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Half a million dead in US, confirming virus’s tragic reach

For weeks after Cindy Pollock began planting tiny flags across her yard — one for each of the more than 1,800 Idahoans killed by COVID-19 — the toll was mostly a number. Until two women she had never met rang her doorbell in tears, seeking a place to mourn the husband and father they had just lost.

Then Pollock knew her tribute, however heartfelt, would never begin to convey the grief of a pandemic that has now claimed 500,000 lives in the U.S. and counting.

“I just wanted to hug them,” she said. “Because that was all I could do.”

After a year that has darkened doorways across the U.S., the pandemic surpassed a milestone Monday that once seemed unimaginable, a stark confirmation of the virus’s reach into all corners of the country and communities of every size and makeup.

“It’s very hard for me to imagine an American who doesn’t know someone who has died or have a family member who has died,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington in Seattle. “We haven’t really fully understood how bad it is, how devastating it is, for all of us.”

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AP PHOTOS: US pandemic toll: In 1 year, half a million lives

Just one year ago, America had no idea.

Life in February 2020 still felt normal. Concern was building about a mystery respiratory illness that had just been named COVID-19. There was panic buying, and a sense of trepidation. Yet it was tempered by a large dose of American optimism. The coronavirus still felt like a foreign problem, even as U.S. authorities recorded the country’s first known death from the virus.

Precisely a year later, America has surpassed a horrifying milestone of 500,000 deaths from COVID-19.

A relentless march of death and tragedy has warped time and memory. It became easy to forget the shocking images, so many day after day, of scenes once unthinkable in a country of such wealth and power. As the year unfolded, Associated Press photographers formed a pictorial record of suffering, emotion and resilience. It shows the year that changed America.

Looking back, we can see it happened in phases.

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Supreme Court won’t halt turnover of Trump’s tax records

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a significant defeat for former President Donald Trump, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to step in to halt the turnover of his tax records to a New York state prosecutor.

The court’s action is the apparent culmination of a lengthy legal battle that had already reached the high court once before.

Trump’s tax records are not supposed to become public as part of prosecutors’ criminal investigation, but the high court’s action is a blow to Trump because he has long fought on so many fronts to keep his tax records shielded from view. The ongoing investigation that the records are part of could also become an issue for Trump in his life after the presidency.

In a statement, the Trump blasted prosecutors and said the “Supreme Court never should have let this ‘fishing expedition’ happen, but they did.” The Republican claimed the investigation is politically motivated by Democrats in “a totally Democrat location, New York City and State.” And he said he would “fight on” and that “We will win!”

The Supreme Court waited months to act in the case. The last of the written briefs in the case was filed Oct. 19. But a court that includes three Trump appointees waited through the election, Trump’s challenge to his defeat and a month after Trump left office before issuing its order.

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Biden mourns 500,000 dead, balancing nation’s grief and hope

WASHINGTON (AP) —

With sunset remarks and a national moment of silence, President Joe Biden on Monday confronted head-on the country’s once-unimaginable loss — half a million Americans in the COVID-19 pandemic — as he tried to strike a balance between mourning and hope.

Addressing the “grim, heartbreaking milestone” directly and publicly, Biden stepped to a lectern in the White House Cross Hall, unhooked his face mask and delivered an emotion-filled eulogy for more than 500,000 Americans he said he felt he knew.

“We often hear people described as ordinary Americans. There’s no such thing,” he said Monday evening. “There’s nothing ordinary about them. The people we lost were extraordinary.”

“Just like that,” he added, “so many of them took their last breath alone.”

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Centrist Democrats flex muscles, create headaches for Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — A moderate Democratic senator from West Virginia is suddenly one of the most powerful people in Washington.

Sen. Joe Manchin has had multiple one-on-one phone calls with President Joe Biden. He can send the White House into a tailspin with a single five-minute interview or three-sentence statement. And he may have already derailed some of the administration’s policy priorities and a Cabinet nominee.

And it’s not just Manchin who’s wielding outsize influence over Biden’s agenda. With a 50-50 split in the Senate leaving little room for error on tough votes, other moderate Democrats like Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Jon Tester of Montana also hold significant political clout in Biden’s Washington, making for a muscular counterweight to the progressives who make up the party’s base.

“Each and every one of these members has the ability to be the king- or queen-maker on Capitol Hill,” said Jim Manley, a longtime aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “If they stick together, and flex their muscles — especially given the tight margins in both the House and the Senate — they can have a real impact.”

While Biden spent much of the 2020 Democratic primary and general election campaigns being hounded by progressives for not embracing far-left positions on everything from criminal justice to health care, his first month in office has won praise from some of his most prominent former antagonists on the left like Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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In Texas, attention turns to storm repairs, political peril

DALLAS (AP) — The seam that split in a pipe under Nora Espinoza’s sink during the frigid cold that gripped Texas was narrower than the edge of a dime.

Her kitchen appeared mostly undamaged, but the plumber that cut into Espinoza’s wall found water had been pouring in underneath the floor. She expects the repairs to cost $15,000.

Espinoza, a 56-year-old Dallas resident, is among those still getting a sense of the wreckage left by the icy blast that hit Texas and much of the Deep South last week, knocking out power to millions and contributing to nearly 80 deaths. Soaked drywall and carpet is being pulled back to give a fuller view of the destruction, and the political peril for elected leaders and energy officials who were unable to keep the heat on in places unaccustomed to freezing cold.

Snow and ice melted across Texas over the weekend, but plumbers are still racing from home to home to patch uncounted stretches of burst pipe. Many residents are unsure when they’ll be able to make permanent repairs, what they’ll have to pay out of pocket or even when they’ll be able to go home.

Roberto Valerio, a plumber in North Texas, said the broken pipes and other problems caused by the storm had led to “big chaos.”

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Wife of drug kingpin ‘El Chapo’ arrested on US drug charges

WASHINGTON (AP) — The wife of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was arrested Monday in the United States and accused of helping her husband run his multibillion-dollar cartel and plot his audacious escape from a Mexican prison in 2015.

Emma Coronel Aispuro, a 31-year-old former beauty queen, was arrested at Dulles International Airport in Virginia and is expected to appear in federal court in Washington on Tuesday. She is a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico.

Her arrest is the latest twist in the bloody, multinational saga involving Guzman, the longtime head of the Sinaloa drug cartel. Guzman, whose two dramatic prison escapes in Mexico fed into a legend that he and his family were all but untouchable, was extradited to the United States in 2017 and is serving life in prison.

And now his wife, with whom he has two young daughters, has been charged with helping him run his criminal empire. In a single-count criminal complaint, Coronel was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the U.S. The Justice Department also accused her of helping her husband escape from a Mexican prison in 2015 and participating in the planning of a second prison escape before Guzman was extradited to the U.S.

Coronel’s attorney Jeffrey Lichtman declined to comment Monday night.

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Interior nominee Haaland vows ‘balance’ on energy, climate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Oil and natural gas will continue to play a major role in America for years to come, even as the Biden administration seeks to conserve public lands and address climate change, President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Interior Department pledges.

Deb Haaland, a New Mexico congresswoman named to lead the Interior Department, said she is committed to “strike the right balance” as the agency manages energy development and seeks to restore and protect the nation’s sprawling federal lands.

Biden’s agenda, including the possible creation of a Civilian Climate Corps, “demonstrates that America’s public lands can and should be engines for clean energy production” and “has the potential to spur job creation,” Haaland said in testimony prepared for her confirmation hearing Tuesday. Haaland’s remarks are intended to rebut criticism from some Republicans who have complained that her opposition to drilling on federal lands will cost thousands of jobs and harm economies throughout the West.

Haaland, 60, would be the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency. The Laguna Pueblo member and two-term congresswoman often draws on her experience as a single mother and the teachings of her ancestors as a reminder that action the U.S. takes on climate change, the environment and sacred sites will affect generations to come.

Native Americans see Haaland’s nomination as the best chance to move from consultation on tribal issues to consent and to put more land into the hands of tribal nations either outright or through stewardship agreements. The Interior Department has broad oversight of tribal affairs and energy development.

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EXPLAINER: Why a plane’s engine exploded over Denver

The investigation into an engine explosion on a jetliner taking off from Denver is focusing on a fan blade that appeared to be weakened by wear and tear, a development reminiscent of a fatal failure on board another plane in 2018.

These and other recent engine failures raise questions over long-held assumptions about how long fan blades last and whether they are being inspected often enough.

A Boeing 777 operated by United Airlines had to make an emergency landing in Denver after one of its engines blew apart, spewing huge chunks of wreckage that landed in neighborhoods and sports fields. Passengers captured video of the crippled engine, wobbling and still on fire, as pilots made a safe return to the airport minutes after the plane bound for Hawaii took off.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Investigators said late Monday that two fan blades in the Pratt & Whitney engine broke off and one of them showed signs of metal fatigue, or hairline cracks from the stress of wear and tear. They believe the weakened blade broke off first, then chipped off half of an adjacent blade.

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NASA releases Mars landing video: ‘Stuff of our dreams’

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA on Monday released the first high-quality video of a spacecraft landing on Mars, a three-minute trailer showing the enormous orange and white parachute hurtling open and the red dust kicking up as rocket engines lowered the rover to the surface.

The footage was so good — and the images so breathtaking — that members of the rover team said they felt like they were riding along.

“It gives me goose bumps every time I see it, just amazing,” said Dave Gruel, head of the entry and descent camera team.

The Perseverance rover landed last Thursday near an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. After spending the weekend binge-watching the descent and landing video, the team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, shared the video at a news conference.

“These videos and these images are the stuff of our dreams,” said Al Chen, who was in charge of the landing team.