In Brief: June 4, 2021

No ‘provoking’: Israeli official vows quieter tone with US

Israel’s visiting defense minister said Thursday that it will stay engaged as the U.S. tries to return to a nuclear deal with Iran, sidestepping what’s long been an area of open disagreement between the United States and the now-jeopardized government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Benny Gantz told reporters before a meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that Iran’s nuclear program and other actions were an “existential threat” to Israel. “Stopping Iran is certainly a shared strategic need of the United States,” Israel and other countries, Gantz said.

But on a visit that came as an opposition coalition back home tries to end Netanyahu’s 12 years in power, Gantz — unlike Netanyahu — stopped short of openly opposing the Biden administration’s efforts to get the United States back into a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, in exchange for relief from sanctions.

Sitting across a table from his U.S. counterpart at the Pentagon, Gantz said, “Our dialogue is so important to ensuring that any deal effectively meets its goal of keeping Iran away from nuclear weapons.”

“Of course, given the scope of the threat, Israel must always make sure that it has the ability to protect itself,” Gantz added.

Biden’s pledge on media freedom may be easier said than done

WASHINGTON — One of the Biden Justice Department’s first big moves has been to alert reporters at three major news organizations that their phone records were seized as part of leak investigations under the Trump administration, with President Joe Biden saying he would abandon the practice of spying on journalists.

But while Biden’s stated commitment that his Justice Department won’t seize reporters’ phone records has won support from press freedom groups, it remains unclear if that promise can be kept, especially because Democratic and Republican administrations alike have relied on the tactic in an effort to track down leaks of classified information. His comment last month about what law enforcement should or should not do was all the more striking given Biden’s pledge to uphold the tradition of an independent Justice Department.

“In this case, it seems bad policy to institute an absolute ban on logical investigative actions geared to finding out who violated the law, particularly in instances where the journalists themselves whose records may be at issue are not the subject or target of criminal investigation,” said David Laufman, a former Justice Department official who led the section that oversaw investigations into leaks.

The Justice Department in recent weeks disclosed that federal investigators had secretly obtained call records of journalists at The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN in an effort to identify sources who had provided national security information published in the early months of the Trump administration.

Past administrations also have struggled to balance the media’s First Amendment newsgathering rights against government interests in safeguarding national security secrets. Inside the Justice Department, officials have on several occasions over the years revised internal guidelines to afford media organizations better protection without ever removing from their arsenal the prerogative to subpoena reporters’ records.

‘Next big wave’: Radiation drugs track and kill cancer cells

Doctors are reporting improved survival in men with advanced prostate cancer from an experimental drug that delivers radiation directly to tumor cells.

Few such drugs are approved now, but the approach may become a new way to treat patients with other hard-to-reach or inoperable cancers.

The study tested an emerging class of medicine called radiopharmaceuticals, drugs that deliver radiation directly to cancer cells. The drug in this case is a molecule that contains two parts: a tracker and a cancer-killing payload.

Trillions of these molecules hunt down cancer cells, latching onto protein receptors on the cell membrane. The payload emits radiation, which hits the tumor cells within its range.

“You can treat tumors that you cannot see. Anywhere the drug can go, the drug can reach tumor cells,” said Dr. Frank Lin, who had no role in the study but heads a division at the National Cancer Institute that helps develop such medicine.

From wire sources

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Pence: I’ll likely never see eye to eye with Trump on Jan. 6

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Former Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that he wasn’t sure that he and former President Donald Trump would ever see “eye to eye” over what happened on Jan. 6 but that he would “always be proud of what we accomplished for the American people over the last four years.”

Pence, speaking at a Republican dinner in the early voting state of New Hampshire, gave his most extensive comments to date on the events of Jan. 6, when angry Trump supporters broke into the Capitol building, some chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” after the vice president said he did not have the power to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory.

“As I said that day, Jan. 6 was a dark day in history of the United States Capitol. But thanks to the swift action of the Capitol Police and federal law enforcement, violence was quelled. The Capitol was secured,” Pence said.

“And that same day, we reconvened the Congress and did our duty under the Constitution and the laws of the United States,” Pence continued. “You know, President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office. And I don’t know if we’ll ever see eye to eye on that day.”

It was a rare departure for Pence, who spent four years standing loyally beside his boss amid controversy, investigation and impeachment. It comes as Pence considers his own potential 2024 White House run and as Republicans, some of whom were angry at Trump in the days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, have largely coalesced back around the former president.

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China’s silencing of Tiananmen tributes extends to Hong Kong

HONG KONG — For years, China has quashed any discussion on the mainland of its bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, nearly erasing what happened from the collective consciousness. Now it may be Hong Kong’s turn, as China’s ruling Communist Party pulls the city more directly into its orbit.

The semi-autonomous territories of Hong Kong and nearby Macao were for years the last places on Chinese soil allowed to publicly mark the events of June 4, 1989, when the People’s Liberation Army opened fire on student-led protesters in a crackdown that left hundreds, if not thousands, dead.

Before last year, tens of thousands gathered annually in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, lighting candles and singing songs to remember the victims. But authorities, citing the coronavirus pandemic, are banning that vigil for the second straight year. And a museum dedicated to the event suddenly closed Wednesday, just two days before Friday’s anniversary, after authorities investigated it for lacking the necessary licenses to hold a public exhibition.

Hong Kong’s security minister warned residents last week against taking part in unauthorized assemblies.

In mainland China, younger generations have grown up with little knowledge of or debate about the crackdown, but the efforts to suppress commemorations in Hong Kong reflect another turn of the screw in Beijing’s ever-tightening control over Hong Kong following massive anti-government protests in 2019. Those demonstrations evolved into months of sometimes violent clashes between smaller groups of protesters and police. And they have led to a broader crackdown on dissent in the former British colony, which was long an oasis of capitalism and democracy and was promised that it would largely maintain its freedoms for 50 years when it was returned to China in 1997.

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Drought saps California reservoirs as hot, dry summer looms

OROVILLE, Calif. — Each year Lake Oroville helps water a quarter of the nation’s crops, sustain endangered salmon beneath its massive earthen dam and anchor the tourism economy of a Northern California county that must rebuild seemingly every year after unrelenting wildfires.

But the mighty lake — a linchpin in a system of aqueducts and reservoirs in the arid U.S. West that makes California possible — is shrinking with surprising speed amid a severe drought, with state officials predicting it will reach a record low later this summer.

While droughts are common in California, this year’s is much hotter and drier than others, evaporating water more quickly from the reservoirs and the sparse Sierra Nevada snowpack that feeds them. The state’s more than 1,500 reservoirs are 50% lower than they should be this time of year, according to Jay Lund, co-director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California-Davis.

Over Memorial Day weekend, dozens of houseboats sat on cinderblocks at Lake Oroville because there wasn’t enough water to hold them. Blackened trees lined the reservoir’s steep, parched banks.

At nearby Folsom Lake, normally bustling boat docks rested on dry land, their buoys warning phantom boats to slow down. Campers occupied dusty riverbanks farther north at Shasta Lake.

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COVID-19 spurs shutdown of ‘Mission Impossible’ set

LONDON — Paramount Pictures on Thursday temporarily shut down production on the British set of Tom Cruise’s seventh “Mission: Impossible” film after someone tested positive for coronavirus.

“We have temporarily halted production on ‘Mission: Impossible 7’ until June 14th, due to positive coronavirus test results during routine testing,” a Paramount spokesperson said in a statement. “We are following all safety protocols and will continue to monitor the situation.”

The company provided no further details.

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In December, Cruise launched an expletive-laden rant at colleagues on the “Mission: Impossible” set, after he reportedly spotted two crew members violating social distancing rules. In audio released by the Sun tabloid, Cruise can be heard warning that anyone caught not following the rules to stay at least 2 meters (more than 6.5 feet) away from others will be fired.

The film, which paused production for months early last year along with the rest of the film industry when the coronavirus pandemic took hold, is scheduled to be released in 2022.

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