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

August 16, 2020 - 8:05 PM

Pelosi to call House back into session to vote on USPS bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday she is calling the House back into session over the crisis at the U.S. Postal Service, setting up a political showdown amid growing concerns that the Trump White House is trying to undermine the agency ahead of the election.

Pelosi is cutting short lawmakers' summer recess with a vote expected the Saturday after the Democratic National Convention on legislation that would prohibit changes at the agency as tensions mount. President Donald Trump's new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, has sparked nationwide outcry over delays, new prices and cutbacks just as millions of Americans will be trying to vote by mail to avoid polling places during the coronavirus outbreak.

“In a time of a pandemic, the Postal Service is Election Central," Pelosi wrote Sunday in a letter to colleagues, who had been expected to be out of session until September. “Lives, livelihoods and the life of our American Democracy are under threat from the president.”

The decision to recall the House, made after a weekend of high-level leadership discussions, carries a political punch. Voting in the House will highlight the issue after the weeklong convention nominating Joe Biden as the party's presidential pick and pressure the Republican-held Senate to respond. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent senators home for a summer recess.

Earlier Sunday, Democratic lawmakers demanded that leaders of the Postal Service testify at an emergency oversight hearing Aug. 24 on mail delays.

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Trump makes call for new White House doctor's virus advice

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has found a new doctor for his coronavirus task force — and this time there's no daylight between them.

Trump last week announced that Dr. Scott Atlas, a frequent guest on Fox News Channel, has joined the White House as a pandemic adviser. Atlas, the former chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center and a fellow at Stanford's conservative Hoover Institution, has no expertise in public health or infectious diseases.

But he has long been a critic of coronavirus lockdowns and has campaigned for kids to return to the classroom and for the return of college sports, just like Trump.

“Scott is a very famous man who’s also very highly respected," Trump told reporters as he introduced the addition. “He has many great ideas and he thinks what we’ve done is really good.”

Atlas' hiring comes amid ongoing tensions between the president and Drs. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, and Deborah Birx, the task force's co-ordinator. While Birx remains closely involved in the administration's pandemic response, both she and Fauci have publicly contradicted the rosy picture the president has painted of a virus that has now killed more than 167,000 people in the United States and infected millions nationwide.

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Telephone calls between UAE, Israel ring for the first time

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Telephone calls began ringing Sunday between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, marking the first concrete step of a U.S.-brokered diplomatic deal between the nations that required Israel to halt plans to annex land sought by the Palestinians.

Anger over the deal however continued as well, with protesters in Pakistan criticizing the UAE and Iran making new threats about the accord, which will see the Emirates become only the third Arab nation to currently recognize Israel. The UAE responded by summoning Iran's chargé d’affairs to criticize earlier comments by Iran's president it described as threatening.

But for Dubai's small expatriate Jewish community, which has worshipped for years at an unmarked villa in this city-state, the calls represented so much more than just the convenience of being able to directly dial loved ones in Israel.

“There’s a sense of a miracle upon a miracle upon a miracle, as all of these hurdles fall away and people at last can come together and start talking,” Ross Kriel, the president of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, told The Associated Press.

Direct telephone calls have been blocked in the Emirates, a U.S.-allied federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, since its founding in 1971. That backed the standing position of Arab nations at the time, that Israel must first grant concessions to the Palestinians before being recognized — one of their few points of leverage.

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Taller cubicles, one-way aisles: Office workers must adjust

NEW YORK (AP) — Bergmeyer, a design firm in Boston, has erected higher cubicles, told employees to wear masks when not at their desks and set up one-way aisles in the office that force people to walk the long way around to get to the kitchen or the bathroom.

“The one-way paths take me a little out of the way, but it was easy to get used to,” said Stephanie Jones, an interior designer with the company. “It actually gives me the opportunity to see more people and say a quick hello when I might have just walked directly to my desk before.”

Around the U.S., office workers sent home when the coronavirus took hold in March are returning to the world of cubicles and conference rooms and facing certain adjustments: masks, staggered shifts, spaced-apart desks, daily questions about their health, closed break rooms and sanitizer everywhere.

For some at least, there are also advantages, including the opportunity to share chitchat with colleagues again or the ability to get more work done.

Employers in some cases are requiring workers to come back to the office, but most, like Bergmeyer, are letting the employees decide what to do, at least for now. Some firms say the risks and precautions are worth it to boost productivity and move closer to normal.

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Japan's economy shrinks at record rate, slammed by pandemic

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s economy shrank at annual rate of 27.8% in April-June, the worst contraction on record, as the coronavirus pandemic slammed consumption and trade, according to government data released Monday.

The Cabinet Office reported that Japan’s preliminary seasonally adjusted real gross domestic product, or GDP, the sum of a nation’s goods and services, fell 7.8% quarter on quarter.

The annual rate shows what the number would have been if continued for a year.

Japanese media reported the latest drop was the worst since World War II. But the Cabinet Office said comparable records began in 1980. The previous worst contraction was in 2009, during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.

The world’s third largest economy was already ailing when the virus outbreak struck late last year. The fallout has since gradually worsened both in COVID-19 cases and social distancing restrictions.

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Puerto Rico governor loses primary of pro-statehood party

LOÍZA, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rican Gov. Wanda Vázquez on Sunday acknowledged losing the primary of her pro-statehood party to Pedro Pierluisi, who briefly served as the U.S. territory's governor last year amid political turmoil.

With more than 78% of electoral colleges reporting late Sunday, Pierluisi received more than 57% of the vote compared with more than 42% for Vázquez.

“We have to abide by the decision of the majority,” Vázquez said in a brief speech where she warned Pierluisi that he should “aspire” to have the support of those who voted for her. She will remain as governor until the winner of Puerto Rico's Nov. 3 general elections takes office.

Pierluisi spoke shortly after Vázquez and said the governor can count on him: “We all have to be united to push Puerto Rico forward.”

Meanwhile, Carlos Delgado, mayor of the northwest town of Isabela for 20 years, was poised to win by a landslide the nomination of the main opposition Popular Democratic Party. Conceding defeat was Puerto Rico Sen. Eduardo Bhatia and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, known for her public spats with U.S. President Donald Trump.

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Texas police: 3 officers shot by gunman; 3 held inside home

Three police officers were shot and a man remained barricaded inside a home with three of his family members in a suburb of Austin, Texas, authorities said.

Officers responded to a call about 3:10 p.m. at a home off Natalie Cove from a mother who said her son kicked in the door of the home, Interim Chief of Police Mike Harmon said during a news conference near the scene.

The mother, a juvenile and another person, whose age was unknown, remain in the home held by the suspect, believed to be in his mid-20s, Harmon said. The suspect has “some mental health issues,” he said.

Harmon said when officers arrived they were met with gunfire and taken to a local hospital. All three officers were in stable condition with non life-threatening injuries. At least one officer will remain in the hospital overnight.

It is unclear if the suspect was injured.

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Lightning sparks new wildfires across California

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A rare summer thunderstorm brought lightning that sparked several small blazes in Northern California on Sunday and stoked a huge wildfire that has forced hundreds of people from their homes north of Los Angeles.

More than 4,500 buildings remained threatened by the fire burning toward thick, dry brush in the Angeles National Forest. Firefighters already battling the blaze in steep, rugged terrain with scorching heat faced more hurdles when hundreds of lightning strikes and winds up to 15 mph (24 kph) pushed the flames uphill.

“We set up a containment line at the top of the hills so the fire doesn't spill over to the other side and cause it to spread, but it was obviously difficult given the erratic wind and some other conditions," said fire spokesman Jake Miller.

The Lake Fire was just 12% contained Sunday and has burned nearly 28 square miles (72 square kilometres) of brush and trees. Fire officials said 33 buildings had been destroyed, including at least a dozen homes.

Temperatures reached more than 110 degrees (43 Celsius) and a pyrocumulus created erratic fire behaviour, fire spokesman Tom Ewald said.

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Police: At least 18 shot, with 4 dead, across Cincinnati

CINCINNATI (AP) — At least 18 people were shot, including four killed, as gunfire erupted in several places around the city overnight, authorities said Sunday.

Officers responded just after 12:30 a.m. Sunday to the Avondale neighbourhood and found 21-year-old Antonio Blair with gunshot wounds, police said in a statement. He was taken to University Hospital and died there, they said. Three other gunshot victims were also taken to the hospital.

At about 2:15 a.m., officers responded to a report of gunfire in the Over-the-Rhine neighbourhood where 10 people were shot, police said. One died at the scene and another at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center; they were identified in a statement as 34-year-old Robert Rogers and 30-year-old Jaquiez Grant.

Three people were shot at about midnight Saturday in the Walnut Hills neighbourhood, about a block away from the Harriet Beecher Stowe house, police said.

News outlets reported the shootings took place within 60 to 90 minutes of each other, but Assistant Police Chief Paul Neudigate told reporters that they “seem to be separate independent incidents but horrific and tragic.”

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Road king: Elliott wins at Daytona for 3rd straight roadie

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Chase Elliott was already NASCAR royalty. Now he's also the sport's road king.

Elliott won the Cup Series' first road course race at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, holding off hard-charging Denny Hamlin following a late restart and notching his third consecutive victory away from ovals.

“I had a phenomenal car. I don't think I did anything special today,” Elliott said.

NASCAR’s most popular driver, the son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, also won on road courses at Charlotte and at Watkins Glen last year. He got a tougher challenge than many expected down the stretch in his latest roadie.

The 24-year-old driver had a 10-second lead with 10 laps to go and was pulling away when Kyle Busch blew a tire and brought out a caution that gave his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., a chance.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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