Sweeping new vaccine mandates for 100 million Americans

WASHINGTON (AP) — In his most forceful pandemic actions and words, President Joe Biden ordered sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans — private-sector employees as well as health care workers and federal contractors — in an all-out effort to curb the surging COVID-19 delta variant.

Speaking at the White House Thursday, Biden sharply criticized the tens of millions of Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives. 

"We've been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us," he said, all but biting off his words. The unvaccinated minority "can cause a lot of damage, and they are."

Republican leaders — and some union chiefs, too — said Biden was going too far in trying to muscle private companies and workers, a certain sign of legal challenges to come.

Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina said in a statement that "Biden and the radical Democrats (have) thumbed their noses at the Constitution," while American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley insisted that "changes like this should be negotiated with our bargaining units where appropriate."

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Analysis: Biden's war on virus becomes war on unvaccinated

WASHINGTON (AP) — They're a source of frustration. A risk to their fellow citizens. A threat to the nation's economic recovery.

President Joe Biden is trying to concentrate the anger of the nation's inoculated majority against the stubborn 25% of eligible Americans who remain unvaccinated against COVID-19. 

Nearly 8 months after declaring "war" on the coronavirus as he took office, Biden on Friday announced far-reaching new federal requirements that could force millions to get shots. In doing so, he embraced those who haven't rolled up their sleeves as a new foe amid a devastating surge in cases that is straining the nation's health system and constricting its economy.

"We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin," Biden said from the State Dining Room. "And your refusal has cost all of us."

The unvaccinated minority, he added, "can cause a lot of damage, and they are." 

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As flights resume, plight of Afghan allies tests Biden's vow

WASHINGTON (AP) — Evacuation flights have resumed for Westerners, but thousands of at-risk Afghans who had helped the United States are still stranded in their homeland with the U.S. Embassy shuttered, all American diplomats and troops gone and the Taliban now in charge.

With the United States and Taliban both insisting on travel documents that may no longer be possible to get in Afghanistan, the plight of those Afghans is testing President Joe Biden's promises not to leave America's allies behind.

An evacuation flight out of Kabul on Thursday, run by the Gulf state of Qatar and the first of its kind since U.S.-led military evacuations ended Aug. 30, focused on U.S. passport and green card holders and other foreigners. 

For the U.S. lawmakers, veterans groups and other Americans who've been scrambling to get former U.S. military interpreters and other at-risk Afghans on charter flights out, the relaunch of evacuation flights did little to soothe fears that the U.S. might abandon countless Afghan allies. 

A particular worry are those whose U.S. special immigrant visas — meant for Afghans who helped Americans during the 20-year war — still were in the works when the Taliban took Kabul in a lightning offensive on Aug. 15. The U.S. abandoned its embassy building that same weekend.

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Wyoming troop deaths 20 years apart bookend Afghanistan war

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — When news came that a 20-year-old Wyoming soldier was one of the last casualties of the two-decade-long U.S. war in Afghanistan, it arrived as a tragic bookend: A 20-year-old soldier from Wyoming was among the first to die in the same war.

Army Ranger Spc. Jonn Edmunds, of Cheyenne, was one of the war's first two casualties when a Black Hawk helicopter on a search-and-rescue mission crashed in Pakistan on Oct. 19, 2001.

Last month, the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, of Bondurant just outside Jackson, got word he was among 13 U.S. soldiers killed in a suicide bombing Aug. 26 at the Kabul airport.

Edmunds and McCollum were both killed on their first deployments. In between, almost 2,500 U.S. troops died in the Afghanistan war, most with far less attention than the two Wyoming men got.

As with Edmunds' death in the chaotic aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, McCollum's strikes an especially sad chord as Americans struggle to process what good — if any — has come from their nation's longest war.

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From 9/11's ashes, a new world took shape. It did not last.

In the ghastly rubble of ground zero's fallen towers 20 years ago, Hour Zero arrived, a chance to start anew. 

World affairs reordered abruptly on that morning of blue skies, black ash, fire and death. 

In Iran, chants of "death to America" quickly gave way to candlelight vigils to mourn the American dead. Vladimir Putin weighed in with substantive help as the U.S. prepared to go to war in Russia's region of influence.

Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, a murderous dictator with a poetic streak, spoke of the "human duty" to be with Americans after "these horrifying and awesome events, which are bound to awaken human conscience." 

From the first terrible moments, America's longstanding allies were joined by longtime enemies in that singularly galvanizing instant. No nation with global standing was cheering the stateless terrorists vowing to conquer capitalism and democracy. How rare is that?

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Biden calls Xi as US-China relationship grows more fraught

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden spoke with China's Xi Jinping on Thursday amid growing frustration on the American side that high-level engagement between the two leaders' top advisers has been largely unfruitful in the early going of the Biden presidency.

Biden initiated the call with Xi, the second between the two leaders since Biden took office. It comes at a moment when there is no shortage of thorny issues between the two nations, including cybersecurity breaches originating from China, Beijing's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and what the White House has labeled as "coercive and unfair" trade practices by the Chinese.

But Biden's aim with the 90-minute call was less focused on any of those hot-button issues and instead centered on discussing the way ahead for the U.S.-China relationship after it got off to a decidedly rocky start in his tenure. 

The White House said in a statement the "two leaders had a broad, strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge."

The White House is hopeful the two sides can work together on issues of mutual concern —including climate change and preventing a nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula — despite growing differences.

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Post-Ida recovery in New Orleans: Beer and beignets are back

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Supply trucks are once again delivering beer on Bourbon Street and the landmark Cafe Du Monde is serving beignets, fried pastries covered with white sugar, even though there aren't many tourists or locals around to partake of either.

With almost all the power back on in New Orleans nearly two weeks after Hurricane Ida struck, the city is showing signs of making a comeback from the Category 4 storm, which is blamed for more than two dozen deaths in the state. More businesses are opening daily, gasoline is easier to find and many roads are lined with huge debris piles from cleanup work.

Thousands are still struggling without electricity and water outside the metro area, and officials say oppressive heat is contributing to both health problems and the misery. It could still be weeks before power is restored in some areas, and many residents who evacuated haven't returned.

"It is not lost on anybody here at the state level and certainly not on our local partners just how many people continue to suffer," Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday. "While things are getting better and we can be thankful for that ... this is going to be a very long-term recovery."

Around New Orleans, residents are seeing signs that life is getting back to normal after Ida. Philip Palumbo, who lives in the French Quarter and works at a bar that remains shuttered, said the citywide curfew being lifted should help restaurants and bars struggling to reopen get more customers.

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Virus claims Black morticians, leaving holes in communities

MULLINS, S.C. (AP) — When the last mourners departed and funeral director Shawn Troy was left among the headstones, he wept alone.

For five decades, the closing words at countless funerals in this town of 4,400 had been delivered by his father, William Penn Troy Sr. Now the elder Troy was gone, one of many Black morticians claimed by a pandemic that has taken an outsized toll on African Americans, after months of burying its victims.

And as Shawn Troy stepped forward to speak in place of a man well known beyond his trade -- for his work in county politics and advocacy of its Black citizens -- the emptiness felt overwhelming. Not just his family, but his community, had lost an anchor.

"I walked over to his grave and I could hear him talking to me," Shawn Troy said, his own voice breaking as he recalled kneeling beside the plot last September, on a low rise near two palmetto trees. "And he said, 'You got it. You can do it. This is what you were built for.' He passed the baton on to me, so I've got to get running."

He is hardly alone. Since the start of the pandemic, about 130 Black morticians have died from COVID-19, according to the association that represents them.

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Palestinian teen describes brutal attack by Israeli settlers

SILAT Al-DHAHR, West Bank (AP) — More than two weeks after the attack, Tareq Zubeidi still spends most of his time in bed, too scared to leave home even if the wounds on his feet allowed him to walk normally.

The 15-year-old is haunted by the memory of what he describes as a brutal attack by Israeli settlers, who he says beat him with clubs, tied him to a tree and burned the soles of his feet.

"When I sit by myself I start thinking about all of them, and then I start sweating and my heart rate starts to increase," Zubeidi said.

While there were no witnesses to corroborate Zubeidi's account, the Aug. 17 incident took place in an area that sees frequent violence between hard-line Jewish settlers and local Palestinians. 

B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group that monitors settler violence, said it was not able to verify all the details of Tareq's account but that "it is clear that the boy was physically and mentally abused."

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Federal mandate takes vaccine decision off employers' hands

Larger U.S. businesses now won't have to decide whether to require their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Doing so is now federal policy. 

President Joe Biden announced sweeping new orders Thursday that will require employers with more than 100 workers to mandate immunizations or offer weekly testing. The new rules could affect as many as 100 million Americans, although it's not clear how many of those people are currently unvaccinated. 

Large swaths of the private sector have already stepped in to mandate shots for at least some of their employees. But Biden said Thursday that "many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are not fully vaccinated."

The U.S. is still struggling to curb the surging delta variant of the coronavirus, which is killing thousands each week and jeopardizing the nation's economic recovery.

Per Biden's order, the millions who work as employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government won't have the option to get tested instead of taking the vaccine. The order also requires large companies to provide paid time off for vaccination.

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