Nation & World – Press Herald Sat, 27 May 2017 23:11:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 As Russia investigations continue, Trump plans to shake up senior staff Sat, 27 May 2017 22:22:41 +0000 President Trump and his advisers, seeking to contain the escalating Russia crisis that threatens to consume his presidency, are considering a retooling of his senior staff and the creation of a “war room” within the White House, according to several aides and outside Trump allies.

Following Trump’s return to Washington on Saturday night from a nine-day foreign trip that provided a bit of a respite from the controversy back home, the White House plans to far more aggressively combat the cascading revelations about contacts between Trump associates, including Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Russia.

White House aides are also trying to find ways to revive Trump’s stalled policy agenda in Congress and to more broadly overhaul the way the White House communicates with the public.

That includes proposals for far more travel and campaign-style rallies throughout the country so that Trump can speak directly to his supporters, as well as changes in press briefings, likely including a diminished role for embattled White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

While much remained fluid Saturday, the beefed-up operation could include the return of some of Trump’s more combative campaign aides, including former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was fired nearly a year ago, and former deputy campaign manager David N. Bossie, who made his name in politics by investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton for two decades. Both of them have already been part of ongoing discussions about how to build a “war room,” which have been led in part by chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

Other Trump players who have drifted from his orbit in recent months, such as Sam Nunberg, are also being courted to play more active roles, either officially joining the White House or in an outside capacity, working through confidants of the president.

White House counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway has been involved in related discussions, including with prominent Trump backers outside Washington and on Capitol Hill, and has contacted people from Trump’s campaign network, asking them to be more highly involved in supporting the president, according to three GOP consultants working with the White House.

Kushner has played an active role in the effort to overhaul the communications team, improve the White House’s surrogate operation, and develop an internal group to combat the influx of negative stories and revelations over the FBI’s Russia probe, said someone with knowledge of the coming changes.

“The bottom line is they need fresh legs; they need more legs,” said Barry Bennett, who served as a political adviser to Trump during the general election. “They’re in full-scale war, and they’re thinly staffed.”

As Trump has participated in meetings with world leaders in recent days, senior aides — including Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Bannon and Kushner — have met in the White House to discuss a potential reshuffle.

Kushner’s role

Kushner’s own role has emerged as a particularly sensitive topic of discussion within the White House, as his actions have come under increasing scrutiny in the FBI investigation of Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election.

The Washington Post reported Friday night that Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring.

Some White House aides have discreetly discussed among one another whether Kushner should play a lesser role — or even take a leave — at least until the Russia-related issues calm, but they have been reluctant to discuss that view with Kushner himself, and Kushner’s network of allies within the West Wing has rallied behind him.

Those close to Kushner said he has no plans to take a reduced role, though people who have spoken to him in recent weeks say that he is increasingly weary of the nonstop frenzy.

In recent weeks, the White House also brought on Josh Raffel as a spokesman to handle many of the issues in Kushner’s broad portfolio, and he works out of a shared office in the West Wing, though also has space in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

During a lunch on Friday, Kushner and Priebus talked about how Trump’s foreign trip had gone and began outlining what’s coming up in the weeks ahead. Earlier in the day in Kushner’s office, the two briefly discussed the stories involving Kushner and Russia.

Underscoring the uncertainty of what lies ahead, some Trump associates said there have even been conversations about dispatching Priebus to serve as ambassador to Greece — his mother is of Greek descent — as a face-saving way to remove him from the White House. A White House spokeswoman strongly denied that possibility on Saturday.

The president has expressed frustration — both publicly and privately — with his communications team, ahead of the expected overhaul.

Though no final decisions have been made, one option being discussed is having Spicer — who has been parodied on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” to devastating effect — take a more behind-the-scenes role and give up his daily, on-camera briefings.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the principal deputy press secretary, is being considered as a replacement behind the podium, and is likely to appear on camera more often in coming weeks. White House aides have also talked about having a rotating cast of staff brief the press, a group that could also include officials like National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Having several aides share the briefing responsibilities could help prevent Trump — who has a notoriously short attention span — from growing bored or angry with any one staffer.

The White House has already been testing this strategy, sending Spicer to the podium along with another top staffer to talk about the news of the day: Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney on budget issues, for instance, or McMaster on questions of national security.

On his foreign tour, Spicer conducted only one briefing, an informal gaggle with the small, traveling press pool. Otherwise, he served more as an emcee, introducing other senior administration officials at more formal briefings.

Low approval ratings

On Saturday, it was Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director, and McMaster who headlined the U.S. news conference at the conclusion of the Group of 7 summit in Taormina, Italy. Spicer introduced them and then retired to the corner of the room to watch McMaster and Cohn parry questions from journalists.

The episode highlighted how difficult it is to drive Trump’s agenda with Russia so prominently in the news. The briefing grew testy after several questions related to Kushner’s activities were posed to McMaster, who largely deflected them.

The expected revamp in White House operations comes at a key juncture in Trump’s presidency, as his job approval ratings continue to sag and he presses for progress on several marquee campaign promises — including revamping the Affordable Care Act and tax reform — before Congress takes its August recess.

A White House aide said Saturday that Trump is now also considering pushing some more modest initiatives in Congress that would stand a better chance of quick passage.

The aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that could include measures on immigration or infrastructure-related initiatives that are well liked by most Republicans.

“They need accomplishments on issues that affect jobs,” said one Trump adviser. “If the White House and Congress have nothing in hand to tout by this summer, members of Congress are going to come back after their August recess freaking out.”

Conversations about what some are calling a “war room” have focused on a model similar to what emerged during President Bill Clinton’s tenure to cope with the Monica Lewinsky scandal and other crises. Clinton pulled together a team of lawyers, communication and political aides to deal with those issues apart from the regular White House structure, with the aim of letting other business proceed as normally as possible.

Aides and allies of Trump say they have come to the realization that unflattering stories about Russia will be part of the daily conversation for the foreseeable future and acknowledge that the White House has been ill-equipped to handle them.

Christopher Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend, said the White House has been caught flat-footed on many of the Russia stories.

“Because they did not believe there’s anything to it, they’re playing catchup to get their side of the story out,” Ruddy said.

“At first, I thought the president was fretting too much about this,” said Ruddy, who is chief executive of Newsmax Media and a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla. “But it keeps growing like a bad fungus, even though there’s nothing there.”

“The deep state and the swamp and many in the media are never going to let up,” added Jason Miller, who served as Trump’s senior communications adviser during the campaign and remains close to the White House. He is not expected to come back in a formal role.

All hands on deck

The White House has also been pushing the Republican National Committee to play a more active role in defending the president.

Members of the Trump family outside of the White House have also been ramping up their engagement in the president’s political operation, eager to contribute and guide the party.

On Thursday, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Eric’s wife, Lara, participated in a two-hour meeting at the RNC headquarters in Washington, according to three people familiar with the session who were not authorized to speak publicly.

RNC spokesman Ryan Mahoney declined to address the specifics of the meeting but said the RNC is stepping up efforts to bolster Trump.

“The RNC’s role is to support the president,” he said. “We’re focused on creating as much content as possible to ensure we’re messaging effectively and doing so quickly in order to promote and defend this administration. It’s our top priority. ”

Aides say they think Trump’s agenda will be boosted by making more targeted appearances around the country to tout it.

And several advisers are pushing Trump to do more of the campaign-style rallies like the one he had planned in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday night. It has since been postponed but will be rescheduled soon, according to Trump’s campaign.

Being outside of Washington among his supporters, particularly in a state he won last year, energizes Trump and provides a way for him to communicate without the filter of the media, his advisers say.

“The conventional ways of communicating are not working for them,” one adviser said.

]]> 0 Trump greets people after speaking to U.S. troops at on Saturday in Sigonella, Italy. Trump reportedly plans to shake up his staff to try to blunt a steady run of news about his campaign's ties to Russia. More Trump news, A4.Sat, 27 May 2017 18:39:35 +0000
Refinery plan called affront to Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy Sat, 27 May 2017 22:15:09 +0000 MEDORA, N.D. — When Meridian Energy Group set out to develop “the cleanest refinery on the planet,” it chose a spot in western North Dakota’s oil patch near highways, railroads and a picturesque national park named for a former president revered for his conservation advocacy.

Now the longtime former leader of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the state’s top tourist attraction drawing a record 760,000 visitors last year, is among those urging officials to deny a permit for the 700-acre refinery due to pollution concerns.

“To put an oil refinery within view of the park would be a betrayal of the conservation values of the park’s namesake,” said retired longtime Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor, an outspoken opponent of the project. “An oil refinery has no business at the doorstep of a national park. We wouldn’t allow an oil refinery to be built within view of Yellowstone or Yosemite, and it should be no different for Theodore Roosevelt.”

Meridian, formed by a partnership with agricultural interests in North Dakota to develop the refinery, plans to push forward on the $900 million project, which it says will be a model for environmentally friendly technology.

The proposed Davis Refinery would process up to 55,000 barrels of Bakken crude per day while creating 500 construction jobs and permanent jobs for 200 people, and generating millions of dollars in property taxes for the county each year. Because of its proximity to the national park, it must meet more stringent air quality standards, which the company says it will achieve through the most modern emissions control technology.

“Refineries are not pleasant things. Most in this country are 40, 50 years or older. They’re not the kind of thing you’d want to see in your neighborhood, if there was a park there or not,” Meridian CEO William Prentice said. “We’ve taken all these concerns into consideration. This will be the cleanest refinery on the planet when it’s done.”


Many people, including National Park Service officials, aren’t so sure, and worry the refinery will add to haze from coal-fired power plants in the region and other sources such as vehicles on nearby Interstate 94.

“Our concern is when you go to viewpoints in the park, you’d get a view that’s clear and would capture the colors and features, things it’s famous for,” said Park Service environmental engineer Don Shepherd. “One of the neat things about Theodore Roosevelt is all the colors you see in the rock strata. On a bad (haze) day you might notice the color not as vivid or clear to the eye.”

Roosevelt ranched in the region in the 1880s and is known for his advocacy of land and wildlife conservation. His namesake park is in the heart of the North Dakota Badlands, a rugged and breathtaking area of hills, ridges, buttes and bluffs where millions of years of erosion have exposed colorful sedimentary rock layers. The park is home to spectacular scenery and wildlife, from prairie dog towns to wild horses and bison. Visitors can hike, bike, camp and fish.

Park Superintendent Wendy Ross said a study of the refinery’s initial design concluded that parts of the plant would be visible from about 2 percent of the 30,000-acre park.

Prentice said lighting will be subdued, the refinery will have color schemes designed to blend into the terrain and there will be limited flaring of excess natural gas. The company also is working with North Dakota State University on natural buffers such as native trees to help hide the refinery from tourists coming to the park on the interstate.

“We’re trying to do everything so that from the park perspective, you can’t hear it, see it, smell it or anything else,” Prentice said.

The project has still drawn opposition from national groups such as the National Parks Conservation Association and The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, and questions from local residents. Linda Weiss, a longtime resident of the nearby small town of Belfield, said there are “a lot of unknowns” in the community about the refinery.

“It’s going to be visible,” she said. “They may put up tree barriers, but it takes a while for those to grow.”


Zachary Kreps, a Moorhead, Minnesota, resident and park enthusiast, started a refinery opposition petition online.

“During my childhood, we used to go out for summer vacations practically every summer out to (the park). To hear they’re going to be putting a refinery 3 miles away from it just kind of struck a chord,” he said.

The Health Department’s decision on an air quality permit for the refinery could take up to a year. The analysis could delay the planned summer groundbreaking, but that isn’t deterring Meridian.

“We’re going to essentially be raising the bar for every other refinery in the country,” Prentice said.

Opponents hope that doesn’t come at the expense of the park.

“An oil refinery and associated industrial development would fundamentally threaten the pristine air and other conservation values that our nation committed to protect when we created Theodore Roosevelt National Park,” said Bart Melton, regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association.

]]> 0 smokestack from an Old West-era meatpacking plant is shown in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota, where Meridian Energy Group has set off alarms by proposing to build what it describes as "the cleanest refinery on the planet."Sat, 27 May 2017 18:26:26 +0000
Palestinian prisoners in Jerusalem end mass hunger strike after 40 days Sat, 27 May 2017 21:54:03 +0000 JERUSALEM — Hundreds of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners ended their 40-day fast on the first day of the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan, after reaching a compromise with Israel for additional family visits, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.

Israel prison service spokeswoman Nicole Englander said the inmates declared an end to the strike Saturday morning. She said it came after a deal was reached with the Palestinian Authority and the Red Cross for prisoners to receive a second family visit each per month.

Hundreds of prisoners observed the strike they said was aimed at improving prison conditions.

The hunger strike had evolved into one of the longest such protests with this many participants since Israel’s 1967 capture of territories Palestinian seek for their state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Englander said 1,578 prisoners participated in the hunger strike overall, some fasting intermediately, and 834 ended their fast Saturday. She said 18 were being treated in hospitals.

Many Israelis view the prisoners as terrorists and have little sympathy for their demands. More than 6,000 Palestinians are currently in prison for offenses linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for charges ranging from stone-throwing to weapons possession and attacks that killed or wounded Israeli civilians and soldiers in bombings, shootings and other violence.

Several hundred are being held without trial in so-called administrative detention. Israel has defended the practice as a necessary tool to stop militant activity, including preventing deadly attacks.

Critics condemn it because there are no charges and judges can extend the detentions. They add that the practice is overused.

Palestinians rallied behind the hunger strikers as national heroes, relishing a rare break from deep divisions between two rival political groups, the Islamic militant group Hamas which runs Gaza and Fatah, the movement of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who administers autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

]]> 0 Sat, 27 May 2017 17:59:25 +0000
Islamic State claims attack on Egypt’s Coptic Christians Sat, 27 May 2017 21:14:58 +0000 MINYA, Egypt — Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack on a bus loaded with Coptic Christians the day before near the southern city of Minya, which officials said killed 29 people.

“A security team of caliphate soldiers set up an ambush for dozens of Christians as they headed to the church of St. Samuel,” the militant group said Saturday through Amaq, its media arm.

The bus passengers were shot to death on their way to volunteer at a monastery. Twenty-five other Coptic Christians were wounded.

Friday’s attack, on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, led Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to launch airstrikes on what officials said were militant training camps in the northeastern Libyan city of Derna. El-Sissi, a former general, said the gunmen had trained and planned the attack in Libyan camps, although Islamic State has not controlled Derna for two years.

In a Saturday phone call, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson officials found “information and evidence that terrorist elements involved in the Minya incident trained in these camps,” a statement said.

The military strikes did little to reassure Coptic Christians in Minya, a city on the banks of the Nile about 140 miles south of Cairo where about 40 percent of the population is Christian – four times the percentage of the Muslim country’s population of 92 million. They have watched with dread this year as Islamic State militants advanced from strongholds in northern Sinai south beyond the capital.

“This is not an isolated incident, it’s an evolution of a problem,” said Bishop Anba Makarios, the leader of Coptic Christians in Minya. “It is difficult to target Copts in churches because they have security and cameras. And in their homes, they live next to Muslims. So the new method is a way to get them alone: They pick a desert road in the heart of the mountain with no checkpoints or rest stops or anything on it so they can target only Copts.”

Many of Minya’s 2 million Christians have felt threatened by local Muslim extremists for years. The Egyptian government historically provided security for the Christian minority, but that dwindled in the final years of longtime president Hosni Mubarak’s rule and seemed to disappear after he was replaced.

]]> 0 Christians shout slogans during a funeral service for victims of a bus attack in Minya, Egypt on Friday. Egyptian officials say masked gunmen killed 29 people.Sat, 27 May 2017 18:50:28 +0000
California bills would buck Trump on immigration Sat, 27 May 2017 21:00:50 +0000 SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Democrats are expanding their efforts to resist President Trump’s crackdown on immigrants in the country illegally with bills aimed at limiting how much private businesses can cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Democrats control all levels of state government, and leaders have vowed to resist Trump administration policies at every turn. Immigration is among their key issues, but most legislation so far has been aimed at limiting what police can do to help immigration authorities and providing additional state services and support to immigrants in the country illegally.

Now, two bills that advanced in the Assembly last week are taking aim at private businesses.

A measure that would bar landlords from disclosing tenants’ immigration status or reporting them to immigration officials passed the chamber. A bill prohibiting public and private employers from letting immigration agents come into their worksites or view their employee files cleared a committee.

Both bills contain exceptions if employers or landlords are complying with a warrant or subpoena.

Ann Morse, who tracks immigration bills for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the California measures are the only ones she knows of that aim to limit landlords and private businesses’ cooperation and communication with immigration enforcement.

Both bills are sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco. He said they are necessary to protect against deportation of immigrants who haven’t committed crimes since entering the country.

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, who opposes the measures, said he thinks they could actually promote fear in immigrant communities, and existing laws already protect tenants. He said the proposals are designed more to make a political statement than to enact good policy.

“If you have a private citizen who provides certain information at the behest of a federal authority, they might end up facing (consequences) just for complying with the request,” the Sacramento-area Republican said. “Measures like that do more harm than good.”

Jith Meganathan, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said that following Trump’s election, organizations that provide legal aid to low-income Californians began receiving more reports of landlords threatening tenants over their immigration status. Although some of what Chiu’s landlord-tenant bill forbids may already be illegal under the state’s anti-discrimination laws, he said the measure, AB291, will provide important legal clarity.

At a hearing on the bill in early May, Oakland resident Maria Estrada said her landlord in 2015 threatened to report her family when he learned her daughter did not have legal permission to live in the country.

Estrada said she had complained to her landlord about a broken refrigerator, a clogged toilet and an unsecure door, among other problems in her studio apartment. She told lawmakers he threatened to report her daughter to federal immigration authorities if they kept asking him to make repairs.

“We could not sleep because of the stress of our family breaking up,” Estrada said. “No one should have to experience the fear, the pain and harassment which my family has suffered just because they are undocumented.”

Advocates of Chiu’s other bill, AB450, said they haven’t seen workplace raids in California since Trump took office. But Steve Smith of the California Labor Federation – an organization supporting the bill – said the new administration has emboldened immigration enforcement agents, and there’s concern they will begin targeting businesses.

Marti Fisher, a policy advocate at the California Chamber of Commerce, said the measure infringes on business owners’ rights.

“It penalizes an employer for choosing to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement authorities, thereby denying the employer the right to determine the best course of action for its business,” she wrote in a statement explaining the chamber’s opposition to the bill.

]]> 0 David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat, says the bills are necessary to protect immigrants who haven't committed crimes since entering the United States.Sat, 27 May 2017 18:52:35 +0000
Silicon Valley’s hot new investment is virtual space Sat, 27 May 2017 20:59:45 +0000 It’s too late to invest in Airbnb but a company that bills itself as the Airbnb of cloud computer storage is raising cash — and anyone with an Internet connection can get in on the action.

Storj Labs Inc. is selling digital coins at 50 cents apiece to raise $30 million in an early stage financing round. In just five days, hundreds of contributors signed up for a piece of what they hope will be the next Silicon Valley unicorn. But there’s a catch — unlike traditional venture capital investments, the tokens don’t confer a claim on Storj’s equity or future profits.

Instead, the tokens’ value derives from their utility in the firm’s app, by providing access to data storage on a distributed network. They are the latest entry in the growing ledger of cryptocurrencies, digital coins that unlock myriad apps across the computing world.

The coins are tradable on dozens of online exchanges and demand for all sorts of them has exploded as people speculate on the next big tech startup.

“The average investor is missing out on the Ubers and AirBnbs of the world,” said Bart Stephens, a managing partner at Blockchain Capital, a VC firm that’s invested in blockchain-related startups since 2012. “If the next Uber decides to issue tokens, that would be an opportunity for more investors to get access to the most exciting technologies out there.”

The Storj sale is known as an initial coin offering, a model of finance spreading across the tech sector. Investors spent $332 million on tokens in the past year, more than double what VCs handed over in seed rounds, according to data compiled by coin-focused blog The Control. The haul is slated to hit $600 million in 2017, it says, adding to a market for tokens that’s nearly tripled in the past year.

ICOs are possible thanks to blockchain, the catchall term for a digital ledger that promises incorruptible storage of financial transactions. Banks and stock exchanges have spent millions on it, looking for ways to cut the costs for transferring money.

One of the latest to back the technology was the chief executive officer of Fidelity Investments, Abigail Johnson. Most famously, it’s the technology that underpins bitcoin — just as it does for every token offered in an ICO.

Their massive increase in popularity has more than a few detractors warning of a bubble, worried the allure of finding the next tech lottery ticket is fueling rampant speculation. The concern is particularly acute at a time when investors are fretting about stretched valuations for tech startups, with the likes of Uber commanding multibillion-dollar price tags even as they burn through cash.

Take Gnosis, a prediction market application based on the Ethereum blockchain that raised $12.5 million in 12 minutes on April 24, resulting in a market cap of almost $300 million. It’s generated no revenue and has little more than a white paper describing what it intends to do. Yet its tokens, which would allow users to bet on things such as election outcomes, soared eightfold in the three weeks since May 2, giving it a valuation of over $2 billion.

]]> 0 Sat, 27 May 2017 16:59:45 +0000
‘Redneck’ letter of support to Ariana Grande resonates worldwide Sat, 27 May 2017 20:26:12 +0000 In the hours after a suicide bomber blew himself up near the entrance of Manchester Arena, a devastated Ariana Grande tweeted:

“broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.”

It was a poignant, heartbreaking reaction from the 23-year-old pop singer, who had been performing on stage moments before the explosion killed at least 22 and wounded dozens more unsuspecting fans and their family members.

Several days later, Patrick Millsaps – a 44-year-old film producer and father of three adolescent Ariana Grande fans – penned an open letter to the pop singer that has since gone viral.

His goal was to lift Grande’s spirit and set her “straight” with some fatherly “redneck love.”

“You don’t have a dadgum thing to apologize for,” Millsaps wrote. “If the night before your concert, a tornado had hit Manchester and tragically killed several people who were going to go to your concert; would you feel the need to apologize?

“You see,” Millsaps continued, “you are no more responsible for the actions of an insane coward who committed an evil act in your proximity than you would be for a devastating natural disaster or acts of morons near your hotel.”

Millsaps next urged the singer to stop listening to anyone who wants to “strategize” her public reaction, and instead take time off to process the attack at her own pace. When she’s sincerely ready, he advised, “SING AGAIN.”

Music, Millsaps reminded Grande, is the international language of peace.

“Every time you open your mouth and share that incredible God-given gift to the world, you make this crappy world a little less crappy,” he said, referring to his statement as “unsolicited advice from a fat dude in Georgia who loves his daughters.”

“Take care of you first,” he added. “Your fans aren’t going anywhere.”

Millsaps’ message has been retweeted more than 25,000 times and “favorited” more than 50,000. He told NBC’s Today show that he wrote the letter thinking “if she was my daughter, this is what I would say to her,” and was “overwhelmed and humbled” by the popularity of his message.

Grande has decided not to follow Millsaps’ advice about taking an extended break from singing.

Four days after the bombing, the singer announced she would return to Manchester for a concert to benefit the victims of the bombing and their families.

“Our response to this violence must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder and to live more kindly and generously than we did before,” Grande said Friday in a statement shared on Twitter. “I’ll be returning to the incredibly brave city of Manchester to spend time with my fans and to have a benefit concert in honor of and to raise money for the victims and their families.

“We will not quit or operate in fear. We won’t let this divide us. We won’t let hate win.”

She added that she would announce the details of the concert as soon as the plans were confirmed. Grande has canceled all shows on her Dangerous Woman tour until June 5.

Many of the victims of Monday’s attack were teenagers and children, including an 8-year-old girl named Saffie Roussos.

British Prime Minister Theresa May called it a “callous terrorist attack” that “stands out for its appalling, sickening cowardice deliberately targeting innocent, defenseless children and young people who should have been enjoying one of the most memorable nights of their lives.”

]]> 0 March 20, 2015 file photo, singer Ariana Grande performs at Madison Square Garden in New York. Grande's management team says the singer's concerts will be canceled through June 5, 2017, after a bombing Monday, following her concert in Manchester, England left 22 people dead. (Photo by Greg Allen/ Invision/AP, File)Sat, 27 May 2017 19:03:57 +0000
Trump leaves G-7 summit undecided on America’s status in climate accord Sat, 27 May 2017 20:00:11 +0000 Donald Trump continued to distance himself from fellow world leaders over climate change at the G-7 summit, and said he’ll determine next week whether to pull the U.S. out of the landmark Paris climate accord.

“I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week,” the president told his almost 31 million Twitter followers on Saturday.

Trump, who for months has delayed a decision on the climate agreement, made his announcement at the conclusion of the Group of Seven summit in the resort town of Taormina, Italy.

In an unprecedented step, the U.S. broke from the other six nations in a joint statement issued at the summit’s conclusion, saying America is reviewing its climate policies while the G-7 members others remain committed to the Paris Agreement.

Climate was among the most disputed issues separating Trump from other leaders at the two-day meeting on the Sicilian coast. A top White House adviser said the president’s views were evolving on the issue, but Trump wasn’t immediately swayed by arguments from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, France’s President Emmanuel Macron and others to honor the Paris Agreement, brokered in 2015 by almost 200 nations to slash fossil fuel emissions and boost funding to ease impacts of global warming.

“The whole discussion about climate has been difficult, or rather very unsatisfactory,” Merkel told reporters after the summit. “Here we have the situation that six members, or even seven if you want to add the EU, stand against one.”


Diplomats spent days trying to hammer out language for the G-7 joint statement. Past communiques, which are painstakingly crafted to reflect common goals and values of all seven nations, have dedicated lengthy sections to climate change. At one point this week, the words “Paris Agreement” were nearly excluded from the statement, underscoring how contentious the issue became in Taormina, said a Canadian government official who spoke on the condition on anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Trump, who once said the concept of global warming “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” repeatedly vowed to pull out of the Paris deal during his election campaign, but has sidestepped the issue since taking office.

Delaying a decision about the accord provided opportunity for G-7 leaders and Pope Francis to press Trump to honor the U.S.’s environmental commitments. Now the president heads back to Washington, where much of his party is pushing him to do the opposite.

Last week, 22 Republican senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, sent a letter to Trump urging him to exit the Paris accord. Members of his administration, meanwhile, are deadlocked on the issue. Environmental chief Scott Pruitt and top strategist Steve Bannon are pushing for a pullout. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, White House adviser Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, the president’s son-in-law and daughter respectively, have urged the president to stay in the deal.

John Kirton, director of the University of Toronto’s G8 Research Group, said Trump’s trip home may not bode well for those in favor of Paris. “If you let him go back to the civil war within the White House, Pruitt might win,” he said.

Trump has criticized efforts to cut emissions, saying they limit U.S. economic competitiveness. The president’s views on the Paris accord, however, are evolving, White House National Economic Council director Gary Cohn told reporters Friday in Italy. Trump may be willing to stay in the agreement, Cohn said, if the U.S. can scale back commitments made by former President Barack Obama.

“His views are evolving, and he came here to learn,” Cohn said. “His basis for decision is ultimately going to be what’s best for the United States.”


The Paris Agreement is broader than any previous climate accord. It calls for reducing pollution in hopes of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above temperatures at the outset of the Industrial Revolution.

Hundreds of corporations and investors have endorsed the pact, including oil majors Royal Dutch Shell Plc, BP Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp., which was previously led by Tillerson. Alden Meyer, who’s followed climate talks for two decades as director of policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Trump’s reluctance to support it puts him at odds with much of the world.

“He stands in stark isolation,” Meyer said. “The leaders from Europe, Canada, and Japan have made it crystal clear that they intend to fully implement their national commitments under the Paris Agreement.”

]]> 0 left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Trump, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, French President Emmanuel Macron, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, British Prime Minister Theresa May, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (unseen) sit around a table during the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, Friday.Sat, 27 May 2017 19:05:48 +0000
Gregg Allman of The Allman Brothers Band dies at 69 Sat, 27 May 2017 19:51:22 +0000 SAVANNAH, Ga. – Music legend Gregg Allman, whose bluesy vocals and soulful touch on the Hammond B-3 organ helped propel the Allman Brothers Band to superstardom and spawn Southern rock, died Saturday, his manager said. He was 69.

Allman died peacefully and surrounded by loved ones at his home near Savannah, Georgia, his manager, Michael Lehman, told The Associated Press. He blamed cancer for Allman’s death.

“It’s a result of his reoccurrence of liver cancer than had come back five years ago,” Lehman said in an interview. “He kept it very private because he wanted to continue to play music until he couldn’t.”

Allman played his last concert in October as health problems forced him to cancel other 2016 shows. He announced on Aug. 5 that he was “under his doctor’s care at the Mayo Clinic” due to “serious health issues.” Later that year, he canceled more dates, citing a throat injury. In March, he canceled performances for the rest of 2017.

Funeral arrangements had not been finalized Saturday. But Lehman said Allman would be buried alongside his late brother, founding Allman Brothers guitarist Duane Allman, at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, where the band got its start nearly five decades ago.

“He’ll be laid next to his brother, Duane,” Lehman said. “That’s in his wishes.”

Southern rock and country musician Charlie Daniels said via Twitter, “Gregg Allman had a feeling for the blues very few ever have hard to believe that magnificent voice is stilled forever.”

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, the rock star known for his long blond hair was raised in Florida by a single mother after his father was shot to death. Allman idolized his older brother, Duane, eventually joining a series of bands with him. Together they formed the nucleus of The Allman Brothers Band.

The original band featured extended jams, tight guitar harmonies by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, rhythms from a pair of drummers and the smoky blues inflected voice of Gregg Allman. Songs such as “Whipping Post,” “Ramblin’ Man” and “Midnight Rider” helped define what came to be known as Southern rock and opened the doors for such stars as Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band.

In his 2012 memoir, “My Cross to Bear,” Allman described how Duane was a central figure in his life in the years after their father was murdered by a man he met in a bar. The two boys endured a spell in a military school before being swept up in rock music in their teens. Although Gregg was the first to pick up a guitar, it was Duane who excelled at it. So Gregg later switched to the organ.

They failed to crack success until they formed The Allman Brothers Band in 1969. Based in Macon, Georgia, the group featured Betts, drummers Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson and Butch Trucks and bassist Berry Oakley. They partied to excess while defining a sound that still excites millions.

Their self-titled debut album came out in 1969, but it was their seminal live album “At Fillmore East” in 1971 that catapulted the band to stardom.

Duane Allman had quickly ascended to the pantheon of guitar heroes, not just from his contributions to the Allman band, but from his session work with Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and with Eric Clapton on the classic “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” album. But he was killed in a motorcycle accident in October 1971, just months after recording the Fillmore shows. Another motorcycle accident the following year claimed Oakley’s life. .

In a 2012 interview with The Associated Press, Gregg Allman said Duane remained on his mind every day. Once in a while, he could even feel his presence.

“I can tell when he’s there, man,” Allman said. “I’m not going to get all cosmic on you. But listen, he’s there.”

The 1970s brought more highly publicized turmoil: Allman was compelled to testify in a drug case against a former road manager for the band and his marriage to the actress and singer Cher was short-lived even by show business standards.

In 1975, Cher and Allman married three days after she divorced her husband and singing partner, Sonny Bono. Their marriage was tumultuous from the start; Cher requested a divorce just nine days after their Las Vegas wedding, although she dismissed the suit a month later.

Together they released a widely panned duets album under the name “Allman and Woman.” They had one child together, Elijah Blue, and Cher filed for legal separation in 1977.

Cher said via Twitter on Saturday, “IVE TRIED. WORDS ARE IMPOSSIBLE.”

The Allman Brothers Band likewise split up in the 1980s and then re-formed several times over the years. A changing cast of players has included Derek Trucks, nephew of original drummer Butch Trucks, as well as guitarist Warren Haynes.

Starting in 1990, more than 20 years after its founding, the reunited band began releasing new music and found a new audience. In 1995 the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and won a Grammy Award for best rock instrumental performance for “Jessica” the following year.

In 2000, Betts was ousted from the band via fax for alleged substance abuse and poor performance and he hasn’t played with the band since.

Butch Trucks died in January 2017. Authorities said he shot himself in front of his wife at their Florida home.

Lehman said Allman had recently finished what would be his final album, titled Southern Blood and scheduled for release in September.

“He actually just listened to a few tracks of it last night and was really passionate and excited for that record to be complete,” Lehman said.

In his memoir, Allman said he spent years overindulging in women, drugs and alcohol before getting sober in the mid-1990s. He said that after getting sober, he felt “brand new” at the age of 50.

“I never believed in God until this,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press in 1998. “I asked him to bring me out of this or let me die before all the innings have been played. Now I have started taking on some spiritualism.”

However, after all the years of unhealthy living he ended up with hepatitis C which severely damaged his liver. He underwent a liver transplant in 2010.

The statement on Allman’s website says that as he faced health problems, “Gregg considered being on the road playing music with his brothers and solo band for his beloved fans essential medicine for his soul. Playing music lifted him up and kept him going during the toughest of times.”

After the surgery, he turned music to help him recover and released his first solo album in 14 years “Low Country Blues” in 2011.

“I think it’s because you’re doing something you love,” Allman said in a 2011 interview with The Associated Press. “I think it just creates a diversion from the pain itself. You’ve been swallowed up by something you love, you know, and you’re just totally engulfed.”

The band was honored with a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2012.

]]> 0 Allman performs at the Americana Music Association awards show in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 13, 2011.Sat, 27 May 2017 18:17:27 +0000
Trump praises trip abroad while aides avoid Kushner queries Sat, 27 May 2017 19:43:37 +0000 President Trump declared his first foreign trip a “home run” and said he’d rallied the world’s governments to stand strong against terrorism, despite a series of stark differences that emerged between the U.S. and its allies.

“I am now more hopeful than ever that nations of many faiths and from many religions and from many regions all over can join together in a common cause,” Trump said as he stopped at a U.S. military base in Sicily on his way to the U.S.

Citing the bombing attack this week in Manchester, Trump said it shows the need for the world to join forces and “absolutely and totally defeat” terrorism.

Trump ended his nine-day overseas trip, which stretched from the Middle East to the Group of Seven meeting in Taormina, Sicily, without holding a news conference to take questions from reporters. That allowed him to avoid addressing the story now dominating headlines back home: the FBI’s interest in his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Kushner, who serves as senior adviser to Trump, has drawn the attention of the FBI because he considered setting up a secret line of communications between the incoming administration and the Russian government, primarily to discuss a resolution to the crisis in Syria, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Ahead of Trump’s remarks to the troops, two of the president’s top advisers also declined to answer questions on Kushner. “We’re not going to comment on Jared. We’re just not going to,” Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn said of Kushner, who had been on the trip but returned home as planned after participating in Trump’s visit to the Vatican.

At the base, Trump ran through the various stops on the trip, declaring, “I think we hit a home run wherever we are.”

He again chided NATO allies for not paying what he sees as their fair share to support the alliance, and pledged to the troops gathered, “I will give you my complete and unshakable support.”

“Peace through strength. Peace through strength, right?” Trump said. “We’re going to have a lot of strength and we’re going to have a lot of peace. You’re going to do a lot of winning.”

He spent the bulk of his 25-minute remarks, delivered with the help of a teleprompter but partially improvised, focused on terrorism, saying the May 22 bombing outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, which killed 22 people, and a deadly attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt on Friday stiffened the European leaders’ resolve. As for the threat for terrorism, Trump said simply, “We will win.”

Earlier, two of his top advisers faced reporters and swatted away questions about Kushner.

“The president since he left Washington has been dealing with foreign leaders, has been dealing with jobs, has been dealing with economic growth. He’s been dealing with diplomacy. He’s been dealing with unfair trade. He’s been dealing with Paris. He’s been dealing with China. His agenda has been overflowing,” Cohn. The issue of Kushner “is not one that he’s spending time with on this trip.”

H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, also declined to talk about Kushner and said he had no knowledge of any effort to set up a line of communications to the Russians. Generally speaking, he said, back-channels have diplomatic value. “We have back-channel communications with a number of countries, and so generally speaking about backchannel communications, what that allows you to do is to communicate in a discreet manner,” McMaster said.

]]> 0 Sat, 27 May 2017 19:08:04 +0000
Opioid crisis puts first responders at a much higher risk for overdose Sat, 27 May 2017 19:39:12 +0000 BEL AIR, Md. — As Cpl. Kevin Phillips pulled up to investigate a suspected opioid overdose, paramedics were already at the Maryland home giving a man a life-saving dose of the overdose reversal drug Narcan. Drugs were easy to find: a package of heroin on the railing leading to a basement; another batch on a shelf above a nightstand.

The deputy already had put on gloves and grabbed evidence baggies, his usual routine for canvassing a house. He swept the first package from the railing into a bag and sealed it; then a torn Crayola crayon box went from the nightstand into a bag of its own. Inside that basement nightstand: even more bags, but nothing that looked like drugs.

Then – moments after the man being treated by paramedics came to – the overdose hit.

“My face felt like it was burning. I felt extremely light-headed. I felt like I was getting dizzy,” he said. “I stood there for two seconds and thought, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t just get exposed to something.’ I just kept thinking about the carfentanil.”

Carfentanil came to mind because just hours earlier, Phillips’ boss, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, sent an email to deputies saying the synthetic opioid so powerful that it’s used to tranquilize elephants had, for the first time ever, showed up in a toxicology report from a fatal overdose in the county. The sheriff had urged everyone to use extra caution when responding to drug scenes.

Carfentanil and fentanyl are driving forces in the most deadly drug epidemic the United States has ever seen. Because of their potency, it’s not just addicts who are increasingly at risk – it’s those tasked with saving lives and investigating the illegal trade. Police departments across the U.S. are arming officers with the opioid antidote Narcan. Now, some first responders have had to use it on colleagues, or themselves.

The paramedic who administered Phillips’ Narcan on May 19 started feeling sick herself soon after; she didn’t need Narcan but was treated for exposure to the drugs.

Earlier this month, an Ohio officer overdosed in a police station after brushing off with a bare hand a trace of white powder left from a drug scene. Like Phillips, he was revived after several doses of Narcan. Last fall, 11 SWAT officers in Hartford, Connecticut, were sickened after a flash-bang grenade sent particles of heroin and fentanyl airborne.

Phillips’ overdose was eye-opening for his department, Gahler said. Before then, deputies didn’t have a protocol for overdose scenes; many showed up without any protective gear.

Gahler has since spent $5,000 for 100 kits that include a protective suit, booties, gloves, and face masks. Carfentanil can be absorbed through the skin and easily inhaled, and a single particle is so powerful that simply touching it can cause an overdose, Gahler said. Additional gear will be distributed to investigators tasked with cataloguing overdose scenes – heavy-duty gloves and more robust suits.

Gahler said 37 people have died so far this year from overdoses in his county, which is between Baltimore and Philadelphia. The county has received toxicology reports on 19 of those cases, and each showed signs of synthetic opioids.

“This is all a game-changer for us in law enforcement,” Gahler said. “We are going to have to re-evaluate daily what we’re doing. We are feeling our way through this every single day … we’re dealing with something that’s out of our realm. I don’t want to lose a deputy ever, but especially not to something the size of a grain of salt.”

Other changes for Harford deputies include carrying bigger doses of Narcan – 4 milligrams instead of single-milligram doses. Because synthetic opioids are so potent, more of the antidote is necessary to reverse an overdose. Deputies have also been instructed not to try to field test drugs from overdose scenes; instead, they send it to a lab.

Todd Edwards, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Baltimore, said drug users and officers are encountering fentanyl and carfentanil because the substances can be easily ordered over the internet, and dealers only need to mix a tiny amount into a batch of heroin in order to significantly stretch their supply.

Edwards said the DEA is trying to spread the word about fentanyl, carfentanil and something called “gray death,” which is a mixture of both, plus heroin and other substances. Edwards said agents are working with medical examiners’ offices, police and community organizations to increase awareness. But because of the scope of the problem, it’s a struggle.

Despite the warnings, Phillips was shocked by the power of the poison he was exposed to.

“Even though I did the same thing on this call that I’d done on 100 other calls, and all those other times I was fine, this time I wasn’t,” he said.

]]> 0 County Major John R. Simpson displays elements of a protective suit that the sheriff's office is now providing to deputies sent to crime scenes involving heroin and synthetic opioids, some of which are powerful enough to tranquilize elephants.Sat, 27 May 2017 19:11:02 +0000
New York lobsterman writes book on surviving 12 hours floating on his boots Sat, 27 May 2017 13:41:08 +0000 MONTAUK, N.Y. — The darkest moment of John Aldridge’s 12 terrifying hours of floating alone in the Atlantic Ocean came in the first moments after he was flung off his lobster boat.

“You hit the water, you’re in such disbelief,” he recalls. “Nobody in the world knows you’re missing. Their life is happening right now, but your life is done! Right now, in the middle of the ocean, today’s the day you’re going to die.”

Not only did Aldridge survive – by pulling a James Bond-like maneuver to turn his boots into flotation aids – but, nearly four years later, he’s still working in the profession that put him in so much danger. And he’s retelling the remarkable tale in a book just released.

“Every day’s a new adventure for us,” he says, standing on the deck of his boat, the Anna Mary, earlier this month. “Every trap that comes up is a new adventure; we never know what’s in the trap. You see whales and dolphins and bad weather, good weather, sunsets and sunrises, and you just try to make the most of it.”

On a moonlit July night in 2013, the Long Island fisherman was on the boat’s deck, trying to move a heavy ice cooler, when the handle snapped. In a flash, he lost his balance.

No one saw him plunge into the Atlantic Ocean, without a life jacket, many miles from shore. His co-captain and a crewman were asleep below deck.

The Anna Mary, still running, was out of sight in 17 seconds, leaving him alone with the elements. Sea birds immediately started pecking at his head.

“Being in the ocean in the middle of the night, 2 o’clock in the morning, 45 miles from land, you gotta really summon up some heavy mental game to get through,” he said.

After realizing that his boots would float and might save him, Aldridge had time to think about what to do next. There were no easy answers, except to stay alert.

“That environment is so alive with life that you try to keep that out if your head, what’s around you,” Aldridge says. “You know, I had sharks around me, I had dolphins around me. I had ocean sunfish around me. You know, you think you’re alone, you’re not.”

Hours after Aldridge fell from the boat, his co-captain and lifelong friend, Anthony Sosinski, awoke to find him missing.

Sosinski, a co-author (with a ghost writer) of “A Speck in the Sea,” said he immediately contacted the Coast Guard, which launched an all-out search. He never lost faith, gripping the handle of a short-wave radio microphone with one hand and stretching the wire to the edge of the boat as he scoured the ocean for signs of his friend.

“I never ‘not thought’ we were going to find him,” said Sosinski. “Honestly, from the start of it, I wasn’t looking for dead Johnnie.”

Aldridge floated for hours through the night, past sunrise, and eventually was able to grab onto a buoy to supplement the boots that were keeping him afloat.

He saw rescue helicopters and boats – even the Anna Mary – searching for him, but no one saw him in the rolling waves and they didn’t stop.

“Every 10 seconds even if you’re looking at something, you can only see for three,” Sosinski said of the rolling waves that hamper visibility. “Seven seconds you’re in between the height or the trough of the wave.”

By midafternoon, Aldridge’s luck changed.

A Coast Guard helicopter from Cape Cod was running low on fuel and received orders to return to base, explained Bob Hovey, a rescue swimmer who was aboard the aircraft.

“We were out of gas, out of time and needed to go home,” said Hovey. As the chopper turned for Cape Cod, the pilot spotted Aldridge.

The crew could have reported Aldridge’s location to others in the search party and continued on its way, Hovey said, but they agreed to perform what he described as the quickest rescue ever.

“We didn’t want to keep going after he saw us,” Hovey said. “That would demolish any hope he might have had.”

When Hovey jumped into the ocean and approached Aldridge, he asked the lobsterman about his condition and told him his crew had been searching for him for nine hours. “That’s when he said, ‘I’ve been looking for you for 12!'”

“His saltiness just got to me,” Hovey said. “This was a hardcore commercial fisherman.”

After taking a little time off, Aldridge went back to work aboard his boat. It’s a job he has loved for 20 years.

He did receive some treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, but claims to never have nightmares about “the incident.”

There have been discussions about the book, “A Speck in the Sea,” (Hachette), becoming a movie: Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s company is the publisher.

Aldridge is just happy to share his story.

]]> 0 Aldridge wasn't about to drown with his boots on so he used them as floatation devides to survive a harrowing 12 hours in the ocean after he fell off his lobster boat in 2013. Four years later he's still lobstering and has a book out.Sat, 27 May 2017 18:32:36 +0000
Man yelling racial slurs kills 2, injures 1 on train in Oregon Sat, 27 May 2017 13:37:39 +0000 PORTLAND, Ore. – Two people died Friday and another was hurt in a stabbing on a Portland light-rail train after a man yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim, one of whom was wearing a hijab, police said.

Officers arrested a man Friday afternoon who ran from the train, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. Police were still working Friday night to identify the man and the people who were attacked.

Before the stabbing the assailant on the train was ranting on many topics, using “hate speech or biased language,” and then turned his focus on the women, police Sgt. Pete Simpson said.

“In the midst of his ranting and raving, some people approached him and appeared to try to intervene with his behavior and some of the people that he was yelling at,” Simpson told The Oregonian. “They were attacked viciously.”

One person was dead at the scene and another died at a hospital, Simpson said. The third person was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

It wasn’t clear why the man was yelling, Simpson said.

“He was talking about a lot of different things, not just specifically anti-Muslim,” Simpson said.

Police don’t know if the man has mental health issues or if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.

The attack happened on a MAX train as it headed east. A train remained stopped on the tracks at a transit center which was closed while police investigated.

Evelin Hernandez, a 38-year-old resident of Clackamas, Oregon, told the newspaper she was on the train when the man began making racist remarks to the women. A group of men tried to quiet him and he stabbed them, she said.

Simpson said the women understandably left the scene before police were able to talk with them but that they would like to hear from them to help fill in what happened.

“It’s horrific,” Simpson said. “There’s no other word to describe what happened today.”

Millions of Muslims marked the start of Ramadan Friday, a time of intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts.

]]> 0 investigate a deadly stabbing on a train in northeast Portland, Ore., on Friday, May 26, 2017. Sat, 27 May 2017 09:57:14 +0000
Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, dies at 89 Sat, 27 May 2017 03:50:46 +0000 By Jim Hoagland

The Washington Post

Zbigniew Brzezinski, the combative, visionary foreign policy intellectual who helped bring Jimmy Carter to the White House in 1976 and then guided him through a series of international crises that contributed significantly to Carter’s defeat at the polls four years later, died Friday night. He was 89.

“My father passed away peacefully tonight” his daughter, Mika Brzezinski said on her Twitter account.

The Polish-born strategist became a lightning rod for criticism over the roles he played in the Iranian hostage crisis, a broad but unrewarding diplomatic confrontation with the Soviet Union, and Carter’s innovative but unevenly implemented human-rights policy.

Brzezinski’s admirers focused on achievements that included the full normalization of U.S. relations with China, an expanded American role in the Middle East that produced an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, and skillful involvement behind the scenes that kept Poland’s 1980 Solidarity revolt against Communist rule alive and effective.

The author of more than 30 crisply argued books, Brzezinski gradually moved away from the strident advocacy of military power and the need to show resolve that made his reputation as an anti-Soviet hawk during his tenure as Carter’s national security adviser.

Once a muscular advocate of U.S. escalation in Vietnam, he gradually came to put more emphasis on the need to be diplomatically and politically supportive of nationalist aspirations in developing countries.

He strongly opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The undeclared border war between Russia and Ukraine led him in 2014 to caution that the West should not bring Ukraine into a military alliance. That risked greater, more dangerous complications with Moscow, he argued.

But Brzezinski maintained that there was more continuity in his thinking than was apparent. “I didn’t have the time to correct distortions or misunderstanding of complex ideas,” he said in a 2014 interview on his career. “In any event, when I was in the White House, it helped me sell our positions to the real hawks in the administration. I took a lot of criticism that would otherwise have been focused on the president.”

Quick of wit and words and unwilling to back away from a fight of any dimension, Brzezinski was a captivating lecturer at Harvard and then at Columbia. As his powerfully written memoir, “Power and Principle” made clear in 1983, he was driven by a lifelong determination to bend leaders and events to his fierce will.

“He does not seem to realize how often his candor, when directed at others, looks like malice and, when directed at himself, looks like shameless egotism,” journalist Strobe Talbott, a future deputy secretary of state and Brookings Institution president, wrote in his review of “Power and Principle” in Time magazine.

Brzezinski also struggled in vain to move out of the shadow of another European-born academic turned policymaker. The New York Times did not resist making a self-fulfilling prophesy by noting in reporting his nomination to head Carter’s national security staff: Brzezinski “will come to his White House job superbly prepared, as prepared as his predecessor, Henry A. Kissinger, with whom he will be always be compared.”

As well as foreign accents, the two shared a taste for celebrity and control of the policy process that previous national security advisers had largely eschewed. And both initially made their reputations at Harvard by arguing that threatening the limited use of nuclear weapons might be a more effective policy instrument than was the then-controlling doctrine of “massive retaliation.”

Always ready to do battle with bureaucratic and ideological opponents, Brzezinski placed equally strong emphasis on developing warm personal relationships with world figures he respected.

“The two greatest foreign leaders I dealt with were China’s Deng Xiaoping and Pope John Paul II,” he said in 2014. He had been in touch with then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla since 1976 and used that contact with the Polish-born pope to help mobilize European opposition to counter the risks of a Soviet invasion of Poland in 1980.

Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski was born in Warsaw on March 28, 1928. Ten years later, his father, Tadeusz, a diplomat from an aristocratic Catholic family, was posted to Montreal as Poland’s consul general.

The temporary assignment turned into extended refuge for the Brzezinski family as Poland was invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union, partitioned, and then absorbed into the Soviet empire after the war. “Zbig,” as he was called throughout his life, took an early interest in Russian culture and diplomacy, his parents recalled.

After obtaining a master’s degree in political science from McGill University in 1950, he enrolled in Harvard and received a doctorate in government three years later. One of his mentors was Merle Fainsod, a leading specialist on Soviet political persecution.

Brzezinski taught in Harvard’s government department until 1959, when he moved to Columbia University. He was soon named a full professor and became director of the Research Institute on Communist Affairs.

Once challenged by a student there on his failure to foresee Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s removal from power in 1964, Brzezinski shot back: “Listen, Khrushchev didn’t predict Khrushchev’s overthrow either. How could I have?”

In 1955, he married Emilie Benes, a sculptor and grandniece of Eduard Benes, who served twice as president of Czechoslovakia. Besides his wife and daughter, survivors include two sons, Ian Brzezinski and Mark Brzezinski.

Becoming an American citizen in 1958, Brzezinski was active in the Council of Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group and later the Trilateral Commission, private groups of U.S. business executives, intellectuals and politicians who work to strengthen American ties abroad through dialogue.

His books, journal articles and television appearances propelled him to the fore of Democratic Party foreign policy circles. In a 1965 book, he proposed “peaceful engagement” with the Soviet Union – “The idea was to embrace them in order to erode their control,” he later said – and made that phrase a dominant theme after joining the Policy Planning Council of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s State Department.

Brzezinski’s stock rose after Johnson used “peaceful engagement” in a foreign policy speech, and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey made him a principal adviser to his unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1968.

Brzezinski recruited Carter, a little-known but ambitious Georgia governor, into the Trilateral Commission in 1973. The Trilateral connection and Brzezinski’s foreign policy credentials helped boost Carter to victory over incumbent President Gerald R. Ford – whose secretary of state was Kissinger – three years later.

Brzezinski’s brash manner and rapidly hardening views on Soviet expansionism quickly brought him into conflict with Cyrus Vance, the patrician lawyer and government administrator who was Carter’s secretary of state, and Vance’s aides. The Washington press corps began to portray Carter as an indecisive leader who veered from Vance to Brzezinski and back again. But Brzezinski always maintained that because Vance was not a strategic thinker, they did not often clash personally over policy.

Vance fought to obtain U.S. ratification of the SALT II treaty with the Kremlin to limit superpower nuclear arsenals. Brzezinski opposed it, maintaining that conducting diplomacy as usual would reward Soviet misbehavior in Africa and elsewhere.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 pushed Carter to adopt Brzezinski’s strict “linkage” approach and, among other things, cancel U.S. participation in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Carter also did not move ahead with ratification of the SALT II treaty, although both countries observed its provisions in practice.

On Iran, the national security adviser urged the unsteady Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to use all force necessary to crush the Islamic revolution. But the uprising quickly chased the terminally ill shah from his throne. Vance had urged political liberalization to quiet the rebellion.

This was one of a number of instances in which Brzezinski moved off the stated objective of asserting “the primacy of the moral dimension in foreign policy” much more quickly than did Carter or Vance, who appeared to take the campaign goal seriously throughout the administration.

Vance resigned in April 1980, when Carter backed a military attempt – strongly supported by Brzezinski – to rescue 52 U.S. diplomats held hostage in Tehran by Iranian radicals. That mission failed when aircraft involved in staging the operation crashed, killing eight U.S. soldiers, and making Carter’s reelection chances remote. The Iranian captors released their hostages on the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated to succeed Carter as president.

Even the foreign policy accomplishment of which Brzezinski was most proud – the establishment of full diplomatic relations with China – sparked controversy because of suspicions at the State Department that Brzezinski intended to use the initiative as an anti-Soviet ploy.

Although he played a secondary role in the Camp David negotiations that produced the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, Brzezinski and his staff did contribute to expanding the U.S. role in the greater Middle East by crafting the Carter Doctrine as a response to the Iranian crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The United States, Carter declared, would not permit any outside power to dominate the Persian Gulf and its oil supplies, committing America for the first time to an active role in the gulf.

Brzezinski’s bristling criticisms of Israeli policies over the years triggered accusations of anti-Semitism, which he denied and rebutted in part by pointing out that his father had been recognized by Israel as having helped Jews escape from Nazi-occupied Europe in World War II.

Brzezinski continued to engage in spirited public advocacy after leaving the White House and joining the Center for Strategic and International Studies as counselor and trustee. A particularly caustic critic of President George W. Bush, he strongly supported Barack Obama’s election campaign in 2008, but gradually came to fault Obama’s lack of “strategic determination” and accused him of having “caved in” to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Israeli settlements.

A frequent speaker at international conferences, he recalled in a 2013 interview with political scientist Charles Gati that he had crossed paths at one such gathering with Mikhail Gorbachev. The former Soviet leader greeted Brzezinski, the lifelong anti-communist, with shouts of “Zbeeeg! Zbeeeg!” They hugged. The following day, in his presentation, Gorbachev disdainfully described Brzezinski as an unreconstructed Cold Warrior.

When asked why later, Gorbachev responded, according to Brzezinski: “Zbeeeg, Zbeeeg, they paid us. They expected us to argue.” Asked by Gati if they were “paid that well,” Brzezinski replied: “Not really, but he seemed to think we were.”

]]> 0 Fri, 26 May 2017 23:50:46 +0000
Clinton warns Wellesley College graduates of threats to free society Sat, 27 May 2017 03:23:24 +0000 WELLESLEY, Mass. — Hillary Clinton peppered her Wellesley College commencement address Friday with barbs aimed at her rival in last year’s presidential election, criticizing President Trump’s budget proposal as a mean-spirited “con.”

The former Democratic presidential nominee never mentioned Trump by name even as she lashed out at his proposed budget as “an attack of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us.”

She said during her speech at her alma mater that the spending proposal fails to address critical issues such as opioid addiction and climate change. “It is shrouded in a trillion-dollar mathematical lie,” she said. “Let’s call it what it is. It’s a con. They don’t even try to hide it.”

Clinton also painted a portrait of a political environment where some are hostile to the fundamentals of an enlightened society and are engaged in “full-fledged assault on truth and reason.”

She said people on social media can deny science and concoct “elaborate, hurtful conspiracy theories about child abuse rings operating out of pizza parlors.”

“Some are even denying things we can see with our own eyes, like the size of crowds,” she said, a reference to the Republican president’s false claims about the size of his inauguration crowd.

“When people in authority invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society,” she said.

Clinton urged graduates to listen to those they may disagree with and get out of their internet bubbles, despite the push-back they may receive.

“In the years to come there will be trolls galore online and in person eager to tell you that you don’t have anything worthwhile to say or anything meaningful to contribute,” she said.

“They may even call you a nasty woman,” she said, referring to a comment Trump made to her during a debate.

Clinton said she understands the anger that some of the graduating members of the class might be feeling in the wake of the election. She said she felt similar outrage as she was graduating 48 years ago.

She said she and her classmates distrusted authority and were angry at the growing casualties in Vietnam – and the occupant of the White House.

“We were furious about the past presidential election of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment … after firing the person running the investigation into him,” she said, drawing a parallel between Richard Nixon and Trump.

She said graduates shouldn’t be afraid of their ambition, dreams or even their anger, calling them powerful forces that can be harnessed to make a difference in the world.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Clinton’s speech was a “stark reminder” of why she lost the election.

“Instead of lashing out with the same partisan talking points, Hillary Clinton would be wise to look inward, talk about why she lost, and expand the dwindling base of Democrat Party supporters,” she said.

Clinton’s speech marked a return engagement of sorts for Clinton. She delivered the first student commencement address 48 years ago in 1969, the year she graduated from the all-women’s school. She also delivered the 1992 commencement speech.

Clinton appeared relaxed and joked at times during the speech.

She said after her defeat she was able to rely on her family, her grandchildren and long walks in the woods.

“I won’t lie, chardonnay may have helped,” she added.

]]> 0 Sat, 27 May 2017 00:00:45 +0000
Poll: More older Americans want Medicare to pay for long-term care Sat, 27 May 2017 03:12:51 +0000 WASHINGTON — A growing number of Americans age 40 and older think Medicare should cover the costs of long-term care for older adults, according to a poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

That option is unlikely to gain much traction as President Trump’s administration and Republicans in Congress look to cut the federal budget and repeal President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law. Most older Americans mistakenly believe they can rely on Medicare already for such care, the poll shows, while few have done much planning for their own long-term care.

More than half of older Americans – 56 percent – think the federal government should devote a great deal or a lot of effort to helping people with the costs of long-term care, and another 30 percent think it should make a moderate effort to do so.

According to the poll, 56 percent of Americans age 40 and over think Medicare should have a major role in paying for ongoing living assistance, up from 39 percent who said so in 2013. Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans now think Medicare should bear a large part of the burden.

The poll has other signs of growing support for government involvement in providing long-term care. Seventy percent of older Americans say they favor a government-administered long-term care insurance program, up from 53 percent who said so a year ago. Most also favor tax policies to encourage long-term care planning, including tax breaks to encourage saving for long-term care and the ability to use nontaxable accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs to pay for long-term care insurance premiums. Most also favor tax breaks for people who provide care to family members and employers who give paid family leave to workers.

But just 25 percent would favor requiring individuals to purchase long-term care insurance, perhaps echoing opposition to the individual mandate to buy insurance that has long been the least popular part of the 2010 health care law.

The poll suggests many Americans have misconceptions about current government aid to pay for living assistance. Fifty-seven percent plan to rely on Medicare quite a bit or completely for their own ongoing living assistance if and when they need it, even though Medicare does not cover most nursing care or home health aides. Just 25 percent plan to rely on Medicaid. Medicaid is much more likely to pay for long-term care, but is only available to lower income and disabled individuals and families.

Two-thirds of Americans age 40 and up say they’ve done little or no planning for their own long-term care needs. In fact, the survey shows that if anything, older Americans feel less prepared for the costs of care than they have in recent years. Just 15 percent say they’re very or extremely confident that they’ll have the financial resources they need to pay for any ongoing living assistance, down from 27 percent who said so in 2013.

]]> 0 health care rally outside the Supreme Court in 2015. A growing number of Americans age 40 and older think Medicare should cover long-term care for older adults, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found.Fri, 26 May 2017 23:58:07 +0000
Effort to fix national flood insurance program has bipartisan support Sat, 27 May 2017 02:51:12 +0000 WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans have found common ground on plans to give private insurers greater access to the $5 billion flood insurance program and to offer more buyouts for homeowners in areas likely to be repeatedly submerged.

“Flood insurance seems to be one of those few areas where Democrats and Republicans see the same problems and, in a lot of instances, see the same solutions,” Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst with the National Resources Defense Council, said in an interview.

At issue is the National Flood Insurance Program, which is $25 billion in debt. Congress has until the end of September to reauthorize the federal program. If it doesn’t act, the real estate market along coasts and rivers will come to a halt, because homeowners need that insurance to qualify for federally backed mortgages. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the program paid out $8.4 billion to help cover the costs of rebuilding.

On Thursday, Republican Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the program, released draft legislation to overhaul it. Those changes overlap heavily with changes House Democrats are seeking, according to a document from the Democrats on the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing & Insurance obtained by Bloomberg.

The bipartisan agreement among the House lawmakers covers a range of topics, including expanding the role of private flood insurers, getting the federal program to buy more reinsurance on the private market, and making it easier for homeowners that keep getting flooded to move somewhere else.

“This shows an incredible amount of work,” Roy Wright, the deputy associate administrator at FEMA who oversees the National Flood Insurance Program, said in an interview. He said the odds are good of Democrats and Republicans eventually reaching a deal.

The process has a long way to go before these changes would become law. Even if the House agrees on these reforms, the Senate and President Trump must agree as well. And, as happened in the last flood insurance overhaul, changes may end up being rescinded after they become law if they cause premiums to skyrocket.

And some areas of disagreement remain among the House lawmakers.

In the draft legislation released Thursday, Republicans propose ejecting from the program homeowners who keep getting flooded but don’t want to sell their houses. Democrats wouldn’t eject them. And Republicans would impose fewer conditions on private insurers who want to sell flood insurance.

]]> 0 Sat, 27 May 2017 00:04:48 +0000
What’s next for Montana congressman? Sat, 27 May 2017 02:32:27 +0000 BOZEMAN, Mont. — Montana’s new congressman hasn’t even been sworn into his first public office, but people are already talking about his prospects in 2018 and even 2020.

First things first though for Greg Gianforte, who has to deal with a misdemeanor assault charge he received the day before the election after witnesses said he slammed a reporter to the ground.

Gianforte could have appeared in court in Bozeman on Friday to resolve the charge but did not and has a June 7 legal deadline do so.

He faces a maximum of 6 months in jail and a $500 fine if convicted. It’s rare for people to serve jail time for misdemeanors unless they have serious criminal records. The Gallatin County Attorney is also reviewing the case to see if additional charges are merited.

Montana Democrats on Friday quickly called for Gianforte to not be seated in Congress until his legal issues are resolved.

“The people of Montana deserve to finally have representation in the U.S. House,” party chairwoman Nancy Keenan said in a statement. “However, they should not have to be represented by a man who is currently facing an assault charge for body slamming another person. Greg Gianforte should not be sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives while his assault case is still pending in court.”

There is no legal impediment to Gianforte becoming a member of Congress with a pending misdemeanor. Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of New York, for example, returned to Congress facing an indictment for federal tax fraud and kept his seat even after he pleaded guilty, only leaving after voluntarily resigning. Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, remains in the upper chamber while under federal indictment for corruption.

It’s also unclear how quickly Gianforte can assume his seat. Montana has been without a congressman since Rep. Ryan Zinke became secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior in March, creating the vacancy that sparked the special election.

But Congress is out of session until June 6, and Montana is not expected to formally certify Gianforte’s victory until at least June 15.

Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, hailed Gianforte’s win. But he added: “Now he needs to resolve his legal issue so that he can start off on the right foot serving his constituents.”

Montana’s Republican senator and House Speaker Paul Ryan had called on Gianforte to apologize on Thursday. After his campaign initially issued a statement blaming the reporter, Gianforte stayed out of sight until the polls closed Thursday evening. He apologized for the confrontation when he declared victory that night.

Gianforte also promised to act differently as a congressman and spend as much time in the state as he could. “You deserve a congressman who stays out of the limelight and just gets the job done,” he told supporters.

A campaign spokesman said Gianforte would not be available for an interview.

“He’s with his family right now, and will be spending time with them over the weekend” Shane Scanlon said.

Gianforte will remain under the political microscope. The technology entrepreneur unsuccessfully ran for governor last year, and many political insiders in Montana expect him to make a second bid in 2020, when the current governor leaves office due to term limits.

He’d potentially face a competitive Republican primary then. And he may face another challenge in just 18 months, when his House seat is up again.

]]> 0 Gianforte, right, and wife Susan, celebrate his win over Rob Quist for the open congressional seat at the Hilton Garden Inn Thursday night in Bozeman, Mont. Gianforte could face jail time and a fine if convicted of an assault charge.Fri, 26 May 2017 23:04:11 +0000
Study indicates states with strict gun laws have fewer fatal police shootings Sat, 27 May 2017 02:21:10 +0000 Fatal shootings of civilians by police officers are less common in states with stricter gun laws than they are in states that take a more relaxed approach to regulating the sale, storage and use of firearms, new research says.

A study published this month in the American Journal of Public Health has found that fatal police shootings were about half as common in states whose gun laws place them in the top 25 percent of stringency than they were in states where such restrictions ranked in the bottom 25 percent.

The new findings draw from an analysis of 1,835 firearms-related deaths involving a police officer in the United States – all such fatalities reported in the 22 months following Jan. 1, 2015. It found that, of 42 laws enacted by states, the ones most strongly linked to lower fatal police shootings were those that aimed to strengthen background checks, to promote safe firearm storage and to reduce gun trafficking.

“We suspect that because these states have more robust gun laws, they’re better able to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people,” said the study’s lead author, University of Indianapolis psychology professor Aaron Kivisto. The likely result, he suggested, is that police in such states “are just less likely to encounter people in circumstances where they shouldn’t have a gun.”

The association held up even after researchers accounted for state differences in the density and demographics of its citizens.

The study results add to a broad pattern of findings about states’ rates of gun ownership, which largely rise and fall along with gun-related suicides, accidental firearm injuries and domestic violence deaths.

New Mexico, Wyoming, Alaska, Oklahoma and Arizona led the country in rates of fatal police shootings, which were calculated as the number of such deaths per 1 million state residents. All but Oklahoma had among the most relaxed gun laws on their books.

Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Illinois were among the states with the lowest rates of officer-involved fatal shootings. All had gun laws that placed them among the nation’s most restrictive states.

Some states bucked the national pattern by maintaining both few gun restrictions and low rates of officer-involved fatal shootings. This group included Maine, North Dakota, New Hampshire and Indiana.

]]> 0 at a 2013 police-involved shooting in Chicago. New research indicates that states with stricter gun laws have fewer fatal shootings of civilians by police. Officers investigate the scene of the police-involved shooting of Christian Green, 17, in the 5600 block of South State State on July 4, 2013 in Chicago, Ill. Fatal shootings of civilians by police officers are less common in states with stricter gun laws than in states that take a more relaxed approach, a new research says. (Sat, 27 May 2017 00:13:23 +0000
Survey finds some hope for U.S. honeybees Sat, 27 May 2017 02:16:13 +0000 WASHINGTON —There’s a glimmer of hope for America’s ailing honeybees as winter losses were the lowest in more than a decade, according to a U.S. survey of beekeepers released Thursday.

Beekeepers lost 21 percent of their colonies over last winter, the annual Bee Informed Partnership survey found. That’s the lowest winter loss level since the survey started in 2006 and an improvement from nearly 27 percent the winter before.

The U.S. government has set a goal of keeping losses under 15 percent in the winter.

“It’s good news in that the numbers are down, but it’s certainly not a good picture,” said survey director Dennis vanEngelsdorp. “It’s gone from horrible to bad.”

Reduction in varroa mites, a lethal parasite, is likely the main cause of the improvement, said vanEnglesdorp, a University of Maryland entomologist. He credited the reduction in the parasite to a new product to fight the mite and better weather for pesticide use.

The 10-year average for winter losses is 28.4 percent.

“We would of course all love it if the trend continues, but there are so many factors playing a role in colony health,” said bee expert Elina Lastro Nino at the University of California Davis, who wasn’t part of the survey. “I am glad to see this, but wouldn’t celebrate too much yet.”

For more than a decade, bees and other pollinators have been rapidly declining with scientists blaming a mix of parasites, disease, pesticides and poor nutrition.

While usually hive losses are worst in the winter, they occur year round. The survey found yearly losses also down, but not quite to record levels. About one third of the honey bee colonies that were around in April 2016 were dead a year later, the survey found. That’s better than the year before when the annual loss rate was more than 40 percent.

The survey, originally started by the U.S. government and now run by a nonprofit, is based on information from nearly 5,000 beekeepers who manage more than 360,000 colonies. University of Montana’s Jerry Bromenshenk said the study gives too much weight to backyard beekeepers rather than commercial beekeepers.

]]> 0 Press/J. Scott Applewhite Winter losses of honeybees in the U.S. were at the lowest levels in more than a decade with only 21 percent of the colonies dying, a survey of beekeepers reveals. But it has only "gone from horrible to bad," the survey director warns.Fri, 26 May 2017 22:16:13 +0000
‘Angel of Death’ nurse indicted in 1981 killing of infant Sat, 27 May 2017 02:09:28 +0000 A Texas nurse once dubbed an “Angel of Death” killer has been indicted in the 1981 slaying of an 11-month-old boy who she injected with a toxic dose of anti-seizure medication, authorities said.

Genene Jones, 66, was indicted by a grand jury Thursday, more than three decades after Joshua Sawyer’s death. Authorities suspect that Jones, who is already serving a 99-year prison sentence in the death of another child, might have killed up to 60 young children during her time as a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit in the former Bexar County Medical Center Hospital in San Antonio, according to the Bexar County district attorney’s office.

Authorities have long suspected that Jones was connected to a series of infant deaths in the 1980s at hospitals in San Antonio and nearby Kerrville, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Prosecutors said evidence shows that in December 1981, Jones gave Joshua a lethal dose of Dilantin, or phenytoin, which is used as an anti-seizure medication. The Washington Post reported in 1983 that investigators were pulling hospital records to determine what had caused the dozens of unexplained deaths, and grand juries in two Texas cities were hearing testimony in the case. The next year, prosecutors said, Jones was convicted of murder and sentenced to 99 years in prison for the death of 15-month-old Chelsea McClellan, who was injected with a potent muscle relaxer and died in 1982.

Jones is scheduled for release in Gatesville in March 2018, according to records from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, pursuant to mandatory release regulations at the time of her conviction. Before that, prosecutors said, Jones will be extradited to Bexar County, where she will stand trial in the new case.

]]> 0 JONESFri, 26 May 2017 22:15:29 +0000
N.H. inmates serving time 
and the visually impaired Sat, 27 May 2017 01:40:43 +0000 CONCORD, N.H. — Inside a prison workshop, several inmates tap away at what look like old typewriters.

The devices are actually Perkins Braillers, which are used to write the code relied upon by many visually impaired people. In a first for New Hampshire’s prison system, 14 female inmates are spending much of the year learning Braille, so they can convert restaurant menus, textbooks and novels into Braille.

“To know I could actually do something good for somebody, that is good to know,” said Molly Martel, who is in the fifth year of a 20- to 40-year sentence for stabbing a friend to death.

The decision to bring Braille translation to the prison comes as the state readies to move to a larger women’s facility at the end of the year. As part of the planned move, officials began looking for new prison classes to teach women job skills.

Ron Cormier, the administrator of correctional industries, asked other prison systems and learned Braille transcription classes had become popular in U.S. prisons, with 27 programs for men and women. At the same time, he was hearing there was shortage of transcribers in the Northeast.

He mentioned it to state Department of Education officials, who were “absolutely ecstatic” about the idea, Cormier said.

Created by a Frenchman named Louise Braille in the 1800s, Braille organizes dots in various patterns to form letters, numbers and punctuation marks. Over the years, various shortcuts or contractions were added to the code in order to shorten hundreds of words.

Teaching Braille relies heavily on memorization. Students start by learning the Braille cell – six possible dot positions arranged in two columns. Then, students move to the Brailler to learn how to write it. Eventually, they move to the computer where they begin to transcribe words, sentences and eventually sections of documents.

The women’s goal is to be certified by the Library of Congress, which requires them to submit a 35-page document they have transcribed.

Nancy Wittmershaus, who works for the Concord nonprofit Future In Sight and is training the women, said one of the biggest challenges is that they can see.

“They don’t learn to read Braille by touch in here,” said Wittmershaus, who spent 15 years teaching visually impaired students Braille. “They are going to read it visually, so sometimes the dots start to swim in front of your eyes.”

Hunkered over a computer with their workbooks in hands, several women stared at a white screen filled with dots. Most said they were getting a hang of it after several weeks, and some were even transcribing sentences with quotes.

“To know that it was something that I could get certified to do when I am home was a big draw for me,” said Nicole Belonga, who is serving 15 to 30 years after being convicted of manslaughter in the death of her daughter.

“I’m scared,” she said. “It’s going to be pretty hard to get a job, and I’m not delusional about it.”

]]> 0 Linda Ellis, left, and Molly Martel, right, use computers Monday as they receive instruction from Nancy Wittmershaus, center, at the New Hampshire Correctional Facility for Women in Goffstown, N.H. The women are participating in an innovative program to learn how to translate books into Braille.Fri, 26 May 2017 22:17:36 +0000
Boehner calls Trump term ‘complete disaster’ Sat, 27 May 2017 01:29:29 +0000 Former House Speaker John Boehner continued a streak of remarkable post-office candor during a Wednesday appearance at a Houston energy conference, telling a luncheon audience that President Trump’s term has – foreign policy aside – been a “complete disaster.”

“Everything else he’s done has been a complete disaster,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said, according to a report in Rigzone, an online energy publication. “He’s still learning how to be president.”

Boehner, who resigned from Congress in October 2015, had praised Trump – a friend and golfing companion from his political years – during the presidential campaign. On Wednesday, he praised Trump’s efforts at getting serious about combating the Islamic State, Rigzone reported, but ended his positive comments there.

Among other remarks, Boehner said Trump should not be allowed to tweet, the publication said.

Dave Schnittger, an aide to Boehner, said Friday the remarks made at the KPMG Global Energy Conference were “reported accurately” by Rigzone.

Dan Scavino Jr., the White House social media director, responded Friday on Twitter: “John Boehner, is the disaster.”

Boehner has made other public comments critical of his party since leaving office. During the presidential campaign in April 2016, he called then-Republican candidate Ted Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh.” And in February, he made a prescient prediction that a Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act was “not going to happen” and that “Republicans never, ever agree on health care” – a view he maintained Wednesday, according to the Rigzone report.

Boehner offered other blunt opinions, Rigzone reported. He gave an increasingly pessimistic view that congressional Republicans would pass tax reform, saying “now my odds are 60/40” and that tax reform is “a bunch of happy talk.” And he echoed an emerging piece of District of Columbia conventional wisdom by calling the border adjustment tax plan favored by Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Boehner’s successor as House speaker, “deader than a doornail.”

And on the various pending investigations into alleged Russian influence on the election and on Trump’s campaign, Boehner said, “they need to get to the bottom of this” but called impeachment a folly pushed by “crazy left-wing Democratic colleagues of mine.”

“Talk of impeachment is the best way to rile up Trump supporters,” he said, according to Rigzone. “Remember, impeachment is not a legal process; it’s a political process.”

Boehner, as he has said in the past, repeated Wednesday that he does not miss his old job: “I wake up every day, drink my morning coffee and say, ‘Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah,'” he said, according to Rigzone.

]]> 0 Press/J. Scott Applewhite Former House Speaker John Boehner says that President Trump's time in office has been a "complete disaster."Fri, 26 May 2017 21:29:29 +0000
Judge throws out life sentences for notorious sniper Sat, 27 May 2017 01:18:46 +0000 McLEAN, Va. – A federal judge on Friday tossed out two life sentences for one of Virginia’s most notorious criminals, sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson in Norfolk said Malvo is entitled to new sentencing hearings after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional.

Malvo was 17 when he was arrested in 2002 for a series of shootings that killed 10 people and wounded three over a three-week span in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, causing widespread fear throughout the region.

His accomplice, John Allen Muhammad, was executed in 2009.

Malvo also was sentenced to life in prison in Maryland for the murders that occurred there. But his lawyers have made an appeal on similar grounds in that state. A hearing is scheduled in June.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh, who helped prosecute Malvo in 2003, said the Virginia attorney general can appeal Jackson’s ruling. If not, Morrogh said he would pursue another life sentence, saying he believes Malvo meets the criteria for a harsh sentence.

Michael Kelly, spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, said Friday evening that the office is “reviewing the decision and will do everything possible, including a possible appeal, to make sure this convicted mass murderer serves the life sentences that were originally imposed.”

He also noted that the convictions themselves stand and emphasized that, even if Malvo gets a new sentencing hearing, he could still be resentenced to a life term.

]]> 0 Boyd Malvo, a notorious sniper, enters a court 2004.Fri, 26 May 2017 21:29:32 +0000
Economy’s 1st-quarter growth upgraded but still low: 1.2% Sat, 27 May 2017 01:02:37 +0000 WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy began 2017 with a whimper – though not quite as weak a whimper as the government had first estimated.

The gross domestic product – the broadest gauge of the economy – expanded in the January-March quarter at a 1.2 percent annual rate, the government said Friday. That was better than its initial estimate of a 0.7 percent rate but far below President Trump’s growth targets, which most economists consider unrealistic.

The government’s upgraded estimate of first-quarter growth reflected newfound strength in consumer spending, business investment and state and local government spending.

Many analysts have estimated that growth in the current April-June quarter is rebounding to an annual rate above 3 percent. They envision stronger consumer spending fueled by solid hiring, with unemployment at a decade low of 4.4 percent, and increased consumer spending. They note that growth in the first quarter was held down by some unusual temporary factors, including unseasonably warm weather, which limited spending on utilities.

Friday’s upgraded estimate of first-quarter growth “doesn’t alter the fact that it was another disappointing start to the year,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics. But Ashworth and other analysts said they still envision more robust expansion in the current quarter.

“Growth is bouncing back in the second quarter,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC. “Consumer spending continues to expand with job and wage gains, and business investment is picking up, especially for energy-related industries.”

After the expected rebound this spring, though, analysts generally foresee growth falling back to an annual rate of 2 percent to 2.5 percent in the second half of the year – the same modest pace that has prevailed for nearly all of the eight years of this economic recovery, the slowest expansion in the post-World War II period.

During the campaign, Trump bemoaned the economy’s weak growth and blamed what he called the Obama administration’s failed policies. He had vowed that his program of tax cuts, deregulation and tougher enforcement of trade agreements would double growth to 4 percent or better.

The 2018 budget plan that the Trump administration proposed this week projects a lesser but still questionable rate of expansion: It assumes that a mix of sharp spending and tax cuts can both shrink the deficit and fuel growth of 3 percent a year, a pace it hasn’t reached on a sustained basis in more than two decades.

Many experts have dismissed the notion that the economy can achieve a consistent annual growth rate of at least 3 percent at a time of sluggish worker productivity, an aging workforce and slower spending by consumers – on top of Trump’s proposed spending cuts to education, research and social programs.

The economy grew 1.6 percent for all of last year, the poorest showing in five years. With Trump’s legislative program meeting resistance in Congress, forecasters have been paring their growth estimates for the second half of this year.

Friday’s upward revision for the first quarter – the government’s second of three estimates – reflected a boost in consumer spending to an annual rate of 0.6 percent. That was still the slowest in seven years but was up from an initial estimate of 0.3 percent. Analysts generally say consumer spending is likely expanding in the current quarter at a much faster rate, lifted by modest income gains and by the tendency of consumers to spend more at a time of rising stock prices and home values.

The government’s upgraded estimate was also driven by lower declines in spending by state and local governments than initially thought and stronger investment by businesses in structures and intellectual property.

]]> 0 Fri, 26 May 2017 21:32:09 +0000
Economic adviser differs with Trump’s focus on coal Sat, 27 May 2017 01:00:11 +0000 WASHINGTON — The president’s chief economic adviser is casting doubt on the future of U.S. coal, saying it “doesn’t really make that much sense anymore as a feedstock,” directly contradicting President Trump’s repeated promises to revive the struggling coal industry.

Briefing reporters Thursday night on Air Force One, Gary Cohn singled out natural gas as “such a cleaner fuel.” By exporting more natural gas and investing in wind and solar energy, the U.S. “can be a manufacturing powerhouse and still be environmentally friendly,” Cohn said.

Gary Cohn Associated Press/Carolyn Kaster

Cohn’s comments were at odds with his boss, who campaigned as coal’s champion and decried what he and other Republicans called a “war on coal” by former President Barack Obama.

As president, Trump has unraveled a number of Obama-era energy restrictions, including a landmark plan to restrict climate-changing emissions from coal-fired power plants. Trump also has reversed an Obama plan to prevent coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby streams and lifted a moratorium on coal-mining leases on federal lands.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a longtime coal advocate, said he was taken aback by Cohn’s remarks, which sounded more in line with the Obama administration than Trump.

“I completely disagree with his statement,” Manchin said, adding that he plans to meet with Cohn “to explain the role that coal has and will continue to play in making this country great.”

Melinda Pierce, legislative director for the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest environmental group, said Cohn’s comments were accurate.

“Coal is increasingly not competitive as the market, the international community and public opinion reject this dirty fossil fuel that makes our families sick, pollutes our air and water and threatens our climate,” Pierce said.

“The Trump administration’s policies are completely at odds with these facts and need to catch up to reality instead of putting polluter profits ahead of the health of our communities,” she said.

That’s unlikely to happen.

Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump railed against the Obama administration policies as he campaigned in economically depressed swaths of states like West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Trump won all three states and swept eight of the top nine coal-producing states.

The New York billionaire has frequently celebrated his popularity in coal country.

At a ceremony in March, Trump was flanked on stage by more than a dozen coal miners as he signed an executive order that eliminated a host of Obama-era restrictions on fossil fuels, breaking with leaders across the globe who have embraced cleaner energy sources.

“That is what this is all about: bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams and making America wealthy again,” Trump said.

The miners “told me about the efforts to shut down their mines, their communities and their very way of life. I made them this promise: We will put our miners back to work,” Trump said. “My administration is putting an end to the war on coal.”

Trump’s promise runs counter to market forces, including U.S. utilities that have converted coal-fired power plants to cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas. Democrats, environmental groups and scientists said Trump’ executive order ignores the realities of climate change.

While Republicans have blamed Obama-era environmental regulations for the loss of coal jobs, federal data shows that U.S. mines have been shedding jobs for decades amid increasing automation and steep competition from natural gas.

Another factor is the plummeting cost of solar panels and wind turbines, which now can produce emissions-free electricity cheaper than burning coal.

According to an Energy Department analysis released in January, coal mining now accounts for fewer than 75,000 U.S. jobs. By contrast, renewable energy – including wind, solar and biofuels – accounts for more than 650,000 U.S. jobs.

]]> 0 photo from last fall shows the closed Spruce Creek coal mine in Matewan, W.Va. As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump promised to put "an end to the war on coal," but his chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, at top, told reporters Thursday night that the U.S. "can be a manufacturing powerhouse and still be environmentally friendly."Fri, 26 May 2017 21:41:47 +0000
Casino’s new owner gambles on big changes to Taj Mahal Sat, 27 May 2017 00:58:23 +0000 ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Jim Allen once worked for Donald Trump in Atlantic City. Now, the chairman of Hard Rock International is doing all he can to scrub the influence of the man who is now president of the United States from his signature casino.

Hard Rock, the gambling arm of the Seminole Indian tribe of Florida, is working on a remake of the former Trump Taj Mahal casino, which the company bought in March for $50 million, for about 4 cents on the dollar from the $1.2 billion Trump spent to open it in 1990.

This week, Allen revealed more details about Hard Rock’s plans for what Trump once described as “the eighth wonder of the world.”

The company is upping its investment in the former Taj Mahal from $350 million to $500 million. Allen has already met with the casino workers’ union whose strike last year prompted billionaire Carl Icahn to shut the casino down in October, and Allen promises to sign a contract with the union.

Hard Rock soon will announce a partnership to offer internet gambling in multiple jurisdictions, including, eventually, New Jersey. And then there’s the de-Trumpification the place needs.

“It’s everywhere,” Allen said of Trump’s influence on the Indian palace-themed Taj Mahal. “The amount of money we’re going to have to spend to remove all those minarets and all that purple. … What were we thinking?”

When the casino opens in summer 2018, it will bear the signature Hard Rock logo and its ubiquitous guitars, and the dozens of domes, minarets and other Trump-style flourishes will be long gone.

“We are committed to a minimum of $500 million we’re going to put back into that building,” Allen said. “It does us no good to put some guitars on the wall and new carpets, and say, ‘I can take 5 or 10 percent of the business from Resorts or Harrah’s.”

Allen said Hard Rock, with its emphasis on rock ‘n’ roll and the shared experiences of music and entertainment, will bring new customers to Atlantic City and help the entire market, rather than pulling customers away from competitors.

At the East Coast Gaming Congress on Thursday, a major regional gambling conference, Christopher Baldwin, managing director of Nomura Securities, said Hard Rock’s globally known brand should help attract customers interested in more than just gambling.

“Rock ‘n’ roll and the whole concert scene is something that is appealing,” he said. “It’s going to be a wide draw demographically.”

And Allen all but guaranteed the casino won’t have labor troubles.

He said he has met with Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite-HERE casino workers union and forged a constructive relationship Allen fully expects to end in a new contract with the union.

It was Icahn’s failure to reach a contract with the union to restore health insurance and pension benefits wiped out in bankruptcy court that led workers to go on strike last July. Icahn closed the casino Oct. 10.

“There’s going to be no dispute with Local 54,” Allen said. “We are going to put people back to work. We’ll get it done. We’ll do it fair.”

]]> 0 April 5, 2017 photo shows the exterior of the former Trump Taj Mahal casino, with the name "Trump" stripped from it, in Atlantic City N.J. Hard Rock International is upping its investment in Atlantic City's former Trump Taj Mahal casino. Company chairman Jim Allen said Hard Rock will spend at least $500 million on rebranding and reopening the shuttered casino, up from its initial $350 million plan. Hard Rock bought the Taj Mahal in March for $50 million.Fri, 26 May 2017 21:38:50 +0000
U.K. Labour leader links terrorism to foreign wars Fri, 26 May 2017 23:25:18 +0000 LONDON — Four days after a suicide bombing plunged Britain into mourning, political campaigning for a general election in two weeks resumed Friday with the main opposition leader linking acts of terrorism at home to foreign wars like the one in Libya.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn risked being assailed for politicizing the Manchester Arena attack that killed 22 people by claiming that his party would change Britain’s foreign policy if it takes power after the June 8 vote by abandoning the “war on terror.”

“Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home,” Corbyn said in his first speech since Monday night’s bombing. National campaigning had been on hold to honor the arena victims.

Salman Abedi, the bomber who struck the Ariana Grande concert, had strong links to Libya. His parents were born and lived there before moving to Britain in the early 1990s. They eventually returned with several of their six children, and Abedi traveled there to visit his family on occasion.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who was attending a summit of the Group of Seven in Sicily, offered a blistering critique of Corbyn’s position when she was asked about it at a news conference.

May said that while she was at the summit rallying support for the fight against terrorism, “Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault, and he has said that just a few days after one of the worst terror attacks” in the country’s history.

“There can never, ever, be an excuse for terrorism,” she said, adding “the choice people face at the general election has become starker.”

While Corbyn could alienate some voters with his comments, he is trying to win back the many Labour supporters who turned away from the party in the aftermath of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Blair’s backing of President George W. Bush brought more than 1 million protesters into the streets.

]]> 0's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech during a general election campaign event in central London on Friday. Britain will hold a general election on June 8.Fri, 26 May 2017 19:25:18 +0000
Russian ambassador said Kushner sought secret channel to communicate with Kremlin, officials say Fri, 26 May 2017 23:22:31 +0000 Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Donald Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

The White House disclosed the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.

Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate – a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials say that although Russian diplomats have secure means of communicating with Moscow, Jared Kushner’s apparent request for access to such channels was extraordinary. Kushner is a White House senior adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law. Associated Press/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Neither the meeting nor the communications of Americans involved were under U.S. surveillance, officials said.

The White House declined to comment. Robert Kelner, a lawyer for Flynn, declined to comment. The Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

Russia at times feeds false information into communication streams it suspects are monitored as a way of sowing misinformation and confusion among U.S. analysts. But officials said that it’s unclear what Kislyak would have had to gain by falsely characterizing his contacts with Kushner to Moscow, particularly at a time when the Kremlin still saw the prospect of dramatically improved relations with Trump.

Kushner’s apparent interest in establishing a secret channel with Moscow, rather than relying on U.S. government systems, has added to the intrigue surrounding the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia.

To some officials, it also reflects a staggering naivete.

The FBI closely monitors the communications of Russian officials in the United States, and it maintains a nearly constant surveillance of its diplomatic facilities. The National Security Agency monitors the communications of Russian officials overseas.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that although Russian diplomats have secure means of communicating with Moscow, Kushner’s apparent request for access to such channels was extraordinary.

“How would he trust that the Russians wouldn’t leak it on their side?” said one former senior intelligence official. The FBI would know that a Trump transition official was going in and out of the embassy, which would cause “a great deal” of concern, he added. The entire idea, he said, “seems extremely naive or absolutely crazy.”

The discussion of a secret channel adds to a broader pattern of efforts by Trump’s closest advisers to obscure their contacts with Russian counterparts. Trump’s first national security adviser, Flynn, was forced to resign after a series of false statements about his conversations with Kislyak. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from matters related to the Russia investigation after it was revealed that he had failed to disclose his own meetings with Kislyak when asked during congressional testimony about any contact with Russians.

Kushner’s interactions with Russians – including Kislyak and an executive for a Russian bank under U.S. sanctions – were not acknowledged by the White House until they were exposed in media reports.

It is common for senior advisers of a newly elected president to be in contact with foreign leaders and officials. But new administrations are generally cautious in their handling of interactions with Moscow, which U.S. intelligence agencies have accused of waging an unprecedented campaign to interfere in last year’s presidential race and help elect Trump.

Obama administration officials say members of the Trump transition team never approached them about arranging a secure communications channel with their Russian contacts, possibly because of concerns about leaks.

The State Department, the White House National Security Council and U.S. intelligence agencies all have the ability to set up secure communications channels with foreign leaders, though doing so for a transition team would be unusual.

Trump’s advisers were similarly secretive about meetings with leaders from the United Arab Emirates. The Obama White House only learned that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi was flying to New York in December to see Kushner, Flynn and Stephen Bannon, another top Trump adviser, because U.S. border agents in the UAE spotted the Emirate leader’s name on a flight manifest.

Russia would also have had reasons of its own to reject such an overture from Kushner. Doing so would require Moscow to expose its most sophisticated communications capabilities – which are likely housed in highly secure locations at diplomatic compounds – to an American.

The Post was first alerted in mid-December to the meeting by an anonymous letter, which said, among other things, that Kushner had talked to Kislyak about setting up the communications channel. This week, officials who reviewed the letter and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence said the portion about the secret channel was consistent with their understanding of events.

For instance, according to those officials and the letter, Kushner conveyed to the Russians that he was aware that it would be politically sensitive to meet publicly, but it was necessary for the Trump team to be able to continue their communication with Russian government officials.

In addition to their discussion about setting up the communications channel, Kushner, Flynn and Kislyak also talked about arranging a meeting between a representative of Trump and a “Russian contact” in a third country whose name was not identified, according to the anonymous letter.

The Post reported in April that Erik Prince, the founder of the private security firm Blackwater, now called Academi, and an informal adviser to the Trump transition team, met on Jan. 11 – nine days before Trump’s inauguration – in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean with a representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

]]> 0 and former U.S. intelligence officials say that though Russian diplomats have secure means of communicating with Moscow, Jared Kushner's apparent request for access to such channels was extraordinary. Kushner is a White House senior adviser and President Trump's son-in-law.Fri, 26 May 2017 23:50:48 +0000
Wary of North Korea, U.S. to test intercontinental missile interceptor Fri, 26 May 2017 23:00:59 +0000 WASHINGTON – Preparing for North Korea’s growing threat, the Pentagon will try to shoot down an intercontinental-range missile for the first time in a test next week. The goal is to more closely simulate a North Korean ICBM aimed at the U.S. homeland, officials said Friday

The American interceptor has a spotty track record, succeeding in nine of 17 attempts against missiles of less-then-intercontinental range since 1999. The most recent test, in June 2014, was a success, but that followed three straight failures. The system has evolved from the multibillion-dollar effort triggered by President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 push for a “Star Wars” solution to ballistic missile threats during the Cold War – when the Soviet Union was the only major worry.

North Korea is now the focus of U.S. efforts because its leader, Kim Jong Un, has vowed to field a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching American territory. He has yet to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, but Pentagon officials believe he is speeding in that direction.

Graphic shows details of U.S. missile launch targeting an ICBM; 2c x 3 1/2 inches; 96.3 mm x 88 mm;

Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said this week that “left unchecked,” Kim will eventually succeed.

The Pentagon has a variety of missile defense systems, but the one designed with a potential North Korean ICBM in mind is perhaps the most technologically challenging. Critics say it also is the least reliable.

The basic defensive idea is to fire a rocket into space upon warning of a hostile missile launch. The rocket releases a 5-foot-long device called a “kill vehicle” that uses internal guidance systems to steer into the path of the oncoming missile’s warhead, destroying it by force of impact. Officially known as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, the Pentagon likens it to hitting a bullet with a bullet.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, which is responsible for developing and testing the system, has scheduled the intercept test for Tuesday.

An interceptor is to be launched from an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and soar toward the target, which will be fired from a test range on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. If all goes as planned, the “kill vehicle” will slam into the ICBM-like target’s mock warhead high over the Pacific Ocean.

The target will be a custom-made missile meant to simulate an ICBM, meaning it will fly faster than missiles used in previous intercept tests, according to Christopher Johnson, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency. The target is not a mock-up of an actual North Korean ICBM.

“We conduct increasingly complex test scenarios as the program matures and advances,” Johnson said Friday. “Testing against an ICBM-type threat is the next step in that process.”

Officials say this is not a make-or-break test.

While it wasn’t scheduled with the expectation of an imminent North Korean missile threat, the military will closely watch whether it shows progress toward the stated goal of being able to reliably shoot down a small number of ICBMs targeting the United States. The Pentagon is thirsting for a success story amid growing fears about North Korea’s escalating capability.

“I can’t imagine what they’re going to say if it fails,” said Philip Coyle, senior science fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. He headed the Pentagon’s office of operational test and evaluation from 1994 to 2001 and has closely studied the missile defense system.

“These tests are scripted for success, and what’s been astonishing to me is that so many of them have failed,” Coyle said.

The interceptor system has been in place since 2004, but it has never been used in combat or fully tested. There currently are 32 interceptors in silos at Fort Greely in Alaska and four at Vandenberg, north of Los Angeles. The Pentagon says it will have eight more, for a total of 44, by the end of this year.

In its 2018 budget presented to Congress this week, the Pentagon proposed spending $7.9 billion on missile defense, including $1.5 billion for the ground-based midcourse defense program. Other elements of that effort include the Patriot designed to shoot down short-range ballistic missiles and the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which the U.S. has installed in South Korea as defense against medium-range North Korean missiles.

The Trump administration has yet to announce its intentions on missile defense.

President Donald Trump recently ordered the Pentagon to undertake a ballistic missile defense review. Some experts argue the current strategy for shooting down ICBM-range missiles, focused on the silo-based interceptors, is overly expensive and inadequate. They say a more fruitful approach would be to destroy or disable such missiles before they can be launched, possibly by cyberattack.

]]> 0 watch a TV news program showing a file image of a missile launch conducted by North Korea, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, this month. With North Korea's nuclear missile threat in mind, the Pentagon is planning a missile defense test next week that for the first time will target an intercontinental-range missile.Fri, 26 May 2017 19:07:32 +0000
Against biologist’s urging, N.H. bear family to be spared Fri, 26 May 2017 21:15:17 +0000 HANOVER, N.H. — New Hampshire’s bear project leader said Friday there are no longer plans to euthanize a mother bear and her three yearlings that have been roaming neighborhoods near Dartmouth College. Instead, they will be captured and moved to the northern part of the state.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu had asked that the bears not be killed.

Earlier this week, Andrew Timmins, the bear project leader for the state Fish and Game Department, said the bears, two of which got into a Hanover home near the college last weekend, needed to be euthanized because they are no longer afraid of humans.

“When their behavior reaches a certain point, it is tough to be wild bears again,” Timmins told the Valley News this week. “As the state’s bear biologist, I don’t think it would be prudent to move them to another area.”

Timmins said much of the problem stems from residents failing to take in their bird feeders by April 1 and not properly securing their garbage, much of which is related to student rental properties.

There was public outcry and a petition circulated opposing the decision to euthanize. Sununu said he shared people’s concerns “when it comes to finding a safe and human way to remove the threat these bears present.”

Timmins, in a black bear assessment done for the state in November 2014, wrote that the movement of bears to abate conflicts between the animals and humans is often viewed as a “Band-Aid” approach to a conflict, “as it does little to address the root of the problem (typically a food attractant).”

]]> 0 Fri, 26 May 2017 17:23:58 +0000
Melania Trump steps out in Italian fashions Fri, 26 May 2017 17:17:28 +0000 TAORMINA, Italy – Melania Trump’s first outing in the Sicilian sunshine was in a colorful floral applique jacket by Dolce & Gabbana that comes off the rack at $51,000.

Mrs. Trump also carried a matching clutch when she went to lunch with the other spouses of G-7 leaders at the historic Elephants Palace hosted by Catania’s mayor.

The color burst comes after a steady wardrobe of mostly black during President Trump’s overseas tour, including a prim black lace dress with a matching mantilla headcover that she wore to meet Pope Francis and a dark jacket with golden detailing on the cuff and collar that she wore for her arrival in Italy, both also by Milan designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.

Gabbana has been celebrating each appearance with Instagram posts. He shared three photos of the floral jacket, worn over a simple white shift dress, with the U.S. first lady looking model-perfect stepping out of an SUV. Gabbana tagged the photo with hearts and a Thank You to @flotus #melaniatrump.

Dolce & Gabbana have made Sicily their fashion muse, so it makes sense that she would also wear their designs in Sicily.

]]> 0 First Lady Melania Trump steps out of a car as she arrives at Chierici Palace, part of a visit of the G7 first ladies in Catania, Italy, Friday, May 26, 2017. On Friday and Saturday, for the first time all seven are around the same table, including also newcomers Emmanuel Macron of France, Theresa May of Britain and the Italian host, Paolo Gentiloni, forging a new dynamic after a year of global political turmoil amid a rise in nationalism. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)Fri, 26 May 2017 13:24:33 +0000
Trump ruffles feathers by calling Germans ‘bad’ on trade Fri, 26 May 2017 17:07:16 +0000 TAORMINA, Sicily – President Trump has criticized Germany’s trade surplus with the United States, drawing attention to a contentious issue at a summit of world leaders where trade is already a sticking point.

As the leaders of seven wealthy democracies gathered for difficult talks on trade and climate change, Germany’s Der Spiegel reported that Trump had told EU leaders the day before that the Germans were “bad, very bad” when it came to trade.

White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said the president’s comments focused on the surplus and not the country: “He said they’re very bad on trade, but he doesn’t have a problem with Germany.”

Cohn noted that “his dad is from Germany” and that he had said: “‘I don’t have a problem with Germany. I have a problem with German trade.”

The president of the European Union’s executive commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said Trump was “not aggressive” in his comments about the surplus and called the report “exaggerated.”

The G-7 leaders on Friday put pressure on internet companies and social media sites to do more to stop the spread of “hateful ideology,” appealing to their sense of social responsibility to more swiftly identify and remove terror propaganda.

The measure signed by the seven nations’ leaders was a show of solidarity with Britain following Monday’s suicide bombing in Manchester, England that killed 22 outside a pop music concert. The Islamic State group claimed the attack, although authorities are working to establish the bombing suspect’s ties to extremist organizations.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the leaders agreed that the threat posed by the Islamic State group “is evolving rather than disappearing.”

“As they lose ground in Iraq and Syria, foreign fighters are returning, and the group’s hateful ideology is spreading online,” May said. “Make no mistake, the fight is moving from the battlefield to the internet.”

She said terror propaganda is “warping young minds” and that she thinks technology companies both could do more and have the responsibility to act.

Trump’s earlier statements were not the first time he has taken aim at Germany’s trade success. In January, he said that German car manufacturers like BMW could face U.S. tariffs of up to 35 percent if they set up plants in Mexico instead of in the U.S. and try to export the cars to the U.S.

Trump has said he wants trade to be balanced, fair and free so it benefits U.S. workers and companies. He has focused on relationships in which the U.S. buys more than it sells in partners’ markets– as is the case with Germany and China.

Trump also has pushed back against earlier G-7 agreements to “fight all forms of protectionism.” G-7 finance ministers meeting in Bari, Italy, earlier this month agreed only to say they are “working to strengthen the contribution of trade to our economies.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she spoke to Trump about the matter.

Merkel said Friday at the summit that it’s well known that Germany sells more to the U.S. than it buys from America, “which on the one hand has to do with the quality of our goods,” but noted that there is also a lot of German direct investment in the U.S.

“In my opinion, one has to see these things together,” Merkel said.

She also noted that Germany should not be singled out. German news agency dpa reported that she said: “We have a currency union. We are practically a common market. To pick out one country is, I think, not so appropriate.”

Trump is not the only leader to criticize Germany’s trade surplus. Then-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy said last year that it wasn’t good for the eurozone economy.

Germany’s trade surplus with the United States is part of its large overall surplus with the rest of the world. Last year, Germany ran a current account surplus – the broadest measure of trade and investment flows – of 8.7 percent of annual economic output.

The country benefits from producing competitive goods such as luxury autos and industrial machinery that are in demand in the rest of the world. A weaker euro has helped the export performance.

Germany, however, can’t do much about the euro: its exchange rate has been driven down by troubles like the debt woes in Greece, and the policies of the European Central Bank.

Further complicating the picture, some large German companies also invest, hire and produce in the United States.

BMW, for instance, makes sport-utility vehicles in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and last year exported 70 percent of them – or 288,000 vehicles –to the rest of the world.

Daimler AG makes Mercedes-Benz cars in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, while Volkswagen has a plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

]]> 0 left, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French newly elected President Emmanuel Macron, British PM Theresa May, president of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, back to camera, and President Trump talk to each other prior to the start of the G-7 countries' summit in the Sicilian citadel of Taormina, Italy, on Friday.Fri, 26 May 2017 23:06:08 +0000
White House adds one more Littoral Combat Ship to budget Fri, 26 May 2017 16:19:25 +0000 The White House budget office and the Navy are rushing to find an extra $600 million to buy a second Littoral Combat Ship after including only one in the budget that President Donald Trump proposed this week.

Allison Stiller, the Navy’s acting weapons buyer, disclosed the unusual budget maneuver Wednesday at a House Armed Services seapower panel whose members are sympathetic to adding more of the vessels made in competing versions by Lockheed Martin and Austal. A second ship would guarantee that each company will get to build one, keeping both of their shipyards running.

“The administration recognizes the criticality of our industrial base and supports funding a second LCS” in the fiscal 2018 budget, Stiller said. Referring to the Office of Management and Budget, she told reporters that adding the ship is “OMB’s prerogative.”

The Littoral Combat Ship, designed for missions in shallow coastal waters, has drawn criticism from Pentagon testing officials and some lawmakers over its reliability and its vulnerability in combat. But the Navy supports the ship, which would help Trump reach his pledge for a 350-ship Navy, up from today’s fleet of 275 vessels that can be deployed.

The budget office “will be publishing a budget errata that adds another LCS to the FY 2018 budget request,” Lt. Col. Eric Badger, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. “The total request is two LCS ships. The Navy will identify” where the funds will come from, he said.

“The printed budget request included one LCS because the facts and need for a second came to us so late in the process,” OMB spokeswoman Meghan Burris said. “We understand that Congress is moving quickly to put together FY18 bills, and wanted to get the change in front of them as quickly as possible.”

Burris said “we are still working through the funding, and the official communication to Congress will be delivered upon completion” of that process.

The Trump budget proposal sent to Congress on Tuesday requested $636 million for one Littoral Combat Ship. Instead of a second, the Pentagon and Navy had agreed to go for two DDG-51 Flight III destroyers rather than one.

Pentagon officials were surprised when OMB decided to add a second Littoral Combat Ship too.

Hours before Stiller’s testimony, Acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley told the Senate defense appropriations panel that the budget sought just one littoral ship because “in 2018, budget-wise, we don’t have the capacity to grow in terms of procurement and modernization.”

The Navy says it’s important to maintain the workforces of both Lockheed in Wisconsin and Austal in Alabama until the Navy is ready to pick one of the contractors in mid-2020 to build a better-armed frigate as the successor to the planned fleet of as many as 30 Littoral Combat Ships.

“We want to keep the LCS and the frigate heel-to-toe as best as possible, so that we have a healthy industrial base to compete for that future frigate program,” Stackley said.

To OMB, the decision isn’t about the specifics of the LCS program but about “not wanting either Wisconsin or Alabama — where the LCS’s are built and both Trump states — to suffer,” Mark Cancian, a budget analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies who handled defense issues when he worked for the budget office, said in an email.

The Government Accountability Office said last month that Congress should consider delaying the Navy’s expected request for as much as $9 billion to start work on as many as 12 frigates. The GAO said too many unanswered questions remained about the new vessel’s cost and capabilities.

]]> 0 PACIFIC OCEAN (July 25, 2014) The littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS 2) is underway in a formation of 42 ships and submarines from 15 international partner nations during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014. Twenty-two nations, 49 ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC exercise from June 26 to Aug. 1, in and around the Hawaiian Islands. The world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. RIMPAC 2014 is the 24th exercise in the series that began in 1971. (U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Joseph Pfaff/Released)Fri, 26 May 2017 12:26:33 +0000
Europeans lobbying Trump ‘at all levels’ on climate accord Fri, 26 May 2017 14:32:13 +0000 TAORMINA, Italy — European leaders have mounted a last-ditch effort to stop President Donald Trump from abandoning the Paris climate accord, using multiple meetings this week to sell the American leader on the global agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Trump at length about the climate deal during a meeting Thursday in Brussels. At the Vatican earlier in the week, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin made his own pro-Paris pitch to Trump and his advisers. The matter was also expected to be a central focus of Trump’s two days of talks at the Group of 7 summit, which kicked off Friday on the picturesque Sicilian coast.

Nikolai Fichtner, spokesman for the German environment ministry, said the Europeans were “lobbying at all levels right now for the U.S. to remain in the Paris agreement.”

The White House’s slow decision-making on the future of the landmark 2015 climate change agreement created the opening for the European leaders’ persuasion campaign. Multiple White House meetings on the matter were delayed in recent weeks, and Trump advisers ultimately said he would not make a decision until after he returns to Washington from a nine-day, five-stop international trip.

As a candidate, Trump vowed to withdraw the U.S. from the accord, which was negotiated during the Obama administration. But as the opening months of his presidency have shown, Trump can be moved to change his positions and can be heavily influenced by other world leaders. He backed away from his tough campaign talk about trade with China after a summit with President Xi Jinping and abandoned his criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record following his warm welcome in the desert kingdom earlier this week.

Gary Cohn, Trump’s top White House economic adviser, said the president is now “learning to understand the European position” on the Paris climate accord.

President Trump adjusts his jacket Friday during a family photo with G7 leaders at the Ancient Greek Theater of Taormina. From left are, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump, and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. Associated Press/Evan Vucci

In Washington, discussions over the climate deal have sown divisions within the White House, splitting the nationalists and the globalists competing for influence within Trump’s administration. One potential compromise that’s emerged in the White House discussions involves staying in the climate accord, but adjusting the U.S. emissions targets.

Cohn hinted at that prospect as he briefed reporters Thursday night as Air Force One flew from Brussels to Sicily, the final stop on Trump’s trip.

“The last levels we put out in the Paris agreement were levels that would be constraining to our economic growth,” Cohn said. “But then you get into the whole discussion on Paris, is it non-binding, is it not non-binding, can you change your levels, how easy is it to change your levels.”

In a striking comment given Trump’s support during the campaign for American coal miners, Cohn also said “coal doesn’t even really make that much sense anymore as a feedstock.” He singled out natural gas as “such a cleaner fuel” and also noted that the U.S. could become a “manufacturing powerhouse” by investing in wind and solar energy.

Nearly 200 countries are part of the Paris accord and each set their own emissions targets, which are not legally binding. The U.S. pledged to reduce its annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2025 by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels, which would be a reduction of about 1.6 billion tons of annual emissions.

A senior French official said Macron and Trump spoke at length about the Paris agreement — at Macron’s behest — when they met for lunch Thursday. There was no “disagreement” over the accord itself, the official said, but there were “differences” about how to apply it.

Macron, the newly elected French president, was critical of Trump’s threats to pull out of the Paris deal during his own campaign. In a dig at Trump, he invited American climate scientists who felt alienated by the Republican administration to come to France to work.

Even Pope Francis, who has framed climate change as an urgent moral crisis and blamed global warming on an unfair, fossil fuel-based industrial model that harms the poor the most, appeared to be sending a message to Trump. Among the three documents the pope presented Trump as a gift was his 2015 encyclical on the need to protect the environment.

It’s unclear if the pope pressed Trump specifically on the Paris accord in their private meeting. But Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, did make a direct appeal in a broader meeting with the president and his top aides.

“They were encouraging continued participation in the Paris accord,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. “We had a good exchange on the difficulty of balancing climate change, responses to climate change and ensuring that you still have a thriving economy, you still offer people jobs so they can feed their families and have a prosperous economy. That’s a difficult balancing act.”

Climate change was on the agenda for Friday’s opening discussions at the G-7 summit. But with Trump pushing off a decision on the Paris accord until after he returns to Washington, it was unclear how strong the group of wealthy nations — the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan — would be on climate issues in the summit’s final communique.

Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbet in Taormina, Italy; Angela Charlton in Brussels; and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

]]> 0 Trump listens to Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni as they sit around a table during the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily.Fri, 26 May 2017 11:51:27 +0000
Sheriff: It’s ‘hard to hide’ swan statue stolen by naked man Fri, 26 May 2017 14:10:11 +0000 LAKELAND, Fla. – Surveillance video shows a naked man driving away from a Florida storage center in a stolen pickup truck loaded with a large, black and white checkered swan.

Now deputies are looking for the swan was stolen last weekend. In a Facebook posting Thursday, Polk County Sheriff’s officials said they know “it’s got to be hard to hide one of these,” adding, “Someone has seen it.”

Investigators say they’ve found the truck that was reported stolen in a nearby county, but they still don’t know why the man was naked as he apparently tried to break into Lakeland Cold Storage.

The video shows the man holding a white bucket in front of his body as he tries to open doors at the storage center in Lakeland, which is between Orlando and Tampa.

]]> 0 stolen from Lakeland, Florida. photo from Polk Co. police facebook pageFri, 26 May 2017 11:27:58 +0000
Lawyer says Kushner willing to cooperate in Russia probe Fri, 26 May 2017 13:45:13 +0000 WASHINGTON — If the FBI wants to talk to Jared Kushner about his Russian contacts, they won’t have to track down the president’s son-in-law. Amid reports that the FBI is scrutinizing Kushner’s encounters, his lawyer says he stands ready to talk to federal investigators and Congress about his contacts and his role in Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Federal investigators and several congressional committees are looking into Russia-Trump campaign connections, including allegations that there may have been collaboration to help Trump and harm his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

“The FBI tries to be thorough in their investigations,” said defense lawyer Edward MacMahon, who is not involved in the case. “If it’s been publicly reported that he met with Russians, and the investigation has to do with administration officials meeting with Russians, well, then, they’ll probably want to talk to everybody.”

Kushner was a trusted Trump adviser last year, overseeing the campaign’s digital strategy, and remains an influential confidant within the White House.

One likely area of interest for investigators would be Kushner’s own meetings with Russians, given that such encounters with a variety of Trump associates are at the root of the sprawling probe, now overseen by former FBI director Robert Mueller.

The White House in March confirmed that Kushner and Michael Flynn, the ousted national security adviser, met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, at Trump Tower in December for what one official called a brief courtesy meeting.

The Washington Post reported Friday that Kislyak told his superiors that he and Kushner discussed setting up a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin.

The Post report, citing anonymous U.S. officials who were briefed on intelligence reports on intercepted Russian communications, said Kislyak told his superiors that Kushner proposed using Russian diplomatic facilities for their discussions, apparently to make them more difficult to monitor. The Post said Kislyak was reportedly “taken aback” by the suggestion.

Flynn was pushed out of the White House in February after officials said he misled Vice President Mike Pence about whether he and the ambassador had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia in a phone call. Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, told Congress this month that that deception left Flynn vulnerable to being blackmailed by the Russians. Flynn remains under federal investigation in Virginia over his foreign business ties and was interviewed by the FBI in January about his contacts with Kislyak.

Obama administration officials told The Associated Press earlier this week that the frequency of Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak raised enough red flags that aides discussed the possibility Trump was trying to establish a one-to-one line of communication — a so-called back channel — with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Regarding Kushner, former FBI agent Jim Treacy said Friday: “If there is an investigation on anybody, would other folks around that person be of interest to the FBI as far as being interviewed? The answer to that is a big yes.” If the FBI wants to speak with someone, it’s not necessarily an indication of involvement or complicity, said Treacy, who did two tours in Moscow as the FBI’s legal attache.

“Really, being spoken to, does not confer a target status on the individual,” he said.

Investigators are also interested in a meeting Kushner had with the Russian banker, Sergey Gorkov, according to reports from The Washington Post and NBC News.

“Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings,” his attorney, Jamie Gorelick, said in a statement Thursday. “He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”

Another potential line of inquiry could concern Kushner’s failure to disclose some of his contacts with Russian government officials when he was filling out his application for a security clearance. The omissions were described as an “administrative error” by Gorelick, who said additional information about his meetings were provided to the FBI the day after he submitted his incomplete clearance application.

When applying for a security clearance, applicants are asked to disclose details about their interactions with foreigners, including the names of all the foreign government officials the applicant has had contact with over the past seven years. In some cases, people can lose their security clearances and jobs for not properly disclosing foreign contacts. Some Democrats have called on Kushner to be stripped of his security clearance and have asked the FBI to review whether Kushner complied with the law.

Todd Hinnen, the former acting head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said it would be easy to read too much into investigators’ interest in Kushner.

“That doesn’t mean he is a subject or the FBI suspects him of any wrongdoing; it also doesn’t mean the FBI doesn’t suspect him of any wrongdoing,” Hinnen said in an email.

“Given his position and his contacts, interviewing him would be an important step in any thorough investigation,” Hinnen said.

]]> 0, 26 May 2017 21:11:32 +0000
As thousands of car lease deals end, prices of lightly used cars drop Fri, 26 May 2017 12:05:16 +0000 DETROIT — In 2014, Infiniti leased more than 28,000 Q50 luxury sedans for as little as $329 per month in a growing U.S. market. The leases accounted for more than three-quarters of Q50 sales.

Now they’re coming back to haunt the automaker.

Like many companies that juiced sales with sweet leases during the past few years, Nissan’s luxury brand now faces a hefty supply of nice, low-mileage used cars at a time when most people want SUVs. For the U.S. auto industry, about 3.5 million vehicles will come off lease this year, after 3 million returned last year, according to Automotive Lease Guide. These are huge numbers when you consider that leasing all but came to a halt during the Great Recession about a decade ago.

The numbers signal three shifts in the market:

— Lease deals are starting to wane as many companies cut back to control the used car supply.

— You can get a great late-model used car for a bargain price.

— Competition from used cars likely will push down the price of new ones.

Since the lightly used cars are entering a market that favors trucks and SUVs, the prices will fall, says Jim Lentz, Toyota’s CEO in North America. “It’s more difficult to get rid of them,” he says. “You’re going to have very attractive certified used passenger car payments relative to new passenger cars.”

Three years ago, automakers leased about 3.3 million vehicles, just over 23 percent of U.S. sales to individual buyers. The business was good. Cars were holding their values and automakers expected to sell them at a tidy profit when leases ended in two or three years. Cars were still popular, making up half of the nation’s sales.

Leasing continued to grow, hitting a record of over 30 percent of sales earlier this year. Meanwhile, buyer tastes shifted to SUVs and demand for cars faded. Car sales are now about 38 percent of the market. As a result, used-vehicle prices tumbled 7 percent during March compared with a year ago, according to an NADA Guides index. The organization expects them to fall 6 percent for the full year.

Data collected by Kelley Blue Book shows leasing dropped to under 30 percent of sales in April after three years of increases.

Toyota started to reduce leasing in 2015. General Motors cut sales to rental car companies last year to control the used car supply, Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens says. Now GM is reallocating incentive spending away from leases toward conventional financing, as new-car sales are expected to back off slightly from last year’s record 17.5 million.

Eric Lyman, lead analyst for Automotive Lease Guide, advises consumers now is a good time to lease a car, before leasing cuts become more widespread. Although he expects the number of vehicles leased this year to stay flat, payments are likely to rise as automakers offer less generous terms.

But it will be difficult for automakers to stick to a strategy of raising lease costs unless they all go along. For example, if Honda leases a midsize Accord for $229 per month, Toyota will have to match the price on the Camry, the Accord’s prime competitor, Lyman says.

Jake Winfield, a math teacher in Phoenix, considers himself a beneficiary of the car oversupply. Late last year he bought a 2015 Accord with under 15,000 miles that he believes started life as a lease. He paid just under $20,000 for the certified pre-owned car with aluminum wheels and a moon roof that stickered around $25,000 when new. It was inspected and comes with a warranty. “I was able to get a higher-end car by buying used than by buying new, with my budget,” Winfield says.

Infiniti likely will take a big depreciation hit on 3-year-old Q50s coming back as used this year. An all-wheel-drive premium model with about 36,000 miles on it was listed on this week for under $24,000. It originally stickered around $40,000. Nissan says it has plans to manage the influx of Q50s.

Lyman predicts used car prices as a percentage of original sticker price will fall for at least the next three years. The number of cars coming off leases each year will grow through at least 2020, when ALG expects more than 4.1 million lease cars to be returned.

The off-lease cars are attracting even customers with the high credit scores, according to Experian. A decade ago, roughly 49 percent of prime credit buyers bought used. That’s now up to almost 55 percent.

Lower used-car prices also can reduce new-car prices because buyers won’t get as much money when they trade cars in, according to Lyman.

In two or three years, the price of popular used SUVs could fall too, because they’re now being leased in large numbers, Lyman says. It may take four years or so, but prices eventually will stabilize as automakers cut new-car production and reduce leasing.

Still, some dealers who sell used cars are skeptical of the falling price forecasts. Paul Ritchie, who runs a Honda dealership in Hagerstown, Maryland, says he and other dealers he recently met with haven’t seen a big decline. “We just don’t think it’s going to drop that much,” he says. “Most of the dealers in our group are looking to buy used cars.”

]]> 0, 26 May 2017 19:59:25 +0000
Egypt strikes training base after gunmen kill dozens of Christians Fri, 26 May 2017 11:50:03 +0000 CAIRO – Masked gunmen ambushed a bus carrying Coptic Christians to a monastery south of Cairo on Friday, killing at least 28 people, and Egypt responded by launching airstrikes against what it said were militant training bases in Libya.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi announced the retaliatory action hours after the bus was riddled with machine-gun fire on a remote desert road by suspected Islamic State militants riding in three SUVs.

“What you’ve seen today will not go unpunished. An extremely painful strike has been dealt to the bases. Egypt will never hesitate to strike terror bases anywhere,” el-Sissi said in a televised address to the nation.

He also appealed to U.S. President Trump to lead the global war against terror.

The ambush of the bus was the fourth deadly attack against the country’s Christians since December. The dead included two little girls, ages 2 and 4, local officials said. Twenty-two others were reported wounded.

Trump, in Italy on his first trip abroad as president, blamed the bloodshed on a “thuggish ideology” and said it should bring nations together to crush “evil organizations of terror.”

Senior Egyptian officials said fighter jets targeted bases in eastern Libya of the Shura Council, an Islamist militia known to be linked to al-Qaida, not the Islamic State. There was no immediate word on damage or casualties.

The bus attack deepens the woes of the majority-Muslim nation, where El-Sissi’s government is struggling not only to crush a burgeoning Islamic insurgency but to revive the battered economy.

The country’s Christians have complained that the government is not doing enough to protect them from Islamic extremists, and hundreds of them reacted to the bus attack by staging angry street protests in two provincial cities, destroying at least six cars and briefly cutting off railway lines.

“Either we get retribution or die like them,” some chanted.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the ambush, which came on the eve of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

But it bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State, which has been spearheading an insurgency that has carried out deadly attacks in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and, increasingly, on the country’s mainland.

The Interior Ministry said the assailants opened fire as the bus traveled to the St. Samuel the Confessor monastery in Maghagha, about 140 miles south of Cairo. The Coptic Orthodox monastery is reachable only by an unpaved route that veers off the main highway.

Security and medical officials quoted witnesses as saying they saw eight to 10 attackers in military uniforms. They said one of the assailants’ SUVs got stuck in the sand, so they torched it and hijacked a truck traveling the same road, killing its occupants.

Arab TV stations showed images of a bus riddled with bullet holes, with many of its windows shattered and bloodstains on the seats. Bodies lay on the ground, some covered with black plastic sheets. Children could be heard screaming hysterically in the background.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters, said the death toll stood at 28 and could rise.

The government is likely to further tighten security around churches, monasteries, schools and pilgrimages to remote Christian sites, which may be suspended, the officials said.

El-Sissi’s government is in the midst of an ambitious and politically sensitive reform program to resuscitate the economy. The program has sent the cost of food and services soaring, feeding popular discontent. A new wave of increases for fuel and electricity is widely expected this summer.

Last month, el-Sissi declared a three-month state of emergency following twin suicide bombings that struck two churches north of Cairo on Palm Sunday. In December, a suicide bomber targeted a Cairo church. The three attacks, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility, left at least 75 people dead.

After a visit to Egypt last month by Pope Francis, the Islamic State vowed to escalate attacks against Christians and urged Muslims to steer clear of Christian gatherings and Western embassies.

On Wednesday, Egypt blocked access to nearly two dozen websites it said were sympathetic to militants or spreading their ideology.

Egypt’s Copts, the Middle East’s largest Christian community, account for about 10 percent of the country’s 93 million people.

Christians rallied behind el-Sissi, the former head of Egypt’s military, in 2013 when he ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood. Attacks on Christian homes, businesses and churches subsequently surged.

Hendawi reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Maggie Michael and Maamoun Youssef contributed to this report from Cairo.

]]> 0 of Coptic Christians who were killed during a bus attack surround their coffins during their funeral service at Abu Garnous Cathedral in Minya, Egypt, on Friday.Fri, 26 May 2017 19:55:04 +0000
Republican charged with assault wins Montana’s seat in U.S. House Fri, 26 May 2017 04:32:13 +0000 BOZEMAN, Mont. — Republican multimillionaire Greg Gianforte won Montana’s only U.S. House seat on Thursday despite being charged a day earlier with assault after witnesses said he grabbed a reporter by the neck and threw him to the ground.

Gianforte, a technology entrepreneur, defeated Democrat Rob Quist to continue the party’s two-decade stronghold on the congressional seat. Democrats had hoped Quist, a musician and first-time candidate, could have capitalized on a wave of activism following President Donald Trump’s election.

Instead, the win reaffirmed Montana’s voters support for Trump’s young presidency in a conservative-leaning state that voted overwhelmingly for him in November.

Gianforte was a strong favorite throughout the campaign and that continued even after authorities charged him with misdemeanor assault on Wednesday. Witnesses said he grabbed Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian newspaper, and slammed him to the ground after being asked about the Republican health care bill.

Gianforte dropped out of sight after he was cited by police and ignored calls on Thursday by national Republicans for him to apologize to the reporter.

The last-minute controversy unnerved Republicans, who also faced close calls this year in the traditionally Republican congressional districts in Kansas and Georgia. A runoff election is scheduled for next month in Georgia between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel after Ossoff fell just short of winning outright.

Gianforte showed lukewarm support for Trump during his unsuccessful run for governor in Montana last fall but did an about-face and turned into an ebullient Trump supporter after he started campaigning for the congressional seat vacated by Republican Ryan Zinke, when he was tapped by Trump to serve as Interior Department secretary.

Gianforte urged Montana voters to send him to help Trump “drain the swamp,” brought in Vice President Mike Pence and first son Donald Trump Jr. to campaign for him and was supported by millions of dollars of ads and mailers paid for by Republican groups.

But the theme of the election shifted Wednesday night when Jacobs walked into Gianforte’s office as he was preparing for an interview with Fox News.

Jacobs began asking the candidate about the health care bill passed by the House when the crew and Jacobs say Gianforte slammed him to the floor, yelling “Get out of here!”

It had been unclear if Gianforte’s assault charge would impact the race. About a third of eligible voters in Montana had already cast their ballots in early voting, and others said it didn’t influence their vote.

Shaun Scott, a computer science professor at Carroll College in Helena, said the assault charge was barely a factor in his decision.

“If you have somebody sticking a phone in your face, a mic in your face, over and over, and you don’t know how to deal with the situation, you haven’t really done that, you haven’t dealt with that, I can see where it can … make you a little angry,” Scott said Thursday.

Quist, a popular 69-year-old singer and cowboy poet who was the front man for the Montana’s Mission Mountain Wood Band, was helped by money that poured in from across the U.S. as Democrats seek to capture congressional seats that would have been considered safely Republican a year ago.

But Gianforte also benefited from millions of dollars spent on ads and mailers by GOP groups like the Conservative Leadership Fund.

Gianforte campaigned as a gun-loving Montanan endorsed by the National Rifle Association to build his credibility among hunting enthusiasts and to motivate gun rights activists to vote. He echoed the Republican Party mantras of cutting taxes, beefing up the military and securing the country’s borders.

Montana is a conservative-leaning state that became even more so after voters last November overwhelmingly supported Trump, voted in Republican majorities in the state Legislature and elected GOP candidates to four of five statewide elected positions, leaving Gov. Steve Bullock as the only Democratic statewide elected official.

A Democrat has not held the Montana U.S. House seat since Pat Williams departed in 1997 after he decided not to seek re-election.

Quist ran a nontraditional populist campaign that saw appearances by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He stuck to issues that have broad appeal in Montana, such as maintaining and improving access to public land. He collected nearly $3.2 million from individual donors across the U.S.

But Quist had to overcome reports of financial problems that included unpaid taxes, a loan default and legal squabbles with a former band member over royalties and a contractor over payments. He tried to turn those negatives into positives by saying his story illustrated problems many Montanans face because of high health care costs.

Libertarian Mark Wicks was the third candidate in the race.

]]> 0 - In this March 6, 2017, file photo, Greg Gianforte, right, receives congratulations from a supporter in Helena, Mont. Montana voters are heading to the polls Thursday, May 25, 2017, to decide a nationally watched congressional election amid uncertainty in Washington over President Donald Trump's agenda and his handling of the country's affairs. (AP Photo/Matt Volz, File)Fri, 26 May 2017 01:08:36 +0000
Britain bomber said to have pleaded ‘Forgive me’ Fri, 26 May 2017 03:05:13 +0000 MANCHESTER, England — The suspect in the deadly Manchester concert bombing was driven by what he saw as unjust treatment of Arabs in Britain, a relative said Thursday, confirming he made a final phone call in which he pleaded: “Forgive me.”

Salman Abedi was particularly upset by the killing last year of a Muslim friend whose death he believed went unnoticed by “infidels” in the U.K., said the relative, speaking on condition of anonymity over concerns for her own security.

“Why was there no outrage for the killing of an Arab and a Muslim in such a cruel way?” she asked.

“Rage was the main reason” for the blast that killed 22 at the end of an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena on Monday, she said, speaking by telephone from Libya.

The new insight into Abedi’s motivation came as Britons faced stepped-up security, authorities pushed forward with raids and the investigation extended across Europe into Libya, where most of the suspected bomber’s family lived.

The number of arrests in the U.K. ticked up to eight as British Transport Police said armed officers would begin patrols on some trains because of an increased threat of terrorism. Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said, without elaborating, that searches of suspects’ homes brought “very important” clues in the probe of the bombing. But leaks from the investigation were creating a trans-Atlantic diplomatic mess.

Manchester police halted their sharing of investigative information with the U.S. through most of Thursday until receiving fresh assurance there would be an end to leaks to the media.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who spoke about the matter with President Trump at a NATO summit in Brussels, said the countries’ partnership on defense and security was built on trust. But “part of that trust is knowing that intelligence can be shared confidently,” she said.

]]> 0 Thu, 25 May 2017 23:05:13 +0000
Trump budget may put wild horses on the block Fri, 26 May 2017 02:40:16 +0000 PALOMINO VALLEY, Nev. — President Trump’s budget proposal calls for saving $10 million next year by selling wild horses captured throughout the U.S. West without the requirement that buyers guarantee the animals won’t be resold for slaughter.

Wild-horse advocates say the change would gut nearly a half-century of protection for an icon of the American West and could send thousands of free-roaming mustangs to foreign slaughterhouses for processing as food.

They say the Trump administration is kowtowing to livestock interests who don’t want the region’s estimated 59,000 mustangs competing for precious forage across more than 40,000 square miles of rangeland in 10 states managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The budget proposal marks the latest skirmish in the decades-old controversy pitting ranchers and rural communities against groups that want to protect the horses from Colorado to California.

“This is simply a way to placate a very well-funded and vocal livestock lobby,” Laura Leigh, president of the nonprofit protection group Wild Horse Education, said about the plan.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other interests have been urging the BLM for years to allow sales of wild horses for slaughter to free up room in overcrowded government corrals for the capture of more animals.

Doug Busselman, executive vice president of the Nevada Farm Bureau, blamed the stalemate on the “emotional and anti-management interests who have built their business models on preventing rational and responsible actions while enhancing their fundraising through misinformation.”

]]> 0 horse advocates say President Trump's new budget proposal would undermine protection of wild horses in the West.Thu, 25 May 2017 22:40:16 +0000
Monstrous cyclones churn over Jupiter’s poles Fri, 26 May 2017 02:26:22 +0000 CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Monstrous cyclones are churning over Jupiter’s poles, until now a largely unexplored region that is more turbulent than scientists expected.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft spotted the chaotic weather at the top and bottom of Jupiter once it began skimming the cloud tops last year, surprising researchers who assumed the giant gas planet would be relatively boring and uniform down low.

“What we’re finding is anything but that is the truth. It’s very different, very complex,” Juno’s chief scientist Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute said Thursday.

With dozens of cyclones hundreds of miles across – alongside unidentifiable weather systems stretching thousands of miles – the poles look nothing like Jupiter’s equatorial region, instantly recognizable by its stripes and Great Red Spot, a raging hurricane-like storm.

“That’s the Jupiter we’ve all known and grown to love,” Bolton said. “And when you look from the pole, it looks totally different … I don’t think anybody would have guessed this is Jupiter.”

He calls these first major findings – published Thursday – “Earth-shattering. Or should I say, Jupiter-shattering.”

Turning counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere just like on Earth, the cyclones are clearly clustered near the poles. The diameters of some of these confirmed cyclones stretch up to 1,700 miles.

Even bigger, though shapeless weather systems are present in both polar regions. At the same time, the two poles don’t really resemble each other, which is puzzling, according to Bolton.

Scientists are eager to see, over time, whether these super cyclones are stable or dynamic. “Are they going to stay the same way for years and years like the Great Red Spot … Of course, only time will tell,” Bolton said.

Just as intriguing will be how fast these super cyclones are moving.

Launched in 2011 and orbiting Jupiter since last summer, Juno is providing the best close-up views ever of our solar system’s largest planet, peering beneath the clouds for a true portrait. It’s made five close passes over Jupiter so far for science collection, the most recent last week; they occur about every two months given Juno’s extremely oblong orbit. The next one will be in July, with investigators targeting the Great Red Spot.

Juno is moving so fast during these encounters that it takes only two hours to get from the north pole to the south.

Besides polar cyclones, Juno has spotted white ice caps on Jupiter – frozen bits of ammonia and water. Bolton refers to them as Jovian snowfall – or maybe hail.

Juno also has detected an overwhelming abundance of ammonia deep down in Jupiter’s atmosphere, and a surprisingly strong magnetic field in places – roughly 10 times greater than Earth’s.

It’s also led scientists to believe Jupiter may have a “fuzzy” core – as Bolton puts it – big but partially dissolved.

Results were published in Science and Geophysical Research Letters.

]]> 0 artist's rendering, left, depicts NASA's Juno spacecraft above Jupiter's north pole. Above, this image made available by NASA on Thursday from data captured by the Juno spacecraft shows Jupiter's south pole. The oval features are cyclones, up to 600 miles in diameter. NASA via Reuters/Associated PressThu, 25 May 2017 22:35:17 +0000
Harvard hosts Zuckerberg as commencement speaker Fri, 26 May 2017 02:14:18 +0000 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg returned to Harvard with a message on fighting inequality and taking risks in the name of innovation.

Zuckerberg, who, like the graduates, is a millennial, started Facebook in his Harvard dorm room in 2004. He dropped out the next year and returned Thursday to receive an honorary degree.

Excerpts from his speech:

“Let’s face it, you accomplished something I never could. If I get through this speech today, it’ll be the first time I actually finish something here at Harvard.”

“My best memory from Harvard is meeting Priscilla. I had just launched this prank website Facemash, and the ad (administrative) board wanted to ‘see me.’ Everyone thought I was going to get kicked out. My parents drove up here to help me pack my stuff. My friends threw me a going-away party. Who does that? As luck would have it, Priscilla was at that party with her friends. And we met in line for the bathroom in the Pfoho Belltower (a dorm), and in what must seem like one of the all-time most romantic lines, I turned to her and said: ‘I’m getting kicked out in three days, so we need to go on a date quickly.”‘

“Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started. If I had to know everything about connecting people before I got started, I never would have built Facebook.”

“It’s really good to be idealistic. But be prepared to be misunderstood. Anyone working on a big vision is going to get called crazy, even if you end up right.”

“There is something wrong with our system when I can leave here and make billions of dollars in 10 years while millions of students can’t even afford to pay off their loans, let alone start a business.”

“Every generation expands its definition of equality … And now it’s time for our generation to define a new social contract.”

]]> 0 CEO and Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg greets graduating students as he walks in a procession though Harvard Yard.Thu, 25 May 2017 22:14:18 +0000
Republican senators say CBO report makes health care bill harder Thu, 25 May 2017 23:50:39 +0000 WASHINGTON — Senators conceded Thursday that a scathing analysis of the House Republican health care bill had complicated their effort to dismantle President Obama’s health care law.

“It makes everything harder and more difficult,” Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said of a Congressional Budget Office analysis projecting that the House bill would cause 23 million Americans to lose coverage by 2026 and create prohibitively expensive costs for many others.

“There’s blinking yellow lights throughout the whole thing,” Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., said of the report by lawmakers’ nonpartisan fiscal experts.

Congress now begins a week-long recess, with Republican senators still hunting for a health-care overhaul plan that can win the support of no less than 50 of their 52 members. All Democrats seem likely to oppose the bill, and Vice President Mike Pence could break a 50-50 tie.

While the analysis of the House-passed plan simply gives senators a numerical starting point for their own work, it also made the Republican health care drive a fatter target for Democratic attacks. And it highlighted how some provisions in the House bill would produce damaging consequences for many people.

“The bottom line is very simple. Unless you’re a healthy millionaire, Trumpcare is a nightmare,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “And I think that’s why our Republican colleagues are having such trouble putting together their own bill.”

The House bill would relax many of the Obama statute’s consumer protections, kill its mandate that people buy coverage, trim federal subsidies for insurance purchasers and cut the Medicaid program for lower-income and disabled people.

Senate Republicans have been holding private meetings to narrow differences and produce their own health care package. They’ve said it will differ markedly from the House measure, including easing some Medicaid reductions and focusing tax credits for buying coverage more at poorer people.

The No. 2 Senate Republican leader, John Cornyn of Texas, expressed optimism that senators were narrowing differences and said staff could “start work” over the recess on writing some language of a Senate bill, but he conceded, “There’s nothing final.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said, “We’re still a ways away from having solutions here.”

That’s prompted increased talk of possibly breaking out a less ambitious bill aimed at keeping insurance markets stable over the next two years, Republicans say.

That could involve providing money to insurance companies so they can contain customers’ costs, and perhaps retaining Obama’s individual mandate, which imposes tax penalties on people who go uninsured.

]]> 0 Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., says, "Unless you're a healthy millionaire, Trumpcare is a nightmare."Fri, 26 May 2017 00:02:46 +0000
Trump pushes aside Montenegro’s leader, who takes it in stride: Video Thu, 25 May 2017 23:27:51 +0000 BRUSSELS – President Trump’s push to get in front of the pack at a NATO summit generated indignation in the Balkans and garnered attention on social media – but the man he shoved aside took it in stride.

At Thursday’s gathering in Brussels, Trump put his right hand on the right arm of Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic and pushed himself ahead as NATO leaders walked inside the alliance’s new headquarters and prepared for a group photo.

Trump then stood near Markovic and spoke to Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.

Video of the incident spread on social networks in multiple languages.

“It seems Donald Trump did not want that anyone overshadows his presence at the summit,” said the Montenegro newspaper Vijesti.

Other Balkan websites ran headlines such as “America First” and “Where do you think you are going?”

Markovic himself, however, shrugged off the slight.

“It didn’t really register. I just saw reactions about it on social networks. It is simply a harmless situation,” he told reporters after the summit.

Instead of being insulted, he took the opportunity to thank Trump for supporting Montenegro’s membership in NATO. The small former Yugoslav republic is slated to become NATO’s 29th member next month.

And in any case, Markovic said, “it is natural that the president of the United States is in the front row.”

]]> 0 Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, center right, appeared to be pushed aside by President Trump during a NATO summit of heads of state and government in Brussels on Thursday.Thu, 25 May 2017 20:34:51 +0000
Professor and renowned scholar who sparked Obama’s interest in politics dies Thu, 25 May 2017 23:16:37 +0000 LOS ANGELES — Roger Boesche, a popular professor and renowned scholar credited by Barack Obama with sparking the future president’s interest in politics when he was an undergraduate at California’s Occidental College, has died at age 69.

Boesche died in his sleep Tuesday at his home near the campus, university spokesman Jim Tranquada told The Associated Press. No cause of death was given, but the professor had been afflicted since childhood with rheumatoid arthritis and had undergone numerous surgeries throughout his lifetime.

He had attended the university’s commencement ceremonies just last Sunday, receiving a standing ovation from faculty, staff and students when it was announced that he was retiring after 40 years.

“Roger was a beloved figure on campus and a nationally known scholar and teacher who really demonstrated the ability of a great teacher to transform lives,” Tranquada said Thursday.

Perhaps never more so than in the case of Obama, someone he once chastised for not putting in enough effort when the future president asked why he received a B in political theory instead of an A.

“I said, ‘Well, frankly, I think you’re really brilliant, but you don’t work hard enough,’ ” Boesche recalled telling Obama.

Obama, who later called Boesche “just a wonderful, wonderful teacher,” invited him to the White House for a visit in 2009.

Boesche earned bachelor of arts and doctorate degrees from Stanford University, where he led protests against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s. He was hired by Occidental in 1977.

Soon after arriving, he led efforts to have the university sever business ties with South Africa while it was ruled by its racial separatist apartheid government.

Popular with both faculty and students, he was twice voted Occidental’s best teacher by its senior class.

An expert on political theory and history, Boesche published several books, including “Theories of Tyranny: From Plato to Arendt” and “The Strange Liberalism of Alexis De Tocqueville.”

He is survived by his wife and their daughter, Kelsey.

]]> 0 Thu, 25 May 2017 19:16:37 +0000
Kushner’s meetings with Russians now a focus in investigation Thu, 25 May 2017 22:48:13 +0000 Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Kushner, who held meetings in December with the Russian ambassador and a banker from Moscow, is being investigated because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians, the people said.

The Washington Post reported last week that a senior White House official close to the president was a significant focus of the high-stakes investigation, though it did not name Kushner.

FBI agents also remain keenly interested in former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but Kushner is the only current White House official known to be considered a key person in the probe.

The Post has not been told that Kushner is a target – or the central focus – of the investigation, and he has not been accused of any wrongdoing. “Target” is a word that generally refers to someone who is the main suspect of investigators’ attention, though prosecutors can and do bring charges against people who are not marked with that distinction.

“Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry,” said Jamie Gorelick, one of his attorneys.

In addition to possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, investigators are also looking broadly into possible financial crimes – but the people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, did not specify who or what was being examined.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said, “I can’t confirm or deny the existence or nonexistence of investigations or subjects of investigations.” The FBI declined to comment.

At the time of the December meetings, Trump already had won the election. Contacts between people on the transition team and foreign governments can be routine, but the meetings and phone calls with the Russians were not made public at the time.

In early December, Kushner met in New York with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and he later sent a deputy to meet with Kislyak. Flynn was also present at the early-December meeting, and later that month, Flynn held a call with Kislyak to discuss U.S.-imposed sanctions against Russia. Flynn initially mischaracterized the conversation, even to Vice President Mike Pence – ultimately prompting his ouster from the White House.

Kushner also met in December with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, which has been the subject of U.S. sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In addition to the December meetings, a former senior intelligence official said FBI agents had been looking closely at earlier exchanges between Trump associates and the Russians dating to the spring of 2016, including one at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Kushner and Kislyak – along with close Trump adviser and current attorney general Jeff Sessions – were present at an April 2016 event at the Mayflower where then-candidate Trump promised in a speech to seek better relations with Russia. It is unclear whether Kushner and Kislyak interacted there.

The New York Times reported that Kushner omitted from security-clearance forms his December meetings with Kislyak and Gorkov, though his attorney said that was mere error and he told the FBI soon after that he would amend the forms. The White House said that his meetings were normal and inconsequential.

Kushner has agreed to discuss his Russian contacts with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting one of several investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

In many ways, Kushner is a unique figure inside the White House.

He is arguably the president’s most trusted adviser, and he is also a close member of the president’s family. His list of policy responsibilities is vast – his foreign policy portfolio alone includes Canada and Mexico, China, and peace in the Middle East – yet he rarely speaks publicly about any of them.

Former FBI director Robert Mueller III is now leading the probe into possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, and he has set up shop in the Patrick Henry Building in downtown District of Columbia. Even before he was picked by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to take over the case, investigators had been stepping up their efforts – issuing subpoenas and looking to conduct interviews, people familiar with the matter said.

A small group of lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight was recently notified of the change in tempo and focus in the investigation at a classified briefing.

It is unclear exactly how Mueller’s leadership will affect the direction of the probe. This week, Justice Department ethics experts cleared him to take over the case even though lawyers at his former firm, WilmerHale, represent several people who could be caught up in the matter, including Kushner, Manafort and Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is married to Kushner.

Mueller resigned from the firm to take over the investigation.

Investigators are continuing to look aggressively into the dealings of Flynn, and a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, recently issued a subpoenas for records related to Flynn’s businesses and finances, according to people familiar with the matter.

Flynn’s company, the Flynn Intel Group, was paid more than $500,000 by a company owned by a Turkish American businessman close to top Turkish officials for research on Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who Turkey’s president claims was responsible for a coup attempt last summer. Flynn retroactively registered with the Justice Department in March as a paid foreign agent for Turkish interests.

Separately from the probe now run by Mueller, Flynn is being investigated by the Pentagon’s top watchdog for his foreign payments. Flynn also received $45,000 to appear in 2015 with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a dinner for RT, a Kremlin-controlled media organization.

]]> 0 Kushner, senior adviser to President Donald Trump, left, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie participate in an opioid and drug abuse listening session with President Donald Trump. Wednesday, March 29, 2017, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)Fri, 26 May 2017 09:53:04 +0000
Beloved 96-year-old Market Basket bagger dies Thu, 25 May 2017 22:38:39 +0000 STRATHAM, N.H. – Arthur St. John, who at 96 was the oldest employee of a New England grocery chain and among its most beloved, has died.

St. John died Monday at his home in Exeter, New Hampshire, the Brewitt Funeral Home said.

He worked as a part-time bagger in the Stratham store of Market Basket for 26 years. He was the oldest employee working at any of the supermarket chain’s 77 locations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine – and one of the most popular.

Store Manager Dean Clevesy told that customers would wait in line to talk to him when other lines were open.

St. John worked mill jobs and at a nursing home before joining Market Basket. He worked alongside his brother Oscar, who died in 2012.

In 2014, a feud between two cousins over the family-run chain prompted an employee walkout and a customer boycott. St. John was among the part-time workers whose hours were cut.

A young customer started a GoFundMe campaign to help him pay his bills, and it raised more than $7,000.

After he turned 96 last July, Arthur T. Demoulas, the store’s president, sent him a note, calling him an inspiration and thanking him for his years of service.

“It keeps me busy, and that is what keeps me going,” St. John said of the job last year.

A photo of St. John, along with a sign that read “RIP Arthur We Will Miss You,” was put near his regular spot in the checkout area in the store.

Company officials said St. John was the oldest employee – but only by five months. They said 96-year-old Sal Pilla, a 21-year employee who works at the store in Bellingham, Massachusetts, is now the oldest.

]]> 0 Thu, 25 May 2017 18:38:39 +0000
Trump scolds fellow NATO leaders to contribute more financially Thu, 25 May 2017 21:23:13 +0000 BRUSSELS – Surrounded by stone-faced allies, President Trump excoriated fellow NATO members Thursday for failing to meet the military alliance’s financial benchmarks, asserting that leaves it weaker than it should be and is “not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States.”

Trump, who has often complained back home about other nations’ NATO support, lectured the other leaders in person this time, declaring, “Many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years.”

The president’s assertion immediately put NATO under new strain and did nothing to quiet questions about his complicated relationship with an alliance he has previously panned as “obsolete.” Notably, he also did not offer an explicit public endorsement of NATO’s “all for one, one for all” collective defense principle, though White House officials said his mere presence at the meeting signaled his commitment.

Fellow NATO leaders occasionally exchanged awkward looks with each other during the president’s lecture, which occurred at an event commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. When Trump tried to lighten the mood with a joke about NATO’s gleaming new home base – “I never asked once what the new NATO Headquarters cost” – there was no laughter from his counterparts.

NATO officials had expected Trump to raise the payments issue during Thursday’s meeting, even preparing Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg for the prospect that the president could try to pull off a stunt like handing out invoices. But one European official said NATO members were still taken aback by the aggressive tone of his speech.

As a presidential candidate, Trump railed against NATO’s financial burden-sharing, suggesting the U.S. might only come to the defense of countries that meet the alliance’s guidelines – for committing 2 percent of their gross domestic product to military spending. A White House official said the president wanted to deliver the same direct message in front of NATO allies.

Trump’s public scolding was all the more remarkable given the fact that he has actually backed away from some of his most provocative comments on foreign policy issues since taking office. He’s retracted his vow to label China a currency manipulator and has lavished praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping. During a visit to Saudi Arabia this week, he called Islam one of the world’s great religions after declaring during the campaign that “Islam hates us

But few issues appear to have as much staying power with Trump as the uneven financial contributions of NATO members. Last year, only five of the 28 countries met the 2 percent goal: the U.S., Greece, Britain, Estonia and Poland.

During a private dinner Thursday night, the 28 members, plus soon-to-join Montenegro, renewed an old pledge to move toward the 2 percent by 2024 – a move the White House touted as a sign of Trump’s influence.

Some of the allies – particularly Eastern European nations deeply worried about Russian aggression – were hopeful that Trump would state a firm commitment to NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense agreement, which underpins the entire alliance. Instead, he highlighted NATO’s decision to invoke the article for the only time after 9/11 and said the U.S. would “never forsake the friends that stood by our side.”

The White House insisted Trump had not intended to leave wiggle room on his commitment to coming to the defense of NATO members.

And Stoltenberg said later that Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other U.S. officials have stated clearly their assurances. He said, “It’s not possible to be committed to NATO without being committed to Article 5.”

Trump scored a hoped-for success as NATO joined the 68-nation international coalition fighting the Islamic State group. An anti-terror coordinator may also be named. But most changes will be cosmetic, as NATO as an alliance has no intention of going to war against IS.

From Brussels, Trump departed for Sicily for meetings with leaders from the Group of 7 wealthy nations. The summit marks Trump’s final stop on a maiden international trip that began in Saudi Arabia and Israel, where the president was warmly embraced by the countries’ leaders.

His reception has been less enthusiastic in Europe, given his negative campaign comments not only about NATO, but also the European Union. His arrival was also shadowed by new criticism from British Prime Minister Theresa May, who complained about leaks of intelligence to the American media about this week’s deadly bombing at a concert in Manchester, England.

May said she planned to “make clear to President Trump that intelligence that is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure.” The two were seen talking during an event marking the opening of the new NATO headquarters.

British officials are particularly angry that photos detailing evidence about the bomb used in the Manchester attack were published. In a written statement, Trump called the alleged leaks “deeply troubling” and said he was asking the Justice Department and other agencies to review the matter.

The president opened his day with a meeting with leaders of the European Union, another alliance he criticized during the campaign. Following the talks, European Council president Donald Tusk said he and the U.S. president agreed on a need to combat terrorism but some differences loomed large.

“Some issues remain open, like climate and trade. And I am not 100 percent sure that we can say today – ‘we’ means Mr. President and myself – that we have a common position, common opinions about Russia,” said Tusk. He said unity must be found around values like freedom and human rights and dignity.

Trump had lunch with newly elected French President Emanuell Macron, who has been critical of the Republican president. As the press watched, the two men exchanged a very firm handshake during their meeting, both men gripping tight, their faces showing the strain.

AP writers Lorne Cook and Raf Casert contributed to this report.

]]> 0 Trump, left, sits next to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, centre, as Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, right, delivers a speech, during the NATO summit of heads of state and government at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday.Thu, 25 May 2017 19:36:55 +0000