent describe the economy as poor. The findings suggest Biden faces fundamental challenges as he tries to motivate voters to cast ballots for Democrats in November’s midterm elections. The poll shows only 39% of Americans approve of Biden’s leadership overall, while 60% disapprove.

            Gov. Ned Lamont and members of his administration say the impact of the predicted tsunami of Connecticut state employees retiring from government service appears smaller than first feared. On Wednesday, he credited an uptick in hiring and some current state workers withdrawing their retirement paperwork in advance of Friday’s deadline. While he noted the state is on track to end the fiscal year with the same number of employees that it had a year ago, state employee unions says there remains a crisis. They argue there were serious staffing shortages in state government that predicate the current surge in retirements.

              The U.S. government this week is holding its first onshore oil and natural gas sales from public lands since President Joe Biden took office. The lease auctions start Wednesday and conclude Thursday. They come after a federal court blocked the administration’s attempt to suspend federal lease sales because of climate change worries. About 200 square miles of public lands are up for sale in eight western states. Most of the parcels are in Wyoming. A coalition of environmental groups says in a lawsuit that the sales are illegal because officials ignored climate change impacts from burning fossil fuels.

              The new head of the government’s road safety agency says he will intensify efforts to understand the risks posed by automated vehicle technology. Steven Cliff says the aim is to help National Highway Traffic Safety Administration decide what regulations may be necessary to protect drivers, passengers and pedestrians. Cliff said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press that agency is assessing crash data recently reported by automakers and tech companies. Any new regulations that the agency may impose would fill what critics say is an urgent need to address the growing use of driver assisted systems. The systems have been linked to crashes involving deaths and serious injuries, though they also have enormous potential to prevent crashes.

              Fox News Channel is airing the Jan. 6 committee hearings when they occur during daytime hours, and ratings show that a striking number of their viewers are tuning it out. Nielsen figures show the extent to which Fox viewers leave the network when the hearings come on, then return when Fox's regular programming resumes. Fox generally has more viewers than MSNBC and CNN combined during a typical day, but the viewing patterns are flipped during the hearings. Nielsen says CNN and MSNBC's viewer figures go up during the hearings, which have also been shown on broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC.

              An associate of Rudy Giuliani who was a figure in former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment investigation was sentenced Wednesday to a year and eight months in prison for fraud and campaign finance crimes. Lev Parnas had sought leniency on the grounds that he'd helped the Congressional probe of Trump and his efforts to get the leaders of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden's son. Prosecutors said the Soviet-born businessman's aid was in response to a subpoena and deserved little credit. They had asked for a sentence of more than 6 years. Parnas was convicted of using the riches of a wealthy Russian to make illegal donations to politicians who might aid the launch of a legal recreational-marijuana business.

              Union negotiators were meeting Wednesday with management of three Atlantic City casinos in an attempt to reach a new contract and avoid a threatened Friday strike. Local 54 of the Unite Here union was in talks with representatives of Caesars Entertainment, which owns three of Atlantic City’s nine casinos: Caesars, Harrah’s and the Tropicana. The union has set a deadline of 12:01 a.m. Friday to reach a new labor agreement with those casinos and with the Borgata, which is owned by MGM Resorts International. A second strike deadline is in place for early Sunday against Hard Rock.

              A small ski area in Vermont has announced that it’s retiring its name, Suicide Six, this summer amid growing concerns about the insensitive nature of the name. The historical resort said on its website on Tuesday that it shares those concerns and “embraces the increasing awareness surrounding mental health.” A new name will be announced in the coming weeks. The resort said the ski area has a legacy spanning nearly nine decades, and it is vital that the name better represents and celebrates it.

              With abortion now or soon to be illegal in over a dozen states and severely restricted in many more, Big Tech companies that collect personal details of their users are facing new calls to limit that tracking and surveillance. One fear is that law enforcement or vigilantes could use data troves from Facebook, Google and other social platforms against people seeking ways to end unwanted pregnancies. History has repeatedly demonstrated that whenever people’s personal data is tracked and stored, there’s always a risk that it could be misused or abused.

              An initiative to increase the minimum hourly wage in Tukwila, Washington, by more than $3 has qualified for the November ballot. The Seattle Times reports the Raise the Wage Tukwila campaign has submitted enough signatures to qualify for a vote, according to a new tally posted by elections authorities. The initiative process will move to the Tukwila City Council, which can pass the initiative into law or send it to the ballot. Currently, Tukwila employers must adhere only to the state’s minimum wage of $14.49 an hour, whereas SeaTac and Seattle employers are covered by city laws. SeaTac’s minimum wage is $17.54 for hospitality and transportation workers; Seattle’s is $17.27 for most workers, with some exceptions. Each is adjusted annually for inflation.

              The lower house of Russia’s parliament has the second reading of a proposed law that would allow the banning of foreign news media in response to other countries taking actions against Russian news outlets. Following Wednesday's vote, the proposal must still pass a third reading in the Duma and secure the upper house’s approval before going to President Vladimir Putin to be signed into law. But the Duma’s approval on second reading almost always prefigures a law’s enactment. Russia has repeatedly complained in recent months that Western countries were improperly restricting Russian media by banning their operation or denying visas to their journalists.

              The mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida, is reopening talks about the future of the Tropicana Field site where baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays play their home games. Mayor Ken Welch said Wednesday that two previous proposals for the 86-acre downtown location are being scrapped, with a new round of plans to be solicited beginning in mid-August. Welch, St. Petersburg’s first Black mayor, has made a priority out of including such things as affordable housing and greater job opportunities along with Rays baseball. Welch said the goal is to choose a new redevelopment plan by year’s end. The Rays’ Tropicana Field lease is up in 2027 and Welch said the new plan will include a stadium at the site.

              Norwegian authorities say a cyberattack has temporarily knocked out public and private websites in Norway in the past 24 hours. Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said that to his knowledge Wednesday's attack “has not caused any significant damage.” The distributed-denial-of-service (DDOS) attack targeted a secure national data network forcing the temporary suspension of online services for several hours, the Norwegian National Security Authority said. A criminal pro-Russian group seems to be behind the attacks, NSM head Sofie Nystrøm said. She added that the attacks “give the impression that we are a piece in the current political situation in Europe.”

              New York’s recreational marijuana market is beginning to sprout, literally. Thin-leafed plants are stretching toward the sun in farms around the state. In a novel move, New York gave 203 CBD hemp growers first shot at cultivating marijuana destined for legal sales, which could start by the end of the year. Big indoor growers are expected to join later. Giving a head start to hemp growers is an unusual way to gear up a marijuana market. States typically rely initially on their existing medical growers, as New Jersey did for its launch earlier this year.

              The Dutch prime minister has condemned a violent protest by farmers outside the home of the country’s agriculture minister. A small group of farmers clashed Tuesday night with police stationed outside the minister's home and spread manure on a nearby street. At another protest, farmers attacked a police car. There were 10 arrests. The demonstrations are part of increasingly bold actions against a government plans to rein in pollution. A proposal approved by lawmakers Tuesday seeks to reduce emissions of pollutants like nitrogen oxide and ammonia by 50% by 2030. Farmers also have torched bales of hay near roads and blocked highways with tractors. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Wednesday: “You can demonstrate, but in a civilized way.”

              Wall Street bounced between gains and losses Wednesday morning after updated economic data showed the U.S. economy shrank slightly more than previously thought. Futures for the Dow industrials rose 0.2% while futures for the S&P 500 were flat. The Commerce Department released its third and final estimate on economic growth for the first three months of 2022 Wednesday, showing that U.S. economy shrank 1.6%. That figure was in line with previous estimates, though it probably doesn’t signal the start of a recession, and economists expect growth to resume later this year. On Tuesday, markets fell after a survey showed weaker than expected consumer confidence in the U.S.

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