AP News in Brief at 12:03 a.m. EDT
Size of Oregon wildfire underscores vastness of the US West
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – The monstrous wildfire burning in Oregon has grown to a third the size of Rhode Island and spreads miles each day, but evacuations and property losses have been minimal compared with much smaller blazes in densely populated areas of California.
The fire’s jaw-dropping size contrasted with its relatively small impact on people underscores the vastness of the American West and offers a reminder that Oregon, which is larger than Britain, is still a largely rural state, despite being known mostly for its largest city, Portland.
The 476-square-mile (1,210-square-kilometer) Bootleg Fire is burning 300 miles (483 kilometers) southeast of Portland in and around the Fremont-Winema National Forest, a vast expanse of old-growth forest, lakes and wildlife refuges.
If the fire were in densely populated parts of California, “it would have destroyed thousands of homes by now,” said James Johnston, a researcher with Oregon State University’s College of Forestry who studies historical wildfires. “But it is burning in one of the more remote areas of the lower 48 states. It’s not the Bay Area out there.”
At least 2,000 homes have been evacuated at some point during the fire and another 5,000 threatened. At least 70 homes and more than 100 outbuildings have gone up in flames. Thick smoke chokes the area where residents and wildlife alike have already been dealing with months of drought and extreme heat. No one has died.
McCarthy proposes 5 Republicans to sit on Jan. 6 panel
WASHINGTON (AP) – House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has picked five Republicans to sit on the new select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, signaling that Republicans will participate in the investigation that they have staunchly opposed.
McCarthy said Monday that he has selected Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, who recently visited former President Donald Trump on trips to the U.S.-Mexico border and Trump’s New Jersey golf club, to be the top Republican on the panel. The Republican leader also tapped Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, North Dakota Rep. Kelly Armstrong and Texas Rep. Troy Nehls to serve on the committee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must approve the names before they are final, per committee rules. An aide to Pelosi said she has received notification from McCarthy, but it is unclear when or if she will approve the GOP members. The aide was granted anonymity to discuss the Republican picks ahead of an official announcement.
The five Republican men selected by McCarthy have all backed Trump, whose supporters laid siege to the Capitol building on Jan. 6 and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. Banks, Jordan and Nehls all voted to overturn Biden’s win that day, even after the rioting. Davis and Armstrong were among the minority of Republicans who voted to certify Biden’s win.
McCarthy’s picks come after all but two Republicans opposed the creation of the 13-person select committee in a House vote last month, with most in the GOP arguing that the majority-Democratic panel would conduct a partisan probe. House Democrats originally attempted to create an evenly split, independent commission to investigate the insurrection, but that effort fell short when it was blocked by Senate Republicans.
Capitol rioter who breached Senate gets 8 months for felony
A crane operator from Florida who breached the U.S. Senate chamber carrying a Trump campaign flag was sentenced Monday to eight months behind bars, the first punishment handed down for a felony charge in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and one that could help determine the severity of other sentences in hundreds of pending cases.
In pronouncing the sentence on Paul Allard Hodgkins, U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss said the 38-year-old had played a role, if not as significant as others, in one of the worst episodes in American history. Thousands of rioters loyal to then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol and disrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s election win, in a stunning display of public violence.
“That was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a protest,” Moss said. “It was … an assault on democracy.” He added: “It left a stain that will remain on us … on the country for years to come.”
Moss acknowledged Hodgkins’ sentence could set a benchmark for future cases. Deciding an appropriate punishment for Hodgkins, he said, was more challenging because the case is unique and the court couldn’t look to previous sentencings as a guide.
Hodgkins was disappointed a prison term was imposed, his lawyer, Patrick Leduc, said in a phone interview after Monday’s hearing. He said Hodgkins was heading back to his hometown of Tampa to organize his affairs – which will include speaking to his employer about whether imprisonment will cost him his job – before reporting to prison in several months.
Biden wants spending to boost economy, but GOP to block vote
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden said Monday that his infrastructure and families agenda must be passed to sustain the economic momentum of his first six months in office, aiming to set the tone for a crucial week of congressional negotiations on the two bills.
But a Wednesday deadline set by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on the bipartisan infrastructure bill was in doubt as Republicans signaled they would block a procedural vote, for now, while details are still being worked out. Senators are wrangling over how to pay for the new spending in the $1 trillion package of highway, water system and other public works projects.
At the same time, Democrats are developing the particulars of a separate bill that would invest a stunning $3.5 trillion nationwide across Americans’ lives – with support for families, education, climate resiliency and other priorities that they aim to ultimately pass with solely Democratic support. Democrats hope to show progress on that bill before lawmakers leave Washington for their recess in August.
The legislative maneuvering marks a major test of Biden’s ability to deliver on a massive package of economic promises and reforms he made during his campaign. He’s been putting public pressure on lawmakers with a series of speeches highlighting the strengthening economy while emphasizing the need for further investment to continue that growth and to bolster the middle class. Biden’s top aides met with senators late Monday.
“What the best companies do – and what we as a country should do – is make smart, sustainable investments with appropriate financing,” the president said during remarks at the White House Monday.
Indonesian Muslims mark grim Eid amid devastating virus wave
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Muslims across Indonesia marked a grim Eid al-Adha festival for a second year Tuesday as the country struggles to cope with a devastating new wave of coronavirus cases and the government has banned large gatherings and toughened travel restrictions.
Indonesia is now Asia’s COVID-19 hot spot with the most confirmed daily cases, as infections and deaths have surged over the past three weeks and India’s massive outbreak has waned.
Most of Indonesia’s cases are on the densely populated island of Java, where more than half of the country’s 270 million people live. Authorities in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation have banned many of the crowd-attracting activities that are usually part of Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice that marks the end of the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Authorities allowed prayers at local mosques in low-risk areas, but elsewhere houses of worship had no congregations, including Jakarta’s Istiqlal Grand Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia.
Officials also banned the huge crowds that usually fill the yards of mosques to participate in ritual animal slaughter for the festival. Religious leaders urged the faithful to pray inside their homes and children were told to not go out to meet friends.
Biden: ‘Killing people’ remark was call for big tech to act
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden tempered his assessment that social media giants are “killing people” by hosting misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines on their platforms, saying Monday that he hoped they would not take it “personally” and instead would act to save lives.
While companies like Facebook defend their practices and say they’re helping people around the world access verified information about the shots, the White House says they haven’t done enough to stop misinformation that has helped slow the pace of new vaccinations in the U.S. to a trickle. It comes as the U.S. sees a rise in virus cases and deaths among those who haven’t gotten a shot, in what officials call an emerging “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Speaking at the White House, Biden insisted he meant “precisely what I said” when he said Friday of the tech giants that “they’re killing people.” But he said the point of his rhetoric was to ramp up pressure on the companies to take action.
“My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally that somehow I’m saying ‘Facebook is killing people,’ that they would do something about the misinformation,” Biden said.
Biden’s comments come as the White House has struggled to counteract resistance to getting a shot, particularly among younger and more Republican demographics. Fewer than 400,000 Americans are getting their first vaccine dose each day – down from a high of more than 2 million per day in April. More than 90 million eligible people have not received a dose.
Haiti awaits new chief as official mourning starts for Moïse
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – While they await a new leader, Haitians are beginning a series of official ceremonies Tuesday to honor President Jovenel Moïse nearly two weeks after he was assassinated at home.
The body of Moïse was to lie in state starting before dawn at the National Pantheon Museum in the capital of Port-au-Prince, officials said. He was shot multiple times during a July 7 attack in which his wife was seriously wounded.
The ceremonies come as designated Prime Minister Ariel Henry prepared to replace interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who assumed leadership of Haiti after the killing with the backing of police and the military.
It was not immediately clear when Henry would be sworn in, but he promised in an audio recording that he would soon announce who would form a provisional consensus government to lead Haiti until elections are held.
“We will need this unity to overcome the many challenges that beset us,” Henry said. “Some have observed the latest events with amazement, others wonder with reason about the management of the country.”
Microsoft Exchange hack caused by China, US and allies say
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration and Western allies formally blamed China on Monday for a massive hack of Microsoft Exchange email server software and asserted that criminal hackers associated with the Chinese government have carried out ransomware and other illicit cyber operations.
The announcements, though not accompanied by sanctions against the Chinese government, were intended as a forceful condemnation of activities a senior Biden administration official described as part of a “pattern of irresponsible behavior in cyberspace.” They highlighted the ongoing threat from Chinese hackers even as the administration remains consumed with trying to curb ransomware attacks from Russia-based syndicates that have targeted critical infrastructure.
The broad range of cyberthreats from Beijing disclosed on Monday included a ransomware attack from government-affiliated hackers that targeted victims – including in the U.S. – with demands for millions of dollars. U.S officials also alleged that criminal contract hackers associated with China’s Ministry of State Security have engaged in cyber extortion schemes and theft for their own profit.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department on Monday announced charges against four Chinese nationals who prosecutors said were working with the MSS in a hacking campaign that targeted dozens of computer systems, including companies, universities and government entities. The defendants are accused of targeting trade secrets and confidential business information, including scientific technologies and infectious-disease research.
Unlike in April, when public finger-pointing of Russian hacking was paired with a raft of sanctions against Moscow, the Biden administration did not announce any actions against Beijing. Nonetheless, a senior administration official who briefed reporters said that the U.S. has confronted senior Chinese officials and that the White House regards the multination shaming as sending an important message, even if no single action can change behavior.
Blue Origin brings space tourism to tiny Texas town
VAN HORN, Texas (AP) – For years, the official letterhead for the small town of Van Horn, tucked neatly among the foothills of the Guadalupe Mountains, read simply: “Farming, ranching, mining.”
And while there is still some farming and ranching in this far West Texas community, and a talc mine still operates near the edge of town, there’s another booming business in its midst: space tourism.
The sprawling spaceport of Blue Origin, the company founded by business magnate Jeff Bezos in 2000, is located about 25 miles outside of the town of about 1,800 residents on what was once desolate desert ranchland. On Tuesday, the company plans to launch four people on a 10-minute trip into space, including Bezos, his brother, Mark, female aviation pioneer Wally Funk, and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutchman and last-minute fill-in for the winner of a $28 million charity auction who had a scheduling conflict. Funk, at age 82, and Daemen will become the oldest and youngest people in space.
“That’s the big buzz in this little town,” said Valentina Muro as she rang up a customer at the Broadway Café along Van Horn’s main strip. “It’s kind of put Van Horn on the map a little more than it was.”
The town, which sprouted up in the late 1800s during the construction of the Texas and Pacific Railway, now is mostly an overnight stop for travelers along Interstate 10, which runs parallel to the town’s main road, dotted with hotels, restaurants, truck stops and convenience stores.
Female surfers overcome sexism’s toll to earn Olympic berth
LEMOORE, CALIF. (AP) – Johanne Defay of France was devastated when the mega sponsor Roxy dropped her right before she became a pro surfer in 2014, shattering her confidence and threatening her career altogether.
“They were just like ‘Oh, you don’t look this way, you know, for, like, pictures,” Defay said. “And I just felt like I was never doing enough or I wasn’t fitting in, in the way that they wanted for their brand.”
Now, Defay is headed to the Tokyo Olympics for surfing’s debut at the Summer Games, buoyed by an upset win against reigning world champion Carissa Moore at the high-intensity Surf Ranch competition last month.
Though there’s much excitement and renewed enthusiasm for the women’s game, years of objectification, pay disparities and an opportunity gap have taken their toll. Industry leaders from the professional World Surf League and the developmental USA Surfing say they’re committed to righting the wrongs that have long held female surfers back in the male-dominated sport.
The mental, financial and logistical roadblocks for women in surfing date back centuries.