Shannon Vavra
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Puerto Rico in crisis

A man looks at the horizon early in the morning after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. Photo: Carlos Giusti / AP

Puerto Rico remains without power and short on supplies after being slammed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Officials are having difficulty even communicating with outlying towns that were devastated by the storm, and the humanitarian crisis is growing.

After focusing for days, at least publicly, on NFL protests and other matters, President Trump tweeted about the crisis in Puerto Rico on Monday night — and seemed to blame Puerto Rico in part for its own misfortune.

Trump's tweets: "Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble....It's old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars....owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities - and doing well. #FEMA"

What Puerto Rican officials have said

From Governor Ricardo Rosselló: "We are U.S. citizens that just a few weeks ago went to the aid of other U.S. citizens even as we're going through our fiscal downturn and as we were hit by another storm…Now, we've been essentially devastated. Complete destruction of the power infrastructure, severe destruction of the housing infrastructure, food and water are needed. My petition is that we were there once for our brothers and sisters, our other U.S. citizens, now it's time that U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are taken care of adequately, properly."

From Manati mayor Jose Sanchez Gonzalez: "Hysteria is starting to spread. The hospital is about to collapse. It's at capacity," he said, crying. "We need someone to help us immediately."

The scale of the crisis

  • Government officials said Sunday a dam on the Western part of the island "will collapse at any time." Eastern areas, which were hit by the eye of the storm, could take years to recover.
  • Officials estimate it could take up to 6 months to restore power to the whole island.
  • Federal agencies have cleared the Port of San Juan for daytime operations, but accessing Puerto Rico is pretty difficult right now — airports and harbors are severely damaged and the whole island remains out of power. 11 ships have delivered 1.6 million gallons of water, 23,000 cots, dozens of generators and food, per the AP. Many hospital patients are being flown to the U.S. mainland for treatment.
  • The death toll is at least 10 in Puerto Rico, and 31 if you include other Caribbean islands, per the AP.
  • 1,360 of the island's 1,600 cell towers are down. 85% of phone and internet cables were knocked out.

Personal experiences

  • When locals see outsiders, the first thing they ask is "Are you FEMA?" per The Washington Post.
  • "Nothing's working, we don't hear from anyone…We feel abandoned," Toa Baja resident Johanna Ortega told USAToday.
  • Food at local grocery stores is "VERY LIMITED," San Juan resident Claudia Batista messaged Axios. Batista described the situation in San Juan as "desperate times," saying because of "all the material loss, people are losing control and patience and are stealing in other homes and assaulting people on the streets."
  • Some local responders in Juncos cleared streets with machetes since the town doesn't have enough chain saws. People are riding bikes and walking for miles to get to gas stations

What FEMA is doing

  • FEMA teams were in Puerto Rico earlier this month following Hurricane Irma, and as soon as Hurricane Maria's winds died down they launched search-and-rescue missions, per USAToday.
  • All of the 28 task force teams around the U.S. have been recruited to help, which is rare, per Karl Lee, a FEMA Incident Support Team member.
  • FEMA responders are using a San Juan hotel as a command center.
  • 4,000 U.S. Army Reserve members have also been deployed to the island. The Army Corps of Engineers dispatched the 249th Engineer Battalion, per CNN.

What Trump has said

Trump declared a major disaster in Puerto Rico and said all of the U.S. government is behind the relief efforts. White House adviser Tom Bossert and FEMA's chief are heading to Puerto Rico Monday, although a trip from Trump isn't expected for a while, per CNN.

  • Rosselló thanked Trump on Monday for having federal emergency assistance provided, per the AP, noting FEMA has done a "phenomenal job."

Trump's most recent tweets about Puerto Rico, from last week:

Take a look

How to help

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Trump thanks NASCAR and booing NFL fans

Buffalo Bills players kneel during the national anthem yesterday. Photo: Jeffrey T. Barnes / AP

President Trump continued his Twitter crusade this morning against NFL protests during the national anthem, thanking the fans who "demand respect for our Flag" and applauding the public statements of some NASCAR owners regarding the anthem.

The context: Some NASCAR team owners, including championship driver Richard Petty, came out in support of Trump's stance on the protests over the weekend, saying they would dismiss or fire drivers who protest the national anthem, according to USA Today.

The protest's origin: Last year, Colin Kaepernick, then-quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began kneeling during the national anthem to bring attention to police brutality against black Americans.

Go deeper: Our takeaways from Week 1 of Trump vs. the NFL.

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Tom Brady: "I certainly disagree" with Trump's NFL comments

Tom Brady speaks to the media following an NFL football game against the Houston Texans. Photo: Michael Dwyer / AP

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady came out against President Trump's NFL comments this morning with Boston's WEEI hosts Kirk and Callahan during his weekly Monday morning radio hit:

"Yeah, I certainly disagree with what [Trump] said. I thought it was just divisive... Like I said, I just want to support my teammates. I am never one to say, 'Oh, that is wrong. That is right.' I do believe in what I believe in. I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me."

Why it matters: Trump has called Brady a friend and described him as "the BEST quarterback."

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What North Korea wants from the U.S.

Kim Jong-un arrives for the official opening of the Ryomyong residential area in Pyongyang. Wong Maye-E / AP

The U.S. wants North Korea to halt its nuclear program, but North Korea has said it won't do it. Instead, the regime wants the United States to leave the region — but the United States won't abandon its allies in the region anytime soon. So where's the room for compromise?

What North Korea wants: "Getting a reduction in joint exercises between the U.S. and South Korea" is something the North Koreans might agree to, according to Suzanne DiMaggio, who's directing an unofficial dialogue between the United States and the North Koreans. North Korea views those drills as rehearsal for invasion and highly threatening.

The next exercises are in the spring of 2018. Kim's regime may also be interested in a reduction in sanctions.

What the United States could ask for: Although denuclearization demands may fall on deaf ears, reaching some kind of interim freeze agreement on North Korea's testing is something DiMaggio says said the United States could reasonably ask for. That would be verifiable, prevent escalation and proliferation, and leave denuclearization on the table.

DiMaggio told Axios her sense is that the North Koreans "recognize at some point they'll have to return to the negotiating table to head off this crisis.

  • Timing: Before negotiating, "I think they will first want to demonstrate their capacity to have an ICBM…that could reach the United States," DiMaggio said. So expect more tests.
  • So until then, DiMaggio recommends the United States tread lightly and use the appropriate, private channels to talk to North Korea. One warning for Trump from DiMaggio, who intimately knows what the North Koreans are thinking: "Contradictory messaging by the president and other members of the administration must stop...This can lead to misinterpretation and miscalculation by the North Koreans...we can see [inadvertent war] happening."
  • Trump's been "very unwise," as the rhetoric about destroying North Korea he used this week at the UN "reinforces Kim Jong-un's belief that having the capability to strike keeps the U.S. from striking" because Washington just keeps amping up the rhetoric and not acting.
Go deeper: More on the "freeze" option from Robert Eisen at the Brookings Institution
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The trouble with Russia's banks

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

The Central Bank of Russia agreed to bail out B&N Bank, one of the top five lenders in Russia, according to Bloomberg. This follows the nation's biggest ever banking collapse in the country — the central bank recently took over Russia's largest private lender, Otkritie, after it became clear Otkritie was manipulating the market price of its bonds and falsifying its financials, per FT. Since then, Russian state-run corporations have been withdrawing billions from Russia's private lenders.

It's not an isolated incident: Since 2013, Russia's central bank has shut down more than 300 insolvent lenders. That's more than a third of Russian banks, per Bloomberg.

Why it matters: The private banking sector is experiencing a "crisis," according to Russia's financial ombudsmen, Pavel Medvedev, but it's not a wider problem. (Although there's fears it could be.) Ever since 2014 when oil prices collapsed and a recession was set off, which was worsened by western sanctions, Russia's been falling a little behind.

This major banking collapse "tells us how bad the situation has been. This is about losses already occurred, more than expectations of future losses," Barry Ickes, who used to serve on the board of directors of the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, told Axios.

  • Why it's happening: B&N was one of several lenders that helped rescue banks that were going under after 2014, but it turns out some of the banks were even worse off than was known. S&P Global Ratings estimate troubled assets in the banking sector are about more than 20% of total loans and the S&P just ranked Russia with the not so stellar credit rating of BB+/BBB- Margins are tightening for banks since Russia's central bank lowered interest rates to 8.5% from 9% to bolster the economy days ago. But generally, Russia's state finances are in relatively good shape, CNN reports.

It's also not the only trouble Russia's got going on. For example, 22 million live below the poverty line, up from 16 million before the crisis, per CNN. It ranks 41st for quality of life and 80th for "open for business" in the world, per U.S. News & World Report. Militarily, Russia is falling behind, as well. Its planes keep falling out of the air, its only aircraft carrier needs a tug boat in case it breaks down, and its technology harkens back to the Soviet era, per The Telegraph. Don't forget, Russia has a large nuclear arsenal and capable submarines — but as The National Interest's Roger McDermott put it, the "representation of Russia's Army as...all-powerful...is hyperbole."

Go deeper: The NYT's Ellen Barry profiles "The Russia Left Behind"

Bottom line: While much of the Western world focuses on how Russia may be manipulating politics in other countries — as part of a theory that Russia is trying to boost its position on the international stage — it's important to acknowledge that Russia might not always be doing as hot back home as its menacing cyber capabilities suggest.
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Global Threats Roundup: "Stumbling toward war," Iran's missile, and secret talks

Welcome to today's Global Threats Report, the latest on this week's threats around the world, brought to you by Axios' Shannon Vavra. Check out our Apple News channel for the latest smart brevity on politics, tech, business, science and the future of work, and sign up here for our free newsletters.

1. "Stumbling toward war"

Trump speaks to world leaders at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly. Photo: MNC1 MPI122 / MediaPunch / IPX via AP

Trump delivered his maiden speech at the UNGA Tuesday, saying he would "destroy" North Korea if necessary, and announced new sanctions on the regime. Kim Jong-un lashed right back, noting "deranged" Trump would "pay dearly" for his speech. Don't be shocked — given Trump's talk about destroying North Korea it was expected that Kim's statement would be harsh.

What's unusual about this speech "is that the entire statement is directed at Trump in a personal way," Suzanne DiMaggio told Axios. DiMaggio is directing the dialogue between the U.S. and the North Korean government that's included several visits to the North and one face-to-face in May this year. Her thoughts on the latet

Trump's been "very unwise," since this rhetoric "reinforces Kim Jong-un's belief that having the capability to strike keeps the U.S. from striking" because we just keep amping up the rhetoric and not acting.

What's next: North Korea may conduct a Hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific, which DiMaggio said could trigger a retaliatory move from the U.S. and could bring us "stumbling toward war." Recall, that hasn't happened since China did one in 1980. A Hydrogen bomb test could leave devastating effects on populations nearby, including increased cancer rates and birth defects.

One warning for Trump from DiMaggio, who intimately knows what the North Koreans are thinking: "Contradictory messaging by the president and other members of the administration must stop...This can lead to misinterpretation and miscalculation by the North Koreans...we can see [inadvertent war] happening."

Go deeper:

Our Expert Voice conversation on how war with North Korea would unfold

Defense Secretary Mattis said there's a military option that doesn't risk Seoul

2. What North Korea wants

People watch a TV screen showing an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo: Ahn Young-joon / AP

The U.S. wants North Korea to halt its nuclear program, but the North has said it won't halt its nuclear program. Instead, the regime wants the U.S. to leave the region — but the U.S. won't abandon its allies in the region anytime soon. So where's the room for compromise?

At the negotiating table, what compromise is reasonable on both sides:

  • What the U.S. could ask for: Although denuclearization request may fall on deaf ears in the North, reaching some kind of interim freeze agreement on North Korea's testing is something DiMaggio said the U.S. could reasonably ask for. That would be verifiable, prevent escalation and proliferation, and leave denuclearization on the table.
  • What North Korea wants: "Getting a reduction in joint exercises between the U.S. and South Korea" is something DiMaggio thinks the North Koreans might agree to — the North views those drills as rehearsal for invasion and highly threatening. It would calm the North if the U.S. and South Korea laid off a bit. The next ones are in the spring of 2018. Kim's regime may also be interested in a reduction in sanctions.
Go deeper: More on the "freeze" option from Robert Eisen at the Brookings Institution

3. About Iran's missile test

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani listens during a news conference at the UN. Photo: Bebeto Matthews / AP

In other tit-for-tat news...

  • Trump said this week he has "decided" whether to exit the Iran nuclear deal, but wouldn't reveal the details on the decision.
  • Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said earlier this week if Trump follows through on his threats to nix the nuclear deal, America would pay "such a high cost."
  • Then Iran unveiled its latest ballistic missile, which is capable of hitting parts of the Middle East — including Israel, a key American ally, and said it tested it Saturday. Iran said it is capable of carrying multiple warheads.

Why it matters: The AP cast the unveiling as a "direct challenge" to Trump, since Trump signed a bill imposing penalties on those involved in Tehran's ballistic missile program last month.

No intimidation in Iran when it comes to missiles: Iran's defense minister said "we will certainly not be the least affected by any threats and we won't ask anyone's permission" about its missile program.

Context: The Trump administration last week re-approved sanctions waivers for Iran as part of the nuclear deal. The deadline to re-certify the deal as a whole is coming mid-October.

4. 3,000 troops

Mattis waits to greet Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz at the Pentagon. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters in the Pentagon this week that the U.S. is planning to send more than 3,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

"It is exactly over 3,000 somewhat and frankly I haven't signed the last of the orders right now as we look at specific, small elements that are going." — Secretary Mattis

This comes about a month after Trump announced his plans to carry forward the war. There are already about 11,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Go deeper: Trump's plan for Afghanistan

5. Secret talks

Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Senior representatives from the U.S. and Russian militaries met in an undisclosed location "somewhere in the Middle East" to discuss the tensions surrounding the anti-ISIS fight in Syria. Army Col. Ryan Dillon wouldn't tell reporters who was there or how long the meeting was.

  • Why pay attention: This is a potential violation of the U.S. ban on military-to-military cooperation with Russia in light of Russia's annexation of part of Crimea. Plus, it shows an increased willingness to coordinate efforts in the region as Russian forces are deployed alongside pro-Syrian forces in the effort to take Deir el-Zour, a strategically significant city in Eastern Syria currently held by ISIS. Russia has warned it would retaliate if Russian forces are attacked.
  • What they discussed: Where forces are located around Deir el-Zour.
  • Up next: Col. Dillon said he wasn't disclosing the location since there might be more talks.

Thanks for reading! Check out our Apple News channel for more smart brevity, and catch up with me on Twitter @shanvav

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Iran tested a ballistic missile

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sits before addressing the United Nations General Assembly. Photo: Jason DeCrow / AP

Iran unveiled its latest ballistic missile Friday and said it tested it today, Reuters reports. State television carried footage of the test. Iran said it is capable of carrying multiple warheads, of flying 2,000 km is capable of hitting parts of the Middle East, including Israel, a key American ally, per the AP.

The Trump effect: This is a challenge to Trump, since Trump signed a bill imposing penalties on those involved in Tehran's ballistic missile program last month. (The U.S. has said Tehran's tests violate a UN resolution endorsing the Iran nuclear deal.)

Iran's defense minister said "we will certainly not be the least affected by any threats and we won't ask anyone's permission" about its missile program.

Context:

  • Trump said this week he has "decided" whether to exit the Iran nuclear deal, but wouldn't reveal the decision.
  • Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said earlier this week if Trump follows through on his threats to nix the nuclear deal, America would pay "such a high cost."

The Trump administration re-approved sanctions waivers for Iran as part of the nuclear deal last week. The deadline to re-certify the deal as a whole is coming mid-October.

Go deeper: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Iran may be honoring technical aspects of the deal

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Hackers targeted 21 states' election systems last year

The Department of Homeland Security told election officials in 21 states Friday their election systems were hacked in September of 2016, per the AP.

Data: AP reports, Department of Homeland Security; Cartogram: Axios Visuals via Associated Press. Data as of Sept. 22, 6pm.

  • Government officials told the AP they believe the hackers were Russian agents.
  • In most cases the systems were not breached.
  • Most of the states heard Friday for the first time of this hacking.
Why it matters: That's direct confirmation from the government that it believes Russian agents tried to hack the election.
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Trump blasts John McCain for opposing GOP health bill

Trump arrives for a campaign rally for U.S. Senate candidate Luther Strange. Evan Vucci / AP

Trump said Friday night that Sen. John McCain's "no" decision on Graham-Cassidy came as a "totally unexpected thing, terrible." Trump added that Sen. Luther Strange, who he's rallying for tonight in Alabama, said he would have his vote on health care.

Compared to his opponent, Roy Moore, Strange is the establishment candidate, but Trump told Alabama residents that Strange "is determined to drain that swamp." He added, referring to Republicans in Congress, Strange "doesn't know those people. He's never met them."

Highlights:

  • If Moore wins against Strange, Trump said he would "be campaigning like hell for him."
  • "No, Russia did not help me" win the election.
  • Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are "very nice."
  • "The wall is happening...What I do best? I build."
  • On 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the American flag: "'Wouldn't you like to see one of our NFL owners, when somebody disrespects the flag, say, 'Get that son of a b***h off the field,'" Trump asked.
  • On Jeff Sessions: "he's doing a good job…we have him very busy watching the borders
  • On the UN: He called his week at the UNGA "very productive" and seemed surprised when the crowd had an outburst of cheers. He added, "the world is starting to respect the United States of America again."
  • On Kim Jong-un: Trump assured the audience he would protect America against North Korea's threats, and called Kim Jong-un "Rocket Man" again.
  • Trump threw punches at "crooked" Hillary Clinton and the media.

The scene: Trump walked out to "Sweet Home Alabama," smiling and hugging Strange after his brief introduction. As soon as Trump started speaking, he was interrupted by chants of "USA."

The runoff between Strange and Moore will take place September 26. The winner will run against Doug Jones.

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Trump admin to issue temporary new restrictions on travel

Trump listens during a luncheon with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the UN meeting. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke is set to issue new, temporary restrictions on travel for foreign nationals coming to the U.S., which are tailored on a country-by-country basis, Trump administration officials told reporters on a call Friday. The Supreme Court is reviewing the travel ban October 10.

Why it matters: Trump's travel ban's 90-day review period is set to expire on Sunday. This effectively replaces it, although the officials on the call would not detail which countries are facing restrictions under the new country-specific standards. The WSJ reports the new country-specific restrictions will bring the list of countries facing restrictions from six (in the original ban) to around eight.

The administration perspective, per Raj Shah, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary: "we need to know who is coming into our country, we should be able to validate their identities." The goal is to confirm incoming foreign nationals don't pose a threat by sharing information about terrorism and criminal histories between countries, as well as requiring, in some cases, secure e-passports with biometric information.

The tailored restrictions are based on threat analysis and deficiencies in identity vetting, including countries who would not come into compliance under enhanced U.S. screening procedures.

Every country in the world was notified in July they would have 50 days to fall in line with enhanced security measures, and if not, face heightened restrictions. Duke submitted her report to the White House based on an interagency review of travel standards for foreign nationals coming to the U.S. as it relates to the travel ban Trump signed off on in March, which was allowed to continue in a limited way starting in June. The report won't be made public.

Up next:

  • Administration officials wouldn't get into timing, but they said a proclamation will be issued.
  • Sarah Isgur Flores, Director of Public Affairs at the Department of Justice would not comment on how this will change the government argument about the ban, given that litigation is ongoing.
On the call: Dave Lapan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Media Operations at DHS; Miles Taylor, Counselor to the Secretary of Homeland Security; Raj Shah, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary; Sarah Isgur Flores Director of Public Affairs at the Department of Justice; Carl Risch, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, State Department; Michael Scardiville, Principal Director within DHS Policy.