In Brief: October 6, 2021

Evidence suggests ship anchor snagged, dragged oil pipeline

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Evidence emerged Tuesday that a ship’s anchor snagged and dragged an underwater pipeline that ruptured and spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil off Southern California, an accident the Coast Guard acknowledged it did not investigate for nearly 10 hours after the first call came in about a possible leak.

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The pipe was split open and a huge section was apparently dragged more than 100 feet along the ocean floor, possibly by “an anchor that hooked the pipeline, causing a partial tear,” federal transportation investigators said.

“The pipeline has essentially been pulled like a bow string,” said Martyn Willsher, CEO of Amplify Energy Corp., which operates the pipeline. “At its widest point, it is 105 feet away from where it was.”

The spill sent up to 126,000 gallons of heavy crude into the ocean off Huntington Beach, and it then washed onto miles of beaches and a protected marshland. The beaches could remain closed for weeks or longer, a major hit to the local economy. Coastal fisheries in the area are closed to commercial and recreational fishing.

The time of the spill was still unclear Tuesday, and there was no indication whether investigators suspect that a particular ship was involved.

Biden: Senate filibuster change on debt a ‘real possibility’

WASHINGTON — To get around Republican obstruction, President Joe Biden said Tuesday that Democrats are considering a change to the Senate’s filibuster rules in order to quickly approve lifting the nation’s debt limit and avoid what would be a devastating credit default.

The president’s surprise remarks come as the Senate is tangled in a fiscally dangerous standoff over a vote that’s needed to suspend the nation’s debt limit and allow the federal government to continue borrowing to pay down its balances. Congress has just days to act before the Oct. 18 deadline when the Treasury Department has warned it will run short of funds to handle the nation’s already accrued debt load.

Biden has resisted any filibuster rule changes over other issues, but his off-the-cuff comments Tuesday night interjected a new urgency to an increasingly uncertain situation.

“It’s a real possibility,” Biden told reporters outside the White House.

Getting rid of the filibuster rule would lower the typical 60-vote threshold for passage to 50. In the split 50-50 Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie, allowing Democrats to push past Republicans.

Biden pushes big plans as key to avoid ‘America’s decline’

HOWELL, Mich. — Calling opponents of his plans “complicit in America’s decline,” President Joe Biden made the case Tuesday that his ambitious social spending proposal is key to America’s global competitiveness — even as he acknowledged the current $3.5 trillion price tag will shrink.

With his plans in jeopardy on Capitol Hill, Biden journeyed to Michigan, declaring he wanted to “set some things straight” about his agenda and cut through what he dismissed as “noise” in Washington.

“America’s still the largest economy in the world, we still have the most productive workers and the most innovative minds in the world, but we’re at risk of losing our edge as a nation,” he said at a union training center, surrounded by bulldozers and other heavy equipment.

The president went on to spell out his plans in greater detail than he has in some time, after spending the past week deep in the details of negotiations on Capitol Hill. He highlighted popular individual parts of the plan, including funding for early childhood education and investments to combat climate change, rather than the expensive topline. And he emphasized that the trillions in spending would be drawn out over a decade and paid for by tax increases on corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

Speaking briefly to reporters afterward, Biden acknowledged that the overall $3.5 trillion number for his social spending bill will decline, but he insisted that he and Democrats in Congress will “get it done.”

From wire sources

Black colleges’ funding hopes dim amid federal budget battle

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Optimism for transformational funding for the nation’s historically Black colleges was running high after the Biden administration included $45 billion for the schools in its massive multitrillion dollar spending plan.

That outlook quickly soured as the funding became ensnared in Democratic infighting over the size of the economic package and what it should cover. The latest iteration of the bill includes just $2 billion that can go toward educational programs and infrastructure for Black colleges, and even that amount would be reduced to competitive grant funding rather than direct allocations.

That’s especially disappointing for many smaller, private historically Black colleges that don’t have the endowments as their larger and more well-known peers. They often struggle to upgrade their campuses and programs, hurting their ability to attract students.

The Biden administration’s original $3.5 trillion proposal called for sending at least $45 billion to Black colleges and other minority-serving institutions to update their research programs, create incubators to help students innovate and help traditionally underserved populations.

Getting a slice of that would have been a boon to Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, a private historically Black college. President Roderick L. Smothers said federal coronavirus relief money was instrumental in helping the university survive the pandemic with technology upgrades and student support, but he said Biden’s original proposal provided the kind of money that would have had a long-term impact.

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Missouri man executed for killing 3 workers in ‘94 robbery

BONNE TERRE, Mo. — A Missouri man was put to death Tuesday for killing three workers while robbing a convenience store nearly three decades ago, an execution performed over objections from racial justice activists, lawmakers and even the pope.

Ernest Johnson died from an injection of pentobarbital at the state prison in Bonne Terre. He silently mouthed words to relatives as the process began. His breathing became labored, he puffed out his cheeks, then swallowed hard. Within seconds, all movement stopped.

In his written last statement, Johnson said he was sorry “and have remorse for what I do.” He said he loved his family and friends and thanked those who prayed for him.

Johnson was pronounced dead at 6:11 p.m., nine minutes after the dose was administered. A corrections department spokeswoman said four relatives representing all three victims were present. Johnson’s witnesses included relatives and his lawyer. No relatives spoke after the execution.

Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said 59 demonstrators gathered on the edge of the prison grounds.

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Taliban meet with UK, Iran delegations amid economic woes

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders met Tuesday with U.K. officials for the first time since taking power, a move the group hopes will pave the way for the country to refill cash-starved coffers as it teeters on the brink of economic collapse.

The Taliban said meanwhile they arrested 11 members of the rival Islamic State group.

The Taliban’s meeting with British diplomats in the capital Kabul came a day after they met with an Iranian delegation — another first since assuming the helm — to discuss trade relations, a key driver of Afghanistan’s economy.

The Taliban met with Sir Simon Gass, the British prime minister’s high representative for Afghan transition, and Martin Longden, the chargé d’affaires of the U.K. mission to Afghanistan in Doha.

The meeting marked Britain’s first diplomatic visit to the country since the Taliban seized Kabul on Aug. 15, and took control of Afghanistan following the U.S. exit.

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