Iconic bird sanctuary ravaged by plastic and death
MIDWAY ATOLL, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands — Flying into the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Midway Atoll appears out of the vast blue Pacific as a tiny oasis of coral-fringed land with pristine white sand beaches that are teeming with life.
But on the ground, there’s a different scene: plastic, pollution and death.
With virtually no predators, Midway is a haven for many species of seabirds and is home to the largest colony of albatross in the world.
But Midway is also at the center of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast area of floating plastic collected by circulating oceanic currents. The Hawaiian Islands act like a comb that gathers debris as it floats across the Pacific. A recent analysis found that the patch is accumulating debris at a faster rate than scientists previously thought.
Midway is littered with bird skeletons that have brightly colored plastic protruding from their decomposing bellies. Bottle caps, toothbrushes and cigarette lighters sit in the centers of their feathery carcasses.
“There isn’t a bird that doesn’t have some (plastic),” said Athline Clark, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s superintendent for Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which Midway is part of. They “fill their bellies up with plastics instead of food and eventually either choke or just don’t have enough room for actual nourishment and perish.”
China sentences 3 in fentanyl trafficking case after US tip
XINGTAI, China — A Chinese court sentenced three fentanyl traffickers Thursday in a case that was a culmination of a rare collaboration between Chinese and U.S. law enforcement to crack down on global networks that manufacture and distribute lethal synthetic opioids.
Liu Yong was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, while Jiang Juhua and Wang Fengxi were sentenced to life in prison. Six other members of the operation got lesser sentences.
Working off a 2017 tip from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Chinese police busted a drug ring based in the northern Chinese city of Xingtai that shipped synthetic drugs to the U.S. and other countries from a gritty clandestine laboratory. They arrested more than 20 criminal suspects and seized 11.9 kilograms (26.23 pounds) of fentanyl as well as 19.1 kilograms (42.11 pounds) of other drugs.
Liu had been accused of manufacturing and trafficking synthetic drugs from the lab in eastern China’s Jiangsu province. Death sentences are almost always commuted to life in prison after the reprieve.
Austin Moore, an attaché to China for the U.S. Homeland Security Department, said the case was “an important step” showing that Chinese and U.S. investigators have the capacity to collaborate across international borders.
US: Saudis recruited Twitter workers to spy on critics
SAN FRANCISCO — The Saudi government, frustrated by growing criticism of its leaders and policies on social media, recruited two Twitter employees to gather confidential personal information on thousands of accounts that included prominent opponents, prosecutors alleged Wednesday.
The complaint unsealed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco detailed a coordinated effort by Saudi government officials to recruit employees at the social media giant to look up the private data of Twitter accounts, including email addresses linked to the accounts and internet protocol addresses that can give up a user’s location.
The accounts included those of a popular critic of the government with more than 1 million followers and a news personality. Neither was named.
The complaint also alleged that the employees — whose jobs did not require access to Twitter users’ private information — were rewarded with a designer watch and tens of thousands of dollars funneled into secret bank accounts. Ahmad Abouammo, a U.S. citizen, and Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi citizen, were charged with acting as agents of Saudi Arabia without registering with the U.S. government.
The Saudi government had no immediate comment through its embassy in Washington. Its state-run media did not immediately acknowledge the charges.
Impeachment going public: Hearings next week for all to see
WASHINGTON — Democrats announced Wednesday they will launch public impeachment hearings next week, intending to bring to life weeks of closed-door testimony and lay out a convincing narrative of presidential misconduct by Donald Trump.
First to testify will be William Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, who has relayed in private his understanding that there was a blatant quid pro quo with Trump holding up military aid to a U.S. ally facing threats from its giant neighbor Russia.
That aid, at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, is alleged to have been held hostage until Ukraine agreed to investigate political foe Joe Biden and the idea, out of the mainstream of U.S. intelligence findings, that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
The testimony of Taylor a career envoy and war veteran with 50 years of service to the U.S., is what Democrats want Americans to hear first.
Taylor has told investigators about an “irregular channel” that the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, set up for Ukraine diplomacy, and how the White House was holding up the military aid, according to a transcript of his closed-door interview released Wednesday.
From wire sources
Migrants live in fear at Mexico-US border as violence flares
SAN DIEGO — A Salvadoran woman seeking asylum in the United States spends her days holed up in her cousin’s cramped slum house just across the border in Mexico — too scared to leave after receiving a savage beating from two men three weeks ago while she was strolling home from a convenience store.
The assault came after she spent four months in captivity in Mexico, kidnapped into prostitution during her journey toward the U.S.
The woman, 31, is among 55,000 migrants who have been returned to Mexico by the Trump administration to wait for their cases to wind through backlogged immigration courts. Her situation offers a glimpse into some of the program’s problems.
Critics have said the administration’s policy denies asylum seekers like the Salvadoran woman fair and humane treatment, forcing them to wait in a country plagued by drug-fueled violence — illustrated this week by the slaughter near the U.S. border of six children and three women . All were U.S. citizens living in Mexico.
The Trump administration insists that the program is a safe alternative in collaboration with the government of Mexico, even as the president vows to wage war on drug cartels that are a dominant presence in the dangerous border cities where migrants are forced to wait.
Removing King’s name in Kansas City opens wounds, discussion
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City leaders and residents on Wednesday began what is likely to be a challenging conversation about how to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and recover from wounds inflicted during a nearly yearlong debate over naming a street for the civil rights icon in the majority white city.
On Tuesday, Kansas City voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to rename a 10-mile boulevard from King’s name back to The Paseo, which it has been called since it was completed in 1899. The vote came less than a year after the city council approved renaming the boulevard for King, after years of advocacy from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and mostly black civic leaders.
Representatives from both sides of the issue vowed Wednesday to find another way to honor King and perhaps show other cities how to peacefully unify around the issue.
Diane Euston, a spokeswoman for the “Save the Paseo” group that led the successful petition drive, said the group has been brainstorming for months about ways to honor King if the ballot measure passed, and in a meeting last week with Mayor Quinton Lucas, who strongly supported the King name, members made it clear they intend to be part of that conversation.
“I believe we are going to take positive strides,” she said. “We can in the long run be an example across the nation about what unity is going to look like, what consensus looks like. The people have spoken, and people need to continue to speak in a positive manner in order to show Kansas City is an example of the democratic process while continuing to ensure we honor Martin Luther King.”
Trump plows ahead despite fresh signs of trouble in 2020
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and his supporters insisted on Wednesday that no course correction is needed despite stinging Republican defeats in battleground suburbs and a Democrat on the verge of victory in the governor’s race in deep-red Kentucky.
But the blue wave that swept through the suburbs in 2018 and gave Democrats control of the U.S. House barreled through communities outside Philadelphia, Washington and Cincinnati on Tuesday, sending a clear signal that Trump faces potential trouble in areas that have generally sided with Republicans for decades. Voters — many of them Democrats — participated at levels rarely seen in years when control of Congress or the White House isn’t at stake.
In Kentucky, turnout was up by nearly 50% from 2015, when the state last held a governor’s race. Turnout was higher for both parties, but the increases were much more dramatic for Democratic challenger Andy Beshear. Some of the biggest increases were in the counties where Beshear fared best, particularly in Jefferson County, home to Louisville, and Fayette County, which encompasses Lexington. Meanwhile, the counties where incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin did best underperformed compared with Democratic counties.
More than twice as many people in Virginia voted in state legislative races than in the last similar election four years ago.
With nearly a year until the presidential election, there is a risk of drawing firm conclusions about the meaning of Tuesday’s results. But coming amid an intensifying impeachment inquiry, they raise questions about Trump’s ability to help other Republicans across the finish line. At a minimum, some GOP strategists say the party needs to confront its eroding support in the suburbs.
A CGI James Dean is cast in new film, sparking an outcry
NEW YORK — James Dean hasn’t been alive in 64 years, but the “Rebel Without a Cause” actor has been cast in a new film about the Vietnam War.
The filmmakers behind the independent film “Finding Jack” said Wednesday that a computer-generated Dean will play a co-starring role in the upcoming production. The digital Dean is to be assembled through old footage and photos and voiced by another actor.
Digitally manipulated posthumous performances have made some inroads into films. But those have been largely roles the actors already played, including Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing, who first appeared together in “Star Wars” and were prominently featured in the 2016 spinoff “Rogue One.”
But the prospect of one of the movies’ most beloved former stars being digitally resurrected was met with widespread criticism after the news was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter. Chris Evans, the “Captain America” actor, was among those who called the plans disrespectful and wrongheaded.
“Maybe we can get a computer to paint us a new Picasso. Or write a couple new John Lennon tunes,” said Evans on Twitter. “The complete lack of understanding here is shameful.”