In Brief: September 26, 2021

  • Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, on Saturday. (Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP)

Panel OKs Dems’ $3.5T bill, crunch time for Biden agenda

WASHINGTON — Democrats pushed a $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill strengthening social safety net and climate programs through the House Budget Committee on Saturday, but one Democrat voted “no,” illustrating the challenges party leaders face in winning the near unanimity they’ll need to push the sprawling package through Congress.

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The Democratic-dominated panel, meeting virtually, approved the measure on a near party-line vote, 20-17. Passage marked a necessary but minor checking of a procedural box for Democrats by edging it a step closer to debate by the full House. Under budget rules, the committee wasn’t allowed to significantly amend the 2,465-page measure, the product of 13 other House committees.

More important work has been happening in an opaque procession of mostly unannounced phone calls, meetings and other bargaining sessions among party leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers. President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have led a behind-the-scenes hunt for compromises to resolve internal divisions and, they hope, allow approval of the mammoth bill soon.

Pelosi told fellow Democrats Saturday that they “must” pass the social and environment package this week, along with a separate infrastructure bill and a third measure preventing a government shutdown on Friday. Her letter to colleagues underscored the pile of crucial work Congress’ Democratic majority faces in coming days and seemed an effort to build urgency to resolve long-standing disputes quickly.

“The next few days will be a time of intensity,” she wrote.

COVID-19 vaccine boosters could mean billions for drugmakers

Billions more in profits are at stake for some vaccine makers as the U.S. moves toward dispensing COVID-19 booster shots to shore up Americans’ protection against the virus.

How much the manufacturers stand to gain depends on how big the rollout proves to be.

U.S. health officials late on Thursday endorsed booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for all Americans 65 and older — along with tens of millions of younger people who are at higher risk from the coronavirus because of health conditions or their jobs.

Officials described the move as a first step. Boosters will likely be offered even more broadly in the coming weeks or months, including boosters of vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson &Johnson. That, plus continued growth in initial vaccinations, could mean a huge gain in sales and profits for Pfizer and Moderna in particular.

“The opportunity quite frankly is reflective of the billions of people around the world who would need a vaccination and a boost,” Jefferies analyst Michael Yee said.

Petito case renews call to spotlight missing people of color

SALT LAKE CITY — In the three months since 62-year-old Navajo rug weaver Ella Mae Begay vanished, the haunting unanswered questions sometimes threaten to overwhelm her niece.

Seraphine Warren has organized searches of the vast Navajo Nation landscape near her aunt’s home in Arizona but is running out of money to pay for gas and food for the volunteers.

“Why is it taking so long? Why aren’t our prayers being answered?” she asks.

Begay is one of thousands of Indigenous women who have disappeared throughout the U.S. Some receive no public attention at all, a disparity that extends to many other people of color.

The disappearance of Gabby Petito, a white 22-year-old woman who went missing in Wyoming last month during a cross-country trip with her boyfriend, has drawn a frenzy of coverage on traditional and social media, bringing new attention to a phenomenon known as “missing white woman syndrome.”

Neo-Nazis are still on Facebook. And they’re making money

BRUSSELS — It’s the premier martial arts group in Europe for right-wing extremists. German authorities have twice banned their signature tournament. But Kampf der Nibelungen, or Battle of the Nibelungs, still thrives on Facebook, where organizers maintain multiple pages, as well as on Instagram and YouTube, which they use to spread their ideology, draw in recruits and make money through ticket sales and branded merchandise.

The Battle of the Nibelungs — a reference to a classic heroic epic much loved by the Nazis — is one of dozens of far-right groups that continue to leverage mainstream social media for profit, despite Facebook’s and other platforms’ repeated pledges to purge themselves of extremism.

All told, there are at least 54 Facebook profiles belonging to 39 entities that the German government and civil society groups have flagged as extremist, according to research shared with The Associated Press by the Counter Extremism Project, a non-profit policy and advocacy group formed to combat extremism. The groups have nearly 268,000 subscribers and friends on Facebook alone.

CEP also found 39 related Instagram profiles, 16 Twitter profiles and 34 YouTube channels, which have gotten over 9.5 million views. Nearly 60% of the profiles were explicitly aimed at making money, displaying prominent links to online shops or photos promoting merchandise.

Click on the big blue “view shop” button on the Erik &Sons Facebook page and you can buy a T-shirt that says, “My favorite color is white,” for 20 euros ($23). Deutsches Warenhaus offers “Refugees not welcome” stickers for just 2.50 euros ($3) and Aryan Brotherhood tube scarves with skull faces for 5.88 euros ($7). The Facebook feed of OPOS Records promotes new music and merchandise, including “True Aggression,” “Pride &Dignity,” and “One Family” T-shirts. The brand, which stands for “One People One Struggle,” also links to its online shop from Twitter and Instagram.

Russia says it’s in sync with US, China, Pakistan on Taliban

UNITED NATIONS — Russia, China, Pakistan and the United States are working together to ensure that Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers keep their promises, especially to form a genuinely representative government and prevent extremism from spreading, Russia’s foreign minister said Saturday.

Sergey Lavrov said the four countries are in ongoing contact. He said representatives from Russia, China and Pakistan recently traveled to Qatar and then to Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, to engage with both the Taliban and representatives of “secular authorities” — former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who headed the ousted government’s negotiating council with the Taliban.

Lavrov said the interim government announced by the Taliban does not reflect “the whole gamut of Afghan society — ethno-religious and political forces — so we are engaging in contacts. They are ongoing.”

The Taliban have promised an inclusive government, a more moderate form of Islamic rule than when they last ruled the country from 1996 to 2001 including respecting women’s rights, providing stability after 20 years of war, fighting terrorism and extremism and stopping militants from using their territory to launch attacks. But recent moves suggest they may be returning to more repressive policies, particularly toward women and girls.

“What’s most important … is to ensure that the promises that they have proclaimed publicly to be kept,” Lavrov said. “And for us, that is the top priority.”

From wire sources

‘Amistad’ binds Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña amid migrant crisis

DEL RIO, Texas — Amistad — Spanish for friendship — binds the sister cities of Del Rio, Texas, and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.

Each year, the border communities that sit across the Rio Grande from one another come together to celebrate that bond during the Fiesta de la Amistad. Leaders from both sides of the border meet at the festival and share abrazos, or hugs, to commemorate their common history and an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico to build the Amistad Dam and Reservoir in the 1960s.

The relationship shows in many ways, with workers and families typically going back-and-forth between Acuña and Del Rio daily. But that traffic was disrupted for more than a week by the shutdown of the bridge that connects them and serves as a conduit for commerce, culture and community. Officials closed the crossing on Sept. 17 after an encampment made up of mostly Haitian migrants formed around the span. The camp was completely cleared of migrants on Friday, and U.S. authorities announced the bridge would partially reopen to passenger traffic late Saturday afternoon and to cargo traffic on Monday morning.

Some locals have felt the shutdown keenly.

Acuña resident Gerardo Hernández, 51, was told that starting Wednesday, his salary would be cut by 50% until further notice because of the closure. The materials used at the border assembly plant where he works installing car seats come from the U.S. side.

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Taliban hang body in public; signal return to past tactics

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban hanged a dead body from a crane parked in a city square in Afghanistan on Saturday in a gruesome display that signaled the hard-line movement’s return to some of its brutal tactics of the past.

Taliban officials initially brought four bodies to the central square in the western city of Herat, then moved three of them to other parts of the city for public display, said Wazir Ahmad Seddiqi, who runs a pharmacy on the edge of the square.

Taliban officials announced that the four were caught taking part in a kidnapping earlier Saturday and were killed by police, Seddiqi said. Ziaulhaq Jalali, a Taliban-appointed district police chief in Herat, said later that Taliban members rescued a father and son who had been abducted by four kidnappers after an exchange of gunfire. He said a Taliban fighter and a civilian were wounded by the kidnappers, and that the kidnappers were killed in crossfire.

An Associated Press video showed crowds gathering around the crane and peering up at the body as some men chanted.

“The aim of this action is to alert all criminals that they are not safe,” a Taliban commander who did not identify himself told the AP in an on-camera interview conducted in the square.

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Brewers announcer Bob Uecker honored for 50 years behind mic

MILWAUKEE — As expected, the ceremony honoring popular Brewers announcer Bob Uecker’s half-century at the microphone involved remembrances, appreciation — and a heavy dose of humorous stories.

At least the ones Uecker said he could share with an audience of family, friends, former players and team employees that spanned generations.

Uecker, a Milwaukee native affectionately known as “Mr. Baseball,” was honored Saturday with Bob Uecker Day in the city of Milwaukee and state of Wisconsin.

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Uecker also “threw” out the first pitch, at the last minute pulling the cover off a pitching machine in front of the mound.

Joining Uecker on the dais at the ceremony before Saturday’s game against the New York Mets were former Brewers owner and MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who gave Uecker his first broadcasting job with the team; current owner Mark Attanasio; and former Brewers players Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, each in the Hall of Fame.