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.
US, Iran to speak at UN; Zelenskyy to appear from Ukraine
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Leaders of two of the world’s most-watched nations — U.S. President Joe Biden and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi — will be among those who have their say on the second day of the U.N. General Assembly’s first fully in-person meeting since the coronavirus pandemic began.
But the biggest draw Wednesday will likely be the only leader to be seen and heard but not actually there in the flesh: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskky, whose nation is at war with Russia.
The 193-member assembly voted last week to allow Zelenskyy to deliver a pre-recorded address because of his continuing need to deal with Russia’s invasion, making an exception to its requirement that all leaders speak in person. Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be attending the annual gathering of world leaders.
Unsurprisingly, Ukraine has been the center of attention at the assembly, with leader after world leader condemning Russia for attacking a sovereign nation. The war, which has already killed thousands, is driving up food prices around the globe while also causing energy costs to soar — a particularly worrisome issue heading into the winter. It has also raised fears of a nuclear catastrophe at Europe’s largest nuclear plant in Ukraine’s now Russia-occupied southeast.
Leaders from many countries are trying to prevent a wider conflict and restore peace in Europe. Diplomats, though, aren’t expecting any breakthroughs this week at the United Nations, where nearly 150 leaders are addressing each other and the world.
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.
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.
EXPLAINER: How alleged plot exploited pandemic to net $250M
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Department of Justice has charged 48 people in Minnesota in what prosecutors have called a $250 million scheme to defraud a federal meals program.
Prosecutors said just a fraction of the money went toward feeding kids, with the rest laundered through shell companies and spent on property, luxury cars and travel.
Here’s a look at how the alleged scheme worked, according to court documents:
ROOTS OF THE ALLEGED SCHEME
The defendants are accused of targeting federal child nutrition programs that provide free meals to low-income children and adults. The money comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with oversight from state governments. In Minnesota, the funds are administered by the state Department of Education, with meals historically provided to kids through schools and day care centers. Sites that serve the food are sponsored by authorized public or nonprofit groups.
Fiona threatens to become Category 4 storm headed to Bermuda
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Fiona threatened to strengthen into a Category 4 storm Wednesday as it lashed the Turks and Caicos Islands and was forecast to squeeze past Bermuda later this week.
The storm was blamed for causing at least four direct deaths in its march through the Caribbean, where it unleashed torrential rain in Puerto Rico, leaving a majority without power or water as hundreds of thousands of people scraped mud out of their homes following what authorities described as “historic” flooding.
Power company officials initially said it would take a couple of days for electricity to be fully restored but then appeared to backtrack late Tuesday night.
“Hurricane Fiona has severely impacted electrical infrastructure and generation facilities throughout the island. We want to make it very clear that efforts to restore and reenergize continue and are being affected by severe flooding, impassable roads, downed trees, deteriorating equipment, and downed lines,” said Luma, the company that operates power transmission and distribution.
The hum of generators could be heard across the island as people became increasingly exasperated, with some still trying to recover from Hurricane Maria, which hit as a Category 4 storm five years ago, killing an estimated 2,975 people in its aftermath.
Aaron Judge hits 60th homer, within 1 of Maris’ AL record
NEW YORK (AP) — Aaron Judge hit his 60th home run Tuesday night, matching Babe Ruth and moving within one of Roger Maris’ American League season record.
The New York Yankees slugger drove a 3-1 sinker from Pittsburgh’s Wil Crowe 430 feet to the left field seats leading off the ninth inning. Judge’s third home run in two games and ninth in September thrilled a screaming crowd at Yankee Stadium. He answered pleas for a curtain call despite New York’s 8-5 deficit.
He equaled Ruth’s total for the 1927 Yankees and has 15 games remaining to match and surpass Maris’ total for New York in 1961.
Judge leads the major leagues with 128 RBIs and is among the AL batting leaders with a .316 average as he tries for the first Triple Crown since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.
Ruth became the first major leaguer to hit 60 homers when he connected off Washington’s Tom Zachary for a two-run drive to right in the eighth inning on Sept. 30, 1927, the next-to-last game of the season.
‘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.
Migrants sue Florida governor over Martha’s Vineyard flights
BOSTON (AP) — Venezuelan migrants flown to the upscale Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his transportation secretary Tuesday for engaging in a “fraudulent and discriminatory scheme” to relocate them.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Boston, alleges that the migrants were told they were going to Boston or Washington, “which was completely false,” and were induced with perks such as $10 McDonald’s gift certificates.
“No human being should be used as a political pawn,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, which is seeking class-action status in the lawsuit filed on behalf of several migrants who were aboard last week’s flights and Alianza Americas, a network of advocacy groups.
“It is opportunistic that activists would use illegal immigrants for political theater,” said Taryn Fenske, DeSantis’ communication director, in a statement late Tuesday.
The lawsuit, which also names Secretary of Transportation Jared W. Perdue as a defendant, alleges that migrants were induced to cross state lines under false pretenses, a line that some Democratic officials are using to urge a federal investigation.
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.
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