Briefs: 'Unfathomable' death toll
The Associated Press
The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus topped 200,000 Tuesday, by far the highest in the world, hitting the once-unimaginable threshold six weeks before an election that is certain to be a referendum in part on President Donald Trump's handling of the crisis.
"It is completely unfathomable that we've reached this point," said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins University public health researcher, eight months after the scourge first reached the world's richest nation, with its state-of-the-art laboratories, top-flight scientists and stockpiles of medical supplies.
The number of dead is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 67 days. It is roughly equal to the population of Salt Lake City or Huntsville, Alabama.
And it is still climbing. Deaths are running at close to 770 a day on average, and a widely cited model from the University of Washington predicts the U.S. toll will double to 400,000 by the end of the year as schools and colleges reopen and cold weather sets in. A vaccine is unlikely to become widely available until 2021.
"The idea of 200,000 deaths is really very sobering, in some respects stunning," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious-disease expert, said on CNN.
200,000 dead as Trump vilifies science, prioritizes politics
NEW YORK — "I did the best I could," President Donald Trump said.
Huddled with aides in the West Wing last week, his eyes fixed on Fox News, Trump wasn't talking about how he had led the nation through the deadliest pandemic in a century. In a conversation overheard by an Associated Press reporter, Trump was describing how he'd just publicly rebuked one of his top scientists — Dr. Robert Redfield, a virologist and head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Redfield had angered the president by asserting that a COVID-19 vaccine wouldn't be widely available until late 2021. So hours later, with no supporting evidence, Trump called a news conference to say Redfield was "confused." A vaccine, Trump insisted, could be ready before November's election.
Mission accomplished: Fox was headlining Trump's latest foray in his administration's ongoing war against its own scientists.
It is a war that continues unabated, even as the nation's COVID-19 death toll has reached 200,000 — nearly half the number of Americans killed in World War II, a once unfathomable number that the nation's top doctors just months ago said was avoidable.
Not so hush-hush search: Trump airs thinking on court seat
WASHINGTON — Barack Obama spent hours reading legal briefs as he mulled candidates for the Supreme Court. Bill Clinton savored building a personal connection with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And Ronald Reagan offered a personal touch in making his case for Anthony Kennedy after his first two picks for a vacancy went sideways.
President Donald Trump has a style all his own for selecting a nominee for the high court. He's flying by the seat of his pants with his frequent public deliberations on replacing Ginsburg, a process that's moving at warp speed.
In recent history, the process of picking a nominee has been notable for hush-hush meetings with finalists, presidents looking to cement a personal connection with their pick, invasive vetting and carefully planned media relations blitzes to support the nominee.
Trump is holding little back, readily airing his thinking on the state of the deliberations.
He's acknowledged the potential political benefits of those he might pick — his short list includes candidates from battleground states Florida and Michigan. The prospect of establishing a 6-3 conservative majority on the high court offers him a chance to energize supporters six weeks before Election Day.
Thousands expected to honor Ginsburg at Supreme Court
WASHINGTON — Thousands of people are expected to pay their respects at the Supreme Court to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the women's rights champion, leader of the court's liberal bloc and feminist icon who died last week.
Even with the court closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic and Washington already consumed with talk of Ginsburg's replacement, the justice's former colleagues, family, close friends and the public will have the chance Wednesday and Thursday to pass by the casket of the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
The sad occasion is expected to bring together the remaining eight justices for the first time since the building was closed in March and they resorted to meetings by telephone.
Ginsburg will lie in repose for two days at the court where she served for 27 years and, before that, argued six cases for gender equality in the 1970s.
Following a private ceremony Wednesday in the court's Great Hall, her casket will be moved outside the building to the top of the court's front steps so that public mourners can pay their respects in line with public health guidance for the pandemic.
World leaders who skipped past UN meetings get their moment
BOGOTA, Colombia — He's not recognized as a head of state by the country he'd be visiting. His diplomatic immunity is granted by the United Nations, not an unfriendly American administration that could decide to pick him up on drug-trafficking charges if he sets foot in the United States. Then there's the $15 million U.S. bounty for information leading to his arrest.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has good reason not to travel to New York for the annual United Nations gathering of world leaders. But this year's virtual U.N. General Assembly format means he can be heard without having to come to New York — or risk an uprising back home if he left the country.
Instead, Maduro will speak from the comfort of the presidential palace, renewing his place on the international stage after missing out on last year's event.
"This opens up an opportunity that Maduro doesn't usually have," Venezuelan analyst Luis Vicente Leon said. "On a net scale, he comes out winning."
He's not alone. A virtual General Assembly knows no national borders, incurs no travel expenses and allows even the most cautious, prickly or paranoid leaders to have their say without leaving their at-home security bubbles.
Telling COVID's story: At UN, leaders spin virus storylines
The subject: coronavirus. The status: urgent. The solutions: as diverse as the nations they lead.
With the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly reduced to recorded speeches because of the pandemic, leaders are using this week as an opportunity to depict the pandemic from the vantage points of their nations and themselves — and present their visions of efforts to fight the virus and advocate what they believe must be done.
A smattering of myriad ideas from speeches on Tuesday, the first day of the general debate:
— South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called for a suspension of interest payments on African nations' debt and renewed focus on eradicating global poverty.
— Chilean President Sebastián Piñera called on powerful nations to work together and stop generating "a worrisome lack of leadership."
Few resources, old-growth forest allowed for fire's growth
LOS ANGELES — A lack of firefighting resources in the hours after it was sparked allowed a fast-moving wildfire to make an unprecedented run through Southern California mountains and eventually find fuel in old-growth trees to become one of Los Angeles County's largest fires ever, an official said Tuesday.
The Bobcat Fire has burned for more than two weeks and was still threatening more than 1,000 homes after scorching its way through brush and timber down into the Mojave Desert. It's one of dozens of other major blazes across the West.
"This is a stubborn fire," Angeles National Forest spokesman Andrew Mitchell said. Only about 100 firefighters were initially dispatched on Sept. 6 when the Bobcat Fire broke out and swiftly grew to about 200 acres (81 hectares), he said.
"To put that into perspective, normally for a fire that size we'd have at least double or triple that number of firefighters," Mitchell said. At the time, many Southern California ground crews and a fleet of retardant- and water-dropping aircraft were assigned to multiple record-breaking blazes in the northern part of the state.
By the time staffing was ramped up, flames had found their way deep into inaccessible forest. Embers floated across mountain ridges, igniting towering trees and creating an expanding wall of fire.
Nearly 500 pilot whales stranded in Australia; 380 dead
HOBART, Australia (AP) — More pilot whales were found stranded in Australia on Wednesday, raising the estimated total to nearly 500, including 380 that have died, in the largest mass stranding ever recorded in the country.
Authorities had already been working to rescue survivors among an estimated 270 whales found Monday on a beach and two sand bars near the remote coastal town of Strahan on the southern island state of Tasmania.
Another 200 stranded whales were spotted from a helicopter on Wednesday less than 10 kilometers (6 miles) to the south, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service Manager Nic Deka said.
All 200 had been confirmed dead by late afternoon.
They were among 380 whales that had died overall, 30 that were alive but stranded and 50 that had been rescued since Tuesday, Deka said.