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WASHINGTON (AP) — Let the sales push begin.

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses are opening an ambitious, cross-country tour this week to highlight the benefits of his $1.9 trillion plan to defeat the coronavirus and boost the economy.

The road show — dubbed the "Help is Here" tour by the White House — begins Monday with Harris heading to a COVID-19 vaccination site and a culinary academy in Las Vegas and first lady Jill Biden touring a New Jersey elementary school.

The president will have more to say about the plan Monday at the White House, and he plans to visit a small business in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday. He and Harris are slated to appear together in Atlanta on Friday.

Harris will meet with small-business owners in Denver on Tuesday. Wednesday sees Jill Biden in Concord, New Hampshire, and Harris' husband, Doug Emhoff, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

US prison guards refusing vaccine despite COVID-19 outbreaks

A Florida correctional officer polled his colleagues earlier this year in a private Facebook group: "Will you take the COVID-19 vaccine if offered?"

The answer from more than half: "Hell no." Only 40 of the 475 respondents said yes.

In Massachusetts, more than half the people employed by the Department of Correction declined to be immunized. A statewide survey in California showed that half of all correction employees will wait to be vaccinated. In Rhode Island, prison staff have refused the vaccine at higher rates than the incarcerated, according to medical director Dr. Justin Berk. And in Iowa, early polling among employees showed a little more than half the staff said they'd get vaccinated.

As states have begun COVID-19 inoculations at prisons across the country, corrections employees are refusing vaccines at alarming rates, causing some public health experts to worry about the prospect of controlling the pandemic both inside and outside. Infection rates in prisons are more than three times as high as in the general public. Prison staff helped accelerate outbreaks by refusing to wear masks, downplaying people's symptoms, and haphazardly enforcing social distancing and hygiene protocols in confined, poorly ventilated spaces ripe for viral spread.

'Republic of Queues': 10 years on, Syria is a hungry nation

BEIRUT (AP) — The lines stretch for miles outside gas stations in Syrian cities, with an average wait of five hours to fill up a tank. At bakeries, people push and shove during long, chaotic waits for their turn to collect the quota of two bread packs a day per family.

On the streets in the capital of Damascus, beggars accost motorists and passers-by, pleading for food or money. Medicines, baby milk and diapers can hardly be found.

As Syria marks the 10th anniversary Monday of the start of its uprising-turned-civil war, President Bashar Assad may still be in power, propped up by Russia and Iran. But millions of people are being pushed deeper into poverty, and a majority of households can hardly scrape together enough to secure their next meal.

With Assad preparing to run for a fourth seven-year presidential term in the spring, some have questioned whether he can survive the sharp economic deterioration and anger in areas under his control. Poverty levels are now worse than at any point throughout the 10-year conflict.

"Life here is a portrait of everyday humiliation and suffering," said one woman in Damascus. Her husband lost his job at an electronics store last month, and now the family is drawing on meager savings that are evaporating fast. The woman said she had taken up teaching part-time to help make ends meet. Like others, she spoke on condition her identity remains hidden, fearing arrest.

Myanmar junta orders martial law in 6 Yangon townships

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's ruling junta has declared martial law in six townships in the country's largest city, as security forces killed dozens of protesters over the weekend in an increasingly lethal crackdown on resistance to last month's military coup.

State broadcaster MRTV said Monday that the Yangon townships of North Dagon, South Dagon, Dagon Seikkan and North Okkalapa have been put under martial law. An initial announcement was made late Sunday saying two other townships — Hlaing Thar Yar and neighboring Shwepyitha — were being placed under martial law.

At least 38 people were killed Sunday and dozens were injured in one of the deadliest days of the crackdown on anti-coup protesters, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, or AAPP, an independent group tracking the toll of the violence. Several estimates from other sources gave higher figures.

Complicating efforts to organize new protests as well as media coverage of the crisis, mobile internet service has been cut, though access is still available through fixed broadband connections.

Mobile data service has been used to stream live video coverage of protests, often showing security forces attacking demonstrators. It had been turned off only from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. for several weeks, with no official explanation.

Pandemic sets back Italian women's long fight for jobs

ROME (AP) — One of hundreds of thousands of women in Italy who lost jobs in the pandemic, Laura Taddeo has a masters degree in tourism, speaks fluent English and Spanish and some Arabic, too.

Her contract as a tour operator with a high-end Italian hotel company expired in May, just as COVID-19 travel restrictions were crippling tourism, and it wasn't renewed. But whenever tourism does rebound, Taddeo, who cuts a confident figure, will brace for the job interview questions.

"It's not, 'What have you studied? What languages do you speak?' but 'Do you have a family? Do you intend to have children?"' Taddeo, who is 33, said every man who has interviewed her asked her that right off the bat.

Worldwide, working women have paid a painfully high price during the pandemic as many quit jobs to care for children when schools closed or saw employment evaporate in hard-hit retail and hospitality businesses. But Italian women went into the COVID-19 crisis already struggling for decades to expand their presence in the workforce.

Among the 27 European Union nations, Italy ranks next to last, just above Greece, in terms of women's participation in the workforce. In 2020, while Europe's economy was reeling from pandemic restrictions, 49.4% of women aged 15 through 64 worked in Italy, compared with an EU average of 67.3%. By comparison, 67.3% of men had jobs, against an EU rate of 79%.

Denied benefits, Chinese single moms press for change

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Sarah Gao had a busy job. As the head of a 500 million yuan ($76.8 million) investment fund, she was constantly flying across China on business trips. Then she found out she was pregnant.

Her pregnancy, with her then-boyfriend, was unplanned. But Gao, who was 40, thought she wouldn't have any more chances, and decided to keep the baby. What she did not realize was how that decision would lead to a nearly four-year legal battle for her maternity benefits.

Her protracted fight highlights the consequences that Chinese women face when they raise a child outside of a marriage. The vast majority are unable to access public benefits, ranging from paid maternity leave to prenatal exam coverage, because their status is in a legal gray zone. Some may even face fines.

Gao and some other single mothers want to change this. They are part of a small group, organized by Advocates for Diverse Family Network, that petitioned the Legal Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress at its recently concluded annual meeting. They don't expect immediate action, but they hope their needs will be reflected in the legislative agenda in the future.

China's population is rapidly aging, and the government is eager to promote higher birthrates, relaxing restrictive family planning laws in 2015 so that each family can have two kids. Yet, the laws have not changed as quickly with regards to single parents.

The joy of music returns for Grammy winners, performers

Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish made history at the Grammy Awards.

Just as joyously, dozens of creators largely sidelined for a year due to the pandemic got to make music again.

The Grammys on Sunday broke through the Zoom trap that has bedeviled other awards shows with a surprisingly intimate evening that, at its best, felt like viewers were invited into a private club with their favorite musicians.

Four different women won the four most prestigious Grammys. Swift's quiet surprise, "folklore," was album of the year; Eilish's "Everything I Wanted" was her second consecutive record of the year winner; H.E.R.'s topical "I Can't Breathe" won song of the year and Megan Thee Stallion was named best new artist.

Beyoncé's four awards Sunday brought her up to 28 Grammys in her career, more than any other female artist. Her celebration of Black history, "Black Parade," released last Juneteenth, won best R&B performance and she shared two awards for collaborating with Megan Thee Stallion on "Savage."

She ties Quincy Jones for second most Grammys ever and has the leader — the late conductor George Solti, who won 31 — in her sights.

South emerges as flashpoint of brewing redistricting battle

The partisan showdown over redistricting has hardly begun, but already both sides agree on one thing: It largely comes down to the South.

The states from North Carolina to Texas are set to be premier battlegrounds for the once-a-decade fight over redrawing political boundaries. That's thanks to a population boom, mostly one-party rule and a new legal landscape that removes federal oversight and delays civil rights challenges.

It's a collision of factors likely to tilt the scales in the GOP's favor with dramatic impact: Experts note the new maps in the South alone could knock Democrats out of power in the U.S. House next year -- and perhaps well beyond.

"The South is really going to stand out," said Ryan Weichelt, a geography professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire who tracks redistricting.

Of the 10 new congressional seats expected this year, six are likely to be in Southern states, with one new one expected in North Carolina, two in Florida and three in Texas.

Former TV presenter puts race on Dutch political agenda

AMSTERDAM (AP) — Sylvana Simons is campaigning for the Dutch general election on a platform of what she calls radical equality.

Simons, a former television presenter who is arguably the country's best-known Black woman, leads a small party that wants to put ending racial inequality front and center on the political stage before and after this week's election.

Voting for the lower house of parliament's 150 seats begins Monday and ends Wednesday. The party that wins the most seats will be first in line to form the next ruling coalition, a process likely to take weeks or months. It remains to be seen if Simons' BIJ1 party — a wordplay that translates as Together — will get enough votes to win a seat.

In this nation, long considered a beacon of free-thinking tolerance, institutional racism has become a theme amid an increasingly polarized national discourse touching on issues including the divisive traditional children's character of Black Pete and racial profiling. The Black Lives Matter movement gave the debate new impetus last year.

"It was good to see that so many people said 'enough is enough' and they came out and spoke out," Simons said of Black Lives Matter rallies in the Netherlands last year. "And I do also hope that they will use that same voice when we have our general elections."

68 teams punch their ticket. Now comes the hard part

The 68 teams whose names popped up in the March Madness bracket only thought it was time to celebrate: The next four or five days figure to be the most nerve-wracking part of their seasons.

Welcome to Bubble Ball — the NCAA Tournament is being played in a pandemic, where no player can show up for the games in Indianapolis without seven negative COVID tests, and no team is really "in" the tournament until the ball is tipped off.

"Which potential season-ending test was more stressful than the other?" Drexel coach Zach Spiker said, meaning the challenges that still await. "Testing, practice, getting on the bus in Philadelphia, waiting for that reply, that response time to say, 'We're all negative here. OK, let's get out of here. Let's get to Indianapolis.'"

Because of COVID—19 issues, Drexel played a grand total of 19 games — about 11 fewer than usual — en route to the Colonial Athletic Conference title. That earned the Dragons an automatic bid into the tournament. The reward? In addition to a battery of nasal swabs, they get a No. 16 seed and an opening-round meeting with top-seeded Illinois.

The other top seeds were Michigan, Baylor and Gonzaga, which is the overall No. 1, and a 2-1 favorite to win it all and complete the first undefeated season since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. 

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