AP News in Brief at 11:04 pm EDT
US waives FBI checks on caregivers at new migrant facilities
HOUSTON (AP) — The Biden administration is not requiring FBI fingerprint background checks of caregivers at its rapidly expanding network of emergency sites to hold thousands of immigrant teenagers, alarming child welfare experts who say the waiver compromises safety.
In the rush to get children out of overcrowded and often unsuitable Border Patrol sites, President Joe Biden's team is turning to a measure used by previous administrations: tent camps, convention centres and other huge facilities operated by private contractors and funded by U.S. Health and Human Services. In March alone, the Biden administration announced it will open eight new emergency sites across the Southwest adding 15,000 new beds, more than doubling the size of its existing system.
These emergency sites don't have to be licensed by state authorities or provide the same services as permanent HHS facilities. They also cost far more, an estimated $775 per child per day.
And to staff the sites quickly, the Biden administration has waived vetting procedures intended to protect minors from potential harm.
Staff and volunteers directly caring for children at new emergency sites don't have to undergo FBI fingerprint checks, which use criminal databases not accessible to the public and can overcome someone changing their name or using a false identity.
Myanmar forces kill scores in deadliest day since coup
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — As Myanmar’s military celebrated the annual Armed Forces Day holiday with a parade Saturday in the country's capital, soldiers and police elsewhere killed scores of people while suppressing protests in the deadliest bloodletting since last month's coup.
The online news site Myanmar Now reported late Saturday that the death toll had reached 114. A count issued by an independent researcher in Yangon who has been compiling near-real time death tolls put the total at 107, spread over more than two dozen cities and towns. That’s more than the previous high on March 14, which ranged from 74 to 90.
The killings quickly drew international condemnation, including a joint statement from the defence chiefs of 12 countries.
“A professional military follows international standards for conduct and is responsible for protecting – not harming – the people it serves,” it said. “We urge the Myanmar Armed Forces to cease violence and work to restore respect and credibility with the people of Myanmar that it has lost through its actions.”
The European Union’s delegation to Myanmar said that the 76th Myanmar Armed Forces Day “will stay engraved as a day of terror and dishonour.”
Floyd spurred broad push for change globally, activists say
Richard Wallace had seen it all before, and he wasn’t hopeful.
It was, he thought, the same old story: Police kill a Black person, protests erupt, politicians pledge reforms and corporations offer platitudes about supporting needed change. But Wallace, the 38-year-old founder and executive director of Equity and Transformation, a social and economic justice advocacy group in Chicago, came to realize that this time was different.
This time the victim was George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black father of five captured in a sickening citizen video taking his final breaths under a white officer’s knee. And this time, the victim would become a global symbol for change much broader than criminal justice reform.
“George Floyd has taken systemic racism from personal problem to America's issue,” Wallace said. “It's clear we're seeing a growing and maturing of a movement.”
As Minneapolis braces for Monday’s opening statements in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the ex-officer who is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death, so does the world. Floyd was the spark that set the U.S. ablaze. In the days and months after his death on Memorial Day, millions of Americans, along with thousands in cities abroad, took to the streets in protests that were often peaceful but sometimes violent and destructive.
GOP lawmakers seek greater control over local elections
Partisan takeovers of election boards. Threats to fine county election officials and overturn results. Even bans on giving water to voters while they stand in line.
In addition to their nationwide efforts to limit access to the ballot, Republican lawmakers in some states are moving to gain greater control over the local mechanics of elections, from voter registration all the way to certifying results.
The bills, which have already become law in Georgia and Iowa, resurrect elements of former President Donald Trump's extraordinary campaign to subvert his loss, when his backers openly floated the notion of having legislatures override the will of the voters and launched legal challenges against measures that made it easier to vote during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s an overreach of power,” said Aunna Dennis, executive director of the Georgia chapter of the voting advocacy group Common Cause. “They’re definitely trying to do an upheaval of our election system.”
In a step widely interpreted as a way to check Georgia's Democratic strongholds, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill Thursday to give the GOP-dominated Legislature greater influence over a state board that regulates elections and empowers it to remove local election officials deemed to be underperforming.
No timeline given for extracting wedged ship from Suez Canal
SUEZ, Egypt (AP) — A giant container ship remained stuck sideways in Egypt’s Suez Canal for a fifth day Saturday, as authorities made new attempts to free the vessel and reopen a crucial waterway whose blockage is disrupting global shipping and trade.
Meanwhile, the head of the Suez Canal Authority said strong winds were “not the only cause” for the Ever Given running aground on Tuesday, appearing to push back against conflicting assessments offered by others. Lt. Gen. Osama Rabei told a news conference Saturday that an investigation was ongoing but did not rule out human or technical error.
The massive Ever Given, a Panama-flagged ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, got stuck in a single-lane stretch of the canal, about six kilometres (3.7 miles) north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez.
Rabei said he could not predict when the ship might be dislodged. A Dutch salvage firm is attempting to refloat the vessel with tugboats and dredgers, taking advantage of high tides.
Rabei said he remained hopeful that dredging could free the ship without having to resort to removing its cargo, but added that “we are in a difficult situation, it’s a bad incident.”
Williams, Bueckers lead UConn past Iowa in NCAA Sweet 16
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The game was billed as a marquee matchup of uber-talented freshmen Paige Bueckers and Caitlin Clark. While those two didn't disappoint, it was Christyn Williams and UConn's other upperclassmen who stepped up and helped the Huskies advance.
Williams scored 27 points and Bueckers added 18 to lead No. 1 UConn to a 92-72 win over fifth-seeded Iowa on Saturday in the Sweet 16 of the women's NCAA Tournament.
“The fact there was so much hype on those two kids. Part of it was unfair and comes with the territory,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Like I told the team before the game, in all these matchups, it comes (down) to somebody else. ... Our defence as bad as it was at times, was really, really good when it had to be. Christyn Williams, Evina Westbrook and Olivia (Nelson-Ododa), our three juniors were amazing, played the way you wanted your upperclassmen to play. It was not going to be easy on either Caitlin or Paige to play their normal game.”
Bueckers and Iowa's Clark had taken the women's basketball world by storm this season. Bueckers became the third freshman ever to earn All-America honours. Clark led the nation in scoring and came into the regional semifinals averaging 29 points in the tournament.
“I was super excited for this game, just because of the spotlight on it,” said Bueckers, who also had nine rebounds and eight assists. “And I know everybody hyped it up to be Caitlin versus Paige, but I was so excited for our team because I knew that people were going to come and notice and watch our whole team play.”
Vice presidents' policy projects come with political risks
WASHINGTON (AP) — Mike Pence led the coronavirus task force only to be constantly overruled by the White House. Al Gore's efforts to “reinvent government" were largely forgotten during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Dan Quayle's revamping of space policy never got much notice to begin with.
For decades, the job of a vice-president was to try to stay relevant, to avoid being viewed, in the words of one occupant of the post, as “standby equipment." But in recent administrations, the seconds-in-command have increasingly been deputized with special policy assignments that add some weight — and political risk — to the job.
That's likely to be the case for Vice-President Kamala Harris, who this week was named the new point person on immigration. The job comes as President Joe Biden is rolling back four years of stringent policies enacted by his predecessor and contending with intensifying Republican criticism over the increased flow of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border.
“It’s usually a ceremonial role. This is definitely not a ceremonial task,” said Nina Rees, a former deputy assistant for domestic policy to Vice-President Dick Cheney.
Harris' team has clarified that the vice-president does not own all of immigration policy. She will be focused on the diplomatic side, working with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to try to stop the flow of migrants from those countries, and not on the difficult task of deciding who is let into the U.S., where they are housed and what to do with the children who arrive without their parents.
2 in Seattle, San Francisco face anti-Asian hate charges
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Prosecutors in Seattle and San Francisco have charged men with hate crimes in separate incidents that authorities say targeted people of Asian descent amid a wave of high-profile and sometimes deadly violence against Asian Americans since the pandemic began.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Los Angeles and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area on Saturday, the latest in a series of rallies in response what many said has become a troubling surge of anti-Asian sentiments.
“We can no longer accept the normalization of being treated as perpetual foreigners in this country,” speaker Tammy Kim told a rally in LA's Koreatown.
At rally attended by more than 1,000 people in San Francisco's Civic Center, the city's police chief, Bill Scott, drew loud applause when he said, “Hate is the virus, and love is the vaccination.”
On Friday, prosecutors in King County, Washington, charged Christopher Hamner, 51, with three counts of malicious harassment after police say he screamed profanities and threw things at cars in two incidents last week targeting women and children of Asian heritage, The Seattle Times reported Saturday.
As daily deaths near 4,000, worst may lie ahead for Brazil
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil currently accounts for one-quarter of the entire world’s daily COVID-19 deaths, far more than any other single nation, and health experts are warning that the nation is on the verge of even greater calamity.
The nation’s seven-day average of 2,400 deaths stands to reach to 3,000 within weeks, six experts told the Associated Press. That’s nearly the worst level seen by the U.S., though Brazil has two-thirds its population. Spikes of daily deaths could soon hit 4,000; on Friday there were 3,650.
Having glimpsed the abyss, there is growing recognition shutdowns are no longer avoidable -- not just among experts, but also many mayors and governors. Restrictions on activity they implemented last year were half-hearted and consistently sabotaged by President Jair Bolsonaro, who sought to stave off economic doom. He remains unconvinced of any need for clampdown, which leaves local leaders pursuing a patchwork of measures to prevent the death toll from spiraling further.
It may be too late, with a more contagious variant rampaging across Brazil. For the first time, new daily cases topped 100,000 on March 25, with many more uncounted. Miguel Nicolelis, professor of Neurobiology at Duke University who advised several Brazilian governors and mayors on pandemic control, anticipates the total death toll reaching 500,000 by July and exceeding that of the U.S. by year-end.
“We have surpassed levels never imagined for a country with a public health care system, a history of efficient immunization campaigns and health workers who are second to none in the world,” Nicolelis said. “The next stage is the health system collapse.”
Now vaccinated, older adults emerge from COVID hibernation
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Bill Griffin waited more than a year for this moment: Newly vaccinated, he embraced his 3-year-old granddaughter for the first time since the pandemic began.
“She came running right over. I picked her up and gave her a hug. It was amazing,” the 70-year-old said after the reunion last weekend.
Spring has arrived with sunshine and warmer weather, and many older adults who have been vaccinated, like Griffin, are emerging from COVID-19-imposed hibernation.
From shopping in person or going to the gym to bigger milestones like visiting family, the people who were once most at risk from COVID-19 are beginning to move forward with getting their lives on track. More than 47% of Americans who are 65 and older are now fully vaccinated.
Visiting grandchildren is a top priority for many older adults. In Arizona, Gailen Krug has yet to hold her first grandchild, who was born a month into the pandemic in Minneapolis. Now fully vaccinated, Krug is making plans to travel for her granddaughter’s first birthday in April.