President Donald Trump on Tuesday demanded that the United Nations hold China accountable for the coronavirus pandemic as he defends his own handling of COVID-19 in America where the death toll is nearing 200,000.
"We have waged a fierce battle against the invisible enemy – the China virus – which has claimed countless lives in 188 countries," Trump said in a prerecorded address to the UN General Assembly that lasted less than seven minutes.
"As we pursue this bright future, we must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world: China."
While Trump blames China, he has been harshly criticized for his administration's track record in battling the coronavirus, now a top issue in his bid for reelection. Democratic opponent Joe Biden claims Trump bungled the response to COVID-19 and is responsible for the US having more deaths than any other nation.
Trump encouraged the reopening of US society even as the virus was spreading rapidly and holds campaign rallies where few wear face masks or practice social distancing.
But Trump points to the virus' origins in China and says the Chinese government acted irresponsibly in allowing the virus to spread.
"The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions," Trump said. The president also took aim at China's environmental record and the United Nations itself.
"Those who attack America's exceptional environmental record while ignoring China's rampant pollution are not interested in the environment. They only want to punish America. And I will not stand for it," Trump said.
Tropical Storm Beta stalled out Tuesday along the Texas coast, flooding streets in Houston and Galveston hours after making landfall amid an unusually busy hurricane season.
The storm made landfall late Monday just north of Port O’Connor, Texas, and has the distinction of being the first time a storm named for a Greek letter made landfall in the continental United States. Forecasters ran out of traditional storm names last week, forcing the use of the Greek alphabet for only the second time since the 1950s.
Early Tuesday, Beta was 10 miles (15 kilometers) east-southeast of Victoria, Texas, with maximum winds of 40 mph (64 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The storm was moving toward the northwest near 3 mph (4 kilometers) and is expected to stall inland over Texas through Wednesday.
“We currently have both storm surge and rainfall going on right now,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Amaryllis Cotto in Galveston, Texas.
Cotto said 6-12 inches (15-30 centimeters) of rain has fallen in the area, with isolated amounts of up to 18 inches (45 centimeters). Dangerous flash flooding is expected through Wednesday, Cotto said.
Beta was the ninth named storm that made landfall in the continental U.S. this year. That tied a record set in 1916, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.
Beta was expected to linger over Texas then eventually move over Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi later in the week, bringing the risk of flash flooding.
Forecasters warned of heavy rainfall Tuesday on the middle and upper Texas coast, which will cause significant flash flooding. Six to 12 inches of rain (15 to 30 centimeters) was expected, with some isolated areas of up to 20 inches (51 centimeters), forecasters said.
However, forecasters and officials reassured residents Beta was not expected to be another Hurricane Harvey or Tropical Storm Imelda.
Harvey in 2017 dumped more than 50 inches (127 centimeters) of rain on Houston, causing $125 billion in damage in Texas. Imelda, which hit Southeast Texas last year, was one of the wettest cyclones on record.
Storm surge up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) was possible in the Galveston and Beaumont areas through Wednesday morning, forecasters said. In Galveston, an island city southeast of Houston, there was already some street flooding Monday from rising tides and part of a popular fishing pier collapsed due to strong waves.
Farther south on the Texas coast, Maria Serrano Culpepper along with her two daughters and dogs left their home in Magnolia Beach near Matagorda Bay on Sunday night.
Sales of existing homes rose 2.4 percent in August to its highest level since 2006 in the United States as the housing market recovers from a widespread shutdown brought on by the coronavirus outbreak.
The National Association of Realtors disclosed the information on Tuesday, saying that sales rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6 million homes sold last month, reports AP.
Sales are up 10.5 percent from a year ago
It's the third straight gain for sales of existing homes following big, consecutive declines in March, April and May.
The median price for an existing single-family home reached $315,000 in August, up 11.7 percent from August 2019.
An enormous wildfire that churned through mountains northeast of Los Angeles and into the Mojave Desert was still threatening homes on Monday, but officials said calmer winds could help crews corral the flames.
At 165 square miles (427 square kilometers), the Bobcat Fire is one of the largest ever in Los Angeles County and it has burned for more than two weeks. It’s just 15% contained, reports AP.
Evacuation orders and warnings are in place for thousands of residents in foothill and desert communities, where semi-rural homes and a popular nature sanctuary have burned. No injuries have been reported.
Erratic winds that drove flames into the community of Juniper Hills over the weekend had died down, said U.S. Forest Service fire spokesman Larry Smith.
“It’s slightly cooler too, so hopefully that will be a help to firefighters,” Smith said.
Officials said it could be days before teams determine the scope of the destruction in the area about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of downtown Los Angeles.
Firefighters fought back against another flareup near Mount Wilson, which overlooks greater Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Mountains and has a historic observatory founded more than a century ago and numerous broadcast antennas serving Southern California.
The Bobcat Fire started Sept. 6 and has doubled in size over the last week as it ripped through forested areas that hadn’t burned in decades. The cause is under investigation.
The wildfire also destroyed the nature center at Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area, a geological wonder that attracts some 130,000 visitors per year. A wildlife sanctuary on the property was undamaged, and staff and animals had been evacuated days earlier.
Nearly 19,000 firefighters in California are fighting more than two dozen major wildfires. At least 7,900 wildfires have burned more than 6,000 square miles (15,500 square kilometers) in the state this year, including many since a mid-August barrage of dry lightning ignited parched vegetation.
Officials were investigating the death of a firefighter at another Southern California wildfire that erupted earlier this month from a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used by a couple to reveal their baby’s gender.
The death occurred Sept. 17 in San Bernardino National Forest as crews battled the El Dorado Fire about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement. That blaze is 59% contained.
In Wyoming, officials warned that gusty winds on Monday could cause more growth of a wildfire burning toward cabins and an important water supply reservoir that’s a major source of water for the state’s capital city, Cheyenne. The fire in the Medicine Bow National Forest is burning in heavily forested, rugged terrain which would usually would be busy now with hunters at the start of elk hunting season.
And in Colorado, more evacuations were ordered on Sunday as winds caused the state’s largest wildfire to grow. Firefighters had to temporarily retreat from the massive Cameron Peak Fire near Red Feather Lakes. Flames later spread into flatter ground which gave crews a better chance to battle the blaze, fire managers said.
A judge has approved a request from a group of US WeChat users to delay looming federal government restrictions that could effectively make the popular app nearly impossible to use.
In a ruling dated Saturday, Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in California said the government's actions would affect users' First Amendment rights as an effective ban on the app removes their platform for communication, reports AP.
WeChat is a messaging-focused app popular with many Chinese-speaking Americans that serves as a lifeline to friends, family, customers and business contacts in China. It's owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent.
The group of WeChat users had requested an injunction after the US Commerce Department said Friday it would bar WeChat from U.S. app stores and keep it from accessing essential internet services in the country, beginning Sunday night at 11:59 pm.
The Trump administration has targeted WeChat and another Chinese-owned app, TikTok, for national security and data privacy concerns in the latest flashpoint in the rising tensions between Washington and Beijing. The administration contends that the data of U.S. users collected by the two apps could be shared with the Chinese government.
On Saturday, President Donald Trump said he supported a proposed deal that would have TikTok partner with Oracle and WalMart to form a U.S. company. There is still a chance that TikTok could be banned in the U.S. as of Nov. 12 if the deal isn't completed, under the restrictions put in place by the Commerce Department.
However, a restriction to bar TikTok from app stores in the U.S., similar to what WeChat faced, was pushed back a week to Sept. 27 after Trump backed the latest TikTok deal.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News that the government will ensure that under the TikTok-Oracle-WalMart deal no American's data ends up in the possession of the Chinese government.
In the WeChat case, the users had argued the moves targeting the all-in-one app with instant-messaging, social media and other communication tools would restrict free speech.
In the ruling, the court said that a WeChat ban "eliminates all meaningful access to communication in the plaintiffs' community," and that an injunction would be in public interest.
The U.S. government had earlier argued that it is not restricting free speech because WeChat users still "are free to speak on alternative platforms that do not pose a national security threat."
Specific evidence about WeChat posing a national security threat was also "modest," according to Judge Beeler.
The White House did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the injunction.
The dispute over WeChat and TikTok is the latest attempt by the Trump administration to counter the influence of China. Since taking office in 2017, Trump has waged a trade war with China, blocked mergers involving Chinese companies and stifled the business of Chinese firms like Huawei, a maker of phones and telecom equipment.