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Biden Says Plan Will Let US Be 'The Nation We Know We Can Be'

Washington (AFP) - President Joe Biden said Thursday he is confident Congress will pass a mammoth middle class spending plan that can "change the trajectory" of the United States.

In a speech at the White House, Biden said rebuilding the US economy in the wake of Covid-19 shutdowns is "an opportunity to be the nation we know we can be."

Making the case for some $3.5 trillion in spending on social services, like education, child care and climate crisis issues, Biden said "we're at an inflection point in this country -- one of those moments where the decisions we make can change the trajectory of our country for years or decades to come."

Biden also argued for a series of tax increases aimed at corporations and the very wealthy, saying that loopholes allow America's richest entities and individuals to end up paying almost no income tax.

"It's long overdue. I'm not out to punish anyone. I'm a capitalist… All I'm asking is you pay your fair share," he said. "It's about the super wealthy finally beginning to pay what they owe."

The Democrat is banking on this message of fairness to get him across the finish line in Congress, where his party holds a razor thin majority over a Republican opposition showing no desire to compromise.

The $3.5 trillion social spending package would come on top of an approximately $1 trillion infrastructure plan for things like roads and bridges.

Republicans have agreed to support that smaller bill -- an extremely rare case of bipartisanship that Biden also hopes to use as proof of his claims to have tried to unite the country.

Hammered at home and abroad over the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan, where he ended America's lost 20-year war against the Taliban, Biden is keen to pivot to domestic issues and secure Democrats a major victory ahead of next year's congressional elections.

A big domestic win would also help resuscitate his presidency, which after a strong start looks bogged down by the Afghanistan fallout, a complicated economic recovery after Covid shutdowns, and a resurgence of the pandemic thanks to the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

With an average approval rating of 46 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight, Biden is one of the most unpopular presidents at this point in the first term in modern history -- even if he is way ahead of where Donald Trump was at the same mark with 38.8 percent approval.

Hard Bargaining

Biden says his "Build Back Better" plan will tilt the economy in favor of ordinary Americans after years of growing wealth gaps and a fraying of basic social services like education.

It's a message with broad appeal, but Democrats are squabbling over how far to push it, with many content with the $3.5 trillion price tag, leftist leaders wanting even more, and some moderates insisting on less than half.

With Democrats unable to afford losing a single vote in the 50-50 Senate and little more than that in the almost equally tight House of Representatives, Biden's entire agenda hangs in the balance.

The key Senate votes are Democratic moderates Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have cold feet about the higher price.

Under pressure from his party to become more personally involved, Biden met privately with both Sinema and Manchin at the White House on Wednesday.

The administration on Thursday also touted a letter of support signed by 15 Nobel economics prize winners who say his social spending plan will promote "success in the 21st century."

However, Republicans are playing hardball.

They not only refuse to countenance the multi-trillion-dollar package but sense a chance to deal the Biden presidency a severe blow ahead of next year's polls, when they hope to take control of Congress.

In addition to trying to block the big spending package -- while agreeing to the smaller, hugely popular infrastructure bill -- Republicans are threatening to cause havoc by blocking approval of an increase to the national debt.

For years this has been largely a technicality and Republicans agreed to relax borrowing restrictions repeatedly when Trump was president.

Refusing to vote for it in the coming weeks will force the Democrats to scramble to find ways to avoid a funding crisis that could trigger a US default and plunge the economy into turmoil.

Californians Vote To Keep Gov. Newsom In Historic Landslide

Los Angeles (AFP) - Californians voted overwhelmingly to keep their Democratic governor Tuesday, roundly rejecting a Republican attempt to unseat him in a special recall vote spurred by mask mandates and Covid lockdowns.

Gavin Newsom handily survived an effective confidence vote that could have seen him replaced by a Republican with only minority support in one of the most liberal parts of the United States.

With more than 60 percent of the votes tallied, NBC and CNN both said that Newsom was set to prevail, having secured around two-thirds of ballots.

Millions voted by mail, allowing quick counting of valid votes soon after polls closed at 8 PM Pacific Time .

Newsom had proudly boasted that he was following the science in ordering Californians to stay at home during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But entrepreneurs blamed him for suffocating their businesses with his rules, and parents chaffed at keeping their children home from school.

The vote had been eagerly watched by politicians across the deeply-divided country as a possible indicator of how incumbents who listened to doctors -- instead of angry constituents -- would fare at the ballot box.

Newsom's main opponent was Larry Elder, 69, a right-wing talk radio star who has spoken proudly of his support for ex-president Donald Trump.

Before polls even closed, Elder took a page out of Trump's 2020 election playbook, launching a website alleging voter fraud and demanding state officials "investigate and ameliorate the twisted results" of the election.

The ballot was a two part referendum, with the first asking if 53-year-old Newsom should stay in office.

The second, which only came into play if a majority wanted him out, asked which of 46 candidates should take his place.

Traditional politicians vied with a YouTube star, a "Billboard Queen" and Kardashian clan member Caitlyn Jenner for the spoils.

'Get Rid Of Newsom'

The recall initiative, which has cost the state some $280 million, is one of 55 such efforts to depose a governor in state history.

Mostly they have gone nowhere, but pandemic measures Newsom imposed gave this attempt legs.

The petition to remove him gathered pace after he was snapped having dinner at a swanky restaurant, seemingly in breach of his own Covid-19 rules, fueling a perception he was an out-of-touch hypocrite.

Mary Beth, a 63-year-old business owner who cast her ballot Tuesday in Los Angeles, said she voted to "get rid of Newsom" because "the virus created chaos in our economy but he made it even worse with his lockdowns."

"There were other ways to handle that and he should have made businesses the priority," she said.

Another pro-recall voter told AFP he wanted someone who would not impose vaccine mandates -- a hot button issue throughout the divided United States.

"I feel very strongly that we need to get rid of our governor because I think he's just a corrupt Democrat, like the people we have in the federal government and we need them out," said Farid Efraim.

"We need somebody who really represents the people."

Democrats complain the Republican-led recall was an attempt to hijack the state's government: seizing power in extraordinary circumstances when they could never do it in a regular ballot.

A poll by Spectrum News and IPSOS published before results were announced found two-thirds of registered voters viewed the recall as a political power grab.

'Recall Is Ridiculous'

California's electoral rules set the recall bar low.

Malcontents need only gather signatures equivalent to 12 percent of the number of people who voted in the last election -- in this case, 1.5 million.

California's population is around 40 million.

"This whole recall is ridiculous," said Jake, a 38-year-old tech industry worker, who preferred not to give his last name.

"I did the math and even if every registered voter turns out, it would cost more than $12 per vote," he said.

"A lot of people could have had a breakfast with that this morning."

Vance Hagins said the recall process was an abuse.

"You have 40 people running for governor, half of them are nuts and have no chance at all of winning, yet their names are on the ballot, wasting our time," he said.

The only successful California recall brought bodybuilder-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to office in 2003.

"The Governator," who ended up running the state for more than seven years, was California's last Republican chief executive.

Hurricane Ida Rivals Katrina's Strength Ahead Of Louisiana​Landfall

New Orleans (AFP) - Louisiana braced Sunday for Hurricane Ida, a powerful Category 4 storm on course to slam into New Orleans 16 years to the day after deadly Hurricane Katrina devastated the southern US city.

Showers and strong wind swept New Orleans' deserted streets Sunday morning, buffeting boarded-up windows at businesses and homes surrounded by sandbags.

State Governor John Bel Edwards said Ida, which has gathered force on its approach through the warm waters of the Gulf, could be the most powerful storm to hit the state since 1850.

By midday Sunday, storm surges were already flooding the town of Grand Isle, on a barrier island south of New Orleans, CNN reported.

Amid urgent warnings of catastrophic damage, most residents have heeded authorities' instructions to flee. Scores of people packed bumper-to-bumper roads leading out of New Orleans in the days preceding Ida's arrival.

The hurricane, packing maximum sustained winds of 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour was expected to make landfall along the southeastern Louisiana coast "within the next few hours," the National Hurricane Center reported in its 1500 GMT advisory.

In one neighborhood in eastern New Orleans, a few residents were still completing last-minute preparations.

"I'm not sure if I'm prepared," said Charles Fields, who was still bringing his garden furniture indoors, "but we just have to ride it."

The 60-year-old, who in 2005 saw Hurricane Katrina flood his house with 11 feet (3.3 meters) of water, added that "we'll see how it holds up."

'Very Serious Test'

Governor Edwards warned on Sunday that Ida would be "a very serious test for our levee systems."

He told CNN that hundreds of thousands of residents were believed to have evacuated.

The storm "presents some very challenging difficulties for us, with the hospitals being so full of Covid patients," he said.

The southern state, with a low rate of vaccinations, has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, severely stressing hospitals. Hospitalizations, at 2,700 on Saturday, are near their pandemic high.

The memory of Katrina, which made landfall on August 29, 2005, has not begun to fade in Louisiana, where it caused some 1,800 deaths and billions of dollars in damage.

"It's very painful to think about another powerful storm like Hurricane Ida making landfall on that anniversary," Edwards had previously said.

Rainfall of 10 to 18 inches (25 to 46 centimeters) is expected in parts of southern Louisiana through Monday, with up to 24 inches in some areas.

Ida And Delta Variant

The White House said Sunday that federal agencies had deployed more than 2,000 emergency workers to the region -- including 13 urban search-and-rescue teams -- along with food and water supplies and electric generators. Extensive and long-lasting power outages are expected.

Local authorities, the Red Cross and other organizations have prepared dozens of shelters with room for at least 16,000 people, the White House added. Plans to cope with the hurricane -- and plans for the shelters -- have been complicated by Covid-19. President Joe Biden, who has declared a state of emergency for Louisiana, on Saturday urged anyone in community shelters to wear masks and maintain distance.

Scientists have warned of a rise in cyclone activity as the ocean surface warms due to climate change, posing an increasing threat to the world's coastal communities.

House Democrats Advance Biden's Nearly $5 Trillion Spending Plans

Washington (AFP) - US President Joe Biden's plans to spend nearly $5 trillion to change the world's largest economy advanced in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, after Democratic leaders reached an agreement with centrist lawmakers to end a dispute that threatened the bills.

Biden and his Democratic allies controlling the chamber are pushing for passage of both a $1.2 trillion overhaul to the country's infrastructure and a bill costing $3.5 trillion over ten years that would pay for improvements to education, health care and climate change resiliency.

While the infrastructure bill has already won passage in the Senate with some votes from Republicans, Democrats have found no opposition support for the second, larger bill, and are planning to approve it with their votes alone -- a tough task given their narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress.

The dispute erupted when centrist Democrats in the House said the infrastructure bill must be voted on first, but on Tuesday, those lawmakers backed a compromise resolution that would see the infrastructure measure put to a vote in about a month.

"I am committing to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill by September 27. I do so with a commitment to rally House Democratic support for its passage," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

The resolution paves the way for further negotiations over the $3.5 trillion measure with the aim of unveiling it by September 15.

The Democrats can afford to lose no votes in the Senate, where two of their lawmakers have already said they won't vote for the bill unless its price is reduced.

Final votes on the bills are not expected until next month or later in the fall.

The infrastructure measure includes $550 billion in new spending and is aimed at revitalizing and expanding the nation's roads, railways, bridges and broadband access.

The $3.5 trillion measure is supported by the Democratic leaders and the party's progressive faction, and includes funding for climate measures, infrastructure investments left out of the other bill, residency status for millions of migrant workers, and two years of paid tuition at public universities.

FDA Approval Of Pfizer Vaccine Triggers New Inoculation M​​andates

Washington (AFP) - The Food and Drug Administration on Monday fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid shot, triggering a new wave of vaccine mandates as the Delta variant batters the country.

Around 52 percent of the American population is fully vaccinated, but health authorities have hit a wall of vaccine hesitant people, impeding the national campaign.

In a televised address, President Joe Biden called FDA approval the "gold standard" in evidence.

"Today I'm calling on... more companies in the private sector to step up with vaccine requirements that will reach millions more people," he said.

Pfizer's vaccine, which will now be marketed under its brand name Comirnaty, is the first to receive full approval.

More than 200 million Pfizer shots have already been administered under an emergency use authorization (EUA) that was granted on December 11, 2020.

The decision to fully approve it among people aged 16 and up was based on updated data from the drug's clinical trial involving more than 40,000 people, which found the vaccine 91 percent effective in preventing Covid.

The FDA tracked data from 12,000 vaccine recipients six months out from their vaccine series.

Most commonly reported side effects were mild and included pain and swelling at the injection site as well as headache, chills and fever.

The agency is continuing to investigate safety data regarding the highly rare but more worrisome condition myocarditis (heart inflammation), particularly within seven days after the second dose.

The highest risk has been detected in boys aged 12 through 17, with available data suggesting most individuals recover but some require intensive care.

Military, New York City Announce Vaccine Mandates

The US military said shortly after the announcement that it would mandate the vaccine, and a slew of private businesses and universities are expected to follow.

New York City also said it would require all its department of education employees to receive at least one dose of vaccine by September 27, without the option for regular testing instead.

The vaccine remains available under emergency use authorization to children aged 12 to 15, but because it has now been fully approved, physicians may prescribe it to children under 12 if they believe it will be beneficial.

But Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock recommended against so called "off-label" use in younger children until clinical trials report their data, which is expected later this year.

"We need to get the information and data on usage in younger children -- they are not just small adults," she told reporters, emphasizing that knowing the correct dosage for this group was key.

Boost For Vaccination Campaign

Experts hailed the development, which many had been urging for months.

Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security hailed the development as "good news" that may sway people still on the fence.

"One of the talking points of the anti-vaccine movement which has falsely claimed that this was an 'experimental vaccine' has been removed," he told AFP.

Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, added he expected to see "tens of millions more Americans vaccinated" as a result of new mandates.

A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 30 percent of adults said full approval would make them more likely to get vaccinated.

The approval came as the ultra-contagious Delta variant pummels the country, with around 80,000 Americans hospitalized with Covid and more than 700 dying every day.

The hardest hit regions include southern states Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The vaccination rate has risen in these states in recent weeks, but the national rate is still well below its peak from spring.

Some 628,000 people have died from coronavirus infection in the United States, making it officially the hardest hit country in the world -- though experts say it is possible that India may in fact hold the record.

Vaccines are less effective against the Delta variant than they were against previous strains, particularly against infection, making the goal of high population level vaccination critical.

The Biden administration announced last week plans to make a booster shot immediately available for immuno-compromised people, and recommended all vaccinated people get a third shot eight months after their second.

US Lowers Flag At Kabul Embassy, Secures Airport For Evacuation

Washington (AFP) - The United States lowered the flag on its embassy in Kabul and has relocated almost all staff to the airport, where US forces are taking over air traffic control, officials said Sunday.

"We are completing a series of steps to secure the Hamid Karzai International Airport to enable the safe departure of US and allied personnel from Afghanistan via civilian and military flights," the Pentagon and State Department said in a joint statement.

"Almost all" personnel from the embassy have relocated to the airport including the acting ambassador, Ross Wilson, who remains in touch with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a State Department spokesperson said.

"The American flag has been lowered from the US embassy compound and is now securely located with embassy staff," the spokesperson said.

The shuttering of the US embassy, which was one of the largest in the world, comes nearly 20 years after the United States returned following the defeat of the Taliban regime.

With stunning speed, the Taliban retook the country in little more than a week after President Joe Biden began the final withdrawal of troops, closing America's longest war.

The United States has sent 6,000 troops to the airport to fly out embassy personnel as well as Afghans who assisted the United States as interpreters or in other support roles and now fear retribution.

Their mission will be "focused solely on facilitating these efforts and will be taking over air traffic control," the joint statement said.

On Monday "and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the US mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals," it continued.

Witnesses on social media have complained about disruptions to commercial flights as priority was given to the US airlifts out of Kabul.

After 20 Years, Swift Taliban Takeover Damages US Credibility

Washington (AFP) - After two decades in Afghanistan, America's longest war was ending with the image of the United States in tatters.

With the swift collapse Sunday of the government in Kabul, the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks that triggered the US invasion will be marked with the Taliban back in control of Afghanistan, despite a cost to the United States of nearly 2,500 lives and more than $2 trillion.

To some observers, the debacle following the withdrawal of US troops will inevitably weaken the United States on the global stage at a time when President Joe Biden was speaking of rallying democracies in the face of a rising China.

"America's credibility as an ally is diminished because of the way the Afghan government was abandoned beginning with the Doha talks," said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States, referring to the deal last year in the Qatari capital with the Taliban in which the United States set a pullout timeline.

Haqqani, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, noted how US diplomats in the end could do little more than send tweets urging the Taliban to stop.

"That envoys of the mightiest nation on earth can be duped as they were in Doha, and its leaders ignored so easily as they have been in the final days, will encourage others to engage in duplicitous diplomacy," Haqqani said.

Biden faced heated criticism that the withdrawal was mismanaged, with the United States racing to evacuate its sprawling embassy just a month after he played down fears the Afghan government would crumble quickly.

"It is going to have ramifications not just for Afghanistan," said Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican hawk.

"America's adversaries know they can threaten us, and our allies are questioning this morning whether they can count on us for anything," she said in an ABC interview.

Mixed Message To China

The Biden administration is quick to point out that former president Donald Trump negotiated the Doha deal on the withdrawal and that a majority of the US public favors ending "forever wars."

Trump has repeatedly put the blame on his successor, however, calling for him to resign on Sunday "in disgrace for what he has allowed to happen to Afghanistan."

"What Joe Biden has done with Afghanistan is legendary. It will go down as one of the greatest defeats in American history!" he said in an earlier Sunday statement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, also speaking on ABC, said the United States had "succeeded" in its primary mission of bringing justice to the Al-Qaeda perpetrators of the September 11 attacks.

"It's also true that there's nothing that our strategic competitors around the world would like more than to see us bogged down in Afghanistan for another five, 10 or 20 years. That is not in the national interest," Blinken said.

China, which the Biden administration sees as the nation's pre-eminent challenge, has already rhetorically pounced, with the nationalistic state-run Global Times publishing an analysis saying Afghanistan showed Washington to be an "unreliable partner that always abandons its partners or allies to seek self-interest."

But Richard Fontaine, chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security, said it was simplistic to think that China would be emboldened, for example, to move on Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy claimed by Beijing that depends on US weapons.

China may instead see the high cost that the United States is willing to pay in exiting Afghanistan as a sign of seriousness in shifting to the Pacific, Fontaine said.

But Fontaine, who opposed the withdrawal, said the United States was taking major risks by effectively ceding Afghanistan to the Taliban, who never formally broke with Al-Qaeda.

"Now that it looks like the Taliban will be running the country, I think the chances of a terrorist threat are pretty high," he said.

"If that's the case, it could well increase distraction from our focus on the bigger strategic challenges in China."

New Attitude Toward Military Engagement?

Some policymakers argued for maintaining a residual force of some 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, but Biden decided the war was over and he should not risk further US lives.

Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, which supports US military restraint, said the ones who have now lost credibility are advocates for a continued war.

"When you see that the whole thing falls apart in nine days, this was nothing more than a house of cards," Parsi said.

He hoped the withdrawal would help end the view, in Washington but also among allies, that the US military should be the first resort.

"Perhaps some of the external pressures on the United States to act as if it is the answer to everything in the world will reduce."

Politics Infects Return To Class In Universities Struggling With COVID

Los Angeles (AFP) - In-person learning is back on the curriculum at universities in the United States this term after a pandemic-imposed hiatus but, like much else in the deeply divided country, how it plays out will depend largely on politics.

Mask mandates and proof of vaccination are compulsory on some campuses, while on others they are prohibited by local law, as states take starkly diverging approaches to rocketing Covid-19 infections, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant.

Around a fifth of the 4,000 colleges and universities surveyed by The Chronicle of Higher Education are requiring students or staff to have a vaccine -- mostly in states that voted for Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

They include California behemoth UCLA, which in April declared that anyone who studies, works or lives on any of its many campuses in the liberal state will have to be "fully vaccinated against Covid-19 at least 14 days before the first day of class for the fall semester."

And with the Delta surge threatening to take swaths of the United States back to the darkest days of the pandemic, UCLA officials last month said everyone -- regardless of vaccination status -- will have to be tested weekly, and will have to wear a mask indoors.

Outlawed In Texas

That is a far cry from deep-red Texas, whose Republican governor, Greg Abbott, has banned any publicly funded body from requiring such health measures.

Ideological opposition like that worries some at the University of Texas at Austin, where 51,000 students will be back in class later this month.

"I'm very nervous to return to campus," said Jamie O'Quinn, a teaching assistant and PhD candidate in the sociology department.

"As far as I know, we are going to be required to return to teaching in-person classes, but students will not be required to be vaccinated," she said. "Even though I'm vaccinated, with the Delta variant it still feels incredibly unsafe.

"We're all terrified -- all of my friends, who are being forced to teach in person. We all talk about it all the time."

At least a dozen US states prohibit public universities from requiring the Covid-19 vaccine.

The University of South Carolina ran into problems when it tried to make mask-wearing mandatory in its buildings.

University leaders backed down this month after the attorney general for the staunchly Republican state said the measure lacked legal grounding.

'Recipe For disaster'

Such politically inspired edicts seem to invite disaster, said the American College Health Association.

"Many of these restrictions directly contradict (national government) guidance," the ACHA said in a statement.

"State actions that prevent the use of established and effective public health tools at the same time as Covid-19 cases increase is a recipe for disaster."

But those rulings are popular among some students, who see mask mandates and vaccination requirements as infringing on their individual freedom.

A handful of students went to court to try to overturn an Indiana University requirement that they be masked and inoculated. That effort failed, but other cases are pending, in Indiana and elsewhere.

For Aniffa Kouton, 20, a chemistry student at IU in Bloomington, the lawsuit was "ridiculous."

"IU or any other public university requires you to have vaccines for other illnesses Like the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella), and chickenpox for elementary school," she said, "so I wasn't surprised when they wanted people to have the Covid vaccine.

"People want to politicize this whole disease. It's stupid that people want to fight being safe."

Kouton said the vast majority of her fellow students are on board with the science, and keen to return to a pre-pandemic life.

Of the 360 to 380 students she mentored this summer during a support program, "only 10 had asked to be exempted from the vaccine" for religious or health reasons, she said.

Overall, Kouton added, students are just eager to stay healthy -- and to "go back to something that resembles normal."

California Wildfire Now Second-Worst In State History

Greenville (United States) (AFP) - The monstrous Dixie Fire in northern California has grown to become the second-largest wildfire in state history, authorities said Sunday, with three people reported missing and thousands fleeing the advancing flames.

As of Sunday, the fire had destroyed 463,477 acres (187,562 hectares), up from the previous day's 447,723 acres. It now covers an area larger than Los Angeles.

The Dixie blaze is the largest active wildfire in the United States, but only one of 11 major wildfires in California.

Over the weekend, it surpassed the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire to make it the second-worst fire in state history.

On Saturday, Governor Gavin Newsom visited the burnt-out historic town of Greenville, expressing his "deep gratitude" to the teams fighting the flames.

He said authorities had to devote more resources to managing forests and preventing fires.

But he added that "the dries are getting a lot drier, it is hotter than it has ever been... we need to acknowledge just straight up these are climate-induced wildfires."

Climate change amplifies droughts which dry out regions, creating ideal conditions for wildfires to spread out-of-control and inflict unprecedented material and environmental damage.

The Dixie blaze, which on Saturday left three firefighters injured, remained 21 percent contained Sunday, unchanged from the day before, the CalFire website reported.

Crews estimate the fire, which began July 13, will not finally be extinguished for two weeks.

Higher Temperatures Forecast

Weak winds and higher humidity have provided some succor to firefighters, but they are bracing for higher temperatures expected to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) in the coming days.

Heavy smoke was making driving hazardous for fire crews in some areas, and steep trails also made access difficult.

The state's eight largest wildfires have all come since December 2017. The still-blackened scars of previous fires have aided Dixie Fire crews at times, reducing available fuel.

Thousands of residents have fled the area, many finding temporary housing -- even living in tents, and often unsure whether their homes have survived.

The Plumas County sheriff's office said it was still searching for three people listed as missing, after two others were found over the weekend.

The Dixie Fire has already destroyed about 400 structures -- gutting Greenville -- and CalFire said workers and equipment were being deployed to save homes in the small town of Crescent Mills, three miles (five kilometers) southeast of Greenville.

More than 5,000 personnel are now battling the Dixie blaze.

Despite repeated evacuation orders from the authorities, some residents have refused to flee, preferring to try to fight the fire on their own rather than leave their property.

By late July, the number of acres burned in California was up more than 250 percent from 2020 -- itself the worst year of wildfires in the state's modern history.

A long-term drought that scientists say is driven by climate change has left much of the western United States and Canada parched -- and vulnerable to explosive and highly destructive fires.

A preliminary investigation has suggested the Dixie Fire was started when a tree fell on a power cable owned by regional utility Pacific Gas & Company (PG&E), a private operator that was earlier blamed for the Camp Fire in 2018, which killed 86 people.

New York City Orders Vaccines Or Weekly Tests For All Public Workers

New York (AFP) - New York City will require all municipal workers to get vaccinated against coronavirus or take a weekly test, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday as the Delta variant fuels an uptick in cases in the metropolis.

The order will go into effect from September 13 and will apply to more than 300,000 city personnel, including police officers, fire fighters and teachers.

"This is about our recovery. This is about keeping people safe," de Blasio told a press conference.

The move comes after the mayor announced last week that the city's 30,000 public hospital workers would need to get vaccinated or face weekly testing from August 2.

The measure announced Monday is the most stringent measure taken so far in the US megacity to boost vaccination rates following a campaign based on voluntary participation and incentives.

In New York, 59 percent of the entire population has received at least one dose of a vaccine against Covid-19 but the speed of injections has slowed.

Controversy is building in the United States over what steps should be taken to increase vaccination rates against the Delta variant, which accounts for more than 89 percent of US infections, according to estimates.

Many health officials are pushing to make vaccination mandatory, at least for certain segments of the population.

On Monday, 57 medical groups representing millions of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health workers called for mandatory vaccinations for all health staff.

"The health and safety of US workers, families, communities, and the nation depends on it," said the statement, whose signatories included the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association.

Several Republican-led states have instead passed laws banning coercive measures, though, particularly in schools.

The September 13 date will coincide with the return of one million students to New York's public schools for the new academic year.

Fauci: US Might 'Still Have Polio' If Misinformation Had Hindered Vaccination

Washington (AFP) - Top US scientist Anthony Fauci on Saturday blasted commentators who sound an anti-vaccination theme, saying America might still be battling smallpox and polio if today's kind of misinformation existed back then. The comments from the country's leading infectious disease expert reflected mounting frustration over the sharp slowdown in the Covid-19 vaccination rate in the United States, even as the disease has been surging in states with low rates. It also came days after President Joe Biden expressed his own visible frustration, saying social media that carry widely heard mis...

Select Panel Probing Capitol Insurrection Announces Debut Hearing

Washington (AFP) - The congressional select committee investigating the US Capitol insurrection announced Wednesday it will hold its first hearing later this month with testimony from police who clashed with rioters and protected the building on January 6. The public session will occur on July 27 and allow lawmakers to hear first-hand from members of the US Capitol Police and Washington's city police force, committee chairman Bennie Thompson's office said. The session kicks off what is expected to be an extensive series of public hearings investigating all aspects of the unrest. On tha f...

Biden Urges Cuban Authorities To Avoid Violence Against Protesters

Washington (AFP) - President Joe Biden on Monday told Cuba's communist government not to resort to violence against street protests and said the United States stands with demonstrators. "We call on the government of Cuba to refrain from violence," Biden told reporters as government officials pushed back against the Cuban authorities' claim that Washington is responsible for the unrest. "We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by C...

With Afghan Pullout, US Ends Its 'Forever Wars'

Washington (AFP) - Joe Biden's pullout from Afghanistan has stunned with its speed, but Washington already decided four years ago that it was fed up with “forever wars” and turned its attention to traditional great power competition with China and Russia. Fighting stateless terror groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State consumed the US security establishment, and trillions of dollars, since the September 11, 2001 attacks. Biden predecessor Donald Trump came to office in 2017 promising to quit Afghanistan, calling the war there a "mess" and a "waste." The conflicts there and in Iraq had come to ...

America Marks Slavery's End On New 'Juneteenth' National Holiday

New York (AFP) - With marches, music and speeches, Americans on Saturday celebrated "Juneteenth," the newly declared national holiday that marks the end of slavery and which comes a year after George Floyd's murder sparked anti-racism protests. Hundreds of events were held across the country, from New York to Los Angeles, and most notably in Galveston, Texas, the symbolic heart of the Juneteenth commemoration. For on June 19, 1865, it was in that Texas coastal area that the Union Army -- victorious after the bitterly fought Civil War -- announced to African Americans that, even if some in Texa...

Far-Right Republicans Introduce Fringe Bill To Fire Fauci

Washington (AFP) - Several Republican lawmakers, eager to blame a US government official for the response to the coronavirus pandemic, introduced a bill Tuesday to fire Anthony Fauci, the face of American efforts to combat Covid-19. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene led a handful of colleagues in announcing the so-called Fire Fauci Act, which would reduce the famed infectious disease expert's government salary to zero and require the Senate to confirm someone to fill his position. Fauci, who has advised seven US presidents, had become a trusted figure in the government's Covid-19 response, ...