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Israel’s Netanyahu appears to suffer setback in exit polls

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fell short of securing a parliamentary majority with his religious and nationalist allies in national elections Tuesday, initial exit polls showed, setting the stage for a period of coalition negotiations that could threaten his political future and clear the way for him to be tried on corruption charges.

Initial results posted by Israel’s three major television stations showed challenger Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party tied or with a slight lead over Netanyahu’s Likud. While the results do not guarantee that Gantz will be the next prime minister, they signaled that Netanyahu, who has led the country for over 10 years, could have trouble holding on to the job.

Addressing his supporters early Wednesday, Netanyahu refused to concede defeat and vowed to work to form a new government that excludes Arab parties. His campaign focused heavily on attacking and questioning the loyalty of the country’s Arab minority — a strategy that drew accusations of racism and incitement from Arab leaders.

“In the coming days we will convene negotiations to assemble a strong Zionist government and to prevent a dangerous anti-Zionist government,” he said. He claimed that Arab parties “negate the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” and “glorify bloodthirsty murderers.”

Israeli exit polls are often imprecise, and final results, expected Wednesday, could still swing in Netanyahu’s favor. But all three stations predicted a similar outcome.

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Gamble pays off for Lieberman, who becomes Israeli kingmaker

JERUSALEM (AP) — The veteran Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman took the political gamble of his life when he spurned his mentor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and forced an unprecedented repeat election. As results began rolling in from Tuesday’s vote, it appeared to have paid off.

With neither Netanyahu’s Likud nor former military chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party forecast to secure a majority in the 120-seat parliament without his support, Lieberman has emerged as the election’s true winner — the one most likely to dictate the makeup of the next government.

Lieberman passed up the post of defense minister in Netanyahu’s government following April’s election and refused to join the new coalition because of what he said was the excessive influence it granted to ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties. His exit left the prime minister one seat short of a parliamentary majority. Instead of allowing an alternative candidate a chance to form a government, Netanyahu dissolved parliament and called another snap election — launching a scathing campaign aimed at ending the career of his former protégé.

But now it may turn out to be the other way around.

Initial exit polls gave Lieberman’s hard-line Yisrael Beitenu party 8-10 seats in parliament, nearly doubling his previous tally. He campaigned on a promise to force a secular unity government between Likud and Blue and White that would leave out the ultra-Orthodox parties. The twist is that Gantz, whose party seems to have edged Likud, has ruled out sitting with a Netanyahu-led Likud at a time when the prime minister is expected to be indicted on corruption charges in the coming weeks. That could spell the end of Netanyahu’s lengthy rule.

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Coral gardeners bring back Jamaica’s reefs, piece by piece

OCHO RIOS, Jamaica (AP) — Everton Simpson squints at the Caribbean from his motorboat, scanning the dazzling bands of color for hints of what lies beneath. Emerald green indicates sandy bottoms. Sapphire blue lies above seagrass meadows. And deep indigo marks coral reefs. That’s where he’s headed.

He steers the boat to an unmarked spot that he knows as the “coral nursery.” ”It’s like a forest under the sea,” he says, strapping on blue flippers and fastening his tank before tipping backward into the azure waters. He swims down 25 feet (7.6 meters) carrying a pair of metal shears, fishing line and a plastic crate.

On the ocean floor, small coral fragments dangle from suspended ropes, like socks hung on a laundry line. Simpson and other divers tend to this underwater nursery as gardeners mind a flower bed — slowly and painstakingly plucking off snails and fireworms that feast on immature coral.

When each stub grows to about the size of a human hand, Simpson collects them in his crate to individually “transplant” onto a reef, a process akin to planting each blade of grass in a lawn separately.

Even fast-growing coral species add just a few inches a year. And it’s not possible to simply scatter seeds.

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Trump strains to balance diplomacy, military threat to Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration tried to balance diplomacy with fresh talk of military action Tuesday in response to the fiery missile and drone attack on the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry — a strike marking the most explosive consequence yet of the “maximum pressure” U.S. economic campaign against Iran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was headed to Jiddah in Saudi Arabia to discuss possible responses to what U.S. officials believe was an attack coming from Iranian soil. President Donald Trump said he’d “prefer not” to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at next week’s U.N. session but “I never rule anything out.”

Iran continued to deny involvement in last weekend’s attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing plant and its Khurais oil field, a strike that interrupted the equivalent of about 5% of the world’s daily supply. Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said Tuesday that more than half of the country’s daily crude oil production that was knocked out by the attack had been recovered and production capacity at the targeted plants would be fully restored by the end of the month.

The Trump administration was moving cautiously as it navigated competing impulses — seeking to keep up a pressure campaign aimed at forcing Tehran to negotiate on broader issues with the U.S. while deterring any further Iranian attacks and avoiding another Middle East war. It all was occurring as the administration deals with a host of other foreign policy issues and has no national security adviser, following the recent ouster of John Bolton.

Echoing Trump’s warning from earlier in the week, Vice President Mike Pence said American forces were “locked and loaded” for war if needed. But he also noted that Trump said he doesn’t want war with Iran or anyone else.

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Panel approves ban on sale of flavored e-cigs in New York

NEW YORK (AP) — New York became the first state to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes Tuesday, a move that comes as federal health officials investigate a mysterious surge of severe breathing illnesses linked to vaping.

The vote by the state Public Health and Health Planning Council means the prohibition, which covers flavored e-cigarettes and other vaping products except for menthol and tobacco flavors, goes into effect immediately. Retailers will have two weeks to remove merchandise from store shelves.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, had proposed the emergency ban Sunday , citing surging use among young people.

According to data from the state health department, nearly 40% of high school seniors and 27% of high school students overall in the state use e-cigarettes. Use among high-school students went from 10.5% in 2014 to 27.4% in 2018.

Cuomo pointed to vaping flavors like bubblegum and cotton candy that he said seemed aimed at young people.

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Lewandowski, House Democrats spar at impeachment hearing

WASHINGTON (AP) — The first impeachment hearing held by House Democrats quickly turned hostile on Tuesday as their sole witness, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, stonewalled many of their questions and declared they were “focusing on petty and personal politics.”

Lewandowski, a devoted friend and supporter of President Donald Trump, followed White House orders not to discuss conversations with the president beyond what was already public in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Trump cheered him along as he testified, tweeting that Lewandowski’s opening statement was “beautiful.”

The hearing underscores what has been a central dilemma for the House Judiciary Committee all year as they investigate — and potentially try to impeach — Trump. Many of the Democrats’ base supporters want them to move quickly to try to remove Trump from office. But the White House has blocked their oversight requests at almost every turn, declining to provide new documents or allow aides and associates to testify.

On Tuesday, Lewandowski, who is considering a run for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire, defiantly made clear he wouldn’t make life easy for the Democrats. He demanded that they provide him a copy of the Mueller report, sending Democratic staff scrambling to find one. He read directly from the report and asked Democrats to read passages to him, showing that he wouldn’t say much beyond what Mueller wrote. Republicans on the panel forced a series of procedural votes, immediately sending the hearing into disarray.

“He’s filibustering,” said a frustrated House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.

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South Korea downgrades Japan trade status as dispute deepens

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea on Wednesday followed through with plans to drop Japan from a list of countries receiving fast-track approvals in trade, a reaction to a similar move by Tokyo to downgrade Seoul’s trade status amid a tense diplomatic dispute.

South Korea’ trade ministry said Japan’s removal from a 29-member “white list” of nations enjoying minimum trade restrictions went into effect as Seoul rearranged its export control system covering hundreds of sensitive materials that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.

The change comes a week after South Korea initiated a complaint to the World Trade Organization over a separate Japanese move to tighten export controls on key chemicals South Korean companies use to manufacture semiconductors and displays.

Seoul has accused Tokyo of weaponizing trade to retaliate against South Korean court rulings calling for Japanese companies to offer reparations to South Koreans forced into labor during World War II. Tokyo’s measures struck a nerve in South Korea, where many still harbor resentment over Japan’s brutal colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

According to South Korean trade ministry, with the new measures in effect it can now take up to 15 days for South Korean companies to gain approvals to export sensitive materials to Japan, compared to the five days or less it took under a simpler inspection process provided for favored trade partners.

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Trump outpaces Obama, Bush in naming ex-lobbyists to Cabinet

WASHINGTON (AP) — In less than three years, President Donald Trump has named more former lobbyists to Cabinet-level posts than his most recent predecessors did in eight, putting a substantial amount of oversight in the hands of people with ties to the industries they’re regulating.

The Cabinet choices are another sign that Trump’s populist pledge to “drain the swamp” is a catchy campaign slogan but not a serious attempt to change the way Washington works. Instead of staring down “the unholy alliance of lobbyists and donors and special interests” as Trump recently declared, the influence industry has flourished during his administration.

The amount spent in 2019 on lobbying the U.S. government is on pace to match or exceed last year’s total of $3.4 billion, the most since 2010, according to the political money website Open Secrets. Trump also has pulled in hefty contributions from industries with business before his administration, and his hotel near the White House has been a magnet for lobbyists and foreign interests since he was elected.

“An administration staffed by former industry lobbyists will almost certainly favor industry over the general public, because that’s the outlook they’re bringing to the job,” said Lee Drutman, a senior fellow in the political reform program at the think tank New America and author of the book “The Business of America is Lobbying.”

Former lobbyists run the Defense and Interior departments, Environmental Protection Agency and office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The acting Labor secretary, Pat Pizzella, is a former lobbyist and Trump’s pick to run the department, Eugene Scalia, also is an ex-lobbyist. Scalia’s confirmation hearing before a GOP-controlled Senate committee is scheduled for Thursday and Democrats are expected to grill him on his long record of opposing federal regulations .

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‘Blood money’? Purdue settlement would rely on opioid sales

The tentative multibillion-dollar settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma would raise money to help clean up the opioid mess by … selling more OxyContin.

That would amount to blood money, in the opinion of some critics. And it’s one reason two dozen states have rejected the deal.

“The settlement agreement basically requires the settlement payments to be made based on the future sales and profits of opioids. That doesn’t really feel to me like the right way to do this,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said this week.

Massachusetts is among several states that have pledged to continue pushing back in court against the company and especially members of the Sackler family, which owns Purdue. On Tuesday, North Carolina became the latest state to sue the Sacklers.

Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue, cast as a major villain in the opioid crisis in some 2,600 lawsuits brought by state, local and tribal governments, hospitals, unions and others, filed for bankruptcy Sunday in the first step toward putting the settlement into effect.

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Gaming heavyweights raise $17M for new esports network

NEW YORK (AP) — A new venture backed by many of video gaming’s biggest publishers is unveiling a network that hopes to be to esports what ESPN has been to traditional sports.

VENN is set to launch in 2020 and aims to give the fragmented esports scene a home base for content with higher production value than gamers are used to with online streaming. The network was co-founded by four-time Emmy-winning producer Ariel Horn and entrepreneur Ben Kusin and has raised $17 million from investors including co-founders from Twitch, Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment.

VENN, short for Video Game Entertainment and News Network, will debut with live studios in New York and Los Angeles. There is expected to be 55 hours of original programming per week, including gamer streams, talk shows, documentaries and live esport events. It already has deals in place to broadcast on Twitch and YouTube and expects to be available on mediums like Roku or Sling.

Esports revenues are expected to top $1 billion this year, and global viewership numbers are rivaling those of traditional sports — nearly 100 million viewers watched last year’s League of Legends world championship, roughly on par with TV viewership for the Super Bowl.

Yet the industry remains disjointed. Just like not all football fans also watch hockey, Fortnite players aren’t necessarily keeping tabs on League of Legends or Overwatch. Creating a common space for all those gamers has proven difficult. Perhaps the closest thing is the online streaming platform Twitch, but gamers there tend to find streams specific to their interest, creating little overlap with other gaming domains.