Biden, Schumer, Manchin huddle, but still no budget deal
WASHINGTON (AP) — Pivotal Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin appears to be on board with White House proposals for new taxes on billionaires and certain corporations to help pay for President Joe Biden’s scaled-back social services and climate change package.
Biden huddled with the conservative West Virginia Democrat and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the president’s Delaware home Sunday as they work on resolving the disputes between centrists and progressives that have stalled the Democrats’ wide-ranging bill. A person who requested anonymity to discuss Manchin’s position told The Associated Press the senator is agreeable to the White House's new approach on the tax proposals.
What had been a sweeping $3.5 trillion plan is now being eyed as $1.75 trillion package. That’s within a range that could still climb considerably higher, according to a second person who requested anonymity to discuss the private talks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that even at “half” the original $3.5 trillion proposed, Biden’s signature domestic initiative would be larger than any other legislative package with big investments in health care, child care and strategies to tackle climate change.
“It is less than what was projected to begin with, but it’s still bigger than anything we have ever done in terms of addressing the needs of America’s working families,” Pelosi said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union."
Let computers do it: Film set tragedy spurs call to ban guns
NEW YORK (AP) — With computer-generated imagery, it seems the sky’s the limit in the magic Hollywood can produce: elaborate dystopian universes. Trips to outer space, for those neither astronauts nor billionaires. Immersive journeys to the future, or back to bygone eras.
But as a shocked and saddened industry was reminded this week, many productions still use guns — real guns — when filming. And despite rules and regulations, people can get killed, as happened last week when Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins after he was handed a weapon and told it was safe.
The tragedy has led some in Hollywood, along with incredulous observers, to ask: Why are real guns ever used on set, when computers can create gunshots in post-production? Isn’t even the smallest risk unacceptable?
For Alexi Hawley, it is. “Any risk is too much risk,” the executive producer of ABC’s police drama “The Rookie” announced in a staff memo Friday, saying the events in New Mexico had “shaken us all.”
There “will be no more ‘live’ weapons on the show,” he wrote in a note, first reported by The Hollywood Reporter and confirmed by The Associated Press.
Crew member who gave Baldwin gun subject of prior complaint
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A crew member says she has raised safety concerns in the past about the assistant director who authorities say unwittingly handed actor Alec Baldwin the prop gun that killed a cinematographer on a film set.
Maggie Goll, a prop maker and licensed pyrotechnician, said in a statement that she filed an internal complaint with the executive producers of Hulu’s “Into the Dark” series in 2019 over concerns about assistant director Dave Halls' behavior on set. Goll said in a phone interview Sunday that Halls disregarded safety protocols for weapons and pyrotechnics and tried to continue filming after the supervising pyrotechnician lost consciousness on set.
Halls has not returned phone calls and email messages seeking comment.
This week's fatal shooting and some of her previous experiences point to larger safety issues that need to be addressed, Goll said, adding that crew member safety and wellbeing are top issues in ongoing contract negotiations between a union that represents film and TV workers and a major producers' group.
“This situation is not about Dave Halls. ... It’s in no way one person’s fault,” she said. "It’s a bigger conversation about safety on set and what we are trying to achieve with that culture.”
Africa tries to end vaccine inequity by replicating its own
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — In a pair of Cape Town warehouses converted into a maze of airlocked sterile rooms, young scientists are assembling and calibrating the equipment needed to reverse engineer a coronavirus vaccine that has yet to reach South Africa and most of the world's poorest people.
The energy in the gleaming labs matches the urgency of their mission to narrow vaccine disparities. By working to replicate Moderna's COVID-19 shot, the scientists are effectively making an end run around an industry that has vastly prioritized rich countries over poor in both sales and manufacturing.
And they are doing it with unusual backing from the World Health Organization, which is coordinating a vaccine research, training and production hub in South Africa along with a related supply chain for critical raw materials. It's a last-resort effort to make doses for people going without, and the intellectual property implications are still murky.
“We are doing this for Africa at this moment, and that drives us,” said Emile Hendricks, a 22-year-old biotechnologist for Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, the company trying to reproduce the Moderna shot. "We can no longer rely on these big superpowers to come in and save us.”
Some experts see reverse engineering — recreating vaccines from fragments of publicly available information — as one of the few remaining ways to redress the power imbalances of the pandemic. Only 0.7% of vaccines have gone to low-income countries so far, while nearly half have gone to wealthy countries, according to an analysis by the People's Vaccine Alliance.
To navigate legal quandaries, Biden leans on low-key counsel
WASHINGTON (AP) — Election lawsuits multiplying by the day. An obscure federal agency blocking the presidential transition. The very legitimacy of Joe Biden's victory under assault as supporters of Donald Trump riot at the Capitol.
Amid all the turmoil, lawyer Dana Remus was the voice of calm for Team Biden.
Fighting on multiple fronts as Biden's top lawyer during the presidential transition, Remus made a lasting impression on her colleagues with her ability to block out the noise as she battled legal challenges and pushed ahead with the screening of Cabinet and judicial nominees. Now, she's the White House counsel.
“You could be in the middle of the hurly-burly and have a conversation with her, and the sort of atmospheric anxiety doesn’t get in the way of the legal issues that you’re dealing with," recalled Andrew Wright, who worked with Remus during the transition. “She’s not panicky, which is always a good thing in a lawyer.”
Remus's toughest task may lie ahead: guiding Biden as the White House supports efforts to investigate and hold accountable those involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection, while avoiding setting a precedent that could weaken the office of the presidency for generations to come.
Drought-stricken California doused by major storm
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A powerful storm barreled toward Southern California after flooding highways, toppling trees and causing mud flows in areas burned bare by recent fires across the northern part of the state.
Drenching showers and strong winds accompanied the weekend's arrival of an atmospheric river — a long and wide plume of moisture pulled in from the Pacific Ocean. The National Weather Service’s Sacramento office warned of “potentially historic rain.”
Flooding was reported across the San Francisco Bay Area, closing streets in Berkeley, inundating Oakland'sBay Bridge toll plaza and overflowing rivers in Napa and Sonoma counties. Power poles were downed and tens of thousands of people in the North Bay were without electricity.
By Sunday morning, Mount Tamalpais just north of San Francisco had recorded a half foot (15 centimeters) of rainfall during the previous 12 hours, the weather service said.
“Some of our higher elevation locations could see 6, 7, 8 inches of rain before we’re all said and done," weather service meteorologist Sean Miller said.
ASEAN leaders hold summit with Myanmar’s general shut out
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Southeast Asian leaders are meeting this week for their annual summit where Myanmar’s top general, whose forces seized power in February and shattered one of Asia’s most phenomenal democratic transitions, has been shut out for refusing to take steps to end the deadly violence.
Myanmar defiantly protested the exclusion of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who currently heads its government and ruling military council, from the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Brunei, which currently leads the 10-nation bloc, will host the three-day meetings starting Tuesday by video due to coronavirus concerns. The talks will be joined by President Joe Biden and the leaders of China and Russia, and are expected to spotlight Myanmar’s worsening crisis and the pandemic as well as security and economic issues.
ASEAN’s unprecedented sanctioning of Myanmar strayed from its bedrock principles of non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs and deciding by consensus, meaning just one member can effectively shoot down a group decision. Myanmar cited the violation of those principles enshrined in the group’s charter in rejecting the decision to bar its military leader from the summit.
But the regional group has few other options as the general’s intransigence further risked tainting its image as a diplomatic refuge for some of the most intractable tyrants in Asia.
Race-blind redistricting? Democrats incredulous at GOP maps
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A decade ago, North Carolina Republicans redrew their legislative districts to help their party in a way that a federal court ruled illegally deprived Black voters of their right to political representation. A state court later struck down Republican-drawn maps as based on pure partisanship.
So, as the GOP-controlled legislature embarks this year on its latest round of redistricting, it has pledged not to use race or partisan data to draw the political lines. Still, the maps Republicans are proposing would tilt heavily toward their party. Several publicly released congressional maps dilute Democratic votes by splitting the state's biggest city, Charlotte — also its largest African American population center — into three or four U.S. House districts and giving the GOP at least a 10-4 advantage in a state that Donald Trump narrowly won last year.
As the once-a-decade redistricting process kicks into high gear, North Carolina is one of at least three states where Republicans say they are drawing maps without looking at racial and party data. But those maps still happen to strongly favor the GOP.
Democrats and civil rights groups are incredulous, noting that veteran lawmakers don't need a spreadsheet to know where voters of various races and different parties live in their state. Plus, under certain scenarios, the Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of districts where the majority of voters are racial or ethnic minorities.
“This is the first redistricting round I've ever heard of this," said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is suing Texas Republicans over maps that the GOP said it drew without looking at racial data. “I suspect they're trying to set up a defense for litigation. Because they know the race data — they know where the Black community lives. They know where the Latino community lives.”
Beleaguered Haiti capital brought to brink by fuel shortages
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s capital has been brought to the brink of exhaustion by fuel shortages, after staggering along despite an earthquake, the assassination of the president, gang violence and mass kidnappings.
More than two weeks of fuel deliveries interrupted by gang blockades and abductions of fuel truck drivers have driven residents of Port-au-Prince to a desperate search for gasoline and diesel. The fuels are widely used to run generators needed to compensate for the country’s unreliable electrical system.
The city's main fuel terminals are located in or near gang-dominated neighborhoods like Martissant, La Saline and Cite Soliel, and some gangs have reportedly been demanding extortion payments to allow fuel trucks through.
The gangs have become a powerful force in Haiti. One of the gangs recently kidnapped 17 members of a U.S.-based missionary group and reportedly demanded a ransom of $1 million each for their release, warning that the hostages will be killed if their demands aren’t met. There is no word yet on their fate.
The gangs have also kidnapped hundreds of Haitians, and the government appears unable, or unwilling, to take them on.
Florida's top doctor refuses mask, is told to leave meeting
MIAMI (AP) — Florida's top health official was asked to leave a meeting after refusing to wear a mask at the office of a state senator who told him she had a serious medical condition, officials have confirmed.
Florida Senate leader Wilton Simpson, a Republican, sent a memo to senators Saturday regarding the incident at the office of Democratic state Sen. Tina Polsky, asking visitors at the building to be respectful with social interactions. Polsky, who represents parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, had not yet made public her breast cancer diagnosis.
Polsky told The Associated Press about the tense exchange with state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo that was first reported by the news site Florida Politics. She said Ladapo and two aides were offered masks and asked to wear them when they arrived for the Wednesday meeting. She did not tell him she had breast cancer, but said she had a serious condition.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cancer patients are at a higher risk to get severely ill from COVID-19 and may not build the same immunity to vaccines.
Ladapo had asked to meet her in Tallahassee as he seeks confirmation in the Senate after being named to the post by Gov. Ron DeSantis last month.
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