News briefs: Iowa's count is 'a mess'

Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Problems with a mobile app appeared to force a delay in reporting the results of the Iowa caucuses Monday, leaving the campaigns, voters and the media in election limbo and pressing for an explanation. 

The Iowa Democratic Party said it expects to release data later Tuesday after manually verifying its data against paper backups. Chairman Troy Price said the delays were the result of a reporting issue, not a hack or intrusion. 

But other caucus organizers put the blame squarely on a new technology used to report results from some 1,700 caucus meetings across the state. Glitches with a new mobile app caused confusion, they said, and some caucus organizers were forced to call in results for the state party to record manually, introducing human error and delays.

Des Moines County Democratic Chair Tom Courtney said he heard that in precincts across his county, including his own, the mobile app was "a mess."

Precinct leaders were instead phoning in their results to the Democratic Party headquarters, and "they weren't answering the phones," Courtney said. 

Hong Kong reports virus death as workers strike at hospitals

BEIJING (AP) — Hong Kong hospitals cut services as medical workers were striking for a second day Tuesday to demand the border with mainland China be shut completely to ward off a virus that caused its first death in the semi-autonomous territory.

All but two of Hong Kong's land and sea crossings with the mainland were closed at midnight after more than 2,000 hospital workers went on strike Monday. As many as 9,000 medical workers could join the bigger walkout Tuesday to demand closure of the border across which tens of thousands of people continue to travel daily. 

Hong Kong's Hospital Authority said it was cutting back services because "a large number of staff members are absent from duty" and "emergency services in public hospitals have been affected." 

Hong Kong was hit hard by SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, in 2002-03, an illness from the same virus family as the current outbreak. Trust in Chinese authorities has plummeted following months of anti-government protests in the Asian financial hub.

Also Tuesday, the leader of the nearby gambling enclave of Macao asked the city's casino bosses to suspend operations to prevent further infections after a worker at one of resorts tested positive for the virus. Macao has recorded 10 cases in all. 

Trump faces accusers: What to watch during his big speech

WASHINGTON (AP) — Who's clapping now?

On the brink of his Senate acquittal, President Donald Trump will be unleashing "relentless optimism" during his third State of the Union address, a speech designed to pivot from his impeachment to his drive for reelection. Trump is speaking from a position of strength, with nearly complete control of the Republican Party. The theme of his speech: "The Great American Comeback."

It'll be a different experience for Democrats, nearly all of whom voted for Trump's impeachment in the House. Where Trump will point to GOP unity ahead of the 2020 elections, Democrats and their difficult nomination will be on display after a long night of uncertainty in Iowa's kickoff caucuses. 

The contrast with Trump's State of the Union address last year will be stark. Then, Democrats were triumphant just a few days after taking control of the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi had forced Trump to reopen the government. Her smirking clap, eye-to-eye with him, mocked the president of the United States in front of the world.

What to watch during Trump's speech at 9 p.m. EST Tuesday:

AP VoteCast: Iowa Dems split on best challenger for Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — Iowa Democrats are fiercely united by the goal of unseating President Donald Trump, but they were sharply divided Monday over which candidate was best equipped to do so, according to the AP VoteCast survey. 

Iowa, which hosts the nation's first presidential contest, has played a historic role in defining the field of Democratic frontrunners. But the results from AP VoteCast show how difficult it can be for any single contender to unite an increasingly diverse coalition of voters whose common cause rests mostly on their fury with the Republican president. 

Fully 88% said electability was very important for the Democratic nominee, compared with the 66% who said having the best policy ideas is highly important. But not everyone at the start of the caucuses agreed on who was most electable. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was backed by voters under 30, while former Vice President Joe Biden's base was largely older and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was drawing more support from women than men.

"Hey, everybody, if you want to beat Trump, come over to Biden's camp," yelled Jeff Erickson, a retired postal worker, as voters filed into Hoover High School in Des Moines.

Yet many of the Democratic presidential candidates have possible weaknesses when challenging Trump. Just over 4 in 10 Iowa voters said it would be harder for a woman to unseat the president. Almost 6 in 10 said a gay candidate would have more difficulty defeating Trump, a potential risk for former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Roughly the same share said a nominee with "strongly liberal views" would also face a harder time, while close to half said a nominee older than 75 — Biden and Sanders — would have a tougher time versus Trump.

Iowa a carnival of democracy for media — until it went sour

NEW YORK (AP) — As MSNBC's Katy Tur wandered through a gym in Des Moines during her network's coverage of the Iowa caucuses Monday, she found a voter wearing a Bernie Sanders button sitting with supporters of Amy Klobuchar.

"I'm a little split," the woman conceded.

Call her the poster girl for media coverage of Iowa, a carnival of democracy that was fun and bewildering to watch until it all went sour. The failure of authorities to produce results meant no one knew as bedtime came what it would all mean to the matter at hand: picking a Democratic candidate to challenge President Donald Trump in November.

Reporters swarmed to sites where voters, for the first time in the 2020 campaign cycle, were making their voices heard. Yet their findings were only anecdotal.

"It's most unfair to the voters, the caucusgoers who came out today, when now they have a question mark hanging over the results," said CNN's David Chalian.

Bloodied but determined, Lebanese protesters take stock

BEIRUT (AP) — At a Beirut hospital ward, five Lebanese protesters with bandaged eyes and faces huddled in a circle, their arms wrapped around each other, and they vowed to be back on the streets soon, despite their wounds from recent clashes with police.

"We are coming back," said one of them, 20-year-old Charbel Francis.

Such resolve by some protesters signals that demands for sweeping government reforms won't be squashed easily, even as security forces throw up cement barriers and resort to more violent means of crowd control, such as rubber bullets. But the recent descent into clashes after three months of peaceful protests has also triggered introspection and divisions among the demonstrators about their next moves. 

More than 500 people, including over 100 security forces, have been injured in confrontations outside the parliament building in downtown Beirut last month. 

Most of the injuries occurred on Jan. 18. For hours, protesters hurled stones, firecrackers and flares at police who responded by firing tear gas, water cannons and shooting rubber bullets. More than 150 people were injured that night, many of them struck in the head and eyes. 

US adds 'low yield' nuclear weapon to its submarine arsenal

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military has deployed a new addition to its nuclear arsenal — a long-range missile armed with a nuclear warhead of reduced destructive power. The so-called low-yield missile joins other, more powerful weapons aboard stealthy submarines prowling the oceans.

The debut deployment aboard long-range submarines, known as boomers, is a landmark in U.S. nuclear weapons policy. It is the first major addition to the strategic nuclear arsenal in recent decades and is a departure from the Obama administration's policy of lessening dependence on nuclear weapons in pursuit of a nuclear-free world.

In confirming the missile deployment to The Associated Press, the Pentagon's top policy official asserted that the weapon makes Americans safer by making nuclear war less likely. Critics, including some Democrats in Congress, call it a dangerous excess that increases the risk of war.

John Rood, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said in an AP interview Monday that adding the "low-yield" warhead, known as the W76-2, to submarines which tote Trident II ballistic missiles lowers the risk of nuclear war. He said the United States will continue its stated policy of using nuclear weapons only in "extraordinary circumstances." He also said the warhead will help the United States dissuade Russia from risking launching a limited nuclear conflict.

"This supplemental capability strengthens deterrence and provides the United States a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon," Rood said, adding that it supports the U.S. commitment to deter attacks against allies, and "demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can credibly and decisively respond to any threat scenario."

Holocaust survivor seeks teens to bear witness for future

DRANCY, France (AP) — The girls and boys in the room were just a little older than Victor Perahia was when he was finally freed in 1945, his body wracked with tuberculosis and typhus, his mind anguished by the suffering and death he had seen. After 40 years of self-imposed silence, he now returns time and again to bear witness at Drancy, the transit center from where the French government deported tens of thousands of Jews into the hands of Nazis.

"From the day of my arrest to the day of my liberation, I will tell you my story," Perahia said. He sat with his back to the window overlooking the Drancy housing project, where he spent 21 months. It was the last place in France his father and grandfather saw before they were loaded into a train bound for the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

The students from a middle school in nearby Livry Gargan held their breaths, their eyes fixed on Perahia's lined face. 

Perahia spoke to the students last week amid a series of events to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Surveys in recent years, including one released this year, show young people in France and elsewhere in Europe increasingly question the scale of the Holocaust, although outright denial is rare.

Perahia told the students he was 9 when six German soldiers stomped upstairs to the family apartment in the coastal town of Saint-Nazaire. They kept him hostage while his mother ran to fetch his father, who demanded to know what was happening.

Clock is ticking for companies that depend on China imports

WASHINGTON (AP) — For companies bracing for losses from China's viral outbreak, the damage has so far been delayed, thanks to a stroke of timing: The outbreak hit just when Chinese factories and many businesses were closed anyway to let workers travel home for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday .

But the respite won't last.

If much of industrial China remains on lockdown for the next few weeks — a very real possibility — Western retailers, auto companies and manufacturers that depend on Chinese imports will start to run out of the goods they depend on.

In order to meet deadlines for summer goods, retail experts say that Chinese factories would need to start ramping up production by March 15. If Chinese factories were instead to remain idle through May 1, it would likely cripple retailers' crucial back-to-school and fall seasons. 

"There's complete uncertainty,'' said Steve Pasierb, CEO of the Toy Industry Association. "This could be huge if it goes on for months.''

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