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Caine & Plaza chemistry make ‘Best Sellers’ a must-watch

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Caine & Plaza chemistry make ‘Best Sellers’ a must-watch

MOVIE REVIEW

“BEST SELLERS”

Not rated. On VOD.

Grade: A-

Can anyone have anticipated a scenario in which Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza play a variation of “The Odd Couple”? In the small, gem-like, screwball comedy “Best Sellers,” Plaza plays Lucy Stanbridge, a young, rich, well-educated woman who inherits a venerable New York publishing house from her father. The house is in trouble and on the verge of being sold off at a loss to former executive Jack Sinclair (Scott Speedman), who was once romantically involved with Lucy, although things have chilled down.

Aubrey Plaza in ‘Best Sellers.’

Lucy and her wryly funny assistant Rachel Spence (an indispensable Ellen Wong) are desperate to find a best seller to publish to save the company. The only candidate they come up with is Harris Shaw (Michael Caine), who hasn’t published a book in 50 years. But his first and only effort, “Atomic Autumn,” which Lucy’s father supposedly carefully edited, was a smash hit, and an old contract confirms that Harris owes them a book. The set-up is simple, elegant and full of potential.

Directed by first-time feature filmmaker and actor Lina Roessler, “Best Sellers” has the nerve to open to the sound of someone pounding on a typewriter, something some people in the audience might not recognize. Harris, an old, angry geezer and widower, picks up a ringing phone and spews the words, “He’s dead; bugger off,” into it and hangs up. We see him type the words THE END at the bottom of a page. We learn something of Harris’s background. He was “thrown out of Ireland” and lives in Westchester, N.Y. (the film was shot in Quebec). He’s a “drunk, a recluse and a madman.” His house faces imminent foreclosure.

Thus, he is persuaded by Lucy to go on a book tour to promote “The Future is X-Rated,” his newest effort, a bleak, “Children of Men”-type, extinction-level work of dystopiana. But instead of reading from the book, Shaw, who shares his name with a certain Anglo-Irish playwright and polemicist, scandalously reads a missive from the letter section of a 1977 issue of Penthouse Magazine. Harris catchphrase “It’s all bullshite” is trending. Twitter loves the curmudgeon.

Lucy, who has to learn to drive Shaw’s oddly reliable, right-hand drive vintage Jaguar, goes on the road, touring dive bars with the old man, who sits in the back of the Jag, smoking cigars and dozing. It’s clear that as much as she disapproves of Shaw’s outrageous behavior, Lucy grows increasingly fond of him.

Caine, 88, has a blast acting like the most scandalous member of the Sex Pistols. Plaza, a gifted comic actor with a razor-sharp. sarcastic screen presence, has not had this sort of chemistry with a male colleague, maybe ever. For his part, Caine does very little outside of talking to his beloved dead wife, to make Shaw likable.

Actor-screenwriter Anthony Grieco sticks to the rules of the traditional screwball comedy. But instead of a romance, he gives us a surrogate father-daughter bond. Shaw rubs off on Lucy, and she becomes more and more like the old man, chanting, “It’s all bullshite,” with the hipsters at the bars, enjoying long swigs of neat Johnnie Walker Black Label and smoking the old man’s cigars. Later, she will quote his favorite lines from “The Great Gatsby.” Apparently, these two were meant for each other. But their “romance” has little future.

That’s the Kinks performing “Last of the Steam-Powered Trains” over the final credits, a suitable send-off for this very pleasant surprise.

(“Best Sellers” contains profanity, drunkenness and a scene in which someone pees on a burning book.)

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He Said, She Said: Fantasy Week 5 Patriots vs. Houston starts and sits

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He Said, She Said: Fantasy Week 5 Patriots vs. Houston starts and sits

AI: How are we already in Week 5? This season feels like it’s flying by. This week is huge for the Patriots. At 1-3 — a win on Sunday is crucial.

Regardless of the outcome on Sunday — Mac Jones and the Patriots came out on top in more ways than one. They outplayed and out-executed Tom Brady and his reigning Super Bowl champ squad — proving that sometimes moral wins are better than the physical W in the column. So heading into Week 5 New England is coming off a high, but the same cannot be said for their opponent. The Houston Texans are at rock bottom after an embarrassing, franchise-worst shutout 40-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Now the Texans are also 1-3, but there’s levels to their record, and right now, the odds are heavily favoring the Patriots. So with that being said, we thought it would be fitting to do starts and sits specifically for this Sunday’s matchup:

Here are mine: 

Start:

Patriots RB Damien Harris: Similar to the Patriots defensive woes, the Texans D got run over by Buffalo. 106 of the Bills 199 rushing yards happened after contact. To put it in overall perspective — Houston allows more rush yards than the Patriots do on average. This is good news for New England’s backfield — who rushed for negative 1 yards Week 4. So based on the stats — we should see Harris grounding and pounding this week.

Texans RB Mark Ingram: The Texans best course of action is to run the ball. The Patriots had a tough time stopping Leonard Fournette this past Sunday, so Houston’s back Mark Ingram should see a heavy workload this week.

Sit: 

Texans WR Brandin Cooks: If the Patriots secondary can contain and almost defeat Brady and his weapons — they’ll have no issue with Mills and Brandin Cooks — who don’t get me wrong is a top target, but with Mills at QB, not even close to as big a threat.

Patriots WR Nelson Agholor: The Texans defense is underrated against the pass. They’ve given up the ninth-fewest PPR points to opposing WRs this season, which isn’t good news for Agholor’s opportunities — especially with Jakobi Meyers taking a lot of the spotlight as of late.

BC: The Patriots offense is starting to look a lot like it did a year ago. There’s just not a lot of big-play activity with this group, which is a little shocking given how much Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick spent in the offseason. One other thing that’s been running through my head lately: Where’s Cam Newton? Nary a team has taken a flyer on him. As QBs get hurt, he might have a shot, but only if he got his vaccine shot.

Also, shout out to me last week for recommending Hunter Henry. Go Hogs! I’m thinking we gotta open this thing back up next week because there just isn’t enough oomph in the Pats offense to try and find serviceable weapons there. But let’s give it a shot …

Start:

I actually like Cooks as a prospect, because he’s a game-breaker. But he doesn’t have anyone who can reliably get him the ball. As much as Brady was contained last week, only a couple of penalties kept Antonio Brown from a bigger day. Being humiliated is something pros do not like, so I expect the Texans to look better than they did last week. Considering the Patriots are a low-scoring team — only six TDs in four games — they’ve shown little to expect a big outburst is imminent. If you’ve got the Texans D/ST, give them a play.

And because the Pats have struggled punching it in, I’m gonna go with Mr. Reliable, Nick Folk, kicking indoors. But if you’re in a tough place at TE, Henry or Jonnu Smith have a favorable matchup and could be worth a shot.

Sit:

If you’re in a very deep league, you might have Texans QB Davis Mills on your team. But there’s no reason to even risk it. Houston has a RB-by-committee approach with Mark Ingram, David Johnson and Phillip Lindsay. Three years ago all of them would merit a start. In 2021 none of them do.

I just don’t love the Pats passing game right now; Karen Guregian said a few days ago that Bill and Josh McDaniels have to get Jones to step it up a bit. It could happen this weekend but until I see something less pedestrian, Jones and that crew of wideouts don’t deserve time in your lineup.

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Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah awarded Nobel literature prize

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Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah awarded Nobel literature prize

By DAVID KEYTON, JILL LAWLESS and CARA ANNA

STOCKHOLM (AP) — U.K.-based Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, whose experience of crossing continents and cultures has nurtured his novels about the impact of migration on individuals and societies, won the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday.

The Swedish Academy said the award was in recognition of Gurnah’s “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee.”

Gurnah, who recently retired as a professor of English and post-colonial literatures at the University of Kent, got the call from the Swedish Academy in the kitchen of his home in Canterbury, in southeast England — and initially thought it was a prank.

“You think it can’t be true,” he told The Associated Press. “It literally took my breath away.”

Gurnah, 72, arrived in Britain as an 18-year-old refugee a half-century ago. He said the themes of migration and displacement explored in his novels are even more urgent now — amid mass movements of people displaced from Syria, Afghanistan and beyond — than when he began his writing career.

“The scale is different,” he said. “What makes it different, I think, is what we see in the way that people risk their lives. Of course, people risked their lives from Haiti coming to the United States a couple of decades ago, and that was horrible.”

But in more recent years, the vast numbers of asylum seekers perilously crossing the Mediterranean or the Sahara, he said, are “a different scale of horror.

He said he hoped fiction could help people in wealthy nations understand the humanity of the migrants they see on their screens.

“What fiction can do is it can fill in the gaps,” he said. “And actually allow people to to see that, in fact, they are complicated stories which are being mashed up by the high-sounding lies and distortions that seem to be what popular culture somehow requires to continue to ignore and to dismiss what they don’t want to hear.”

Born in 1948 on the island of Zanzibar, now part of Tanzania, Gurnah moved to Britain in the late 1960s, fleeing a repressive regime that persecuted the Arab Muslim community to which he belonged.

He has said he “stumbled into” writing after arriving in England as a way of exploring both the loss and liberation of the emigrant experience.

Gurnah is the author of 10 novels, including “Memory of Departure,” “Pilgrims Way,” “Paradise” — shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994 — “By the Sea,” “Desertion” and “Afterlives.” The settings range from East Africa under German colonialism to modern-day England. Many explore what he has called “one of the stories of our times”: the profound impact of migration both on uprooted people and the places they make their new homes.

Gurnah, whose native language is Swahili but who writes in English, is only the sixth Africa-born author to be awarded the Nobel for literature, which has been dominated by European and North American writers since it was founded in 1901.

Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, who won the Nobel Literature prize in 1986, welcomed the latest African Nobel laureate as proof that “the Arts — and literature in particular — are well and thriving, a sturdy flag waved above depressing actualities” in “a continent in permanent travail.”

“May the tribe increase!” Soyinka told the AP in an email.

Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel Committee for literature, called Gurnah “one of the world’s most prominent post-colonial writers.” He said it was significant that Gurnah’s roots are in Zanzibar, a polyglot place that “was cosmopolitan long before globalization.”

“His work gives us a vivid and very precise picture of another Africa not so well known for many readers, a coastal area in and around the Indian Ocean marked by slavery and shifting forms of repression under different regimes and colonial powers: Portuguese, Indian, Arab, German and the British,” Olsson said.

He said Gurnah’s characters “find themselves in the gulf between cultures … between the life left behind and the life to come, confronting racism and prejudice, but also compelling themselves to silence the truth or reinventing a biography to avoid conflict with reality.”

News of the award was greeted with excitement in Zanzibar, where many remembered Gurnah and his family — though few had actually read his books.

Gurnah’s books are not required reading in schools there and “are hardly to be found,” said the local education minister, Simai Mohammed Said, whose wife is Gurnah’s niece. But, he added, “a son of Zanzibar has brought so much pride.”

“The reaction is fantastic … The young people are proud that he’s Zanzibari,” said Farid Himid, who described himself as a local historian whose father had been a teacher of the Quran to the young Gurnah.

Gurnah didn’t often visit Zanzibar, he said, but he has suddenly become the talk of young people in the semiautonomous island region.

“And many elder people are very, very happy Himid said. “Also me, as a Zanzibari. It’s a new step to make people read books again, since the internet has taken over.”

The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (over $1.14 million). The money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.

Last year’s prize went to American poet Louise Glück. Glück was a popular choice after several years of controversy. In 2018, the award was postponed after sex abuse allegations rocked the Swedish Academy, the secretive body that chooses the winners. The awarding of the 2019 prize to Austrian writer Peter Handke caused protests because of his strong support for the Serbs during the 1990s Balkan wars.

On Monday, the Nobel Committee awarded the prize in physiology or medicine to Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their discoveries into how the human body perceives temperature and touch.

The Nobel Prize in physics was awarded Tuesday to three scientists whose work found order in seeming disorder, helping to explain and predict complex forces of nature, including expanding our understanding of climate change.

Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan were named as laureates of the Nobel Prize for chemistry Wednesday for finding an easier and environmentally cleaner way to build molecules that can be used to make compounds, including medicines and pesticides.

Still to come are prizes for outstanding work in the fields of peace, on Friday, and economics, on Monday.

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Lawless reported from London and Anna from Nairobi, Kenya. Associated Press writers Danica Kirka in London, Chinedu Asadu in Lagos, Nigeria. and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.

—-

Read more stories about Nobel Prizes past and present by The Associated Press at https://www.apnews.com/NobelPrizes

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Ex-Celtics among former NBA players charged in $4M fraud scheme

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Ex-Celtics among former NBA players charged in $4M fraud scheme

NEW YORK — Eighteen former NBA players including a number of ex-Celtics were charged Thursday with pocketing about $2.5 million illegally by defrauding the league’s health and welfare benefit plan in a scam authorities said involved claiming fictitious medical and dental expenses.

“The defendants’ playbook involved fraud and deception,” U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss told a news conference after FBI agents across the country arrested 15 ex-players and one of their wives in a three-year conspiracy that authorities say started in 2017.

Among the Celtics charged was Tony Allen, a six-time All-Defensive team selection and a member of the 2008 champion Boston Celtics. His wife was also indicted.

Glen ‘Big Baby” Davis, was also charged, as was Sebastian Telfair, and Terrence Williams, who authorities allege was the scheme’s mastermind.

According to an indictment returned in Manhattan federal court, the ex-players teamed up to defraud the NBA’s supplemental coverage plan by submitting fraudulent claims to get reimbursed for medical and dental procedures that never happened.

Strauss said prosecutors have travel records, email and GPS data that proves the ex-players were sometimes far from the medical and dental offices at the times when they were supposedly getting treated.

In one instance, she said, an ex-player was playing basketball in Taiwan when he was supposedly getting $48,000 worth of root canals and crowns on eight teeth at a Beverly Hills, California, dental office in December 2018.

The indictment said the scheme was carried out from at least 2017 to 2020, when the plan — funded primarily by NBA teams — received false claims totaling about $3.9 million. Of that, the defendants received about $2.5 million in fraudulent proceeds.

Strauss said each defendant made false claims for reimbursements that ranged from $65,000 to $420,000.

A request for comment to the league wasn’t immediately returned.

Strauss said the conspiracy was led by Williams, who began his career as a first-round NBA draft pick in 2009. The indictment said he submitted $19,000 in fraudulent claims to the plan in November 2017 for chiropractic care.  The claims led to a $7,672 payout for Williams.

The indictment said he then recruited other former NBA players to defraud the plan and offered to provide fraudulent invoices from a chiropractor and dentist in Southern California and a wellness office in Washington state.

At least 10 of the ex-players paid kickbacks totaling about $230,000 to Williams, according to the court papers. A lawyer who has represented Williams in the past declined to comment.

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UMass battles UConn in a regional rivalry game

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UMass battles UConn in a regional rivalry game

UMass coach Walt Bell is lighting a fire under his team by stoking the embers of a bygone regional rivalry.

The Minutemen (0-5) will look to stop a 16-game losing streak when they host the UConn Huskies (0-6) in a clash of struggling FBS independents on Saturday (3:30) at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst.

“It is a big game for all of us,” said Bell. “It is a big game for our players, it is a big game for UMass and for UConn, it’s a big game for all of us.

“We are playing a home game against a regional opponent and two schools who don’t necessarily see each other as equals and don’t necessarily like each other.”

Both programs have attempted to punch above their weight class against Power-5 opponents this season with little success. UConn, which did not play a game in 2020, opened the season with a 45-0 loss at Fresno State.

That was followed by a humiliating 38-28 home loss to Holy Cross, a setback that jettisoned coach Randy Edsall from the gridiron to the golf course. The Huskies were hammered by Purdue and Army, but have since managed competitive defeats under interim head coach Lou Spanos. UConn was beaten 24-22 at home by Wyoming followed by a 30-28 loss at Vanderbilt.

“You can tell that after the first couple of games they have kind of cleaned themselves up on offense,” said Bell. “They have found something that makes them be them, a little bit of an identity and coach Spanos has them playing pretty good football right now.

“They continue to improve and much like us play a rough schedule. We expect the best version of them on Saturday.”

UMass’ problem on both sides of the ball is the inability to gain traction early in the game. Since the season opener, a 51-7 loss at Pittsburgh, the Minutemen have been repeatedly hamstrung by early deficits. That disrupts the game plan and puts undue pressure on true freshman quarterback Brady Olson of Bellingham.

The Minutemen did manage second-half rallies against Boston College and Eastern Michigan, but they were buried early in consecutive losses to No. 17 Coastal Carolina (53-3) and Toledo (45-7).

“I think our challenge right now is execution early in the football game, especially offensively,” said Bell. “We are doing everything we can to establish a nice clean early game plan and execute, especially with a young quarterback.

“That’s the challenge for us this week, to come out and start fast and put ourselves in position to play some good football.”

Olson will make his fifth start of the season in place of Tyler Lytle, a graduate transfer from Colorado who suffered a wrist injury at Pittsburgh. The Minutemen are also without tailback Kay’Ron Adams, a transfer from Rutgers who suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Toledo. Ellis Merriweather is an every-down back who will have to take on an expanded role on run and pass plays.

“It makes me go out and practice and be intense about everything I am trying to accomplish,” said Merriweather. “I go out there thinking about laying it all on the line.”

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Pfizer’s request to OK shots for kids a relief for parents

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Pfizer’s request to OK shots for kids a relief for parents

By JENNIFER McDERMOTT and LAURAN NEERGAARD

Parents tired of worrying about classroom outbreaks and sick of telling their elementary school-age children no to sleepovers and family gatherings felt a wave of relief Thursday when Pfizer asked the U.S. government to authorize its COVID-19 vaccine for youngsters ages 5 to 11.

If regulators give the go-ahead, reduced-dose kids’ shots could begin within a matter of weeks.

That could bring many families a step closer to being done with remote learning, virus scares and repeated school shutdowns and quarantines.

“My son asked about playing sports. ‘After you’re vaccinated.’ He asked about seeing his cousins again. ‘After you’re vaccinated.’ A lot of our plans are on hold,” said Sarah Staffiere of Waterville, Maine, whose 7-year-old has a rare immune disease that has forced the family to be extra cautious throughout the pandemic.

“When he’s vaccinated, it would give our family our lives back,” she said.

Expanding vaccine availability to roughly 28 million more U.S. children is seen as another milestone in the fight against the virus and comes amid an alarming rise in serious infections in youngsters because of the extra-contagious delta variant.

It would also push the U.S. vaccination drive further ahead of much of the rest of the world at a time when many poor countries are desperately short of vaccine.

The Food and Drug Administration must decide whether the shots are safe and effective in younger children.

Many parents and pediatricians are clamoring for protection for youngsters under 12, the current age cutoff for COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S.

Nine-year-old Audrey Moulder, who lives in the Philadelphia suburb of Drexel Hill, is looking forward to visiting her grandmother without worrying she will give the older woman COVID-19.

“She’s excited because she thinks it’s a responsibility,” said her father, Justin Moulder. “She wants to keep her friends safe and her family safe.”

Dr. Amanda Powell, an internist and pediatrician who runs a clinic in Portland, Maine, is eager to set up worry-free play dates and plan a family trip again once her 9-year-old son is vaccinated.

“We want to be able to resume some normal activities,” she said.

But there are also plenty of parents who are wary about getting the shot themselves and are in no hurry to have their children vaccinated.

Heather Miller, a mother of four from Dexter, Maine, said she wants to wait for follow-up studies on the vaccine. “I’m not 100% against getting it eventually, but I kind of fall into the ‘not right now, wait and see’ category,” she said.

Cindy Schilling, an elementary school principal in West Virginia, which ranks dead last in the percentage of fully vaccinated residents, said it has been a rough start to the year because so many children are testing positive or quarantining at different times, making it hard for teachers and students to stay on track.

Still, she said she often hears parents say they are more concerned about the effects of the vaccine than COVID-19.

“Some parents are all for it and getting it for peace of mind,” she said, “but the majority of parents I’ve talked to will not be getting it.”

While kids are at lower risk of severe illness or death than older people, COVID-19 does sometimes kill children — at least 520 so far in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said their research shows younger children should get one-third of the dose now given to everyone else. After their second dose, the 5- to 11-year-olds developed virus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as those that teens and young adults get from regular-strength shots.

On Oct. 26, an independent expert panel that advises the FDA will publicly debate the evidence. If the FDA authorizes emergency use of the kid-size doses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make a final decision, after hearing from its outside advisers.

To avoid mix-ups, Pfizer is planning to ship the lower-dose vials specially marked for use in children.

It studied the lower dose in 2,268 volunteers ages 5 to 11 and said there were no serious side effects. The study isn’t large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as the heart inflammation that sometimes occurs after the second dose of the regular-strength vaccine, mostly in young men.

Moderna has requested FDA permission to use its vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds and also is studying its shots in elementary school children. Both Pfizer and Moderna are studying even younger children as well, down to 6-month-olds. Results are expected later in the year.

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AP journalist Emma H. Tobin contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Red Sox ratings on NESN increase across all demographics in 2021

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Red Sox ratings on NESN increase across all demographics in 2021

It turns out that people were watching the Red Sox this season.

The Red Sox’ surprising 2021 season in which they won 92 games and advanced to the American League Division Series was met with their best ratings in a decade among adults aged 18-34, according to a NESN release.

NESN’s ratings across 152 Red Sox games televised this season experienced growth in every demographic, per the release:

* The A18-34 rating was 1.62, a 41 percent increase from last season and highest since 2011.

* The A25-54 rating was 1.70, an 80 percent increase from last season and 19 percent growth from 2019.

* The Male 25-54 rating was 2.16, a 97 percent growth from last season and 10 percent increase from 2019.

The Red Sox saw their ratings fall 54% overall during their dreadful 2020 season, which was the largest drop of any team that reported ratings data.

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Senate dodges US debt disaster, voting to extend borrowing

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Senate dodges US debt disaster, voting to extend borrowing

By KEVIN FREKING, ALAN FRAM and ALEXANDRA JAFFE

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate dodged a U.S. debt disaster Thursday night, voting to extend the government’s borrowing authority into December and temporarily avert an unprecedented federal default that experts warned would devastate the economy and harm millions of Americans.

The party-line Democratic vote of 50-48 in support of the bill to raise the government’s debt ceiling by nearly a half-trillion dollars brought instant relief in Washington and far beyond. However, it provides only a reprieve. Assuming the House goes along, which it will, Republican and Democratic lawmakers will still have to tackle their deep differences on the issue once more before yearend.

That debate will take place as lawmakers also work to fund the federal government for the new fiscal year and as they keep up their bitter battling over President Joe Biden’s top domestic priorities — a bipartisan infrastructure plan with nearly $550 billion in new spending as well as a much more expansive, $3.5 trillion effort focused on health, safety net programs and the environment.

Easing the crisis at hand — a disastrous default looming in just weeks — the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, offered his support for allowing a short-term extension of the government’s borrowing authority after leading solid GOP opposition to a longer extension. He acted as Biden and business leaders ramped up their concerns that a default would disrupt government payments to millions of Americans and throw the nation into recession.

The GOP concession to give up its blockade for now was not popular with some members of McConnell’s Republican caucus, who complained that the nation’s debt levels are unsustainable.

“I can’t vote to raise this debt ceiling, not right now, especially given the plans at play to increase spending immediately by another $3.5 trillion,” Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said shortly before the vote.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said the Democrats had been on “a path to surrender” on the process used to lift the debt cap, “and then unfortunately, yesterday, Republicans blinked.”

But Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was among those voting to end debate and allow a vote on the bill.

“I’m not willing to let this train go off the cliff,” she said.

Eleven Republicans voted to end debate, providing the threshold needed to move the bill to a final vote. However, no Republicans sided with Democrats in the final vote for the measure. McConnell has insisted that the majority party will have to increase the debt ceiling on its own.

Congress has just days to act before the Oct. 18 deadline after which the Treasury Department has warned it will quickly run short of funds to handle the nation’s already accrued debt load.

The House is likely to approve the measure next week. After the Senate action, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced the House is being called back to session Tuesday evening for votes.

Republican leaders worked through the day to find the 10 votes they needed from their party to advance the debt limit extension to a final vote, holding a private huddle late in the afternoon. It was a long and “spirited” discussion in the room, said Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.

McConnell allowed for an airing of all views and ultimately told the senators he would be voting yes to limit debate.

The vote started with McConnell and South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking Republican, waiting patiently as slowly, but surely, nine of their GOP colleagues came and gave the anticipated thumbs up. When Cruz voted no, McConnell joked: “I thought you were undecided. Thanks for showing up.”

The White House signaled Biden’s support, with principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying the president would sign a bill to raise the debt limit when it passed Congress. Jabbing the Republicans, she also said, “It gives us some breathing room from the catastrophic default we were approaching because of Sen. McConnell’s decision to play politics with our economy.”

Wall Street rallied modestly Thursday on news of the agreement.

The accord sets the stage for a sequel of sorts in December, when Congress will again face pressing deadlines to fund the government and raise the debt limit before heading home for the holidays.

The $480 billion increase in the debt ceiling is the level that the Treasury Department has said is needed to get safely to Dec. 3.

“I thank my Democratic colleagues for showing unity in solving this Republican-manufactured crisis,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “Despite immense opposition from Leader McConnell and members of his conference, our caucus held together and we have pulled our country back from the cliff’s edge that Republicans tried to push us over.”

McConnell saw it quite differently.

“The pathway our Democratic colleagues have accepted will spare the American people any near-term crisis, while definitively resolving the majority’s excuse that they lacked time to address the debt limit through (reconciliation),” McConnell said Thursday. “Now there will be no question: They’ll have plenty of time.

McConnell and fellow Senate Republicans still insist that the Democrats go it alone to raise the debt ceiling longer term. Further, McConnell has insisted that Democrats use the same cumbersome legislative process called reconciliation that they used to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill and have been employing to try to pass Biden’s $3.5 trillion measure to boost safety net, health and environmental programs.

On Wednesday, Biden had enlisted top business leaders to push for immediately suspending the debt limit, saying the approaching deadline created the risk of a historic default that would be like a “meteor” that could crush the U.S. economy and send waves of damage worldwide.

At a White House event, the president shamed Republican senators for threatening to filibuster any suspension of the $28.4 trillion cap. He leaned into the credibility of corporate America — a group that has traditionally been aligned with the GOP on tax and regulatory issues — to drive home his point as the heads of Citi, JP Morgan Chase and Nasdaq gathered in person and virtually to say the debt limit must be lifted.

“It’s not right and it’s dangerous,” Biden said of the resistance by Senate Republicans.

Once a routine matter, raising the debt limit has become politically treacherous over the past decade or more, used by Republicans, in particular, to rail against government spending and the rising debt load.

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AP writers Lisa Mascaro, Farnoush Amiri and Josh Boak in Washington and AP Business Writer Damian J. Troise in New York contributed to this report.

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Teenage boy injured in apparent drive-by shooting on St. Paul’s East Side

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Teenage boy injured in apparent drive-by shooting on St. Paul’s East Side

A teenage boy who was injured during an apparent drive-by shooting Thursday afternoon in St. Paul is expected to survive his injuries, according to police.

Police spokesman Steve Linders said that about 4:20 p.m., officers were called to the 500 block of Sims Avenue on reports of gunfire. Witnesses at the scene in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood said they heard as many as 20 shots and saw two men flee the scene in an SUV. More than 15 bullet casings were found.

Shortly thereafter, a teenage boy with a gunshot wound was dropped off at Regions Hospital.

The shooting is under investigation. No further details were available Thursday night.

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White Bear Lake middle school gets rid of ‘F’ grades. Parents raise concerns.

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White Bear Lake middle school gets rid of ‘F’ grades. Parents raise concerns.

Under a new grading system at a White Bear Lake middle school, students no longer will be given an F grade — no matter how bad they did on an assignment or test or if it was turned in late or not at all.

Instead, the grading system that began last month at Sunrise Middle School will start out at 50 percent, with nothing below that for assignments, tests, quizzes and projects. School officials say the approach, which one teacher described as “equitable grading” and a districtwide initiative, is aimed at ensuring that grades accurately reflect how well the students know the material and take out behavioral factors.

But some parents say the White Bear Lake’s new approach won’t motivate kids to excel and get work done on time.

The new method is among several efforts to change the way schools grade students, especially during the pandemic. For the 2020-21 school year, the Minnesota Department of Education urged schools to maintain a “do-no-harm” philosophy. Students, the department said, should get to choose the option of receiving a letter grade if it’s going to help their grade-point average, or a pass/fail grade if it won’t.

In a Sept. 24 video to parents, Sunrise Principal Christina Pierre explained their thinking by offering up a common situation from the past, when an F grade was classified as an I, or incomplete. Say a student received a B on one test, a C on another and then missed a third, which resulted in an incomplete test grade, or zero percentage points toward the overall grade. Taking all three grades into account, the student’s grade would also be an incomplete.

“That doesn’t seem fair, if two of the three grades are already passing grades, and only one of them, the student missed,” she said, “they shouldn’t have an overall grade of an ‘I.’”

So, the “solution,” she said, is to treat the incomplete grade the same as the B and the C by giving it a 50 percent, instead of zero.

In an interview Thursday, Pierre said that students would still get an overall grade of incomplete in the class if they score less than 60 percent.

Students will be given 10 days to retake or revise tests and quizzes and projects to better their scores. That window will allow teachers to work with students so they can learn the material, instead of just taking them as soon as possible when perhaps they are not ready, she said.

“We realize that not every kid gets it the first time,” she said. “Some students need more time to learn something than others.”

Also as part of the new system, Sunrise is now going to include in overall grades “exactly what the student knows based on what we want them to learn,” she said, and therefore grades no longer will include behavior, attitude, tardiness and whether an assignment was turned in late.

“There’s other ways that we can communicate those things to parents, and so they’re not going to be included in grades,” she said. “We recognize that this is really increasing the rigor of grades, we’re insisting that students make sure that they learn the material.”

CONCERNED PARENTS

Rebekah Bradfield, a Sunrise parent and candidate for the White Bear Lake School Board, said she first was told about the new grading system from her seventh-grade daughter’s language arts teacher about a week into the school year. In the email, which Bradfield forwarded to the Pioneer Press, the teacher explains that it was implemented schoolwide this year “as we move forward with more equitable grading practices throughout the district.”

Pierre said Thursday that the term “equitable grading” is “just another word for standards-based grading, which has been been around for 20 to 30 years. Standards-based grading is just about making sure that the grades communicate exactly what the student knows and is able to do.”

When asked about whether “equitable grading” involves addressing racial disparities in education, Pierre said, “I wouldn’t say it has nothing to do with it, but I wouldn’t say that it has everything to do with it. With everything we do, we need to be cognizant of how it impacts all of our students and our sub-populations.”

Bradfield said she dug into the goals of the district’s equity policies and they have a lot to do with grading. According to the district’s latest workforce and achievement and integration progress report, which was presented to the school board Sept. 27, the district wants enrollment in advanced high school courses to mirror the general student population in terms of race and family income.

Bradfield also pointed to a recent news release on the district’s website announcing that Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak was named this year’s “Superintendent of the Year” by the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. It states the district has conducted an equity audit and, “in light of the killing of George Floyd and how conversations across the nation have evolved during this past year,” the district is “positioned to develop and implement both meaningful and actionable equity strategies, including through grading.”

“Grading can be one of the largest areas in which systemic racism and inequities are perpetuated,” the release states. “Kazmierczak and WBLAS believe grades should be a measure of what a student knows and has mastered in a given course. Grading should not be a behavior punishment and should not be a measure of how well a student can survive stress at home. Under Dr. Kazmierczak’s leadership and in line with the district’s strategic plan and commitment to eliminating systemic racism, the district began tackling grading disparities a year ago when they dramatically changed their grading practices.”

HOW ABOUT OTHER SCHOOLS?

Pierre said other secondary schools in the district are also doing some aspects of the new strategy, but was unsure Thursday to what extent.

“As a district, as any functional organization should, we are always reviewing our policies and our procedures and our systems to make sure we’re functioning as well as possible,” she said. “And so we should always be updating and improving what we do, and so this is just part of it.”

But Bradfield said the new grading system gives students little to no incentive to do the work on time — and she is not alone. She said she’s heard concerns from parents and has read them in parent Facebook groups.

“They have very similar concerns as I do,” she said, “where they’re saying that it’s going to look good on paper, but the kids are not going to be ready for real life.”

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Stillwater school board fills vacancy created by recent resignation

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Stillwater school board fills vacancy created by recent resignation

Stillwater school board members voted unanimously Thursday night to approve a resolution to appoint Vivian Votava to fill an open seat on the school board.

Votava, a principal quality engineer at DiaSorin in Stillwater, will serve until a special election is held in November 2022. The seat had previously been held by Matt Onken, who resigned last month citing the political divide in the school district.

Votava was one of three candidates who applied for the open seat. She will be administered the oath of office following the required 30-day period for petition.

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