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Paid family leave falls out of Biden's bill as tempers rise

WASHINGTON (AP) — Top Democrats signaled a deal is within reach on President Joe Biden's big domestic bill, but momentum fizzled and tempers flared as a paid family leave proposal fell out and a billionaires' tax appeared scrapped, mostly to satisfy a pivotal member of the 50-50 Senate.

With his signature domestic initiative at stake, Biden will head to Capitol Hill on Thursday morning to urge Democratic lawmakers to bring talks on the social services and climate change bill "over the finish line" before he departs for global summits overseas.

Still in the mix: expanded health care programs, free pre-kindergarten and some $500 billion to tackle climate change remain in what's now at least a $1.75 trillion package. 

And Democrats are eyeing a new surcharge on the wealthy — 5 percent on incomes above $10 million and an additional 3 percent on those beyond $25 million — to help pay for it, according to a person who insisted on anonymity to discuss the private talks.

"They're all within our reach. Let's bring these bills over the finish line." Biden tweeted late Wednesday.

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Biden, Dems get low marks on spending talks: AP-NORC poll

WASHINGTON (AP) — As President Joe Biden and Democrats try to get a roughly $2 trillion package over the finish line, a new poll shows that fewer than half of Americans approve of how they have handled the spending bill. And many say they know little to nothing about it.

It's a troubling sign for a party that hopes to make the social spending investments the hallmark of their midterm election campaigns next year. 

The new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 36 percent of Americans say they approve of Biden's handling of the negotiations over the bill, while 41 percent disapprove and 23 percent say they neither approve nor disapprove. Fewer than half say they know a lot or some about the proposals.

"I don't place all the blame on him, but I think that, as a president, as a commander-in-chief, I think he could be doing a lot more to get people on board with his plan," said Gary Hines, 65, a Democratic voter from Philadelphia who emphasized he supports the various elements of Biden's plan, from expanding the number of people with health insurance, to making child care more affordable, to doing more to curb climate change.

The findings come at a pivotal moment for Biden and his party. Compared with his spending bill efforts, Americans are more positive about his job performance overall, with 48 percent approving. Still, 51 percent disapprove. That split is similar to last month but a notable slump from earlier this year. 

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AP: Myanmar military uses systematic torture across country

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The soldiers in rural Myanmar twisted the young man's skin with pliers and kicked him in the chest until he couldn't breathe. Then they taunted him about his family until his heart ached, too: "Your mom," they jeered, "cannot save you anymore." 

The young man and his friend, randomly arrested as they rode their bikes home, were subjected to hours of agony inside a town hall transformed by the military into a torture center. As the interrogators' blows rained down, their relentless questions tumbled through his mind. 

"There was no break – it was constant," he says. "I was thinking only of my mom." 

Since its takeover of the government in February, the Myanmar military has been torturing detainees across the country in a methodical and systemic way, The Associated Press has found in interviews with 28 people imprisoned and released in recent months. Based also on photographic evidence, sketches and letters, along with testimony from three recently defected military officials, AP's investigation provides the most comprehensive look since the takeover into a highly secretive detention system that has held more than 9,000 people. The military, known as the Tatmadaw, and police have killed more than 1,200 people since February. 

While most of the torture has occurred inside military compounds, the Tatmadaw also has transformed public facilities such as community halls and a royal palace into interrogation centers, prisoners said. The AP identified a dozen interrogation centers in use across Myanmar, in addition to prisons and police lockups, based on interviews and satellite imagery. 

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A monk, a student, an artist: Tortured by Myanmar military

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A monk was made to hop like a frog, in a humiliation tactic. An accountant was shocked with electric probes. An artist was beaten in the head with a baton until he passed out. 

Since the military took over Myanmar's government in February, it has tortured detainees held across the country in a methodical and systemic way, an Associated Press investigation has found. The military has also abducted thousands, including young men and boys; used the bodies of the dead and wounded as tools of terror and deliberately attacked medics during a pandemic. Since February, security forces have killed more than 1,200 people, including an estimated 131 or more tortured to death.

Here are a few more stories of prisoners abused by the military.

THE MONK: "LIKE HELL"

A 31-year-old monk was grazed with a bullet while running from the military, handcuffed and beaten with batons and rifles. Security forces kicked him in the head, chest and back. They also photographed the monk and other protesters with gasoline bottles to manufacture evidence of criminal intent.

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Vaccine reluctance in Eastern Europe brings high COVID cost

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Truck driver Andriy Melnik never took the coronavirus seriously. With a friend, he bought a fake vaccination certificate so his travel documents would appear in order when he hauled cargo to other parts of Europe.

His view changed after the friend caught COVID-19 and ended up in an intensive care unit on a ventilator.

"It's not a tall tale. I see that this disease kills, and strong immunity wouldn't be enough -- only a vaccine can offer protection," said Melnik, 42, as he waited in Kyiv to get his shot. "I'm really scared and I'm pleading with doctors to help me correct my mistake."

He added: "Death from coronavirus appears much closer than I imagined."

Ukraine is suffering through a surge in coronavirus infections, along with other parts of Eastern Europe and Russia. While vaccines are plentiful, there is a widespread reluctance to get them in many countries — though notable exceptions include the Baltic nations, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Hungary.

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Biden bound for global summits as domestic agenda in limbo

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden promised to show the world that democracies can work to meet the challenges of the 21st century. As he prepares to push that message at a pair of global summits, his case could hinge on what's happening in Washington, where he is rushing to finalize a major domestic legislative package.

Headed first to Rome and then to Glasgow, Scotland, Biden will be pressed to deliver concrete ideas for stopping a global pandemic, boosting economic growth and halting the acceleration of climate change. Those stakes might seem a bit high for a pair of two-day gatherings attended by the global elite and their entourages. But it's written right into the slogan for the Group of 20 meeting in Rome: "People, Planet, Prosperity." 

Biden, who planned to deliver East Room remarks before leaving Washington on Thursday, has promised to align U.S. diplomacy with the interests of the middle class. This has tied any success abroad to his efforts to get Congress to advance his environmental, tax, infrastructure and social policies. It could be harder to get the world to commit to his stated goals if Americans refuse to fully embrace them, one of the risks of Biden's choice to knit together his domestic and foreign policies.

Biden's trip abroad comes as he faces an increasingly pessimistic nation at home, and souring views of his handling of the nation's economy. According to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, just 41 percent of Americans now approve of Biden's economic stewardship, down from 49 percent in August and a sharp reversal since March, when 60 percent approved.

Americans are split on Biden overall, with 48 percent approving and 51 percent disapproving of his handling of his job as president. Only about a third of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction, also a significant decline since earlier this year when about half said so.

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Oil chiefs set to testify at landmark congressional hearing

WASHINGTON (AP) — Top executives at ExxonMobil and other oil giants are set to testify at a landmark House hearing Thursday as congressional Democrats investigate what they describe as a decades-long, industry-wide campaign to spread disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming.

Top officials at four major oil companies are testifying before the House Oversight Committee, along with leaders of the industry's top lobbying group and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Company officials were expected to renew their commitment to fighting climate change.

The much-anticipated hearing comes after months of public efforts by Democrats to obtain documents and other information on the oil industry's role in stopping climate action over multiple decades. The appearance of the four oil executives — from ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP America and Shell — has drawn comparisons to a high-profile hearing in the 1990s with tobacco executives who famously testified that they didn't believe nicotine was addictive. 

"The fossil fuel industry has had scientific evidence about the dangers of climate change since at least 1977. Yet for decades, the industry spread denial and doubt about the harm of its products — undermining the science and preventing meaningful action on climate change even as the global climate crisis became increasingly dire,'' said Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Ro Khanna, D-Calif.

Maloney chairs the Oversight panel, while Khanna leads a subcommittee on the environment.

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Is it OK to go trick-or-treating during the pandemic?

NEW YORK (AP) — Is it OK to go trick-or-treating during the pandemic?

It depends on the situation and your comfort level, but there are ways to minimize the risk of infection this Halloween. 

Whether you feel comfortable with your children trick-or-treating could depend on factors including how high the COVID-19 transmission rate is in your area and if the people your kids will be exposed to are vaccinated. 

But trick-or-treating is an outdoor activity that makes it easy to maintain a physical distance, notes Emily Sickbert-Bennett, an infectious disease expert at the University of North Carolina. To prevent kids crowding in front of doors, she suggests neighbors coordinating to spread out trick-or-treating.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says outdoor activities are safer for the holidays, and to avoid crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. If you attend a party inside, the agency says people who aren't vaccinated — including children who aren't yet eligible for the shots — should wear a well-fitting mask, not just a Halloween costume mask. In areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates, even the fully vaccinated should wear masks inside.

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How live ammo got on set still a mystery in Baldwin shooting

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Light from a high afternoon sun slanted through the tall windows of the weathered wooden church, catching on the plank floorboards and illuminating the stained glass. Outside, the arid ground of the northern New Mexico foothills stretched for miles — a picturesque setting for an Old West gun battle. 

The actor Alec Baldwin, haggard in a white beard and period garb as he played a wounded character named Harlan Rust, sat in a pew, working out how he would draw a long-barreled Colt .45 revolver across his body and aim it toward the movie camera.

A crew readied the shot after adjusting the camera angle to account for the shadows. The camera wasn't rolling yet, but director Joel Souza peered over the shoulder of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins to see what it saw.

Souza heard what sounded like a whip followed by a loud pop, he would later tell investigators.

Suddenly Hutchins was complaining about her stomach, grabbing her midsection and stumbling backward, saying she couldn't feel her legs. Souza saw that she was bloodied, and that he was bleeding too: The lead from Baldwin's gun had pierced Hutchins and embedded in his shoulder.

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Turkey's Lake Tuz dries up due to climate change, farming

KONYA, Turkey (AP) — For centuries, Lake Tuz in central Turkey has hosted huge colonies of flamingos that migrate and breed there when the weather is warm, feeding on algae in the lake's shallow waters. 

This summer, however, a heart-wrenching scene replaced the usual splendid sunset images of the birds captured by wildlife photographer Fahri Tunc. Carcasses of flamingo hatchlings and adults scattered across the cracked, dried-up lake bed.

The 1,665 square kilometer (643 square mile) lake — Turkey's second-largest lake and home to several bird species — has entirely receded this year. Experts say Lake Tuz (Salt Lake in Turkish) is a victim of climate change-induced drought, which has hit the region hard, and decades of harmful agricultural policies that exhausted the underground water supply. 

"There were about 5,0000 young flamingos. They all perished because there was no water," said Tunc, who also heads the regional branch of the Turkish environmental group Doga Dernegi. "It was an incredibly bad scene. It's not something I can erase from my life. I hope I do not come across such a scene again."

Several other lakes across Turkey have similarly dried up or have receded to alarming levels, affected by low precipitation and unsustainable irrigation practices. Climate experts warn that the entire Mediterranean basin, which includes Turkey, is particularly at risk of severe drought and desertification.

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