Iran’s seizure of UK tanker in Gulf seen as escalation
LONDON (AP) — Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker Friday and briefly detained a second vessel in the Strait of Hormuz, intensifying tensions in the strategic waterway that has become a flashpoint between Tehran and the West.
The seizing of the British tanker marked perhaps the most significant escalation since tensions between Iran and the West began rising in May. At that time, the U.S. announced it was dispatching an aircraft carrier and additional troops to the Middle East, citing unspecified threats posed by Iran.
The ongoing showdown has caused jitters around the globe, with each manoeuvr bringing fear that any misunderstanding or misstep by either side could lead to war.
Details of what took place Friday remained sketchy after Iran reported that it had seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. The strait at the mouth of the Persian Gulf is a shipping channel for one-fifth of all global crude exports.
The Stena Impero was taken to an Iranian port because it was not complying with “international maritime laws and regulations,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard declared.
In reversal, Trump disavows criticism of chanting crowd
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday reversed his previous criticisms of a North Carolina campaign crowd that chanted “send her back” about a Somali-born congresswoman.
Trump defended the rally-goers as “patriots” while again questioning the loyalty of four Democratic lawmakers of colour. His comments marked a return to a pattern that has become familiar during controversies of his own making: Ignite a firestorm, backtrack from it, but then double down on his original, inflammatory position.
When reporters at the White House asked if he was unhappy with the Wednesday night crowd, Trump responded: “Those are incredible people. They are incredible patriots. But I’m unhappy when a congresswoman goes and says, ‘I’m going to be the president’s nightmare.'”
It was another dizzying twist in a saga sparked by the president’s racist tweets about Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who moved from Somalia as a child, and her colleagues Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
The moment took an ugly turn at the rally when the crowd’s “send her back” shouts resounded for 13 seconds as Trump made no attempt to interrupt them. He paused in his speech and surveyed the scene, taking in the uproar, though the next day he claimed he did not approve of the chant and tried to stop it.
Florida sheriff to investigate Epstein’s work release
MIAMI (AP) — A Florida sheriff launched an investigation Friday into whether his department properly monitored the wealthy financer Jeffrey Epstein while he was serving a sentence for soliciting prostitution from underage girls.
The inquiry will focus on whether deputies assigned to monitor Epstein in a work-release program violated any rules or regulations, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said in a statement. Under a 2008 plea deal, Epstein was allowed to spend most of his days at the office of his now-defunct Florida Science Foundation, which doled out research grants, rather than in the county jail.
“All aspects of the matter will be fully investigated to ensure total accountability and transparency,” Bradshaw said.
Epstein, 66, was convicted on one count of procuring a person under age 18 for prostitution and one count of solicitation of prostitution. He served a 13-month sentence, registered as a sex offender and paid restitution to victims. While only convicted on two counts, prosecutors alleged that Epstein had been involved with dozens of underage teenage girls.
His plea deal helped him avoid more serious federal charges. But news reports of the deal sparked a public outcry, and federal prosecutors in New York charged him with sex trafficking involving underage victims. The charges led to the resignation of President Donald Trump’s labour secretary, Alex Acosta, who was Miami U.S. attorney when the deal was signed. Epstein has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 45 years in prison. A judge on Thursday denied bail, saying the financier is a flight risk and a danger to the community.
Counties: Drug companies shipped suspicious opioid orders
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Companies that make and distribute opioids didn’t abide by a requirement that they refuse to ship orders of the powerful prescription painkillers when they deemed them suspicious, helping fuel a national addiction and overdose crisis, two Ohio counties said in a legal filing Friday.
Until now, lawyers representing Cuyahoga and Summit counties, the first local governments in line for a trial in a massive series of lawsuits seeking to hold the drug industry accountable for the crisis, have been focusing largely on allegations that drug companies made false claims about the safety of opioids, encouraging doctors to prescribe the drugs at higher doses and for more patients.
The latest filings, which came as part of a flurry of motions from both sides in the case, shifted the focus to whether companies complied with Drug Enforcement Administration requirements about how the drugs flowed to distributors and pharmacies as the death toll from overdoses of prescription and illicit opioids rose.
One executive at Mallinckrodt emailed a distributor requesting he check the inventory of a drug. “If you are low, order more,” Victor Borelli wrote, according to the document. “If you are okay, order a little more.”
The filing said that, from 2003 through 2011, the maker of generic drugs shipped 53 million orders of opioid painkillers and flagged 37,817 as “peculiar” — but withheld just 33 of those.
US to send asylum seekers back to dangerous part of Mexico
HOUSTON (AP) — The U.S. government on Friday expanded its requirement that asylum seekers wait outside the country to a part of the Texas Rio Grande Valley across from one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities.
The Department of Homeland Security said that it would implement its Migrant Protection Protocols in Brownsville, Texas, across the border from Matamoros, Mexico. DHS says it anticipates the first asylum seekers will be sent back to Mexico starting Friday.
Under the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy, asylum seekers are briefly processed and given a date to return for an immigration court hearing before being sent back across the southern border. Since January, the policy has been implemented at several border cities including San Diego and El Paso, Texas. At least 18,000 migrants have been sent back to Mexico under the policy, according to Mexico’s National Migration Institute.
The U.S. is trying to curtail the large flow of Central American migrants passing through Mexico to seek asylum under American law. The busiest corridor for unauthorized border crossings is the Rio Grande Valley, at Texas’ southernmost point. Other cities in the region were not immediately included in the expansion.
The policy announcement came as groups of lawmakers visited the region Friday to examine detention facilities operated by the U.S. Border Patrol, including the processing centre in McAllen, Texas, where hundreds of adults and children are detained in fenced-in pens.
Plan to slow Western wildfires would clear strips of land
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Trump administration is proposing an ambitious plan to slow Western wildfires by bulldozing, mowing or revegetating large swaths of land along 11,000 miles (17,700 kilometres) of terrain in the West.
The plan that was announced this summer and presented at public open houses, including one in Salt Lake City this week, would create strips of land known “fuel breaks” on about 1,000 square miles of land (2,700 square kilometres) managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in an area known as the Great Basin in parts of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah.
The estimated cost would be about $55 million to $192 million, a wide range that illustrates the variance in costs for the different types of fuel breaks. Some would completely clear lands, others would mow down vegetation and a third method would replant the area with more fire-resistance vegetation.
It would cost another $18 million to $107 million each year to maintain the strips and ensure vegetation doesn’t regrow on the strips of land.
Wildfire experts say the program could help slow fires, but it won’t help in the most extreme fires that can jump these strips of land. The breaks could also fragment wildlife habitat.
Appeals court upholds Trump move to drop mine pollution rule
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A U.S. appeals court panel sided with the Trump administration Friday in a mining pollution dispute, ruling that state and federal programs already in place ensure that companies take financial responsibility for future cleanups.
The ruling came after the administration was sued by environmental groups for dropping an Obama-era proposal that would have forced companies to put up money to show they have resources to clean up pollution.
The mining industry has a legacy of bankrupt companies abandoning polluted sites and leaving taxpayers to cover cleanup costs.
But the three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuitsaid it was “unpersuaded” by the environmentalists’ arguments that the Trump administration relied on a faulty economic analysis in making its decision.
“Existing federal and state programs impose significant financial responsibility requirements on the hardrock mining industry,” Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson wrote. “States have changed their financial responsibility requirements to account for the risk of bankruptcy” by companies.
Besieged Puerto Rico governor goes quiet amid protests
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — In the Spanish colonial fortress that serves as his official residence, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is under siege.
Motorcyclists, celebrities, horse enthusiasts and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Puerto Ricans have swarmed outside La Fortaleza (The Fort) in Old San Juan this week, demanding Rosselló resign over a series of leaked online chats insulting women, political opponents and even victims of Hurricane Maria.
Rosselló, the telegenic 40-year-old son of a former governor, has dropped his normally intense rhythm of public appearances and gone into relatively long periods of near-media silence, intensifying questions about his future.
For much of his 2 1/2 years in office, Rosselló has given three or four lengthy news conferences a week, comfortably fielding question after question in Spanish and English from the local and international press. And that’s on top of public appearances, one-on-one interviews and televised meetings with visiting politicians and members of his administration.
But since July 11, when Rosselló cut short a family vacation in France and returned home to face the first signs of what has become an island-wide movement to oust him, the governor has made four appearances, all but one in highly controlled situations.
Pocket-sized shark squirts glowing clouds from pockets
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A pocket-sized pocket shark found in the Gulf of Mexico has turned out to be a new species.
And the mysterious pouches that it’s named for, up near its front fins? Scientists say they squirt little glowing clouds into the ocean.
Researchers from around the Gulf and in New York have named the species the American pocket shark, or Mollisquama (mah-lihs-KWAH-muh) mississippiensis (MISS-ih-sip-ee-EHN-sis).
It’s only the third out of more than 500 known shark species that may squirt luminous liquid, said R. Dean Grubbs, a Florida State University scientist who was not involved in the research. He said the other two are the previously known pocket shark and the taillight shark , which has a similar gland near its tail.
“You have this tiny little bulbous luminescent shark cruising around in the world’s oceans and we know nothing about them,” said Grubbs, the immediate past president of the American Elasmobranch Society — scientists who study sharks, skates and rays. “It shows us how little we actually know.”
Apollo 11 astronauts reunite on 50th anniversary of moonshot
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins reunited Friday on the eve of the 50th anniversary of humanity’s first moon landing.
They gathered in the Oval Office with President Donald Trump, who got a rundown on his administration’s plans to get astronauts back on the moon by 2024 and then on to Mars in the 2030s.
“We’re bringing the glamour back” to the space program, Trump said.
Both sons of the late Neil Armstrong, the first man to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, also attended, as well as first lady Melania Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
The moon versus Mars debate as astronauts’ next destination arose again Friday.
The Associated Press