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Tropical Storm Barry closes in with what could be epic rain

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Homeowners sandbagged their doors and tourists trying to get out of town jammed the airport Friday as Tropical Storm Barry began rolling in with the potential for an epic drenching that could prove whether New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana learned the lessons of Hurricane Katrina over a decade ago.

With the strengthening storm expected to blow ashore early Saturday near Morgan City as the first hurricane of the season, authorities rushed to close floodgates and raise the barriers around the New Orleans metropolitan area of 1.3 million people for fear of disastrous flooding.

About 3,000 National Guard troops along with other rescue crews were posted around the state with boats, high-water vehicles and helicopters. Drinking water was lined up, and utility crews with bucket trucks moved into position in the region.

“This is happening. … Your preparedness window is shrinking,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned. He added: “It’s powerful. It’s strengthening. And water is going to be a big issue.”

While 10,000 people or more in exposed, low-lying areas along the Gulf coast were told to leave, no evacuations were ordered in New Orleans, where city officials instead urged residents to “shelter in place” starting at 8 p.m.

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Report: FTC approves roughly $5B fine for Facebook

The FTC has voted to approve a fine of about $5 billion for Facebook over privacy violations, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The report cited an unnamed person familiar with the matter.

Facebook and the FTC declined to comment. The Journal said the 3-2 vote broke along party lines, with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition to the settlement.

In most cases the Justice Department’s civil division will review settlements by the FTC, and it is unclear how long the process would take. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the Facebook matter.

The fine would be the largest the FTC has levied on a tech company. But it won’t make much of a dent for Facebook, which had nearly $56 billion in revenue last year. Facebook has earmarked $3 billion for a potential fine and said in April it was anticipating having to pay up to $5 billion.

The report did not say what else the settlement includes beyond the fine, though it is expected to include limits on how Facebook treats user privacy. Some have called on the FTC to hold Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally liable for the privacy violations in some way, but based on the party line vote breakdown experts said this is not likely.

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Trump citizenship plan will face logistical, legal hurdles

WASHINGTON (AP) — After failing to get his citizenship question on the census, President Donald Trump now says his fallback plan will provide an even more accurate count — determining the citizenship of 90 percent of the population “or more.” But his plan will likely be limited by logistical hurdles and legal restrictions.

Trump wants to distill a massive trove of data across seven government agencies — and possibly across 50 states. It’s far from clear how such varying systems can be mined, combined and compared.

He directed the Commerce Department, which manages the census, to form a working group.

“The logistical barriers are significant, if not insurmountable,” said Paul Light, a senior fellow of Governance Studies at New York University with a long history of research in government reform. “The federal government does not invest, and hasn’t been investing for a long time, in the kind of data systems and recruitment of experts that this kind of database construction would require.”

Trump says he aims to answer how many people are here illegally, though there already are recent estimates , and possibly use such information to divvy up congressional seats based on citizenship. It’s also a way for Trump to show his base that he’s not backing down (even as he’s had to back down) from a battle over the question on his signature topic, immigration.

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Acosta exits; Trump’s big Cabinet turnover keeps growing

WASHINGTON (AP) — Adding to the lengthy list of departures from President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said Friday he’s stepping down amid the tumult over his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of sexually abusing underage girls.

Trump, with Acosta at his side, said Friday he did not ask his secretary to leave and “I hate to see this happen.” The president, who publicly faults the news media almost daily, said Acosta put the blame there, too.

Acosta “informed me this morning that he felt the constant drumbeat of press about a prosecution which took place under his watch more than 12 years ago was bad for the Administration, which he so strongly believes in, and he graciously tendered his resignation,” Trump tweeted later in the day.

Trump said Patrick Pizzella, deputy secretary since April 2018, would succeed Acosta on an acting basis.

Pizzella served in the administrations of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama. A coalition of civil rights, human rights, labor and other groups opposed his nomination by Trump to the department’s No. 2 slot, citing Pizzella’s record on labor rights.

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Epstein philanthropy since sex plea included all-girl school

NEW YORK (AP) — In the decade since striking a deal that required him to register as a sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein has sought to underwrite all manner of youth causes, such as a baseball program near his retreat in the U.S. Virgin Islands and an all-girls’ school a few blocks from his Manhattan mansion.

The Associated Press found that the wealthy financier’s donations included $15,000 to the exclusive Hewitt School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, $35,000 to the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland, and $25,000 to the Ecole du Bel-Air grade school in Haiti — all after he pleaded guilty in 2008 to charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution.

Epstein’s donations through his charitable foundations, though not in violation of his status as a sex offender, were nonetheless awkward for some recipients. They were also, at times, difficult to trace.

It wasn’t until later, when they realized a sex offender was behind the donations, that the school, the tennis center and the Haiti project returned the money.

It’s not clear why Epstein, who taught calculus and physics at Manhattan’s coed Dalton School in the 1970s, singled out the Hewitt School for the 2016 gift. Administrators at the 500-student school responded to questions by saying only that it immediately gave the money back after learning of the Epstein connection several months ago.

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House approves 9/11 victims bill, sends it to Senate

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a bill ensuring that a victims compensation fund for the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money.

The 402-12 vote sends the bill to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to call a vote before Congress goes on its August recess.

Lawmakers from both parties hailed the House vote, which comes a month after comedian Jon Stewart sharply criticized Congress for failing to act. Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, told lawmakers at an emotional hearing that they were showing “disrespect” to first responders now suffering from respiratory ailments and other illnesses as a result of their recovery work at the former World Trade Center site in New York City.

Stewart called the sparse attendance at the June 11 hearing “an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution.” He later targeted McConnell for slow-walking previous version of the legislation and using it as a political pawn to get other things done.

Stewart said Friday that replenishing the victims fund was “necessary, urgent and morally right.”

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Trump pushes trade deal in formerly blue Wisconsin

MILWAUKEE (AP) — President Donald Trump barnstormed for his new trade deal with Mexico and Canada during a visit to Wisconsin on Friday, hoping that its economic impact will help him to retain a battleground state vital to his re-election effort.

Trump told workers at Derco Aerospace the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which has yet to pass Congress, would be “vital to the future” of the nation’s manufacturing economy and would provide “the strongest protections yet for American workers.”

“I want you to have a level playing field because when you have a level playing field, nobody can beat you,” he said.

Trump in 2016 became the first Republican to win Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984, defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton by just 22,748 votes. Along with Michigan and Pennsylvania, the Rust Belt state was meant to be part of the Democrats’ safety net against Trump, but Clinton failed to visit the state even once during the general election campaign — a fact the president misses few chances to mention.

Trump opened his Milwaukee speech by reminiscing about his Wisconsin victory on Election Day, then did a quick segue to promoting the trade pact.

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US deciding how to punish ally Turkey over Russian arms deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. edged closer to crisis Friday with NATO ally Turkey, which began receiving components of a Russian-made air defense system in defiance of Trump administration warnings that the deal would mean economic sanctions and no access to America’s most advanced fighter jet.

Despite the warnings, the administration was publicly silent on how it would respond to Turkey’s announcement Friday that it received the first shipment of the S-400 system. After saying it would hold a news conference Friday morning to discuss the issue, the Pentagon later told reporters that it had been postponed “indefinitely.”

The acting secretary of defense, Mark Esper, spoke by phone with his Turkish counterpart for 30 minutes, but the Pentagon declined to discuss the call.

Members of Congress, however, were quick to condemn.

“That a NATO ally would choose to side with Russia and Vladimir Putin over the alliance and closer cooperation with the United States is hard to fathom,” the Democratic chairman and the ranking Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a joint statement.

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Sudden turbulence that injured dozens is hard to predict

HONOLULU (AP) — Passengers on a flight from Canada to Australia said they had no warning about turbulence that suddenly slammed people into the ceiling of the plane and injured more than three dozen — a phenomenon that experts say can be nearly impossible for pilots to see coming.

The Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Sydney faced “un-forecasted and sudden turbulence” about two hours past Hawaii on Thursday, and the plane diverted to Honolulu, airline spokeswoman Angela Mah said.

The flight made an emergency landing after 37 people were injured, nine seriously, during the sudden loss of altitude that sent people flying into the luggage compartments and aisles of the airplane.

The plane may have run into clear air turbulence , which is caused by wind patterns with no visible warning in the sky or ability for aircraft radar to pick it up. Weather forecasters also can’t help warn pilots, said Thomas Guinn of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

“It’s probably one of the most challenging forecast problems we have right now for aviation meteorology,” he said.

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EPA restores broad use of pesticide opposed by beekeepers

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency will allow farmers to resume broad use of a pesticide over objections from beekeepers, citing private chemical industry studies that the agency says show the product does only lower-level harm to bees and wildlife.

Friday’s EPA announcement — coming after the agriculture industry accused the agency of unduly favoring honeybees — makes sulfoxaflor the latest bug- and weed-killer allowed by the Trump administration despite lawsuits alleging environmental or human harm. The pesticide is made by Corteva Agriscience, a spinoff created last month out of the DowDuPont merger and restructuring.

Honeybees pollinate billions of dollars of food crops annually in the United States, but agriculture and other land uses that cut into their supply of pollen, as well as pesticides, parasites and other threats, have them on a sharp decline. The University of Maryland said U.S. beekeepers lost 38 percent of their bee colonies last winter alone, the highest one-winter loss in the 13-year history of their survey.

Emails and other records obtained from the EPA through Freedom of Information Act litigation by the Sierra Club, and provided to The Associated Press, show sorghum growers in particular had pressed senior officials at the agency for a return to broad use of sulfoxaflor.

Sorghum growers regard honeybees as just another “non-native livestock” in the United States, lobbyist Joe Bischoff said in one 2017 email to agency officials, and by cutting threats to the bees, “EPA has chosen that form of agriculture over all others.”