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How much for gas? Around the world, pain is felt at the pump

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COLOGNE, Germany (AP) — At a gas station near the Cologne, Germany, airport, Bernd Mueller watches the digits quickly climb on the pump: 22 euros ($23), 23 euros, 24 euros. The numbers showing how much gasoline he’s getting rise, too. But much more slowly. Painfully slowly.

“I’m getting rid of my car this October, November,” said Mueller, 80. “I’m retired, and then there’s gas and all that. At some point, you’ve got to scale back.”

Across the globe, drivers like Mueller are rethinking their habits and personal finances amid skyrocketing prices for gasoline and diesel, fueled by Russia’s war in Ukraine and the global rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. Energy prices are a key driver of inflation that is rising worldwide and making the cost of living more expensive.

A motorcycle taxi driver in Vietnam turns off his ride-hailing app rather than burn precious fuel during rush-hour backups. A French family scales back ambitions for an August vacation. A graphic designer in California factors the gas price into the bill for a night out. A mom in Rome, figuring the cost of driving her son to camp, mentally crosses off a pizza night.

Decisions across the world’s economy are as varied as the consumers and countries themselves: Walk more. Dust off that bicycle. Take the subway, the train or the bus. Use a lighter touch on the gas pedal to save fuel. Review that road trip — is it worth it? Or perhaps even go carless.

For the untold millions who don’t have access to adequate public transportation or otherwise can’t forgo their car, the solution is to grit their teeth and pay while cutting costs elsewhere.

Nguyen Trong Tuyen, a motorcycle taxi driver working for the Grab online ride-hailing service in Hanoi, Vietnam, said he’s been simply switching off the app during rush hour.

“If I get stuck in a traffic jam, the ride fee won’t cover the gasoline cost for the trip,” he said.

Many drivers have been halting their services like Tuyen, making it difficult for customers to book rides.

In Manila, Ronald Sibeyee used to burn 900 pesos ($16.83) worth of diesel a day to run his jeepney, a colorfully decorated vehicle popular for public transportation in the Philippines that evolved from U.S. military jeeps left behind after World War II. Now, it’s as much as 2,200 pesos ($41.40).

“That should have been our income already. Now there’s nothing, or whatever is left,” he said. His income has fallen about 40% due to the fuel price hikes.

Gasoline and diesel prices are a complex equation of the cost of crude oil, taxes, the purchasing power and wealth of individual countries, government subsidies where they exist, and the cut taken by middlemen such as refineries. Oil is priced in dollars, so if a country is an energy importer, the exchange rate plays a role — the recently weaker euro has helped push up gasoline prices in Europe.

And there’s often geopolitical factors, such as the war in Ukraine. Buyers shunning Russian barrels and Western plans to ban the country’s oil have jolted energy markets already facing tight supplies from the rapid pandemic rebound.

There’s a global oil price — around $110 a barrel — but no global pump price due to taxes and other factors. In Hong Kong and Norway, you can pay more than $10 per gallon. In Germany, it can be around $7.50 per gallon, and in France, about $8. While lower fuel taxes mean the U.S. average for a gallon of gas is somewhat cheaper at $5, it’s still the first time the price has been that high.

People in poorer countries quickly feel the stress from higher energy prices, but Europeans and Americans also are being squeezed. Americans have less access to public transport, and even Europe’s transit networks don’t reach everyone, particularly those in the countryside.

Charles Dupont, manager of a clothing store in Essonne region south of Paris, simply has to use his car to commute to work.

“I practice eco-driving, meaning driving slower and avoiding sudden braking,” he said.

Others are doing what they can to cut back. Letizia Cecinelli, filling her car at a Rome gas station, said she was biking and trying to reduce car trips “where possible.”

“But if I have a kid and I have to take him to camp? I have to do it by cutting out an extra pizza,” she said.

Pump prices can be political dynamite. U.S. President Joe Biden has pushed for Saudi Arabia to pump more oil to help bring down gas prices, deciding to travel to the kingdom next month after the Saudi-led OPEC+ alliance decided to boost production. The U.S. and other countries also have released oil from their strategic reserves, which helps but isn’t decisive.

Several countries have fuel price caps, including Hungary, where the discount doesn’t apply to foreign license plates. In Germany, the government cut taxes by 35 euro cents a liter on gasoline and 17 cents on diesel, but prices soon began to rise again.

Germany also has introduced a discounted 9-euro monthly ticket for public transportation, which led to crowded stations and trains on a recent holiday weekend. But the program only lasts for three months and is of little use to people in the countryside if there’s no train station nearby.

In fact, people are pumping just as much gas as they did before the pandemic, according to Germany’s gas station association.

“People are filling up just as much as before — they’re grumbling but they’re accepting it,” group spokesman Herbert Rabl said.

Is there any relief in sight? A lot depends on how the war in Ukraine affects global oil markets. Analysts say some Russian oil is almost certain to be lost to markets because the European Union, Russia’s biggest and closest customer, has vowed to end most purchases from Moscow within six months.

Meanwhile, India and China are buying more Russian oil. Europe will have to get its supply from somewhere else, such as Middle Eastern exporters. But OPEC+, which includes Russia, has been failing to meet its production targets.

For many, spending on things like nights out and, in Europe, the near-religious devotion to extended late summer vacations, are on the cutting table.

Isabelle Bruno, a teacher in the Paris suburbs, now takes the bus to the train station instead of making the 10-minute drive.

“My husband and I are really worried about the holidays because we used to drive our car really often while visiting our family in southern France,” she said. “We will now pay attention to train tickets and use our car only for short rides.”

Leo Theus, a graphic designer from the San Francisco Bay Area city of Hayward, has to be “strategic” in budgeting gas as he heads to meet clients — he might not fill the tank all the way. Gas prices in California are the highest in the U.S., reaching close to $7 per gallon in some parts of the state.

When it comes to going to a club or bar after work, “you’ve got to think about gas now, you got to decide, is it really worth it to go out there or not?” Theus said.

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Orlando

State Rep. Morales Urges Gov. DeSantis to Assist Puerto Rico in the Wake of Hurricane Fiona

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State Rep. Daisy Morales. Photo: Florida House of Representatives.

ORLANDO, Fla. – State Representative Daisy Morales (D-Orlando) has sent a letter to the Governor urging him to assist with and release much needed resources to aid Puerto Rico in the wake of the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Fiona.

The letter reads:

“Dear Governor DeSantis,

“With the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria right behind us, Hurricane Fiona, which has now dealt catastrophic damage to Puerto Rico according to Governor Pedro Pierluisi, is an opportunity for us to help our loved ones on the Island.

“With expected flooding, mudslides and blackouts, conditions are extremely dangerous.

“I’m asking the Executive Office of the Governor and the Division of Emergency Management to closely monitor the situation and begin preparations for relief efforts. I am also asking your office to facilitate discussions with city and county governments, and transportation authorities, to prepare for a potential influx of our fellow citizens from Puerto Rico, as was the case with Hurricane Maria. I am also asking your office to assist with the potable water residents of the island needs with the contamination of its existing water supply. Florida, and in particular Central Florida, will always stand with and support Puerto Rico.

“My district, District 48, has one of the largest Puerto Rican populations in the state and I know that, like myself, many Floridians are concerned for the safety and well-being of friends and loved ones currently there.

“Puerto Rico is still rebuilding from Hurricane Maria and must now redouble its efforts in the wake of Hurricane Fiona. Florida must be committed to doing everything we can to help the families impacted by Hurricane Fiona and aid in the recovery process.

“Thank you for your consideration.”

 

 

Other governors have already stepped into action, some as early as Sunday. Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf announced that two members of Pennsylvania Task Force 1 (PATF-1) Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) are deploying to Puerto Rico to support response operations there. They will serve with a federal Incident Support Team and are prepared to remain deployed in Puerto Rico for up to two weeks.

New York governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement Sunday that “the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services is monitoring the storm closely and will be able to rapidly deploy assistance if requested by the federal government and Puerto Rico.”

Thus far, it appears that Florida governor Ron DeSantis has not yet taken action.

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World

Afghanistan marks 1 year since Taliban seizure as woes mount

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KABUL (AP) — The Taliban on Monday marked a year since they seized the Afghan capital of Kabul, a rapid takeover that triggered a hasty escape of the nation’s Western-backed leaders, sent the economy into a tailspin and fundamentally transformed the country.

Bearded Taliban fighters, some hoisting rifles or the white banners of their movement, staged small victory parades on foot, bicycles and motor cycles in the streets of the capital. One small group marched past the former U.S. Embassy, chanting “Long live Islam” and “Death to America.”

A year after the dramatic day, much has changed in Afghanistan. The former insurgents struggle to govern and remain internationally isolated. The economic downturn has driven millions more Afghans into poverty and even hunger, as the flow of foreign aid slowed to a trickle.

Meanwhile, hard-liners appear to hold sway in the Taliban-led government, which imposed severe restrictions on access to education and jobs for girls and women, despite initial promises to the contrary. A year on, teenage girls are still barred from school and women are required to cover themselves head-to-toe in public, with only the eyes showing.

Some are trying to find ways to keep education from stalling for a generation of young women and underground schools in homes have spring up.

A year ago, thousands of Afghans had rushed to Kabul International Airport to flee the Taliban amid the U.S. military’s chaotic withdrawal from Kabul after 20 years of war — America’s longest conflict.

Some flights resumed relatively quickly after those chaotic days. On Monday, a handful of commercial flights were scheduled to land and take off from a runway that last summer saw Afghan men clinging to the wheels of planes taking off, some falling to their death.

Schoolyards stood empty Monday as the Taliban announced a public holiday to mark the day, which they refer to as “The Proud Day of Aug. 15” and the “First Anniversary of the Return to Power.”

“Reliance on God and the support of the people brought this great victory and freedom to the country,” wrote Abdul Wahid Rayan, the head of the Taliban-run Bakhtar News Agency. “Today, Aug. 15, marks the victory of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan against America and its allies occupation of Afghanistan.”

Tomas Niklasson, the European Union’s special envoy to Afghanistan, said the bloc of nations remains committed to the Afghan people and to “stability, prosperity and sustainable peace in Afghanistan and the region.”

“This will require an inclusive political process with full, equal and meaningful participation of all Afghan men and women and respect for human rights,” Niklasson wrote.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said an international responsibility toward Afghanistan remains after the NATO withdrawal.

“A regime that tramples on human rights cannot under any circumstances be recognized,” she said in a statement. “But we must not forget the people in Afghanistan, even a year after the Taliban takeover.”

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Sports

Lawyers appeal Griner’s Russian prison sentence

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MOSCOW (AP) — Lawyers for American basketball star Brittney Griner on Monday filed an appeal against her nine-year Russian prison sentence for drug possession, Russian news agencies reported Monday.

Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was convicted on Aug. 4. She was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after vape canisters containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage.

Griner played for a women’s basketball team in Yekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason.

Lawyer Maria Blagovolina was quoted by Russian news agencies on Monday as saying the appeal was filed, but the grounds of the appeal weren’t immediately clear.

Blagovolina and co-counsel Alexander Boykov said after the conviction that the sentence was excessive and that in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole.

Griner admitted that she had the canisters in her luggage, but said she had inadvertently packed them in haste and that she had no criminal intent. Her defense team presented written statements that she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain.

Before her conviction, the U.S. State Department declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of revealing publicly in July that the U.S. had made a “substantial proposal” to get Griner home home, along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

Blinken didn’t elaborate, but The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported that Washington has offered to free Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. and once earned the nickname the “Merchant of Death.”

On Sunday, a senior Russian diplomat said exchange talks have been conducted.

“This quite sensitive issue of the swap of convicted Russian and U.S. citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our presidents,” Alexander Darchiev, head of the Foreign Ministry’s North America department, told state news agency Tass. “These individuals are, indeed, being discussed. The Russian side has long been seeking the release of Viktor Bout. The details should be left to professionals, proceeding from the ‘do not harm’ principle.’”

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