Biden makes push for California's Newsom as recall nears end

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom ended his campaign to retain his job in a recall election with a final push from President Joe Biden, who warned that the outcome of the contest could shape the country's direction on the pandemic, reproductive rights and the battle to slow climate change.

The Democrat who defeated Republican President Donald Trump less than a year ago said that the issues that defined the 2020 race had been resurrected in California, with potentially disastrous results if Newsom is removed in the election that ends Tuesday.

(Related: Native vote mixed on California recall election)

Speaking to hundreds of cheering supporters during a twilight rally in the coastal city of Long Beach, south of Los Angeles, Biden referred to the leading Republican candidate Larry Elder as "the clone of Donald Trump."

"Can you imagine him being governor of this state?" Biden asked, as the crowd responded with shouts of "No, no!" 

"You can't let that happen. There is too much at stake," the Democratic president said.

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EXPLAINER: How California could recall Gov. Gavin Newsom

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The California recall election that could remove first-term Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom from office wraps up Tuesday. Nearly 8 million mail-in ballots — the form of voting most Californians use — already have been returned out of 22 million sent to registered voters.

The contest unfolded this summer as the nation's most populous state saw a surge in coronavirus infections from the highly contagious delta variant and the return of masks and other restrictions in many places. There have been raging wildfires, crime rates have risen and a homeless crisis persists unabated. 

Republicans are hoping for an upset in a heavily Democratic state, where the GOP hasn't won a statewide election since 2006. Newsom has been defending his record on the virus and warning that Republican front-runner Larry Elder, a conservative talk radio host, would undermine California's progressive values.

The election is being watched nationally and the outcome could influence the 2022 elections, when a closely divided Congress will be in play. 

How did California arrive at this point? Here are some answers:

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Nicholas, now tropical storm, may cause deadly flash floods

HOUSTON (AP) — Hurricane Nicholas, now a tropical storm, made landfall along the Texas coast on Tuesday, bringing the threat of up to 20 inches of rainfall to parts of the Gulf Coast, including the same area hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and storm-battered Louisiana. The storm could also cause life-threatening flash floods across the deep south.

Nicholas touched down on the eastern part of the Matagorda Peninsula and is now about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south southwest of Houston, Texas, with maximum winds of 70 mph (110 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Nicholas was the 14th named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. 

The storm was moving north northeast at 9 mph (15 kph) and the center of Nicholas was expected to move slowly over southeastern Texas on Tuesday and over southwestern Louisiana on Wednesday. The 

The biggest unknown about Nicholas was how much rainfall it would produce in Texas, especially in flood-prone Houston.

Nearly all of the state's coastline was under a tropical storm warning that included potential flash floods and urban flooding. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said authorities placed rescue teams and resources in the Houston area and along the coast.

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Biden turns to Colorado to pitch investments in clean energy

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — While legislators craft the details back in Washington, President Joe Biden is pitching his massive domestic spending package with a visit to a renewable energy lab in Colorado to highlight how the investments in clean energy in his plan would help combat climate change.

The trip to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Denver will cap off the president's two-day swing to the West, and offer Biden the chance to continue linking the need to pass the spending package to the urgent threat posed by climate change. Biden spent Monday in Boise, Idaho, and Sacramento, California, receiving briefings on the devastating wildfire season and viewing the damage by the Caldor Fire to communities around Lake Tahoe.

"We can't ignore the reality that these wildfires are being supercharged by climate change," Biden said, noting that catastrophic weather doesn't strike based on partisan ideology. "It isn't about red or blue states. It's about fires. Just fires." 

During both of his Monday stops, Biden held out the wildfires across the region as an argument for his $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and additional $3.5 trillion package of spending. The president said that every dollar spent on "resilience" would save $6 in future costs. And he made the case that the rebuilding must go beyond simply restoring damaged systems and instead ensure communities can withstand such crises.

"These fires are blinking 'code red' for our nation. They're gaining frequency and ferocity," Biden said after concluding his tour of the Caldor Fire damage. "We know what we have to do."

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Once inmates, Taliban now in charge in a Kabul prison

KABUL (AP) — Once, Kabul's main prison was crowded with thousands of Taliban captured and arrested by the government. On Monday, a Taliban commander strolled through its empty halls and cell blocks, showing his friends where he had once been imprisoned.

It was a sign of the sudden and startling new order in Afghanistan after the militant group swept into the capital nearly a month ago and threw out the crumbling, U.S.-backed government it had fought for 20 years. 

The Taliban now run Pul-e-Charkhi Prison, a sprawling complex on Kabul's eastern outskirts. After capturing the city, the fighters freed all the inmates there, the government guards fled, and now dozens of Taliban fighters are running the facility. 

The commander, who refused to give his name, was on a personal visit to the complex with a group of his friends. He told The Associated Press he had been arrested around a decade ago in eastern Kunar province and was brought to Pul-e-Charkhi, bound and blindfolded. 

"I feel so terrible when I remember those days," he said. He said prisoners suffered abuses and torture. He was imprisoned for around 14 months before he was released. "Those days are the darkest days of my life, and now this the happiest moment for me that I am free and come here without fear."

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Lebanese cancer patients face frantic search for medication

QLEIAT, Lebanon (AP) — Saydi Mubarak and her mother share a bond that goes beyond a close mother-daughter relationship: They were both diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago and underwent months of chemotherapy at a Beirut hospital, together facing the anxiety, the hair loss and the uncertainty for the future. 

Now they share the fear of not being able to get the medication they need to complete their treatment because in Lebanon, where a devastating economic crisis has upended daily life, there are almost no drugs to be found. 

The small Mediterranean country — once a medical hub in the Middle East — is grappling with severe shortages in medical supplies, fuel and other necessities. The economic crisis, described as one of the world's worst of the past 150 years, is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by a political class that has accumulated debt and done little to encourage local industries, forcing the country to rely on imports for almost everything.

But those imports are hard to come by since the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value since 2019, and the Central Bank's foreign reserves are drying up. The crisis was worsened by a massive explosion that destroyed the country's main port last year. 

For months, pharmacy shelves have been bare, exacerbated by panic buying and suppliers holding back drugs, hoping to sell them later for higher prices amid the uncertainty. Hospitals are at a breaking point, barely able to secure diesel to keep generators and life-saving machines operating day to day. 

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Russia opposition stifled but unbowed as Duma election nears

MOSCOW (AP) — In the months before Sunday's parliamentary election in Russia, authorities unleashed an unprecedented crackdown on the opposition, making sure that the best-known and loudest Kremlin critics didn't run.

Some were barred from seeking public office under new, repressive laws. Some were forced to leave the country after threats of prosecution. Some were jailed.

Pressure also mounted on independent media and human rights activists: A dozen news outlets and rights groups were given crippling labels of "foreign agents" and "undesirable organizations" or accused of ties with them.

The embattled opposition groups admit the Kremlin has left them few options or resources ahead of the Sept. 19 election that is widely seen as a key to President Vladimir Putin's effort to cement his hold on power. But they still hope to erode the dominance of the ruling United Russia party in the State Duma, or parliament.

"We still want to take a lot of seats away from the United Russia so that a lot of сandidates not approved (by the authorities) become State Duma deputies and members of regional legislatures," Leonid Volkov, top ally of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, told The Associated Press. 

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Pope visit a sign of inclusion for Slovakia's excluded Roma

KOSICE, Slovakia (AP) — Pope Francis traveled to the far east of Slovakia on Tuesday to meet with the country's Roma in a gesture of inclusion for the most socially excluded minority group in Slovakia, who have long suffered discrimination, marginalization and poverty.

Francis' visit to the Lunik IX settlement in Kosice is one of the highlights of his four-day pilgrimage to Hungary and Slovakia. It's his first trip since undergoing intestinal surgery in July and marks the restart of his globetrotting papacy after a nearly two-year coronavirus hiatus.

Lunik IX is the biggest of about 600 shabby, segregated settlements where the poorest 20 percent of Slovakia's 400,000 Roma live. Most lack basics such as running water or sewage systems, gas or electricity.

The "pope of the peripheries" has long sought to meet with society's most marginal during his foreign trips, making sure to always include visits to slums, ghettos or prisons where he can offer words of encouragement, solidarity and welcome. 

Francis was starting the day by celebrating a Byzantine rite Mass in Presov, near Kosice, in recognition of the country's Greek-Catholic believers. During the chant-filled, open-air Mass, Francis recalled the persecution endured by all Christians during communist rule.

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Ex-cops accused of violating Floyd's rights to be arraigned

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Four former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights are scheduled to be arraigned in federal court Tuesday at a hearing that could also address some pretrial motions.

A federal grand jury indicted Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao in May for allegedly depriving Floyd of his rights while acting under government authority on May 25, 2020, as Floyd, 46, was held face-down, handcuffed and not resisting in a restraint that was captured on bystander video. His death led to worldwide protests and calls for change in policing.

At federal arraignment hearings, defendants can have the charges read to them, and not guilty pleas are typically entered. The parties were to appear at Tuesday's hearing via videoconference.

Prosecutors and attorneys for the former officers could also argue several motions on Tuesday. 

Among them, Kueng and Thao have asked that their federal trials be separated from Chauvin's, saying they would be unfairly prejudiced if they went to trial alongside him. Lane asked to join that request, which is being opposed by prosecutors. It wasn't immediately clear if that issue will come up at Tuesday's hearing, because both sides have agreed the request was premature and have asked to set it aside until more information develops, according to court documents.

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Inside Met Gala, where there's always someone more famous

U.S. women's soccer star Megan Rapinoe had just gotten her beverage at the bar at the edge of the room. She looked back at the throbbing crowd of celebrities packed into the center of the airy Petrie Court, where the Met Gala was holding its cocktail reception.

Even for a world-renowned athlete, one's first Met Gala can be a little intimidating -- whoever you are, it seems, there's always someone more famous (unless you're Rihanna, maybe.) Rapinoe looked for a bit, and suddenly said "Another athlete! I'm going over." She headed off in the direction of NBA star Russell Westbrook.

Rapinoe, who looked smashing in her bright red silk Sergio Hudson pantsuit with a royal blue blouse emblazoned with white stars -- she nailed Monday evening's sartorial theme, American independence -- had just been noting the preponderance of big athletes at this particular gala. "We've infiltrated," she said with a grin.

Indeed, in the room and nearby were a tournament's worth of tennis stars — Serena Williams, recent U.S. Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, gala host Naomi Osaka, Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens, and U.S. Open champ Emma Raducanu, resplendent in Chanel. Westbrook wasn't the only NBA luminary -- there was Steph Curry and his wife, Ayesha. Gymnasts were in the house, too: Simone Biles made a memorable entrance in an 88-pound embroidered gown with a huge train carried up the museum steps by six men. And gymnast Nia Dennis did an actual gymnastic routine on the steps, to the Brooklyn Marching Band.

But then, the museum was filled with screen and TV stars, too, and musicians, and luminaries of business and politics. In fact, an evening that had been casually billed as a "mini" gala — with the full-size gala to return in May — hardly felt "mini" at all, with 400 guests instead of the usual 550 or so. The cocktail reception seemed as packed as always, the mingling just as energetic. 

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