Nation and World briefs for September 5

Dorian creeps up US coast; near-record storm surge feared

CHARLESTON, S.C. — A weakened but still deadly Hurricane Dorian crept up the Southeastern seaboard Wednesday, and millions were ordered to evacuate as forecasters said near-record levels of seawater and rain could swamp the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas.

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The storm, which ravaged the Bahamas with more than a full day of devastating wind and rain, had weakened substantially — droppiing from a Category 5 storm to a Category 2. But it still had dangerously high winds and threatened to swamp low-lying regions from Georgia to southeastern Virginia on its trek northward.

“We will experience hurricane-force winds, in at least gusts,” South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said at a news conference. Even if the hurricane doesn’t end up hitting the state directly, he said, “there’s still going to be wind and water and if you’re in the coastal area, that water can be treacherous.”

Dorian appeared likely to get dangerously near Charleston, South Carolina, which is vulnerably located on a peninsula. A flood chart posted by the National Weather Service projected a combined high tide and storm surge around Charleston Harbor of 10.3 feet (3.1 meters); the record, 12.5 feet (4 meters), was set by Hugo in 1989.

Stores and restaurants were boarded up with wood and corrugated metal in Charleston’s historic downtown, and about 830,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders on the South Carolina coast. More than 1,500 people were in 28 shelters statewide.

Johnson’s Brexit plans in crisis after 3rd defeat in 2 days

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Wednesday for a national election on Oct. 15, saying it was the only way out of Britain’s Brexit impasse after lawmakers moved to block his plan to leave the European Union next month without a divorce deal.

But Parliament delivered Johnson his third defeat in two days and turned down a motion triggering a vote. Johnson indicated he would try again, saying an election was the only way forward for the country, and accusing opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn of being afraid of the public’s judgment.

“The obvious conclusion, I’m afraid, is that he does not think he will win,” Johnson said.

Scarcely six weeks after taking office with a vow to break Britain’s Brexit deadlock — which entrapped and finally defeated his predecessor, Theresa May — Johnson’s own plans to lead the U.K. out of the EU are in crisis.

Johnson insists Britain must leave the bloc on the scheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal, but many lawmakers — including several from Johnson’s Conservative Party — are determined to thwart him. On Wednesday the House of Commons approved an opposition bill designed to halt a no-deal Brexit.

Democratic candidates focus on climate change in town halls

WASHINGTON — Top Democratic presidential contenders talked tough Wednesday on cutting climate-damaging emissions from oil, gas and coal, turning their focus to global warming in a marathon evening of town halls that gave the candidates a chance to distinguish themselves on a topic of growing importance to their party’s liberal base.

The lengthy climate conversations promised to hand Republicans ammunition for next year’s general election fight by emphasizing one common element in the Democrats’ climate change plans: their overwhelming — and overwhelmingly costly — scope. But the 10 Democrats who participated in the seven-hour series of climate change forums on CNN didn’t shrink from making sweeping promises to reshape the American economy in service of what their party’s grassroots supporters see as the paramount goal of averting global warming’s most devastating effects.

“We have a moral responsibility to act and act boldly. And to do that, yes, it is going to be expensive,” said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who billed his $16 trillion climate change plan as a necessary response to scientists’ calls for dramatic cuts to carbon emissions.

Former Vice President Joe Biden took a more pragmatic view than Sanders, even as he defended his own climate proposal as “aggressive enough” to meet the challenge. Biden, who has held an early lead in the Democratic primary, has pledged to regulate the oilfield production method known as hydraulic fracturing — though not abolish it, as some rivals have — and said Wednesday that he doubted an outright ban could be feasible.

After facing sharp questions about his plans to attend a Thursday fundraiser hosted by the co-founder of a natural gas company, Biden defended his decision as consistent with a pledge he signed to turn away any contributions from fossil fuel executives or lobbyists. The energy investor in question, his former aide Andrew Goldman, is described in a company press release as “a long-term investor in the liquefied natural gas sector.”

Michigan to become 1st state to ban flavored e-cigarettes

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer moved Wednesday to make her state the first to ban flavored electronic cigarettes, accusing companies of using candy flavors and deceptive advertising to “hook children on nicotine.”

The Democrat ordered the state health department to issue emergency rules that will prohibit the sale of flavored nicotine vaping products, including to adults, and the misleading marketing of e-cigarettes. Retailers will have 30 days to comply with the rules once they’re filed in coming weeks. The rules will almost certainly be challenged in court.

New York last November began taking steps to bar the sale of flavored e-cigarettes but withdrew proposed rules, and legislators rejected Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal to clarify the state health department’s authority to limit sales.

The federal government and states ban the sale of vaping products to minors, yet government survey figures show that last year, one in five U.S. high school students reported vaping in the previous month. Top government health officials, including the surgeon general, have flagged the trend as an epidemic.

“This is a health crisis that we’re confronting, and it would never be permitted if it was cigarettes. We’re letting these companies target our kids, appeal to our kids and deceive our children,” Whitmer told reporters. Michigan’s chief medical executive determined that youth vaping constitutes a public health emergency.

YouTube to pay $170M fine after violating kids’ privacy law

WASHINGTON — Google will pay $170 million to settle allegations its YouTube video service collected personal data on children without their parents’ consent.

The company agreed to work with video creators to label material aimed at kids and said it will limit data collection when users view such videos, regardless of their age.

Some lawmakers and children’s advocacy groups, however, complained that the settlement terms aren’t strong enough to rein in a company whose parent, Alphabet, made a profit of $30.7 billion last year on revenue of $136.8 billion, mostly from targeted ads.

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Google will pay $136 million to the Federal Trade Commission and $34 million to New York state, which had a similar investigation. The fine is the largest the FTC has levied against Google, but it’s tiny compared with the $5 billion fine against Facebook this year for privacy violations.

YouTube “baited kids with nursery rhymes, cartoons, and more to feed its massively profitable behavioral advertising business,” Democratic Commissioner Rohit Chopra said in a tweet. “It was lucrative, and it was illegal.”

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