Japan's famous cherry blossoms might be associated with springtime and renewal, but this year, the flowers are making a rare second appearance in October after an unusually strong typhoon season, weather forecasters said.
More than 300 people in Japan have reported observing the iconic pink and white cherry blossoms in recent weeks, Agence France-Presse reports.
Tree expert Hiroyuki Wada attributed the unseasonable blooming to the recent typhoon season, which saw high winds whip off tree leaves. These leaves usually release a chemical that prevents blooming until spring, Wada told Japanese national broadcaster NHK. The warmer post-typhoon temperatures along with the absence of hormones to inhibit blooming could have triggered the atypical flowers.
"This has happened in the past, but I don't remember seeing something of this scale," he told NHK.
Japan's annual cherry blossom season is serious business. The blossoms only last about a week, usually in March or April. Tourists rush to picnic and take photos under the fleeting flowers.
The timing of the annual flowering has also been documented for centuries in Japan. But scientists both in Japan and in Washington, D.C. have noticed that date creeping earlier in the calendar, as climate change causes early warming. This year, Japan's season is forecast to begin on March 17, four days ahead of last year.
This month's unseasonable bloom could slightly detract from next spring's season, as buds that open now won't flower again next year, according to Wada. "But only a small number [of flowers] are being observed. I don't think it will affect cherry blossom viewing [next year]," he told NHK.
A group of Senators are demanding President Donald Trump and his sons disclose information about the family's business ties to Saudi Arabia following the disappearance of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The 11 Senators, all Democrats, asked Trump to reveal any business ties between the Trump Organization and Saudi officials. In a letter published by Axios on Wednesday, the Senators requested that Trump “commit to suspending any ongoing business relationships” with the Saudis while the investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance is ongoing.
"Your recent statements, and public reports of increased spending by the Saudi government at Trump properties, raise significant concerns about financial conflicts of interest," the Senators wrote.
We need the truth. @RealDonaldTrump and the Trump Org. must fully disclose their family business ties to Saudi Arabia.
Our response to the appalling reported killing of Jamal Khashoggi should not be affected by the Trump family’s financial ties to the Saudi gov’t. pic.twitter.com/LCncNJGmVb
Khashoggi, a Saudi national and Washington Post columnist, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on Oct. 2. Based on alleged video and audio evidence, Turkish officials have drawn a grisly picture of Khashoggi's execution by a specially dispatched Saudi security team. On Wednesday, the New York Times, citing a Turkish official, reported that audio recordings from inside the Saudi consulate reveal Khashoggi was killed and dismembered within minutes of arriving.
But Trump has declined to forcefully challenge Saudi Arabia over the dissident's disappearance. Instead, he has defended the value of American arms sales to Saudi Arabia and emphasized that Khashoggi was not an American citizen. On Wednesday, Trump said the U.S. has asked for the audio and video recordings in the Khashoggi case, but cast doubt on whether such evidence actually exists.
The Senators' letter cited big-ticket past transactions between Trump and members of the Saudi royal family, including the $325 million sale of New York's Plaza Hotel in 1995 “in a deal to pay off Trump Organization debts.”
The letter also cited an Associated Press report that showed in 2001, Trump sold the entire 45th floor of the Trump World Tower to Saudi Arabia for $12 million. As Trump's presidential campaign was getting underway in 2016, he also registered eight companies in Saudi Arabia that appeared connected to hotel deals in the country. On Monday, Trump tweeted that he has "no financial interests in Saudi Arabia."
Last week, a bipartisan group of 22 Senators triggered an investigation of Saudi Arabia under the Global Magnitsky Act. The results of the probe could see Saudi officials face sanctions including asset freezes and visa bans.
"It is imperative that this sanctions determination, and U.S. policy towards Saudi Arabia generally, are not influenced by any conflicts of interest that may exist because of your or your family’s deep financial ties to Saudi Arabia," the Senate Democrats wrote.
President Donald Trump plans to withdraw the U.S. from a 192-nation treaty that gives Chinese companies discounted shipping rates for small packages sent to American consumers, another escalation of his economic confrontation of Beijing.
U.S. officials said the administration sought to revise the treaty in September and was rebuffed by other nations, prompting the decision to withdraw. The State Department will deliver a notice to the Universal Postal Union in Switzerland Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
Under the union’s framework it takes a year for a country to withdraw, during which rates can be renegotiated. The officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said postal rates wouldn’t change for at least six months, and that the U.S. would prefer to stay inside the union’s system.
The president wants to adopt “self-declared rates” as soon as practical, and no later than Jan. 1, 2020, Sanders said. “If negotiations are successful, the administration is prepared to rescind the notice of withdrawal and remain in the UPU,” she said.
U.S. manufacturers applauded the move.
“President Trump deserves tremendous credit for the administration’s focus on eliminating the anti-US manufacturer subsidy China receives from the U.S. Postal Service,” Jay Timmons, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a statement. “This outdated arrangement contributes significantly to the flood of counterfeit goods and dangerous drugs that enter the country from China.”
The group said the discounts amount to a subsidy for Chinese shippers that cost the U.S. Postal Service $170 million in 2017. The treaty sets fees that national postal services charge to deliver mail and small packages from other countries. Poor and developing countries are assessed lower rates than wealthier countries, an arrangement that has benefited China.
United Parcel Service Inc. said the administration “took the right step” in withdrawing from the accord.
“Foreign postal operators should not be given government approved advantages in what is a competitive market,” UPS said in a statement. “All parties should pay the same parcel delivery rates for the same services from the U.S. Postal Service, regardless of whether the country of origin is foreign or domestic.”
(HUNTSVILLE, Texas) — Former USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny was arrested Wednesday after a Texas grand jury indicted him, alleging he tampered with evidence in the sexual assault investigation of now-imprisoned gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
In a statement issued late Wednesday night, the Walker County district attorney's office in Huntsville, Texas, said Penny was arrested by a fugitive task force in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and awaits extradition to Texas.
The third-degree felony is punishable by two to 10 years in prison. It was unclear if Penny has an attorney. Messages left with USA Gymnastics weren't immediately returned.
Penny resigned under pressure in March 2017.
The indictment alleges Penny ordered the removal of documents from the Karolyi Ranch relating to Nassar's activities at the ranch, near Huntsville. It alleges Penny acted after learning that Texas Rangers and Walker County authorities were investigating the ranch, which was being managed by USA Gymnastics.
The indictment states the documents were delivered to Penny at the USA Gymnastics headquarters in Indianapolis, they have not been recovered and their whereabouts are unknown to authorities.
Nassar was a former team doctor for both the women's program at USA Gymnastics as well as Michigan State University athletics.
In Texas, a number of gymnasts who had trained at the Karolyi Ranch have said Nassar sexually assaulted them there. Walker County prosecutors have said there is no corroborated evidence of wrongdoing by world-renowned gymnastics coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi, and the couple has denied wrongdoing.
Queensland on Wednesday became Australia's latest state to decriminalize abortion, repealing an century-old law that made the practice punishable with prison time.
State lawmakers voted 50 for and 41 against to overturn the 1899 law that criminalized abortion, the New York Times reports. The new law will allow women to terminate a pregnancy up to 22 weeks, or after that deadline with the approval of two doctors. Previously, women in Queensland could be imprisoned for violating the abortion ban.
"History has been made," Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk tweeted. "Women will no longer have the fear of committing a crime when making the deeply personal decisions over their own bodies."
Tonight Queensland joins other jurisdictions, both in Australia and around the world, in recognising termination as a health matter. A matter between a woman and her doctor. #qldpolpic.twitter.com/FlHBbK0PuC
Queensland's decriminalization of abortion comes in the wake of a significant increase in the number of women representing the state, particularly in leadership positions. In addition to Palaszczuk, who became the first, female state premier to achieve reelection in Australia last year, Queensland's deputy premier and half of the cabinet are women, according to the Times.
Deb Frecklington, the leader of the state's opposition Liberal National Party, instructed her bloc last week to vote their conscience even if it meant crossing party lines. Frecklington herself was one of the six MPs who voted against the repeal.
Queensland now joins the majority of Australian states to legally permit abortion. Only New South Wales (NSW), which includes the city of Sydney, continues to ban abortion except in extenuating circumstances such as for medical, financial or mental health reasons.
(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. has asked Turkey for a recording that could reveal gruesome details of what happened to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump said Wednesday. But he's not confirming there is any such recording, as reported by Turkish media, and he's continuing to urge patience while Saudi Arabia says it's investigating.
Asked about a recording described by the Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, Trump said, "We've asked for it, if it exists." At another point, he said, "I'm not sure yet that it exists."
Trump, who threatened punishment for Saudi Arabia when Khashoggi's disappearance first came to light two weeks ago, has repeatedly noted Saudi leaders' denials since then and insisted the U.S. must know the facts before taking action.
But when asked if he was "giving cover" to the Saudi leaders, he said Wednesday that he was not.
"No, not at all," he declared.
Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the Mideast, is under pressure to explain what happened to Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor living in the U.S. who had been critical of the crown prince. Turkish officials have said he was murdered, and the Turkish newspaper's report said an audio recording revealed gory details about Khashoggi's demise inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Trump has repeated denials by the Saudi king and crown prince that they knew anything about Khashoggi's fate, and he has warned of a rush to judgment.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, dispatched by Trump to the region, said the U.S. takes Khashoggi's disappearance seriously.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Trump compared the case of Khashoggi to the allegations of sexual assault leveled against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing. Kavanaugh denied the allegations and was confirmed to the court.
"I think we have to find out what happened first," Trump said. "Here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent. I don't like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned."
Trump's remarks were his most robust defense yet of the Saudis. They put the president at odds with other key allies and with some leaders in his Republican Party who have condemned the Saudi leadership for what they say is an obvious role in the case. Trump appeared willing to resist the pressure to follow suit, accepting Saudi denials and their pledge to investigate.
The AP's Oval Office interview came not long after Trump spoke Tuesday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He spoke by phone a day earlier with King Salman, and he said both deny any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi.
After speaking with the king, Trump floated the idea that "rogue killers" may have been responsible for the disappearance. The president told the AP on Tuesday that that description was informed by his "feeling" from his conversation with Salman and that the king did not use the term.
In Turkey on Tuesday, a high-level Turkish official told the AP that police investigators searching the Saudi Consulate had found evidence that Khashoggi was killed there.
Pompeo met with the king and crown prince in Riyadh and said the Saudis had already started a "serious and credible investigation" and seemed to suggest it could lead to people within the kingdom. The secretary of state noted that the Saudi leaders, while denying knowledge of anything that occurred inside the consulate, had committed to accountability "including for Saudi Arabia's senior leaders or senior officials."
Trump said he hoped the Saudis' own investigation of Khashoggi's disappearance would be concluded in "less than a week."
In the meantime, there were signs at home that Trump's party was growing uncomfortable with his willingness to defend the Saudis.
In an interview with Fox News, a prominent Trump ally in the Senate called on Saudi Arabia to reject the crown prince, known as MBS, who rose to power last year and has aggressively sought to soften the kingdom's image abroad and attract foreign investment.
"This guy has got to go," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, turning to speak to the camera. "Saudi Arabia, if you're listening, there are a lot of good people you can choose, but MBS has tainted your country and tainted himself."
International leaders and business executives are severing or rethinking ties to the Saudi government after Khashoggi's high-profile disappearance. Trump has resisted any action, pointing to huge U.S. weapons deals pending with Saudi Arabia and saying that sanctions could end up hurting the American economy.
He said it was too early to say whether he endorsed other countries' actions. "I have to find out what happened," he said. But his complaint about "guilty until proven innocent" and comparison to the Kavanaugh situation suggested he was giving the Saudis more leeway than other allies.
Khashoggi went to the consulate on Oct. 2 to get documents for his upcoming marriage to a Turkish woman while his fiancee waited outside. She and Turkish authorities say he never emerged and he has not been heard from since.
(WASHINGTON) — The Washington Post has published a new column by missing Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in which he warns that governments in the Middle East "have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate."
The Post published the column Wednesday, more than two weeks after Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and only hours after a gruesome account in Turkey's Yeni Safak newspaper alleged that Saudi officials cut off Khashoggi's fingers and then decapitated him inside the consulate while his fiancee waited outside. The Saudi government, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has denied any involvement.
In a note affixed to the top of the column, Post Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah said she received the essay from Khashoggi's translator and assistant a day after he was reported missing. Khashoggi first began writing for the Post's opinion section in September 2017, and his columns criticized the prince and the direction of the Saudi kingdom.
In the op-ed, titled "Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression," Khashoggi recounted the imprisonment of a prominent writer who spoke against the Saudi establishment, and cited an incident in which the Egyptian government seized control of a newspaper.
"These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence," he wrote.
"As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate," Khashoggi wrote.
President Donald Trump, who initially came out hard on the Saudis over the disappearance but since has backed off, said Wednesday that the U.S. wanted Turkey to turn over any audio or video recording it had of Khashoggi's alleged killing "if it exists." He has recently suggested that the global community had jumped to conclusions that Saudi Arabia was behind Khashoggi's disappearance.
In the column, Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who went into self-imposed exile in the U.S. over the rise of the crown prince, also discussed the practice of Middle Eastern governments blocking internet access to control tightly the information their citizens can see.
"The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power," Khashoggi wrote.
He praised the Post for translating many of his columns from English into Arabic and said it's important for Middle Easterners to be able to read about democracy in the West. He also said it's critical that Arab voices have a platform on which to be heard.
"We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education," Khashoggi wrote. "Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face."
The Post initially held off on publishing the column amid hope for Khashoggi's return, Attiah said. But, she wrote, "Now I have to accept: That is not going to happen."
She ended her note: "This column perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for. I will be forever grateful he chose The Post as his final journalistic home one year ago and gave us the chance to work together."
(NEW YORK) — Another building is stripping Trump off its entrance.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that residents of Trump Place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan have joined three other buildings in the neighborhood in stripping the president's brassy five-letter name from their 46-story building in another sign that the brand is losing some of its appeal.
The move follows reports of losses at some of President Donald Trump's golf courses, and decisions by several hotels that had licensed the president's name to drop it.
After more than a quarter century, Trump Plaza will now be known only by its address, 200 Riverside Boulevard.
The name had become controversial among the building's residents during Trump's campaign and presidency. Owners in the 377-unit tower were worried about the resale value of their condos and also raised concerns about security in condo meetings. But potential legal and other costs of removing Trump's name kept some from pushing harder for a change.
Then in May, a judge ruled that the Trump Organization was wrong in asserting a contract that obligated residents to keep the name. That freed the way for a formal vote and, in a poll that ended Oct. 10, nearly 70% of owners who voted said they wanted to change the name, according to the The New York Times.
The board estimated it would cost about $23,000 to remove the 20 letters from the building and wash the facade.
In addition to three other New York condos, Trump's name has also been removed from hotels in Toronto, Manhattan's Soho neighborhood and Panama City since he became president.
Banksy posted a new video to his website Tuesday implying the partial shredding of his "Girl With Balloon" at a London auction was supposed to have been complete.
The video shows the famously anonymous artist constructing the shredding mechanism inside an ornate frame and pushing a button in a black box to activate the destruction at Sotheby's in London earlier this month. The act shocked the crowd, but the winning bidder, a European collector, went ahead and bought it anyway for $1.4 million, according to the auction house.
Sotheby's did not name the buyer.
The partial shredding drew speculation that the act was a stunt to increase the value of the painting of a young girl reaching for a heart-shaped red balloon. The canvas was shredded to right above the girl's head, leaving the balloon intact. The end of the new video notes: "In rehearsals it worked every time..." A complete shredding of the same design is then shown.
The nearly 3-minute long video is titled, "Shred the Love, the Director's cut." It shows hands and a hooded figure (Banksy is fond of hoodies) constructing the mechanism in a studio space, then it rolls on to the outside of Sotheby's before the auction. People milling about sipping Champagne and nibbling hors d'oeuvres are next up, including some standing in front of the painting.
The auction and partial shredding are shown, as is the work being taken off the wall at Sotheby's and carried out of the room.
Banksy has never disclosed his full identity. He began his career spray-painting buildings in Bristol, England, and has become one of the world's best-known artists. His mischievous and often satirical images include two policemen kissing, armed riot police with yellow smiley faces and a chimpanzee with a sign bearing the words, "Laugh now, but one day I'll be in charge."
(VATICAN CITY) — South Korea's president said he was certain peace could be achieved on the Korean Peninsula as he prepared for an audience Thursday with Pope Francis where he's expected to extend an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for Francis to visit.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivered remarks at a Wednesday evening "Mass for Peace" in St. Peter's Basilica. The pope's top diplomat, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, celebrated the Mass.
In his homily, Parolin prayed for the "gift of peace" on the Korean Peninsula so "after so many years of tensions and division, the word 'peace' can ring out fully."
Moon spoke at the end of the service, saying the prayers offered there "will also resound as echoes of hope in the hearts of the people of the two Koreas as well as the people of the whole world who desire peace."
"Our prayers today will turn into reality for sure," the South Korean leader said. "We will achieve peace and overcome division without fail."
Moon signed a broad agreement with Kim last month meant to reduce military tensions on the peninsula. Moon's office has reported that during their summit, Kim said the pope would be "enthusiastically" welcomed in North Korea.
Moon also had an important role in setting up a June meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump that took place in Singapore, where they announced aspirational goals for a nuclear-free peninsula without describing how and when it would occur.
"Just as your holiness prayed before the U.S.-North Korea summit, we are paving a desirable way toward assuring a peaceful future for the Korean Peninsula and the world," Moon said.
"The history of mankind has been marked by the embarrassment that is war. The signing of an end of war declaration and a peace treaty in the Korean Peninsula would dismantle the earth's last-remaining Cold War regime."
In an article that appeared in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Moon praised Francis for his promotion of dialogue and said he hoped the Korean peace initiative could help the Vatican forge relations with the North.
Moon, who is Catholic, wrote that when he traveled to Pyongyang in September for the summit, he was joined by a Korean Catholic bishop to try to improve relations between the church in North and South.
"In recent months, the pope's prayer and blessing have given the Korean people great encouragement and hope on the path to peace," Moon said.
North Korea strictly controls the religious activities of its people, and a similar invitation for then-Pope John Paul II to visit after a 2000 inter-Korean summit never resulted in a meeting.
The Vatican insisted at the time that a papal visit would only be possible if Catholic priests were accepted in North Korea.
Francis, however, has taken a less-absolutist approach in the Holy See's diplomacy, as evidenced by a recent deal over bishop nominations signed with China, North Korea's closest ally. Previous popes refused to cut a deal with China's communist leaders, who allow religious practice only in state-sanctioned churches.
The Vatican's priests were expelled by North Korea long ago and state-appointed laymen officiate services. Estimates of the number of North Korean Catholics range from 800 to about 3,000, compared to more than 5 million in South Korea.
Following an unusually provocative run of weapons tests last year, Kim has been on a diplomatic offensive, which included three summits with Moon and the one with Trump.