Body of missing swimmer found in Columbia River near I-5 Bridge
The body of an Oregon man who went missing earlier this week in the Columbia River was recovered Friday morning near the Interstate 5 Bridge.
Stephen Coward, 56, of Hillsboro was last seen around 6:30 p.m. Monday swimming near Sand Island. Friends called 911 when they saw Coward disappear under the water after struggling to return to shore, according to a press release from the Multnomah County, Ore., Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies responded about 8 a.m. Friday for a report of a body in the river near the I-5 Bridge, the sheriff’s office said, and recovered Coward’s body.
Strikes on Iran-backed militias threaten to destabilize Iraq
BAGHDAD — An Israeli airstrike on an Iranian weapons depot in Iraq, confirmed by U.S. officials, is threatening to destabilize security in the volatile country that has struggled to remain neutral in the conflict between Washington and Tehran.
It would be the first known Israeli airstrike in Iraq since 1981, when Israeli warplanes destroyed a nuclear reactor being built by Saddam Hussein, and significantly expands Israel’s campaign against Iranian military involvement in the region.
The July 19 attack targeted a base belonging to Iranian-backed paramilitary forces in Amirli in the northern Salaheddin province, and killed two Iranians. The attack was followed by at least two other mysterious explosions at munitions depot near Baghdad belonging to the militias.
No one has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks, which have set back security and stability in the country just as it appeared to be on the path to recovery following a devastating fight against the Islamic State group, and decades of war and conflict before that.
Earlier this week, the deputy head of the Iraqi Shiite militias, known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces, openly accused Israeli drones of carrying out the attacks but ultimately blamed Washington for allowing it to happen and threatened strong retaliation for any future attack.
Iraq’s government, by contrast, has said it is investigating the attacks and has yet to determine who was behind them, warning against attempts to drag Iraq into any confrontation.
Security analyst Motaz Mohieh said Iraq’s weak government will not be able to announce the results of its investigation “because it will constitute an embarrassment” for it.
“These strikes will continue to target the factions associated with Iran that cause a threat to Israel and the U.S. presence,” he predicted.
The fallout could affect the future of thousands of American troops in Iraq, providing ammunition and pretext for hard-line factions who want them to leave.
Significantly, a leading Shiite Muslim cleric followed by some Iraqi militant factions issued a public religious edict, or fatwa, on Friday that forbids the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq following the strikes.
In his fatwa, Iran-based Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri also urged Iraq’s armed forces to “resist and confront the (U.S.) enemy,” a call that is likely to inflame tensions in Iraq.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also weighed in, warning of a “strong response” if it is proven that Israel was behind the recent airstrikes in Iraq.
In statements issued by his office, he also said that if Israel continues to target Iraq, the country “will transform into a battle arena that drags in multiple countries, including Iran.”
U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, but returned in 2014 at the invitation of the government to help battle IS after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country, including the second-largest city, Mosul. A U.S.-led coalition provided crucial air support as Iraqi forces regrouped and drove IS out in a costly three-year campaign.
The U.S. maintains about 5,000 troops in Iraq, and some groups say there’s no longer a justification for them to be there now that IS has been defeated.
The comments by al-Maliki, who was prime minister for eight years and now heads a Shiite bloc in parliament, follow fiery threats to the U.S. made hours earlier by the powerful Hezbollah Brigades, an Iran-backed militia. In a statement, it held the U.S. responsible for the strikes and said any new attacks will be met with a harsh response.
“Be sure that if the confrontation between us starts, it will only end with your removal from the region once and for all,” it said.
Two U.S. officials said Israel carried out an attack on the Iranian weapons depot in July that killed two Iranian military commanders. The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
France threatens Brazil with economic retaliation over Amazon fires
BIARRITZ, France — In a sharp escalation of tensions over fires ravaging the Amazon, France on Friday accused Brazil’s president of having lied to French leader Emmanuel Macron and threatened to block a European Union trade deal with South American states including Brazil.
Ireland joined in the threat of possible economic repercussions for Brazil and its South American neighbors, starkly illustrating how the Amazon is becoming a battleground between Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and increasingly critical governments alarmed that vast swathes of the rainforest are going up in smoke.
Having won support from other governments, but infuriated Bolsonaro, by putting the Amazon wildfires on the radar of world leaders gathering for a Group of Seven summit in France, Macron then further upped the stakes and the pressure with a bluntly-worded statement from his office Friday that took direct aim at Bolsonaro’s trustworthiness.
“In light of Brazil’s attitude these recent weeks,” the statement said, Macron “can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him during the Osaka Summit” in June where governments agreed on the “urgent need” to tackle climate change, pollution and environmental destruction.
“The decisions and statements from Brazil these recent weeks show clearly that President Bolsonaro has decided to not respect his commitments on the climate, nor to involve himself on the issue of biodiversity.”
As a consequence, France now opposes an EU trade deal “in its current state” with the Mercosur bloc of South American nations that includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar also said “there is no way that Ireland will vote” for the deal “if Brazil does not honor its environmental commitments.”
The tariff-slashing deal was billed as the EU’s largest ever trade agreement when struck in June. The deal also re-committed Mercosur nations to the Paris climate accord aimed at limiting global warming, which included pledged Brazilian action to stop illegal deforestation in the Amazon.
UN: Don’t worry about microplastics in water
GENEVA — The World Health Organization says the levels of microplastics in drinking water don’t appear to be risky, but that research has been spotty and more is needed into their effects on the environment and health.
Microplastics are created when man-made materials break down into tiny particles smaller than about 5 millimeters (roughly one-fifth of an inch), although there is no strict scientific definition.
In a report published Wednesday, the U.N. health agency said the minuscule plastics are “ubiquitous in the environment” and have been found in drinking water, including both tap and bottled, most likely as the result of treatment and distribution systems.
“But just because we’re ingesting them doesn’t mean we have a risk to human health,” said Bruce Gordon, WHO’s coordinator of water, sanitation and hygiene. “The main conclusion is, I think, if you are a consumer drinking bottled water or tap water, you shouldn’t necessarily be concerned.”
Gordon acknowledged, however, that the available data is “weak” and that more research is needed. He also urged broader efforts to reduce plastic pollution.
The report is WHO’s first review to investigate the potential human health risks of microplastics. It said people have inadvertently consumed microplastics and other particles in the environment for decades without sign of harm.
Andrew Mayes, a senior lecturer in chemistry at Britain’s University of East Anglia who didn’t participate in the WHO report, agreed that microplastics in water don’t appear to be a health worry for now.
“But I wouldn’t want people to go away with the idea that microplastics are no longer important,” because they might be harming the environment, he said. He said stronger measures to reduce plastic are needed.
“We know that these types of materials cause stress to small organisms,” he said. “They could be doing a lot of damage in unseen ways.”
“Even if we stop (adding) plastic to the environment right now, microplastics will increase as larger pieces divide into smaller and smaller pieces,” Mayes said, adding scientists have little understanding of the long-term consequences.
WHO called for further analysis of microplastics in the environment and their potential health significance.
Gordon said that although WHO would continue to monitor levels of microplastics in water, the higher priority is proven risks in drinking water like bacteria that cause typhoid and cholera.
“These are things that cause immediate illness and can kill a million people,” he said.
Japan leader: S. Korea ending intel agreement damages trust
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said South Korea’s decision to cancel a deal to share military intelligence, mainly on North Korea, is damaging mutual trust and vowed Friday to work closely with the U.S. for regional peace.
Abe also accused South Korea of not keeping past promises. The intelligence agreement started in 2016.
“We will continue to closely coordinate with the U.S. to ensure regional peace and prosperity, as well as Japan’s security,” he said ahead of his departure for the Group of Seven summit of industrialized nations in France.
South Korea announced Thursday it would terminate the intelligence deal because Tokyo’s decision to downgrade South Korea’s preferential trade status had caused a “grave” change in the security cooperation between the countries. Seoul says it will downgrade Tokyo’s trade status as well, a change that would take effect in September.
Senior South Korean presidential official Kim Hyun-chong on Friday defended his government’s decision. He told reporters that “there is no longer any justification” for South Korea to continue the deal because of Japan’s claim that basic trust between the countries had been undermined.
South Korea has accused Japan of weaponizing trade to punish it over a separate dispute linked to Japan’s brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Japan denies any retaliation.
Kim accused Japan of having ignored South Korea’s repeated calls for dialogue and other conciliatory steps to resolve the bitter trade and history disputes. He said Japan’s “breach of diplomatic etiquette” had undermined “our national pride.”
Japan has claimed all wartime compensation issues were settled when the two countries normalized relations under a 1965 treaty.
But South Korea’s Supreme Court last year ruled that the deal did not cover individual rights to seek reparations and has ordered compensation for victims of forced labor under Japan’s colonial rule.
South Korea’s decision on the military intelligence pact came as a surprise to many and underlined how much relations with Japan have deteriorated.
The U.S. sees both South Korea and Japan as important allies in northern Asia amid continuing threats from North Korea and China. The Pentagon expressed “strong concern and disappointment” over the collapse of the agreement.
Kim said South Korea will push to bolster its alliance with the United States. He said South Korea will also try to actively use a trilateral intelligence-sharing channel with the United States and Japan.
China, North Korea’s last major ally, which earlier criticized the intelligence deal, said Friday that it respects South Korea’s “independent right of a sovereign state” to take the step.
“The bilateral arrangements between the relevant sides should be in favor of regional peace and stability and the peace process of the peninsula. It should not harm the interests of any third parties,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a daily briefing.
Despite ample signs of friendly relations between their people, such as the popularity of K-pop in Japan and of Japanese animation in South Korea, the nations are entangled in a history that has bred animosity.
“The weight of past history influences current relations,” said Daniel Sneider, lecturer in international policy at Stanford University, noting that generations that never directly experienced the colonial and wartime past can still be affected.
Sneider also warned that an easy exit for the Japan-Korea tensions was not in sight.
“Korea certainly was a historical victim in that sense from the countries around it. That’s very embedded in the historical memory that is created for Koreans. It’s in their school curriculum, and it’s in their popular culture,” he said.
President to send army to contain Amazon fires
PORTO VELHO, Brazil — Under increasing international pressure to contain fires sweeping parts of the Amazon, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday authorized use of the military to battle the massive blazes.
Brazilian forces will deploy starting today to border areas, indigenous territories and other affected regions in the Amazon to assist in putting out fires for a month, said a presidential decree.
The armed forces will collaborate with public security and environmental protection agencies, the decree says. Bolsonaro’s office confirmed that he had signed it.
Bolsonaro has previously described rainforest protections as an obstacle to economic development, sparring with critics who note that the Amazon produces vast amounts of oxygen and is considered crucial in efforts to curb global warming.
An Associated Press journalist who traveled to the Amazon region on Friday saw many already deforested areas that had been burned.
Charred trees and fallen branches were seen around Porto Velho, the capital of Rondonia state, which borders Bolivia. In some instances, the burned fields were adjacent to intact livestock ranches and other farms, suggesting the fires had been managed as part of a land-clearing policy.
A large column of smoke billowed from one fire, and smoke rose from a couple of nearby wooded areas. Life appeared normal in Porto Velho. However, visibility from the windows of an arriving airplane was poor because of smog enveloping the region.
Small numbers of demonstrators gathered outside Brazilian diplomatic missions in Paris, London, Geneva and Bogota, Colombia, to urge Brazil to do more to fight the fires. Larger protests were held in Uruguay and Argentina. About 100 or so protested in Chile.
Neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay have also struggled to contain fires that swept through woods and fields and, in many cases, were set to clear land for farming. About 2,900 square miles of land has been affected in Bolivia, according to Defense Minister Javier Zavaleta.
On Friday, a B747-400 SuperTanker arrived in Bolivia and began flying over devastated areas to help put out the fires and protect forests. The U.S.-based aircraft can carry nearly 20,000 gallons of retardant, a substance used to stop fires.
Some 140 square miles have burned in northern Paraguay, near the borders with Brazil and Bolivia, said Joaquin Roa, a Paraguayan state emergency official. He said the situation has stabilized.
Close to 20 percent of the Amazon has already been deforested, according to Thomas Lovejoy, a George Mason University environmental scientist.
“I worry that the current deforestation will push past the tipping point leading to massive loss of forest and biodiversity,” Lovejoy wrote in an email to The Associated Press. He said Brazil is “turning its back” on past environmental achievements, including the 1992 Earth Summit, and has proposed infrastructure projects that will accelerate the challenge of climate change.
“Fires are directly burning into the Amazon rainforest and that releases the carbon stored in those trees,” said Doug Morton, a NASA scientist. “The carbon then enters the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane, where it contributes to the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change, bringing us a warmer and a drier planet.”
Fires are common in Brazil in the annual dry season, but they are much more widespread this year. Brazilian state experts reported nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85 percent over the same period in 2018.
Ellsworth Elementary teacher charged with child molestation
A physical education teacher at Ellsworth Elementary School, who is accused of molesting a now-former student at the school, was formally charged Friday in Clark County Superior Court.
Jerry M. Miller, 60, of Vancouver entered not-guilty pleas to two counts of first-degree child molestation, attempted first-degree child molestation and fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation. His trial is set for Nov. 4.
Miller has worked for Evergreen Public Schools since 1986, district spokeswoman Gail Spolar previously told The Columbian.
“Evergreen Public Schools is continuing to work with law enforcement and have placed Jerry Miller on administrative leave,” Spolar said in an email Friday. “Mr. Miller will not be back in the classroom when school begins on Tuesday, Aug. 27.”
A Vancouver police detective received a report June 11 from Child Protective Services stating Miller had inappropriately touched a female student multiple times at the school, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
The girl, now 13 and no longer a student at the school, told investigators that at least one incident occurred when she was in fifth grade. She reported Miller came up behind her and grabbed her “chest area” while she was practicing on a pogo stick before class in the gym. She described feeling uncomfortable” and “confused,” the affidavit says.
In another incident, Miller touched her thigh while she was in his vehicle, she said. She told investigators she pushed his hand away, but he wouldn’t stop. He also kissed her cheeks, she said, according to the court document.
He reportedly told the girl, “Don’t tell your parents,” the affidavit says.
Miller was arrested Aug. 9 at his home.
He was granted supervised release and is not in custody.
I-5 Bridge lanes to close Saturday night
Planning on heading into Oregon after 10 p.m. Saturday?
If so, you will need to take the Interstate 205 Bridge because the southbound span of the Interstate 5 Bridge will be closed for eight hours, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday, for bridge maintenance.
The bridge’s southbound sidewalk also will be closed during that time. The bridge’s northbound span and sidewalk will remain open.
The Washington State Department of Transportation has used message boards on I-5 to alert drivers about Saturday’s closure.
Drivers needing to head south into Oregon should detour onto Highway 14 eastbound and take I-205 southbound into Oregon.
Although Saturday’s closure of the southbound span might be inconvenient, it will be nothing compared with the two-week shutdown of the northbound span scheduled for September 2020 to replace a cracked trunnion, which is part of the lifting mechanism used to raise and lower the drawbridge.
Washington and Oregon jointly own the I-5 Bridge, which the Oregon Department of Transportation operates and maintains. The northbound span opened in 1917, followed by the southbound span in 1958.
More newspaper cuts after Gannett, GateHouse merge
NEW YORK — Just a week after announcing its $1.4 billion acquisition of Gannett, GateHouse Media was again laying off journalists and other workers at its newspapers, possibly foreshadowing the future awaiting employees of what will become the largest U.S. newspaper company.
GateHouse and Gannett say the merger will allow GateHouse to accelerate its newspapers’ move to digital while paying down huge sums GateHouse borrowed in order to fund the acquisition. But it’s unclear exactly how it will make that happen.
Last week, more than two dozen newsroom employees and other workers were reportedly laid off at 10 newspapers, from Providence, R.I., to Brockton, Mass., to Oklahoma City. The Associated Press confirmed several of these layoffs with the affected employees, others in their newsrooms or union representatives. GateHouse did not announce the workforce reductions, and neither the company nor its owner, New Media, had any comment for this story.
Gannett also declined to comment, but pointed to previous public statements by New Media CEO Mike Reed in which he said the merged company would “not only preserve but actually enhance quality journalism.”
The latest layoffs may not be directly related to the merger. GateHouse also reportedly laid off dozens of employees in May and this winter. Its earnings reports show that revenue is declining when the impact of acquisitions is stripped out.
Further newsroom cuts show that “GateHouse doesn’t have a vision for growing revenue, only cutting costs,” charged Andrew Pantazi, a reporter at the Florida Times-Union, a GateHouse paper in Jacksonville, Fla., and the head of a union chapter there. “Eventually they’ll run out of costs to cut.”
Many in the newsrooms and the communities that depend on those newspapers are mourning the changes wrought by previous GateHouse cuts and bracing for more. Others, noting that both readers and advertisers have been deserting newspapers for more than a decade, argue that being part of a larger chain is the only route to survival for smaller papers often still struggling to migrate their publications online.
Over the past 15 years, GateHouse has closed five daily newspapers and closed or merged dozens of weeklies, according to “The Expanding News Desert ,” a University of North Carolina study on the state of the local news coverage.
GateHouse, whose leadership includes current and former Associated Press board members, is trying to reassure employees and investors. It says that bringing together the two companies will lead to about $300 million in annual cost cuts, and promises multiple sources of digital revenue to sustain the combined company and continue its commitment to quality journalism.
Some argue that such consolidation is key to saving local journalism, which also competes for people’s attention with TV and Facebook. “They’re ultimately giving support to hundreds of individual publications that wouldn’t have a chance of standing on their own,” said David Chavern, CEO of the news publisher trade group News Media Alliance.
But first, GateHouse has to pay down debt, including $1.8 billion borrowed from private equity firm Apollo at a high interest rate to get the Gannett deal done.
A Gyrating Economy, and Trump’s Volatile Approach to It, Raise Alarms
Mr. Trump’s wild pronouncements on Friday renewed questions about his stewardship of the world’s largest economy even as he escalated a trade war with China before heading to France for the G7 summit.