‘Our world is in peril’: At UN, leaders push for solutions
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The world’s problems seized the spotlight Tuesday as the U.N. General Assembly’s yearly meeting of world leaders opened with dire assessments of a planet beset by escalating crises and conflicts that an aging international order seems increasingly ill-equipped to tackle.
After two years when many leaders weighed in by video because of the coronavirus pandemic, now presidents, premiers, monarchs and foreign ministers have gathered almost entirely in person for diplomacy’s premier global event.
But the tone is far from celebratory. Instead, it’s the blare of a tense and worried world.
“We are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, adding that “our world is in peril — and paralyzed.”
He and others pointed to conflicts ranging from Russia’s six-month-old war in Ukraine to the decades-long dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Speakers worried about a changing climate, spiking fuel prices, food shortages, economic inequality, migration, disinformation, discrimination, hate speech, public health and more.
4 Ukrainian regions schedule votes this week to join Russia
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian-controlled regions of eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans Tuesday to start voting this week to become integral parts of Russia. The Kremlin-backed efforts to swallow up four regions could set the stage for Moscow to escalate the war following Ukrainian successes on the battlefield.
The scheduling of referendums starting Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions came after a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin said the votes are needed and as Moscow is losing ground in the invasion it began nearly seven months ago.
Former President Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by Putin, said referendums that fold regions into Russia itself would make redrawn frontiers “irreversible” and enable Moscow to use “any means” to defend them.
In 2014, Russia sent troops into Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and then held a referendum there that paved the way for its annexation by Moscow.
The upcoming votes, in territory Russia already controls, are all but certain to go Moscow’s way. But they were quickly dismissed as illegitimate by Western leaders who are backing Kyiv with military and other support that has helped its forces seize momentum on battlefields in the east and south.
Feds: 47 exploited pandemic to steal $250M from food program
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Federal authorities charged 47 people in Minnesota with conspiracy and other counts in what they said Tuesday was the largest fraud scheme yet to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by stealing $250 million from a federal program that provides meals to low-income children.
Prosecutors say the defendants created companies that claimed to be offering food to tens of thousands of children across Minnesota, then sought reimbursement for those meals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food nutrition programs. Prosecutors say few meals were actually served, and the defendants used the money to buy luxury cars, property and jewelry.
“This $250 million is the floor,” Andy Luger, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota, said at a news conference. “Our investigation continues.”
Many of the companies that claimed to be serving food were sponsored by a nonprofit called Feeding Our Future, which submitted the companies’ claims for reimbursement. Feeding Our Future’s founder and executive director, Aimee Bock, was among those indicted, and authorities say she and others in her organization submitted the fraudulent claims for reimbursement and received kickbacks.
Bock’s attorney, Kenneth Udoibok, said the indictment “doesn’t indicate guilt or innocence.” He said he wouldn’t comment further until seeing the indictment.
Fiona swipes Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico faces big cleanup
CAYEY, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Fiona blasted the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday as a Category 3 storm after devastating Puerto Rico, where most people remained without electricity or running water and rescuers used heavy equipment to lift survivors to safety.
The storm’s eye passed close to Grand Turk, the small British territory’s capital island, on Tuesday morning after the government imposed a curfew and urged people to flee flood-prone areas. Storm surge could raise water levels there by as much as 5 to 8 feet above normal, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the storm was centered about 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of North Caicos Island, with hurricane-force winds extending up to 30 miles (45 kilometers) from the center.
Premier Washington Misick urged people to evacuate. “Storms are unpredictable,” he said in a statement from London, where he had attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. “You must therefore take every precaution to ensure your safety.”
Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph) and was moving north-northwest at 8 mph (13 kph), according to the Hurricane Center, which said the storm was likely to strengthen into a Category 4 hurricane as it approaches Bermuda on Friday.
Arbiter in Trump docs probe signals intent to move quickly
WASHINGTON (AP) — The independent arbiter tasked with inspecting documents seized in an FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home said Tuesday he intends to push briskly through the review process and appeared skeptical of the Trump team’s reluctance to say whether it believed the records had been declassified.
“We’re going to proceed with what I call responsible dispatch,” Raymond Dearie, a veteran Brooklyn judge, told lawyers for Trump and the Justice Department in their first meeting since his appointment last week as a so-called special master.
The purpose of the meeting was to sort out next steps in a review process expected to slow by weeks, if not months, the criminal investigation into the retention of top-secret information at Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House. As special master, Dearie will be responsible for sifting through the thousands of documents recovered during the Aug. 8 FBI search and segregating any that might be protected by claims of executive privilege or attorney-client privilege.
Though Trump’s lawyers had requested the appointment of a special master to ensure an independent review of the documents, they have resisted Dearie’s request for more information about whether the seized records had been previously declassified — as Trump has maintained. His lawyers have consistently stopped short of that claim even as they asserted in a separate filing Tuesday that the Justice Department had not proven that the documents were classified. In any event, they say, a president has absolute authority to declassify information.
“In the case of someone who has been president of the United States, they have unfettered access along with unfettered declassification authority,” one of Trump’s lawyers, James Trusty, said in court Tuesday.
NTSB wants all new vehicles to check drivers for alcohol use
DETROIT (AP) — The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending that all new vehicles in the U.S. be equipped with blood alcohol monitoring systems that can stop an intoxicated person from driving.
The recommendation, if enacted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, could reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes, one of the biggest causes of highway deaths in the U.S.
The new push to make roads safer was included in a report released Tuesday about a horrific crash last year in which a drunk driver collided head-on with another vehicle near Fresno, California, killing both adult drivers and seven children.
NHTSA said this week that roadway deaths in the U.S. are at crisis levels. Nearly 43,000 people were killed last year, the greatest number in 16 years, as Americans returned to roads after pandemic stay-at-home orders.
Early estimates show fatalities rising again through the first half of this year, but they declined from April through June, which authorities are hoping is a trend.
‘Serial’ host: Evidence that freed Syed was long available
The creator of a true-crime podcast that helped free a Maryland man imprisoned for two decades said Tuesday that she feels a mix of emotions over how long it took authorities to act on evidence that’s long been available.
The judge’s order to release Adnan Syed and vacate his murder conviction Monday came after the local prosecutor started a unit to review sentencing and a new Maryland law relating to juvenile sentencing provided a mechanism for reexamining the case, all after the “Serial” podcast in 2014 turned the details of the case into an obsession for countless amateur sleuths.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby immediately applauded the judge’s decision as a victory for justice, but Syed’s win came as a bittersweet reminder to those who had been aware of the gaps in the case for years. In a new episode of “Serial” released Tuesday, host Sarah Koenig noted that most or all of the evidence cited in prosecutors’ motion to overturn the conviction was available since 1999.
“Yesterday, there was a lot of talk about fairness, but most of what the state put in that motion to vacate, all the actual evidence, was either known or knowable to cops and prosecutors back in 1999,” Koenig said. “So even on a day when the government publicly recognizes its own mistakes, it’s hard to feel cheered about a triumph of fairness. Because we’ve built a system that takes more than 20 years to self-correct. And that’s just this one case.”
Koenig argued that the case against Syed involved “just about every chronic problem” in the system, including unreliable witness testimony and evidence that was never shared with Syed’s defense team.
FDA concedes delays in response to baby formula shortage
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration acknowledged Tuesday that its response to the U.S. infant formula shortage was slowed by delays in processing a whistleblower complaint and test samples from the nation’s largest formula factory.
A 10-page report from the agency offers its first formal account of the factors that led to the ongoing shortage, which has forced the U.S. to airlift millions of pounds of powdered formula from overseas.
The review zeroed in on several key problems at the agency, including outdated data-sharing systems, inadequate staffing and training among its food inspectors, and poor visibility into formula supply chains and manufacturing procedures.
“For things that are critical to the public health, if you don’t have some understanding of how all the pieces fit together, then when you get into a crisis or a shortage you have a real problem,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told The Associated Press in an interview. “To a large extent that’s what happened here.”
Califf said the FDA will seek new authority to compel companies to turn over key information.
Mexico’s earthquake coincidence drives anxiety for many
MEXICO CITY (AP) — As the parents of children killed when a school collapsed during Mexico’s 2017 earthquake celebrated a Mass in their memory, the ground began to shake again.
“No, not again! My God, not again!” they shouted when a magnitude 7.6 earthquake rattled the capital Monday, killing two people in the Pacific coast state of Colima.
Three powerful earthquakes have struck Mexico on Sept. 19 — in 1985, 2017 and now 2022. The unlucky coincidence has driven anxiety high for many. The last two quakes also came very shortly after the annual earthquake drill conducted every Sept. 19 to commemorate the devastating 1985 temblor.
Mexico’s national Civil Defense Coordinator Laura Velázquez said Tuesday that the two deaths in Colima were due to parts of buildings collapsing. Ten people were injured — nine in Colima and one in neighboring Michoacan.
More than 200 buildings were damaged, including dozens of schools and health centers, she said. Most of the damage was in those Pacific states, close to the Michoacan epicenter. Some 20 Mexico City buildings were damaged, but it was minor, she said.
Celebrities coming back to White House after Trump drought
WASHINGTON (AP) — Celebrities are back at the White House following a pop-culture backlash during the Trump years, when just about anyone considered high-wattage refused to show up.
Rocker Elton John is bringing his farewell tour to the South Lawn on Friday, the White House announced Tuesday, one week after singer James Taylor and hosts Jonathan and Drew Scott, of HGTV’s “Property Brothers,” helped celebrate a new health care and climate change law.
John is among a slew of entertainers who refused to perform for then-President Donald Trump.
Taylor sang and strummed his guitar to open last week’s event while the Scotts were among hundreds of people in the audience. They also joined second gentleman Doug Emhoff, Vice President Kamala Harris’ husband, to film a snazzy video promoting the law’s climate change provisions.
Since taking office during a pandemic, which put a pause on too much togetherness, the 79-year-old Biden has also opened the White House to teen singer Olivia Rodrigo, to talk about young people and COVID-19 vaccinations, and the South Korean boy band BTS, to discuss Asian inclusion and representation.
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