Briefs: COVID-19 vaccine is latest flashpoint in White House campaign, plus frogs and mascots

Adult male dusky gopher frog. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials argue that habitat regulations should be eased to give deference to local governments when they want to build things like schools and hospitals. But the proposal indicates that exemptions from habitat protections would be considered for a much broader array of developments, including at the request of private companies that lease federal lands or have permits to use them. (Photo by John Tupy via US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Associated Press

Stories for Tuesday September 8

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The prospect of a vaccine to shield Americans from coronavirus infection emerged as a point of contention in the White House race as President Donald Trump accused Democrats of "disparaging" for political gain a vaccine he repeatedly has said could be available before the election. 

"It's so dangerous for our country, what they say, but the vaccine will be very safe and very effective," the president pledged Monday at a White House news conference. 

Trump leveled the accusation a day after Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democrats' vice presidential candidate, said she "would not trust his word" on getting the vaccine. "I would trust the word of public health experts and scientists, but not Donald Trump," Harris said. 

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden amplified Harris' comments Monday after he was asked if he would get a vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Biden said he would take a vaccine but wants to see what the scientists have to say, too.

Biden said Trump has said "so many things that aren't true, I'm worried if we do have a really good vaccine, people are going to be reluctant to take it. So he's undermining public confidence."

As California burns, the winds arrive and the lights go out

SHAVER LAKE, Calif. — New wildfires ravaged bone-dry California during a scorching Labor Day weekend that saw a dramatic airlift of more than 200 people trapped by flames and ended with the state's largest utility turning off power to 172,000 customers to try to prevent its power lines and other equipment from sparking more fires. 

California is heading into what traditionally is the teeth of the wildfire season, and already it has set a record with 2 million acres burned this year. The previous record was set just two years ago and included the deadliest wildfire in state history — the Camp Fire that swept through the community of Paradise and killed 85 people. 

That fire was started by Pacific Gas & Electric power lines. Liability from billions of dollars in claims from that and other fires forced the utility to seek bankruptcy protection. To guard against new wildfires and new liability, PG&E last year began preemptive power shutoffs when conditions are exceptionally dangerous. 

That's the situation now in Northern California, where high and dry winds are expected until Wednesday. PG&E received criticism for its handling of planned outages last year. The utility said it has learned from past problems, "and this year will be making events smaller in size, shorter in length and smarter for customers."

Two of the three largest fires in state history are burning in the San Francisco Bay Area. More than 14,000 firefighters are battling those fires and about two dozen others around California.

School re-examining Native American imagery, mascot

HAMPTON, N.H. — A New Hampshire high school is re-examining its Native American imagery and mascot, starting with the removal of decorative feathers on its website.

The "W" on the Winnacunnet High School website in Hampton once featured the feathers.

Superintendent William Lupini tells Seacoastonline.com that administrators are now preparing to work with students and community members on re-examining the mascot. The Warrior mascot has been illustrated with symbols ranging from Native American arrows and feathers to a statue of an indigenous person with a headdress.

The thinking follows a petition from school alumni Corina Chao and Mary Casey, who collected more than 3,600 signatures calling for Native symbolism to be removed from the school. Their petition led to a debate in town about whether the mascot is an insult or a tribute to Native Americans. A counter petition collected more than 1,700 signatures.

Selectman Rusty Bridle said the push to remove the Native American imagery is going "too far" and he believes the mascot gives honor to Native American people.

US wildlife agency seeks to carve out areas from protections

BILLINGS, Mont. — A Trump administration proposal released Friday would allow the government to deny habitat protections for endangered animals and plants in areas that would see greater economic benefits from being developed — a change critics said could open lands to more energy development and other activities.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials described the proposal as giving more deference to local governments when they want to build things like schools and hospitals.

But the proposal indicates that exemptions from habitat protections would be considered for a much broader array of developments, including at the request of private companies that lease federal lands or have permits to use them. Government-issued leases and permits can allow energy development, grazing, recreation, logging and other commercial uses of public lands.

It's the latest move by the Trump administration in a years-long effort to repeal regulations across government that has broadly changed how the Endangered Species Act gets used. Other steps under Trump to scale back species rules included lifting blanket protections for animals newly listed as threatened, setting cost estimates for saving species and a pending proposal to restrict what areas fit under the definition of "habitat".

Governors from 22 Western states and Pacific territories in a Thursday letter to the wildlife service demanded more say in how habitat gets defined, since that decision could further restrict what land and waterways can be protected.

Wildlife advocates say the administration's approach has elevated natural resource extraction and commercial development over the protection of sites that are home to dwindling populations of endangered species.

Animals that could be affected by the latest change include the struggling lesser prairie chicken, a grasslands bird found in five states in the south-central U.S., and the rare dunes sagebrush lizard that lives among the oil fields of western Texas and eastern New Mexico, wildlife advocates said.

Friday's proposal and the habitat definition offered in July were triggered by a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving a highly endangered Southern frog — the dusky gopher frog.

In that case, a unanimous court faulted the government over how it designated "critical habitat" for the 3 ½-inch-long (8.9-centimetre-long) frogs that survive in just a few ponds in Mississippi. The ruling came after a timber company, Weyerhaeuser, had sued when land it owned in Louisiana was designated as critical.

The new proposal would require federal officials to consider factors such as economic or employment losses when making habitat decisions. That includes decisions affecting federal land for which private companies have permits or leases, such as for drilling, grazing, logging or other development.

Fearing virus, parents in Spain rise against back to school

BARCELONA, Spain — Ángela López hardly fits the profile of a rule-breaker. But the mother of a 7-year-old girl with respiratory problems has found herself among parents ready to challenge Spanish authorities on a blanket order to return to school.

They are wary of safety measures they see as ill-funded as a new wave of coronavirus infections sweeps the country. They fear sick students could infect relatives who are at higher risk of falling ill from COVID-19. And they claim that they have invested in computers and better network connections to prepare for online lessons, even preparing to homeschool their children if necessary.

Many of the defiant parents, including López, are also ready to stand up to the country's rigid, one-size-fits-all rule of mandatory in-school education, even if that means facing charges for truancy, which in Spain can be punished with three to six months in prison.

Her daughter was born with a condition that makes her prone to suffer episodes of bronchial spasms, which can cause difficulty breathing. With COVID-19 affecting the respiratory system, López doesn't want to take any risks.

"We feel helpless and a little offended. It's like they force us to commit an illegal act because they don't give us a choice," said López, who lives in Madrid.

Trump, Biden spar over economy, workers in Labor Day blitz

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump spent Monday diminishing each other's credentials on the economy and understanding of the American worker as the presidential campaign entered its final, post-Labor Day stretch.

While workers live by an "American code," Biden said Trump "lives by a code of lies, greed and selfishness" as he met with labor leaders in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a key swing state. Trump, meanwhile, tried to put the halting economic recovery under the best light in a White House press conference where he said Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, would "destroy this country and would destroy this economy." 

Labor Day typically marks the unofficial start to the fall campaign season as candidates accelerate their activity for the final sprint to Election Day. Both campaigns reflected that urgency Monday, as Harris and Vice President Mike Pence each campaigned in Wisconsin, a state Trump narrowly won in 2016. The events played out against the background of the pandemic, which has upended campaigning and pushed Biden and Harris in particular to conduct much of the traditional election activity online. 

While the health of the American economy and status of workers were dominant Labor Day themes, both campaigns also focused on recent protests that have roiled Wisconsin and the rest of the nation after police shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Kenosha last month.

Harris, the first Black woman on a major party presidential ticket, met privately with Blake's family at the Milwaukee airport after arriving in the state, where she spoke with Blake by phone from his hospital bed. Harris told Blake she was proud of him and individually spoke to each of his family members, in person and on the phone, urging them to take care of their physical and mental health, Blake's lawyers said in a statement.

China, India accuse each other of border moves, firing shots

BEIJING — India and China accused each other on Tuesday of making provocative military moves and firing warning shots along their disputed border despite talks on ending the escalating tensions.

China said Indian forces on Monday crossed into territory it holds and fired warning shots at a Chinese patrol in what it called a violation of their agreements. India denied that and said Chinese soldiers tried to surround one of its forward posts in a "grave provocation" and also fired warning shots.

China described it as the first exchange of fire between the countries in 45 years. 

The nuclear-armed rivals have been engaged in a tense standoff in the cold-desert Ladakh region since May, and their defense ministers met Friday in Moscow in the first high-level direct contact between the sides since the standoff began.

China's western military command said the incursion occurred Monday along the southern coast of Pangong Lake in an area known in China as Shenpaoshan and in India as Chushul. The two countries' local military commanders have held several rounds of talks to defuse the tense standoff. 

Trump supporters rally near Portland and at Oregon Capitol

SALEM, Ore. — Hundreds of people gathered on Labor Day in a small town south of Portland for a pro-President Donald Trump vehicle rally — just over a week after member of a far-right group was fatally shot after a Trump caravan went through Oregon's largest city.

Later, pro-Trump supporters and counter-protesters clashed at Oregon's Capitol.

Vehicles waving flags for Trump, the QAnon conspiracy theory and in support of police gathered about noon at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City. 

The rally's organizers said they would drive to toward the state capital, Salem, and most left the caravan before that. A smaller group of members of the right-wing group the Proud Boys went on to Salem, where a crowd of several dozen pro-Trump supporters had gathered.

At one point Monday afternoon, the right-wing crowd rushed a smaller group of Black Lives Matters counter-demonstrators, firing paint-gun pellets at them. There were skirmishes, and the Black Lives Matter group dispersed shortly after local police arrived on the scene.

When will tourists return to Africa? Continent must guess

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Raino Bolz quickly diversified when his tourism business in South Africa's winelands crashed to a halt in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. He sold a minibus — useless without tourists to ferry around — and bought a herd of pregnant cows.

He'll have to wait for the cows to have calves and for the calves to be old enough to sell before he can make money from them. That probably won't be until early next year, but it's his insurance policy.

Bolz hopes to see a return of some tourists in November, the start of South Africa's tourism season. If foreign visitors — 80% of his income — don't arrive for end-of-year vacations, he'll need the profit from his cattle to stay afloat.

Africa will lose between $53 billion and $120 billion in contributions to its GDP in 2020 because of the crash in tourism, the World Travel and Tourism Council estimates. Kenya expects at least a 60% drop in tourism revenue this year. South Africa a 75% drop. In South Africa, 1.2 million tourism-related jobs are already impacted, according to its Tourism Business Council. That's not far off 10% of total jobs in Africa's most developed economy and the total damage isn't yet clear.

"Devastation," council CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa said.

Comments

Outside

FEATURED
COMMUNITY