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National Politics

    Donald Trump has been very good for Virginia Democrats. Voters unhappy with the Republican president, particularly in suburban areas, powered historic Democratic gains in the state House two years ago. Last year the same energy helped Virginia Democrats knock out three incumbent members of Congress. But hovering over this year's closely watched legislative elections is one key question: Has the Trump effect worn off? There are signs it may have. Lower-than-hoped-for turnout in Democratic primaries last month worried some party officials. 'That is the big thing I wrestle with every single day: Do we have the same intensity that we had in '17?' said former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who has been actively raising money and campaigning with state Democrats this year. Republicans are cautiously optimistic that Trump, having been in office for more than two years now, will have less of an impact on voters this year. 'I hear very little about President Trump at the door,' said Rich Anderson, a Republican who lost his state House seat in 2017 and is going door-to-door this year to get it back. 'It's just a completely different discussion.' Virginia's legislative elections are high stakes. Just four states are having elections this year and Virginia is the only one where Democrats have a chance of flipping control of the statehouse. Republicans currently have a majority in both chambers. And the winners of this year's election will have a major say in the next round of redistricting in 2021, which could affect the outcome of both state and congressional races for a decade. McAuliffe said several 2020 presidential candidates have called him asking how they can help Virginia Democratic candidates. 'People realize that (2019), this is it,' he said. 'This will set a big marker for 2020.' Two years ago, an anti-Trump wave helped Democrats win all three statewide seats and 15 seats in the state House. It also previewed the trend in the 2018 midterm congressional election that gave Democrats the majority of the U.S. House . But Republicans cite many reasons why there won't be a repeat this year. Those reasons include the fact that there are no statewide races to increase turnout, which on a whole tends to hurt Democrats. And state Democrats are also still dealing with the fallout from a series of scandals in February that almost forced some of the party's top leaders from office. Gov. Ralph Northam is still politically weakened from a racist yearbook scandal and Democrats are still divided on whether to support Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax after two women publicly accused him of sexual assault, which he has denied. Northam's fundraising ability has diminished, while Democrats are divided about whether to push for Fairfax's impeachment. Republicans have been eager to seize on those scandals while also arguing that Democrats have become too liberal in the Trump era — particularly on social issues— to appeal to more moderate voters. One example is guns. GOP lawmakers have accused Democrats of trying to use a mass shooting earlier this year in Virginia Beach to pass strict new gun-control laws. A special session on gun control abruptly shut down shortly after it opened earlier this month. 'Do we want Virginia to turn into California or New York?' Republican Sen. Glen Sturtevant asked in a recent email to supporters. His suburban Richmond district is a top target of Democrats. Democrats have embraced fights on guns or abortion with Republicans, arguing that the state GOP supports an 'extreme' agenda that's similar to the president's. Democrats said that while there may be 'Trump fatigue' among some voters, there are still concrete signs they still have clear advantages headed into November. 'What we're seeing is a shift from rabid enthusiasm, which tends to be more temporary, to a quiet resolve, which is of a more permanent nature,' said Sen. Dave Marsden. Democrats have out-fundraised Republicans this year and have fielded a large crop of candidates to challenge incumbents. Marsden said Virginia's growing immigrant population has been particularly motivated to run for office or help Democratic candidates. And while off-year elections tend to favor Republicans, Virginia's demographic trends have been helping Democrats for years. The state's growing cities and suburbs are becoming more diverse and liberal, while conservative-leaning rural parts of the state are losing political clout. Republicans haven't been able to win a statewide election in a decade. 'People are not having trouble getting volunteers to get out and knock doors,' Marsden said.
  • President Donald Trump has chided his supporters who chanted 'send her back' when he questioned the loyalty of a Somali-born congresswoman, joining widespread criticism of the campaign crowd's cry after Republicans warned about political blowback from the angry scene. In a week that has been full of hostile exchanges over race and love of country on both sides, Trump also claimed he had tried to stop the chant at a reelection event Wednesday night in North Carolina — though video shows otherwise. 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. 'I started speaking really quickly,' he told reporters Thursday. 'I was not happy with it. I disagree with it' and 'would certainly try' to stop any similar chant at a future rally. The taunt's target — Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — responded defiantly Thursday. She told reporters at the Capitol that she believes the president is a 'fascist' and cast the confrontation as a fight over 'what this country truly should be.' 'We are going to continue to be a nightmare to this president because his policies are a nightmare to us. We are not deterred. We are not frightened,' she told a cheering crowd that greeted her like a local hero at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as she returned from Washington. The back-and-forth captured the potential impacts of Trump's willingness to inject racist rhetoric into his reelection fight. Trump's allies distanced themselves from the chant, fretting over the voters it might turn off in next year's election and beyond. Democrats, meanwhile, pointed to the episode as a rallying cry to energy and mobilize their supporters to vote Trump out of office. 'We are ready,' Omar said to cheers, before heading to a town hall on Medicare for All. Trump started the week's tumult by tweeting Sunday that Omar and three other freshmen congresswomen could 'go back' to their native countries if they were unhappy here. His other targets — all Trump detractors — were Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. All are American citizens, and all but Omar was born in the U.S. She fled to America as a child with her family from violence-wracked Somalia. The president did not back down from that criticism on Thursday. They have 'a big obligation and the obligation is to love your country,' he said. 'There's such hatred. They have such hatred.' The chants at the Trump rally brought scathing criticism from GOP lawmakers as well as from Democrats, though the Republicans did not fault Trump himself. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California declared that the chant has 'no place in our party and no place in this country.' Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted that it was 'ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union.' Citing Trump's rhetoric, House Democrats said they were discussing arranging security for Omar and the three other congresswomen. Even by Trump's standards, the campaign rally offered an extraordinary tableau for American politics: a president drinking in a crowd's cries to expel a congresswoman from the country who's his critic and a woman of color. It was also the latest demonstration of how Trump's verbal cannonades are capable of dominating the news. Democrats had hoped the spotlight on Thursday would be on House passage of legislation to boost the minimum wage for the first time in a decade. To many GOP ears, this time the attention wasn't all positive. Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, a conservative who attended Trump's rally, told reporters at the Capitol that the chant 'does not need to be our campaign call like we did 'Lock her up' last time.' That was a reference to a 2016 campaign mantra that Trump continues to encourage aimed at that year's Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. Walker, who called the chant 'offensive,' was among about 10 House GOP leaders who had breakfast Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence at Pence's residence in Washington. Walker said he cautioned Pence that attention to the chant could distract voters next year from the economy and other themes Republicans want to emphasize. 'We don't need to take it that far where we change the narrative of the story,' he said he told Pence. The lawmakers attending agreed that the chant was inappropriate and could prove a harmful distraction, and Pence concurred and said he'd discuss it with Trump, said another participant who described the conversation on condition of anonymity. In North Carolina, Trump berated each of the four congresswomen and said: 'They never have anything good to say. That's why I say, 'Hey if you don't like it, let 'em leave, let 'em leave.'' He added, 'I think in some cases they hate our country.' His criticism of Omar included a false accusation that she has voiced pride in al-Qaida. ___ Associated Press writers Padmananda Rama, Kathleen Hennessey, Zeke Miller, Deb Riechmann and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
  • President Donald Trump has selected lawyer Eugene Scalia, the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to be his new labor secretary. Trump tweeted news of the planned nomination on Thursday evening, less than a week after his previous secretary, Alexander Acosta, resigned amid renewed criticism of his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein. The financier was indicted earlier this month for sexually abusing underage girls. 'Gene has led a life of great success in the legal and labor field and is highly respected not only as a lawyer, but as a lawyer with great experience' working 'with labor and everyone else,' Trump wrote of Scalia, who is currently a partner in the Washington office of the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher firm. In private practice, Scalia has been known for his challenges to federal regulations on behalf of corporate clients. Scalia's law firm biography cites his 'success bringing legal challenges to federal agency actions.' If confirmed, Scalia will be returning to the department where he previously served as solicitor in President George W. Bush's administration, overseeing litigation and legal advice on rulemakings and administrative law. He has also worked for the U.S. Department of Justice. From 1992-93, Scalia served as a special assistant to Attorney General William Barr during his first stint as attorney general. Trump had previously announced that Acosta would be succeeded in an acting capacity by his deputy, Patrick Pizzella. Within hours of Trump's announcement, divisions surfaced between Republicans and Democrats about Scalia's nomination. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York tweeted that Trump was 'missing an opportunity to nominate a fighter for workers, like a union member, to be America's next Labor Secretary. Instead, he has again chosen someone who has proven to put corporate interests over those of worker rights.' Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted that Scalia was 'an outstanding lawyer who has vigorously defended the Constitution over a long career in government and private practice. I'm confident he'll be a champion for working Americans against red tape and burdensome regulation as Labor Secretary.' Scalia did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. Acosta's resignation extended the record turnover at the highest levels of Trump's administration, with acting secretaries at key departments, including Defense and Homeland Security. Roughly two-thirds of the Cabinet has turned over by the two-and-a-half year mark of Trump's term.
  • President Donald Trump announced Thursday that he will nominate lawyer Eugene Scalia, the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to be his new labor secretary. Trump tweeted the news Thursday evening, less than a week after his previous secretary, Alexander Acosta, resigned amid renewed criticism of his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was indicted earlier this month for sexually abusing underage girls. 'Gene has led a life of great success in the legal and labor field and is highly respected not only as a lawyer, but as a lawyer with great experience' working 'with labor and everyone else,' Trump wrote of Scalia, who is currently a partner in the Washington office of the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher firm. If confirmed, it will be a return to the department, where Scalia previously served as solicitor in President George W. Bush's administration, overseeing litigation and legal advice on rulemakings and administrative law. He has also worked for the U.S. Department of Justice. Trump had previously announced that Acosta would be succeeded in an acting capacity by his deputy, Patrick Pizzella. Scalia did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
  • The Latest on asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border (all times local): 7:45 p.m. The acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the Trump administration's new policy banning most asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border is being rolled out as a pilot program. Mark Morgan said in an interview Thursday with NPR that the program is beginning in the Rio Grande Valley and officials there have been briefed on changes. The new rules went into effect Tuesday and apply to all asylum seekers. The rules say migrants arriving at the Southern border are barred from asking for asylum if they have passed through another country first. There are some exceptions, such as if a migrant has been the victim of severe human trafficking. Morgan's agency is responsible for initial encounters with migrants, but the asylum officers who will decide on a migrant's eligibility work under U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. ___ 3 p.m. A top Trump administration official says the number of family separations at the border has fallen since last summer's zero tolerance policy, and they are done only for compelling reasons. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said fewer than 1,000 children have been separated from families out of 450,000 family groups that have crossed the border since October. He said they are separated because of health and safety concerns, among other reasons. McAleenan was speaking Thursday before the House Oversight Committee investigating border problems.
  • Joe Biden was at a soul food restaurant in Los Angeles on Thursday when he blasted President Donald Trump's 'racist' taunts at a rally the night before. 'This is about dividing the country,' the early Democratic front-runner, who has been criticized for his own handling of race , told reporters. 'This is about dividing and raising the issue of racism across the country because that's his base, that's what he's pushing.' But Michael Fisher, an African American pastor from Compton who attended the event, warned Democrats to ignore Trump. 'They should absolutely not respond to ignorance,' Fischer said. 'They should stay focused on the issues.' That tension previews the uncomfortable balancing act Democrats will face in the nearly 16 months before Election Day. Trump's escalating exploitation of racism puts the rawest divide in American life squarely on the ballot in 2020. Democrats are united in condemning his words and actions, but the question of how to counter them is much more complicated. The party's passionate left wing is pressing for an all-in battle, arguing that candidates' plans to combat racism are just as important as their proposals to provide health insurance to every American. But others question whether race should be the centerpiece of the campaign to replace Trump. Several presidential candidates, meanwhile, reject the debate as a false choice, arguing they can criticize Trump for racist tactics while still advancing proposals on health care, education, the minimum wage and more. The emotionally charged developments shook both political parties on Thursday, a day after Trump continued his verbal assault against four minority congresswomen, this time at a raucous rally in North Carolina. The president's supporters chanted 'Send her back!' after Trump criticized Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Muslim who fled to the U.S. as a child from violence-wracked Somalia. While Trump tried to distance himself from the chant on Thursday, it echoed his own comments from earlier in the week when he said the 'squad' of four young Democratic congresswomen, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, should 'go back' to their 'crime-infested places' overseas. They are all American citizens. After successfully campaigning on health care during last year's midterm elections, Democrats hoped to adopt a similar 'kitchen table' strategy going into 2020 that would focus on issues that appeal to all voters. Yet Trump has forced them into a moment of decision that could send the party in a far less certain direction. The challenge was clear Thursday when Trump's remarks consumed the 2020 debate even as Democrats on Capitol Hill voted to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. The vote was the latest move by Democrats to highlight their work on more traditional issues that helped them seize the House majority last fall. Yet it barely made a ripple in the national debate. 'Trump is forcing the hand of Democratic Party leaders thinking they could thread the needle. They can't. He's holding Klan rallies,' said Aimee Allison, who leads She the People, an advocacy group focused on women of color. 'We have to be strong in the face of that and unafraid.' Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher said that to pretend racism and division aren't top-tier concerns for voters is a fallacy. 'This is just as important an issue for Democrats to engage and win on as health care, education and wages,' he said, pointing out that Democrats got 9 million more votes than Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections. 'That wasn't because voters all of a sudden fell in love with Democrats. That was about the direction of this country and people being uncomfortable and alarmed with what's happening with the Republican Party under Trump.' But others question whether to follow Trump into the racial debate at all, concerned about alienating white working-class voters who may have backed Trump in the past and are uncomfortable with allegations of racism or bigotry. 'Calling him racist, which he is, I don't know if that helps,' said North Carolina-based Democratic strategist Gary Pearce. He called Trump's message 'profoundly disturbing, but I know it works.' In the battleground state of Wisconsin, Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler called on his party to take a cautious approach by explaining that Trump is using racism to distract voters from failing policies. 'Trump's use of racism as a political weapon is his only strategy to distract the public from the No. 1 issue in 2018, which was health care,' Wikler said. 'He can't claim that he stands for working people in 2020.' Most of the Democratic Party's crowded 2020 class weighed in on the Trump-race question — some more aggressively than others. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren left no doubt about her position: '#IStandWithIlhan against attacks from this racist president,' she tweeted. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is black, condemned Trump's attacks on the squad but also sought to distance himself from Ocasio-Cortez's description of immigrant detention centers along the southern border as 'concentration camps.' 'I would not choose that, because you start to begin to create historical comparisons that I do not think are constructive,' he said. 'But (the spirit is) pointing out the outrageous assault on humanity that's going on within our own borders . It's an assault on the humanity of all of us.' New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called Trump 'un-American.' 'His constant attacks on women of color in Congress just show what a small, weak president he is,' she said in a brief interview, while trying to pivot to the economy. 'You can talk about both,' she said. 'Absolutely. You have to. You have to lead on both issues.' Juan Rodriguez, the campaign manager for Kamala Harris, said the California senator would call out Trump on the campaign trail for 'vile and reprehensible' comments at every opportunity but would also talk about her policy solutions. Harris will 'not be distracted by a person, who, the way she'd characterize, is weak and wants to stoke fear,' Rodriguez said. Republicans, too, are grappling with the racial debate that could have profound long-term consequences on the GOP's ability to win elections in an increasingly diverse nation. Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, who called the chant 'offensive,' was among about 10 House GOP leaders who had breakfast Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence in Washington. Walker said he cautioned Pence that attention to the chant could distract voters next year from the economy and other themes Republicans want to emphasize. Pence concurred and said he would discuss it with Trump, said another participant in the meeting who described the conversation on condition of anonymity. Publicly, however, the overwhelming majority of Republican elected officials stood behind the president or offered tepid criticism. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested Trump's critics were going too far by accusing him of racism. 'We ought to tone the rhetoric down across the country using — throwing around words like racism, you know, kind of routinely applying it to almost everything,' he told Fox Business Network. ___ Whack reported from Philadelphia and Peoples reported from New York. Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Zeke Miller and Elana Schor in Washington and Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency rejected a key legal challenge Thursday to a pesticide linked to brain damage in children, saying environmental groups had failed to prove that a ban was warranted. The agency's defense of continued use of the widely used bug-killer chlorpyrifos could set the stage for a pivotal federal court decision on whether to overrule the EPA and force the agency to ban it. 'To me, this starts the clock on the use of chlorpyrifos on food crops in the US,' said former senior EPA attorney Kevin Minoli. Scientists say studies have shown that chlorpyrifos damages the brains of fetuses and children. The pesticide has been used nationally on dozens of food crops, but California — the nation's largest agricultural state — and a handful of other states have recently moved to ban it. The agency said the environmental groups had failed to prove that the pesticide wasn't safe. Last summer, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to ban all sales of the pesticide. The court decided to reconsider that ruling with a slate of 11 judges, who gave the EPA until this month to respond to the environmental groups' arguments for banning chlorpyrifos. The EPA under the Obama administration had initiated a ban, but the agency reversed that decision shortly after President Donald Trump took office. The EPA defense Thursday showed that 'as long as the Trump administration is in charge, this EPA will favor the interests of the chemical lobby over children's safety,' said Ken Cook, head of the Environmental Working Group environmental advocacy organization. In a statement, the EPA said it was separately speeding up a regular agency review of the pesticide's continued use, and expected a decision on that well ahead of a 2022 deadline. The EPA said it also was talking with chlorpyrifos makers about further restrictions on how farmers use the pesticide.
  • The second set of summer Democratic presidential debates will feature a rematch with a twist, plus the first showdown of leading progressives as the party wrestles with its philosophical identity and looks ahead to a 2020 fight against President Donald Trump. Former Vice President Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris will take center stage in Detroit on July 31, barely a month after Harris used the first debates to propel herself into the top tier with an aggressive takedown of the 76-year-old Biden's long record on race. CNN, which is broadcasting the debates, assigned candidates randomly with a drawing Thursday night, with 20 candidates spread evenly over two nights, July 30-31. This time, Harris, the lone black woman in the field, will be joined by another top black candidate, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who also has been an outspoken critic of Biden. Booker had denounced Biden for his recollections of the 'civility' of working in a Senate that included white supremacists and for his leadership on a 1994 crime bill that the New Jersey senator assailed as a mass incarceration agent in the black community. Meanwhile, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts lead the July 30 lineup, allowing the two progressive icons to compete directly for the affections of the party's left flank. They will be joined by several more moderate candidates who are likely to question the senators' sweeping proposals for single-payer health insurance and tuition-free college, among other plans. Biden vs. Harris has quickly become the defining candidate-on-candidate juxtaposition in the early months of the contest. Although of different sexes, races and generations, the two rivals share the same broad path to the nomination, particularly the broad coalition of white and black voters necessary to win the Southern primaries that dominate the early months of the nominating calendar. Harris' June attacks on Biden's 1970s opposition to federal busing orders as a way to desegregate public schools was a way for her to stand out to liberal whites and to try to cut into Biden's strength in the black community, where he is lauded as the loyal vice president to Barack Obama, the nation's first black president. To be clear, Biden aides say Harris' broadsides sparked a new aggressiveness and determination for the former vice president, and he's gone on a policy offensive in recent weeks, most notably on health care. A proponent of adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges, Biden almost certainly will try to pin down Harris on her support for Sanders' 'Medicare for All' proposal. Harris, though, has stopped short of Sanders' explicit call for abolishing private insurance, and she insists that the plan can be paid for without any tax hikes on the middle class. Biden and Harris will be joined on the stage July 31 by Booker; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; Colorado Gov. Michael Bennet; former Obama Cabinet member Julián Castro; New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Flanking Sanders and Warren on the stage July 30 will be Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana; former Maryland Rep. John Delaney; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke; Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan; and author Marianne Williamson. Delaney and Hickenlooper have been among the most outspoken moderates warning Democrats against a leftward lurch. Klobuchar, Bullock and Buttigieg also position themselves as more centrist than Warren and Sanders. A generational split also will be on display: Buttigieg, 37, and O'Rourke, 46, each have called for the party to pass the torch, while Sanders, at 77, is more than twice the young mayor's age. Warren, meanwhile, recently turned 70. It will be the first debate opportunity for Bullock, who takes the spot that California Rep. Eric Swalwell had in June before dropping out in recent weeks. Another late entry to the race, billionaire activist Tom Steyer, did not meet the polling or fundraising thresholds required for the July debate. For several of the longshot candidates, the July debates are critical. The Democratic National Committee is doubling the polling and fundraising requirements to make the stage in the next round of debates, scheduled for September in Houston and October in a city yet to be announced. As of now, it's likely those higher standards would mean many of the 20 candidates on stage in Detroit won't have a place in Houston. ___ Follow Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP
  • The Supreme Court says the body of former Justice John Paul Stevens will lie in repose at the court on Monday. Stevens died on Tuesday at age 99. He served nearly 35 years as a justice before retiring in 2010. Members of the public can pay their respects from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., following a private ceremony in the court's Great Hall. Stevens will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in a private service the next day. He will be the 13th justice buried at Arlington. The court last opened the building to mourners in 2016, following the death of sitting Justice Antonin Scalia.
  • A U.S. warship on Thursday destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz after it threatened the ship, President Donald Trump said. The incident marked a new escalation of tensions between the countries less than one month after Iran downed an American drone in the same waterway and Trump came close to retaliating with a military strike. In remarks at the White House, Trump blamed Iran for a 'provocative and hostile' action and said the U.S. responded in self-defense. Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told reporters as he arrived for a meeting at the United Nations that 'we have no information about losing a drone today.' The clash in one of the busiest waterways for international oil traffic highlighted the risk of war between two countries at odds over a wide range of issues. After Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal last year and imposed additional economic sanctions, the Iranians have pushed back on the military front, allegedly sabotaging Saudi and other oil tankers in the Gulf, shooting down a U.S. drone on June 20 and stepping up support for Houthi rebels in Yemen. Adding to the economic pressure on Tehran, the Treasury Department said Thursday it was imposing sanctions on what it called a network of front companies and agents involved in helping Iran buy sensitive materials for its nuclear program. It said the targeted individuals and entities are based in Iran, China and Belgium. Trump said the Navy's USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, took defensive action after the Iranian aircraft closed to within 1,000 yards of the ship and ignored multiple calls to stand down. 'The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, facilities and interests and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran's attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce,' Trump said. The Pentagon said the incident happened at 10 a.m. local time Thursday in international waters while the Boxer was transiting the waterway to enter the Persian Gulf. The Boxer is among several U.S. Navy ships in the area, including the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier that has been operating in the nearby North Arabian Sea for weeks. 'A fixed-wing unmanned aerial system approached Boxer and closed within a threatening range,' chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a written statement. 'The ship took defensive action against the UAS to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew.' Neither Trump nor the Pentagon spelled out how the Boxer destroyed the drone. CNN reported that the ship used electronic jamming to bring it down rather than hitting it with a missile. The Iranians and Americans have had close encounters in the Strait of Hormuz in the past, and it's not unprecedented for Iran to fly a drone near a U.S. warship. In December, about 30 Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels trailed the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier and its strike group through the strait as Associated Press journalists on board watched. One small vessel launched what appeared to be a commercial-grade drone to film the U.S. ships. Other transits have seen the Iranians fire rockets away from American warships or test-fire their machine guns. The Guard's small fast boats often cut in front of the massive carriers, running dangerously close to running into them in 'swarm attacks.' The Guard boats are often armed with bomb-carrying drones and sea-to-sea and surface-to-sea missiles. Thursday's incident was the latest in a series of events that raised U.S.-Iran tensions since early May when Washington accused Tehran of threatening U.S. forces and interests in Iraq and in the Gulf. In response, the U.S. accelerated the deployment of the Lincoln and its strike group to the Arabian Sea and deployed four B-52 long-range bombers to the Gulf state of Qatar. It has since deployed additional Patriot air defense missile batteries in the Gulf region. Shortly after Iran shot down a U.S. Navy drone aircraft on June 20, Trump ordered a retaliatory military strike but called it off at the last moment, saying the risk of casualties was disproportionate to the downing by Iran, which did not cost any U.S. lives. Iran claimed the U.S. drone violated its airspace; the Pentagon denied this. Zarif said Thursday that Iran and the U.S. were only 'a few minutes away from a war' after Iran downed the American drone. He spoke to U.S.-based media on the sidelines of a visit to the United Nations. At the meeting, Zarif also said Iran would be willing to move up an Iranian parliament ratification of an agreement Tehran made with the International Atomic Energy Association — one that outlined access to Iranian nuclear sites and other information. A spokesman for Zarif explained that Iran is already abiding by the agreement under the 2015 nuclear deal, but it doesn't have the force of law because it's not supposed to be ratified by the Iranian parliament until 2023. Zarif told reporters that the ratification could come earlier if the U.S. eased sanctions. A senior administration official responded that Trump has repeatedly said he is willing to have a conversation with Iranian leaders. The official said that if Iran wants to make a 'serious gesture,' it should immediately stop enriching uranium and negotiate an agreement that includes a permanent end to Iran's nuclear ambitions, including development of nuclear-capable missiles. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity. Zarif blamed Washington for the escalation of tensions. 'We live in a very dangerous environment,' he said. 'The United States has pushed itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss.' Zarif accused the Trump administration of 'trying to starve our people' and 'deplete our treasury' through economic sanctions. Earlier Thursday, Iran said its Revolutionary Guard seized a foreign oil tanker and its crew of 12 for smuggling fuel out of the country, and hours later released video showing the vessel to be a United Arab Emirates-based ship that had vanished in Iranian waters over the weekend. The announcement cleared up the fate of the missing ship but raised a host of other questions and heightened worries about the free flow of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's most critical petroleum shipping routes. One-fifth of global crude exports pass through the strait. ___ Associated Press writers Ian Phillips in New York, Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Deb Riechmann in Washington, and Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations contributed to this report.

News

  • A New Jersey judge who said a teenage boy accused of rape deserved leniency because he came from a 'good family' and got good grades has resigned. >>Read more trending news Monmouth County Superior Court Judge James Troiano resigned Wednesday, the New Jersey Supreme Court announced. The resignation came after weeks of criticism from the public and death threats to Troiano's family, The New York Times reported. In 2018, Troiano, 69, was called out of retirement to hear the case of an alleged rape involving teenagers at a party the previous year, The Washington Post reported. Police said a 16-year-old boy recorded cellphone video of himself sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl. The boy allegedly sent the video to others with the caption, “When your first time having sex was rape.” Both teens were intoxicated during the incident, prosecutors said. Prosecutors in the case pushed for the teen to be tried as an adult, calling his alleged crime 'sophisticated and predatory,' CNN reported. Troiano denied prosecutors' request. He wrote in his July 2018 decision that he didn't think the teen's actions were necessarily rape, because in 'traditional' rape cases there are 'two or more generally males involved, either at gunpoint or weapon, clearly manhandling a person.' Troiano further wrote, “This young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well. He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college. His scores for college entry were very high.” The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court reversed Troiano's decision in June, and sent the case back down for further judgement, CNN reported. Monmouth County prosecutors are planning their next move in the case. 'While we have the utmost respect for the Family Court and the judge in this case, we are grateful that the Appellate Division agreed with our assessment that this case met the legal standards for waiver to Superior Court,' Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said in a statement. 'As with all cases, we are assessing our next steps, which will include discussions with the victim and her family.
  • The first trailer for the upcoming musical film 'Cats' has been released. >>Read more trending news 'Cats' is an adaptation of the 1981 Broadway musical of the same name. Based on a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot and featuring music by Andrew Lloyd Weber, 'Cats' follows a tribe of cats called the Jellicles as they decide which cat will come back to life, according to the film's Internet Movie Database page. The original Broadway production ran for nearly 28 years and won several awards, including the 1983 Tony Award for Best Musical. The movie's star-studded cast includes Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden and others. It introduces ballerina Francesca Hayward in her first movie role. Viewers tweeted their reactions to the trailer. Many reactions were negative, as viewers said they found the appearance of the cat characters unsettling. 'Cats' is set for a December 20 release date.
  • A photo of a dog tied up on the back of a tow truck as it goes down busy Massachusetts highway has upset so many drivers who saw it that they now won't stop calling the tow company. >> Read more trending news The Animal Rescue League and Massachusetts State Police are now investigating the alleged crime. The picture snapped by a Brockton, Massachusetts, man and posted on Facebook drew instant criticism. People quickly began posting their objections and flooding the towing company with calls. Apparently, the two people in the van being towed were in the cab of the tow truck and that's why the dog was chained to the bed. The dog is owned by the driver of the truck. The man who took the picture, Mike Gerry, also has a dog: Molly.  Mike says he saw the dog on the flatbed while driving down Route 128 near Route 2 on Wednesday. He beeped and tried to get the tow truck driver’s attention but had no luck. 'I posted it on Facebook for my buddies to put it out there. and it went unreal, it went ballistic,' Gerry said. 'And ever since then people have been commenting on it, 'you're doing the right thing.'' To be clear the company told WFXT the dog being chained to the back of a flatbed truck is not their policy. The driver has reportedly been fired and the dog is OK.  The company also says it is donating $1,000 to the MSPCA and has set up a call center so it can answer and return every single call about the incident.
  • An Oklahoma man is in custody after allegedly raping a 4-year-old girl in a McDonald’s bathroom while the child was on a field trip with her day care class, according to news reports. >> Read more trending news  It happened Tuesday inside a McDonald’s in Midwest City in metro Oklahoma City when the little girl went to the bathroom alone, WXIN-TV reported. Day care employees told responding officers they went to check on the girl after she had “been gone for a while.”  They said they found the bathroom door locked and when they knocked, a man opened the door.He allegedly came out with his hands up and said, “I was just washing my hands,” the news station reported. The 4-year-old allegedly told police she was touched inappropriately by the man, identified as Joshua Kabatra, 37. Police arrested Kabatra at the scene, according to WXIN. He’s facing two rape charges and a count of lewd acts with a child.
  • Do you feel you’re better focused on the job with a little light background jazz or coffee shop chatter compared to pin-drop silence? Scientists might know why. >> Read more trending news According to Onno van der Groen, a researcher with Australia’s Edith Cowan University school of medical and health sciences, some background noise can actually be beneficial for our senses. This phenomenon is called “stochastic resonance.” First studied in animals, stochastic resonance experiments suggest “sensory signals can be enhanced by noise and improve behaviour in various animals,” van der Groen wrote for The Conversation last week. “For example, crayfish were shown to be better at avoiding predators when a small amount of random electrical currents were added to their tail fins. Paddlefish caught more plankton when small currents were added to the water.” In human experiments, where noise levels were manipulated by getting participants to listen to noisy sounds or feel random vibrations on the skin, people were better able to see, hear and feel at “a certain optimum noise level.” If it were too loud, however, performance dropped. Van der Groen pointed out that stochastic resonance has several real life applications for humans, too. “Adding noise to the feet of people with vibrating insoles can improve balance performance in elderly adults,” he wrote. For patients with diabetes or those recovering from stroke, this can also be used to augment muscle function. His own research has found that when brain currents are applied to participants’ brains with random noise stimulation, “it improved how well they could see a low-quality image.” When he and other researchers applied the same technique to other groups, they noticed “decisions were more accurate and faster when brain cell noise levels are tuned up.” Transcranial random noise stimulation also influenced what participants saw during a visual illusion, suggesting noise could help people approach a situation from multiple perspectives. But the thing about stochastic resonance is it differs from person to person.  The optimal amount of noise for top-notch cognitive function depends on a variety of factors, such as brain variability. Excessive brain variability, van der Groen wrote, is common in those with autism, dyslexia, ADHD and schizophrenia. Elderly folks also tend to have more brain noise (or brain variability) than younger individuals. However, because brain noise can be altered with random noise stimulation, van der Groen believes there are opportunities to explore “interventions or devices to manipulate noise levels, which could improve cognitive functioning in health and disease.”  For example, a study of children with ADHD found white noise delivered specifically through Etymotic earphones at 77 decibels improved memory and concentration. Plenty of downloadable ambient, white and “pink” noise apps have also popped up in recent years. There’s Coffitivity, which plays an infinite loop of coffee-shop sounds — and Noisli, which suggests different sounds for different goals. If you want to improve productivity, you might mix raindrops and train tracks. For those who want to relax, listen to crashing waves. Generally, ambient noise is ideal for creativity, white noise is sound for concentration and pink noise might be most helpful in improving sleep quality. But remember, finding stochastic resonance isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Play around and see which background noises and volumes work best for you. This guide from Techlicious is a good place to start.
  • An act of kindness extended by three young men has gotten a lot of attention on social media since then.  >> Read more trending news Sean Wetzonis says it all started when he, Pedro and two other friends from Malden planned to attend the game.  But one friend backed out, leaving Pedro with an extra ticket.  'And Pedro's father had suggested, he was like, 'find a girl. Find a girl to take to the game,'' Sean Wetzonis told Boston 25 News. But he said Pedro had another idea.  'He said, 'you know, I'll give it to a homeless person. If I could find a homeless person,' Wetzonis said. Finding a homeless person in Boston is not difficult. Enter John, who was sitting on a stoop near Fenway Park. 'When Pedro asked him if he wanted to go to a Red Sox game, at first I wasn't sure if he was going to get up, but then he said sure and he got up and he seemed pretty excited about it,' Wetzonis said.  He admits he was skeptical about taking a homeless guy to the game. 'I was kind of shocked. Everyone was like, 'dude. You got another ticket. You could try and sell it to make some money back.,' Wetzonis said.  But then he saw something you don't see enough of these days at professional sporting events: a fan actually watching the game.  'Everyone's there sitting on their phones, texting and looking around. He was really immersed in the game. He was there to enjoy the game,' Wetzonis said.  The Red Sox lost Tuesday night. But for three young men from Malden, it was, perhaps, the winningest night at Fenway ever.