June 14, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran on Thursday for early-morning explosions that disabled two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, saying U.S. intelligence, the level of expertise needed to carry out the "blatant attack," and recent events suggested Iran was the culprit.

U.S. officials echoed those allegations at an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting in New York later Thursday, after which Iran "categorically" rejected the "unfounded claims" from the U.S., condemned the attacks "in the strongest possible terms," and urged "the U.S. and its regional allies must stop warmongering and put an end to mischievous plots as well as false flag operations in the region."

Early Friday, U.S. Central Command released a black-and-white video from a U.S. surveillance aircraft, describing it as showing Iranian sailors on a Revolutionary Guard boat removing an unexploded limpet mine from the side of one of the two damaged tankers, the Japanese-owned chemical tanker Kokura Courageous, on Thursday afternoon. Limpet mines attach to ship hulls and disable but don't destroy the vessel.

The Kokuka Courageous's Japanese owners said the crew saw "flying objects" before the explosion, suggesting mines were not the cause. The second ship, the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair, burned for hours. All crew members from both ships were evacuated safely.

The apparent attack on the Japanese ship "appeared timed to undermine diplomatic efforts by Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who was wrapping up a high-stakes visit to Tehran," The Washington Post reports. There is a "widening split between pro-diplomacy officials in Iran and hard-liners opposed to further negotiations, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," a paramilitary group that reports only to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Revolutionary Guard and other Iranian security services "have a decades-long history of conducting attacks and other operations aimed precisely at undermining the diplomatic objectives of a country's elected representatives," the Eurasia Group think tank said in a note Thursday. Peter Weber

5:24 p.m.

The Fast & Furious franchise somehow keeps finding new ways to baffle the world with its inconsistent titling.

The first footage for the series' ninth installment dropped Tuesday, revealing title of this one not as Fast & Furious 9, but just F9. To clear up any confusion, Universal confirmed to io9's Germain Lussier that yes, F9 is the official name of the movie, although the teaser and the poster throw in "The Fast Saga" for good measure.

This title joins a franchise that started as The Fast and the Furious, only to release a completely different movie called Fast & Furious, only to drop the furious with Fast Five, drop the fast with Furious 7, and that's not even to mention the unforgettably bonkers 2 Fast 2 Furious. Griffin Newman, though, expressed bewilderment Tuesday that this newfound minimalist approach utilized for F9 wasn't just used for the eighth movie, since, as Newman points out, "F8" actually "phonetically sounds like a real word." F9? Not so much.

On the other hand, no doubt previewing the opening line of every review should F9 turn out to be mediocre, Adam Lance Garcia joked we can go ahead and call this one "'fine' for short."

With a tenth installment already confirmed, what insane naming shenanigans might remain up this franchise's sleeve? Whatever it might be, expect Vin Diesel and the family's tradition of inconsistent, nonsensical titles to continue come 2021. Brendan Morrow

5:06 p.m.

Not long after Jeff Bezos' phone was allegedly hacked as a result of a link sent by a WhatsApp account believed to be Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, a New York Times journalist was reportedly targeted by Saudi-linked spyware.

Ben Hubbard, who has covered the kingdom extensively, wrote Tuesday that he received a "fishy" looking link in June 2018, which researchers from Citizen Lab determined contained software sold by the Israeli NSO Group and deployed by Saudi Hackers. NSO Group denied its technology was responsible, and the Saudi government didn't provide comment, but Riyadh has denied any involvement in the alleged Bezos infiltration.

Hubbard didn't click on the link, which proved to be the right call, since it appears his phone wasn't compromised. But the mere fact that he received a harmful link is another example of Saudi's possible targeting of journalists and dissidents, which has been magnified since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Per Hubbard, human rights experts think hacking technologies have reached the point where they require enhanced government regulation. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

4:21 p.m.

A tsunami threat message was issued Tuesday after a 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck near Jamaica and Cuba, CNN reports.

The International Tsunami Information Center said Tuesday "hazardous tsunami waves are forecast for some coasts," per Reuters, and CNN writes there was a "threat of tsunami waves reaching 0.3 to 1 meter (about 1 to 3 feet) above tide level for the coasts of Jamaica, Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico and the Cayman Islands."

The earthquake, which struck shortly after 2:00 p.m. Eastern, was felt in Miami and caused "very strong to severe shaking in far western Jamaica," The Weather Channel reports, citing the U.S. Geological Survey. The Associated Press also reports it could be felt "strongly" in Santiago, where a witness said, "We were all sitting and we felt the chairs move. We heard the noise of everything moving around."

There have not been reports of any casualties, and according to the National Tsunami Warning Center, there is no tsunami threat for the eastern United States or the Gulf of Mexico. The Washington Post reports, though, this "appeared to be one of the biggest [earthquakes] on record in the Caribbean, and the largest since 1946." Brendan Morrow

4:19 p.m.

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but Michael Bloomberg is gonna need some work on "shake."

Appearing at a campaign event in Burlington, Vermont, on Monday, the former New York City mayor had no problem remembering the proper form when greeting humans: firm grip, eye contact, friendly smile. But when approached by a dog, everything clearly went out the window:

Well, there goes the canine vote. Jeva Lange

3:30 p.m.

As anticipated, Palestine does not appear ready to sign on to President Trump's Middle East plan, which he presented Tuesday alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The plan was not considered to be a game-changer after it was revealed. Some experts predict it could even escalate tensions between Israel and Palestine because it does not curb Israeli settlements in the West Bank despite creating a Palestinian state in the region. So it's not a surprise to learn that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas resoundingly rejected what he described as a "nonsense" proposal.

Abbas said Palestine wouldn't "surrender," specifying Palestinians would resist the plan through "peaceful, popular means."

Protests reportedly broke out in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Tuesday, and a senior official for the militant group also rejected Trump's plan. Abbas reportedly met with leaders of other Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to come up with a response to the proposal. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

3:20 p.m.

The opening arguments in President Trump's impeachment trial officially wrapped up Tuesday, with a little help from 1990s Democrats.

Trump's defense team concluded their arguments hours early on Tuesday, with White House counsel Pat Cipollone saying he "had kind of a lengthy presentation prepared, but ... I think we've made our case."

Democrats previously utilized old clips of Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) during their opening arguments, and Trump's team did the same, playing a montage of Democrats during former President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial making similar points as Trump's team.

"There must never be a narrowly voted impeachment, or an impeachment supported by one of our major political parties and opposed by the other," House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) says in one 1990s-era clip. In another clip, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) voices concern that "we've lowered the bar on impeachment" and that "when a Republican wins the White House, Democrats will demand payback."

"You were right," Cipollone quipped after the montage played. "But I'm sorry to say you were also prophetic."

Cipollone concluded by echoing language previously used by Ken Starr, asking the Senate to "end the era of impeachment for good." With opening arguments concluded, the question period in Trump's impeachment trial will begin Wednesday, while a vote on whether to call witnesses will take place on Friday. Brendan Morrow

3:08 p.m.

It doesn't look like President Trump will be able to keep his 2016 campaign promise of paying off the federal debt during his presidency.

The Congressional Budget Office released a report Tuesday predicting U.S. debt will reach 98 percent of the country's GDP by 2030, up from the 81 percent the office foresees the deficit reaching by the end of 2020. The CBO projects the government will spend $1 trillion more than it collects in 2020, a number which would then increase every year for, well, a while.

The prognostication is reportedly mostly a result of tax cuts and the assumption that the government will continue to increase spending, per The Wall Street Journal. If the Trump administration's tax cuts enacted in 2017 are extended beyond their current expiration at the end of 2025, the latest CBO estimates may fall short.

CBO Director Phillip Swagel expects the deficit level to eventually reach some historic highs, especially for a time of low unemployment. He said his office's projections will approach figures not seen "since World War II." Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

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