Senate OKs Dems' $3.5T budget in latest win for Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats pushed a $3.5 trillion framework for bolstering family services, health, and environment programs through the Senate early Wednesday, advancing President Joe Biden's expansive vision for reshaping federal priorities just hours after handing him a companion triumph on a hefty infrastructure package.

Lawmakers approved Democrats' budget resolution on a party-line 50-49 vote, a crucial step for a president and party set on training the government's fiscal might on assisting families, creating jobs and fighting climate change. Higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations would pay for much of it. Passage came despite an avalanche of Republican amendments intended to make their rivals pay a price in next year's elections for control of Congress.

House leaders announced their chamber will return from summer recess in two weeks to vote on the fiscal blueprint, which contemplates disbursing the $3.5 trillion over the next decade. Final congressional approval, which seems certain, would protect a subsequent bill actually enacting the outline's detailed spending and tax changes from a Republican filibuster in the 50-50 Senate, delays that would otherwise kill it. 

Even so, passing that follow-up legislation will be dicey with party moderates wary of the massive $3.5 trillion price tag vying with progressives demanding aggressive action. The party controls the House with just three votes to spare, while the evenly divided Senate is theirs only due to Vice President Kamala Harris tie-breaking vote. Solid GOP opposition seems guaranteed.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., once a progressive voice in Congress' wilderness and now a national figure wielding legislative clout, said the measure would help children, families, the elderly and working people — and more.

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Afghan officials: 3 more provincial capitals fall to Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban seized three more provincial capitals in Afghanistan and a local army headquarters in a blitz across the country's northeast, officials said Wednesday, with the insurgents now controlling some two-thirds of the nation as the U.S. and NATO finalize their withdrawal after its decades-long war there. 

The fall of the capitals of Badakhshan and Baghlan provinces to the northeast and Farah province to the west put increasing pressure on the country's central government to stem the tide of the advance, even as its lost a major base in Kunduz. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rushed to Balkh province, already surrounded by Taliban-held territory, to seek help pushing back the insurgents from warlords linked to allegations of atrocities and corruption.

While Kabul itself has not been directly threatened in the advance, its stunning speed raises questions of how long the Afghan government can maintain control of its countryside. The multiple fronts of the battle have stretched the government's special operations forces — while regular troops have often fled the battlefield — and the violence has pushed thousands of civilians to seek safety in the capital. The U.S. military, which plans to complete its withdrawal by the end of the month, has conducted some airstrikes but largely has avoided involving itself in the ground campaign.

The Afghan government and military did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the losses. 

Humayoon Shahidzada, a lawmaker from the western province of Farah, confirmed Wednesday to The Associated Press his province's capital of the same name fell. Neighboring Nimroz province was overrun in recent days after a weeklong campaign by the Taliban.

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Hochul prepares for spotlight as Cuomo steps aside

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Kathy Hochul, a western New York Democrat unfamiliar to many people in the state even after six years as its lieutenant governor, was set to begin reintroducing herself to the public Wednesday as she prepared to take the reins of power after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would resign from office.

Hochul, 62, in two weeks will become the state's first female governor, following a remarkable transition period in which Cuomo has said he will stay on and work to ease her into a job that he dominated over his three terms in office.

She stayed out of public sight Tuesday but said in a statement that she was "prepared to lead." Hochul planned to hold her first news conference Wednesday afternoon at the State Capitol, in the very room where Cuomo became a familiar face to people across the U.S. and beyond for his televised briefings on New York's fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Cuomo, 63, announced Tuesday that he would step down rather than face a likely impeachment trial over allegations that he sexually harassed at least 11 women, including one who accused him of groping her breast.

Cuomo has continued to deny that he touched anyone inappropriately, and said his instinct was to fight back against claims he felt were unfair or fabricated. But he said that with the state still in a pandemic crisis, it was best for him to step aside so the state's leaders could "get back to governing."

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In Iran, slow vaccinations fuel anger in unending pandemic

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranians are suffering through yet another surge in the coronavirus pandemic — their country's worst yet — and anger is growing at images of vaccinated Westerners without face masks on the internet or on TV while they remain unable to get the shots. 

Iran, like much of the world, remains far behind countries like the United States in vaccinating its public, with only 3 million of its more than 80 million people having received both vaccine doses. But while some countries face poverty or other challenges in obtaining vaccines, Iran has brought some of the problems on itself. 

After Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei refused to accept vaccine donations from Western countries, the Islamic Republic has sought to make the shots domestically, though that process lags far behind other nations. 

The supply of non-Western shots remains low, creating a black market offering Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech shots for as much as $1,350 in a country where the currency, the Iranian rial, is on the verge of collapse. Meanwhile, U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran mean the cash-strapped government has limited funds to purchase vaccines abroad. 

And even as the delta variant wreaks havoc, filling the country's already overwhelmed hospitals, many Iranians have given up on wearing masks and staying at home. 

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For Biden and senators, a sense that 'world was watching'

WASHINGTON (AP) — When President Joe Biden first announced the framework he'd reached with a bipartisan group of senators for a big infrastructure bill, he said it meant more than building roads and bridges. 

Agreement, he said two months ago, would send a signal "to ourselves and to the world that American democracy can deliver."

The senators who led the legislation to passage Tuesday agreed. 

"We all knew that, quite honestly, that the world was watching," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Approved on an overwhelming 69-30 vote, the nearly $1 trillion package would boost federal spending for major improvements of roads, bridges, internet access and other public works in communities from coast to coast. The bill goes next to the House.

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China sentences Canadian to 11 years in case tied to Huawei

DANDONG, China (AP) — A Canadian entrepreneur was sentenced to 11 years in prison Wednesday in a spy case linked to Beijing's effort to push his country to release an executive of tech giant Huawei, prompting an unusual joint show of support for Canada by the United States, Japan and 23 other governments.

China is stepping up pressure as a Canadian judge hears final arguments about whether to send the Huawei executive to the United States to face charges related to possible violations of trade sanctions on Iran. On Tuesday, a court rejected another Canadian's appeal of a death sentence in a drug case that was increased after the executive's arrest.

Entrepreneur Michael Spavor and a former Canadian diplomat were detained in what critics labeled "hostage politics" after Huawei's Meng Wanzhou, was arrested Dec. 1, 2018, at the Vancouver airport.

Spavor was sentenced by a court in Dandong, about 210 miles (340 kilometers) east of Beijing on the North Korean border. The government has released few details other than to accuse Spavor of passing along sensitive information to the former diplomat, Michael Kovrig, beginning in 2017. Both have been held in isolation and have little contact with Canadian diplomats.

The Canadian government condemned Spavor's sentence. It said he and Kovrig are "detained arbitrarily" and called for their immediate release.

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Pacific Northwest braces for another multiday heat wave

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — People in the Pacific Northwest braced for another major, multiday heat wave starting Wednesday, just over a month after record-shattering hot weather killed hundreds of the region's most vulnerable when temperatures soared to 116 degrees Fahrenheit (47 Celsius).

In a "worst-case scenario," the temperature could reach as high as 111 F (44 C) in some parts of western Oregon by Friday before a weekend cooldown, the National Weather Service in Portland, Oregon, warned this week. It's more likely temperatures will rise above 100 F (38 C) for three consecutive days, peaking around 105 F (40.5 C) on Thursday.

Those are eye-popping numbers in a usually temperate region and would have come close to — or broken — all-time records if it weren't for the late June heat wave, meteorologist Tyler Kranz said. Seattle will be cooler than Portland, with temperatures in the mid-90s, but it still has a chance to break records, and many people there, like in Oregon, don't have air conditioning.

"We'll often hear people say, 'Who cares if it's 106 or 108? It gets this hot in Arizona all the time.' Well, people in Arizona have air conditioning, and here in the Pacific Northwest, a lot of people don't," Kranz said. "You can't really compare us to the desert Southwest."

Gov. Kate Brown has declared a state of emergency over the heat and activated an emergency operations center, citing the potential for disruptions to the power grid and transportation. City and county governments are opening cooling centers and misting stations in public buildings, extending the hours of public libraries and waiving bus fare for those headed to cooling centers. A statewide help line will direct callers to the nearest cooling shelter and offer tips on how to stay safe.

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Senegal's ambulance teams struggle amid a wave of COVID-19

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — The paramedics get the urgent call at 10:30 p.m.: A 25-year-old woman, eight months pregnant and likely suffering from COVID-19, is now having serious trouble breathing.

Yahya Niane grabs two small oxygen cylinders and heads to the ambulance with his team. Upon arrival, they find the young woman's worried father waving an envelope in front of her mouth, a desperate effort to send more air her way.

Her situation is dire: Niane says Binta Ba needs to undergo a cesarean section right away if they are to save her and the baby. But first they must find a hospital that can take her.

"All the hospitals in Dakar are full so to find a place for someone who is having trouble breathing is very difficult," he says. 

It's a scenario that has become all too common as Senegal confronts a rapid increase in confirmed coronavirus cases. Instead of motorcycle accidents and heart attacks, the vast majority of ambulance calls in the country's capital are now COVID-19 cases.

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Amnesty reports widespread rapes 'with impunity' in Tigray

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Dozens of women have described shocking sexual assaults by Ethiopian soldiers and allied forces in the country's Tigray conflict, says an Amnesty International report published Wednesday, and its researcher calls it striking how the perpetrators appeared to act without fear of punishment from their commanders.

"All of these forces from the very beginning, everywhere, and for a long period of time felt it was perfectly OK with them to perpetrate these crimes because they clearly felt they could do so with impunity, nothing holding them back," Donatella Rovera told The Associated Press.

She would not speculate on whether any leader gave the signal to rape, which the report says was intended to humiliate both the women and their Tigrayan ethnic group. In her years of work investigating atrocities around the world, these are some of the worst, Rovera said.

More than 1,200 cases of sexual violence were documented by health centers in Tigray between February and April alone, Amnesty said. No one knows the real toll during the nine-month conflict, as most of the health facilities across the region of 6 million people were looted or destroyed.

These numbers are likely a "small fraction" of the reality, Amnesty said. It interviewed 63 women, along with health workers.

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'River Dave' doesn't think he can go back to being a hermit

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — An off-the-grid New Hampshire man's days living as a hermit appear to be over. "River Dave," whose cabin in the woods burned down after nearly three decades on property that he was ordered to leave, says he doesn't think he can return to his lifestyle. 

"I don't see how I can go back to being a hermit because society is not going to allow it," David Lidstone said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. 

Lidstone, 81, said even if he could rebuild his cabin, which burned down last week, "I would have people coming every weekend, so I just can't get out of society anymore. I've hidden too many years and I've built relationships, and those relationships have continued to expand."

Lidstone, a logger by trade who chopped his firewood and grew his food in the woods along the Merrimack River in the town of Canterbury, said he's not grieving the loss of his life in isolation.

"Maybe the things I've been trying to avoid are the things that I really need in life," said Lidstone, who drifted apart from his family. "I grew up never being hugged or kissed, or any close contact.

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