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

May 07, 2021 - 8:04 PM

Weak jobs report spurs new arguments over big fed spending

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden insists an unexpected slowdown in companies' hiring is clear new proof the U.S. needs the multitrillion-dollar federal boost he's pushing. But his sales effort is challenged by critics who say Friday's jobless figures show his earlier aid legislation — successfully rushed through Congress — is actually doing more harm than good.

Biden's promised economic comeback hardly stalled on Friday. But it seemed to sputter a bit with a report that found merely modest April job gains of 266,000 and complicated his new $4 trillion push for infrastructure, education and children.

The employment report failed to show that the U.S. economy was accelerating so much as stutter-stepping along as the unemployment rate ticked up to 6.1%. Economists had projected roughly one million added jobs last month, and the modest hiring indicated that the earlier $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package has provided an uneven boost so far.

The figures present Biden with a fresh challenge at a critical moment in his presidency. He is betting that an open embrace of massive government spending will help resolve the nation's public health and financial turmoil — and lift the political prospects for Democrats heading into next year's elections. But the disappointing jobs numbers could also embolden his critics and stiffen the Republican resistance to the infrastructure package Biden is trying to push through Congress.

Addressing the report, Biden sought to ease concerns.

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Palestinians, Israel police clash at Al-Aqsa mosque; 53 hurt

JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian worshippers clashed with Israeli police late Friday at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a major holy site sacred to Muslims and Jews, in an escalation of weeks of violence in Jerusalem that has reverberated across the region.

The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said 136 people were wounded in clashes with police there and elsewhere in Jerusalem, including 83 who were hospitalized. It says most were wounded in the face and eyes by rubber-coated bullets and shrapnel from stun grenades. Israel said six police officers were wounded.

Earlier Friday, Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians and wounded a third after the men opened fire on a base belonging to Israel’s paramilitary Border Police force in the occupied West Bank, the latest in a series of deadly confrontations in recent weeks that has coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. More unrest appears likely next week.

Tensions have soared in recent weeks in east Jerusalem, which is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians. At the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israel blocked off a popular gathering spot where Palestinians traditionally socialize at the end of their daylong fast. The move set off two weeks of clashes before Israel lifted the restrictions.

But in recent days, clashes have resumed due to Israel's threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in east Jerusalem, who have been embroiled in a long legal battle with Israeli settlers trying to acquire property in the neighbourhood.

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4 ex-cops indicted on US civil rights charges in Floyd death

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A federal grand jury has indicted the four former Minneapolis police officers involved in George Floyd’s arrest and death, accusing them of wilfully violating the Black man’s constitutional rights as he was restrained face-down on the pavement and gasping for air.

A three-count indictment unsealed Friday names Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao. Chauvin was convicted last month on state charges of murder and manslaughter and is asking for a new trial. The other three are set for state trial on Aug. 23. It’s not clear what will happen in this case, but generally the state charges play out before federal charges do.

The indictment sends a strong message about the Justice Department's priorities. Floyd’s May 25 arrest and death, which a bystander captured on cellphone video, sparked mass protests nationwide that called for an end to racial inequalities and police mistreatment of Black people.

When President Joe Biden was elected, he promised he’d work to end disparities in the criminal justice system. The indictments were handed up about a week after federal prosecutors brought hate crimes charges in the death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and announced two sweeping probes into policing in two states.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said the federal charges against the officers show the Justice Department “does not excuse it nor allow police to act as though as what they do is acceptable behaviour in the line of duty.”

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Stefanik's rise toward leadership job irks conservatives

WASHINGTON (AP) — Conservatives in and out of Congress are expressing opposition to Rep. Elise Stefanik ’s rise toward House Republicans' No. 3 leadership job, grumbling that's unlikely to derail her but serves notice that the right wing is battling again to affect the party’s future.

House Republicans plan to meet privately next week, probably Wednesday, and seem certain to oust Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from that top post. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., seems likely to postpone a vote on replacing Cheney until sometime later, according to two House GOP aides who discussed the delay on condition of anonymity, giving restive conservatives a chance to coalesce behind an alternative.

It's unlikely any challenger would defeat Stefanik, who has the backing of former President Donald Trump, McCarthy and No. 2 House GOP leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana. That triumvirate — especially the former president, whose grip on the party seems as firm as ever — virtually assures victory for Stefanik, 36, a onetime Trump critic who evolved into his strident ally.

But with the hard right distrustful of Stefanik, owner of one of the House GOP's most moderate voting records, conservatives say forcing her to face a challenge would signal she's not universally accepted and will have to contend with them moving forward.

“We must not rush into a de-facto coronation of any handpicked replacement whose voting record does not reflect the views of the conference,” first-term conservative Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., said in a statement. "We must select someone who will wholeheartedly support the conservative membership.”

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Rachel Zoll, much-admired AP religion writer, dead at 55

Rachel Zoll, who for 17 years as religion writer for The Associated Press endeared herself to colleagues, competitors and sources with her warm heart and world-class reporting skills, died Friday in Amherst, Massachusetts, after a three-year bout with brain cancer. She was 55.

Zoll covered religion in all its aspects, from the spiritual to the political, and her stories reached a global audience. But her influence was far greater than that. Other publications often followed her lead, and AP staffers around the world depended on her generosity and guidance.

“Rachel was one of the most universally beloved colleagues we had,” said AP’s managing editor, Brian Carovillano. “She was also one of the best reporters, on any beat. ... She had a knack for finding the story or angle that no one else considered but is packed with insight and surprises.”

“Most importantly,” he added, “she was always the best kind of colleague, always available for help or consultation. ... She always had time for everyone.”

Zoll was at the forefront of coverage of two papal transitions, the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, and tensions within many denominations over race, same-sex marriage and the role of women.

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Texas GOP's voting restriction bill passes House

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas has become the latest Republican-dominated state to advance sweeping new limits on voting, despite no evidence of any problems with last year’s vote and a coalition of state and federal officials calling the 2020 presidential election the most secure in history.

The GOP-led restrictions cleared the Texas House on Friday, starting with the a key vote at 3 a.m. It followed hours of debate that started the day before, and lawmakers are now likely to begin negotiating a final version of the legislation that will need approval before heading to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who signalled an eagerness to sign it.

“One step closer to my desk & making it TX law,” he tweeted Friday.

From Florida to Georgia, Iowa and now Texas, Republican lawmakers have used unsubstantiated claims by former President Donald Trump and his allies to justify new voting restrictions. They argue the new limits, which largely target mail voting, are needed to boost public confidence and improve security. In some cases, the rules also create onerous requirements and penalties for local election officials.

In Texas, Democrats have virtually no path to stop the bill in the GOP-controlled Legislature, but they warned of legal fights ahead.

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Washington Post says US secretly obtained reporters' records

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump Justice Department secretly seized the phone records of three Washington Post reporters who covered the federal investigation into ties between Russia and Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, the newspaper said Friday.

The disclosure sets up a new clash between the federal government and news organizations and advocates for press freedom, who regard the seizures of reporters' records as incursions into constitutionally protected newsgathering activity. Similar actions have occurred only rarely over the past decade, including a seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors over a 2012 story that revealed a foiled bomb plot.

In a statement published by the newspaper, Cameron Barr, the Post's acting executive editor, said: "We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists. The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”

The action is presumably aimed at identifying the reporters’ sources in national security stories published in the early months of Trump’s administration, as federal investigators scrutinized whether his 2016 campaign had co-ordinated with the Kremlin to sway the election.

The records' seizure was approved by Justice Department leadership last year. The reporters — Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller and Adam Entous, who has since left the Post — were notified in letters dated May 3 that the Justice Department had obtained records for their home, work or cellphone numbers.

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India's disaster hangs over countries facing COVID-19 surges

SOHAG, Egypt (AP) — Countries worldwide wrestling with new coronavirus surges are trying to ensure they aren’t hit by an India-style disaster. They face many of the same risks, including large populations that have shirked restrictions and fragile health systems shaken under the strain.

In a province along the Nile in southern Egypt, hospitals have been flooded with COVID-19 patients, a main hot spot in a third spike swelling across the country. Doctors in Sohag province warn the health system there could collapse, even as the government rushes in new supplies.

“My estimate is that there is no family in Sohag that does not have a corona case,” said Dr. Mahmoud Fahmy Mansour, head of the province's doctors’ union. “We lost five physicians in one week.”

He said a scenario like India was a possibility, but “God willing, it is a very far possibility.”

Long reluctant to impose new lockdowns, Egypt’s government announced its strictest restrictions in months on Wednesday. It ordered cafés, restaurants, stores and malls to close at 9 p.m. and banned large gatherings for two weeks, as well as shutting down beaches and parks during the upcoming Eid el-Fitr holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

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AP Interview: NASA chief big on climate, hedges on moon date

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s new administrator is big on tackling climate and diversifying the agency's workforce, but hedging on whether the U.S. can put astronauts on the moon by 2024.

In his first interview since becoming NASA’s top official this week, former Sen. Bill Nelson told The Associated Press on Friday that tracking climate change is a top issue. He also wants to diversify the space agency's workforce so it reflects America.

His underlying vision for NASA: “to explore the heavens with humans and machines.”

For landing astronauts on the moon, Nelson said the goal remains 2024, a deadline set by the Trump administration. But he said he needs more time to review the matter, especially with challenges to the contract for the astronauts' lunar lander.

“That is the intended schedule, but I think we have to put a dose of sobering reality into our analysis," he said from NASA headquarters in Washington.

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Corruption, economic woes spark deadly protests in Colombia

BUCARAMANGA, Colombia (AP) — Kevin Anthony Agudelo wanted to live in a country where corruption was not part of everyday life. That dream motivated the electrician to join thousands of Colombians in a series of demonstrations against the government since last week.

He never returned home from his third protest.

Sobbing beside her 22-year-old son’s coffin at a funeral home, Ángela Jiménez blamed Agudelo’s shooting death on the same government he had hoped to change.

“It was like three protests. This was the last, and it was peaceful,” Jiménez told The Associated Press on Thursday. “He told me that he was going to fight for the rights of Colombia, but he did not have bad things in mind because I didn’t teach him that. My son said he wanted a better country, without so much corruption. ”

Deep social discontent that festered throughout the coronavirus pandemic is drawing thousands of Colombians into the streets to vent their anger at the government. But the mostly peaceful, nationwide protests have turned deadly, with at least 26 people killed and human rights groups warning of increasing abuses by security forces.

News from © The Associated Press, 2021
The Associated Press

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