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Infrastructure deal: Senate suddenly acts to take up bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has voted to begin work on a nearly $1 trillion national infrastructure plan, acting with sudden speed after weeks of fits and starts once the White House and a bipartisan group of senators agreed on major provisions of the package that's key to President Joe Biden's agenda.

Biden welcomed the accord as one that would show America can "do big things." It includes the most significant long-term investments in nearly a century, he said, on par with building the transcontinental railroad or the Interstate highway system. 

"This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function," Biden said ahead of the vote Wednesday night. "We will once again transform America and propel us into the future."

After weeks of stop-and-go negotiations, the rare bipartisan showing on a 67-32 vote to start formal Senate consideration showed the high interest among senators in the infrastructure package. But it's unclear if enough Republicans will eventually join Democrats to support final passage.

Senate rules require 60 votes in the evenly split 50-50 chamber to proceed for consideration and ultimately pass this bill, meaning support from both parties. 

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Europe on vacation, but vaccinations not taking a break

CARRY-LE-ROUET, France (AP) — Europe's famed summer holiday season is in full swing, but efforts to inoculate people against the coronavirus are not taking a break.

Instead, with lockdowns easing despite concerns about variants and nations looking to breathe new life into their ailing tourism industries, vaccinations are being taken to vacationers. It's all part of an effort to maintain momentum in campaigns to protect against the pandemic that has killed more than 1 million across the continent, including in the European Union, the United Kingdom and Russia.

From France's sun-kissed Mediterranean coast to the azure waters of Italy's Adriatic beaches and Russian Black Sea resorts, health authorities are trying to make a COVID-19 shot as much part of this summer as sunscreen and shades for those who are not yet fully vaccinated.

The new drive to take shots to tourists is a way of adapting to Europe's annual summer migration, when it seems whole cities empty of their residents for weeks. Those long absences from home pose a particular challenge for many nations European, where public health systems often focus on delivering vaccines to people based on where they live. 

In Britain, where 70 percent of adults already are fully vaccinated, campaigns now are aimed at the younger generations with walk-in pop-up clinics in parks, a recent event complete with DJ at the Tate Modern museum and shots on offer to music lovers at the Latitude Festival.

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Denied ticket over COVID, Guinean Olympian clings to dream

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Fatoumata Yarie Camara is used to being thrown to the ground and getting up again, getting back into the fight. She's dedicated her life to wrestling, a sport that breeds tenacity. On the mat, she qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, the only athlete from Guinea to do so. Off the mat, she has battled the beliefs of her culture and family that women don't belong in sports. 

Camara endured delays as the pandemic threatened the Games. Then, three days before the rescheduled opening ceremony, her dream of standing alongside the world's best athletes teetered on a plane ticket — one she couldn't afford and government officials hadn't given her. Saying they wanted to keep Guinea's athletes safe from COVID-19, the West African country withdrew from the Olympics entirely. 

Camara and others were skeptical of officials' reasoning and believe Guinea mismanaged its planning for the Games. She gives the nation hope, officials tell her, but they've never given her any. 

At home, the 25-year-old clutched her medals in her hands — from regional competitions, the African Games, and her Olympic qualifying event — and cried. 

It was the one time Camara felt she couldn't get back up and fight. 

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Officials in Tokyo alarmed as cases hit record highs

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese officials sounded the alarm Thursday as Tokyo reported record-breaking coronavirus cases for the third straight day with the Olympics well underway. 

"We have never experienced the expansion of the infections of this magnitude," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters. He said the new cases were soaring not only in the Tokyo area but across the country. 

Tokyo reported 3,865 new cases Thursday, up from 3,177 on Wednesday and double the numbers a week ago, setting an all-time high since the pandemic began early last year. 

Japan has kept its cases and deaths lower than many other countries, but its seven-day rolling average is growing and now stands at 28 per 100,000 people nationwide and 88 in Tokyo, according to the Health Ministry. This compares to 18.5 in the United States, 48 in Britain and 2.8 in India, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

"While almost nothing is helping to slow the infections, there are many factors that can accelerate them," said Dr. Shigeru Omi, a top government medical adviser, noting the Olympics and summer vacation. "The biggest risk is the lack of a sense of crisis and without it, the infections will further expand and put medical systems under severe strain."

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Floods make thousands homeless in Bangladesh Rohingya camps

DHAKA,Bangladesh (AP) — Days of heavy rainfall have pelted Rohingya refugee camps in southern Bangladesh, destroying dwellings and sending thousands of people to live with extended family or in communal shelters.

Just in the 24 hours to Wednesday alone, more than 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) of rain fell on the camps in Cox's Bazar district hosting more than 800,000 Rohingya, the U.N. refugee agency said. That's nearly half the average July rainfall in one day while more heavy downpours are expected in the next few days and the monsoon season stretches over the next three months. 

"The situation is further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is currently a strict national lockdown in response to rising cases across the country," the agency said. 

The agency said it was saddened by the deaths of six people at the camps earlier this week, five in a landslide caused by the rains and a child swept away by floodwaters.

Citing initial reports, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said more than 12,000 refugees were affected by the heavy rainfall while an estimated 2,500 shelters have been damaged or destroyed. More than 5,000 refugees have temporarily been relocated to other family member's shelters or communal facilities, the agency said in a statement. 

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Nightmares, panic attacks: Belgian flood survivors struggle

TROOZ, Belgium (AP) — Visions of cars being swept away in a raging current keep coming back to trouble Eric Mouqué. His wife, Cindy, gets triggered by the slightest noise.

So when her husband turns on the hose to clean a few things, all she can think about are those tumultuous floodwaters that ripped away homes, streets, businesses and entire neighborhoods two weeks ago in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

"I panic," Cindy Mouqué says.

The couple's neighbor, Carine Lacroix, can't sleep at night, remembering how her and her companion feared for their lives during the floods. Isolated and trapped in the top floor of their house, it took two days before they were rescued on a small boat by firefighters. In her nerve-wracking nightmares, she is desperately trying to keep the floods out of her home or sees one of her cats drowning before her eyes.

All three are among hundreds of survivors in the small Belgian town of Trooz who are experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

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Is Biden overlooking Bureau of Prisons as reform target?

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden took quick action after his inauguration to start shifting federal inmates out of privately run prisons, where complaints of abuses abound.

"It is just the beginning of my administration's plan to address systemic problems in our criminal justice system," Biden promised in January as he signed an executive order on the matter.

The administration also is expected to encourage reductions in bulging state and local prison populations by allowing the use coronavirus relief dollars to help reduce overcrowding.

But in both of these efforts, Biden is overlooking a prime -- and, in some ways, easier -- target for improving the conditions of incarcerated people: the federal Bureau of Prisons.

While most criminal justice overhauls require action from local officials or legislation, reforming the federal prison system is something Biden and his Justice Department control. And there are crying needs there for improvement.

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Living up to the hype: Dressel wins 1st individual gold

TOKYO (AP) — Caeleb Dressel climbed atop the lane rope, a look of wonder in his eyes. He gazed all around the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, eager to soak up every last moment of something he's never done before.

Win an individual gold medal at the Olympics.

The most dominant swimmer of the post-Michael Phelps era filled in the last hole on his resume, winning a gold all by himself with two furious laps of the pool Thursday.

Dressel, whose three previous golds were all on relays, lived up to the hype at an Olympics where several U.S. stars have faltered.

"I knew that weight was on my shoulders," he said after a nail-biting victory in the 100-meter freestyle over defending champion Kyle Chalmers of Australia.

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Olympics Latest: Shori Hamada wins Japan's 7th judo gold

TOKYO (AP) — The Latest on the Tokyo Olympics, which are taking place under heavy restrictions after a year's delay because of the coronavirus pandemic:

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MEDAL ALERT

Shori Hamada has won Japan's seventh gold medal in judo at the Tokyo Olympics, beating French former world champion Madeleine Malonga by ippon just 1:08 into the women's 78-kilogram final.

The result was a reversal of the two players' bout in the 2019 world championship final, which was also held in Tokyo. Hamada pinned Malonga early and held on for the ippon to win her first Olympic medal at the Budokan.

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Ron Popeil was the sizzle of American ingenuity, personified

Come, young ones: Gather around the glow of the smartphone's screen for a tale of a distant time when we watched TV on big boxy machines, and switched channels when we were bored.

There were commercials — several of them — between the segments of TV shows. What's more, in the distant era before streaming, you had to watch them all — or, if you had time, run to the kitchen or the bathroom. You couldn't pause, or fast forward, or take the screen with you.

And in the darkest, wee-est hours, when all the real programming ran out, the night creatures emerged — beasts called infomercials that were entire TV programs about people selling products that might be useful to you but that you probably didn't know you wanted.

These immediate forebears of home-shopping channels and, beyond them, the content marketing techniques of the 21st century were where Ron Popeil, an American original who gave the world the word "Ronco" and died Wednesday at 86, thrived.

America has always been smitten by both high-spirited inventors and yarn-spinning salesmen. Popeil was both, amplified by the airwaves into millions of homes. He was a gadget innovator like his father, yes, but a popularizer as well, a man who intuited consumers' common-sense needs, then found accessible ways to entice them into making purchases.

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