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Facebook froze as anti-vaccine comments swarmed users

WASHINGTON (AP) — In March, as claims about the dangers and ineffectiveness of coronavirus vaccines spun across social media and undermined attempts to stop the spread of the virus, some Facebook employees thought they had found a way to help. 

By altering how posts about vaccines are ranked in people's newsfeeds, researchers at the company realized they could curtail the misleading information individuals saw about COVID-19 vaccines and offer users posts from legitimate sources like the World Health Organization. 

"Given these results, I'm assuming we're hoping to launch ASAP," one Facebook employee wrote, responding to the internal memo about the study. 

Instead, Facebook shelved some suggestions from the study. Other changes weren't made until April. 

When another Facebook researcher suggested disabling some comments on vaccine posts in March until the platform could do a better job of tackling anti-vaccine messages lurking in them, that proposal was ignored at the time.

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Democrats unveil billionaires' tax as Biden plan takes shape

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pushing past skeptics, Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a new billionaires' tax proposal, an entirely new entry in the tax code designed to help pay for President Joe Biden's sweeping domestic policy package and edge his party closer to an overall agreement.

The proposed tax would hit the gains of those with more than $1 billion in assets or incomes of more than $100 million a year, and it could begin to shore up the big social services and climate change plan Biden is racing to finish before departing this week for global summits.

The new billionaires' proposal, coupled with a new 15% corporate minimum tax, would provide alternative revenue sources that Biden needs to win over one key Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who had rejected the party's earlier idea of reversing the Trump-era tax breaks on corporations and the wealthy to raise revenue. 

Biden met late Tuesday evening with Sinema and another Democratic holdout, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, at the White House.

"No senator wants to stand up and say, 'Gee, I think it's just fine for billionaires to pay little or no taxes for years on end,'" said Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, helming the new effort.

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Many progressives grudgingly accepting smaller economic bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Many progressives have started lining up behind an emerging social and environment bill that's neither as big or bold as they wanted, thanks to an outnumbered but potent band of party moderates who've enjoyed a disproportionate say in shaping the measure. 

Democrats rolled past unanimous Republican opposition in August and pushed a 10-year, $3.5 trillion fiscal blueprint of the plan through Congress. With talks continuing, the actual package — it reflects President Joe Biden's hopes for bolstering health care, family services and climate change efforts — seems likely to be around half that size. Prized initiatives like free community college and fines against utilities using carbon-spewing fuels are being jettisoned and others are being curtailed. 

Moderates' clout flows from the fraught arithmetic of a tightly divided Congress in which Democrats need all their votes in the 50-50 Senate and near unanimity in the House. That's made centrist Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona power brokers who colleagues fear would vote no if they're dissatisfied, blowing up Biden's agenda and wounding the party's prospects in next year's midterm elections.

With party leaders eager to cut a deal and start moving the legislation in days, progressives are grudgingly assessing whether it's time to be pragmatic, back a compromise and declare victory. 

An agreement would bring another bonus — freeing for final House approval a bipartisan, Senate-approved $1 trillion package of road, water and broadband projects that progressives have sidetracked to pressure moderates to back the larger economic bill.

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Authorities to present findings in 'Rust' movie-set shooting

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Investigators plan to discuss their initial findings Wednesday in the fatal movie-set shooting in which Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun, killing a cinematographer and wounding the director.

The news conference by Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza and District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies promises the first detailed public comments by investigators about the killing of 42-year-old Halyna Hutchins during a rehearsal at a New Mexico ranch.

The sequence of events on Oct. 21 has baffled Hollywood professionals and prompted calls to better regulate firearms of sets or even ban them in the age of seamless computer-generated imagery.

Court records say that an assistant director, Dave Halls, grabbed the gun from a cart and handed it to Baldwin, indicating the weapon was safe by yelling "cold gun." But it was loaded with live rounds, according to a written affidavit from a detective.

Baldwin, 63, who is known for his roles in "30 Rock," "The Departed" and "The Hunt for Red October" along with impression of former President Donald Trump on "Saturday Night Live," has described the killing as a "tragic accident."

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Sudan arrests 3 coup critics as pressure mounts on military

CAIRO (AP) — Sudanese security forces detained three prominent pro-democracy figures, according to their relatives and other activists on Wednesday, as internal and international pressure mounted on the country's military to walk back its coup.

The overnight arrests came as protests denouncing Monday's takeover continued in the capital of Khartoum and elsewhere, and many businesses shut in response to calls for strikes. Security forces also kept up their heavy-handed response, chasing demonstrators in several neighborhoods late Tuesday, according to activists who said some were shot and wounded.

The coup threatens to halt Sudan's fitful transition to democracy, which began after the 2019 ouster of long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir and his Islamist government in a popular uprising. It came after weeks of mounting tensions between military and civilian leaders over the course and pace of that process.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the military's takeover was a "catastrophic development," warning that it would have "severe consequences" for Sudan's recent efforts to reintegrate into the international community after nearly three decades of isolation under al-Bashir.

"It is putting the country in a perilous situation and is calling the Sudan's democratic and peaceful future ... into question," he said in a statement Tuesday.

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Sudan strongman is seen as an insider with powerful allies

CAIRO (AP) — The general leading Sudan's coup has vowed to usher the country to an elected government. But Abdel-Fattah Burhan has powerful allies, including Gulf nations and a feared Sudanese paramilitary commander, and he appears intent on keeping the military firmly in control.

Burhan first gained prominence in 2019, when he and other top generals toppled Omar al-Bashir, under pressure from mass demonstrations against the autocrat's 30-year rule.

He remained in charge for several months, until international pressure forced the military to reach a power-sharing deal with the protesters. That established a joint civilian-military Sovereign Council headed by Burhan that was supposed to rule Sudan until elections, set for 2023.

Burhan's record was relatively clean and he was not indicted by The International Criminal Court like al-Bashir and others for crimes against humanity during the Darfur conflict of the early 2000s. He was a rare non-Islamist among the top generals during al-Bashir's military-Islamist regime. That helped Sudan emerge from the international pariah status it had under al-Bashir.

On Monday, Burhan swept away the vestiges of civilian government. He dissolved the Sovereign Council and the transitional government, detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and other officials, and declared a state of emergency. Hamdok was released Tuesday, but others remain in custody.

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Iran's president says cyberattack meant to create 'disorder'

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran's president said Wednesday that a cyberattack which paralyzed every gas station in the Islamic Republic was designed to get "people angry by creating disorder and disruption," as long lines still snaked around the pumps a day after the incident began. 

Ebrahim Raisi's remarks stopped short of assigning blame for the attack, which rendered useless the government-issued electronic cards that many Iranians use to buy subsidized fuel at the pump. 

However, they suggested that he and others in the theocracy believe anti-Iranian forces carried out an assault likely designed to inflame the country as the second anniversary of a deadly crackdown on nationwide protests over gasoline prices approaches.

"There should be serious readiness in the field of cyberwar and related bodies should not allow the enemy to follow their ominous aims to make problem in trend of people's life," Raisi said. State television later aired footage of the president visiting a gas station in central Tehran.

The attack Tuesday also bore similarities to another months earlier that seemed to directly challenge Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the country's economy buckles under American sanctions.

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In Haiti, the difficult relationship of gangs and business

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Youri Mevs knew that the call was coming, and she was terrified.

Mevs is a member of one of the richest families in Haiti; she owns Shodecosa, Haiti's largest industrial park, which warehouses 93 percent of the nation's imported food. Like everyone else, she has watched with despair as her country descended into chaos since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

Her office got the call one early morning in August. It was from Jimmy Cherizier -- aka Barbecue, a former policeman who leads the G9 gang coalition which controls the coastal strip of Port-au-Prince. Most of Haiti's food and gasoline flows through his domain, and he can stop it with a single word. 

Barbecue's demand: $500,000 a month, a "war chest" he claimed would be used to buy food for the hungry and fight for democracy.

Pay the price, no problems. Refuse, and Shodecosa would be ransacked, and the gangs also would block the roads around the port terminal owned by the Mevs family.

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Gulf Arab states, squeezed by climate change, still tout oil

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The global energy transition is perhaps nowhere more perplexing than in the Arabian Peninsula, where Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies are caught between two daunting climate change scenarios that threaten their livelihoods. 

In one, the world stops burning oil and gas to cut down on heat-trapping emissions, shaking the very foundation of their economies. In the other, global temperatures keep rising, at the risk of rendering unlivable much of the Gulf's already extremely hot terrain.

The political stability of the six Gulf states — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman — is rooted in profits from fossil fuels. This includes exports that energy-hungry China and India will want even more over the next two decades.

"Climate action, it's almost an existential problem for an absolute monarchy based on oil exports," said Jim Krane, author of "Energy Kingdoms: Oil and Political Survival in the Persian Gulf."

"They need climate action to succeed without wrecking the oil market. That's a tough needle to thread."

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In Somalia, a rare female artist promotes images of peace

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Among the once-taboo professions emerging from Somalia's decades of conflict and Islamic extremism is the world of arts, and a 21-year-old female painter has faced more opposition than most.

A rare woman artist in the highly conservative Horn of Africa nation, Sana Ashraf Sharif Muhsin lives and works amid the rubble of her uncle's building that was partially destroyed in Mogadishu's years of war.

Despite the challenges that include the belief by some Muslims that Islam bars all representations of people, and the search for brushes and other materials for her work, she is optimistic.

"I love my work and believe that I can contribute to the rebuilding and pacifying of my country," she said.

Sana stands out for breaking the gender barrier to enter a male-dominated profession, according to Abdi Mohamed Shu'ayb, a professor of arts at Somali National University. She is just one of two female artists he knows of in Somalia, with the other in the breakaway region of Somaliland.

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