Formal start of final phase of Afghan pullout by US, NATO
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The final phase of ending America's “forever war” in Afghanistan after 20 years formally began Saturday, with the withdrawal of the last U.S. and NATO troops by the end of summer.
President Joe Biden had set May 1 as the official start of the withdrawal of the remaining forces — about 2,500-3,500 U.S. troops and about 7,000 NATO soldiers.
Even before Saturday, the herculean task of packing up had begun.
The military has been taking inventory, deciding what is shipped back to the U.S., what is handed to the Afghan security forces and what is sold as junk in Afghanistan's markets. In recent weeks, the military has been flying out equipment on massive C-17 cargo planes.
The U.S. is estimated to have spent more than $2 trillion in Afghanistan in the past two decades, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University, which documents the hidden costs of the U.S. military engagement.
India launches effort to inoculate all adults against COVID
NEW DELHI (AP) — In hopes of taming a monstrous spike in COVID-19 infections, India opened vaccinations to all adults Saturday, launching a huge inoculation effort that was sure to tax the limits of the federal government, the country's vaccine factories and the patience of its 1.4 billion people.
The world's largest maker of vaccines was still short of critical supplies — the result of lagging manufacturing and raw material shortages that delayed the rollout in several states. And even in places where the shots were in stock, the country’s wide economic disparities made access to the vaccine inconsistent.
The country's ambitious effort was also partly overshadowed Saturday by a fire in a COVID-19 ward in western India that killed 18 patients, and the death of 12 COVID-19 patients at a hospital in New Delhi after the facility ran out of oxygen for 80 minutes.
Only a fraction of India’s population will be able to afford the prices charged by private hospitals for the shot, experts said, meaning that states will be saddled with immunizing the 600 million Indian adults younger than 45, while the federal government gives shots to 300 million health care and front-line workers and people older than 45.
So far, government vaccines have been free, and private hospitals have been permitted to sell shots at a price capped at 250 rupees, or around $3. That practice will now change: Prices for state governments and private hospitals will be determined by vaccine companies. Some states might not be able to provide vaccines for free since they are paying twice as much as the federal government for the same shot, and prices at private hospitals could rise.
More perilous phase ahead for Biden after his 1st 100 days
WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden's presidency is entering a new and more perilous phase where he is almost certain to face stiffer Republican opposition and also have difficulty keeping Democrats united as he pushes for $4 trillion in additional spending on programs that have echoes of the New Deal and the Great Society.
Past the 100-day mark, with positive approval ratings and a far-reaching, nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill to show for it, Biden is now facing far more uncertain terrain. The president is racing against the calendar, governing with the most slender of majorities on Capitol Hill while knowing that historically the party that holds the White House loses seats in midterm elections, which would cost Democrats control of Congress after the 2022 vote.
His next 100 days will feature his first foreign trip but will be dominated by his push to pass his expansive plans on infrastructure and children, families and education, which would expand the social safety net for children, increase taxes on the wealthy and fund projects that his critics say are infrastructure in name only.
Overall, his approach is less about stimulating the economy than stabilizing it over the long term with middle-class jobs, and proving that a democracy, even a bitterly divided one, remains capable of doing big things.
“In another era when our democracy was tested, Franklin Roosevelt reminded us: In America, we do our part,” Biden said in his address to Congress on Wednesday night. “That’s all I’m asking. That we all do our part. And if we do, then we will meet the central challenge of the age by proving that democracy is durable and strong.”
Spokesperson: People shot at Wisconsin casino
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — A spokeswoman for a Wisconsin casino says an undetermined number of people have been shot at the casino.
The Oneida Casino in Green Bay tweeted Saturday there was an active shooter at the casino. Spokeswoman Bobbi Webster said Saturday evening that she didn't have information on how many were shot or their conditions. She said she also did not have confirmation that anyone had been arrested.
Green Bay police and the Brown County Sheriff's Office told The Associated Press they have no details on the casino incident.
Webster cited Oneida police and casino security for her information. She said people were being cleared out of the casino and nearby properties.
“We do not know where the individual was shooting, or (where) individuals were shot,” Webster said.
Medina Spirit gives Baffert record 7th Kentucky Derby win
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — John Velazquez was in a familiar place, in the lead aboard Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby and holding off the stretch bid of three challengers. This time, Bob Baffert couldn't believe what he was seeing.
Medina Spirit won by a half-length on Saturday, giving Baffert his seventh victory, the most of any trainer in the race's 147-year history.
The jockey and trainer — both Hall of Famers — teamed up eight months ago to win a pandemic-delayed Derby in September with Authentic, who raced to an early lead and hung on. That wasn't so surprising.
This one was.
Sent off at 12-1 — astronomical odds for a colt trained by the white-haired, two-time Triple Crown winner — Medina Spirit was in a street fight thundering down the stretch.
Bid to censure Romney for Trump impeachment votes fails
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Republicans booed Sen. Mitt Romney but ultimately rejected a motion to censure him Saturday for his votes at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trials.
The measure narrowly failed, 798 to 711, in a vote by delegates to the state GOP convention, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Romney drew heavy boos when he came to the podium earlier in the day.
Davis County delegate Don Guymon, who authored the resolution, said Romney’s votes to remove Trump from office “hurt the Constitution and hurt the party.”
“This was a process driven by Democrats who hated Trump,” Guymon said. “Romney’s vote in the first impeachment emboldened Democrats who continued to harass Trump.”
SpaceX capsule departs station with 4 astronauts, heads home
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A SpaceX capsule carrying four astronauts departed the International Space Station late Saturday, aiming for a rare nighttime splashdown to end the company’s second crew flight.
It would be the first U.S. splashdown in darkness since Apollo 8′s crew returned from the moon in 1968.
NASA’s Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, headed home in the same Dragon capsule that delivered them to the space station last November. The ride back was expected to take just 6 1/2 hours.
“Thanks for your hospitality,” Hopkins radioed as the capsule undocked 260 miles (420 kilometers) above Mali.
SpaceX targeted a splashdown around 3 a.m. Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida. Despite the early hour, the Coast Guard deployed extra patrols — and spotlights — to keep any night-owl sightseers away. The capsule of the first SpaceX crew was surrounded by pleasure boaters last summer, posing a safety risk.
Progress noted at diplomats' talks on Iran nuclear deal
VIENNA (AP) — High-ranking diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia and Britain made progress at talks Saturday focused on bringing the United States back into their landmark nuclear deal with Iran, but said they need more work and time to bring about a future agreement.
After the meeting, Russia’s top representative, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted that members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, “noted today the indisputable progress made at the Vienna talks on restoration of the nuclear deal.”
“The Joint Commission will reconvene at the end of the next week,” Ulyanov wrote. “In the meantime, experts will continue to draft elements of future agreement.”
“It’s too early to be excited, but we have reasons for cautious and growing optimism,” he added. “There is no deadline, but participants aim at successful completion of the talks in approximately 3 weeks.”
The three Western European countries involved in the talks struck a more restrained note.
10 boys and teens among the dead in Israel festival stampede
JERUSALEM (AP) — At least 10 children and teens younger than 18 were among 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews killed in a stampede at a religious festival in northern Israel, according to a partial list of names published Saturday as the identification of victims in Israel's deadliest civilian disaster continued.
Four Americans, a Canadian and a man from Argentina were also among those killed. Two families each lost two children. The youngest victim was nine years old.
Meanwhile, calls were growing louder Saturday for establishing an official commission of inquiry, in part to gauge the responsibility of politicians and senior decision-makers for allowing the mass gathering to take place, despite repeated warnings over the years about safety lapses. In an initial response, the country's Cabinet minister who oversees the nation's police force defended the police's handling of the event.
The stampede early Friday had cut short the annual festival of Lag BaOmer on Israel’s Mount Meron. The festival had drawn some 100,000 people in the largest gathering so far this year as Israel’s successful vaccination campaign allowed the country to emerge from coronavirus restrictions.
As large numbers of people began to leave one of the events at the festival, they thronged a narrow tunnel-like passage that sloped downward and ended with a series of steps. The floor had become slippery with spilled water and juice, according to witnesses. As some in the crowd slipped, those behind them fell on top of those on the ground.
Black Freedmen struggle for recognition as tribal citizens
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — As the U.S. faces a reckoning over its history of racism, some Native American tribal nations that once owned slaves also are grappling with their own mistreatment of Black people.
When Native American tribes were forced from their ancestral homelands in the southeastern United States to what is now Oklahoma in the 1800s — known as the Trail of Tears — thousands of Black slaves owned by tribal members also were removed and forced to provide manual labor along the way. Once in Oklahoma, slaves often toiled on plantation-style farms or were servants in tribal members' homes.
Nearly 200 years later, many of the thousands of descendants of those Black slaves, known as Freedmen, are still fighting to be recognized by the tribes that once owned their ancestors. The fight has continued since the killing of George Floyd last year by a Minneapolis police officer spurred a reexamination of the vestiges of slavery in the U.S.
CHEROKEE NATION FREEDMEN
The Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations were referred to historically as the Five Civilized Tribes, or Five Tribes, by European settlers because they often assimilated into the settlers' culture, adopting their style of dress and religion, and even owning slaves. Each tribe also has a unique history with Freedmen, whose rights were ultimately spelled out in separate treaties with the U.S.