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

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Dems' climate, energy, tax bill clears initial Senate hurdle

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Dems’ climate, energy, tax bill clears initial Senate hurdle

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats started pushing their election-year economic bill through the Senate on Saturday, starting the sprawling collection of President Joe Biden’s priorities on climate, energy, health and taxes on a pathway through Congress that the party hopes will end in victory by the end of this week.

In a preview of the sharply partisan votes that are expected on a mountain of amendments, the evenly divided Senate voted to begin debate on the legislation 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie and overcoming unanimous Republican opposition. The package, a dwindled version of earlier multitrillion-dollar measures that Democrats failed to advance, has become a partisan battleground over inflation, gasoline prices and other issues that polls show are driving voters.

The House, where Democrats have a slender majority, could give the legislation final approval next Friday when that chamber plans to briefly return to Washington from summer recess.

“The time is now to move forward with a big, bold package for the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “This historic bill will reduce inflation, lower costs, fight climate change. It’s time to move this nation forward.”

Republicans said the measure would damage the economy and make it harder for people to cope with sky-high inflation. They said the bill’s business taxes would hurt job creation and force prices upward and urged voters to remember that in November.

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Alex Jones’ $49.3M verdict and the future of misinformation

Alex Jones is facing a hefty price tag for his lies about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre — $49.3 million in damages, and counting, for claiming the nation’s deadliest school shooting was a hoax — a punishing salvo in a fledgling war on harmful misinformation.

But what does this week’s verdict, the first of three Sandy Hook-related cases against Jones to be decided, mean for the larger misinformation ecosystem, a social media-fueled world of election denial, COVID-19 skepticism and other dubious claims that the Infowars conspiracy theorist helped build?

“I think a lot of people are thinking of this as sort of a blow against fake news, and it’s important to realize that libel law deals with a very particular kind of fake news,” said Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment professor at the UCLA School of Law.

U.S. courts have long held that defamatory statements — falsehoods damaging the reputation of a person or a business — aren’t protected as free speech, but lies about other subjects, like science, history or the government, are. For example, saying COVID-19 isn’t real is not defamatory, but spreading lies about a doctor treating coronavirus patients is.

That distinction is why Jones, who attacked the parents of Sandy Hook victims and claimed the 2012 shooting was staged with actors to increase gun control, is being forced to pay up while Holocaust deniers, flat-earthers and vaccine skeptics are free to post their theories without much fear of a multimillion-dollar court judgment.

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Israel, militants trade fire as Gaza death toll climbs to 24

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli airstrikes flattened homes in Gaza on Saturday and Palestinian rocket barrages into southern Israel persisted for a second day, raising fears of another major escalation in the Mideast conflict. Gaza’s health ministry said 24 people had been killed so far in the coastal strip, including six children.

The fighting began with Israel’s killing of a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group in a wave of strikes Friday that Israel said were meant to prevent an imminent attack.

So far, Hamas, the larger militant group that rules Gaza, appeared to stay on the sidelines of the conflict, keeping its intensity somewhat contained. Israel and Hamas fought a war barely a year ago, one of four major conflicts and several smaller battles over the last 15 years that exacted a staggering toll on the impoverished territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

Whether Hamas continues to stay out of the fight likely depends in part on how much punishment Israel inflicts in Gaza as rocket fire steadily continues.

The Israeli military said an errant rocket fired by Palestinian militants killed civilians late Saturday, including children, in the town of Jabaliya, in northern Gaza. The military said it investigated the incident and concluded “without a doubt” that it was caused by a misfire on the part of Islamic Jihad. There was no official Palestinian comment on the incident.

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Musk says Twitter deal could move ahead with ‘bot’ info

Elon Musk said Saturday his planned $44 billion takeover of Twitter should move forward if the company can confirm some details about how it measures whether user accounts are ‘spam bots’ or real people.

The billionaire and Tesla CEO has been trying to back out of his April agreement to buy the social media company, leading Twitter to sue him last month to complete the acquisition. Musk countersued, accusing Twitter of misleading his team about the true size of its user base and other problems he said amounted to fraud and breach of contract.

Both sides are headed toward an October trial in a Delaware court.

“If Twitter simply provides their method of sampling 100 accounts and how they’re confirmed to be real, the deal should proceed on original terms,” Musk tweeted early Saturday. “However, if it turns out that their SEC filings are materially false, then it should not.”

Musk, who has more than 100 million Twitter followers, went on to challenge Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal to a “public debate about the Twitter bot percentage.”

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Biden team, Eli Lilly condemn new Indiana abortion ban

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The administration of President Joe Biden and one of Indiana’s largest employers have condemned the state’s new ban on abortions, with the White House calling it another extreme attempt by Republicans to trample women’s rights.

Indiana on Friday became the first state in the nation to approve such legislation since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 1973 landmark case that had protected the right to abortion nationwide.

“The Indiana Legislature took a devastating step as a result of the Supreme Court’s extreme decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate women’s constitutionally protected right to abortion,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement Saturday. “And, it’s another radical step by Republican legislators to take away women’s reproductive rights and freedom, and put personal health care decisions in the hands of politicians rather than women and their doctors.”

The ban, which takes effect Sept. 15, includes some exceptions. Abortions will be permitted in cases of rape and incest, before 10-weeks post-fertilization; to protect the life and physical health of the mother; and if a fetus is diagnosed with a lethal anomaly. Victims of rape and incest won’t be required to sign a notarized affidavit attesting to an attack, as had once been proposed.

Under the bill, abortions can only be performed in hospitals or outpatient centers owned by hospitals, meaning all abortion clinics will lose their licenses. A doctor who performs an illegal abortion or fails to file required reports will lose their medical license.

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17 missing, 121 hurt, 1 dead in fire at Cuban oil facility

HAVANA (AP) — A fire set off by a lightning strike at an oil storage facility raged uncontrolled in the Cuban city of Matanzas, where four explosions and flames injured 121 people and left 17 firefighters missing. Cuban authorities said a unidentified body had been found late Saturday.

Firefighters and other specialists were still trying to quell the blaze at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, where the fire began during a thunderstorm Friday night, the Ministry of Energy and Mines tweeted. Authorities said about 800 people were evacuated from the Dubrocq neighborhood closest to the fire,

The government said it had asked for help from international experts in “friendly countries” with experience in the oil sector.

Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío said the U.S. government had offered technical help to quell the blaze. On his Twitter account, he said the “proposal is in the hands of specialists for the due coordination.”

Minutes later, President Miguel Díaz-Canel thanked Mexico , Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile for their offers of help. A support flight from Mexico arrived Saturday night.

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In wake of floods, typical barbs at Kentucky political event

FANCY FARM, Ky. (AP) — While Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear was consoling families displaced by historic flooding in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, Republicans at the state’s premier political event on the other side of the state were campaigning to oust him from office in 2023.

GOP candidates speaking at the Fancy Farm picnic in western Kentucky bashed the Democratic governor’s record earlier in this term, especially his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. But they also offered support for recovery efforts that Beshear is leading in the wake of historic flooding and tornadoes.

While his challengers aimed zingers at him, Beshear spent the day meeting with families displaced by flash flooding that swamped the Appalachian region more than a week ago, killing 37. Beshear visited two state parks where some of the suddenly homeless took refuge.

“Today I’m at our state parks, spending time with our eastern Kentucky families who have been displaced from the catastrophic flooding,” Beshear posted on social media. “These Kentuckians have been through the unimaginable. My priority is being there for them.”

Last December, deadly tornadoes tore through parts of western Kentucky. The political speaking at the annual Fancy Farm picnic — the traditional start of the fall campaign in Kentucky — took place about 10 miles (16 kilometer) from Mayfield, which took a direct hit from a tornado.

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Taiwan says China military drills appear to simulate attack

BEIJING (AP) — Taiwan said Saturday that China’s military drills appear to simulate an attack on the self-ruled island, after multiple Chinese warships and aircraft crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait following U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei that infuriated Beijing.

Taiwan’s armed forces issued an alert, dispatched air and naval patrols around the island, and activated land-based missile systems in response to the Chinese exercises, the Ministry of National Defense said. As of 5 p.m., 20 Chinese aircraft and 14 ships continued to carry out sea and air exercises around the Taiwan Strait, it said.

The ministry said that zones declared by China as no-go areas during the exercises for other ships and aircraft had “seriously damaged the peace.” It emphasized that Taiwan’s military does not seek war, but would prepare and respond for it accordingly.

China’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement Saturday that it had carried out military exercises as planned in the sea and airspaces to the north, southwest, and east of Taiwan, with a focus on “testing the capabilities” of its land strike and sea assault systems.

China launched live-fire military drills following Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan earlier this week, saying it violated the “one-China” policy. China sees the island as a breakaway province to be annexed by force if necessary, and considers visits to Taiwan by foreign officials as recognizing its sovereignty.

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Russian forces begin assault on two eastern Ukraine cities

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces began an assault Saturday on two key cities in the eastern Donetsk region and kept up rocket and shelling attacks on other Ukrainian cities, including one close to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Ukraine’s military and local officials said.

Both cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka have been considered key targets of Russia’s ongoing offensive across Ukraine’s east, with analysts saying Moscow needs to take Bakhmut if it is to advance on the regional hubs of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

“In the Donetsk direction, the enemy is conducting an offensive operation, concentrating its main efforts on the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions. It uses ground attack and army aviation,” the Ukrainian General Staff said on Facebook.

The last Russian strike on Sloviansk was July 30, but Ukrainian forces are fortifying their positions around the city in expectation of new fighting.

“I think it won’t be calm for long. Eventually, there will be an assault,” Col. Yurii Bereza, head of the volunteer national guard regiment, told The Associated Press.

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Tony Boselli becomes 1st Jaguars player in Hall of Fame

CANTON, Ohio (AP) — Tony Boselli looked out at all the teal-colored jerseys in the crowd and screamed: “Duuuuval!”

Finally, the Jacksonville Jaguars have a player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Boselli, the first pick in Jaguars history, was among eight members of the Class of 2022 enshrined Saturday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.

“I thank God for football and I thank God for the people of Jacksonville,” Boselli said before shouting the fans’ rallying cry, the name of their county.

The Jaguars played the Las Vegas Raiders in the NFL preseason opener Thursday night, so No. 71 Boselli jerseys filled the seats.

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