Approval of sonic cannons reopens U.S. Eastern Seaboard to oil exploration

ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The Obama administration is reopening the Eastern Seaboard to offshore oil and gas exploration, approving seismic surveys using sonic cannons that can pinpoint energy deposits deep beneath the ocean floor.

Friday’s announcement is the first real step toward what could be a transformation in coastal states, creating thousands of jobs to support a new energy infrastructure. But it dismayed environmentalists and people who owe their livelihoods to fisheries and tourism.

The cannons create noise pollution in waters shared by whales, dolphins and turtles, sending sound waves 100 times louder than a jet engine reverberating through the deep every ten seconds for weeks at a time. Arguing that endangered species could be harmed was the environmental groups’ best hope for extending a decades-old ban against drilling off the U.S. Atlantic coast.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management acknowledged that thousands of sea creatures will be harmed even as it approved opening the outer continental shelf from Delaware to Florida to exploration. Energy companies need the data as they prepare to apply for drilling leases in 2018, when current congressional limits expire.

"The bureau’s decision reflects a carefully analyzed and balanced approach that will allow us to increase our understanding of potential offshore resources while protecting the human, marine, and coastal environments," acting BOEM Director Walter Cruickshank said in a statement.


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Surge of children crossing border shifts immigration politics

The surge of Central American children crossing the U.S. southern border has shifted the politics of immigration, weakening one of the most potent arguments Democrats plan to make against Republicans in November and in the next presidential election.

In the past month, the number of Americans who rank immigration as the nation’s top problem has tripled in surveys conducted by Gallup -- putting the issue on par with the economy and unemployment as the most frequently named issues facing the country.

And this past week, a poll from Pew Research Center found a 5 percentage point drop in support for the Democrats’ long-stalled immigration fix, which would beef up border security while at the same time creating a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million people living in the United States illegally.

That idea remains popular, backed by 68 percent of those polled, having gained support in the past few years as the recession and a surge of Border Patrol agents quieted the border. But Roberto Suro, a former director of the Pew Hispanic Center, said that when the media focuses on trouble at the border, support for such a citizenship effort drops. In the same recent Pew survey, a plurality of Americans said they favor swifter deportations of migrant children and trust Republicans more than Democrats to fix the issue.

"The most potent imagery in immigration politics has been when things are out of control," said Suro, now a journalism professor at the University of Southern California. "Those three words often spell a turn toward restriction, regardless of what the actual circumstance is."

Israel presses forth in Gaza ground operation

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israeli troops pushed into Gaza on Friday in a ground offensive that officials said could last up to two weeks as the prime minister ordered the military to prepare for a "significantly" wider campaign.

The assault raised risks of a bloodier conflict amid rising Palestinian civilian casualties and the first Israeli military death -- and brought questions of how far Israel will go to cripple Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Officially, the goal remains to destroy a network of tunnels militants use to infiltrate Israel and attack civilians. In its first day on the ground in Gaza, the military said it took up positions beyond the border, encountered little resistance from Hamas fighters and made steady progress in destroying the tunnels. Military officials said the quick work means that within a day or two, Israeli leaders may already have to decide whether to expand the operation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered the military to prepare for a "significant expansion" of the ground offensive.

"It is not possible to deal with tunnels only from the air. It needs to be done also from the ground," he told a special Cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv. "We chose to begin this operation after the other options were exhausted and with the understanding that without the operation, the price we will pay can be very high."

If Israel and Hamas can agree on one point, it seems, it’s that things have to change.

That’s why cease-fire efforts carried out by Egypt and backed by the West have until now failed, and it’s why Israel decided to roll the dice and launch a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip with a huge potential to turn ugly.

Now comes a pivotal question: With Hamas weakened by a regional realignment, will Netanyahu up the ante by attempting to oust the Islamic militant group from power in the Palestinian territory? The risks would match the temptation -- but if it can be done with minimal loss of life, most Israelis, as well as others in the region and around the world, would probably be with him.

Wildfire destroys about 100 homes in central Washington

PATEROS, Wash. (AP) -- A fire racing through rural north-central Washington destroyed about 100 homes, leaving behind smoldering rubble, solitary brick chimneys and burned-out automobiles as it blackened hundreds of square miles in the scenic Methow Valley.

Friday’s dawn revealed dramatic devastation, with the Okanagan County town of Pateros, home to 650 people, hit especially hard. Most residents evacuated in advance of the flames, and some returned Friday to see what, if anything, was left of their houses. There were no reports of injuries, officials said.

A wall of fire wiped out a block of homes on Dawson Street. David Brownlee, 75, said he drove away Thursday evening just as the fire reached the front of his home, which erupted like a box of matches.

"It was just a funnel of fire," Brownlee said. "All you could do was watch her go."

Next door, the Pateros Community Church appeared largely undamaged.

Gaza’s children pay high price for Israel-Hamas fighting: 1 in 5 of dead are minors

BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Sobbing and shaking, Ismail Abu Musallam leaned against the wall of a hospital Friday, waiting for three of his children to be prepared for burial. They were killed as they slept when an Israeli tank shell hit their home, burying 11-year-old Ahmed, 14-year-old Walaa and 16-year-old Mohammed under debris in their beds.

His personal tragedy is not unique: the U.N. says minors make up one-fifth of the 299 Palestinians killed in 11 days of intense Israeli bombardment of the densely populated Gaza Strip, where half the 1.7 million people are under age 18.

The Israeli military says it’s doing its utmost to spare civilians by urging residents to leave areas that are about to be shelled or bombed as Hamas targets. It accuses the Islamic militants of using civilians as human shields by firing rockets from civilian areas.

But even if urged to evacuate, most Gazans have no safe place to go, rights activists say.

"If you are going to attack civilian structures in densely populated areas, of course you are going to see children killed," said Bill Van Esveld, a researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.