Out West, Biden points to wildfires to push for big rebuild

MATHER, Calif. (AP) — President Joe Biden on Monday used his first Western swing in office to hold out the wildfires burning across the region as an argument for his $3.5 trillion rebuilding plans, calling year-round fires and other extreme weather a climate change reality the nation can no longer ignore.

“We can’t ignore the reality that these wildfires are being supercharged by climate change,” Biden said, noting that catastrophic weather doesn’t strike based on partisan ideology. “It isn’t about red or blue states. It's about fires. Just fires.”

With stops in Idaho and California, Biden sought to boost support for his big rebuilding plans, saying every dollar spent on “resilience” would save $6 in future costs. And he said the rebuilding must go beyond simply restoring damaged systems and instead ensure communities can withstand such crises.

“These fires are blinking ‘code red’ for our nation. They’re gaining frequency and ferocity,” Biden said after concluding an aerial tour of the Caldor Fire that threatened communities around Lake Tahoe. “We know what we have to do.”

The president’s two-day Western swing comes at a critical juncture for a central plank of his legislative agenda. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are working to assemble details of the infrastructure-plus plan — and how to pay for it, a concern not just for Republicans. A key Democratic senator said Sunday that he will not vote for a package so large.


FDA experts among group opposing US booster shot plan

The average person doesn’t need a COVID-19 booster yet, an international group of scientists — including two top U.S. regulators — wrote Monday in a scientific journal.

The experts reviewed studies of the vaccines' performance and concluded the shots are working well despite the extra-contagious delta variant, especially against severe disease.

“Even in populations with fairly high vaccination rates, the unvaccinated are still the major drivers of transmission" at this stage of the pandemic, they concluded.

The opinion piece, published in The Lancet, illustrates the intense scientific debate about who needs booster doses and when, a decision the U.S. and other countries are grappling with.

After revelations of political meddling in the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, President Joe Biden has promised to “follow the science.” But the review raises the question of whether his administration is moving faster than the experts.


Biden: Results of California recall will be felt nationally

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — President Joe Biden put the stakes of the recall election that could remove California Gov. Gavin Newsom from office in stark terms Monday, urging state Democrats to send a message to the nation that “leadership matters, science matters."

“The eyes of the nation are on California because the decision you’re going to make isn't just going to have a huge impact on California, it’s going to reverberate around the nation, and quite frankly, not a joke, around the world,” the Democratic president said at a rally in the Southern California city of Long Beach.

The closing pitch from Newsom and his most prominent Democratic ally came a night before voting concludes in the race that could remove the first-term governor from office. He is just the fourth governor in U.S. history and the second in California to face a recall. Californians removed Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and replaced him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Biden's message that “Gavin will be a governor who will help us finish the job" underscored the importance to Democrats of keeping the governor's office in the nation's most populous state and chief laboratory for progressive policies. The results of the race ending Tuesday will send signals about how voters are poised to react to Democrats who adopted aggressive pandemic policies in next year's midterm elections, when control of Congress and half the nation's governorships are at stake.

Just a half hour south, Republican front-runner and talk radio host Larry Elder was urging his supporters not to let up on getting out the vote among fellow Republicans, friends and neighbors in the race's final 24 hours.


Blinken pushes back on GOP criticism of Afghan withdrawal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed back Monday against harsh Republican criticism of the handling of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying the Biden administration inherited a deal with the Taliban to end the war, but no plan for carrying it out.

In a sometimes contentious hearing Monday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken sought to blunt complaints from angry GOP lawmakers about the administration’s response to the quick collapse of the Afghan government and, more specifically, the State Department’s actions to evacuate Americans and others.

Blinken echoed White House talking points blaming the Trump administration for the situation that President Joe Biden inherited in Afghanistan. "We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan,” he said, maintaining that the administration had done the right thing in ending 20 years of war.

“We made the right decision in ending America’s longest-running war," said Blinken, who will testify on Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Republicans savaged the withdrawal process as “a disaster” and “a disgrace.” And while some Democrats allowed that the operation could have been handled better, many used their questions to heap criticism on former President Donald Trump.


Norway's center-left heads to victory in general elections

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The center-left bloc headed to a victory in Norway's elections Monday as official projections pointed to the governing Conservatives losing power after a campaign dominated by climate change and the future of the country’s oil and gas exploration industry.

With a projection based on a preliminary count of nearly 93% of the votes, the Labor Party and its two allies — the Socialist Left and the euroskeptic Center Party — would hold 100 seats in the 169-seat Stortinget assembly while the current government would get 68. One seat was still unsure.

As Norway’s largest party, Labor will try to form a coalition government and its chief, 61-year-old Jonas Gahr Stoere, is poised to become Norway’s next leader. The Scandinavian country is not a member of the European Union.

“We will now give Norway a new government and a new course,” Gahr Stoere said on a election night before cheering party members who chanted “Stoere” and clapped. He added that he will in the coming days invite the parties “that want a new change” for talks.

Labor has promised an industrial policy that will funnel support to new green industries, like wind power, “blue hydrogen” that uses natural gas to produce an alternative fuel, and carbon capture and storage, which seeks to bury carbon dioxide under the ocean.


Nicholas gets stronger, threatens to hit Texas as hurricane

HOUSTON (AP) — Tropical Storm Nicholas gathered strength Monday and threatened to blow ashore in Texas as a hurricane that could bring up to 20 inches of rain to parts of the Gulf Coast, including the same area hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and storm-battered Louisiana.

Although the system was expected to generate only a fraction as much rain as Harvey, nearly all of the state’s coastline was under a tropical storm warning that included potential flash floods and urban flooding. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said authorities placed rescue teams and resources in the Houston area and along the coast.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said the system's top sustained winds were 70 mph (110 kph), nearly hurricane strength and an increase of 10 mph (16 kph) from earlier in the day. If the winds hit 74 mph (119 kph), the storm would become a Category 1 hurricane. It was moving north-northeast at 12 mph (19 kph) and was predicted to make landfall late Monday night along the central Texas coast.

An automated station in Matagorda Bay registered a sustained wind of 55 mph (89 kph) with a gust of 71 mph (115 kph), the hurricane center reported.

In flood-prone Houston, officials worried that heavy rain expected to arrive late Monday and early Tuesday could inundate streets and flood homes. Authorities deployed high-water rescue vehicles throughout the city and erected barricades at more than 40 locations that tend to flood, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.


Report: Climate change could see 200 million move by 2050

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Climate change could push more than 200 million people to leave their homes in the next three decades and create migration hot spots unless urgent action is taken to reduce global emissions and bridge the development gap, a World Bank report has found.

The second part of the Groundswell report published Monday examined how the impacts of slow-onset climate change such as water scarcity, decreasing crop productivity and rising sea levels could lead to millions of what it describes as “climate migrants” by 2050 under three different scenarios with varying degrees of climate action and development.

Under the most pessimistic scenario, with a high level of emissions and unequal development, the report forecasts up to 216 million people moving within their own countries across the six regions analyzed. Those regions are Latin America; North Africa; Sub-Saharan Africa; Eastern Europe and Central Asia; South Asia; and East Asia and the Pacific.

In the most climate-friendly scenario, with a low level of emissions and inclusive, sustainable development, the world could still see 44 million people being forced to leave their homes.

The findings “reaffirm the potency of climate to induce migration within countries,” said Viviane Wei Chen Clement, a senior climate change specialist at the World Bank and one of the report’s authors.


Eilish, Lil Nas X — and yes, Rihanna — dazzle at Met Gala

NEW YORK (AP) — Billie Eilish went full glam in a huge peach ball gown at the pandemic-delayed Met Gala on Monday night, while fellow host of the evening Amanda Gorman was breathtaking in cobalt blue custom Vera Wang with a diamond laurel wreath in her hair.

Rihanna, ever the Met Gala queen, showed up late in a huge black Balenciaga look and hat accompanied by A$ap Rocky in a multicolored quilted number. She wore over 267 carats of Bulgari diamonds, including two choker necklaces.

Co-host Timothée Chalamet raced onto Fifth Avenue to take selfies with fans before walking up the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for his entrance after a marching band and gymnast Nia Dennis kicked off the long-awaited evening. Last year's gala was canceled due to the pandemic.

This year's official theme of the fundraiser for the museum's Costume Institute was “American Independence,” leaving plenty of room for interpretation. Just ask Lil Nas X, who did a Lady Gaga-esque strip tease on the carpet in gold Versace, from cape to armor to embellished jumpsuit.

Eilish, the belle of the ball, wore Oscar de la Renta. She told Vogue: “It was time for this. I feel like I've grown so much over the last few years.”


George Wein, Newport Jazz Festival co-founder, dies at 95

NEW YORK (AP) — George Wein, an impresario of 20th century music who helped found the Newport Jazz and Folk festivals and set the template for gatherings everywhere from Woodstock to the south of France, died Monday.

Wein, 95, died “peacefully in his sleep” in his New York City apartment, said Carolyn McClair, a family spokesperson.

A former jazz club owner and aspiring pianist, Wein launched the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954 under pouring rain and with a lineup for the heavens — Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Lester Young. Louis Armstrong was there the following year and Duke Ellington made history in 1956, his band’s set featuring an extraordinary, 27-chorus solo from saxophonist Paul Gonsalves that almost single-handedly revived the middle-aged Ellington’s career.

Wein led the festival for more than 50 years and performers would include virtually every major jazz star, from Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk to Charles Mingus and Wynton Marsalis. Just in 1965, the bill featured Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, John Coltrane, Ellington, Gillespie, Davis and Monk.

“As a young pianist and club owner, he understood quality, worshipped the giants of the music, and created a revolutionary Festival format that offered the widest possible range of jazz to much larger outdoor audiences,” Marsalis said in a statement. “He loved telling stories about Bird, Duke and all of the greats, engaging in spirited debates on a variety of subjects, and was an optimistic supporter of young talent.”


EXPLAINER: 4 will circle Earth on 1st SpaceX private flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — For the first time in 60 years of human spaceflight, a rocket is poised to blast into orbit with no professional astronauts on board, only four tourists.

SpaceX’s first private flight will be led by a 38-year-old entrepreneur who’s bankrolling the entire trip. He’s taking two sweepstakes winners with him on the three-day, round-the-world trip, along with a health care worker who survived childhood cancer.

They’ll ride alone in a fully automated Dragon capsule, the same kind that SpaceX uses to send astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA. But the chartered flight won't be going there.

Set to launch Wednesday night from Kennedy Space Center, the two men and two women will soar 100 miles (160 kilometers) higher than the space station, aiming for an altitude of 357 miles (575 kilometers), just above the current position of the Hubble Space Telescope.

By contrast, Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos briefly skimmed space during their short rides in July — Branson reached 53 miles (86 kilometers) while Bezos hit 66 miles up (106 kilometers).

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