In Brief: September 15, 2021

Democrats try delicate tax maneuvers for $3.5 trillion bill

WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Tuesday began the serious work of trying to implement President Joe Biden’s expansive spending plan, but getting there will require remarkable legislative nimbleness, since Biden has said the revenue to pay for it must come only from Americans who earn more than $400,000 a year.

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Republicans, who have vowed lockstep opposition to the plan, turned their anger against proposed tax breaks they portrayed as subsidies for wealthy elites rather than help for the poor and middle class. Electric vehicles became a rallying symbol as class-warfare overtones echoed through a committee session.

The Democrats are proposing that the top tax rate rise back to 39.6% on individuals earning more than $400,000 — or $450,000 for couples — in addition to a 3% surtax on wealthier Americans with adjusted income beyond $5 million a year. For big business, the proposal would lift the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26.5% on companies’ annual income over $5 million.

“Look, I don’t want to punish anyone’s success, but the wealthy have been getting a free ride at the expense of the middle class for too long,” Biden tweeted Tuesday. “I intend to pass one of the biggest middle class tax cuts ever — paid for by making those at the top pay their fair share.”

The reach for revenue from the wealthy was even billboarded at the ultra-chic Met Gala in Manhattan Monday night. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a leading House progressive, wore a white gown with “Tax the Rich” in giant red letters emblazoned on the back (designer Aurora James).

California Gov. Gavin Newsom hangs on as recall vote result ‘no’

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday emphatically defeated a recall aimed at kicking him out of office early, a contest the Democrat framed as part of a national battle for his party’s values in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and continued threats from “Trumpism.”

Newsom bolted to a quick victory boosted by healthy turnout in the overwhelmingly Democratic state. He cast it as a win for science, women’s rights and other liberal issues, and it ensures the nation’s most populous state will remain in Democratic control as a laboratory for progressive policies.

“‘No’ is not the only thing that was expressed tonight,” Newsom said. “I want to focus on what we said ‘yes’ to as a state: We said yes to science, we said yes to vaccines, we said yes to ending this pandemic.”

With about 60% of ballots counted, “no” on the question of whether to recall Newsom was ahead by a 2-to-1 margin. That massive lead was built on votes cast by mail and in advance of Tuesday’s in-person balloting. While likely to shrink somewhat in the days ahead as votes cast at polling places are counted, the lead that Newsom took among votes cast before Election Day — which were counted first Tuesday night — was insurmountable.

Republican talk radio host Larry Elder almost certainly would have replaced Newsom had the recall succeeded, bringing a polar opposite political worldview, though he would have had to contend with a Legislature dominated by Democrats.

The California recall, which turned on Newsom’s approach to the pandemic, mirrored the nation’s political divide over business closures and mask and vaccine mandates, and both parties will dissect its outcome heading into the 2022 midterm elections.

Blinken defense of Afghan policy clouded by al-Qaida warning

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday sought to parry bipartisan congressional criticism of the Biden administration’s Afghanistan withdrawal, as new intelligence estimates warned that al-Qaida could soon again use Afghan soil to plot attacks on the United States.

Blinken had mixed results in attempting to face down a second day of tough congressional questioning, this time from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As a day earlier before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he was assailed by Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike over the administration’s preparation for and handling of the pullout.

Even lawmakers sympathetic to President Joe Biden’s decision to end America’s longest-running war by withdrawing from Afghanistan after 20 years expressed disappointment and concern about the large number of Americans, green card holders and at-risk Afghans left behind in the chaotic and hasty evacuation from Kabul.

And, as Blinken testified just three days after the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, intelligence officials presented a bleak assessment that al-Qaida could begin to use Afghan territory to threaten America within one to two years.

“The execution of the U.S. withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed,” said committee chairman Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who has been generally supportive of Biden’s foreign policy but has taken issue with several of its aspects, including Afghanistan.

Egypt team identifies fossil of land-roaming whale species

CAIRO — Egyptian scientists say the fossil of a four-legged prehistoric whale, unearthed over a decade ago in the country’s Western Desert, is that of a previously unknown species. The creature, an ancestor of the modern-day whale, is believed to have lived 43 million years ago.

The prehistoric whale, known as semi-aquatic because it lived both on land and sea, sported features of an accomplished hunter, the team’s leading paleontologist, Hesham Sallam, told The Associated Press — features that make it stand out among other whale fossils.

The fossil was first found by a team of Egyptian environmentalists in 2008 in an area that was covered by seas in prehistoric times, but researchers only published their findings confirming a new species last month.

Sallam said that his team did not start examining the fossil until 2017 because he wanted to assemble the best and the most talented Egyptian paleontologists for the study.

“This is the first time in the history of Egyptian vertebrate paleontology to have an Egyptian team leading a documentation of a new genus and species of four-legged whale,” said Sallam.

Haiti prosecutor seeks to charge PM in killing, is replaced

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A new chief prosecutor was sworn in Tuesday just hours after his predecessor asked a judge to charge Prime Minister Ariel Henry in the slaying of the president and to bar him from leaving Haiti, a move that could further destabilize a country roiled by turmoil following the assassination and a recent major earthquake.

The request filed by Port-au-Prince prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude, who was fired by Henry, came on the same day that the prosecutor had asked that the prime minister come to a meeting and explain why he spoke twice with a key suspect in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse just hours after the killing.

“There are enough compromising elements … to prosecute Henry and ask for his outright indictment,” Claude wrote before he was replaced by Frantz Louis Juste, a prosecutor who oversaw the case involving the deaths of more than a dozen children in a fire at an orphanage near Port-au-Prince last year.

A spokesman for Henry could not be reached for comment.

It wasn’t clear if Claude’s removal would have any impact on the case, but an analyst noted that the investigation is in the hands of a judge.

Jury weighing fate of Robert Durst after long murder trial

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury began deliberating Tuesday in the lengthy murder trial of New York real estate heir Robert Durst after a prosecutor described him as a “narcissistic psychopath” who needs to be held accountable.

Deputy District Attorney John Lewin told jurors in Los Angeles County Superior Court that Durst, a multimillionaire, had lived a privileged life in which he played by his own rules and only cared about himself. Lewin said he didn’t kill for pleasure but to resolve problems when backed into a corner.

“Bob Durst is not crazy. He’s not some nut job serial killer who goes around killing for the thrill of it,” Lewin said. “Don’t let this narcissistic psychopath get away with what he’s done.”

Durst, 78, who was hunched in a wheelchair in a light blue sportscoat, has pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge in the point-blank shooting of Susan Berman, his confidante.

Jurors deliberated about three hours before recessing for the day. They began hearing evidence in March 2020 before taking a 14-month break during the pandemic. The case resumed in May.

From wire sources

Nicholas, now a tropical depression, still douses Gulf Coast

SURFSIDE BEACH, Texas — Tropical Storm Nicholas weakened to a tropical depression early Tuesday evening after slowing to a crawl over southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana but still drenching the area with flooding rains.

The downgrade came the same day Nicholas blew ashore as a Category 1 hurricane, knocking out power to a half-million homes and businesses and dumping more than a foot of rain along the same area swamped by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Nicholas could potentially stall over storm-battered Louisiana and bring life-threatening floods across the Deep South over the coming days, forecasters said.

Nicholas made landfall early Tuesday on the eastern part of the Matagorda Peninsula and was soon downgraded to a tropical storm. As night approached Tuesday, its center was 60 miles (95 kilometers) east-northeast of Houston, with maximum winds of 35 mph (55 kph) as of 7 p.m. CDT Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. However, weather radar showed the heaviest rain was over southwestern Louisiana, well east of the storm center.

From wire sources

The storm is moving east-northeast at 6 mph (9 kph). The National Hurricane Center said the storm may continue to slow and even stall, and although its winds will gradually subside, heavy rainfall and a significant flash flood risk will continue along the Gulf Coast for the next couple days.

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Alanis Morissette blasts documentary ‘Jagged’ as ‘salacious’

NEW YORK — Just hours before the HBO documentary “Jagged” was to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Tuesday, Alanis Morissette criticized the film about her life as “reductive” and “salacious.”

Morissette participated in the film, directed by Alison Klayman, sitting for lengthy interviews. But in a statement issued by her publicist, the Canadian musician said she would not be supporting the film, named after her breakthrough 1995 album, “Jagged Little Pill.”

“I agreed to participate in a piece about the celebration of ‘Jagged Little Pill”s 25th anniversary, and was interviewed during a very vulnerable time (while in the midst of my third postpartum depression during lockdown),” wrote Morissette. “I was lulled into a false sense of security and their salacious agenda became apparent immediately upon my seeing the first cut of the film. This is when I knew our visions were in fact painfully diverged. This was not the story I agreed to tell.”

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Morissette didn’t specify her issues with “Jagged,” which is to premiere Nov. 19 on HBO. But its most sensitive material includes Morissette discussing sexual encounters when she was 15 that she calls statutory rape. The Washington Post earlier reported on that section of the film.

“It took me years in therapy to even admit there had been any kind of victimization on my part,” Morissette says in the film. “I would always say I was consenting, and then I’d be reminded like ‘Hey, you were 15, you’re not consenting at 15.’ Now I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, they’re all pedophiles. It’s all statutory rape.”

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