In Brief: April 28, 2021

Biden to propose free preschool, as details of speech emerge

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will call for free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-old children, a $200 billion investment to be rolled out as part of his sweeping American Families Plan being unveiled Wednesday in an address to Congress.

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The administration said the historic investment would benefit 5 million children and save the average family $13,000. It calls for providing federal funds to help the states offer preschool, with teachers and other employees earning $15 an hour.

“These investments will give American children a head start and pave the way for the best-educated generation in U.S. history,” the administration said.

The new details are part of Biden’s $1 trillion-plus package, an ambitious next phase of his massive infrastructure investment program, this one focused on so-called human infrastructure — child care, health care, education and other core aspects of the household architecture that undergird everyday life for countless Americans.

Together with Biden’s American Jobs Plan, a $2.3 trillion infrastructure investment to be funded by a corporate tax hike, they add up a whopping $4 trillion effort to fulfill his campaign vow to Build Back Better. The American Families Plan would be paid for by hiking taxes on the wealthiest 1% of Americans, in keeping with the president’s vow not to raise taxes on those making less than $400,000 a year.

US orders big drawdown at Kabul embassy as troops leave

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Tuesday ordered a significant number of its remaining staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to leave Afghanistan as the military steps up the pullout of American troops from the country.

The order came as the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan told lawmakers that it no longer made sense to continue the 20-year deployment of American troops there. At the same time, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said he shared lawmakers’ concerns that the rights of women and minorities could be jeopardized after the withdrawal is complete.

“We should all remain concerned that those rights could suffer,” Khalilzad told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Asked if the U.S. would retain any leverage to protect those rights once its troops are gone, Khalilzad was circumspect. He said aid and other types of diplomatic support “would be not available if they did not respect the human rights of Afghan women or others.”

Shortly before he spoke, the State Department said it had instructed all personnel to depart unless their jobs require them to be physically located in Afghanistan. The order was not specific as to the number of people affected, but it went well beyond the usual curtailment of staffers for security and safety reasons. Such orders normally apply only to non-essential personnel.

In an updated travel advisory for Afghanistan, the department said it had ordered the departure of all U.S. government employees “whose functions can be performed elsewhere.” It also said American citizens should not travel to Afghanistan and those there who want to depart “should leave as soon as possible on available commercial flights.”

‘Cannon fodder’: Medical students in India feel betrayed

NEW DELHI — Since the beginning of the week, Dr. Siddharth Tara, a postgraduate medical student at New Delhi’s government-run Hindu Rao Hospital, has had a fever and persistent headache. He took a COVID-19 test, but the results have been delayed as the country’s health system implodes.

His hospital, overburdened and understaffed, wants him to keep working until the testing laboratory confirms he has COVID-19.

On Tuesday, India reported 323,144 new infections for a total of more than 17.6 million cases, behind only the United States. India’s Health Ministry also reported another 2,771 deaths in the past 24 hours, with 115 Indians succumbing to the disease every hour. Experts say those figures are likely an undercount.

“I am not able to breathe. In fact, I’m more symptomatic than my patients. So how can they make me work?” asked Tara.

The challenges facing India today, as cases rise faster than anywhere else in the world, are being compounded by the fragility of its health system and its doctors.

From wire sources

Fear, lack of funding hurt census in Sun Belt, advocates say

AUSTIN, Texas — According to the new census, the booming Sun Belt isn’t booming quite like the experts thought.

Population counts released Monday came as a shock to many demographers and politicians who expected to see growth that could add numerous congressional seats to a region that’s apparently been gaining people rapidly all decade. Instead, the census found more modest growth that added only three seats total in Florida and Texas. Arizona, the second-fastest growing state in 2010, didn’t add a seat at all.

The questions that advocacy groups and officials are now asking are whether all the new subdivisions and shopping centers are a mirage; whether those states erred in not investing more in encouraging residents to fill out census forms — and whether Latinos in particular were reluctant to trust the Trump administration with their information.

Many demographers caution it’s too early to conclude that the nation’s once-a-decade count missed any specific population groups. That won’t be known until more local data is released later this year and the Census Bureau has completed an independent survey measuring the accuracy of the 2020 head count.

But one thing is indisputable — when compared to the most recent population estimates, the three Sun Belt states underperformed during the count used for determining how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets. Texas got two extra seats instead of three; Florida added only a single new seat instead of two, and Arizona failed to gain the seat it was expecting to add.

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FBI starts probe into death of Black man killed by deputies

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — The FBI launched a civil rights probe Tuesday into the death of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man killed by deputies in North Carolina, as his family released an independent autopsy showing he was shot five times, including in the back of the head.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called for a special prosecutor while pressure built on authorities to release body camera footage of last week’s shooting. A judge scheduled a hearing Wednesday to consider formal requests to make the video public.

The FBI’s Charlotte field office, which opened the civil rights investigation into Brown’s death, said in a statement that its agents planned to work closely with the Department of Justice “to determine whether federal laws were violated.”

The independent autopsy was performed Sunday by a pathologist hired by Brown’s family. The exam noted four wounds to the right arm and one to the head. The state’s autopsy has not been released yet.

The family’s lawyers also released a copy of the death certificate, which lists the cause of death as a “penetrating gunshot wound of the head.” The certificate, signed by a paramedic services instructor who serves as a local medical examiner, describes the death as a homicide.

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Juvenile lifer who set precedent sentenced to life again

MOULTON, Ala. — Evan Miller was just 14 when he committed the slaying that sent him to prison.

In reviewing his case, the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles — saying judges and juries should consider the special factors of youth — a decision that eventually led to inmates across the country getting a chance at release.

But Miller will not get that chance. A judge on Tuesday handed down a second life sentence without possibility of parole.

Lawrence Circuit Judge Mark Craig ruled that Evan Miller, despite being a young teen when he committed his crime, met the legal criteria to be sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. Craig said the severity of Miller’s crime outweighed the mitigating factors of Miller’s age and his abuse-filled childhood that the defense argued made him deserving of an opportunity of a chance to get out of prison some day.

Craig said a sentence of life without the possibility of parole was the “only just sentence” over the lesser punishment of life with a chance of parole after 30 years.

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With pools closed, Peruvians turn to open-water swimming

LIMA, Peru — The swimmers began gathering even before dawn glimmers on Pescadores beach, plunging into the Pacific surf for one of the few athletic endeavors permitted under Peru’s strict pandemic restrictions.

Swimming pools have been closed for more than a year, but government has since Oct. 30 allowed open-water swimming, even if relaxing on the beach is banned to prevent mass gatherings.

Forty-three-year-old Lorena Choy said swimming “relaxes me, unstresses me. … It helps a lot psychologically.”

Swimming coach Víctor Solís, 47, said he estimated that the number of swimmers out each morning has multlplied fivefold recently.

Peru is one of the countries hardest hit, per capita, by COVID-19. Hospitals remain overwhelmed and oxygen remains in short supply.

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Q&A: Michael B. Jordan on protest, power &‘Without Remorse’

NEW YORK — Michael B. Jordan’s power on screen has taken many forms. His heavyweight force in “Creed.” His capacity to inspire change as Bryan Stevenson in “Just Mercy.” His raw fury in “Black Panther.”

But Jordan’s potency reaches new, muscular heights in “Without Remorse” a Tom Clancy adaptation that recasts Jordan as a globe-trotting action star. The film (which debuts Friday on Amazon Prime Video) is an updated origin story of Navy SEAL John Clark, Clancy’s best-known character outside of Jack Ryan. Jordan is hoping it spawns a franchise.

The project has been around Hollywood for decades; Keanu Reeves and Tom Hardy are among those who have previously flirted with it. But Jordan saw the possibility to not only do a big-budget action thriller and perform a lot of his own stunts, but to retailor the film to today. He’s a producer on the film via his company, Outlier Society Productions, a leading force in making Hollywood more inclusive.

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Jordan spent much of the past year quarantined with his family and friends, a time he says has that has been reflective.

“The last few years I’ve been blessed to have a kind of non-stop career,” says Jordan, speaking by phone from Los Angeles. “I kind of had a moment to look at myself and family, spend time with my nephew — things that I probably wouldn’t have had as much time to do if I was running from one production to another.”

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