It’d be cheaper to just draw a line in the sand. President Donald Trump’s administration has awarded the first contracts for its promised wall along the Mexican border. Receiving between $400,000 and $500,000 each, four construction companies now have the job of building a concrete prototype 30 feet long and about 30 feet tall — one that could prevent tunneling beneath it and that’s not too much of an eyesore. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is expected to announce four more contracts for non-concrete walls next week.
The Presidential Daily Brief
The wind and water were bad enough. Yesterday’s explosions at the Arkema chemical plant near Houston have exacerbated the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, which killed at least 39 people. More blasts are inevitable, officials say, as generators needed to refrigerate and stabilize chemicals failed during the storm, while the resulting smoke from fires at the plant has hospitalized 15 people. A roof collapse at the nation’s second-largest oil refinery also released pollutants after the storm, further fueling the debate over a regulation-averse culture that shrugs off lax disaster safeguards.
Shut the doors. In late July, Russia ordered the U.S. to dramatically cut its diplomatic staff there and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised a response by Sept. 1. No Russian personnel will be deported, though 35 were expelled last December in retaliation for their country’s alleged meddling in the American election. But Vladimir Putin’s government will have to surrender its consulate general in San Francisco, plus buildings in Washington, D.C., and New York, by tomorrow — a further sign that U.S.-Russian relations are in a downward spiral.
Houston, we have another problem. Nearly a third of American refineries, many clustered on the storm-stricken Gulf Coast, have been affected by Harvey’s devastation, and Thursday saw U.S. gas prices jump 13.5 percent as facilities still in operation struggled to import crude oil. With major pipelines also shut, the Department of Energy has authorized using 1 million barrels from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the world’s largest government-run stockpile. While experts say the U.S. has enough fuel to weather the crisis, an unexpectedly long recovery could turn the tables.
Know This: Kenya has become the first African country to throw out presidential election results, after judges said today that allegations of hacking tainted last month’s vote. Hurricane Irma, currently intensifying over the Atlantic, is predicted to hit the Caribbean and maybe even the U.S. next week. And Houston mosques are continuing to house people sheltering from Harvey even as they flood with worshipers for Eid al-Adha, one of Islam’s holiest observances.
Try This: Feeling presidential after a week of briefings? Prove it with the PDB quiz.
Answer This: Tell us how you really feel. OZY and WGBH are bringing you a terrific new TV show, Third Rail With OZY, launching on PBS this fall! Each Wednesday, we’ll post a provocative question, focusing on topics that might make it onto the show. This week: Should North Korea and others be allowed to have nuclear weapons if the U.S. can? Go deep. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts or a personal story, and we might feature your answer next week.
The kids are all right. That’s the message in an open letter from numerous tech titans, including Facebook, Microsoft and Uber, imploring President Trump to not end the Obama-era program that protects undocumented immigrant children from deportation to their often unfamiliar homelands. Some 800,000 so-called “dreamers” are currently registered under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. With Trump expected to make a policy announcement ending the program as soon as today, the young immigrants’ best hope may rest with Congress, which could defy the president and codify their rights.
It didn’t have the right stuff. Typically reliable, India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle failed to successfully launch a navigation satellite yesterday. A mysterious malfunction caused the satellite to remain stuck in the rocket’s nose cone — meaning it’ll orbit the earth trapped inside until it falls into the atmosphere and burns up on re-entry. Out of 41 flights in 24 years, the PSLV has only failed twice, prompting speculation over what Thursday’s mishap might mean for future missions, such as freeing X Prize competitor TeamIndus’ lunar lander from Earth’s surly bonds.
They’re tougher than we thought. Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means the oceans absorb it and, disturbingly, grow more acidic. Past research has determined that fish in such waters act more erratically and dangerously, making them vulnerable to predators. But a new study suggests that fish living around coral reefs can actually withstand higher CO2 levels without exhibiting risky behavior. Shallow undersea habitats have the advantage of natural fluctuations in water chemistry, say researchers, meaning those fish will get a chance, generally during daylight hours, to recover from high acid levels.
Is the red carpet really there? The 74th Venice Film Festival opened Wednesday night — and this year, the prestigious slate of films includes a competition specifically for VR works. It’s a forward-looking first among major film festivals, even if it’s relegated to a private island that served as a leper colony in the 15th century. Other highlights of the glitzy gathering, which runs through Sept. 9, include Human Flow, a documentary on the global refugee crisis filmed by dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei that premieres today.
Call it outrageous fortune. A 12-inch, metal-tipped crossbow bolt could “easily have killed someone,” said a local official, but luckily only ended a county championship cricket match between Middlesex and Surrey. Police suspect the projectile was fired from outside London’s prestigious Oval cricket grounds, flying some 2,600 feet before landing just ten yards from the pitch. The players left the field while 1,068 spectators were directed to “find cover.” Now police are investigating who might have fired the bolt — and if its trajectory was accidental or deliberate.