New York City Area Under State of Emergency After Storms Flood Subways, Strand People in Cars

A potent rush-hour rainstorm swamped the New York metropolitan area on Friday, shutting down some subways and commuter railroads, flooding streets and highways, and delaying flights into LaGuardia Airport.

Up to 13 centimeters of rain fell in some areas overnight, and as much as 18 centimeters more was expected throughout the day, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said Friday morning.

By midday, although there was a break in the downpour, Mayor Eric Adams urged people to stay put if possible.

“It is not over, and I don’t want those gaps in heavy rain to give the appearance that it is over,” he said at a news briefing. He and Hochul, both Democrats, declared states of emergency.

No storm-related deaths or critical injuries had been reported as of midday, city officials said. But residents struggled to get around the waterlogged metropolis.

Traffic hit a standstill, with water above cars’ tires, on a stretch of the FDR Drive — a major artery along the east side of Manhattan. Some drivers abandoned their vehicles.

Priscilla Fontallio said she had been stranded in her car, which was on a piece of the highway that wasn’t flooded but wasn’t moving, for three hours as of 11 a.m.

“Never seen anything like this in my life,” she said.

On a street in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, workers were up to their knees in water as they tried to unclog a storm drain while cardboard and other debris floated by. The city said that it checked and cleared key drains, especially near subway stations, ahead of the storm. But that was little comfort to Osman Gutierrez, who was trying to pry soaked bags of trash and scraps of food from a drain near the synagogue where he works.

“The city has to do more to clean the streets,” he said. “It’s filthy.”

As the rain briefly slowed, residents emerged from their homes to survey the damage and begin draining the water that had reached the top of many basement doors. Some people arranged milk crates and wooden boards to cross the flooded sidewalks, with water close to waist-deep in the middle of some streets.

High school student Malachi Clark stared at a flooded intersection, unsure how to proceed as he tried to get home to Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He had tried to take a bus, then a train.

“When it stops the buses, you know it’s bad,” he said. Bus service was severely disrupted citywide, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Elsewhere, photos and video posted on social media showed water pouring into subway stations and basements.

Jessie Lawrence said she awoke to the sound of rain dripping from the ceiling of her fourth-floor apartment in Brooklyn ’s Crown Heights neighborhood. She set out a bowl to catch the drips, but she could hear strange sounds coming from outside her door.

“I opened my front door, and the water was coming in thicker and louder,” pouring into the hallway and flowing down the stairs, she said. The heavy rainfall had pooled atop the roof and was leaking through a skylight above the stairwell.

Dominic Ramunni, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in New York, said Friday’s rain was brought by a coastal storm, with low pressure off the East Coast helping to bring in some deep moisture from the Atlantic Ocean.

“This will be one of the wettest days in quite some time,” he said.

Virtually every subway line was at least partly suspended, rerouted or running with delays, and the Metro-North commuter railroad was suspended.

Flights into LaGuardia were briefly halted Friday morning, and then delayed, because of water in the airport’s refueling area. Flooding also forced the closure of one of the airport’s three terminals.

Friday’s flooding wasn’t nearly as bad as that two years ago, she said, but it was again filling the basement of her home on 64th Street with water. “Too much raining,” she said. “it’s not as bad as before, but still, it’s bad, bad, bad.”

New York City officials said they received reports that six basement apartments had flooded Friday, but all the occupants got out safely. Governor Hochul pleaded with residents to evacuate their homes if the water starts to rise.

“People need to take this extremely seriously,” the governor said.

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Feinstein Leaves Behind Feminist Legacy, Colleagues Say

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein died on Thursday night at 90, her family confirmed. She was the oldest member of Congress. 

Feinstein’s peers in the Senate say she will be remembered as a trailblazer and an exemplar of perseverance whose many firsts paved the way for generations of women to take charge in politics and society.

She was the first woman to serve as mayor of San Francisco and the first woman to be considered for a presidential ticket in 1984 — though Walter Mondale ultimately ran with Geraldine Ferraro.

Feinstein also was the first female front-runner for governor of California; the state’s first woman to win a seat in the Senate; the first woman to preside over a presidential inauguration; and the first woman to serve 30 years as a senator.

As a self-described centrist, Feinstein sometimes changed her views. Like many older politicians, she was once opposed to same-sex marriage, but reversed herself and became a staunch advocate of it in her later years.

One of her most memorable changes of heart, though, came in the fallout of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Feinstein voted for the Iraq war and was a proponent of many of President George W. Bush’s so-called war on terror policies, including brutal interrogations of suspected extremists, many of whom were transferred to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

But in 2007, Feinstein rallied to shut down Guantanamo, and, in 2014, as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, made public a shocking report about the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prisons across the globe, where extrajudicial torture was being used to extract information from suspected terrorists.

“I came to the conclusion that America’s greatness is being able to say we made a mistake, and we are going to correct it and go from there,” Feinstein said in 2014 after an hour-long speech denouncing the CIA’s interrogation program.

Opened doors for women

For decades, Feinstein built her reputation around open-mindedness and working across the aisle. But she wasn’t one to compromise her values, her colleagues say.

“She was smart. She was strong. She was compassionate, but maybe the trait that stood out most of all was her amazing integrity — her integrity was a diamond,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

On Friday morning, a teary-eyed Schumer led a moment of silence on the Senate floor before delivering a eulogy.

“She gave a voice, a platform and a leader to women throughout the country for decades,” Schumer told his peers. “Dianne didn’t just push down doors that were closed for women, she held them open for generations of women after her, to follow her. Today, there are 25 women serving in this chamber, and every one of them will admit they stand on Dianne’s shoulders.”

Feinstein cast her final vote on Thursday, according to official roll call data. By Friday, her chair was empty, her desk draped in a black sheet with a large vase of white flowers on it.

“Dianne was a trailblazer, and her beloved home state of California, and our entire nation are better for her dogged advocacy,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday.

Nearly called off career

For decades, Feinstein was a mainstay of California politics. But there was a point when she nearly called off her career as a public servant.

The year was 1978. After two failed bids for mayor and nearly a decade on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Feinstein was unsure if politics was her calling. Then tragedy struck. A former supervisor shot dead San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

As board president, Feinstein announced their deaths and called for spiritual healing in one of her most famous speeches. Overnight, she became a national symbol of resilience and was appointed mayor, a post she held for nearly a decade before an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1990.

Two years after losing out, Feinstein ran for Senate and won. She would win five reelections, all by considerable margins.

Feinstein said that the horror of watching Milk die always stuck with her. She later recounted how she rushed to Milk’s office after hearing gunshots and attempted to locate a pulse. “My finger went into a bullet hole in his wrist,” she said. Feinstein went on to spearhead the first nationwide ban on assault weapons in 1994, which expired in 2004.

Throughout her career, Feinstein was a vocal critic of congressional inaction on gun control, particularly in recent years with nationwide upticks in school shootings. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, she tried unsuccessfully to restore the ban.

Feinstein also pushed for abortion rights and rights for crime victims. In 2018, she referred then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to federal investigators over Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that he sexually assaulted her when the two were teenagers.

“I’ve lived a feminist life,” Feinstein once told a reporter.

In a tribute on Friday, U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi said “Dianne was a pioneering woman leader who served as San Francisco’s first female mayor with unmatched courage, poise and grace.”

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Armenian Diaspora in US Rallies to Support Nagorno-Karabakh People

Since Azerbaijan regained control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenian separatists, there has been a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians from the enclave. The Armenian diaspora in the U.S. city of Los Angeles, California, is rallying to support the refugees and their plight. Genia Dulot reports.

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US Pacific Security Deal With Marshall Islands at Risk Over Nuclear Payments Description

The United States struck security agreements this week with Pacific Island nations seen as a key part of U.S. plans to counter China’s territorial expansion. But after three years of negotiations, one of those Pacific nations — the Marshall Islands — still has not reached a deal with Washington.

A member of the U.S. negotiating team blames the State Department’s legal team for the holdup, saying they object to how the agreement describes money for compensation from U.S. nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands some 60 years ago.

The agreement — known as the Compacts of Free Association — gives Washington exclusive access to large parts of the Pacific Ocean surrounding Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands. Funding runs out on September 30.

“You would have to say that there was mission failure,” said Howard Hills in an exclusive interview with VOA.

Hills negotiated those compacts alongside presidential envoy Ambassador Joseph Yun but left his position September 7. Deals with Micronesia and Palau have been reached, while talks with the Marshall Islands have stalled.

In a speech before the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, President David Kabua laid out the Republic of the Marshall Island’s remaining demand.

“What the United States must realize is that Marshallese people require that the nuclear issue be addressed.”

Kabua was referring to the environmental and health impacts of the 67 atomic bomb tests conducted in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958.

But Hills says the State Department won’t let Yun officially designate the funds as compensation for the effects of American nuclear tests in the Marshalls.

“If it were not for the State Department legal position, this could have been done in 2020. It could have been done in 2021. It could have been done in 2022,” he said.

The objections appear to relate in part to a 1986 agreement on compensation for nuclear testing, which said at the time that it covered all claims related to the issue.

“The Compact and the Section 177 Settlement Agreement, which entered into force in 1986, constitute the full settlement of all claims, past, present, and future, of the government, citizens and nationals of the Marshall Islands related to the Nuclear Testing Program,” says a State Department description of U.S. relations with the Marshall Islands.

But Hills calls that position “disproven” because the agreement also created a political framework, which has allowed the U.S. to continue providing assistance related to the nuclear program’s effects.

“Congress added additional authorities that we’ve spent an additional $200 million on nuclear in the last 20 years,” he said.

Yun told VOA in August, “I personally believe that we still have moral and political responsibilities and so we have made it clear that in some of the money [for the] Marshall Islands — some could be spent on development, health care, environment issues of the affected islands within Marshall Islands.”

In January, Yun signed a memorandum of understanding with the Marshall Islands providing $700 million for a trust fund that could be used for that purpose.

The State Department declined to comment on whether its legal position was the source of the breakdown in talks with the Marshallese or that the U.S. government has continued to compensate the Marshalls for the nuclear testing impact.

A department spokesperson told VOA that without new funding, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands “can use unspent funds” or their “Compact Trust Funds” to meet their budget needs. Palau still has another year of funding.

Critics of that position include some lawmakers in Congress.

“The State Department is firmly in control of this scenario,” said Representative Aumua Amata Radewagen in an interview with VOA.

Radewagen says she saw first-hand the devastating impact of nuclear testing on the Marshallese people. She spent part of her childhood in the Marshall Islands when her father was the head of government.

“I can remember one time when he had to deliver a young boy,” she said, “This boy had all kinds of cancer. He had to deliver this boy to his family. And things like that stick in my mind. I was a teenager then,” said Radewagen, who represents American Samoa.

In a letter to lawmakers last week, Radewagen warned that China is waiting for an opening to grow its Pacific presence.

“There’s another large country just sitting there, keeping their fingers crossed, hoping that this deal fails so that they can step right in,” she said.

Radewagen says the negotiators told her they aim to have a new deal in October. She says lawmakers are ready to fund the agreement, as soon as one is finally reached.

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Long-Serving US Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein Dies

Dianne Feinstein, a long-serving Democratic U.S. senator from California and gun control advocate who spearheaded the first federal assault weapons ban and documented the CIA’s torture of foreign terrorism suspects, has died at 90, a source familiar with the news said on Friday.

Feinstein’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the news, first reported by the Punchbowl news outlet.

Feinstein was a Washington trail-blazer who among other accomplishments became the first woman to head the influential Senate Intelligence Committee.

During almost 31 years in Senate she amassed a moderate-to-liberal record, sometimes drawing scorn from the left. Feinstein joined the Senate in 1992 after winning a special election and was re-elected five times including in 2018, along the way becoming the longest-serving woman senator ever.

Feinstein’s political career was shaped by guns.

She became San Francisco’s mayor in 1978 upon the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Feinstein was president of the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors when Moscone and Milk were gunned down by a former supervisor, Dan White. After hearing the gunshots, she rushed to Milk’s office. While searching for his pulse, her finger found a bullet hole.

Feinstein said the horror of that experience never left her and she went on to author the federal ban on military-style assault weapons that lasted from 1994 until its 2004 expiration.

“This is a gun-happy nation, and everybody can have their gun,” Feinstein said after a May 2021 mass shooting in her home state as she lamented years of congressional failure to pass new gun control laws to guard against “the killing of innocents.”

Gun control push

Feinstein led a renewed effort for tougher gun laws including a fresh ban on assault-style weapons after a 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school. The legislation encountered furious opposition from Republicans and gun rights advocates and failed in the Senate.

Health issues slowed Feinstein late in her career, when she was the oldest senator at the time. She announced in February 2023 that she would not seek re-election the following year and was sidelined from Congress for three months ending in May of that year after suffering from shingles and complications including encephalitis and Ramsay Hunt Syndrome.

As Intelligence Committee chair, Feinstein overcame resistance from national security officials and Republican lawmakers in 2014 as her panel released a 2014 report detailing the CIA’s secret overseas detention and interrogation of foreign terrorism suspects following the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants.

“The CIA’s actions are a stain on our values and our history,” Feinstein said, defending the release of a report that revealed CIA use of “coercive interrogation techniques in some cases amounting to torture” on at least 119 detainees.

“History will judge us,” Feinstein added, “by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say, ‘Never again.'”

The report detailed interrogation practices such as the simulated drowning method called waterboarding, sleep deprivation, painful stress positions, “rectal feeding” and “rectal hydration.”

Despite CIA claims that the practices had saved lives, the report concluded that such methods had played no role in disrupting any terrorism plots, capturing any militant leaders or finding al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, who was killed by American forces in Pakistan in 2011.

The late Arizona Senator John McCain, tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, praised Feinstein’s release of the report and said, “Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises what most distinguishes us from our enemies.”

‘Protecting America’

Feinstein defended U.S. surveillance programs exposed in 2013 by a National Security Agency contractor named Edward Snowden, a leak she called “an act of treason.”

“It’s called protecting America,” Feinstein said of the NSA electronic surveillance of telephone data and Internet communications that critics called a vast government over-reach.

During Republican George W. Bush’s presidency, Feinstein backed the 2002 Iraq war resolution but later voiced regret. She supported Bush’s Patriot Act to help track terrorism suspects, but criticized him for authorizing spying on U.S. residents without court approval.

At times, critics on the left felt she was not liberal enough or insufficiently antagonistic toward Republicans. For example, some liberal activists called on her to resign in 2020 after she hugged Republican Senator Lindsey Graham following a Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Republican President Donald Trump’s conservative Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

She castigated Trump in 2021 after his supporters attacked the Capitol in a failed bid to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. She said Trump was “responsible for this madness” for inciting people to violence with false claims of widespread election fraud.

Born on June 22, 1933, Feinstein grew up in San Francisco and graduated from Stanford University. She was elected in 1969 to the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors and became its president in 1978, a position she held until Moscone’s killing. She became San Francisco’s first woman mayor and was elected to two full terms.

She ran for governor in 1990, winning the Democratic primary but losing to Republican Pete Wilson in the general election. Feinstein then ran in 1992 for the Senate seat that Wilson had previously held, easily defeating the Republican appointed to the seat. She became California’s longest-serving senator and its first woman elected to the chamber.

Feinstein’s first marriage ended in divorce. She then married Bertram Feinstein, a surgeon. After his death, she married Richard Blum, an investment banker, in 1980. He died in 2022.

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US Warns of China’s Plans for Information Domination

China is pouring billions of dollars into efforts to reshape the global information environment and, eventually, bend the will of multiple nations to Beijing’s advantage, according to a new assessment from U.S. officials.

The report, released Thursday by the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, accuses the Chinese government of using a combination of tactics in a bid to create a world in which Beijing, either explicitly or implicitly, controls the flow of critical information.

China’s goal is to “construct an information ecosystem in which PRC propaganda and disinformation gain traction and become dominant,” the report states. “Unchecked, the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China’s] efforts will reshape the global information landscape, creating biases and gaps that could even lead nations to make decisions that subordinate their economic and security interests to Beijing’s.”

This is not the first time U.S. officials have warned of China’s attempts to seed the information environment to the detriment of the United States and its allies.

U.S. officials said during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic that China was making greater use of social media to spread disinformation about the origins of the virus.

Just a year later, in its annual threat assessment, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Beijing would “continue its whole-of-government efforts to spread China’s influence … and foster new international norms that favor the authoritarian Chinese system.”

And U.S. officials have warned repeatedly about Chinese influence campaigns aimed at fostering doubts about U.S. elections, with some raising concerns about Chinese attempts to influence the outcomes

But the new State Department report contends what U.S. officials are seeing now is different, that China’s information manipulation efforts have matured beyond specific campaigns centered around a specific topic or event.

Instead, it argues that Beijing’s efforts have a grander ambition.

If successful, “Beijing would develop a surgical capability to shape the information particular groups and even individuals consume,” the report states. “In this possible future, the information available to publics, media, civil society, academia, and governments as they engage with the PRC would be distorted.”

‘Another tool to keep China down’

Chinese government officials declined to comment on details of the State Department report. But in an email to VOA, Chinese Embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu called the report, “just another tool to keep China down and buttress American hegemony.”

“A quick look at its [the report’s] summary is enough to know what it is about: heightening ideological confrontation, spreading disinformation, and smearing China’s domestic and foreign policies,” Liu said. “We urge the U.S. to reflect on itself, stop framing China for the so-called ‘information manipulation.'”

The State Department report said its conclusions are based on publicly available information as well as “newly acquired government information.”

“As the PRC has grown more confident in its power, it appears to have calculated that it can more aggressively pursue its interests,” it says.

Specifically, the State Department report points to a multipronged approach combining its expansive state-run media, surveillance technologies, financial and political coercion and Chinese-language media.

The result is an information ecosystem in which bots and trolls, and even officials, amplify pro-Beijing voices while drowning out or suppressing opponents.

Yet the report cautions that China’s considerable efforts have struggled, so far, to achieve the desired impact in Western and Western-leaning nations.

“When targeting democratic countries, Beijing has encountered major setbacks, often due to pushback from local media and civil society,” the report states. “Although backed by unprecedented resources, the PRC’s propaganda and censorship have, to date, yielded mixed results.”

That assessment tracks with conclusions from Meta, the social media company behind Facebook and Instagram, which in August announced the takedown of a Chinese-linked disinformation operation known as Spamouflage.

Meta said that while Spamouflage was “the largest known cross-platform covert influence operation in the world,” Beijing got little bang for its buck.

“Despite the very large number of accounts and platforms it used, Spamouflage consistently struggled to reach beyond its own (fake) echo chamber,” Meta said. “Only a few instances have been reported when Spamouflage content on Twitter and YouTube was amplified by real-world influencers.”

‘Good wake-up call’

Some researchers say that Beijing has made some inroads in the West.

“China’s most successful influence efforts have always been smaller in scale and more targeted, like the effort to harass dissidents and critics,” Bret Schafer, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Alliance for Securing Democracy, told VOA via email.

Schafer further described Spamouflage as a “good wake-up call.”

“It reminded the world that China is investing time and resources to manipulate the information environment,” he said.

And there are indications that China has become more sophisticated.

A report earlier this month from Microsoft suggests that Chinese disinformation efforts successfully used artificial intelligence to produce “eye-catching content.”

“This relatively high-quality visual content has already drawn higher levels of engagement from authentic social media users,” Microsoft said in its report. “Users have more frequently reposted these visuals, despite common indicators of AI-generation.”

Such use of artificial intelligence has U.S. intelligence officials especially concerned.

“Russia, China, others are going to try to use this technology,” General Paul Nakasone told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday, when asked about AI and the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Nakasone heads U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency.

Others at the NSA see China gaining ground and influence, and preparing to wield that influence if necessary.

“They have growing leverage in the global social media environment,” said David Frederick, the NSA’s assistant deputy director for China, during a webinar earlier this month.”That could enable them to conduct very broad information operations at a very large scale in the case of conflict.”

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Vowing to Defend Democracy, Biden Hits Hard at Trump

US President Joe Biden sharpened his attacks against Donald Trump on Thursday, delivering a forceful assertion that the former president and Republican front-runner represents an existential threat to the country’s democratic values and institutions. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

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US Says Iran Forces Aimed Laser at American Helicopter 

Iranian naval forces repeatedly aimed a laser at an American military helicopter during a routine flight in international airspace over the Persian Gulf, the U.S. military said Thursday. 

The helicopter — an AH-1Z Viper — is attached to a unit deployed on the USS Bataan amphibious assault ship, which was sent to the region as part of American efforts to deter seizures of commercial tanker ships by Tehran. 

Iranian “vessels shone a laser multiple times at the aircraft while in flight” on Wednesday, said a statement from Commander Rick Chernitzer, spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.  

“These are not the actions of a professional maritime force. This unsafe, unprofessional and irresponsible behavior” by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy “risks U.S. and partner nation lives and needs to cease immediately,” Chernitzer added. 

The U.S. military says Iran has either seized or tried to take control of nearly 20 internationally flagged ships in the region over the past two years. 

There have been a series of such incidents since then-U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions on the Islamic republic. 

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