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Trump bans dealings with Chinese owners of TikTok, WeChat

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered an unspecified ban on “transactions” with the Chinese owners of the consumer apps TikTok and WeChat, although it remains unclear if he has the legal authority to actually ban the apps from the U.S.

The twin executive orders — one for each app — take effect in 45 days. They call on the Commerce Secretary to define the banned transactions by that time. The orders’ wording is vague, but leaves open the possibility that hosting the apps in the Apple and Google app stores could be covered by the ban.

Trump had threatened a deadline of Sept. 15 to “close down” TikTok unless Microsoft or another company bought it. TikTok, Microsoft and WeChat owner Tencent had no immediate replies to queries.

“This is an unprecedented use of presidential authority,” Eurasia Group analyst Paul Triolo said in an email. At a minimum, he said, the orders appear to “constitute a ban on the ability of U.S. app stores run by Apple and Google to include either mobile app after 45 days.”

Triolo said it’s possible the orders would face legal challenges, and warned that Beijing is likely to “react harshly at least rhetorically.” Trump’s orders cited legal authority from the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the National Emergencies Act.

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‘Worst nightmare’: Laid-off workers endure loss of $600 aid

An unemployed makeup artist with two toddlers and a disabled husband needs help with food and rent. A hotel manager says his unemployment has deepened his anxiety and kept him awake at night. A dental hygienist, pregnant with her second child, is struggling to afford diapers and formula.

Around the country, across industries and occupations, millions of Americans thrown out of work because of the coronavirus are straining to afford the basics now that an extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits has expired.

“My worst nightmare is coming true,” said Liz Ness, a laid-off recruiter at a New Orleans staffing agency who fears she will be evicted next month without the added help from Washington. “Summer 2020 could be next year’s horror movie.”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are struggling to work out an agreement that would restore some federal jobless aid. A marathon meeting in the Capitol on Thursday night generated lots of recriminations but little progress on the top issues confronting negotiators. Even if they do reach a deal, the amount is likely to be less than $600. And by the time the money starts flowing, it could be too late for many Americans who are already in dire straits

“Members of Congress may have the luxury to come to an agreement this week and vote next week and then roll it out over several weeks,” said Brian Gallagher, CEO of United Way Worldwide. “Families don’t have that luxury — they are out of money tomorrow.”

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Virus talks on brink of collapse, sides still ‘far apart’

WASHINGTON (AP) — Washington talks on vital COVID-19 rescue money are teetering on the brink of collapse after a marathon meeting in the Capitol Thursday night generated a wave of recriminations but little progress on the top issues confronting negotiators.

“There’s a handful of very big issues that we are still very far apart” on, said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who depicted a stalemate on aid to states and local governments and renewing supplemental unemployment benefits.

Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said they would return to the White House to brief President Donald Trump to consider next steps. Democratic negotiators pleaded for talks to continue.

Both sides said the future of the negotiations is uncertain. Trump is considering executive orders to address evictions and unemployment insurance in the coming days.

“The President’s first choice is to do a deal. We’ve said that,” Mnuchin told reporters. “If we conclude tomorrow that there is not a compromise position on the major issues the president has alternatives.”

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AP Analysis: Will Beirut’s blast be a catalyst for change?

BEIRUT (AP) — The massive explosion and devastation triggered by thousands of tons of chemicals improperly stored in Beirut’s port is the culmination of decades of corruption that has driven one of the Middle East’s most spirited countries to ruin.

The staggering destruction, with losses in the billions of dollars, will compound Lebanon’s multiple humanitarian catastrophes. Its people are seething with rage as they are pushed into even more poverty and despair by an accident that appears to have been completely avoidable.

But it remains to be seen whether it will serve as the long-awaited catalyst to dislodge an entrenched political class responsible for years of graft and mismanagement. Even if it does end up being the spark for change, it will likely take years of instability and unrest, spurred by dismal economic conditions, to get there.

Lebanon’s rulers, many of them warlords and militia holdovers from the days of the 1975-90 civil war, have proven to be extremely resilient. They hang on to their seats from one election to the next, largely because of the country’s sectarian power-sharing system and an antiquated electoral law that allows them to behave with virtual impunity while guaranteeing their political survival.

The Lebanese people rose up many times before, including 15 years ago when former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a truck bombing; in 2015’s “You Stink” protest movement during the garbage-collection crisis; and most recently in October, at the onset of the economic crisis. Each time, they eventually became disillusioned and beset by divisions as political parties hijacked and co-opted their protests.

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Hagerty vs. Bradshaw in race to succeed US Sen. Alexander

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty and Black activist Marquita Bradshaw will face off in November to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander after their respective victories in primary elections on Thursday.

Hagerty defeated Nashville trauma surgeon Manny Sethi in the Republican primary, while Bradshaw scored an upset win over former Army helicopter pilot James Mackler in the Democratic primary, despite being far outraised by Mackler, who was endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and others. Bradshaw will have an uphill battle: Republicans have held both Senate seats in Tennessee since 1994.

Hagerty, a Nashville businessman, emerged from a tough challenge from Sethi to clinch his party’s nomination. Last July, President Donald Trump let Tennessee voters know he would back Hagerty for the seat, months before Hagerty declared himself a candidate. Sethi had already been running for about a month when Trump’s tweet turned the contest upside down.

Hagerty proceeded to ignore Sethi for most of the campaign, until back-and-forth attacks opened up a few weeks ago and never slowed down. Hagerty leveraged Trump’s endorsement to brush back attacks on his previous business and political ties to Mitt Romney, who was once the GOP presidential nominee and now, according to Hagerty, is a “weak-kneed” Republican senator who voted to convict Trump during the impeachment trial.

Hagerty had other big political names on his side beyond Trump. He had endorsements from Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, while others backed him with campaign cash, including Sen. Alexander through his PAC and former Gov. Bill Haslam, for whom Hagerty served as state economic development commissioner.

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DeWine tests negative after positive test before Trump visit

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tested negative for COVID-19 on Thursday after testing positive earlier in the day before he was to meet with President Donald Trump, according to a statement from his office.

His wife, Fran DeWine, also tested negative, as did staff members. They underwent a different type of test in Columbus; one considered to be more accurate than the rapid-result test which showed DeWine to be positive for COVID-19 just ahead of a planned meeting with Trump in Cleveland.

The conflicting results underscore the problems with both kinds of tests and are bound to spur more questions about them. Many people in the U.S. can’t get lab results on the more accurate version for weeks, rather than the few hours it took the governor to find out.

The governor and first lady plan to undergo another test Saturday, according to the statement.

DeWine, an early advocate among Republicans of wearing masks and other pandemic precautions, said he took a test arranged by the White House in Cleveland as part of standard protocol before he was to meet Trump at an airport. He had planned to join the president on a visit to the Whirlpool Corp. plant in northwest Ohio.

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Kim visits North Korea flood zone, orders shelter, food aid

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Leader Kim Jong Un visited parts of southern North Korea where days of torrential rains have flooded hundreds of houses and vast areas of agricultural land, state media reported Friday.

It’s rare for Kim to visit a flood-stricken site. The last time state media reported about Kim’s such visit was in September 2015, when he inspected recovery work at a flood-hit northeast city, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

Kim’s latest visit could be seen an effort to bolster an image of a leader caring about public livelihoods at a time when the North’s economic woes are believed to have worsened due to the coronavirus pandemic that forced it to close its border with China, its biggest trading partner, in January. Extensive flooding would add to the North’s economic troubles.

The Korean Central News Agency said Friday Kim inspected a town in North Hwanghae province where a water levee gave way due to the heavy rains and rainstorm.

It said the levee break left more than 730 single-floored houses and 600-odd hectares of rice field inundated and 179 housing blocks destroyed in Unpha County. KCNA said no human casualties have been reported.

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Milwaukee chief demoted over tear-gas use, other concerns

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — An oversight board demoted Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales on Thursday after questioning how he handled multiple incidents, including ordering officers to fire tear gas and pepper spray at protesters demonstrating over George Floyd’s death.

The city’s Fire and Police Commission unanimously voted Thursday evening to demote Morales to captain after three-and-a-half years on the job.

The chief’s attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, says Morales’ relationship with the commission has been deteriorating since he refused the chairman’s demand to fire an officer involved in the arrest of Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown in January 2018. Most recently the commission criticized Morales for authorizing tear gas to disperse protesters. The board has also raised questions over how the department has policed Black communities.

Morales joined the Milwaukee department in 1993 and was appointed chief in February 2018.

“His conduct is unbecoming, filled with ethical lapses and flawed decisions, making it inconsistent with someone who has the privilege of leading the Milwaukee Police Department,” Commissioner Raymond Robakowski said.

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New York attorney general seeks to dissolve NRA

NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s attorney general sued the National Rifle Association on Thursday, seeking to put the powerful gun advocacy organization out of business over claims that top executives illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars for lavish personal trips, no-show contracts for associates and other questionable expenditures.

Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit, filed in Manhattan state court, highlighted misspending and self-dealing claims that have roiled the NRA and its longtime leader, Wayne LaPierre, in recent years — from hair and makeup for his wife to a $17 million post-employment contract for himself.

“It’s clear that the NRA has been failing to carry out its stated mission for many, many years and instead has operated as a breeding ground for greed, abuse and brazen illegality,” she said at a news conference. “Enough was enough. We needed to step in and dissolve this corporation.”

Simultaneously, Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine — like James, a Democrat — sued the NRA Foundation, a charitable arm of the organization that provides programs for marksmanship and firearm safety, accusing it of diverting funds to the NRA to help pay for lavish spending by top executives.

In a statement, NRA President Carolyn Meadows labeled James a “political opportunist” pursuing a “rank vendetta” with an attack on its members’ Second Amendment rights.

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Hurricane Alpha? Amped up season forecast, names may run out

Already smashing records, this year’s hyperactive Atlantic hurricane season is about to get even nastier, forecasters predict. In the coming months, they expect to run out of traditional hurricane names and see about twice as much storm activity as a normal year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday upped its seasonal forecast, now predicting a far-above-average 19 to 25 named storms — seven to 11 of them to become hurricanes and three to six of those to become major hurricanes with winds of at least 111 mph (178 kph). That’s a few more storms than the agency’s May forecast. The agency increased the chance of an above average hurricane season from 60% to 85%.

“It looks like this season could be one of the more active in the historical record,” but it’s unlikely to be beat 2005’s 28 named storms because the oceans were warmer and other conditions were more conducive to storm formation 15 years ago, said NOAA lead forecaster Gerry Bell.

This year’s forecast of up to 25 is the highest number NOAA has ever predicted, beating the 21 predicted for 2005, Bell said.

Colorado State University, which pioneered hurricane season forecasts decades ago, on Wednesday amped its forecast to 24 named storms, 12 hurricanes and 5 major hurricanes — all higher than their June forecast.