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

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

September 16, 2020 - 8:05 PM

At least 1 dead, hundreds rescued after Hurricane Sally

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Hurricane Sally lumbered ashore near the Florida-Alabama line Wednesday with 105 mph (165 kph) winds and rain measured in feet, not inches, killing at least one person, swamping homes and forcing the rescue of hundreds as it pushed inland for what could be a slow and disastrous drenching across the Deep South.

The death happened in Orange Beach, Alabama, according to Mayor Tony Kennon, who also told The Associated Press that one person was missing. Kennon said he couldn't immediately release details.

Moving at just 3 mph (5 kph), or about as fast as a person can walk, the storm made landfall at 4:45 a.m. close to Gulf Shores, Alabama, about 30 miles (50 kilometres) from Pensacola, Florida. It accelerated to a light jog as it battered the Pensacola and Mobile, Alabama, metropolitan areas encompassing nearly 1 million people.

Sally cast boats onto land or sank them at the dock, flattened palm trees, peeled away roofs, blew down signs and knocked out power to more than 540,000 homes and businesses. A replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship the Nina that had been docked at the Pensacola waterfront was missing, police said.

Sally tore loose a barge-mounted construction crane, which then smashed into the new Three Mile Bridge over Pensacola Bay, causing a section of the year-old span to collapse, authorities said. The storm also ripped away a large section of a fishing pier at Alabama’s Gulf State Park on the very day a ribbon-cutting had been scheduled following a $2.4 million renovation.

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Trump disputes health officials, sees mass vaccinations soon

WASHINGTON (AP) — Openly contradicting the government's top health experts, President Donald Trump predicted Wednesday that a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus could be ready as early as next month and in mass distribution soon after, undermining the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and calling him "confused” in projecting a longer time frame.

Trump also disagreed with Dr. Robert Redfield about the effectiveness of protective masks — which the president recommends but almost never wears — and said he'd telephoned Redfield to tell him so.

Earlier in the day, the CDC sent all 50 states a “playbook” for distribution of a vaccine to all Americans free of cost when one is proven safe and effective — which is not yet the case. Redfield told a congressional hearing that health care workers, first responders and others at high risk would get the vaccine first, perhaps in January or even late this year, but it was unlikely to be available more broadly, again assuming approval, before late spring or summer.

Redfield, masked at times in a Senate hearing room, also spoke emphatically of the importance of everyone wearing protective masks to stop the pandemic, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans. He floated the possibility that a vaccine might be 70% effective in inducing immunity, and said, "I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”

Trump would have none of that from the CDC director.

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Health official on leave amid political interference furor

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Trump health appointee is taking a leave of absence after allegations of political interference in the federal coronavirus response, followed by a personal video that warned of election violence and all but equated science with resistance.

Michael Caputo has decided to take 60 days “to focus on his health and the well-being of his family,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

Fiercely loyal to President Donald Trump, Caputo had been serving as the department’s top spokesman, a post that usually is not overtly political. He was installed by the White House in April during a period of tense relations with the president's health secretary, Alex Azar.

Caputo, who has no health care background, was the subject of news reports last weekend that he tried to gain editorial control over a scientific weekly published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was followed by reports about a video he hosted on his Facebook page in which he likened government scientists to a “resistance” against Trump and warned that shooting would break out if Trump won the election and Democrat Joe Biden refused to concede.

Caputo’s declarations came as Azar and other top health care officials are trying to convince skeptical Americans that science will have the final say in the approval of coronavirus vaccines. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., had called for his resignation; Republican senators remained publicly silent.

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'Nothing left in the bucket': Wildfire resources run thin

Justin Silvera came off the fire lines in Northern California after a grueling 36 straight days battling wildfires and evacuating residents ahead of the flames. Before that, he and his crew had worked for 20 days, followed by a three-day break.

Silvera, a 43-year-old battalion chief with Cal Fire, California’s state firefighting agency, said he’s lost track of the blazes he’s fought this year. He and his crew have sometimes been on duty for 64 hours at a stretch, their only rest coming in 20-minute catnaps.

“I’ve been at this 23 years, and by far this is the worst I’ve seen,” Silvera said before bunking down at a motel for 24 hours. After working in Santa Cruz County, his next assignment was to head north to attack wildfires near the Oregon border.

His exhaustion reflects the situation on the West Coast fire lines: This year's blazes have taxed the human, mechanical and financial resources of the nation’s wildfire-fighting forces to an extraordinary degree. And half of the fire season is yet to come. Heat, drought and a strategic decision to attack the flames early combined with the coronavirus to put a historically heavy burden on fire teams.

“There’s never enough resources," said Silvera, one of nearly 17,000 firefighters battling the California blazes. "Typically with Cal Fire, we’re able to attack — air tankers, choppers, dozers. We’re good at doing that. But these conditions in the field, the drought, the wind, this stuff is just taking off. We can’t contain one before another erupts.”

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Police reforms in Breonna Taylor case praised, scrutinized

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A settlement between the family of Breonna Taylor and the city of Louisville could bring wide-ranging reforms to how police officers live and work, changes that would represent a rare outcome in a police misconduct lawsuit.

But some activists hoping for deep, lasting change fear reforms won't be enough if not accompanied by community input and criminal charges against the officers involved in Taylor's death. And a legal expert noted that even the most wide-ranging of reforms won't succeed if the people entrusted with implementing them aren't onboard.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer outlined what he described as “significant” reforms on Tuesday as part of an announcement that the city would pay $12 million to Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer.

The measures include giving officers housing credits to live in the neighbourhoods they police; requiring that only high-ranking commanders approve search warrant requests; involving social workers to help resolve situations when necessary; and additional drug testing for officers.

“I’ve worked on a lot of different cases,” said Pete Kraska, a criminal justice expert and professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. “I’ve not seen a settlement that included a set of reforms like this one did. I think it's a good first step."

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In `law and order' debate, data can be moulded to suit moment

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — President Donald Trump points to spiking crime and delivers stark statistics on murders and shootings as part of his “law and order” campaign emphasis that suggests cities are overrun with violence that only he can stop.

Several cities have seen a sobering surge in murders this summer, but those numbers are only a small snapshot of crime in the United States, and his strategy is highlighting how data can be easily moulded to suit the moment.

At a televised town hall event Tuesday for undecided voters in Pennsylvania, Trump spoke about how he believed crime was soaring in cities after nationwide protests against police brutality. He has tried to link the violence to the protests, and is trying to leverage the violence to scare white, suburban voters and encourage them to back his reelection campaign.

“Look at New York,” Trump said. “The city was safe, and then all of a sudden we have a mayor who starts cutting the police force and crime is up 100%, 150%. I saw one form of crime up 300%”

Trump may have been talking about shootings. They are up in New York by about 86% so far this year, but overall, crime is down about 2%, and there are about 34,000 uniformed officers, about the same as in recent years. Murders are up 35%, but there were 305 killings compared with 226, still low compared with years past.

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Fed sees rates near zero through 2023, perhaps longer

WASHINGTON (AP) — With the economy still struggling to recover from the pandemic recession, Federal Reserve policymakers signalled Wednesday that their benchmark short-term interest rate will likely remain at zero at least through 2023 and possibly even longer.

Fed chair Jerome Powell said at a press conference that while the economy has rebounded more quickly than expected, the job market is still hurting and the outlook is uncertain. The unemployment rate has fallen steadily since the spring but is still 8.4%.

"Although we welcome this progress we will not lose sight of the millions of Americans that remain out of work," Powell said.

The Fed left its benchmark interest rate unchanged at nearly zero, where it has been pegged since the virus pandemic intensified in March. The rate influences borrowing costs for homebuyers, credit card users, and businesses. Fed policymakers hope an extended period of low interest rates will encourage more borrowing and spending, though their policy also carries the risk of inflating a bubble in stocks or other financial assets.

Fed officials said in a set of quarterly economic projections that they expect to keep rates at zero through 2023. And in a statement released after its two-day meeting, the Fed said it wouldn't raise borrowing costs until inflation has reached 2% and appears likely to "moderately exceed” that level for an extended period.

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US charges 5 Chinese citizens in global hacking campaign

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department has charged five Chinese citizens with hacks targeting more than 100 companies and institutions in the United States and abroad, including social media and video game companies as well as universities and telecommunications providers, officials said Wednesday.

The five defendants remain fugitives, but prosecutors say two Malaysian businessmen charged with conspiring with the alleged hackers to profit off the attacks on the billion-dollar video game industry were arrested in Malaysia this week and now face extradition proceedings.

The indictments are part of a broader effort by the Trump administration to call out cybercrimes by China. In July, prosecutors accused hackers of working with the Chinese government to target companies developing vaccines for the coronavirus and of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of intellectual property and trade secrets from companies across the world.

Though those allegations were tailored to the pandemic, the charges announced Wednesday — and the range of victims identified — were significantly broader and involved attacks done both for monetary gain but also more conventional espionage purposes.

In unsealing three related indictments, officials laid out a wide-ranging hacking scheme targeting a variety of business sectors and academia and carried out by a China-based group known as APT41. That group has been tracked by the cybersecurity firm Mandiant Threat Intelligence, which described the hackers as prolific and successful at blending criminal and espionage operations.

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Story of the Underground Railroad to Mexico gains attention

HOUSTON (AP) — While researching U.S. Civil War history in South Texas, Roseann Bacha-Garza came across the two unique families of the Jacksons and the Webbers living along the Rio Grande. White men headed both families. Both of their wives were Black, emancipated slaves.

But Bacha-Garza, a historian, wondered what they were doing there in the mid-1800s.

As she dug into oral family histories, she heard an unexpected story. The two families' ranches served as a stop on the Underground Railroad to Mexico, descendants said. Across Texas and parts of Louisiana, Alabama, and Arkansas, scholars and preservation advocates are working to piece together the story of a largely forgotten part of American history: a network that helped thousands of Black slaves escape to Mexico.

“It really made sense the more I read about it and the more I thought about it,” Bacha-Garza said of the secretive route.

Like the more well-known Underground Railroad to the north, which helped fugitive slaves flee to Northern states and Canada, the path in the opposite direction provided a pathway to freedom south of the border, historians say. Enslaved people in the Deep South took to this closer route through unforgiving forests then desert with the help of Mexican Americans, German immigrants, and biracial Black and white couples living along the Rio Grande. Mexico had abolished slavery in 1829, a generation before President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

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Taylor Swift returns to ACM Awards with acoustic performance

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Country-turned-pop star Taylor Swift didn't need a lot of bells and whistles for her highly anticipated return to the Academy of Country Music Awards.

Taylor Swift made her first appearance at the ACMs in seven years on Wednesday with an acoustic performance of her song “betty” from her new record “Folklore” in a darkened Grand Ole Opry House. Unlike her extravagant tours and other awards show appearances, Swift kept it simple with just a couple of stage floodlights and a harmonica player for accompaniment, but her smile glowed as she strummed and sang the heartbreak song.

Country group Old Dominion took an early lead at the Academy of Country Music Awards, winning song of the year and group of the year, as they acknowledged how the empty seats in front of them reminded them of people who they had lost.

The awards show aired from empty venues in Nashville, Tennessee, with no fans and no applause, even when winners got up live to accept their awards. Matthew Ramsey, lead singer of Old Dominion, said the empty venue and quiet made him think of friends and family they had lost.

“I can feel them all,” Ramsey said on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry House as he accepted the award for song of the year for “One Man Band.” “They are so proud, and it’s such an honour to receive this in their presence.”

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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