Subscribe to Newsy feed
The Latest Videos From
Updated: 1 month 5 days ago

In Real Life: We Say Gay

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 01:30

Watch Video

LGBTQ+ students and their families navigate uncertainty under Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, concerned that talking openly about their identity could lead to consequences in the classroom and in the courts. 

SEE MORE: 'Don't Say Gay' Bill Signed By Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Operation Santa: How You And The USPS Can Help People In Need

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 01:26

Watch Video

Want to give Santa a helping hand this Christmas? Here's how:

It "began way back in 1912. We've been doing this long time," said Mark Inglett, strategic communications specialist at the United States Postal Service.

We're talking about Operation Santa, a USPS staple for well over 100 years.

"The letters are pouring in, and we're gonna get a chance to go online. Look at some of the things kids are needing. It could be simple stuff, a bicycle or some clothes or some socks or anything. You'd be surprised what you can do to help people out for the holidays," said Inglett.

Operation Santa has helped deliver gifts from Ol' Saint Nick to kids of all ages. And over the years, the process has moved online.

"It gives you simple steps on how you can adopt the family. Purchase what they're asking for. Go to the Postal Service, you're going to mail from the post office, and then that way they get it from Santa Claus," said Inglett.

SEE MORE: Naughty Or Nice: Potential Santa Shortage This Christmas Season

Inglett says kids of all ages can write Santa a letter. 

"You'd be surprised at some of the bigger kids that write in are hurting a little bit too, and they state what's going on in their lives and we can help those folks as well," said Inglett.

Operation Santa is just one of so many different programs and organizations helping people during the holidays.

But Inglett says there is just something special about being able to give back, no matter what is going on in the world.

"That one sense of normalcy, that one sense of everything's gonna be OK, is when they see that letter carrier, that postal truck coming through the neighborhood, because we are so important to the communities," said Inglett.

There are a few really important deadlines to take note of. If you need a little extra love this year, you can send letters to Santa starting Nov. 28 with a Dec. 12 deadline. If you want to help Santa make this year awesome, you have until Dec. 19 to adopt a family, shop and send the gifts off.

Newborn Among 7 Dead In Landslide On Italy's Ischia Island

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 01:15

Watch Video

Search teams have recovered seven dead, including a 3-week-old infant and a pair of young siblings, buried in mud and debris that hurtled down a mountainside and through a densely populated port city on the resort island of Ischia, officials said Sunday.

The Naples prefect confirmed that five people remained missing, and feared buried under the debris of an enormous landslide that struck Casamicciola before dawn on Saturday. Its force collapsed buildings and pushed vehicles into the sea.

The other victims were identified as the infant boy's parents, a 5-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother, a 31-year-old island resident and a Bulgarian tourist.

"Mud and water tend to fill every space,'' Luca Cari, the spokesman for Italian firefighters, told RAI state TV. "Our teams are searching with hope, even if it is very difficult."

"Our biggest hope is that people identified as missing have found refuge with relatives and friends and have not advised of their position," he added.

SEE MORE: Earlier This Year: Floods In Italy Kill At Least 10 People

The risks of landslides remained in the highest part of the town, near where heavy rainfall loosened a chunk of mountainside, requiring search teams to enter by foot, he said.

Small bulldozers first focused on clearing roads to allow rescue vehicles to pass, while dive teams were brought in to check cars that had been pushed into the sea.

"We are continuing the search with our hearts broken, because among the missing are also minors," Giacomo Pascale, the mayor of the neighboring town of Lacco Ameno, told RAI.

Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the people of Ischia during the traditional Sunday blessing in St. Peter's Square. "I am praying for the victims, for those who are suffering and for those who are involved in the rescue," he said.

The Naples prefect, Claudio Palomba, said on Sunday that 30 homes had been inundated and more than 200 people had been displaced. Five people were injured.

The massive landslide before dawn on Saturday was triggered by exceptional rainfall, and sent a mass of mud and debris hurtling through the port of Casamicciola, collapsing buildings and sweeping vehicles into the sea.

One widely circulated video showed a man, covered with mud, clinging to a shutter, chest-deep in muddy water. Another family escaped a home on the mountainside that appeared Sunday to teeter over a precipice, the daily Corriere della Sera reported.

The island received 126 millimeters (nearly five inches) of rain in six hours, the heaviest rainfall in 20 years, according to officials. Experts said the disaster was exacerbated by building in areas of high risk on the mountainous island, which is also in an seismically active zone. Two people were killed in 2017 when a 4.0-magnitude quake struck Casamicciola and Lacco Ameno.

"There is territory that cannot be occupied. You cannot change the use of a zone where there is water. The course of the water created this disaster," geologist Riccardo Caniparoli told RAI. "There are norms and laws that were not respected."

Vincenzo De Luca, president of the Campagna region where Ischia is located, said houses in areas at risk must be demolished, suggesting they had been built without necessary permits.

"People need to understand that you cannot live in some areas. There is no such thing as the necessity (to build) illegally," De Luca told RAI. "Buildings in fragile zones should be demolished."

The Italian government declared a state of emergency for the island during an urgent Cabinet meeting Sunday, earmarking 2 million euros (nearly $2.1 million) for the rescue and to restore public services.

"The government expresses its closeness to the citizens, mayors and towns of the island of Ischia, and thanks the rescue workers searching for the victims," Premier Giorgia Meloni said in a statement.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

What To Expect As Jan. 6 Committee Wraps Up Its Work

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 01:09

Watch Video

In a little over a month, the House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol will run out of time. 

"Our view has always been that this was a select Committee that serves in a point in time only for this Congress. That has always been our focus and our goal," said Rep. Pete Aguilar, who's on the committee. 

But the Committee has yet to release its findings in a final report — one that could include new details about former President Donald Trump’s role in the violence as he begins a potential political comeback. 

"Nothing that goes down in Florida is going to affect our focus on that," said Aguilar. 

Trump is currently suing the Committee and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to avoid answering a wide-reaching subpoena for documents and testimony unanimously approved by the panel in October.

Chair Bennie Thompson and Vice Chair Liz Cheney made clear last week they would "will evaluate next steps" after Trump’s noncompliance. 

It's not yet clear whether the time-limited Committee will refer contempt of Congress charges for Trump to the Department of Justice. 

SEE MORE: Jan. 6 House Committee Heads Toward Final Report Before Next Congress

While hailed by its members as a bipartisan effort, all members of the Committee, including Republicans Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, were appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Several members of the Committee will not be returning in to Congress next year: Republican Vice Chair Cheney and Virginia Democrat Elaine Luria lost their midterm reelection bids,  

and two more members, Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger and Florida Democrat Stephanie Murphy, did not seek reelection.  

Regardless of when the Committee wraps up its investigation, at least one probe into the former president’s role on Jan. 6 will remain ongoing.

"The Department of Justice has long recognized that in certain extraordinary cases, it is in the public interest to appoint a special prosecutor to independently manage an investigation and prosecution," said Attorney General Merrick Garland. 

Special prosecutor Jack Smith is now charged with leading a Department of Justice investigation, which in part is looking into whether Trump or his allies attempted to block the certification of the 2020 election or impede the transfer of power.  

— another effort the former president says he does not support.  

"This will not be a fair investigation. But again, I thought this was all done or very close to being done. These people are corrupt, and yet they go after innocent people under the guise of legitimacy," said Trump. 

And while the Jan. 6 Committee is winding down on Capitol Hill, the special counsel’s open-ended investigation is just beginning to take shape. 

How Cities Are Using Trees To Combat Climate Change

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 01:04

Watch Video

To wrap up an international meeting in Bali, world leaders planted hope for the future in the form of new trees.

Increased temperatures from global warming and its related calamities — like drought, intense storms, wind, flooding and wildfires — are taking a toll on Earth's trees.

SEE MORE: World In Crisis A Grim Backdrop For U.N. Climate Talks

David Nowak is a retired researcher with the U.S. Forest Service, and he says millions of Americans are experiencing tree decline in their neighborhoods right now.

"The problem is these extreme swings of too much water, too little water, too much wind and storm intensities that are going to cause these rapid changes," he said.

A recently published study of 78 countries found about half of the trees were experiencing climate conditions beyond their limits. Researchers concluded that climate change "threatens the health and survival of urban trees and the various benefits they deliver" to city dwellers.

Trees don't only provide benefits like shade to help cool the air and ground but they also help city life by removing air pollution, assisting in flood control, and improving mental health by lowering stress levels.

SEE MORE: Biden Says Climate Efforts 'More Urgent Than Ever' At Summit

President Joe Biden's Inflation Reduction Act included $1.5 billion for the U.S. Forest Service Urban Tree Program.

In Chicago, the city aims to plant 75,000 trees over the next five years. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has pledged to pay special attention to poorer neighborhoods that have been shortchanged in city-provided landscaping over the years.

In Seattle, a string of summers over the past decade have brought record-breaking heat to the region. A government report says the city lost about 1.7% of its tree canopy between 2016 and 2021, while the population has grown by 8%. In part, officials are blaming climate change.

While cities can plant more trees, the trick is to find the types that can survive — and thrive — in a changing climate.

In Bellevue, Washington, the city is growing sequoia trees — a species not native to the Pacific Northwest, but able to battle drought and pests.

"We're starting to plant more of these trees in our open space because they are drought tolerant," Forest Management supervisor Rick Bailey said.

Climate change often makes trees more vulnerable to unwanted types of insects and disease but researchers from the Morton Arboretum in suburban Chicago completed threat assessments for all 881 native species in the contiguous United States. 

They found at least one in nine is threatened by extinction.

President Biden Renews Push For Assault Weapons Ban

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 00:38

Watch Video

One of the Senate's loudest voices in favor of stricter gun control laws said Sunday that Democrats do not have enough votes to pass an assault weapons ban but said they might be able to get something done on guns next year, if they can keep Georgia's senate seat blue.

"Does it have 60 votes in the Senate right now? Probably not. Let's see if we can try to get that number as close to 60 as possible. If we don't have the votes, we'll talk to Senator Schumer and maybe come back next year with maybe an additional Senator and see if we can do any better," said Sen. Chris Murphy.

Last week, President Joe Biden again said he was going to "try to get rid of assault weapons" following the shooting at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs.

"The idea, the idea we still allow semi-automatic weapons to be purchased is sick, just sick. It has no social redeeming value. Zero, none. Not a single solitary rationale for it, except profit for the gun manufacture," said President Biden.

SEE MORE: AP-NORC Poll: 2 In 10 Report Experience With Gun Violence

Over half of voters say they want to see nationwide gun policy made stricter, according to an Associated Press survey. About 30% said they want gun policy kept as it is.

This summer, the House passed a ban on the sale, import, manufacture, transfer, or possession of many types of semi-automatic guns and large capacity ammunition feeding deceives. However, the Bill hasn't been taken up in the Senate.

Colorado's Gov. Jared Polis on Sunday declined to support President Biden's call for a nationwide ban on assault weapons, saying lawmakers should look at the issue from

"I think what you really need to do if you're serious about reducing these kinds of gun violence events and mass violence events is try to take the best ideas from all sides that work," said Polis.

Polis said he will "take a hard look" at why Colorado's "Red Flag Law" did not stop the shooting at Club Q and said the law may need to be expanded.

"We're certainly going to take a hard look at why red flag law wasn't used in this case and the case of the King Soopers shooter, what can be used to better publicize, make available, add different parties to make sure that it's used when it should be used," said Polis.

SEE MORE: President Biden Appeals For Tougher Gun Laws: 'How Much More Carnage?'

Police reports show the suspect was known to law enforcement previously. They responded to a bomb threat in June 2021 reported by the suspect's mother.

But neither law enforcement nor any family member triggered the state's "Red Flag Law," which allows families or police to ask a judge to temporarily confiscate a person's guns if they are deemed a threat to themselves or others.

Polis says the state needs to do a better job of publicizing the law.

"We also need to make sure that we publicize the law and make sure that the tools are in people's hands when they need it to remove dangerous weapons that could be used for self-harm or harming others from somebody who's in a mental health crisis," said Polis.

And Murphy suggested lawmakers should withhold funding for local law enforcement in counties where the "Red Flag Law" is not being enforced.

"That is a growing problem in this country. And I think we're going to have to have a conversation about that in the United States Senate. Do we want to continue to supply funding in law enforcement in counties that refuse to implement state and federal gun laws?" said Murphy.

Naughty Or Nice: Potential Santa Shortage This Christmas Season

Sun, 11/27/2022 - 22:01

Watch Video

Bushy white beard, red suit, black boots, 'tis the season for the jolly elf and his helpers.

"There's five jobs for every one person who is unemployed, but here at Hire Santa, we're saying the ratio is more like 20 to one," said Mitch Allen.

Allen is the head elf at Hire Santa, a company that makes sure Santas get placed in malls and events. He says the demand for Santa Claus and all his helpers is up by over 30% from last year.

"Last year was a record year, from people wanting Santa's or other holiday entertainers," said Allen.

Allen also says the further we get away from the height of COVID-19 precautions, the more Santa supply struggles to meet demand.

SEE MORE: When Is It Too Early To Play Christmas Music?

"It's interesting that the traditional mall Santa, we've actually seen a slight decline," said Allen.

Allen says experiences are growing beyond the days of waiting in line to sit on Santa's lap while shopping for presents at the mall.

"What's been on the increase is local Santa experiences," said Allen.

Like, hiring Santa to stop by your house and hang out with the kids for half an hour, or having Santa be a part of your holiday pictures.

"Everyone wants the American sort of Coca-Cola version of Santa," said Allen.

But it isn't just Santa that is in short supply these days; Mrs. Claus and all the elves are also needed. Coveted spots likely open in your community.

"They've got to have that twinkle in their eye, that love of Christmas," said Allen.

Allen says he doesn't want people to worry about being left with a lump of coal, and Santa will be making the rounds this Christmas.

Crowd Angered By Lockdowns Calls For China's Xi To Step Down

Sun, 11/27/2022 - 21:41

Watch Video

Protesters angered by strict anti-virus measures called for China's powerful leader to resign, an unprecedented rebuke as authorities in at least eight cities struggled to suppress demonstrations Sunday that represent a rare direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party.

Police using pepper spray drove away demonstrators in Shanghai who called for Xi Jinping to step down and an end to one-party rule, but hours later people rallied again in the same spot. Police again broke up the demonstration, and a reporter saw protesters under arrest being driven away in a bus.

The protests — which began Friday and have spread to cities including the capital, Beijing, and dozens of university campuses — are the most widespread show of opposition to the ruling party in decades.

In a video of the protest in Shanghai verified by The Associated Press, chants against Xi, the most powerful leader since at least the 1980s, and the Chinese Communist Party sounded loud and clear: "Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!"

SEE MORE: Xinjiang Loosens Some COVID-19 Restrictions After Lockdown Protests

Three years after the virus emerged, China is the only major country still trying to stop transmission of COVID-19. Its "zero COVID" strategy has suspended access to neighborhoods for weeks at a time. Some cities carry out daily virus tests on millions of residents.

That has kept China's infection numbers lower than those the United States and other major countries, but public acceptance has worn thin. People who are quarantined at home in some areas say they lack food and medicine. The ruling party faced public anger following the deaths of two children whose parents said anti-virus controls hampered efforts to get medical help.

The current protests erupted after a fire broke out Thursday and killed at least 10 people in an apartment building in the city of Urumqi in the northwest, where some have been locked in their homes for four months. That prompted an outpouring of angry questions online about whether firefighters or people trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other restrictions.

About 300 demonstrators gathered late Saturday in Shanghai, most of whose 25 million people were confined to their homes for almost two months starting in late March.

On a street named for Urumqi, one group of protesters brought candles, flowers and signs honoring those who died in the blaze. Another group, according to a protester who insisted on anonymity, was more active, shouting slogans and singing the national anthem.

That protester and another, who gave only his family name, Zhao, confirmed the chants against Xi, who has awarded himself a third five-year term as leader of the ruling party and who some expect to try to stay in power for life. Like others who spoke to the AP, the protesters didn't want to be identified due to fear of arrest or retaliation.

SEE MORE: Beijing On Edge As City Adds New Quarantine Centers

The atmosphere of the protest encouraged people to speak about topics considered taboo, including the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, the protester who insisted on anonymity said.

Some called for an official apology for the deaths in the fire in Urumqi in the Xinjiang region. One member of Xinjiang's Uyghur ethnic group, which has been the target of a security crackdown that includes mass detentions, shared his experiences of discrimination and police violence.

"Everyone thinks that Chinese people are afraid to come out and protest, that they don't have any courage," said the protester, adding it was his first time demonstrating. "Actually in my heart, I also thought this way. But then when I went there, I found that the environment was such that everyone was very brave."

The scene turned violent early Sunday. Hundreds of police broke up the more active group before they came for the second as they tried to move people off the main street. The protester said that he saw people being taken away, forced by police into vans, but could not identify them.

Zhao said one of his friends was beaten by police and two were pepper-sprayed. He lost his shoes and left barefoot.

He said protesters yelled slogans, including one that has become a rallying cry: "(We) do not want PCR (tests), but want freedom."

On Sunday afternoon, crowds returned to the same spot and again railed against PCR tests. People stood and filmed as police shoved people.

Officers in surgical masks and yellow safety vests told the crowd of about 300 spectators to leave but appeared to be trying to avoid a confrontation. There was no sign of shields or other riot gear.

In Beijing, a group of about 200 people gathered in a park on the capital's east side and held up blank sheets of paper, a symbol of defiance against the ruling party's pervasive censorship.

"The lockdown policy is so strict," said a protestor, who would give only his surname, Li. "You cannot compare it to any other country. We have to find a way out."

Postings on social media said there were also demonstrations at 50 universities.

About 2,000 students at Xi's alma mater, Tsinghua University in Beijing, gathered to demand an easing of anti-virus controls, according to social media posts. Students shouted "freedom of speech!" and sang the Internationale, the socialist anthem.

The protesters left after the university's deputy Communist Party secretary promised to hold a school-wide discussion.

Videos on social media that said they were filmed in Nanjing in the east, Guangzhou in the south and at least six other cities showed protesters tussling with police in white protective suits or dismantling barricades used to seal off neighborhoods. The Associated Press could not verify that all those protests took place or where.

The human rights group Amnesty International appealed to Beijing to allow peaceful protest.

"The tragedy of the Urumqi fire has inspired remarkable bravery across China," the group's regional director, Hanna Young, said in a statement. "These unprecedented protests show that people are at the end of their tolerance for excessive COVID-19 restrictions."

Urumqi and a smaller city in Xinjiang, Korla, eased some anti-virus controls in what appeared to be an attempt to mollify the public following Friday's protests.

Markets and other businesses will reopen in areas deemed at low risk of virus transmission and bus, train and airline service will resume, state media reported. They gave no indication whether residents in higher-risk areas would be allowed out of their homes.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Morocco Pulls Off Another World Cup Upset, Beats Belgium 2-0

Sun, 11/27/2022 - 18:33

Watch Video

Morocco pulled off yet another World Cup shock on Sunday, and Belgium's aging "Golden Generation" took the hit this time.

The 2-0 upset left Kevin de Bruyne and the 2018 semifinalists in peril of a group-stage exit at what is likely the final World Cup for a highly-talented Belgian group that haven't managed to convert their promise into prizes.

It might now be too late.

De Bruyne didn't drive Belgium forward against Morocco, captain Eden Hazard was taken off after an hour, and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was probably at fault for the opening goal.

"We haven't seen the best Belgium yet," said Roberto Martinez, a Spaniard who has coached the country's national team for six years. "We haven't been ourselves."

Belgium could have become the second team behind defending champion France to advance to the last 16 if it beat Morocco. It now has a final group game against 2018 World Cup finalist Croatia to avoid its earliest World Cup elimination since 1998.

Morocco substitute Abdelhamid Sabiri gave his team the lead by whipping in the free kick from a tight angle on the left in the 73rd minute that got under the body of Courtois — for many, the best goalkeeper in the world.

SEE MORE: Messi Leads Argentina To 2-0 Win Over Mexico At World Cup

Zakaria Aboukhlal guided a shot into the roof of the net off a pass from Hakim Ziyech in stoppage time to make it 2-0 as Belgium's defense, boasting more than 300 international appearances but anchored by two players in their mid-30s, was beaten by a speedy 22-year-old forward playing at his first World Cup.

Morocco's players kneeled and pressed their heads to the ground in prayer, then leapt up in celebration. Pulling himself up from the ground, Courtois just shook his head.

The second big upset at the first World Cup in the Middle East involved another Arabic nation. Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina in the opening set of group games.

Morocco, which was roared on by thunderous noise from its fans at Al Thumama Stadium, had started in Qatar with a promising 0-0 draw with Croatia.

"We are delighted with that after Croatia and Belgium," Morocco coach Walid Regragui said. "That's absolutely outstanding for Morocco."

Belgium, ranked No. 2 in the world behind Brazil, had won its last seven group games at the World Cup before the upset, but that included a labored 1-0 win over Canada for the aging team to open the tournament.

Even De Bruyne said in a media interview before the World Cup that Belgium's squad was likely too old to win now.

"I don't think any comments will affect a result or a performance," Martinez said, dismissing the suggestion that De Bruyne's interview might have unsettled Belgium.

Morocco clinched its first win at a World Cup since 1998 and only its third ever and moved to four points in Group F.

Morocco has only ever been past the group stage once at a World Cup, in 1986. And things were in turmoil ahead of the tournament after former coach Vahid Halilhodzic was fired and Regragui was brought in at the end of August, less than three months before the World Cup. Regragui had only three friendlies to make his mark on the team before facing Croatia at the World Cup.


Regragui immediately recalled Ziyech, a Chelsea winger who was exiled from the team under Halilhodzic because of a rift between them. Ziyech curled in a disallowed free kick in the first half, set up the second goal, and was Morocco's best player against Belgium.


Martinez brought on forward Romelu Lukaku, the country's record scorer, as a substitute with less than 10 minutes to go in a desperate attempt to get one back when it was 1-0. Lukaku is only just returning from a left thigh problem and Belgium has missed him dearly. Martinez might be forced to start him against Croatia.


The final group games are on Thursday, when Morocco will come back to Al Thumama Stadium to play Canada. Belgium will face Croatia at the same time.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Ford Recalls Over 634K SUVs Due To Fuel Leaks And Fire Risk

Sun, 11/27/2022 - 00:29

Watch Video

Ford Motor Co. is recalling over 634,000 SUVs worldwide because a cracked fuel injector can spill fuel or leak vapors onto a hot engine and cause fires.

The recall covers Bronco Sport and Escape SUVs from the 2020 through 2023 model years. All have 1.5-liter, three-cylinder engines.

The Dearborn, Michigan, automaker said Thursday it's not recommending that owners stop driving the vehicles or park them outdoors because fires are rare and generally don't happen when the engines are off.

But Ford said it has received 20 reports of fires, including three that ignited nearby structures. The company also said it has four claims of fires that were noticed less than five minutes after the engines were turned off. Ford also has four injury claims not involving burns, and 43 legal claims attributed to the problem.

Repairs aren't yeta available, but once they are, owners should schedule service with a preferred dealer, Jim Azzouz, executive director of customer experience, said in a statement. Owners will be notified by letter starting Dec. 19.

SEE MORE: Stellantis: Stop Driving Older Models Due To 3 Takata Air Bag Deaths

Owners can take their SUVs to the dealer and get a free loaner, or they can get free pickup and delivery.

Dealers will inspect the injectors and replace them if necessary. Ford also says it's extending warranties to cover cracked fuel injectors for up to 15 years.

Dealers will update the vehicles' engine-control software so it detects a cracked injector. Drivers will get a dashboard message to get service. Also, if there's a pressure drop in the injectors, engine power will be cut to minimize risk and let drivers get to a safe location to stop and call for service, Ford said.

They'll also install a tube to drain fuel from the cylinder head and away from hot surfaces.

Ford said it's not replacing the injectors because the failure rate that causes leaks is low, an estimated 0.38% for 2020 models and 0.22% for 2021 to 2022 models. The rate is for 15 years or 150,000 miles.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Early Voting Begins In Parts Of Georgia Ahead Of Crucial Senate Runoff

Sun, 11/27/2022 - 00:23

Watch Video

Georgia voters are back at it again! After neither U.S. Senate candidate won a majority in the November midterm elections, calling for a rematch between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker.

Some counties in the state opened polls early on Saturday – after the Thanksgiving holiday – after Warnock's campaign and others argued voting should be allowed.

But the concern is over voter turnout, since the race won't determine which party controls the majority in the Senate. However, the stakes are still high.

While Democrats have Senate control with at least 50 seats, grabbing another seat would mean it wouldn't have to rely on Vice President Kamala Harris as a tiebreaker.

In one polling location – out of many throughout the state of Georgia where people can vote early – the line was pretty long, with people waiting for about 2 hours just to cast their vote; however, some said they were willing to wait.

SEE MORE: Warnock, Walker Advance To Runoff For Senate Seat In Georgia

"Waited 2 hours. It was worth the wait. You know, in time when you need when you need something important like this go on. You need to just wait," said Edward Tucker, a Georgia voter.

"I got here at 7:15am and it took me about 40 minutes to vote. My wife said she's going to sleep in and vote later and it's going to take her over 2 hours," said another Georgia voter, Arthur Ratliff.

Hundreds came out to vote despite the long wait.

"A lot of getting together and praying to make this day happen. It almost didn't happen," said Yvonne Spear, a Georgia voter.

One Georgia resident says she couldn't miss the opportunity and flew back home from New York just to cast her vote.

"What brought me out today is about change and the direction in which our country is heading. I feel that there's a lot of inequities, injustices, and we need to correct it. And the only way to correct that is at the polls," said Haven Wilson.

For many, it's about voting rights.

"We have a long history of voter suppression here. So even more so, me and all these other people are saying we need to come out to protect our voting rights," said Ratliff.

People in every county will be allowed to vote early starting Monday. The runoff election day is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 6th.

Xinjiang Loosens Some COVID-19 Restrictions After Lockdown Protests

Sat, 11/26/2022 - 23:45

Watch Video

Authorities in China's western Xinjiang region opened up some neighborhoods in the capital of Urumqi on Saturday after residents held extraordinary late-night demonstrations against the city's draconian "zero-COVID" lockdown that had lasted more than three months.

The displays of public defiance were fanned by anger over a fire in an apartment compound that had killed 10, according to the official death toll, as emergency workers took three hours to extinguish the blaze — a delay many attributed to obstacles caused by anti-virus measures.

The demonstrations, as well as public anger online, are the latest signs of building frustration with China's intense approach to controlling COVID-19. It's the only major country in the world that still is fighting the pandemic through mass testing and lockdowns.

During Xinjiang's lockdown, some residents elsewhere in the city have had their doors chained physically shut, including one who spoke to The Associated Press who declined to be named for fear of retribution. Many in Urumqi believe such brute-force tactics may have prevented residents from escaping in Friday's fire and that the official death toll was an undercount.

Officials denied the accusations, saying there were no barricades in the building and that residents were permitted to leave. Police clamped down on dissenting voices, announcing the arrest of a 24-year-old woman for spreading "untrue information" about the death toll online.

Anger boiled over after Urumqi city officials held a press conference about the fire in which they appeared to shift responsibility for the deaths onto the apartment tower's residents.

"Some residents' ability to rescue themselves was too weak," said Li Wensheng, head of Urumqi's fire department.

SEE MORE: Beijing On Edge As City Adds New Quarantine Centers

People in Urumqi largely marched peacefully in big puffy winter jackets in the cold winter night.

Videos of protests featured people holding the Chinese flag and shouting "Open up, open up." They spread rapidly on Chinese social media despite heavy censorship. In some scenes, people shouted and pushed against rows of men in the white whole-body hazmat suits that local government workers and pandemic-prevention volunteers wear, according to the videos.

By Saturday, most had been deleted by censors. The Associated Press could not independently verify all the videos, but two Urumqi residents who declined to be named out of fear of retribution said large-scale protests occurred Friday night. One of them said he had friends who participated.

The AP pinpointed the locations of two of the videos of the protests in different parts of Urumqi. In one video, police in face masks and hospital gowns faced off against shouting protesters. In another, one protester is speaking to a crowd about their demands. It is unclear how widespread the protests were.

Given China's vast security apparatus, protests are risky anywhere in the country, but they are extraordinary in Xinjiang, which for years has been the target of a brutal security crackdown. A huge number of Uyghurs and other largely Muslim minorities have been swept into a vast network of camps and prisons, instilling fear that grips the region to this day.

Most of the protesters visible in the videos were Han Chinese. A Uyghur woman living in Urumqi said it was because Uyghurs were too scared to take to the streets despite their rage.

"Han Chinese people know they will not be punished if they speak against the lockdown," she said, declining to be named for fear of retaliation against her family. "Uyghurs are different. If we dare say such things, we will be taken to prison or to the camps."

In one video, which the AP could not independently verify, Urumqi's top official, Yang Fasen, told angry protesters he would open up low-risk areas of the city the following morning.

That promise was realized the next day, as Urumqi authorities announced that residents of low risk areas would be allowed to move freely within their neighborhoods. Still, many other neighborhoods remain under lockdown.

SEE MORE: China's Guangzhou Locks Down Millions In 'Zero-COVID' Fight

Officials also triumphantly declared Saturday that they had basically achieved "societal zero-COVID," meaning that there was no more community spread and that new infections were being detected only in people already under health monitoring, such as those in a centralized quarantine facility.

Social media users greeted the news with disbelief and sarcasm. "Only China can achieve this speed," wrote one user on Weibo.

On Chinese social media, where trending topics are manipulated by censors, the "zero-COVID" announcement was number one trending hashtag on both Weibo, a Twitter-like platform, and Douyin, the Chinese edition of Tiktok. The apartment fire and protests became a lightning rod for public anger, as millions shared posts questioning China's pandemic controls or mocking the country's stiff propaganda and harsh censorship controls.

The explosion of criticism marks a sharp turn in public opinion. Early on in the pandemic, China's approach to controlling COVID-19 was hailed by its own citizens as minimizing deaths at a time when other countries were suffering devastating waves of infections. China's leader Xi Jinping had held up the approach as an example of the superiority of the Chinese system in comparison to the West and especially the U.S., which had politicized the use of face masks and had difficulties enacting widespread lockdowns.

But support for "zero-COVID" has cratered in recent months, as tragedies sparked public anger. Last week, the Zhengzhou city government in the central province of Henan apologized for the death of a 4-month old baby. She died after a delay in receiving medical attention while suffering vomiting and diarrhea in quarantine at a hotel in Zhengzhou.

The government has doubled down its policy even as it loosens some measures, such as shortening quarantine times. The central government has repeatedly said it will stick to "zero COVID."

Meanwhile, in Beijing, health authorities reported 2,454 new COVID-19 cases in the past 15 hours on Saturday. Much of the city is also under lockdown.

In numerous residential compounds in Beijing's northeastern suburbs, residents have banded together to oppose measures by local authorities and unelected resident's associations to lock gates and force neighbors into quarantine centers.

Police responded but no violence was known to have occurred. At the Yutianxia community on Saturday, an hourslong confrontation between police, residents and the Communist Party neighborhood resulted in an agreement to allow neighbors of three people who tested positive to quarantine at home rather than being taken to a government facility.

Many in Xinjiang have been locked down since August. Most have not been allowed to leave their homes, and some have reported dire conditions, including spotty food deliveries that have caused residents to go hungry. On Friday, the city reported 220 new cases, the vast majority of which were asymptomatic.

The Uyghur woman in Urumqi said she had been trapped in her apartment since Aug. 8, and was not even allowed to open her window. On Friday, residents in her neighborhood defied the order, opening their windows and shouting in protest. She joined in.

"No more lockdowns! No more lockdowns!" they screamed.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Taiwan President Resigns As Party Leader After Election Loss

Sat, 11/26/2022 - 23:27

Watch Video

 Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as head of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party following local election losses on Saturday in which voters chose the opposition Nationalist party in several major races across the self-ruled island.

Concerns about threats from rival China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, took a backseat to more local issues in the elections.

Tsai had spoken out many times about "opposing China and defending Taiwan" in the course of campaigning for her party. But the party's candidate Chen Shih-chung, who lost his battle for mayor of Taipei, only raised the issue of the Chinese Communist Party's threat a few times before he quickly switched back to local issues as there was little interest.

Tsai offered her resignation on Saturday evening, a tradition after a major loss, in a short speech in which she also thanked supporters.

"I must shoulder all the responsibility," she said. "Faced with a result like this, there are many areas that we must deeply review."

While international observers and the ruling party have attempted to link the elections to the long-term existential threat that is Taiwan's neighbor, many local experts do not think China had a large role to play this time around.

"The international community has raised the stakes too high. They've raised a local election to this international level, and Taiwan's survival," said Yeh-lih Wang, a political science professor at National Taiwan University.

SEE MORE: Why Is Taiwan So Disputed?

During campaigning, there were few mentions of the large-scale military exercises targeting Taiwan that China held in August in reaction to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit.

"So I think if you can't even raise this issue in Taipei, you don't even need to consider it in cities in the south," Wang said.

Candidates from the Nationalist party won the mayoral seat in Taipei, Taiwan's capital, as well as in Taoyuan, Taichung and New Taipei city.

Taiwanese were picking mayors, city council members and other local leaders in all 13 counties and in nine cities. There was also a referendum to lower the voting age from 20 to 18, which was defeated, according to local media.

Chiang Wan-an, the new Taipei mayor, declared victory Saturday night in a large rally. "I will let the world see Taipei's greatness," he said.

Not all votes had been formally counted by the time of his speech, but Chiang and the other candidates' numerical lead allowed them to declare victory.

Kao Hung-an, a candidate in the relatively new Taiwan People's Party, won the mayoral seat in Hsinchu, home to many of Taiwan's semi-conductor companies.

Campaigns had resolutely focused on the local: air pollution in the central city of Taichung, traffic snarls in Taipei's tech hub Nangang, and the island's COVID-19 vaccine purchasing strategies, which had left the island in short supply during an outbreak last year.

The defeat for the ruling DPP may be partly due to how it handled the pandemic.

"The public has some dissatisfaction with the DPP on this, even though Taiwan has done well relatively speaking in pandemic prevention," said Weihao Huang, a political science professor at National Sun Yat-sen University.

At an elementary school in New Taipei City, the city that surrounds Taipei, voters young and old came early despite the rain.

Yu Mei-zhu, 60, said she came to cast her ballot for the incumbent Mayor Hou You-yi. "I think he has done well, so I want to continue to support him. I believe in him, and that he can improve our environment in New Taipei City and our transportation infrastructure."

Tsai came out early Saturday morning to cast her ballot, catching many voters by surprise as her security and entourage swept through the school.

"If the DPP loses many county seats, then their ability to rule will face a very strong challenge," said You Ying-lung, chair at the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation that regularly conducts public surveys on political issues.

The election results will in some ways also reflect the public's attitude toward the ruling party's performance in the last two years, You said.

Some felt apathetic to the local race. "It feels as if everyone is almost the same, from the policy standpoint," said 26-year-old Sean Tai, an employee at a hardware store.

Tai declined to say who he voted for, but wants someone who will raise Taipei's profile and bring better economic prospects while keeping the status quo with China. "We don't want to be completely sealed off. I really hope that Taiwan can be seen internationally," he said.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Pres. Biden To Extend Student Loan Pause As Court Battle Drags On

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 23:07

Watch Video

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that his administration will extend a pause on federal student loan payments while the White House fights a legal battle to save his plan to cancel portions of the debt.

"It isn't fair to ask tens of millions of borrowers eligible for relief to resume their student debt payments while the courts consider the lawsuit," Biden said in a video posted on Twitter.

The moratorium was slated to expire Jan. 1, a date that Biden set before his debt cancellation plan stalled in the face of legal challenges from conservative opponents.

Now it will extend until 60 days after the lawsuit is resolved. If the lawsuit has not been resolved by June 30, payments would resume 60 days after that.

Biden’s plan promises $10,000 in federal student debt forgiveness to those with incomes of less than $125,000, or households earning less than $250,000. Pell Grant recipients, who typically demonstrate more financial need, are eligible for an additional $10,000 in relief.

More than 26 million people already applied for the relief, with 16 million approved, but the Education Department stopped processing applications this month after a federal judge in Texas struck down the plan.

The Justice Department last week asked the Supreme Court to examine the issue and reinstate Biden’s debt cancellation plan. By extending the pause, the administration says it's giving the court a chance to resolve the case in its current term.

“I’m completely confident my plan is legal," Biden said Tuesday.

Biden announced the decision a day after more than 200 advocacy groups urged him to extend the pause, warning that starting payment in January would cause “financial catastrophe” for millions of borrowers.

The White House has argued in court that Americans continue to feel the financial stress of the pandemic. Without Biden's cancellation plan, it says, the number of people falling behind on student loans could rise to historic levels.

The greatest risk is for about 18 million borrowers who were told their entire loan balance would be canceled. Even if payments restart, those borrowers might think they’re in the clear and ignore the bills, the Education Department has warned.

SEE MORE: U.S. Judge In Texas Strikes Down Biden Loan-Forgiveness Plan

But at the same time, the White House has warned that extending the payment pause will cost several billion dollars a month in lost revenue. The moratorium has already cost the government more than $100 billion in lost payments and interest, according to the General Accountability Office.

The Biden administration didn't address the costs in its announcement, but instead cast blame on Republicans challenging the plan.

“Callous efforts to block student debt relief in the courts have caused tremendous financial uncertainty for millions of borrowers who cannot set their family budgets or even plan for the holidays without a clear picture of their student debt obligations," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said.

“It's just plain wrong," he added.

Critics such as the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget have opposed any further extension, saying it could worsen inflation and raise the risk of economic recession.

But supporters of Biden's plan applauded the action, saying it provides a cushion to working-class Americans.

“This extension means that struggling borrowers will be able to keep food on their tables during the holiday season — and the coming months — as the administration does everything it can to beat back the baseless and backward attacks on working families with student debt," said Mike Pierce, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center.

The legality of broad student debt cancellation has been in question since before Biden took office. Supporters say federal law already gives the Education Department wide flexibility to cancel student loans, while opponents argue that only Congress has the power to cancel debt at that scale.

In announcing its plan, the Biden administration invoked the HEROES Act of 2003, a post-Sept. 11, 2001, law meant to help members of the military. The Justice Department says the law offers sweeping authority to cancel student debt during a national emergency. Biden has said the relief is needed to help Americans recover from the pandemic.

A federal judge in Texas struck down that rationale this month, saying Biden overstepped his power. The HEROES Act "does not provide the executive branch clear congressional authorization to create a $400 billion student loan forgiveness program,” wrote District Court Judge Mark Pittman, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump.

The Justice Department is asking an appeals court in New Orleans to suspend Pittman's order while the administration appeals. It's separately asking the Supreme Court to overrule a federal court in St. Louis that halted Biden's plan in response to a lawsuit from six Republican-led states.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Supreme Court OKs Handover Of Trump Tax Returns To Congress

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 21:34

Watch Video

The Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for the imminent handover of former President Donald Trump's tax returns to a congressional committee after a three-year legal fight.

The court, with no noted dissents, rejected Trump's plea for an order that would have prevented the Treasury Department from giving six years of tax returns for Trump and some of his businesses to the Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee.

Alone among recent presidents, Trump refused to release his tax returns either during his successful 2016 campaign or his four years in the White House, citing what he said was an ongoing audit by the IRS. Last week, Trump announced he would run again in 2024.

It was the former president's second loss at the Supreme Court in as many months, and third this year. In October, the court refused to step into the legal fight surrounding the FBI search of Trump's Florida estate that turned up classified documents.

In January, the court refused to stop the National Archives from turning over documents to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Justice Clarence Thomas was the only vote in Trump's favor.

In the dispute over his tax returns, the Treasury Department had refused to provide the records during Trump's presidency. But the Biden administration said federal law is clear that the committee has the right to examine any taxpayer's return, including the president's.

Lower courts agreed that the committee has broad authority to obtain tax returns and rejected Trump’s claims that it was overstepping and only wanted the documents so they could be made public.

Chief Justice John Roberts imposed a temporary freeze on Nov. 1 to allow the court to weigh the legal issues raised by Trump's lawyers and the counter arguments of the administration and the House of Representatives.

Just over three weeks later, the court lifted Roberts' order without comment.

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the committee chairman until the next Congress begins in January, said in a statement that his committee "will now conduct the oversight that we’ve sought for the last three and a half years.”

SEE MORE: Jan. 6 House Committee Heads Toward Final Report Before Next Congress

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The House contended an order preventing the IRS from providing the tax returns would leave lawmakers “little or no time to complete their legislative work during this Congress, which is quickly approaching its end.”

Had Trump persuaded the nation’s highest court to intervene, he could have run out the clock on the committee, with Republicans ready to take control of the House in January. They almost certainly would have dropped the records request if the issue had not been resolved by then.

The House Ways and Means panel first requested Trump’s tax returns in 2019 as part of an investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s audit program and tax law compliance by the former president. A federal law says the Internal Revenue Service “shall furnish” the returns of any taxpayer to a handful of top lawmakers.

The Justice Department under the Trump administration had defended a decision by then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to withhold the tax returns from Congress. Mnuchin argued that he could withhold the documents because he concluded they were being sought by Democrats for partisan reasons. A lawsuit ensued.

After President Joe Biden took office, the committee renewed the request, seeking Trump’s tax returns and additional information from 2015-2020. The White House took the position that the request was a valid one and that the Treasury Department had no choice but to comply. Trump then attempted to halt the handover in court.

Then-Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. obtained copies of Trump’s personal and business tax records as part of a criminal investigation. That case, too, went to the Supreme Court, which rejected Trump’s argument that he had broad immunity as president.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Taylor Swift Ticket Trouble Could Drive Political Engagement

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 20:11

Watch Video

Some of Taylor Swift's fans want everyone to know three things: They're not still 16-years-old, they have careers and resources and, right now, they're angry. That's a powerful political motivator, researchers say.

It started Nov. 15, when millions crowded a presale for Swift's long-awaited Eras Tour, resulting in crashes, prolonged waits and frantic purchases. By Thursday, Ticketmaster had canceled the general sale, citing insufficient remaining tickets and inciting a firestorm of outrage from fans. Swift herself said the ordeal "really pisses me off."

Ticketmaster apologized, but the bad blood had already been sowed. Now fans — and politicians — have started acting on it.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez directed Swifties to where they could make U.S. Department of Justice complaints. Multiple state attorneys general — including in Pennsylvania and Tennessee, key states in Swift's origin story — have announced investigations.

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti is concerned about consumer complaints related to @Ticketmaster’s pre-sale of @taylorswift13 concert tickets. He and his Consumer Protection team will use every available tool to ensure that no consumer protection laws were violated.

— TN Attorney General (@AGTennessee) November 16, 2022

Stephanie Aly, a New York-based professional who has worked on community organizing for progressive politics, for years has thought mobilizing fandoms for social progress could be beneficial.

"Fandoms are natural organizers," said the 33-year-old Swiftie. "If you find the right issues and you activate them and engage them then you can effect real change."

In 2020, for instance, K-pop fans organized to back the Black Lives Matter movement and sought to inflate registration for a Donald Trump rally. 

Aly and Swifties from different industries — law, public relations, cybersecurity and more — have joined forces to create Vigilante Legal, a group lobbying to create policy change around Ticketmaster and organize the Swifties, while creating email templates to petition attorneys general and providing antitrust information.

Thousands have expressed interest in helping or learning more.

"The level of anger that you've just seen in the country around this issue is astounding," said Jean Sinzdak, associate director for the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "People are really sharing their feelings about that and building a movement about that online, which I really think is quite fascinating. It's certainly an opportunity to engage people politically. Whether it lasts is hard to say, but it certainly feels like a real opportunity."

In one way, said Sinzdak, this is giving Swift's large following of younger people a direct line to seeing how policy takes shape. It's also targeting a demographic that is seldom courted by politicians during election season.

"Nobody goes out and thinks, 'Let's target young women,'" said Gwen Nisbett, a University of North Texas professor who researches the intersection of political engagement and pop culture. "Be it about abortion or student loans, that age group is super mobilized and young women are super mobilized."

Fan culture and community has boosted that tendency toward mobilization. Nisbett was studying parasocial relationships — when fans have strong one-way relationships with celebrities — in 2018, when the previously apolitical Swift posted an endorsement of Democratic candidates to social media. Nisbett found that while such posts may not determine fans' votes, they still led to the increased likelihood fans would look for more information about voting — and actually vote.

For the record: AP VoteCast, an extensive survey of the U.S. electorate, showed about a third of Tennessee voters in 2018 said they had a favorable opinion of Swift, and among them, a large majority — about 7 in 10 — backed Democrat Phil Bredesen in the Senate contest. That was in clear contrast to the roughly third of voters who had an unfavorable opinion of Swift and overwhelmingly backed Republican Marsha Blackburn.

For Swifties, the ire for Ticketmaster is not just about a ticket: "It's the fact that you can't participate in your community and your fandom and it's part of your identity," Nisbett said.

This isn't even the first time a fandom or an artist has targeted Ticketmaster. Pearl Jam took aim at the company in 1994, although the Justice Department ultimately declined to bring a case. More recently, Bruce Springsteen fans were enraged over high ticket costs because of the platform's dynamic pricing system.

SEE MORE: Taylor Swift Eras Tour Helped Uncover Deep Issues Of Concert Ticketing

"It's not just about getting vengeance for Swifties. It's not about getting an extra million Taylor Swift fans tickets, or all of us going to a secret session," said Jordan Burger, 28, who is using his law background to help the cause. "It's about fundamental equality. And when you have a monopolist like that, it's just so representative of the class structure of a society where there isn't equality anymore, there isn't fairness."

The sheer power and size of Swift's fandom has spurred conversations about economic inequality, merely symbolized by Ticketmaster.

Aly noted that quite a few of the members of the group did get tickets; the issue is is bigger than Ticketmaster, she said.

"We've gotten some feedback that, 'This is too big, let the government handle it.' Have you seen the U.S. government? The government only functions when the people push it to and when the people demand that it function and the people are involved," she said. "Even when something seems too big to fail or too powerful to fail, there are always enough of us to make a difference. Your involvement may be the thing that pushes it over the edge that forces the government to act."

Aly says many grown-up Swifties have 10-15 years' experience of being bullied for liking the singer — but what fans have in mind might be better than revenge.

"We have thick skin and nothing to lose, really," Aly said.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Top U.S. Diplomat Criticizes FIFA Armband Threat At World Cup

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 20:06

Watch Video

America's top diplomat on Tuesday criticized a decision by FIFA to threaten players at the World Cup with yellow cards if they wear armbands supporting inclusion and diversity.

Speaking alongside his Qatari counterpart at a news conference, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was "always concerning ... when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression."

"It's especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion," Blinken said at Doha's Diplomatic Club. "And in my judgment, at least no one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team."

Just hours before the first players with the armbands in support of the "One Love" campaign were to take the field on Monday, soccer's governing body warned they would immediately be shown yellow cards — two of which lead to a player's expulsion from that game and also the next.

No player wore the "One Love" armbands Monday though seven European teams had said they planned to wear them ahead of the tournament.

England's Harry Kane wore a FIFA-approved "No Discrimination" armband that was offered as a compromise in the match with Iran. FIFA has tried to counter the Europeans' campaign with its own armbands featuring more generic slogans backed by some United Nations agencies.

Asked to respond to Blinken's comments, FIFA referred to an earlier statement about allowing the "No Discrimination" armbands at the tournament, as part of a compromise it tried to strike with soccer federations.

Blinken arrived in Qatar on Monday, where he visited a youth soccer program tied to the World Cup. He later watched the U.S. tie with Wales on Monday night.

SEE MORE: World Cup Teams Nix Armbands That Were Seen As Snub To Qatar

While openly critical of FIFA, Blinken struck a more measured tone with Qatar. This energy-rich Mideast nation has been criticized ahead of the tournament over its treatment of migrant laborers and criminalizing gay and lesbian sex.

"We know that without workers, including many migrant workers, this World Cup simply would not have been possible," Blinken said. "Qatar has made meaningful strides in recent years to its labor laws to expand worker rights."

However, he made a point to add: "Real work remains on these issues, and the United States will continue to work with Qatar on strengthening labor rights and human rights more broadly long after the World Cup is over."

Blinken spoke alongside Qatar's foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, at the news conference. Asked by a Qatar-based journalist about the "media attacks" on his country, Sheikh Mohammed dismissed them.

"As for the reforms the state of Qatar, I think there were some quarters who did not take this into consideration and relied on preconceived notions," he said. "Of course we cannot change the opinion of those who just want to attack us or distort our image."

Blinken's visit comes as part of a strategic dialogue with Qatar, which also hosts some 8,000 American troops at its massive Al-Udeid Air Base that's serves as the forward headquarters of the U.S. military's Central Command. The base was a key node in America's chaotic 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan and evacuation of Afghan civilians.

SEE MORE: World Cup Draws Attention To Equal Rights, Including Attire

One major issue to discuss is Iran. Nonproliferation experts say Iran now has enough uranium enriched up to 60% — a short step from weapons-grade levels — to reprocess into fuel for a nuclear weapon if it chooses to do so.

Tehran insists its program is peaceful, though it has drastically expanded it since the collapse of Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Meanwhile, Iran is being shaken by monthslong protests following the Sept. 16 death in custody of a 22-year-old woman arrested by the country's morality police.

A crackdown by authorities and violence surrounding the demonstrations have killed at least 434 people, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that's been monitoring the protests. Iran is playing at the World Cup as well, and will face the U.S. on Nov. 29.

"The world is rightly focused on what's happening inside of Iran," Blinken said. "The protests that have arisen since the killing of Mahsa Amini are something that have galvanized the world."

Questioned about the U.S. recent decision to shield Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the lawsuit targeting him for the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Blinken said the Biden administration would "simply follow the law" in terms of granting immunity to a head of state.

Blinken added there were no plans for the crown prince to visit the U.S.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Why Does OPEC Control Oil Prices?

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 19:45

Watch Video

If you ask around, high gas prices hit close to home. 

But a multi-national group, thousands of miles away, is really the one to turn to if you want to gripe about the price of fuel — OPEC.

OPEC is short for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Five nations joined together in 1960 to form the oil alliance: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela — each an oil-producing heavyweight. At the time, the U.S. was both the world’s largest consumer and producer of oil. Now, OPEC comprises 13 countries including some of the world’s largest oil-exporters. Many are in the Middle East. Together, they virtually control the whole world’s oil market. 

Why? Well, consider this — according to U.S. government data, OPEC exports roughly 60% of the total petroleum traded internationally. Petroleum is used to produce transportation fuels and fuel oils for heating, electricity and asphalt. It’s also found in crude oil — that’s what helps make up the gasoline you pump into your car. All told, OPEC nations are responsible for producing about 40% of the world’s crude oil.  And America uses lots of it. The average American drives over 13,000 miles a year. Collectively, that's over 3.2 trillion miles annually, or according to the Energy Information Administration, roughly 134 billion gallons of gas burned every 365 days. OPEC doesn’t set the price of oil. But any economics professor will tell you, supply and demand determines price. OPEC is the supply side of that equation. Along with 11 other countries in "OPEC plus." That includes Mexico, Malaysia and Russia. Leaders agree to set caps on oil production, to meet expected demand. The goal is to keep the market steady while optimizing profits. The coalition is currently trying to do so, at a time full of uncertainty. 

SEE MORE: Major Diesel Supplier Warns Of Shortage, Higher Prices

The COVID pandemic upended the oil market as demand plummeted. As a result, the cartel slashed output by a record 10 million barrels per day in 2020. Oil prices plunged into negative territory for the first time ever. They’ve since shot back up, with the average price per crude barrel topping $110 in early 2022. Critics argue OPEC hasn’t ratcheted up production fast enough to meet rapidly-rebounding demand. But the 10-year price high came after Russia launched its military offensive on Ukraine, and cut off much of the West from major oil supplies in Russia. Looming economic uncertainty spurred OPEC’s latest move in October to slash quotas by 2 million barrels per day. 

"The reality — globally — as we know, is that there is a huge shortfall in investments to meet this expected future demand growth," said OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais.  

Saudi Arabia is the world’s top producer — responsible for one-third of OPEC’s supply in 2021. And it led the decision to slash production, a move President Joe Biden called "a disappointment." 

The president traveled to Saudi Arabia in July, though he said he didn’t go specifically to talk about oil. OPEC’s October announcement caused already steep gas prices in the U.S. to rise. And leaders, including the president, say they’ll act. 

"One of the consequences should be a temporary halt in arm sales. The only apparent purpose of this cut in oil supplies is to help the Russians and harm Americans," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal. 

"We're going to react to Saudi Arabia. And they're doing a consultation when they come back. And we will take action," said President Biden. 

The U.S. and its allies believe the cut is OPEC’s show of support for Russia in the war. Western nations say it helps Russia skirt around sanctions and a looming price cap on oil exports. Russia’s oil revenues are dipping, but it is still a major seller to India and China. Neither have placed sanctions on Moscow. It’s a complicated picture of a touchy economic balancing act — one poised to grow the rift between U.S. and Saudi leaders — and keep drivers on their toes at home. But as long as the oil producers have the keys —  all roads seem to go through OPEC. 

Why Is The World Cup Being Played In The Winter?

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 19:43

Watch Video

The world’s game is now on the world’s stage — in the winter. This year you can watch World Cup matches between your favorite holiday movies. So why is the tournament so late? 

"The simple answer is because it's really hot in Qatar. It's upwards of 107 degrees in the summer," said Kyle Bonn, a soccer content producer for The Sporting News.

That is really hot. And it’s a problem FIFA knew about when it awarded Qatar the games in 2010.  

But the organization is also set on growing the game. 

"There is certainly excitement around this year's World Cup. The fact that it is different, people have adjusted. FIFA loves to talk about promoting the game," said Bonn. 

"This is the first World Cup in the Middle East. They are big on moving these events around. And that does have a positive effect on the game." 

But that means a delayed kickoff this year. Other soccer leagues adjusted their schedules and TV networks pivoted to make it work. From a heat perspective — the move appears to be a smart one. In 2018 Croatia and France played in the championship match on July 15. This year Lusail, Qatar reached 104 degrees on that same date. And this year Lusail will host the final match on December 18, when it’s expected to be closer to 80 degrees. 

A cooler temperature — for hopefully a firey match. 

SEE MORE: World Cup Stunner: Saudi Arabia Beats Messi's Argentina 2-1

Ronaldo To Leave Manchester United 'With Immediate Effect'

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 19:37

Watch Video

Cristiano Ronaldo will leave Manchester United "with immediate effect," the Premier League club said Tuesday.

The termination of the 37-year-old forward’s contract comes after he conducted an explosive interview in which he criticized manager Erik ten Hag and the club’s owners.

It wasn’t immediately clear where he would end up next after failing to secure a move to a Champions League club in the summer.

SEE MORE: World Cup Stunner: Saudi Arabia Beats Messi's Argentina 2-1

"Following conversations with Manchester United we have mutually agreed to end our contract early," Ronaldo said. "I love Manchester United and I love the fans, that will never ever change. However, it feels like the right time for me to seek a new challenge.

"I wish the team every success for the remainder of the season and for the future."

Ronaldo, who is currently in Qatar with Portugal as he aims to win a first World Cup title for his country, previously made it clear that he wanted a transfer after being reduced to a fringe member of the team this season.

On Tuesday, he got his wish with United confirming his departure.

"Cristiano Ronaldo is to leave Manchester United by mutual agreement, with immediate effect," it said in a statement. "The club thanks him for his immense contribution across two spells at Old Trafford, scoring 145 goals in 346 appearances, and wishes him and his family well for the future."

The statement didn't convey United’s dismay after Ronaldo’s unauthorized interview with Piers Morgan.

The Portugal captain said he felt "betrayed" during a 90-minute discussion in which he was also critical of younger players.

United said last week that it had initiated appropriate steps in response to his comments, with the cancellation of his contract widely expected.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.