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Recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom to decide future of California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Voting wrapped up Tuesday in the California recall election that could kick Gov. Gavin Newsom out of office, a race that hinges on how voters have judged the Democratic governor's response to the coronavirus pandemic and determines if the nation’s most populous state will veer in a more conservative direction.

Newsom is just the fourth governor in U.S. history and the second in California to face a recall. He was elected in a landslide less than three years ago and would be up for reelection next year if he survives the bid to oust him.

“I’m feeling good, as long as we can get out that vote," Newsom said after greeting volunteers in San Francisco earlier in the day.

Voters were asked two questions: Should Newsom be removed from office, and, if so, who should replace him? The ballot had 46 names to choose from, but much of the attention has focused on Republican talk radio host Larry Elder, who is seeking to become California's first Black governor.

If a majority of voters support removing Newsom, the candidate who gets the most votes on the second question becomes governor. If voters keep Newsom, the results on the second question are irrelevant.


COVID-19 cases climbing, wiping out months of progress

COVID-19 deaths and cases in the U.S. have climbed back to levels not seen since last winter, erasing months of progress and potentially bolstering President Joe Biden’s argument for his sweeping new vaccination requirements.

The cases — driven by the delta variant combined with resistance among some Americans to getting the vaccine — are concentrated mostly in the South.

While one-time hot spots like Florida and Louisiana are improving, infection rates are soaring in Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee, fueled by children now back in school, loose mask restrictions and low vaccination levels.

The dire situation in some hospitals is starting to sound like January's infection peak: Surgeries canceled in hospitals in Washington state and Utah. Severe staff shortages in Kentucky and Alabama. A lack of beds in Tennessee. Intensive care units at or over capacity in Texas.

The deteriorating picture nine months into the nation's vaccination drive has angered and frustrated medical professionals who see the heartbreak as preventable. The vast majority of the dead and the hospitalized have been unvaccinated, in what has proved to be a hard lesson for some families.


Blinken defense of Afghan policy clouded by al-Qaida warning

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday sought to parry bipartisan congressional criticism of the Biden administration’s Afghanistan withdrawal, as new intelligence estimates warned that al-Qaida could soon again use Afghan soil to plot attacks on the United States.

Blinken had mixed results in attempting to face down a second day of tough congressional questioning, this time from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As a day earlier before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he was assailed by Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike over the administration’s preparation for and handling of the pullout.

Even lawmakers sympathetic to President Joe Biden’s decision to end America’s longest-running war by withdrawing from Afghanistan after 20 years expressed disappointment and concern about the large number of Americans, green card holders and at-risk Afghans left behind in the chaotic and hasty evacuation from Kabul.

And, as Blinken testified just three days after the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, intelligence officials presented a bleak assessment that al-Qaida could begin to use Afghan territory to threaten America within one to two years.

“The execution of the U.S. withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed,” said committee chairman Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who has been generally supportive of Biden’s foreign policy but has taken issue with several of its aspects, including Afghanistan.


Democrats try delicate tax maneuvers for $3.5 trillion bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats on Tuesday began the serious work of trying to implement President Joe Biden’s expansive spending plan, but getting there will require remarkable legislative nimbleness, since Biden has said the revenue to pay for it must come only from Americans who earn more than $400,000 a year.

Republicans, who have vowed lockstep opposition to the plan, turned their anger against proposed tax breaks they portrayed as subsidies for wealthy elites rather than help for the poor and middle class. Electric vehicles became a rallying symbol as class-warfare overtones echoed through a committee session.

The Democrats are proposing that the top tax rate rise back to 39.6% on individuals earning more than $400,000 — or $450,000 for couples — in addition to a 3% surtax on wealthier Americans with adjusted income beyond $5 million a year. For big business, the proposal would lift the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26.5% on companies’ annual income over $5 million.

“Look, I don’t want to punish anyone’s success, but the wealthy have been getting a free ride at the expense of the middle class for too long,” Biden tweeted Tuesday. “I intend to pass one of the biggest middle class tax cuts ever — paid for by making those at the top pay their fair share.”

The reach for revenue from the wealthy was even billboarded at the ultra-chic Met Gala in Manhattan Monday night. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a leading House progressive, wore a white gown with “Tax the Rich" in giant red letters emblazoned on the back (designer Aurora James).


Norm Macdonald, former 'Saturday Night Live' comic, dies

NEW YORK (AP) — Comedian Norm Macdonald, a former “Saturday Night Live” writer and performer who was “Weekend Update” host when Bill Clinton and O.J. Simpson provided comic fodder during the 1990s, has died.

Macdonald, who was 61, died Tuesday after having cancer for nine years, but keeping it private, according to Brillstein Entertainment Partners, his management firm in Los Angeles.

He never reached the same television heights after being fired from “SNL” in 1998, but was an indefatigable stand-up comic and popular talk show guest whose death provoked an outpouring from fellow comedians.

“Norm was in a comedy genre of his own,” tweeted Sarah Silverman. “No one like him on this planet. Please do yourself a favor and watch his stuff.”

Macdonald, the son of two schoolteachers, was raised in Quebec City, Canada. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau offered his condolences, calling him “a comedic genius and a great Canadian.”


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Haiti prosecutor seeks to charge PM in killing, is replaced

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A new chief prosecutor was sworn in Tuesday just hours after his predecessor asked a judge to charge Prime Minister Ariel Henry in the slaying of the president and to bar him from leaving Haiti, a move that could further destabilize a country roiled by turmoil following the assassination and a recent major earthquake.

The request filed by Port-au-Prince prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude, who was fired by Henry, came on the same day that the prosecutor had asked that the prime minister come to a meeting and explain why he spoke twice with a key suspect in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse just hours after the killing.

“There are enough compromising elements ... to prosecute Henry and ask for his outright indictment,” Claude wrote before he was replaced by Frantz Louis Juste, a prosecutor who oversaw the case involving the deaths of more than a dozen children in a fire at an orphanage near Port-au-Prince last year.

A spokesman for Henry could not be reached for comment.

It wasn't clear if Claude’s removal would have any impact on the case, but an analyst noted that the investigation is in the hands of a judge.


Jury weighing fate of Robert Durst after long murder trial

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles jury began deliberating Tuesday in the lengthy murder trial of New York real estate heir Robert Durst after a prosecutor described him as a “narcissistic psychopath" who needs to be held accountable.

Deputy District Attorney John Lewin told jurors in Los Angeles County Superior Court that Durst, a multimillionaire, had lived a privileged life in which he played by his own rules and only cared about himself. Lewin said he didn't kill for pleasure but to resolve problems when backed into a corner.

“Bob Durst is not crazy. He’s not some nut job serial killer who goes around killing for the thrill of it," Lewin said. “Don’t let this narcissistic psychopath get away with what he’s done.”

Durst, 78, who was hunched in a wheelchair in a light blue sportscoat, has pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge in the point-blank shooting of Susan Berman, his confidante.

Jurors deliberated about three hours before recessing for the day. They began hearing evidence in March 2020 before taking a 14-month break during the pandemic. The case resumed in May.


Book: Top US officer feared Trump could order China strike

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fearful of Donald Trump's actions in his final weeks as president, the United States' top military officer twice called his Chinese counterpart to assure him that the two nations would not suddenly go to war, a senior defense official said Tuesday after the conversations were described in excerpts from a forthcoming book.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army that the United States would not strike. One call took place on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before the election that defeated Trump. The second call was on Jan. 8, 2021, just two days after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the outgoing chief executive.

Trump said Milley should be tried for treason if the report was true.

Milley went so far as to promise Li that he would warn his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, according to the book “Peril,” written by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the book. Details from the book, which is set to be released next week, were first reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday.

“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him in the first call, according to the book. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”


Nicholas, now a tropical depression, still douses Gulf Coast

SURFSIDE BEACH, Texas (AP) — Tropical Storm Nicholas weakened to a tropical depression early Tuesday evening after slowing to a crawl over southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana but still drenching the area with flooding rains.

The downgrade came the same day Nicholas blew ashore as a Category 1 hurricane, knocking out power to a half-million homes and businesses and dumping more than a foot (30.5 centimeters) of rain along the same area swamped by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Nicholas could potentially stall over storm-battered Louisiana and bring life-threatening floods across the Deep South over the coming days, forecasters said.

Nicholas made landfall early Tuesday on the eastern part of the Matagorda Peninsula and was soon downgraded to a tropical storm. As night approached Tuesday, its center was 60 miles (95 kilometers) east-northeast of Houston, with maximum winds of 35 mph (55 kph) as of 7 p.m. CDT Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. However, weather radar showed the heaviest rain was over southwestern Louisiana, well east of the storm center.

The storm is moving east-northeast at 6 mph (9 kph). The National Hurricane Center said the storm may continue to slow and even stall, and although its winds will gradually subside, heavy rainfall and a significant flash flood risk will continue along the Gulf Coast for the next couple days.


Egypt team identifies fossil of land-roaming whale species

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian scientists say the fossil of a four-legged prehistoric whale, unearthed over a decade ago in the country's Western Desert, is that of a previously unknown species. The creature, an ancestor of the modern-day whale, is believed to have lived 43 million years ago.

The prehistoric whale, known as semi-aquatic because it lived both on land and sea, sported features of an accomplished hunter, the team’s leading paleontologist, Hesham Sallam, told The Associated Press — features that make it stand out among other whale fossils.

The fossil was first found by a team of Egyptian environmentalists in 2008 in an area that was covered by seas in prehistoric times, but researchers only published their findings confirming a new species last month.

Sallam said that his team did not start examining the fossil until 2017 because he wanted to assemble the best and the most talented Egyptian paleontologists for the study.

“This is the first time in the history of Egyptian vertebrate paleontology to have an Egyptian team leading a documentation of a new genus and species of four-legged whale," said Sallam.

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