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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

August 22, 2020 - 8:04 PM

House passes bill to reverse changes blamed for mail delays

WASHINGTON (AP) — With heated debate over mail delays, the House approved legislation in a rare Saturday session that would reverse recent changes in U.S. Postal Service operations and send $25 billion to shore up the agency ahead of the November election.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi recalled lawmakers to Washington over objections from Republicans dismissing the action as a stunt. President Donald Trump urged a no vote, including in a Saturday tweet, railing against mail-in ballots expected to surge in the COVID-19 crisis. He has said he wants to block extra funds to the Postal Service.

“Don’t pay any attention to what the president is saying, because it is all designed to suppress the vote,” Pelosi said at the Capitol.

Pelosi called the Postal Service the nation’s “beautiful thread” connecting Americans and said voters should “ignore” the president’s threats.

The daylong session came as an uproar over mail disruptions puts the Postal Service at the centre of the nation’s tumultuous election year, with Americans rallying around one of the nation’s oldest and more popular institutions. Millions of people are expected to opt for mail-in ballots to avoid polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.

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The bully pulpit: Trump pushes Washington, but virus resists

WASHINGTON (AP) — His face framed by the golden Oval Office curtains behind him, President Donald Trump stared straight into the camera aimed at the Resolute Desk.

It was the night of March 11, 2020. And Trump’s presidency would be forever changed.

Trump, whose improbable election ripped up the rules of American politics, had spent three-plus years defying history and orthodoxy in a chaotic spectacle that dominated the national discourse and fervently engaged both sides of a bitterly divided country. And now, essentially for the first time, he was confronted by a crisis that was not of his own making.

It was the kind of test presidents inevitably must face, and Trump responded with trademark certitude.

“The virus will not have a chance against us,” Trump told Americans that night.

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In just a week, wildfires burn 1 million acres in California

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Weary firefighters in California raced Saturday to slow the spread of wildfires that burned nearly one million acres statewide in a week and destroyed hundreds of homes ahead an expected weather change that could bring more lightning strikes like the ones that sparked many of the blazes.

Responding to the emergency, President Donald Trump issued a major disaster declaration to provide federal assistance. Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement that the declaration will also help people in counties affected by the fires with crisis counselling, housing and other social services.

Two clusters of wildfires in the San Francisco Bay Area grew to become the second- and third-largest wildfires in recent state history by size. Light winds and cooler and more humid nighttime weather helped fire crews make progress on those fires and a third group of fires south of San Francisco ahead of the forecast of warm, dry weather, erratic wind gusts and lightning, state fire officials said.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning of high fire danger across the Bay Area and along the Central Coast, beginning from Sunday morning to Monday afternoon.

“The worst is not behind us. We are in a battle rhythm,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) Chief Thom Porter tweeted.

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AP EXCLUSIVE: US faces back-to-school laptop shortage

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Schools across the United States are facing shortages and long delays, of up to several months, in getting this year’s most crucial back-to-school supplies: the laptops and other equipment needed for online learning, an Associated Press investigation has found.

The world’s three biggest computer companies, Lenovo, HP and Dell, have told school districts they have a shortage of nearly 5 million laptops, in some cases exacerbated by Trump administration sanctions on Chinese suppliers, according to interviews with over two dozen U.S. schools, districts in 15 states, suppliers, computer companies and industry analysts.

As the school year begins virtually in many places because of the coronavirus, educators nationwide worry that computer shortfalls will compound the inequities — and the headaches for students, families and teachers.

“This is going to be like asking an artist to paint a picture without paint. You can’t have a kid do distance learning without a computer,” said Tom Baumgarten, superintendent of the Morongo Unified School District in California’s Mojave Desert, where all 8,000 students qualify for free lunch and most need computers for distance learning.

Baumgarten was set to order 5,000 Lenovo Chromebooks in July when his vendor called him off, saying Lenovos were getting “stopped by a government agency because of a component from China that’s not allowed here,” he said. He switched to HPs and was told they would arrive in time for the first day of school Aug. 26. The delivery date then changed to September, then October. The district has about 4,000 old laptops that can serve roughly half of students, but what about the rest, Baumgarten asks rhetorically. “I’m very concerned that I’m not going to be able to get everyone a computer.”

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The Latest: South Korea sees steady rise in virus cases

BEIJING — China on Sunday reported 12 new confirmed coronavirus cases and no additional deaths. The National Health Commission said 422 patients were being treated, including 16 in critical condition. The death toll in China, where the outbreak began in December, stands at 4,634.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has added 397 new coronavirus cases, counting its tenth straight day of triple-digit increases as the speed of viral spread nears the levels the country saw during the worst of its outbreak in spring.

The resurgence, which began in the densely populated capital area before spreading to practically every major city and provincial town over the past week, is a major setback for the country that had been eager to tout its hard-won gains against the virus.

After avoiding stringent social distancing measures because of concerns over a fragile economy, officials have now banned large gatherings, closed nightspots, beaches and churches and removed fans from professional sports in a desperate effort to stem transmissions.

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2 tropical storms heading for double blow to US Gulf Coast

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Two tropical storms advanced across the Caribbean on Saturday as potentially historic threats to the U.S. Gulf Coast, one dumping rain on Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Hispaniola while the other swept into the gulf through the gap between Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba.

Tropical Storms Laura and Marco were both projected to approach Louisiana's coast at or close to hurricane force just two days apart in the next several days. A hurricane watch was issued for the New Orleans metro area, which was pummeled by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

Two hurricanes have never appeared in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time, according to records going back to at least 1900, said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. The last time two tropical storms were in the Gulf together was in 1959, he said.

The projected tracks from the U.S. National Hurricane Center late Saturday pointed to both storms being together in the Gulf of Mexico on Monday, with Marco hitting Louisiana at midday and Laura making landfall in the same general area Wednesday. But large uncertainties remained for that time span, and forecasts have varied greatly so far for the two storms.

“We are in unprecedented times,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said at a news conference Saturday as he declared a state of emergency. “We are dealing with not only two potential storms in the next few hours, we are also dealing with COVID-19.”

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Trump's vision of American greatness at centre of convention

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans will aim to recast the story of Donald Trump's presidency when they hold their national convention, featuring speakers drawn from everyday life as well as cable news and the White House while drawing a stark contrast with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Trump is looking to shift his campaign away from being a referendum on a presidency ravaged by a pandemic and economic collapse and toward a choice between vastly different visions of America’s future. Reshaping the national conversation around the race has taken on greater urgency for Trump, who trails in public and private surveys as the coronavirus continues to ravage the nation's economy and his reelection chances.

The four-day event is themed “Honouring the Great American Story,” according to four Trump campaign officials involved with the planning process but not authorized to discuss it by name. The convention will feature prominently a number of well-known Trump supporters, including members of the Trump family, but also those whom the GOP say are members of the “silent majority” of Americans who have been aided by Trump’s policies. Some have been “silenced” by a “cancel culture” pushed by Democrats, the campaign officials said.

Where Democrats highlighted Republicans who crossed party lines to back Biden as an indictment of Trump's leadership, the GOP lineup will primarily feature figures on the conservative media circuit with the hope that they can deliver red meat for the president's loyal supporters — though planners say they will feature some people who did not vote for Trump in 2016.

Planners insist they will put forward a more “positive” convention than Democrats’ roasting of Trump. Yet the president also appears intent on trying to seize on the nation’s cultural divides, particularly around issues of racial injustice and policing, drawing on grievances to motivate his base.

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As more colleges stay online, students demand tuition cuts

As more universities abandon plans to reopen and decide instead to keep classes online this fall, it's leading to conflict between students who say they deserve tuition discounts and college leaders who insist remote learning is worth the full cost.

Disputes are flaring both at colleges that announced weeks ago they would stick with virtual instruction and at those that only recently lost hope of reopening their campuses. Among the latest schools facing pressure to lower tuition are Michigan State University and Ithaca College, which scrapped plans to reopen after seeing other colleges struggle to contain coronavirus outbreaks.

The scourge has killed more than 175,000 people in the United States. Worldwide, the confirmed death toll crossed 800,000 on Saturday, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, and cases passed 23 million.

In petitions started at dozens of universities, students arguing for reduced tuition say online classes fail to deliver the same experience they get on campus. Video lectures are stilted and awkward, they say, and there's little personal connection with professors or classmates.

Many schools, however, respond that they have improved online classes since the spring. Some have instituted decreases of 10% or more, but many are holding firm on price.

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Miami ICU nurse: I have never in my life seen so many deaths

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Their final breaths are tormented. Rublas Ruiz has seen too many of them -- the last gasps of 17 men and women who died of the coronavirus.

A 41-year-old ICU nurse in Miami’s Kendall Regional Medical Center, Ruiz has witnessed the desperate, pleading, wide-eyed, barely there gasps.

“The fear in their eyes when they can’t get enough air. They are so scared,” he says, quietly. “Their eyes are big, desperate to get the oxygen and that makes me so sad.”

He sits on their bed, grasps their hand, strokes their cheek and prays. Anything to soothe them.

“I know you cannot talk, but I’m going to talk to you,” he tell them. “You have to be positive, you have to have faith that God is going to get you out of this.”

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London's famous Tower Bridge gets stuck in an open position

LONDON (AP) — London's famous Tower Bridge, which crosses the River Thames in the heart of the British capital, was stuck open on Saturday, leaving traffic in chaos and onlookers amazed at the sight.

The historic bascule-and-suspension bridge failed to close after opening to allow ships to pass underneath on the Thames. City of London police tweeted shortly after 5 p.m. that the bridge was closed to pedestrians and traffic and mechanics were working to fix the problem. An hour later, police tweeted that the bridge had reopened.

Tower Bridge is 244 metres (800 feet) long and its towers are 65 metres (213 feet) high. It was built between 1886 and 1894.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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