California Gov. Gavin Newsom beats back GOP-led recall

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday emphatically defeated a recall aimed at kicking him out of office early, a contest the Democrat framed as part of a national battle for his party's values in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and continued threats from "Trumpism."

Newsom bolted to a quick victory boosted by healthy turnout in the overwhelmingly Democratic state. He cast it as a win for science, women's rights and other liberal issues, and it ensures the nation's most populous state will remain in Democratic control as a laboratory for progressive policies. 

"'No' is not the only thing that was expressed tonight," Newsom said. "I want to focus on what we said 'yes' to as a state: We said yes to science, we said yes to vaccines, we said yes to ending this pandemic."

(Related: Native vote mixed on California recall election)

With an estimated two-thirds of ballots counted, "no" on the question of whether to recall Newsom was ahead by a 30-point margin. That lead was built on votes cast by mail and in advance of Tuesday's in-person balloting, with a strong showing by Democrats. While likely to shrink somewhat in the days ahead as votes cast at polling places are counted, Newsom's lead couldn't be overcome.

Republican talk radio host Larry Elder almost certainly would have replaced Newsom had the recall succeeded, an outcome that would have brought a polar opposite political worldview to Sacramento. 

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5 takeaways after Newsom survives California recall attempt

California Gov. Gavin Newsom ably fended off a recall attempt from Republicans on Tuesday, changing the stakes of the contest from a referendum on his own performance and into a partisan fight over Trumpism and the coronavirus.

Five takeaways from Newsom's victory:

COVID PRECAUTIONS CAN HELP DEMOCRATS

Republicans intended the recall to be a referendum on Democrats' rule of California, and the homelessness, crime, high housing costs and energy problems that accompanied it. But in a bit of political ju-jitsu — and with the help of the spreading delta variant — Newsom turned it into a referendum on Republicans' opposition to precautions against the coronavirus.

The Republicans running to replace Newsom opposed mask and vaccine mandates, and the California governor was happy to highlight that. Newsom aired an ad calling the recall "a matter of life and death" and accusing the top Republican candidate, talk radio host Larry Elder, of "peddling deadly conspiracy theories."

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Rival Koreas test missiles hours apart, raising tensions

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The rival Koreas test-launched ballistic missiles hours apart from each other on Wednesday in a display of military assets that came amid a faltering diplomatic push to strip North Korea of its nuclear program.

South Korea's presidential office said it conducted its first underwater-launched ballistic missile test on Wednesday afternoon. It said a domestically built missile fired from a 3,000-ton-class submarine flew a previously set distance before hitting a designated target.

The statement said the weapon is expected to help South Korea deter potential external threats, boost its self-defense posture and promote peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The test followed two short-range North Korean ballistic missile launches detected by South Korea's military earlier Wednesday. On Monday, North Korea said it fired a newly developed cruise missile in its first weapons test in six months. 

Experts say the North Korean launches showed it's pressing ahead with its arms build-up plans while trying to apply pressure on the United States to resume stalled nuclear talks.

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Largest colleges push student vaccines with mandates, prizes

STORRS, Conn. (AP) — At most of the largest U.S. public universities, students are under no obligation to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Some schools do require vaccines, but with leniency for those who opt out. Still others have expelled students who do not comply. 

As a new semester begins amid a resurgence of the coronavirus, administrators and faculty nationwide see high vaccination rates as key to bringing some normalcy back to campus. Where mandates face political opposition, schools are relying on incentives and outreach to get more students vaccinated. 

An analysis by The Associated Press shows 26 of the nation's 50 largest public university campuses are not requiring vaccination, representing roughly 55 percent of students enrolled at those schools. The AP looked at the largest campuses by 2019-2020 enrollment that offer on-campus housing and award bachelor's degrees. 

Universities with vaccine mandates are concentrated in the Northeast and California. Almost all of those without mandates are in states that have restricted the ability to implement COVID-19 vaccine requirements, including Florida, Texas and Arizona.

Here is a look at approaches that three public universities are taking to get students vaccinated:

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Most states have cut back public health powers amid pandemic

Republican legislators in more than half of U.S. states, spurred on by voters angry about lockdowns and mask mandates, are taking away the powers that state and local officials use to protect the public against infectious diseases.

A Kaiser Health News review of hundreds of pieces of legislation found that, in all 50 states, legislators have proposed bills to curb such public health powers since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While some governors vetoed bills that passed, at least 26 states pushed through laws that permanently weaken government authority to protect public health. In three additional states, an executive order, ballot initiative or state Supreme Court ruling limited long-held public health powers. More bills are pending in a handful of states whose legislatures are still in session.

In Arkansas, legislators banned mask mandates except in private businesses or state-run health care settings, calling them "a burden on the public peace, health, and safety of the citizens of this state." In Idaho, county commissioners, who typically have no public health expertise, can veto countywide public health orders. In Kansas and Tennessee, school boards, rather than health officials, have the power to close schools.

President Joe Biden last week announced sweeping vaccination mandates and other COVID-19 measures, saying he was forced to act partly because of such legislation. "My plan also takes on elected officials in states that are undermining you and these lifesaving actions," he said.

The KHN review showed that:

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Trump aides aim to build GOP opposition to Afghan refugees

WASHINGTON (AP) — As tens of thousands of Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban arrive in the U.S., a handful of former Trump administration officials are working to turn Republicans against them.

The former officials are writing position papers, appearing on conservative television outlets and meeting privately with GOP lawmakers — all in an effort to turn the collapse of Afghanistan into another opportunity to push a hard-line immigration agenda.

"It is a collaboration based on mutual conviction," said Stephen Miller, the architect of President Donald Trump's most conservative immigration policies and among those engaged on the issue. "My emphasis has been in talking to members of Congress to build support for opposing the Biden administration's overall refugee plans."

The approach isn't embraced by all Republican leaders, with some calling it mean-spirited and at odds with Christian teachings that are important to the white evangelicals who play a critical role in the party's base. The strategy relies on tactics that were commonplace during Trump's tenure and that turned off many voters, including racist tropes, fear-mongering and false allegations.

And the hard-liners pay little heed to the human reality unfolding in Afghanistan, where those who worked with Americans during the war are desperate to flee for fear they could be killed by the new Taliban regime. 

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Pope urges compassion as he wraps Slovakia pilgrimage

SASTIN, Slovakia (AP) — Pope Francis urged Slovakians on Wednesday to look out for the neediest among them as he ended his first post-surgery trip with a huge open-air Mass that drew tens of thousands of people amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Cheering, maskless crowds lined Francis' motorcade route through Sastin, 15 kilometers (about 10 miles) from Slovakia's western border, and they were rewarded with a slow-moving popemobile jaunt and a smiling, waving Francis as he arrived at the vast field.

Organizers said 60,000 people attended the Mass, the biggest crowd at any event during the pope's four-day pilgrimage to Slovakia. 

The venue was the Our Lady of Sorrows national shrine, Slovakia's most important one dedicated to the Virgin Mary, where St. John Paul II prayed in 1995. Each Sept. 15, pilgrims from Slovakia and beyond flock to Sastin on the feast day of Slovakia's patron, with some this year spending the night on the dusty field to get a better spot.

"You can imagine that I'm excited because he's from Latin America," said Erick Montalvo, a pilgrim from Mexico. "You feel it like you are kind of close to him because of that. And that's a very nice feeling."

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Hurricane battered Louisiana braces for Nicholas drenching

POINTE-AUX-CHENES, La. (AP) — Residents of southern Louisiana still recovering from Hurricane Ida just weeks ago were bracing Wednesday for expected heavy rains as Nicholas crawls across parts of the state from Texas.

Nicholas made landfall as a hurricane early Tuesday on the Texas coast, dumping heavy rain even though it was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm and later a depression. But forecasters said Nicholas could stall over storm-battered Louisiana and spread life-threatening floods across the Deep South over the coming days.

In a state still recovering from Category 4 storm Ida weeks ago — as well as Category 4 Laura a year ago — Nicholas and its potentially heavy rain bands were unwelcome news. 

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards warned residents to expect flash flooding and to take the storm seriously despite its lack of hurricane status. 

"This is a very serious storm, particularly in those areas that were so heavily impacted by Hurricane Ida," Edwards said.

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Zimbabwe's older people often sent to homes amid pandemic

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Banana bread was served at a recent birthday party at Melfort Old People's home, where a group of residents mustered a raspy happy birthday tune.

Just a week after arriving at the facility, Rodrick Bhatare, in his 90s, said he felt a bittersweet moment at the celebration for a 103-year-old fellow resident.

"I haven't been this happy in a very long time," he said. "I just wished I was doing it with my family." Hard-hit by the pandemic, his family could no longer provide for him, he said. 

The economic ravages of COVID-19 are forcing some families in Zimbabwe to abandon the age-old tradition of taking care of older people. 

Some roam the streets. The lucky ones end up at facilities for older people— once widely viewed by many Zimbabweans as "un-African" and against the social bonds that have held extended families together for generations.

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Russian feminist runs for Duma to take on domestic violence

MOSCOW (AP) — Alyona Popova's campaign rhetoric is blunt: Unless she is elected to parliament, there won't be much hope for a law against domestic violence in Russia.

One of the country's most ardent feminists, Popova has fought for years to lobby members of the State Duma to adopt legislation to protect women — without success. So she decided to run herself in the election in which voting begins Friday and runs through Sunday.

Popova believes she has a good chance of winning and will be able to push through a domestic violence law. Analysts and recent actions by Russian authorities, however, suggest that both face an uphill battle.

Few reliable official statistics are kept on violence against women in Russia, but it is clearly a national problem. Police routinely turn a blind eye to domestic abuse, and restraining orders don't exist, leaving victims without a key protection.

The Interior Ministry's official magazine, Russia's Police, reported in 2019 that one in three murders occur within "family and domestic relations"; violent acts of different kinds happen in one out of four families; and 70 percent of crimes within families and households are against women and children.

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