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.

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 center 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.

Tokyo perseveres to host Olympics

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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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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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 senators struggle over how to pay for nearly $1 trillion in public works spending.

Tensions were rising Tuesday 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,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., 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 cooperation 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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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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US opioid lawsuits on verge of settlements with 4 companies

The years-long effort by state and local governments in the U.S. to force the pharmaceutical industry to help pay to fix a nationwide opioid addiction and overdose crisis took a major step forward Tuesday when lawyers for local governments announced they were on the verge of a $26 billion settlement with the nation’s three biggest drug distribution companies and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.

Under the deal, Johnson & Johnson would not produce any opioids for at least a decade. And AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson share prescribing information under a new system intended to stop the avalanches of pills that arrived in some regions about a decade ago.

Lawyers for local governments said full details could be shared within days. That would not be the end of the deal though; each state would have 30 days to decide whether to join. And local governments will have five months after that to decide. If governments don’t opt in, the settlement total would go down.

“This is a nationwide crisis and it could have been and should have been addressed perhaps by other branches of government,” Paul Geller, one of the lead lawyers representing local governments across the U.S., said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “But this really is an example of the use of litigation for fixing a national problem.”

If approved, the settlement will likely be the biggest of many settlements to opioid litigation. While it means billions for lawyers who worked the cases, it is expected to bring more than $23 billion to abatement and mitigation efforts to help get treatment for people who are addicted along with other programs to address the crisis. The money would come in 18 annual payments, with the biggest amounts in the next several years.

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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.

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