In budget turning point, Biden conceding smaller price tag

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats' push for a 10-year, $3.5 trillion package of social and environmental initiatives has reached a turning point, with the president repeatedly conceding that the measure will be considerably smaller and pivotal lawmakers flashing potential signs of flexibility. 

In virtual meetings Monday and Tuesday with small groups of House Democrats, Biden said he reluctantly expected the legislation's final version to weigh in between $1.9 trillion and $2.3 trillion, a Democrat familiar with the sessions said Tuesday. He told them he didn't think he could do better than that, the person said, reflecting demands from some of the party's more conservative lawmakers. 

Biden used those same figures during a Friday meeting in the Capitol with nearly all House Democrats, according to that person and a second Democrat familiar with the gathering. Both Democrats would describe the meetings only on condition of anonymity.

There has been no agreement on a final figure, and plenty of other unanswered questions — plus the possibility of failure — remain. Crucial unresolved matters include how to get virtually every Democrat in Congress to vote for a measure they've spent months fighting over and that Republicans will solidly oppose, and whether the shrunken price tag would be reached by dropping some proposals or by keeping most but at lower cost or shorter duration.

But by repeatedly conceding that the crown jewel of his own domestic agenda will have to shrink and providing a range for its cost, Biden is trying to push his party beyond months of stalemate and refocus bargainers on nailing down needed policy and fiscal decisions. 

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Ship's anchor may have caused massive California oil spill

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — A ship's anchor may have hooked, dragged and torn an underwater pipeline that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the ocean off Southern California, according to federal investigators who also found the pipeline owner didn't quickly shut down operations after a safety system alerted to a possible spill.

Questions remained about the timeline of the weekend spill, which fouled beaches and a protected marshland, potentially closing them for weeks along with commercial and recreational fishing in a major hit to the local economy. 

Some reports of a possible spill, a petroleum smell and an oily sheen on the waters off Huntington Beach came in Friday night but weren't corroborated and the pipeline's operator, Amplify Energy Corp., didn't report a spill until the next morning, authorities said. 

An alarm went off in a company control room at 2:30 a.m. Saturday that pressure had dropped in the pipeline, indicating a possible leak but Amplify waited until 6:01 a.m. to shut down the pipeline, according to preliminary findings of an investigation into the spill. 

The Houston-based company took another three hours to notify the U.S. Coast Guard's National Response Center for oil spills, investigators said, further slowing the response to an accident for which Amplify workers spent years preparing.

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Nobel Prize in chemistry honors way of building molecules

STOCKHOLM (AP) — The Nobel Prize for chemistry has been awarded to German scientist Benjamin List of the Max Planck Institute and Scotland-born scientist David W.C. MacMillan of Princeton University.

They were cited for their work in developing a new way for building molecules known as "asymmetric organocatalysis."

The winners were announced Wednesday by Goran Hansson, secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP's earlier story follows below.

STOCKHOLM (AP) — The 2021 Nobel Prize for chemistry is being announced Wednesday, an award that has in the past also honored breakthroughs that benefited the field of medicine.

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French senators arrive in Taiwan amid tensions with China

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — A group of French senators arrived in Taiwan for a five-day visit Wednesday following a large Chinese show of force with fighter jets amid the highest tensions in decades between China and Taiwan. 

The group, led by senator Alain Richard, will meet with President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwanese economic and health officials and the Mainland Affairs Council. Richard, a former French defense minister, previously visited Taiwan in 2015 and 2018, according to Taiwan's semi-official Central News Agency, and heads the Taiwan Friendship group in the French senate.

China tried to discourage Richard's visit, with its embassy in France saying ahead of the trip: "It will not only damage China's core interests and undermine China-French relations, but will also damage France's own reputation and interests."

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and therefore opposes any international engagement with the island such as visits by foreign government officials. It also has aggressively poached Taiwan's remaining diplomatic allies.

In its most recent display of sustained military harassment, China flew fighter jets 149 times toward Taiwan over four days from Friday to Monday. The White House called the flights risky and destabilizing, while China responded that the U.S. selling weapons to Taiwan and its ships navigating the Taiwan Strait were provocative.

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As Lebanese got poorer, politicians stowed wealth abroad

BEIRUT (AP) — A trove of leaked documents confirmed that for years, Lebanon's politicians and bankers have stowed wealth in offshore tax havens and used it to buy expensive properties — a galling revelation for masses of newly impoverished Lebanese caught in one of the world's worst economic meltdowns in decades.

Some of the newly outed holders of offshore accounts belong to the same ruling elite that is being blamed for the collapse and for derailing the lives of ordinary Lebanese who have lost access to savings and now struggle to get fuel, electricity and medicine. 

Bold-faced names in the leaked documents include the longtime central bank governor, a pivotal figure in the failed policies that helped trigger the financial crisis, as well as Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his predecessor. 

The documents, named the "Pandora Papers," were examined by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, with the first findings released Sunday. The ICIJ report exposes the offshore secrets of wealthy elites from more than 200 countries and territories. 

It was based on a review of nearly 11.9 million records obtained from 14 firms that provide services in setting up offshore firms and shell companies. Clients of such firms are often trying to hide their wealth and financial activities.

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Sunday's vote in Iraq clouded by a disillusioned electorate

BASRA, Iraq (AP) — Blinking under the garish lights of a hotel ballroom in southern Iraq, Wael Makhsusi argued his case to a young audience.

Microphone in hand, the engineer in his 30s stood onstage in Basra with other novice candidates in Sunday's parliamentary election. Among them were independents and hopefuls drawn from the protests that filled the streets two years ago with demonstrators angry about high unemployment, government corruption and lack of basic services like electricity and water. 

If elected, Makhsusi told the crowd, he'd fight tirelessly for their rights, but a bespectacled man who stood up wasn't buying it. "You've painted such a rosy dream for us, but I am not convinced I should vote for you," the man said as the crowd burst into applause. 

The scene last month underscored the difficulties faced by the candidates: They are telling Iraq's disillusioned youth, the country's largest demographic, to trust an electoral process that in the past has tainted by tampering and fraud. But apathy and distrust are widespread, and some of the same pro-reform activists whose protests in 2019 led to the vote now are calling for a boycott at the polls after a series of targeted killings.

"The election won't be perfect," acknowledged candidate Noureddine Nassar in Basra, but he added that even if it improves by only a third over those in the past, that will be "better than the current system."

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Delay after alarm puts California spill response in question

Amplify Energy's emergency response plan for a major oil spill like the one it's now dealing with in coastal Southern California depended heavily on a quick shutdown of the San Pedro Bay Pipeline if its sensors picked up a sudden loss of pressure. That's not what happened, investigators revealed Tuesday.

After an alarm went off in a company control room at 2:30 a.m. Saturday — signaling a rupture that would spill tens of thousands of gallons of crude into the Pacific Ocean — the company waited more than three hours to shut down the pipeline, at 6:01 a.m., according to preliminary findings of an investigation into the spill. 

The Houston-based company took another three hours to notify the U.S. Coast Guard's National Response Center for oil spills, investigators said, further slowing the response to an accident for which Amplify workers spent years preparing.

"How come it took so long? That's a fair question," said Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline consultant and private accident investigator from Redmond, Washington. "If you have any doubt, your action should be to shut down and close. ... Something's not quite right here."

Pipeline control room alarms don't always mean a leak and can be tripped by numerous factors — from a faulty signal from a sensor along the line, to a pump that goes offline and causes a sudden pressure change, according to Kuprewicz and other industry experts. But the alarms also are supposed to trigger immediate follow-up actions to quickly ascertain if anything is wrong.

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Pope expresses 'shame' at scale of clergy abuse in France

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis expressed "shame" for himself and the Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday for the scale of child sexual abuse within the church in France and acknowledged failures in putting the needs of victims first. 

The pope spoke during his regular audience at the Vatican about a report released Tuesday that estimated some 330,000 French children were abused by clergy and other church authority figures dating back to 1950. 

"There is, unfortunately, a considerable number. I would like to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma that they suffered,'' Francis said. "It is also my shame, our shame, my shame, for the incapacity of the church for too long to put them at the center of its concerns."

He called on all bishops and religious superiors to take all actions necessary "so similar dramas are not repeated." 

The pope also expressed his "closeness and paternal support" to French priests in the face of a "difficult test,'' and called on French Catholics to "ensure that the church remains a safe house for all."

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Brother, can you spare a coin — a $1 trillion one?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Some politicians think they've found a silver bullet for the impasse over the debt limit, except the bullet is made of platinum: Mint a $1 trillion coin, token of all tokens, and use it to flood the treasury with cash and drive Republicans crazy.

Even its serious proponents — who are not that many — call it a gimmick. They say it is an oddball way out of an oddball accounting problem that will have severe consequences to average people's pocketbooks and the economy if it is not worked out in coming days.

But despite all the jokes about who should go on the face of the coin — Chuck E. Cheese? Donald Trump, to tempt or taunt the GOP? — there's scholarship behind it, too. However improbable, it is conceivable the government could turn $1 trillion into a coin of the realm without lawmakers having a say.

How is this possible when the treasury secretary can't simply print money to pay public debts? It's because a quirky law from more than 20 years ago seems to allow the administration to mint coins of any denomination without congressional approval as long as they're platinum. 

The intent was to help with the production of commemorative coins for collectors, not to create a nuclear option in a fiscal crisis. Oops.

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In California, some buy machines that make water out of air

BENICIA, Calif. (AP) — The machine Ted Bowman helped design can make water out of the air, and in parched California, some homeowners are already buying the pricey devices.

The air-to-water systems work like air conditioners by using coils to chill air, then collect water drops in a basin. 

"Our motto is, water from air isn't magic, it's science, and that's really what we're doing with these machines," said Ted Bowman, design engineer at Washington state-based Tsunami Products.

The system is one of several that have been developed in recent years to extract water from humidity in the air. Other inventions include mesh nets, solar panels and shipping containers that harvest moisture from the air.

Bowman said his company's machines — made for use at homes, offices, ranches and elsewhere — dehumidify the air and in doing so create water that's filtered to make it drinkable.

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