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AP News in Brief at 11:03 p.m. EDT

July 20, 2021 - 8:04 PM

An Olympics like no other, Tokyo perseveres to host Games

TOKYO (AP) — It's an Olympics like no other — and the Tokyo Games are surely that — but this is an event that has persevered through wars, boycotts and now a pandemic over its 125-year modern history.

The Tokyo Olympics have already broken new ground because of the 12-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, pushing it into an odd-numbered year for the first time. But with no fans permitted in Japan, foreign or local, it has the distinction of being the first Games without spectators.

“We’re in uncharted territory," said Steve Wilson, the former president of the Olympic Journalists Association who covered the Olympic movement for The Associated Press for nearly three decades until 2017.

“These will be Games without the carnival atmosphere, celebration and fun that we’ve come to expect and look forward to. Definitely one for the history books.”

There have been many other unusual editions of the Olympics in the past, however. The United States and many of its allies boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets and many of its allies reciprocated four years later by boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

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Monster wildfire tests years of forest management efforts

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Ecologists in a vast region of wetlands and forest in remote Oregon have spent the past decade thinning young trees and using planned fires to try to restore the thick stands of ponderosa to a less fire-prone state.

This week, the nation's biggest burning wildfire provided them with an unexpected, real-world experiment. As the massive inferno half the size of Rhode Island roared into the Sycan Marsh Preserve, firefighters said the flames jumped less from treetop to treetop and instead returned to the ground, where they were easier to fight, moved more slowly and did less damage to the overall forest.

The initial assessment suggests that the many years of forest treatments worked, said Pete Caligiuri, Oregon forest program director for The Nature Conservancy, which runs the research at the preserve.

“Generally speaking, what firefighters were reporting on the ground is that when the fire came into those areas that had been thinned ... it had significantly less impact.”

The reports were bittersweet for researchers, who still saw nearly 20 square miles of the preserve burn, but the findings add to a growing body of research about how to make wildfires less explosive by thinning undergrowth and allowing forests to burn periodically — as they naturally would do — instead of snuffing out every flame.

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Schools confront more polarization with mask rules for fall

Students in Wichita, Kansas, public schools can ditch the masks when classes begin. Detroit public schools will probably require them unless everyone in a room is vaccinated. In Pittsburgh, masks will likely be required regardless of vaccination status. And in some states, schools cannot mandate face coverings under any circumstances.

With COVID-19 cases soaring nationwide, school districts across the U.S. are yet again confronting the realities of a polarized country and the lingering pandemic as they navigate mask requirements, vaccine rules and social distancing requirements for the fast-approaching new school year.

The spread of the delta variant and the deep political divisions over the outbreak have complicated decisions in districts from coast to coast. Some conservative states, lawmakers have banned districts from requiring masks despite outcry from medical professionals. Schools are weighing a variety of plans to manage junior high and middle school classrooms filled with both vaccinated and unvaccinated students.

“I’m so frustrated that it’s become a political issue because it shouldn’t be. It’s science,” said Mary Tuttle, who operates an Indianapolis in-home day care centre and hopes the city's schools require masks for her daughters.

She worries that the delta variant could lead to a return to virtual learning, which caused her 10-year-old daughter to become depressed and anxious last year. Another daughter will turn 12 six days after starting 6th grade and will be vaccinated as soon as possible.

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Jeff Bezos blasts into space on own rocket: 'Best day ever!'

VAN HORN, Texas (AP) — Jeff Bezos blasted into space Tuesday on his rocket company’s first flight with people on board, becoming the second billionaire in just over a week to ride his own spacecraft.

The Amazon founder was accompanied by a hand-picked group: his brother, an 18-year-old from the Netherlands and an 82-year-old aviation pioneer from Texas — the youngest and oldest to ever fly in space.

“Best day ever!” Bezos said when the capsule touched down on the desert floor in remote West Texas after the 10-minute flight.

Named after America’s first astronaut, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket soared on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, a date chosen by Bezos for its historical significance. He held fast to it, even as Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson pushed up his own flight from New Mexico and beat him to space by nine days.

The two private companies chasing space tourism dollars, though, have drawn criticism for catering to the rich while so many are struggling amid the pandemic.

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Bezos' comments on workers after spaceflight draws rebuke

NEW YORK (AP) — The world's richest man wanted to say thanks to the people who made his brief trip into space Tuesday possible.

But for some, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' expression of gratitude went over like a lead rocket.

“I want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this,” the 57-year-old Bezos said during a news conference Tuesday after becoming the second billionaire in just over a week to ride in his own spacecraft.

Bezos built Amazon into a shopping and entertainment behemoth but has faced increasing activism within his own workforce and stepped up pressure from critics to improve working conditions.

Labour groups and Amazon workers have claimed that the company offers its hourly employees not enough break times, puts too much reliance on rigid productivity metrics and has unsafe working conditions. An effort to unionize workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama failed earlier this year.

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Japan tops Australia in softball as delayed Tokyo Games open

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (AP) — Host Japan got off to a winning start when the Tokyo Olympics got underway after a one-year delay, beating Australia 8-1 Wednesday in softball behind 39-year-old pitcher Yukiko Ueno, who won the 2008 gold medal game against the United States.

The game was played in a nearly empty stadium. Fans were barred from the Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic, which caused a one-year delay. Many in Japan have questioned whether the Olympics should take place at all with low levels of vaccination in the nation.

Ueno allowed two hits over 4 1/3 innings and struck out seven, throwing 85 pitches for the win.

Minori Naito and Saki Yamazaki hit two-run homers off loser Kaia Parnaby and Yu Yamamoto, who had three RBIs, added a two-run drive against Tarni Stepto in the fifth that ended the game under a rout rule.

Ueno started Australia's Michelle Cox with a ball at 9:02 a.m. before a nearly empty Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium, beginning an Olympics whose viability has been repeatedly questioned.

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Big infrastructure bill in peril; GOP threatens filibuster

WASHINGTON (AP) — The bipartisan infrastructure deal senators brokered with President Joe Biden is hanging precariously ahead of a crucial Wednesday test vote as they struggle over how to pay for nearly $1 trillion in public works spending.

Tensions were rising as Republicans prepared to mount a filibuster over what they see as a rushed and misguided process. With Biden preparing to hit the road to rally support for his big infrastructure ideas — including some $3.5 trillion in a follow-up bill — restless Democrats say it's time to at least start debate on this first phase of his proposals.

“It is not a fish or cut bait moment,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday, describing the procedural vote as just a first step to ”get the ball rolling" as bipartisan talks progress.

Six months after Biden took office, his signature “Build Back Better” campaign promise is at a key moment that will test the presidency and his hopes for a new era of bipartisan co-operation in Washington.

White House aides and the bipartisan group of senators have huddled privately since Sunday trying to wrap up the deal, which would be a first phase of an eventual $4 trillion-plus package of domestic outlays — not just for roads and bridges, but foundations of everyday life including child care, family tax breaks, education and an expansion of Medicare for seniors.

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Trump inaugural committee head accused of being UAE agent

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The chair of former President Donald Trump's 2017 inaugural committee was arrested Tuesday on charges alleging he secretly conspired to influence U.S. policy to benefit the United Arab Emirates, even while he was seeking a position as an American diplomat.

Tom Barrack, 74, of Santa Monica, California, was among three men charged in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, with acting as unregistered foreign agents as they tried to influence U.S. policy on the UAE's behalf while Trump was running in 2016 and later while he was president.

The indictment goes to the heart of the U.S.' longtime close relationship with the UAE and directly ties its de facto ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to Barrack's charges.

Besides conspiracy, Barrack was charged with obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements during a June 2019 interview with federal agents. Also charged in a seven-count indictment were Matthew Grimes, 27, of Aspen, Colorado, who is a former executive at Barrack’s company, and Rashid al Malik, 43, a businessman from the United Arab Emirates who prosecutors said acted as a conduit to that nation's rulers.

One of Trump’s close personal friends for decades, Barrack is the latest in a long line of the former president’s associates to face criminal charges, including his former campaign chair, his former deputy campaign chair, his former chief strategist, his former national security adviser, his former personal lawyer and his company’s longtime chief financial officer.

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McConnell urges Americans: 'Get vaccinated' as cases spike

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell implored unvaccinated Americans Tuesday to take the COVID-19 shot, issuing a stark and grave warning of a repeat of last year's rising caseloads and shutdowns if people refuse to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

McConnell urged Americans to ignore the “demonstrably bad advice” coming from pundits and others against the vaccines. As cases skyrocket, he noted that nearly all the new virus hospitalizations in the U.S. are among people who have not been vaccinated.

“If there is anybody out there willing to listen: Get vaccinated,” McConnell, R-Ky., said at his weekly press conference at the Capitol.

“These shots need to get in everybody's arms as rapidly as possible or we’re going to be back in a situation in the fall that we don't yearn for — that we went through last year,” he said. “This is not complicated.”

McConnell has been one of the most outspoken members of his party in urging vaccinations to stop the virus spread, speaking often in his home state of Kentucky of the need for people to get the shot.

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Afghan war’s end quiets chaplain's litany of funeral prayers

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (AP) — This is the place where widows wailed, where mothers buckled to the tarmac in grief and where children lifted their teddy bears to see daddy carried off in a flag-covered box.

This is where presidents stood and generals saluted because this is the place where the price of the war in Afghanistan was made plain.

This is the place where Chaplain David Sparks saw it all. This is the place he found his calling.

“This,” the minister says, “is holy ground.”

The end of the war is sobering for those who have tended to the battle’s dead, who unzipped their body bags, dressed them in uniform one last time and clutched their bereft families.

News from © The Associated Press, 2021
The Associated Press

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