Nation & World – Press Herald Wed, 20 Sep 2017 20:18:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Lillian Ross, longtime New Yorker writer, dead at 99 Wed, 20 Sep 2017 19:43:02 +0000 NEW YORK – Lillian Ross, the ever-watchful New Yorker reporter whose close, narrative style defined a memorable and influential 70-year career, including a revealing portrait of Ernest Hemingway, a classic Hollywood expose and a confession to an adulterous affair, has died at age 99.

New Yorker editor David Remnick confirmed her death, but did not immediately have other details Wednesday

Lillian Ross in 1997. Associated Press

“Lillian would knock my block off for saying so, she’d find it pretentious, but she really was a pioneer, both as a woman writing at The New Yorker and as a truly innovative artist, someone who helped change and shape non-fiction writing in English,” Remnick said in a statement.

Hundreds of Ross’ “Talk of the Town” dispatches appeared in The New Yorker, starting in the 1940s when she wrote about Harry Truman’s years as a haberdasher, and continuing well into the 21st century, whether covering a book party at the Friars Club, or sitting with the daughters of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II as they watched a Broadway revival of “South Pacific.” After the death of J.D. Salinger in 2010, Ross wrote a piece about her friendship with the reclusive novelist and former New Yorker contributor.

Her methods were as crystallized and instinctive as her writing. She hated tape recorders (“fast, easy and lazy”), trusted first impressions and believed in the “mystical force” that “makes the work seem delightfully easy and natural and supremely enjoyable.”

“It’s sort of like having sex,” she once wrote.

Ross’ approach, later made famous by the “New Journalists” of the 1960s, used dialogue, scene structure and other techniques associated with fiction writers. She regarded herself as a short story writer who worked with facts, or even as a director, trying to “build scenes into little story-films.” In 1999, her 1964 collection of articles, “Reporting,” was selected by a panel of experts as one of the 100 best examples of American journalism in the 20th century. The group, assembled by New York University, ranked it No. 66.

“She is the mistress of selective listening and viewing, of capturing the one moment that entirely illumines the scene, of fastening on the one quote that Tells All,” novelist Irving Wallace wrote in a 1966 New York Times review of her work.

Short and curly-haired, unimposing and patient, Ross tried her best to let the stories speak for themselves, but at times the writer interrupted.

In the late 1940s, Hemingway came to New York for shopping and socializing and Ross joined him as he drank champagne with Marlene Dietrich, bought a winter coat and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, flask in hand. She presented the author as a volatile bulk of bluster and insecurity, speaking in telegraphic shorthand (“You want to go with me to buy coat?”) and even punching himself in the stomach to prove his muscle.

Ross was friendly with Hemingway – she liked most of her subjects – but her article was criticized, and welcomed, as humanizing a legend. “Lillian Ross wrote a profile of me which I read, in proof, with some horror,” Hemingway later recalled. “But since she was a friend of mine and I knew that she was not writing in malice she had a right to make me seem that way if she wished.”

Not long after, Ross went to Hollywood to report on director John Huston as he worked on an adaptation of Stephen Crane’s Civil War novel “The Red Badge of Courage.” She soon realized that the movie was more interesting than any one person: She was witness to a disaster. Ross’ reports in The New Yorker, released in 1952 as the book “Picture,” were an unprecedented chronicle of studio meddling as MGM took control of the film and hacked it to 70 minutes.

Praised by Hemingway among others, “Picture” was a direct influence on such future Hollywood authors as John Gregory Dunne (“Studio”) and anticipated the nonfiction novel that Truman Capote perfected a decade later with “In Cold Blood.” Huston’s daughter, actress Anjelica Huston, became a lifelong friend.

“My parents loved and respected her, and trusted her. She was, they would say, different from other reporters,” Huston wrote in the foreword to the book’s 50th anniversary edition.

Deeply private even around her New Yorker colleagues, Ross did step out in 1998 when she published “Here But Not Here,” a surprising and explicit memoir of her long-rumored, 40-year liaison with New Yorker editor William Shawn, a mating of secret souls allegedly consummated in a bedroom once used by Dietrich as a clothes closet.

“We were drawn to each other from the first by all the elusive forces that people have been trying to pin down from the beginning of time,” Ross wrote.

William Shawn had died six years earlier, but his widow was still alive when the book was published, leading New York Times writer (and former New Yorker deputy editor) Charles McGrath to call it “a cruel betrayal of the Shawns’ much-valued privacy – a tactless example of the current avidity for tell-all confessions.”

While involved with Shawn, Ross adopted a son, Erik, who in later years would accompany his mother on assignments. Her New Yorker work was compiled in several books, most recently “Reporting Always.”

She was born in Syracuse, New York, and was always more comfortable as an observer and played hooky just to hang around professional newspaper offices. She graduated from Hunter College, worked at the liberal New York City daily PM, then was hired by The New Yorker in the mid-1940s, when the magazine was looking for women writers because so many men were serving in World War II.

“We have sent her on stories ranging from in subject matter from politics to uplift brassieres, and she’s done splendidly by both,” PM editor Peggy Wright Weidman wrote to Shawn. “Another baffler is that she likes to work and does so, at any hour of the day, night, or weekend, with concentration and no nonsense.”

]]> 0 - In this June 10, 1997 file photo, author Lillian Ross appears in Central Park in New York. Ross, the ever-watchful New Yorker reporter whose close, narrative style defined a memorable and influential 70-year career, including a revealing portrait of Ernest Hemingway and a classic Hollywood expose, has died at age 99. Ross contributed stories to The New Yorker for decades, notably a 1940s portrait of Ernest Hemingway. Her Hollywood book, "Picture," was regarded as a landmark in film writing and an early example of the "nonfiction novel." (AP Photo/Joe Tabacca, File)Wed, 20 Sep 2017 15:46:51 +0000
Fed announces it will begin modestly reducing its bond holdings Wed, 20 Sep 2017 19:04:09 +0000 WASHINGTON – The Federal Reserve will begin shrinking the enormous portfolio of bonds it amassed after the 2008 financial crisis to try to sustain a frail economy. The move reflects a strengthened economy and could mean higher rates on mortgages and other loans over time.

The Fed announced Wednesday that it will let a small portion of its $4.5 trillion balance sheet mature without being replaced, starting in October with reductions of $10 billion a month and gradually rising over the next year to $50 billion a month.

The central bank left its key short-term rate unchanged but hinted at one more rate hike this year – most likely in December – if persistently low inflation rebounds. The Fed policymakers’ updated economic forecasts show an expectation for three more rate hikes in 2018.

The Fed’s policymaking committee approved its action on a 9-0 vote after ending its latest meeting.

Stocks turned lower after the Federal Reserve’s announcement. Bond yields rose, leading to gains for banks but losses for high-dividend stocks like household goods makers and utilities. Income-seeking investors find those stocks less appealing when bond yields move up.

In its policy statement, the Fed took note of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria which it said had devastated many communities. But it said history suggests that the storms were unlikely to affect the national economy over the long run.

Under the plan the Fed announced, it will start to allow a slight $10 billion in holdings to roll off the balance sheet each month – $6 billion in Treasurys and $4 billion in mortgage bonds. That figure would inch up by $10 billion each quarter until it reaches $50 billion in monthly reductions in October 2018. After that, the monthly reductions will remain steady.

The Fed has telegraphed its move for months, and investors are thought to be prepared for it. Still, no one is sure how the financial markets will respond over the long run. The risk exists that investors could become spooked by the rising number of bonds being transferred back into private hands. If that were to happen, long-term rates might surge undesirably high, which could weigh on the economy.

Any damage in the markets could extend to other assets, such as stocks, which have set record highs as investors have shifted money into stocks and away from low-interest bonds. There is concern, too, that rates could climb faster if other central banks follow the Fed’s lead and begin reducing their own bond holdings.

To avoid spooking investors, the Fed’s plan for shrinking its balance sheet is so gradual that the total would remain above $3 trillion until late 2019. Some economists say they think the figure could end up around $2.5 trillion, still far above the $900 billion the Fed held in its portfolio in pre-crisis days.

The question of when and how the Fed will manipulate its main policy lever – its target for short-term rates – in coming months is less clear. After leaving its benchmark rate at a record low for seven years after the 2008 crisis, the Fed has modestly raised the rate four times since December 2015 to a still-low range of 1 percent to 1.25 percent.

Many economists think the Fed will boost rates again in December as long as inflation shows signs of moving toward the Fed’s 2 percent goal. The central bank signaled the likelihood of a December increase in the updated economic forecasts it issued Wednesday. And it showed that a sizable group of Fed officials foresee three rate increases in 2018.

The Fed did lower its projection for its so-called neutral rate. That’s the point at which its benchmark rate is considered to be neither stimulating economic growth nor restraining it. That neutral rate dropped to 2.9 percent in the new forecast, down from 3 percent in the Fed’s June forecast.

The Fed has felt confident to raise rates because it appears to have met one of its key mandates: Maximizing employment. The unemployment rate is just 4.4 percent, near a 16-year low. The Fed, though, has yet to achieve its other objective of stabilizing prices at a 2 percent annual rate. Inflation has remained persistently below that level. As a result, financial markets are unsure whether the Fed will raise rates again before year’s end.

In addition to forecasting future rate hikes, analysts are trying to divine whether President Donald Trump will re-nominate Yellen to a second four-year term. The only other potential choice for Fed chair Trump has mentioned is Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who leads the president’s National Economic Council. But Cohn appears to have fallen out of favor.

With several seats on the Fed’s board open or soon to be open, Trump has made just one nomination, that of Randal Quarles to be vice chairman for supervision. One vacancy about to open is the seat of Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, who is stepping down next month.

If Trump chooses not to offer Yellen a second term – or if she declines, if asked – he would be able to name five of the Fed’s seven board members in his first year in office. Those selections would afford him an unusual opportunity to impose his personal stamp on the world’s most powerful central bank.

]]> 0 Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks at a news conference following the Federal Open Market Committee meeting in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Wed, 20 Sep 2017 15:05:34 +0000
Government seeks prison time for Anthony Weiner in sexting case Wed, 20 Sep 2017 18:47:51 +0000 NEW YORK — Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner deserves about two years in prison for engaging in sexting with a 15-year-old girl despite his claims that he has been reformed, prosecutors said Wednesday.

A Manhattan judge is scheduled to sentence the New York Democrat on Monday for transferring obscene material to a minor. The government urged the judge to put Weiner’s claims of a therapeutic awakening in a context of a man who made similar claims after embarrassing, widely publicized interactions with adult women in the past.

“This is not merely a ‘sexting’ case,” prosecutors wrote. “The defendant did far more than exchange typed words on a lifeless cellphone screen with a faceless stranger. … Transmitting obscenity to a minor to induce her to engage in sexually explicit conduct by video chat and photo – is far from mere ‘sexting.’ Weiner’s criminal conduct was very serious, and the sentence imposed should reflect that seriousness.”

Weiner, 53, said in a submission last week that he’s undergoing treatment and is profoundly sorry for subjecting the North Carolina high school student to what his lawyers called his “deep sickness.”

Prosecutors attacked some of Weiner’s arguments for seeking leniency and noted his full awareness that what he was doing was a crime, citing his co-sponsorship in January 2007 of a bill to require sex offenders to register their email and instant message addresses with the National Sex Offender Registry.

“While the government does not contend that Weiner engaged in inappropriate sexual exchanges with other minors or that he is a pedophile, his professed ambivalence toward the minor victim’s age is belied by the defendant’s own statements to the court-appointed evaluator during his evaluation,” they said.

Prosecutors said Weiner, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2005 and 2013, acknowledged to the evaluator an interest in legal, adult, teen-themed pornography.

The government said Weiner’s “widely-reported prior scandals” were not criminal in nature and did not involve minors but should be considered at sentencing because they reveal a familiar pattern.

“He initially denied his conduct; he suffered personal and professional consequences; he publicly apologized and claimed reform. Yet, he has, on multiple occasions, continued to engage in the very conduct he swore off, progressing from that which is self-destructive to that which is also destructive to a teenage girl,” prosecutors said.

They added: “Weiner’s demonstrated history of professed, yet failed, reform make it difficult to rely on his present claim of self-awareness and transformation.”

Defense lawyers had portrayed the girl as an aggressor, saying she wanted to generate material for a book and possibly influence the presidential election.

Prosecutors responded that Weiner should be sentenced for what he did, and the motives of the victim should not influence his punishment.

As part of a plea bargain, Weiner has agreed not to appeal any sentence between 21 and 27 months. Prosecutors said the sentence should fall within that span, and they noted that Probation Department authorities had recommended a 27-month prison term.

]]> 0, 20 Sep 2017 14:51:46 +0000
Boxer Jake LaMotta, immortalized in ‘Raging Bull,’ dies at 95 Wed, 20 Sep 2017 15:47:55 +0000 MIAMI – Jake LaMotta, the former middleweight champion whose life in and out of the ring was depicted in the film “Raging Bull,” for which Robert DeNiro won an Academy Award, has died, his fiancée said Wednesday. He was 95.

LaMotta died Tuesday at a Miami-area hospital from complications of pneumonia, according to fiancée Denise Baker.

The Bronx Bull, as he was known in his fighting days, compiled an 83-19-4 record with 30 knockouts, in a career that began in 1941 and ended in 1954.

LaMotta fought the great Sugar Ray Robinson six times, handing Robinson the first defeat of his career and losing the middleweight title to him in a storied match.

Robert DeNiro and boxer shown in 2005. Associated Press

In the fight before he lost the title, LaMotta saved the championship in movie-script fashion against Laurent Dauthuille. Trailing badly on all three scorecards, LaMotta knocked out the challenger with 13 seconds left in the fight.

LaMotta threw a fight against Billy Fox, which he admitted in testimony before the Kefauver Committee, a U.S. Senate committee investigating organized crime in 1960.

“I purposely lost a fight to Billy Fox because they promised me that I would get a shot to fight for the title if I did,” LaMotta said in 1970 interview printed in Peter Heller’s 1973 book “In This Corner: 40 World Champions Tell Their Stories.”

LaMotta was “stopped” by Fox in the fourth round on Nov. 14, 1947, in Madison Square Garden. He didn’t get a title shot until 10 fights later.

On June 16, 1949, in Detroit, he became middleweight champion when the Frenchman Marcel Cerdan couldn’t continue after the 10th round.

Of the claim that Cerdan had to quit because of a shoulder injury, LaMotta said in 1970: “Something’s bound to happen to you in a tough fight, cut eye, broken nose or broken hand or something like that. So you could make excuses out of anything, you know, but you got to keep on going if you’re a champ or you’re a contender.”

Renowned for his strong chin, and the punishment he could take, and dish out, LaMotta was knocked down only once – in a 1952 loss to light-heavyweight Danny Nardico – in his 106 fights.

LaMotta’s first defense was supposed to be a rematch with Cerdan, but the Frenchman was killed when a plane en route to the United States crashed in the Azores in 1949.

So in his first defense, LaMotta outpointed Tiberio Mitri on July 12, 1950, in New York, then on Sept. 13, he rallied to knock out Dauthuille at Detroit.

LaMotta’s title reign ended on Feb. 14, 1951, when Robinson stopped him in the 13th round in Chicago. In a fight that became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, LaMotta gave as good as he got in the early rounds, then took tremendous punishment. He would not go down.

In their second match, on Feb. 5, 1943, in New York, LaMotta won a 10-round decision, giving Robinson his first defeat in the 41st fight of his illustrious career.

LaMotta was born July 10, 1921, on New York City’s Lower East Side but was raised in the Bronx. After retiring from boxing in 1954, he owned a nightclub for a time in Miami, then dabbled in show business and commercials. He also made personal appearances and for a while in the 1970s he was a host at a topless nightclub in New York City.

The 1980 film “Raging Bull,” based on LaMotta’s memoir written 10 years earlier, was nominated for eight Academy Awards. Though director Martin Scorsese was passed over, DeNiro, who gained 50 pounds to portray the older, heavier LaMotta, won the best actor award.

In 1998, LaMotta, who had four daughters, lost both of his sons. Jake LaMotta Jr., 51, died from cancer in February. Joe LaMotta, 49, was killed in plane crash off Nova Scotia in September.

A funeral in Miami and a memorial service in New York City are being planned, Baker said.

]]> 0 - In this Feb. 23, 1945, file photo, Jake LaMotta, left, of the Bronx borough of New York, and Ray Robinson of the Harlem section of New York, fight at Madison Square Garden in New York. Robinson won the fight on a decision. LaMotta fought Sugar Ray Robinson six times, handing Robinson his first defeat. LaMotta, whose life was depicted in the film "Raging Bull," died Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, at a Miami-area hospital from complications of pneumonia. He was 95. (AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman, File)Wed, 20 Sep 2017 12:03:08 +0000
N.H. police say truck in river related to 1998 disappearance Wed, 20 Sep 2017 13:57:45 +0000 ERROL, N.H. – Police in New Hampshire say they’ve removed a truck from the bottom of a river that is related to the 1998 disappearance of a 26-year-old man.

The truck found in the Androscoggin River. New Hampshire State Police photo

New Hampshire State Police confirmed the 1996 Ford Ranger discovered at the bottom of the Androscoggin River near Errol Tuesday was the vehicle driven by Tony Imondi. Officials say they found skeletal remains in the truck that have been sent to the medical examiner for identification.

Imondi was last seen leaving a restaurant on July 1, 1998. He was reported missing a few days later after family and friends said they had not heard from him.

Imondi’s family has been notified about the discovery.

]]> 0, 20 Sep 2017 12:59:00 +0000
America’s opioid problem is so bad it’s cutting into U.S. life expectancy Wed, 20 Sep 2017 12:35:10 +0000 Prosecutors in New York announced this week that an August drug raid yielded 140 pounds of fentanyl, the most in the city’s history and enough to kill 32 million people, they told New York 4.

Those numbers underscore the dizzying size of the current opioid crisis, and the report of the New York bust comes the same week as another shocking piece of evidence that America’s pill problem has reached a critical milestone: On Tuesday, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published an analysis showing the crisis has actually negatively impacted life expectancy in the United States.

Seven researchers contributed to the analysis, which was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The contributors crunched the numbers recorded by the National Vital Statistics System Mortality file, a storehouse of death data from all fifty states and the District of Columbia, from between 2000 to 2015.

It found that the average American life expectancy grew overall from 2000 to 2015, but that the astounding rise in opioid-related deaths shaved 2.5 months off this improvement.

That’s .21 years, compared to the .02 years taken off the average life expectancy by alcohol overdose.

No factor negatively affected life expectancy more.

“It really underlines how serious the problem of opioid overdose has become in the U.S.,” Deborah Dowell, senior medical adviser in the division of unintentional injury prevention at CDC, told Time. “In general we don’t see decreases in life expectancy attributable to a single cause that are of this magnitude.”

While overdose deaths in general in the U.S. more than doubled in that 15-year span, opioid overdoses more than tripled, the study reported.

The average life expectancy for an American born in 2010 was 76.8 years, which grew to 78.8 years in 2015. The study suggested that but for opioid-related deaths, it would have been higher still.

Opioid overdose still hasn’t cracked the top 12 leading causes of death – which, aside from suicide and unintentional injuries, are all medical conditions – but it’s close.

The twelfth leading cause of death in 2015 was chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, which killed 40,326 people. Opioid overdoses, meanwhile, claimed 33,091 lives that same year.

The gap was much wider in 2000, when liver disease killed 26,552 Americans while opioid overdoses killed 8,407.

“These findings suggest that preventing opioid-related poisoning deaths will be important to achieving more robust increases in life expectancy once again,” the researchers concluded.

]]> 0 Chibroski/ Staff Photographer. Tuesday, March 10, 2009. Pedestrians and shoppers walk along the 600 block of Congress Street where new businesses are growing within the Art District development. Published caption reads: "500 block of Congress Street"Wed, 20 Sep 2017 10:48:55 +0000
Maria knocks out all electric power, triggers floods in Puerto Rico Wed, 20 Sep 2017 10:06:40 +0000 SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in over 80 years destroyed hundreds of homes, knocked out power across the entire island and triggered heavy flooding Wednesday in an onslaught that could plunge the U.S. territory deeper into financial crisis.

Leaving at least nine people dead in its wake across the Caribbean, Hurricane Maria blew ashore in the morning in the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph.

It was expected to to punish the island of 3.4 million people with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours.

“Once we’re able to go outside, we’re going to find our island destroyed,” said Abner Gomez, Puerto Rico’s emergency management director. “The information we have received is not encouraging. It’s a system that has destroyed everything in its path.”

It was the second time in two weeks that Puerto Rico felt the wrath of a hurricane.
There was no immediate word of any deaths or serious injuries.

As people waited it out in shelters or took cover inside stairwells, bathrooms and closets, Maria brought down cell towers and power lines, snapped trees, tore off roofs and unloaded at least 20 inches of rain.

Widespread flooding was reported, with dozens of cars half-submerged in some neighborhoods and many streets turned into rivers. People calling local radio stations reported that doors were being torn off their hinges and a water tank flew away.

Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told The Associated Press that 80 percent of the 454 homes in a neighborhood known as Juana Matos were destroyed.
The fishing community on San Juan Bay was hit with a storm surge of more than 4 feet, he said.

“Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this,” he said.

As of 2 p.m. EDT, Maria had weakened to a Category 3, with winds of 115 mph. It was off Puerto Rico’s northwest coast, moving at about 15 mph, and was expected to pass off the coast of the Dominican Republic late Wednesday and Thursday.

Even before the storm, Puerto Rico’s electrical grid was crumbling and the island was in dire condition financially.

Puerto Rico is struggling to restructure a portion of its $73 billion debt, and the government has warned it is running out of money as it fights back against furloughs and other austerity measures imposed by a federal board overseeing the island’s finances.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello urged people to have faith: “We are stronger than any hurricane. Together, we will rebuild.”

He later asked President Donald Trump to declare the island a disaster zone, a step that would open the way to federal aid.

Many feared extended power outages would further sink businesses struggling amid a recession that has lasted more than a decade.

“This is going to be a disaster,” said Jean Robert Auguste, who owns two French restaurants and sought shelter at a San Juan hotel. “We haven’t made any money this month.”

More than 11,000 people — and more than 580 pets — were in shelters, authorities said.
Along the island’s northern coast, an emergency medical station in the town of Arecibo lost its roof, while communication was severed with several emergency management posts. A hospital and a police station reported broken windows, and a tree fell on an ambulance.
The heavy winds and rain and the noise of things crashing outside woke many across Puerto Rico before daybreak. At one recently built hotel in San Juan, water dripped through the ceiling of a sixth-floor room and seeped through the window.

“I didn’t sleep at all,” said Merike Mai, a vacationing 35-year-old flight attendant from Estonia.

As the storm closed in on the Dominican Republic, about 4,000 tourists in the Bavara-Punta Cana area on the eastern tip of the island were moved to hotels in Santo Domingo, the capital.

Maria posed no immediate threat to the U.S. The long-range forecast showed the storm out in the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of miles off the Georgia-South Carolina coast by Monday morning.

Previously a Category 5 with 175 mph winds, Maria hit Puerto Rico as the third-strongest storm to make landfall in the U.S., based on a key measurement that meteorologists use: air pressure. The lower the central pressure, the stronger a storm.
Maria’s pressure was 917 millibars, lower than Hurricane Irma’s 929 millibars when it roared into the Florida Keys earlier this month.

Irma sideswiped Puerto Rico on Sept. 6, causing no deaths or widespread damage on the island but leaving more than 1 million people without electricity. More than 70,000 still had no power as Maria approached.

The last Category 4 hurricane to blow ashore in Puerto Rico was in 1932, and the strongest ever to hit the island was San Felipe in 1928 with winds of 160 mph.

As Maria closed in, Trump offered his support via Twitter: “Puerto Rico being hit hard by new monster Hurricane. Be careful, our hearts are with you – will be there to help!”
The storm’s center passed near or over St. Croix overnight Tuesday, prompting U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp to warn people to sleep in their street clothes and shoes just in case. St. Croix was largely spared by Irma.

Nykole Tyson, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Virgin Islands Emergency Operations Center, said that there were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries on St. Croix but that it was still too dangerous Wednesday to venture out and conduct a thorough check.

On the island of Dominica, which got slammed late Monday, Hartley Henry, an adviser to the prime minister, reported at least seven deaths and a “tremendous loss of housing and public buildings.” He said the country was “in a daze,” with no electricity and little to no communications.

“The situation is really grave,” Consul General Barbara Dailey said in New York.

]]> 0, 20 Sep 2017 15:30:11 +0000
Mexico quake toll rises to 225, 1 child alive at ruins of school Wed, 20 Sep 2017 09:38:00 +0000 MEXICO CITY — Digging through the night and into the morning, rescue workers and residents searched frantically Wednesday for survivors of a powerful earthquake that turned high-rise buildings into piles of rubble and collapsed a school attended by hundreds of children.

In harrowing scenes that horrified Mexicans, rescuers pulled the bodies of dozens of children from the ruins of the elementary school.

The 7.1-magnitude quake, which struck early Tuesday afternoon, killed more than 200 people across central Mexico – in the capital and five states – but there were fears that the toll could rise as additional victims were extracted from the debris.

For hours after the country was hit by its second earthquake in less than two weeks, Mexicans worked in the dark, often with their bare hands, to find trapped survivors. Power was out across 40 percent of this city of 20 million, and rescue and medical services were stretched to their limits.

Volunteers, medics and marines toiled side by side to clear away the chunks of concrete in the dusty air. Everywhere in the city, they formed lines to pass along containers filled with rubble and dump them into waiting trucks.

Cries of “silence” punctuated the work as people listened in hope for the sounds of survivors under the wreckage. At least 44 buildings collapsed or partly collapsed in Mexico City alone, according to Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera.

The temblor struck 76 miles southeast of the earthquake-prone capital at 1:14 p.m., according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and came on the 32nd anniversary of the infamous 1985 quake that killed thousands.

Mexico’s civil protection agency put the death toll at 225 on Wednesday.

Even as residents were trapped inside buildings across the city and in the surrounding towns, attention was riveted on a collapsed private elementary school in the southern part of the capital. Before dawn, soldiers and police sealed off the blocks around the three-story Colegio Enrique Rebsamen. All through Tuesday afternoon and night, rescue workers pulled dead children from the rubble and searched for survivors.

“This was really, really, ugly. Really bad,” said Jose Pineda, 65, a hardware store worker whose children used to attend the school. “Everything has fallen.”

A block away, neighbors had strung up sheets up paper, taped between a tree and a cross-walk sign, with names of children who survived, suffered injuries, or died. There were 31 names on the two lists of dead, a figure that neighbors said was current as of 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. At least 59 names were on the list of those who went to various hospitals.

“There are around 600 children at the school,” said Elena Villaseñor, 44, a neighbor who was managing the notices. “We don’t know how many children are still inside. They were in classes. The school was full.”

A man walks his bike past a building felled by the quake in Jojutla, Mexico, Wednesday. Associated Press/Eduardo Verdugo

Overnight, a stream of parents, grandparents and other relatives visited the sign to check for the names of their family members on the lists.

“It is very hard to have to point them to these two lists,” Villaseñor said, motioning to the blue and white sheets with the names of the dead children. “There aren’t words.”

Rescue worker Pedro Serrano described to The Associated Press how he tunneled into the unstable rubble to a partially collapsed classroom of the school, only to find no one alive.

“We saw some chairs and wooden tables. The next thing we saw was a leg, and then we started to move rubble and we found a girl and two adults – a woman and a man,” he said.

However, workers did manage to rescue dozens of children from the wrecked school Tuesday and early Wednesday, Mexican news media reported. The daily El Universal described how one schoolgirl – identified only as Fatima – sent her parents a plea for help on the WhatsApp messaging service from her cellphone.

“I’m fine, I am trapped with four other kids, help us, we’re thirsty,” read the message, which reached her mother on Tuesday evening, six hours after the school collapsed, the newspaper said. She was later saved.

As Mexico City residents pulled together in solidarity, Parque Mexico in the badly affected Condesa neighborhood became a campsite for people without shelter overnight and a dropoff point for blankets, food and medicine.

Late Tuesday, President Enrique Peña Nieto urged calm in a video message, saying “the priority at this moment is to keep rescuing people who are still trapped and to give medical attention to the injured people.” He said 40 percent of the capital and 60 percent of neighboring Morelos state were without power.

The president had been traveling to the southern state of Oaxaca to inspect damage from an earlier earthquake when the latest one occurred, sending him back to the capital to convene a national emergency council.

Nearly two weeks ago, an even larger quake took place off the Pacific coast and shook the south of the country, killing close to 100 people. Scientists said the same large-scale tectonic mechanism caused both events: The larger North American Plate is forcing the edge of the Cocos Plate to sink. This collision generated both quakes. But it was unlikely that the quake earlier this month caused Tuesday’s disaster.

Mexico is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes: The country is in a region where a number of tectonic plates butt up against one another, with huge amounts of energy waiting to be unleashed.

Mexico City is partially built on old lake sediment, which is much softer than rock. The seismic waves can be amplified traveling through the sediment, according to Don Blakeman, a geophysicist with the USGS, making the damage worse than in areas on more-solid ground. He said aftershocks were possible, too. The rupture was approximately 50 kilometers, or 31 miles deep, and as a rule, the shallower an earthquake is, the higher the chance for aftershocks.

“Fifty kilometers is pretty shallow, so I would expect aftershocks,” Blakeman said.

The USGS’s model for estimating earthquake damage predicts 100 to 1,000 fatalities and economic losses of between $100 million and $1 billion for a temblor of this scale and proximity to population centers.

The quake shook Mexico City so hard that the murky, stagnant waters of the city’s ancient Xochimilco canals turned into churning pools of waves. Videos posted to social media showed tourists in flat-bottomed tour boats struggling to stay in their seats and hold on to their beers.

In the central neighborhood of Del Valle, a frantic scene played out Tuesday afternoon as hundreds of people gathered to search for trapped residents. At least two multistory apartment buildings fell, and residents said dozens of people could have been inside.

At the Gabriel Mancera hospital in Mexico City, more than a dozen beds had been set up on the patio outside as a triage center on Tuesday afternoon. Leticia Gonzalez, a 45-year-old maid in a nearby apartment building, said she tried to race out of the building but concrete crashed down as she fled. Her right leg was wrapped in a bandage as she grimaced in pain outside the hospital.

“We were all running like crazy,” she said. “This was the worst earthquake I’ve ever seen.”

Marisela Avila Gomez, 58, was in her apartment in the capital’s central Narvarte neighborhood when the shaking began, toppling her furniture and shattering the windows. A piece of glass sliced deep into her right leg.

“My whole house is full of blood,” she said.

In a Twitter message Tuesday after receiving news of the quake, President Donald Trump wrote: “God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you.”

In the capital’s southern neighborhood of Coyoacan, the walls of colonial-era buildings cracked and sagged in the quake, with some collapsing into rubble. Residents hugged and cried in the streets. At the Barricas Don Tiburcio shop, shelves bearing food crashed down and wine bottles shattered on the floors.

“This is the worst one I have ever felt,” shopkeeper Beatriz Aguilar Bustamante said. “I don’t know if I will have a house when I go home.”

The Washington Post’s Gabriela Martinez and Paul Imison in Mexico City, Paul Schemm in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and William Branigin, Nick Miroff and Ben Guarino in Washington contributed to this report.


]]> 0, 20 Sep 2017 13:15:33 +0000
Senate Republicans’ last gasp would gut Obamacare Wed, 20 Sep 2017 03:14:52 +0000 WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans and the White House pressed ahead Tuesday with their suddenly resurgent effort to undo the Affordable Care Act, even as their attempt was dealt a setback when a bipartisan group of governors and several influential interest groups came out against the proposal.

Powerful health-care groups continued to rail against the bill, including AARP and the American Hospital Association, both of which urged a no vote. But it was unclear whether the opposition would ultimately derail the attempt, as key Republican senators including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said they had yet to make up their minds.

The measure marks the last gasp of Republican attempts to dramatically gut Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which has added millions of people to the ranks of the insured through a combination of federally subsidized marketplaces and state-level expansions of Medicaid, leading to record lows in the number of those without health insurance. The Graham-Cassidy bill – named for Sens. Lindsey Graham, S.C., and Bill Cassidy, La. – would convert funding for the ACA into block grants for the states and would cut Medicaid dramatically over time.


The bill – coming two months after a previous failed repeal effort in the Senate – is the subject of a last-ditch lobbying push by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the Trump administration, led by Vice President Mike Pence, before a Sept. 30 deadline for Senate action.

In a letter to Senate leaders, the group of 10 governors argued against the Graham-Cassidy bill and wrote that they prefer the bipartisan push to stabilize the insurance marketplaces that Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., had been negotiating before talks stalled Tuesday evening.

The governors who signed the bill are particularly notable, since some are from states represented by Republican senators who are weighing whether to back the bill. Among the signers were Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, I, who holds some sway over Murkowski, a potentially decisive vote who opposed a previous Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Nevertheless, Murkowski said Tuesday afternoon that she was still weighing her options and explained how her position on the bill might ultimately differ from her opposition to the repeal effort that failed dramatically in July.

“If it can be shown that Alaska is not going to be disadvantaged, you gain additional flexibility. Then I can go back to Alaskans, and I can say, ‘OK, let’s walk through this together.’ That’s where it could be different,” she said.

But Murkowski, who has been in close contact with Walker, said she did not yet have the data to make such a determination. Alaska’s other Republican senator, Dan Sullivan, said he was still mulling whether to support the bill.

On the other side, a group of 15 Republican governors announced their support for the Senate bill Tuesday evening. The list includes Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, R, whose backing could help influence Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has frequently criticized the legislation for failing to fully repeal the ACA.

On Tuesday, Pence traveled from New York, where he was attending the annual United Nations General Assembly, to Washington with Graham in a sign of the White House’s support for the proposal.

“My message today is I want to make sure that members of the Senate know the president and our entire administration supports Graham-Cassidy,” Pence told reporters on the flight. “We think the American people need this.”

Graham added that President Trump called him at 10:30 p.m. Monday.

“He says, ‘If we can pull this off, it’ll be a real accomplishment for the country,’ ” he said.

Trump has played a limited role in building support among senators in recent days, but it is possible that his participation will increase as a potential vote nears. He has, however, been in touch with some governors, including a weekend call with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, R, according to aides.


Pence attended the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon, where he said the current health-care system is collapsing and the bill fulfills key Republican promises to return control to states and rein in federal entitlement programs, according to several Republican senators.

Afterward, McConnell declined to ensure a vote on the bill but said his team is working to secure sufficient support.

“We’re in the process of discussing all of this. Everybody knows that the opportunity expires at the end of the month,” said McConnell, referring to the limited window Republicans have to take advantage of a procedural tactic to pass a broad health-care bill without any Democratic support.

Democrats say the ACA needs modest improvements by Congress but is working well overall, and they have railed against a process in which Republicans are pressing ahead with few hearings on legislation that would affect an industry that accounts for about a sixth of the U.S. economy.

The current bill would give states control over billions in federal health-care spending and enact deep cuts to Medicaid. The Medicaid cuts in particular are a major source of concern to the governors, both in terms of imposing a per capita limit on what states would receive and putting restrictions on how they could spend any federal aid on their expanded Medicaid populations.

Medicaid was expanded under the ACA to provide states with generous funding if they opted to cover adults earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level. Many Republican-led states decided against an expansion following a Supreme Court decision allowing them to opt out.

The fact that the bill also would bar states from taxing health-care providers to fund their Medicaid programs posed a problem for several governors.

Louisiana’s health secretary sent a letter to Cassidy on Monday saying their state could see disproportionate cuts with significant impacts on people with pre-existing or complex and costly conditions.

“This would be a detrimental step backwards for Louisiana,” wrote Rebekah Gee, who posted her letter on Twitter on Monday.

]]> 0, 20 Sep 2017 00:29:48 +0000
Study links gun laws and murder rates in domestic violence cases Wed, 20 Sep 2017 03:04:31 +0000 When domestic violence offenders are required to relinquish their guns, instead of simply being barred from owning firearms, the risk that those offenders may kill their partners goes down, a new study finds.

The paper, described in the Annals of Internal Medicine, highlights a simple method for lowering the risk women face of being killed by an intimate partner: Enforce the laws already in place.

Each year, the study authors point out, more than 1,800 people are killed by their intimate partners – current or former spouses or people they dated, for example. About half of those killings are carried out with a gun.

Roughly 85 percent of those victims are women. In fact, nearly half of the women killed in the U.S. each year are killed not by a stranger, but by an intimate partner.

Firearms play a significant role in these domestic violence homicides – a pattern that the law has tried to address for decades. The 1994 Violence Against Women Act banned gun ownership for people with permanent restraining orders because of intimate-partner violence, or IPV. And a 1968 law banning gun ownership for those with an IPV-related felony was extended to include misdemeanors in 1996.

In theory, these laws should be enough; in practice, they’re hard to enforce on the federal level. So state laws have sprung up to fill the gap.

The problem is, the state laws were modeled after the federal law, which has a gaping loophole: While offenders are not allowed to own a gun, they aren’t explicitly compelled by the law to give up any guns they already have.

In states that simply banned gun possession, the gun-related intimate-partner homicide rate did not drop by a statistically significant amount. But in the states that required offenders to surrender their guns – including California, Massachusetts and New York – that rate dropped by a full 14 percent.

]]> 0 Tue, 19 Sep 2017 23:04:31 +0000
Study ranks consumers of Islamic State’s online content Wed, 20 Sep 2017 02:02:50 +0000 LONDON — Who looks at Islamist extremist content online?

A new study released Tuesday by the Policy Exchange think tank based in London, whose reports often inform government policy in Britain, ranked the top consumers of propaganda produced by the Islamic State, by country of origin, as measured by clicks.

The top consumers of Islamic State videos were from Turkey, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Britain, which registered the largest number of clicks in Europe.

There is bad news and less bad news in the report, “The New Netwar,” from scholars led by Martyn Frampton at Queen Mary University of London.

Bad, in the sense that the Islamic State is pumping out more material than ever. Not so bad, in the sense that the numbers of people looking in any one country could be measured in the tens of thousands – and that big internet companies might be able to limit what is available, should they choose or be forced to do so.

“We are certainly not winning the war online,” the report concludes. “The spate of terrorist attacks the UK suffered in the first half of 2017 confirmed that online extremism is a real and present danger. In each case, online radicalisation played some part in driving the perpetrators to violence. As a society, we are struggling to grasp the extent of the challenge and also appropriate ways of responding. It is clear that the status quo is not working.”

Although the Islamic State is being driven from its territories in Syria and Iraq, the authors say “the movement produces around 100 pieces of new content in an average week (and often much more than that). This adds to an ever-growing archive of material built up over three decades.”

They say the Islamic State has released 2,000 “official” videos.

“This number rises to 6,000 when the wider jihadist movement is included,” the authors say.

The report says that the material is often first disseminated to core followers via the Telegram messaging app, “before being pumped out into the mainstream social media space (via Twitter, Facebook and other leading platforms).”

The authors found that than 40 percent of the clicks on Islamic State propaganda were referred through Twitter.

The authors say, “For this reason, we argue that more must be done to force jihadist content out of the mainstream.”

]]> 0 Islamic State is acknowledging the death of Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” who appeared in videos depicting beheadings of Western hostages. The SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks terrorist activity, says the militants published a “eulogizing profile” of him Tuesday in their English-language magazine Dabiq.Wed, 20 Sep 2017 00:17:06 +0000
IPhone X wows, but the 8 is just fine for most of us Wed, 20 Sep 2017 00:47:10 +0000 WARSAW, Poland — The difference between Apple’s new iPhone models is a bit like flying first class compared with coach. We envy first class, but coach gets us there without breaking the budget.

The iPhone 8 will do just fine for $300 less than the glitzy iPhone X, even though it won’t make your friends and colleagues jealous. It’s also available much sooner – this Friday – starting at almost $700. The X (read as the numeral 10) won’t be out until November.

Still, the iPhone 8 remains a fairly straightforward update of the iPhone 7, which itself was a fairly straightforward update of the iPhone 6S. Then again, no one expects much different from a coach seat.


It’s hard to talk about the iPhone 8 without comparing it to my 15 minutes with the iPhone X last Tuesday.

The X wowed with a fancy new display that flows to the edges of the phone. The phone is compact, yet features a screen slightly larger than the one on the supersized iPhone 8 Plus. The X also features facial recognition that lets you unlock the phone with a glance; you can also create animated emojis that match your facial expressions.

The 8 has none of that, although it does share other new goodies the X is getting, including wireless charging. The 8 and the X both have faster processors and sensors to enhance graphics in augmented reality, a blending of the virtual and physical worlds, though older iPhones will also run augmented reality apps with a software updated Tuesday.


Apple is embracing wireless-charging technology that Android phones have had for years. It’s a rare case in which Apple isn’t going its own way; instead, it’s adopting an existing standard called Qi (pronounced chee). That means the iPhone gets all the technical advancements from the consortium behind Qi – and can take immediate advantage of a slew of public wireless-charging stations.

It worked perfectly for me while waiting for a connecting flight in Los Angeles – no need to rummage through my backpack for a charging cord.

Apple says the wireless system should charge as quickly as the wall adapter included with iPhones. But I found wireless slower in testing, using a Belkin charger with the same power output as the iPhone charger.

Wireless charging is largely about convenience; it’s terrific if you can just drop your phone on a charging pad overnight or during the day at your desk. Apple says it will boost wireless-charging power by 50 percent in coming months, which will speed things up further. But those in a rush should consider a wall charger that comes with the iPad, which will still be even faster.

In a way, wireless charging makes up for Apple’s earlier decision to ditch the headphone jack in the iPhone 7, which made people share the Lightning port with both charging cords and wired headphones. You can now charge and use wired headphones at the same time.


Colors on the 8’s screen adapt to lighting in the room. It’s noticeable in my apartment at night, as artificial lighting tends to be warmer and more yellowish. The screen adapts by making whites more like beige and yellow even yellower. It’s softer on the eyes and mimics how light glows on white paper, though it can make images appear less natural. You can turn this feature off.

Resolution isn’t as sharp as what the X and many rival Android phones offer. The Plus offers enough pixels for high-definition video at the highest quality, 1080p, while the regular model is comparable to the lesser 720p.


New color filters produce truer and richer colors without looking fake, while a new flash technique tries to light the foreground and background more evenly. You have to know to look, as the iPhone 7 already had a great camera. Differences in test shots taken while sightseeing in Poland were subtle, but noticeable – more so on the iPhone 8 screen than on last year’s Mac.

The iPhone 8 also offers additional video options, including recording of ultra-high definition, or 4K, at 60 frames per second, twice the previous rate. (The phone’s display, though, isn’t sharp enough for 4K.)

A second lens in the 7 Plus and 8 Plus models lets the camera gauge depth and blur backgrounds in portrait shots, something once limited to full-featured SLR cameras. Samsung adopted that feature in this year’s Note 8.

Coming to the 8 Plus are filters to mimic studio and other lighting conditions. My favorite, stage light, highlights the subject’s face and darkens the background. Some of these filters make images look fake – Apple has slapped a “beta” test tag to signal it’s not flawless. You can try them out and undo any changes you don’t like.


To make wireless charging work, the 8 features a glass back, something last seen in the iPhone 4S in 2011. Aesthetic considerations aside, this gives you another sheet of glass to break.

Apple says custom glass from Corning makes the phone stronger. Even so, consider a service plan and get a case. Wireless charging works with most cases, as long as there’s no metal or magnets. I found the phone charged just as fast with the case on.


The iPhone 8 is about $50 more than what the iPhone 7 cost at launch. Samsung has similarly increased the prices of its flagship Galaxy phones, and the S8 still outsold last year’s S7. Consumers seem willing to pay.

You do get double the storage – 64 gigabytes – at that price, a value considering that iPhone storage boosts typically cost $100. You’ll need that extra storage for video, apps and fancy features such as augmented reality and animated photos.

Nonetheless, I would have preferred the option of a cheaper, lower-storage version. For that, you need an older model , such as the $549 iPhone 7 and the $449 6S. There’s also the smaller iPhone SE for $349.

]]> 0 iPhone 8 Plus shares some of the goodies the costlier X model is getting.Wed, 20 Sep 2017 00:50:50 +0000
Third suspect arrested in Friday’s attack on London subway Wed, 20 Sep 2017 00:11:17 +0000 LONDON — British police have arrested a third suspect in connection with the bomb that partially exploded on a London subway last week.

Police said they arrested a 25-year-old man in Wales on Tuesday evening under the Terrorism Act. They say a property in Newport, Wales 140 miles west of London, was being searched.

Two other men arrested over the weekend – an 18-year-old refugee from Iraq and a 21-year-old from Syria – remain in custody. Neither has been charged. London police have not released details from the investigation.

The homemade explosive device injured 30 people on Friday morning.

]]> 0 Tue, 19 Sep 2017 20:11:17 +0000
Member of Kennedy family pays fine after arrest at party Tue, 19 Sep 2017 23:50:52 +0000 BARNSTABLE, Mass. – Authorities in Massachusetts have dismissed a disorderly conduct charge against a Kennedy family member who was arrested last month after complaints about a loud party.

Matthew “Max” Kennedy appeared in Barnstable District Court on Tuesday. He was found responsible for a noise violation and paid a $150 fine.

Police say officers responded to a Hyannis Port home Aug. 20 for noise complaints. Kennedy and his daughter, 22-year-old Caroline Kennedy, were taken into custody.

The Boston Globe reports Matthew Kennedy said in a statement he’s “happy this matter is resolved.”

Caroline Kennedy is to be arraigned Nov. 22, the 54th anniversary of the assassination of her great-uncle President John F. Kennedy. It’s unclear if she has an attorney.

Matthew Kennedy is the ninth child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy.

]]> 0 "Max" Kennedy, a son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, shown last year, was found responsible for a noise violation and paid a $150 fine in a Massachusetts court on Tuesday. A disorderly conduct charge was dismissed.Tue, 19 Sep 2017 19:53:54 +0000
Tillerson, Myanmar leader confer about refugee crisis Tue, 19 Sep 2017 23:15:09 +0000 NEW YORK — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke by phone Tuesday with Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi about the Rohingya Muslim refugee crisis, the State Department said, as international condemnation intensified over the plight of the minority group.

It was believed to be the first time Tillerson has spoken to Suu Kyi since he took office in February.

The top U.S. diplomat is currently at the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, where governments have strongly criticized Myanmar’s conduct. Suu Kyi, who serves as state counselor and foreign minister, has skipped the gathering.

More than 500,000 people – roughly half the Rohingya population in Myanmar – have fled to neighboring Bangladesh in the past year. Most of them have fled across the border in the last three weeks, since Myanmar’s military launched a crackdown in response to Rohingya insurgent attacks. Security forces and allied mobs have retaliated by burning down thousands of Rohingya homes in the predominantly Buddhist nation.

Top U.N. officials have described the current crackdown as ethnic cleansing.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that in Tuesday’s call, Tillerson welcomed the Myanmar government’s commitment to end the violence in Rakhine State and to allow those displaced by the violence to return home. He also urged the government and military to facilitate humanitarian aid for displaced people in the affected areas, and to address deeply troubling allegations of human rights abuses and violations.

In a speech in Myanmar on Tuesday, Suu Kyi said her country does not fear international scrutiny and invited diplomats to visit some affected areas. She also said that those who fled to Bangladesh would be allowed to return if they passed a “verification” process.

She did not address the allegation of ethnic cleansing. She said that while many villages were destroyed, more than half were still intact.

The conflict is overshadowing Myanmar’s shift from five decades of direct military rule after elections and the installation of Suu Kyi’s government in 2016.

]]> 0 girl holds a sign calling for the removal of the honorary Canadian citizenship of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, during a rally in Ottawa on Sunday.Tue, 19 Sep 2017 21:47:04 +0000
Harvard researchers say New England forestland acreage is shrinking Tue, 19 Sep 2017 23:09:20 +0000 BOSTON — New England has been losing forestland to development at a rate of 65 acres per day – a loss that comes at a time when public funding for preservation of open land, both state and federal, has also been on the decline in all six states.

That’s the conclusion of a report released Tuesday by the Harvard Forest, a research institute of Harvard University.

The study found public funding for land conservation in New England dropped by half between 2008 and 2014 to $62 million per year, slightly lower than 2004 levels.

During the same time, the pace of regional land conservation slowed from an average of 333,000 acres per year in the early 2000s to about 50,000 acres per year since 2010.

Harvard Forest Director David Foster said the study, produced with the help of a team of authors from across the region, relied on satellite imagery to determine how much land was being lost.

He said development is concentrated in southern New England and along the coastline, but there has also been development around cities like Burlington, Vermont, or even in rural areas where individual homes and roads can intersect the forest.

“The conversion of forest and farm lands to permanent structures is really changing the face of the New England landscape,” he said. “One of the things that makes New England one of the most compelling places to live is the green space.”

Foster said conservation and development don’t need to be at odds and that nature supports people by providing clean water, clean air and encouraging tourism.

Jonathan Thompson, a senior ecologist for Harvard Forest, said the report shows New England is reaching a transition point. After 150 years of reclaiming forest land, all six states are again losing open space.

He said when lawmakers talk about infrastructure, they should consider forests alongside roads and bridges.

“We can see from the recent hurricanes the importance of natural infrastructure,” he said.

Thompson said the loss of forestland is a bigger threat even than climate change, in part, because it more immediately threatens local ecosystems.

He pointed to success stories on the state level including Massachusetts’ Community Preservation Act. More than half of Massachusetts cities and towns have adopted the effort aimed at saving open spaces, preserving historic sites and developing affordable housing.

Despite that effort, Massachusetts has been losing forestland to development faster than any other New England state at a rate of 7,000 acres a year, compared to Maine (6,100 acres), New Hampshire (5,000), Connecticut (3,700), Vermont (1,500) and Rhode Island (800).

In the report, Vermont ranks first in New England in per capita state funding for land conservation at an average of $6.70 per person annually for 2004 to 2014. That’s compared to Rhode Island ($5.31), Maine ($4.77), Massachusetts ($4.55), Connecticut ($2.81) and New Hampshire ($1.46).

The state with the highest percentage of its land conserved as forest or farmland is New Hampshire, with 30 percent, followed by Massachusetts (24 percent), Vermont (23 percent), Rhode Island (20 percent), Maine (19 percent) and Connecticut (15 percent).

New England Forestry Foundation Executive Director Bob Perschel contributed to the report and said working with the 170,000 private individuals and families who own smaller parcels of forest land is critical to preserving the landscape.

]]> 0 apple orchards that will be protected have produced apples for the wholesale market for 80 years. Acton. Three Rivers Land Trust (3RLT) Maine Farmland Trust (MFT), and the Town of Acton collaborated to protect 243 acres of fields, apple orchards and forestland on Goat Hill in Acton. The orchards have produced apples for the wholesale market for 80 years, and the hilltop has long been a cherished destination for year-round and seasonal residents of the region. Photo courtesy of Maine Farmland TrustTue, 19 Sep 2017 19:57:32 +0000
Sen. Collins teams up with Florida Democrat on bill to shore up ACA Tue, 19 Sep 2017 22:27:01 +0000 Even as the Senate is yet again considering a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Maine Sen. Susan Collins is teaming up with a Florida Democrat in a potential across-the-aisle compromise that aims to shore up the existing ACA insurance markets.

Collins and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, introduced the Reinsurance Act of 2017 on Tuesday in an attempt to stabilize the health insurance marketplace. Reinsurance are programs designed to reduce risk for insurance companies by providing funds to insurers for high-risk enrollees. When they work, reinsurance programs help keep premiums in check. The bill would provide $2.25 billion per year in federal funding for state-run reinsurance programs.

Collins held out the olive branch in a Senate floor speech Tuesday, beseeching her colleagues for a bipartisan compromise. Her speech came at the same time Republican leadership is heading toward a potential vote to repeal the ACA. Collins was one of three Republican senators to buck the party and vote “no” in a dramatic late night vote on July 27 that seemingly sank efforts to repeal the ACA. Collins, known as a moderate, is one of the few Republicans touting fixes to the health care law as opposed to repealing it.

“I personally remain ever hopeful that a bipartisan agreement on a targeted consensus approach to stabilizing the markets and reducing premiums can still be reached,” Collins said in the floor speech.

Collins has been lobbying for a bipartisan compromise on health care since January. Early this month, the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, of which Collins is a member, held hearings on how to fix the ACA, and reinsurance was a solution that Republicans and Democrats agreed on.

“Insurance commissioners from Alaska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington state all spoke positively of its benefits as did the five governors who testified before the committee, three Republicans and two Democrats,” Collins said. “They were in broad agreement that reinsurance funding would help to stabilize the markets and lower premiums.”

Collins, while not yet taking an official position on the latest repeal effort, Graham-Cassidy, has expressed strong reservations, and many political experts are counting her in the “no” column.

Appearing on CNN Tuesday, Collins said Graham-Cassidy contains “many of the same flaws of the bill we rejected previously and in fact, it has some additional flaws.”

Collins has said that previous Republican bills to repeal the ACA would have been a “disaster” for the United States.

Graham-Cassidy would remove all subsidies to help moderate and low-income people afford insurance, slash Medicaid, undermine protections for pre-existing conditions and eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. There would be 32 million fewer Americans with insurance, according to a Washington think tank, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“I am very concerned by projections cited by the Maine Hospital Association, which show that the bill would cut Medicaid and other federal health care spending in Maine by more than $1 billion in the next 10 years,” Collins said Monday in a statement about Graham-Cassidy,

Collins said that while the Senate is “deeply divided on what to do on health care policy,” politicians should be able to “come together” on a solution to fix the ACA.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

Twitter; @joelawlorph

]]> 0, 20 Sep 2017 00:13:33 +0000
Death toll climbs in Mexico after powerful earthquake brings down buildings Tue, 19 Sep 2017 19:15:24 +0000 MEXICO CITY – A powerful earthquake shook central Mexico on Tuesday, collapsing buildings in plumes of dust and killing at least 149 people. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

Dozens of buildings tumbled into mounds of rubble or were severely damaged in densely populated parts of Mexico City and nearby states. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said buildings fell at 44 places in the capital alone as high-rises across the city swayed sickeningly.

Hours after the magnitude 7.1 quake, rescue workers were still clawing through the wreckage of a primary school that partly collapsed in the city’s south, looking for any children who might be trapped. Some relatives said they had received a Whatsapp message from two girls inside.

The quake is the deadliest in Mexico since a 1985 quake on the same date killed thousands. It came less than two weeks after another powerful quake caused 90 deaths in the country’s south.

Luis Felipe Puente, head of the national Civil Defense agency, reported Tuesday night that the confirmed death toll had been raised to 149.

His tweet said 55 people died in Morelos state, just south of Mexico City, while 49 died in the capital and 32 were killed in nearby Puebla state, where the quake was centered. Ten people died in the State of Mexico, which surrounds Mexico City on three sides, and three were killed in Guerrero state, he said.

The count did not include one death that officials in the southern state of Oaxaca reported earlier as quake-related.

The federal government declared a state of disaster in Mexico City, freeing up emergency funds. President Enrique Pena Nieto said he had ordered all hospitals to open their doors to the injured.

Mancera, the Mexico City mayor, said 50 to 60 people were rescued alive by citizens and emergency workers in the capital. Authorities said at least 70 people in the capital had been hospitalized for injuries.

The federal interior minister, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, said authorities had reports of people possibly still being trapped in collapsed buildings. He said search efforts were slow because of the fragility of rubble.

“It has to be done very carefully,” he said. And “time is against us.”

At one site, reporters saw onlookers cheer as a woman was pulled from the rubble. Rescuers immediately called for silence so they could listen for others who might be trapped.

Mariana Morales, a 26-year-old nutritionist, was one of many who spontaneously participated in rescue efforts.

She wore a paper face mask and her hands were still dusty from having joined a rescue brigade to clear rubble from a building that fell in a cloud of dust before her eyes, about 15 minutes after the quake.

Morales said she was in a taxi when the quake struck, and she got out and sat on a sidewalk to try to recover from the scare. Then, just a few yards away, the three-story building fell.

A dust-covered Carlos Mendoza, 30, said that he and other volunteers had been able to pull two people alive from the ruins of a collapsed apartment building after three hours of effort.

“We saw this and came to help,” he said. “It’s ugly, very ugly.”

Alma Gonzalez was in her fourth floor apartment in the Roma neighborhood when the quake pancaked the ground floor of her building, leaving her no way out — until neighbors set up a ladder on their roof and helped her slide out a side window.

Gala Dluzhynska was taking a class with 11 other women on the second floor of a building on trendy Alvaro Obregon street when the quake struck and window and ceiling panels fell as the building began to tear apart.

She said she fell in the stairs and people began to walk over her, before someone finally pulled her up.

“There were no stairs anymore. There were rocks,” she said.

They reached the bottom only to find it barred. A security guard finally came and unlocked it.

The quake sent people throughout the city fleeing from homes and offices, and many people remained in the streets for hours, fearful of returning to the structures.

Alarms blared and traffic stopped around the Angel of Independence monument on the iconic Reforma Avenue.

Electricity and cellphone service was interrupted in many areas and traffic was snarled as signal lights went dark.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.1 quake hit at 2:15 p.m. EDT and was centered near the Puebla state town of Raboso, about 76 miles southeast of Mexico City.

Puebla Gov. Tony Gali tweeted there were damaged buildings in the city of Cholula, including collapsed church steeples.

In Jojutla, a town in neighboring Morelos state, the town hall, a church and other buildings tumbled down, and 12 people were reported killed.

The Instituto Morelos secondary school partly collapsed in Jojutla, but school director Adelina Anzures said the earthquake drill that the school held in the morning was a boon when the real thing hit just two hours later.

“I told them that it was not a game, that we should be prepared,” Anzures said of the drill. When the shaking began, children and teachers filed out rapidly and no one was hurt, she said. “It fell and everything inside was damaged.”

Earlier in the day, workplaces across Mexico City held earthquake readiness drills on the anniversary of the 1985 quake, a magnitude 8.0 shake that killed thousands of people and devastated large parts of the capital.

In that tragedy, too, ordinary citizens played a crucial role in rescue efforts that overwhelmed officials.

Market stall vendor Edith Lopez, 25, said she was in a taxi a few blocks away when the quake struck Tuesday. She said she saw glass bursting out of the windows of some buildings. She was anxiously trying to locate her children, whom she had left in the care of her disabled mother.

Local media broadcast video of whitecap waves churning the city’s normally placid canals of Xochimilco as boats bobbed up and down.

Mexico City’s international airport suspended operations and was checking facilities for damage.

Much of Mexico City is built on former lakebed, and the soil can amplify the effects of earthquakes centered hundreds of miles away.

The new quake appeared to be unrelated to the magnitude 8.1 temblor that hit Sept. 7 off Mexico’s southern coast and also was felt strongly in the capital.

U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle noted the epicenters of the two quakes were 400 miles (650 kilometers) apart and said most aftershocks are within (60 miles) 100 kilometers.

There have been 19 earthquakes of magnitude 6.5 or larger within 150 miles of Tuesday’s quake over the past century, Earle said.

Earth usually has about 15 to 20 earthquakes this size or larger each year, Earle said.

Initial calculations showed that more than 30 million people would have felt moderate shaking from Tuesday’s quake.

]]> 0 woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. A powerful earthquake jolted central Mexico on Tuesday, causing buildings to sway sickeningly in the capital on the anniversary of a 1985 quake that did major damage. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)Wed, 20 Sep 2017 00:39:18 +0000
French president defends international cooperation at U.N. Tue, 19 Sep 2017 18:47:01 +0000 UNITED NATIONS – French President Emmanuel Macron issued a ringing defense of global cooperation Tuesday, telling world leaders that solving major challenges otherwise will be reduced to “the survival of the fittest.”

In his first appearance at the U.N. General Assembly, Macron vowed to press ahead with the Paris accord to combat global warming, although the United States has said it is withdrawing.

He also said France won’t “close any door to dialogue” with North Korea and that it would be “a grave error” to unwind the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran as it faces strong criticism from U.S. President Trump. Macron also called for investing in education and health, and he proposed appointing a U.N. representative for press freedom.

Seven decades after the end of World War II and the creation of the United Nations, international bodies are confronting doubts, Macron said.

“We have allowed the idea to proliferate that multilateralism is a kind of game, a game for diplomats sitting around a table,” he said, but have come up short on addressing such major threats as climate change.

“Today, more than ever before, we need multilateralism” to work on that and other global issues, such as war and terrorism, Macron said.

“We can only address those challenges through multilateralism,” he said, “not through survival of the fittest.”

Macron presented a counterpoint to Trump, who in his own debut speech at the General Assembly a few hours earlier had urged countries to embrace their own “national sovereignty” to do more to ensure their own prosperity and security.

Trump had tough words for North Korea, threatening to “totally destroy” the Asian nation if the U.S. is forced to defend itself or its allies against aggression, and also for the Iran pact, which he called “an embarrassment” to the U.S. He hinted that his administration could soon declare Iran out of compliance with the deal, which could unravel it.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, meanwhile, warned that the threat of a nuclear attack is at its highest level since the end of the Cold War and “fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings.”

His message in his first state-of-the-world report since taking the reins of the United Nations on Jan. 1, was implicitly directed at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but also at Trump. The two have traded tough rhetoric amid Pyongyang’s continuing nuclear and missile tests.

Speaking to presidents, prime ministers and monarchs at the opening of the General Assembly’s annual ministerial meeting, the U.N. chief put “nuclear peril” as the leading global threat, warning that “we must not sleepwalk our way into war.” He said there must be a political solution to North Korea’s activities, stressing: “This is a time for statesmanship.”

Beyond the nuclear threat, Guterres painted a grim picture of a troubled world facing grave challenges with many people “hurting and angry” because they “see insecurity rising, inequality growing, conflict spreading and climate changing.”

“Societies are fragmented,” he said. “Political discourse is polarized. Trust within and among countries is being driven down by those who demonize and divide.”

“We are a world in pieces,” Guterres said. “We need to be a world at peace.”

Guterres said there are seven threats and tests that stand in the way: nuclear peril, terrorism, unresolved conflicts and systematic violations of international humanitarian law, climate change, rising inequality, unintended consequences of innovation, and people on the move.

These issues are expected to dominate the six-day meeting. On day one, however, the spotlight was on Trump and Macron.

Many world leaders were getting their first chance to hear and meet Trump. He said the United States seeks harmony and friendship, not conflict and strife on the world stage, but he warned that Americans “can no longer be taken advantage of.”

He said all responsible nations must work together to confront terrorists and Islamic extremists that inspire them. And “it is time to expose and hold responsible” nations that provide funding and safe harbor to terror groups, Trump said.

He spoke after Guterres and Brazil’s president, who for more than 35 years has been the first leader to address the 193-member General Assembly.

Brazilian President Michel Temer, charged last week with obstruction of justice and leading a criminal organization, continued the tradition.

He said the U.N. has represented “hope and prospects for a more just world” for the last 70 years and at “this time in history, marked by so much uncertainty and instability, we need more diplomacy, not less – and “we need the U.N. more than before.”

But Temer said it is imperative to reform the U.N., particularly to expand the powerful Security Council to align it with the reality of the 21st century. Brazil is part of a group with Germany, India and Japan seeking permanent seats on the council.

Not far behind North Korea on the list of issues needing urgent international attention is the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, victims of what Guterres called a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” that has driven nearly 400,000 to flee into Bangladesh in the past three weeks.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who canceled plans to attend the General Assembly in a decision widely seen as a response to international criticism, earlier Tuesday defended the government and said her country does not fear international scrutiny. She invited diplomats to see some areas for themselves.

Guterres told leaders in his General Assembly address that “I take note” of Suu Kyi’s speech.

“We are all shocked by the dramatic escalation of sectarian tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State,” he said. “The authorities in Myanmar must end the military operations, and allow unhindered humanitarian access. They must also address the grievances of the Rohingya, whose status has been left unresolved for far too long.”

The world leaders gathered as Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, smashed the small Caribbean nation of Dominica with 160 mph winds. It ripped the roof off even the prime minister’s residence and caused what he called “mind-boggling” devastation. The storm was on a track to strike Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

On Monday, Guterres and top government officials from several countries devastated by the other Category 5 storm, Hurricane Irma, addressed a hastily called U.N. meeting and appealed for help to rebuild following that storm’s destruction.

Guterres has repeatedly focused on the challenge posed by climate change.

He called this year’s hurricane season “the most violent on record” and warned that extreme weather linked to climate change is having an impact all over the world, “including floods in southern Asia and landslides and droughts in Africa.”

]]> 0, 19 Sep 2017 15:00:32 +0000
White House considers abandoning some tax cuts for the wealthy Tue, 19 Sep 2017 16:04:56 +0000 White House and Republican leaders are considering major changes to upcoming tax legislation, including scaling back plans for large-scale tax cuts for the wealthy, as Republicans seek to win support from Democrats in Congress, three people briefed on the discussions said.

The White House is considering, among other things, keeping the top tax rate for individuals at 39.6 percent, decreasing the benefits top earners would see in the tax package by scrapping an earlier proposal that would cut that rate to 35 percent.

White House negotiators are also considering giving up on a push to repeal the estate tax, which is levied on individuals who die with more than $5.49 million in their estate. Republicans have long called for repealing the estate tax, but Democrats have raised objections, saying repeal would only benefit the wealthy and would add to the federal debt.

The White House and Republican leaders are still debating how to proceed, and they could end up proposing changes to both the top tax rate and the estate tax, according to the three people. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the party’s internal deliberations.

The White House and Republican leaders remain fully committed to reducing the corporate tax rate and delivering tax cuts for the middle class, the people said.

The fluidity of the discussions illustrates how President Trump has sought to reframe the tax discussions as a way to help businesses and the middle class and not the wealthiest Americans.

In April, the White House put out a one-page blueprint of its tax plan that would have repealed the estate tax, eliminated the alternative-minimum tax and cut the top individual tax rate from 39.6 to 35 percent. These changes and others would serve as a huge windfall for the wealthiest Americans, budget experts found. The Tax Policy Center estimated that roughly half of all the tax changes would benefit the top 1 percent of all earners, with each person in that group receiving on average a $175,000 tax cut.

Senior White House officials for months defended the calls for tax cuts that would benefit the wealthy, saying they are necessary to help people invest in the economy and hire more workers. But Trump last week stated the tax plan would not – on net – reduce the taxes for wealthy Americans, and he predicted that some could even pay more.

Americans pay income taxes on a tiered system, and there are seven tiers. Upper-income Americans pay a 39.6 percent rate on all income above $418,400. They pay a 35 percent rate on all income between $416,700 and $418,400. And they pay a 33 percent rate on income between $191,650 and $416,700. There are four other tax rates for income earned below that amount.

The White House had proposed collapsing these seven brackets into three brackets, with the new top bracket sitting at 35 percent. If it decides to keep the top bracket at 39.6 percent and create two new brackets, it could still give everyone a tax cut but lessen the size of that cut for the wealthy.

The White House and Republican leaders next week are planning to provide more details of their tax push, though they could leave out key details as they continue to negotiate with members of Congress. The White House is hoping a tax cut plan can be completed by the end of the year, and support from even a few Democrats could help it reach an agreement sooner.

]]> 0, 19 Sep 2017 12:58:52 +0000
Study shows playing football before age 12 can lead to mood, behavior issues Tue, 19 Sep 2017 16:02:52 +0000 A new medical study has found that children who play football before age 12 suffer mood and behavior problems later in life at rates significantly higher than those who take up the sport later.

The study, which was published Tuesday in the medical journal Translational Psychiatry, showed those who participated in football before age 12 were twice as likely to have problems with behavior regulation, apathy, and executive functioning – including initiating activities, problem solving, planning and organizing – when they get older. The younger football players were three times more likely as those who took up the sport after age 12 to experience symptoms of depression.

“Between the ages of 10 and 12, there is this period of incredible development of the brain,” said Dr. Robert Stern, the director of clinical research at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center who co-authored the study. “Perhaps that is a window of vulnerability. . . . It makes sense that children whose brains are rapidly developing should not be hitting their heads over and over again.”

Stern said the results were not tied to the total number of years the subjects participated in football or the highest level at which they competed. Perhaps most important, the findings also weren’t impacted by the number of concussions the former players reported, he said, meaning the dangers posed by football can’t be boiled down simply to big hits. Researchers are increasingly focusing on the effects associated with the accumulation of smaller hits that a player might more easily shake off during a game or practice.

“Concussions are a big deal when it comes to short-term problems, and it has to be dealt with,” Stern said. “But the dialogue out there needs to now start focusing on these repetitive hits that are part of the game and their potential for long-term problems.”

The Boston University researchers studied 214 former American football players. The average age was 51, which means the average study participant played youth football four decades ago.

Football’s impact on young players has been a growing area of research in recent years, and while the Boston University study focuses on the possible long-term impact, other researchers have examined the short-term consequences the sport can have on developing brains.

In one recent study, researchers from the Wake Forest School of Medicine followed a group of 25 players, ages 8 to 13, for a single season, measuring the frequency and severity of helmet impacts. The players underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests before and after the season, which showed significance changes in the brain’s white matter. None of the participants in that study showed signs or symptoms of concussions, and the players who suffered more hits saw more significant changes to the brain.

As the science evolves and awareness grows, youth football participation has been in flux in recent years. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, participation in tackle football among 6- to 12-year-old boys dropped 20 percent since 2009. Last year, according to the organization’s most recent report, 2,543,000 children ages 6 to 17 played tackle football, a loss of more than 400,000 players since 2011 for that age group. Flag football, meanwhile, has seen growth. There were 1,401,000 participants ages 6 to 17 last year, a slight uptick from five years earlier and an increase of nearly 225,000 from 2014.

In response to health and safety concerns, USA Football is piloting a new version of the game this year that it calls “rookie tackle,” aimed at minimizing the physical toll the sport takes on young players and bridging the gap to the traditional game. The augmented rules limit teams to seven players on the field, eliminate special teams play, shorten the field to just 40 yards and call for players to start from a crouched position rather than a traditional three-point stance. The organization, which is heavily funded by the NFL, is piloting the program this year with about 1,000 children in 10 different organizations and could introduce it to more cities and leagues in the future.

Stern says that childhood involvement in sports is “critical” and has many benefits, but he said there is not necessarily a safe age to introduce children to tackle football.

“Is there a magic age? No,” he said. “Our results suggest that age 12 is a meaningful cutoff, but some people might be slower to develop, so for them age 13 or 14 might be the time where their brain is more developed and less prone to problems.”

]]> 0, 19 Sep 2017 12:05:27 +0000
Trump threatens ‘total destruction’ of North Korea during U.N. address Tue, 19 Sep 2017 14:59:28 +0000 NEW YORK — President Trump on Tuesday delivered a toughly worded defense of his “America first” foreign policy in his inaugural address to the United Nations and threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if necessary.

The president, speaking at the United Nations’ hallowed green-marble rostrum, also excoriated the international nuclear deal with Iran as an “embarrassment” and strongly hinted that his administration would soon back out, against the wishes of many nations in the room.

The defiant and pugilistic speech put the General Assembly hall of more than 150 delegations on notice that the United States, under Trump’s leadership, is willing to pursue an unpopular and unpredictable course to protect its interests across the globe.

Trump called on world leaders to rally in the fight to defeat murderous regimes and “loser terrorists,” and he derisively referred to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who oversees an expanding nuclear arsenal, as “Rocket Man.” Reflecting on the United Nations charter of promoting world peace, the president asserted to the room full of diplomats: “Major portions of the world are in conflict, and some, in fact, are going to hell.”

“To put it simply,” Trump declared, “we meet at a time of both of immense promise and great peril. It is entirely up to us whether we lift the world to new heights or let it fall into a valley of disrepair.”

Most of the president’s views were well known before he arrived at the annual gathering. But his 42-minute speech, delivered in a combative tone rare for an American leader, put them in stark relief at a time of widespread anxiety among U.S. allies and partners over the nation’s traditional role of world leader.

In contrast to Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron used his own first U.N. address later Tuesday to defend the principle of global cooperation.

“Today, more than ever before, we need multilateralism” to deal with worldwide threats such as climate change and terrorism, Macron said. “We can only address those challenges through multilateralism,” he said, “not through survival of the fittest.”

Macron, in an interview with CNN, also said the rhetoric toward North Korea should be toned down and warned against abandoning the nuclear deal with Iran.

“Look at the map – if we talk of a military solution, we speak about a lot of victims,” he told the network about the tensions on the Korean Peninsula. “Building peace is what we have to do in this region.”

If Trump was eager to use his address to set the terms for his engagement with an international organization that he derided as ineffectual during his campaign, his rhetoric also set up a potentially dangerous test of his administration’s credibility to carry out the promises and threats he issued.

The president said the United States has “great strength and patience,” but he emphasized that if forced to defend America or its allies, “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” He said that Kim “is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

Kim, the leader of a nation of 25 million, has responded to past threats from Trump by highlighting his government’s nuclear weapons program and conducting ballistic missile tests. Foreign affairs analysts contend that a U.S. military response would risk sparking a regional conflict that would result in millions of deaths in densely populated South Korea and Japan.

Despite his past criticism of the United Nations – including a 2012 tweet mocking the “cheap” green marble backdrop in the General Assembly hall – Trump extended a hand to fellow leaders and praised those who offered help in the wake of the hurricanes that destroyed areas of Texas, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

But he also called repeatedly for all nations to embrace sovereignty and self-reliance at a body founded after World War II on the idea that all countries are stronger when they work together.

“As president of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always, and should always, put your countries first,” Trump said, returning to a campaign theme and the “America first” phrase, which has been criticized as isolationist and nationalistic.

Trump, who campaigned as an iconoclast who would speak for a marginalized middle class and focus on domestic priorities, made clear that his administration would not shrink from global challenges, including the escalating economic and political crisis in Venezuela.

At the same time, however, he took care Tuesday to send signals to the mostly white, middle-class voters who form the core of his political support. He took a swipe at “mammoth multinational trade deals” and “powerful global bureaucracies,” and he emphasized that “uncontrolled migration is deeply unfair.”

“The substantial costs … are borne overwhelmingly by low-income citizens whose concerns are often ignored by both media and government,” Trump said.

But it was Trump’s strong criticism of authoritarian regimes that drew the most reaction in the U.N. assembly hall and on Capitol Hill.

“The goals of the United Nations are to foster peace and promote global cooperation,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said. “Today, the president used it as a stage to threaten war.”

]]> 0, 19 Sep 2017 22:40:29 +0000
Senate intelligence panel cancels meeting with Trump’s lawyer Tue, 19 Sep 2017 14:57:14 +0000 WASHINGTON — Senate Intelligence Committee leaders say they canceled a scheduled interview with President Trump’s personal lawyer after he released a public statement.

Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner, said in a statement Tuesday that the panel had requested Michael Cohen “refrain from public comment.” But Cohen released a statement Tuesday morning saying a proposal to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow was “solely a real estate deal and nothing more.”

Burr and Warner say they “declined to move forward” with the closed-door staff interview and will schedule an open hearing instead.

The leaders said they are “disappointed that Mr. Cohen decided to pre-empt today’s interview by releasing a public statement” and expect witnesses to work in good faith with the committee.

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney, arrives on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Associated Press/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

In a prepared statement obtained by The Associated Press, Cohen addressed revelations from last month that the Trump Organization had considered doing business in Russia through a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow around the time of the Republican primaries.

Cohen disclosed details of the deal last month in a statement to the House intelligence committee, saying that he had worked on the real estate proposal with Felix Sater, a Russian-born associate who has claimed to have deep connections to Moscow. Cohen also has said that he emailed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary after Sater suggested that the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government.

The discussions about the potential development occurred in the fall of 2015, months after Trump had declared his candidacy, and ended early last year when Cohen determined that the project was not feasible.
In his statement Tuesday, Cohen said the proposal was “solely a real estate deal and nothing more.”
“I was doing my job,” he added.

The Trump Organization has previously said that the licensing deal “was not significantly advanced” and that no site or financing materialized during the negotiations.

Cohen also denounced allegations from a dossier produced by an opposition research firm, calling the document “lie-filled” and fabricated. He said he had never discussed with any member of the Russian Federation or anyone else a plan to hack into email accounts or to interfere with the election.

“Given my own proximity to the President of the United States as a candidate, let me also say that I never saw anything – not a hint of anything – that demonstrated his involvement in Russian interference in our election or any form of Russian collusion.”

Associated Press writer Chad Day contributed to this report.


]]> 0, 19 Sep 2017 17:26:21 +0000
Toys R Us files for bankruptcy, but keeps stores open Tue, 19 Sep 2017 14:25:32 +0000 NEW YORK — In filing for bankruptcy, Toys R Us joins a list of dozens of store chains that have done so already this year as online leader Amazon increasingly exerts its influence over a huge part of the retailing world.

The toy chain, hobbled by $5 billion in debt and more intense competition, filed for protection from its creditors ahead of the key holiday season. Like so many retailers that find it harder to co-exist with Amazon, analysts say Toys R Us needs to improve its online services and offer special experiences in the stores.

For Toys R Us, that might be game demonstrations or hosting birthday parties. It says it’ll keep its 1,600 Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores open, and keep serving customers while in bankruptcy. Still, the chain faces hurdles – price is a big issue for shoppers, and Toys R Us acknowledges that it can’t compete there.

“We will go to Toys R Us to check out the current toys, and while we are at the store, we will be looking up prices on the phone on and Amazon,” said Randy Watson of Fort Worth, Texas.

He used to pick up items at Toys R Us for his kids. But for his grandchildren, he uses the store to see what’s available and then shops elsewhere to get lower prices.

The bankruptcies of nearly three dozen retailers since the beginning of the year – many of them very small companies, but also well-known names like Payless Shoe Source, Gymboree Corp. and True Religion jeans – has resulted in job losses and store closings. Toys R Us didn’t say if it would cut jobs.

Credit Suisse believes that there could be 8,640 store closings this year, which would surpass the 2008 peak of 6,200. In 2008, the number of bankruptcies was at a historic high of 569, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Amazon, meanwhile, has been using its $99-a-year Prime Membership as a way to gain fierce shopper loyalty as it adds more perks like same-day delivery Amazon Now for a growing number of markets.

]]> 0 R Us, a pioneering big-box toy retailer, is trying to compete in an Amazon-dominated world. Analysts say the chain needs to improve its online services and offer special in-store experiences.Tue, 19 Sep 2017 20:36:05 +0000
Donald Trump Jr. wants to give up Secret Service security detail Tue, 19 Sep 2017 13:15:15 +0000 Donald Trump Jr. has asked to give up Secret Service protection for himself, telling friends he wants more privacy, according to two people briefed on the decision.

It’s a rare move for a member of the president’s family to forgo security detail, in part because adult children are counseled by the Secret Service that they are quickly seen as targets for those railing against their famous parent.

One close friend of the president’s son said Donald Trump Jr. has been talking for weeks about waiving the 24-hour protection that Secret Service agents provide him and his entire family – including his wife and their five children. That person said he has also wanted to give up his family’s protection, but that was unclear Monday night. Secret Service spokeswoman Catherine Milhoan declined to comment on whether Trump Jr. and his family were no longer receiving protection.

Trump Jr.’s wish to quit Secret Service protection was first reported by the New York Times Monday night.

Several former Secret Service officials strongly recommended that the president’s son reconsider his choice, saying it could put him in jeopardy.

Jonathan Wackrow, a former member of President Barack Obama’s detail and now an executive of a risk management company in New York, called the decision “shocking.”

“In today’s global risk environment, waiving this detail poses great danger to him and to his family,” Wackrow said. “What he is becoming potentially is a target of opportunity.

“People who want to lash out at the president are going to seek that path of least resistance,” he added. “This decision is negligent.”

Trump Jr.’s push to eliminate his 24-hour protection comes at a time when the extended Trump family has faced steady criticism for straining the resources of the Secret Service. The agency’s workload for security personnel has demonstrably grown under Trump, who has five children and eight grandchildren. The Secret Service now protects 42 people around the clock, 11 more than it did under Obama. The Secret Service’s list of people to protect under Trump includes 18 members of the president’s family. The Secret Service acknowledged it is strained to pay its agents overtime based on the demands of multiple round-the-clock details.

Wackrow said he is sympathetic to the hassles of security. Trump Jr. and his wife have struggled with the logistical headache of helping coordinate the five separate details of their children. Rich Staropoli, a former member of the Trump administration and former Secret Service agent, said one frustration has been that the Secret Service has been sending a rotating set of temporary agents to staff the details of Trump Jr.’s young children.

“Every few weeks they get new people,” Staropoli said. “There are all these new people coming and going. The kids don’t like that. They can’t get comfortable with someone they don’t know.”

Trump Jr. also privately fumed about an incident involving his son Donald III’s detail agents in March. The president’s grandson was being chauffeured by agents in a sports utility vehicle. He awoke to find two agents had been taking pictures of themselves with him while he had been sleeping.

Protection for adult children is automatically provided, but they can legally turn it down. Ron Reagan declined Secret Service protection during his father’s second term as president.

“To ensure the safety and security of our protectees and their families, we will not confirm who is currently receiving Secret Service protection,” Milhoan said.

]]> 0, 19 Sep 2017 09:23:43 +0000
WWI German U-boat found off Belgium with 23 bodies inside Tue, 19 Sep 2017 12:40:51 +0000 BRUSSELS — An intact German World War I submarine containing the bodies of 23 people has been found off the coast of Belgium, authorities said Tuesday.

Western Flanders Gov. Carl Decaluwe told The Associated Press that the find on the floor of the North Sea “is very unique.”

“It’s quite amazing that we found something like this,” Decaluwe said. “The impact damage was at the front, but the submarine remains closed and there are 23 people still onboard.”

The UB II-type dive boat that was found is 88 feet long and almost 20 feet wide, and is lying at about a 45-degree angle, between 82 and 98 feet below the surface.

People stand on the deck of a World War I German submarine type UC-97 in an unknown location in this undated photo. Associated Press

From the damage to the front of the vessel, it appears that the sub may have struck a mine with its upper deck. Two torpedo tubes have been destroyed but the lower tube is intact and closed.

Video images show the submarine covered with barnacles, seaweed and fishing gear, including nets.

Decaluwe said the U-boat was found by researchers. He declined to provide details about its location until the site has been protected. He has contacted the German ambassador because “we need to see what can do” with the remains.

Around 18 U-boats were stationed with the Flanders Flotilla in Bruges between 1915 and 1918. Thirteen of them were destroyed.

It’s the 11th such wreck to be found in Belgian waters.

Allied warships and cargo ships were easy pickings for the German subs that were launched from Bruges, just across the English Channel.

Virginia Mayo contributed to this report.

]]> 0, 19 Sep 2017 09:55:29 +0000
Destruction in its wake, Hurricane Maria takes aim at Puerto Rico Tue, 19 Sep 2017 09:49:13 +0000 SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Maria barreled toward Puerto Rico on Tuesday night after wreaking widespread devastation on Dominica and leaving the small Caribbean island virtually incommunicado.

As rains began to lash Puerto Rico, Gov. Ricardo Rossello warned that Maria could hit “with a force and violence that we haven’t seen for several generations.”

“We’re going to lose a lot of infrastructure in Puerto Rico,” Rossello said, adding that a likely island-wide power outage and communication blackout could last for days. “We’re going to have to rebuild.”

Authorities warned that people in wooden or flimsy homes should find safe shelter before the storm’s expected arrival Wednesday.

Hurricane Maria bears down on Puerto Rico late Tuesday afternoon.

“You have to evacuate. Otherwise, you’re going to die,” said Hector Pesquera, the island’s public safety commissioner. “I don’t know how to make this any clearer.”

By Tuesday night, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Maria’s winds had intensified to 175 mph and additional strengthening was possible. At 11 p.m. Tuesday, Maria was centered about 30 miles south-southeast of St. Croix, or 120 miles southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was moving west-northwest at 10 mph.

Maria’s center was expected to pass several miles south of St. Croix late Tuesday on its way to Puerto Rico, prompting U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp to ask that people remain alert.

St. Croix was largely spared the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Irma on the chain’s St. Thomas and St. John islands just two weeks ago. But this time, the island would experience five hours of hurricane force winds starting about 11 p.m. EST, Mapp said.

“For folks in their homes, I really recommend that you not be in any kind of sleepwear,” he said during a brief press conference late Tuesday. “Make sure you have your shoes on. Make sure you have a jacket around. Something for your head in case your roof should breach. … I don’t really recommend you be sleeping from 11 o’clock to 4 (a.m.). … Be aware of what’s going on around you.”

The warning came after Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit sent out a series of dramatic posts on his Facebook page as the storm blew over that tiny country late Monday — but then stopped suddenly as phone and internet connections with the country were cut.

“The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God,” Skerrit wrote before communications went down.

A few minutes later, he messaged he could hear the sound of galvanized steel roofing tearing off houses on the small rugged island. He said that even his own roof had blown away.

In the last message before falling silent, he appealed for international aid: “We will need help, my friends, we will need help of all kinds.”

The storm knocked out communications for the entire country, leaving anyone outside Dominica struggling to determine the extent of damage, though it was clearly widespread. “The situation is really grave,” Consul General Barbara Dailey said in a telephone interview from New York.

She said she lost contact with the island about 4 a.m. At that point, officials had learned that 70 percent of homes had lost their roofs, including her own.

“I lost everything,” she said, adding there had been no word on casualties. “As a Category 5 it would be naive not to expect any (injuries) but I don’t know how many,” she said.

The island’s broadcast service was also down Tuesday and Akamai Technologies, a company that tracks the status of the internet around the world, said most of Dominica’s internet service appeared to have been lost by midday. The Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica reported a widespread loss of communication on the island, and relatives of students posted messages on its Facebook page saying they had been unable to talk to their loved ones since late Monday evening as the storm approached.

Dominica is particularly vulnerable to flooding because of its steep mountains, cut through with rivers that rage even after a heavy rain. It was still recovering from Tropical Storm Erika, which killed 30 people and destroyed more than 370 homes in August 2015.

Officials on the neighboring French island of Guadeloupe reported at least one death: a person hit by a falling tree. They said two other people were reported missing after their boat sank off La Desirade island, just east of Guadeloupe.

About 40 percent of the island — 80,000 homes — were without power and flooding was reported in several communities.

In the Puerto Rican capital, San Juan, normally crowded streets and beaches were empty by Tuesday afternoon as families heading to safe shelter packed up their cars and pets or secured windows and doors around their home to prepare for severe winds expected to lash the island for 12 to 24 hours. Nearly 2,800 people were in shelters across Puerto Rico, along with 105 pets, officials said.

“We’re definitely afraid,” said Erica Huber, a 33-year-old teacher from Venice, Florida, who moved to Puerto Rico a month ago with her 12-year-old daughter.

“I’m more worried about the aftermath: Is there going to be enough food and water?” she said.

In shops across the island, shelves were bare after people filled shopping carts with the limited amount of water, batteries, baby formula, milk and other items they could find.

Iris Tosado, a 64-year-old widowed housewife, scanned the nearly empty shelves before heading back home. She and her disabled son planned to spend the storm with relatives because their home is made of wood, and she prayed that it would not be destroyed.

“God, it’s the only thing I have,'” she said. “This is not looking good.”

Maria ties for the eighth strongest storm in Atlantic history, when measured by wind speed. This year’s Irma, which had 185 mph (300 kph) winds, ranks second.

Hurricane center forecasters said it “now appears likely” that Maria will still be at Category 5 intensity when it moves over the U.S. Virgin Islands on Tuesday night and Puerto Rico on Wednesday, bringing with it “life-threatening” flooding from rain and storm surge.

Forecasters said the storm surge could raise water levels by 6 to 9 feet near the storm’s center. The storm was predicted to bring 10 to 15 inches of rain across the islands, with more in isolated areas.

To the north, Hurricane Jose weakened to a tropical storm Tuesday night. Forecasters said dangerous surf and rip currents were likely to continue along the U.S. East Coast but said the storm was unlikely to make landfall. Big waves caused by Jose swept five people off a coastal jetty in Rhode Island and they were hospitalized after being rescued.

A tropical storm warning was posted for coastal areas in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and tropical storm watches were up for parts of New York’s Long Island and Connecticut.

]]> 0 Cruz Marrero watches the waves at Punta Santiago pier late Tuesday, hours before the imminent impact of Maria, a Category 5 hurricane that threatens to hit the eastern region of the island with sustained winds of 165 mph.Tue, 19 Sep 2017 23:49:22 +0000
Trump names former NFL player to lead initiative on black colleges Tue, 19 Sep 2017 01:02:50 +0000

Jonathan Holifield

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Monday named a lawyer and former NFL player as executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as the administration faces criticism from those institutions of promises unkept.

Jonathan Holifield, who also writes and consults on the topics of innovation and inclusiveness, told leaders and students that HBCUs must contribute more to the American economy.

“There is no path to sustain new job creation, shared prosperity and enduring national competition without the current and increased contributions of historical black colleges and universities,” Holifield told students at the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House.

His appointment answers one complaint from the leaders HBCUs, who are making their second visit to the White House this year amid strains with the Trump administration over unfulfilled promises.

]]> 0, 19 Sep 2017 09:04:24 +0000
Trump wants U.S. military on parade on Fourth of July Tue, 19 Sep 2017 00:54:27 +0000 UNITED NATIONS — Who doesn’t love a parade? To a city that already offers many, President Trump wants to add one that showcases U.S. military might.

It would take place on July 4 in Washington with, as Trump envisions it, tanks and planes rolling down and streaking above Pennsylvania Avenue.

Trump talked up the idea Monday as he sat down for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the president and first lady Melania Trump for France’s military parade in the center of Paris on Bastille Day in July. Trump said the two-hour procession was a “tremendous thing for France and for the spirit of France” and suggested he wants the same for Americans.

In typical Trump fashion, the president said he wants the parade to be bigger and better than the one he saw in France.

“It was one of the greatest parades I have ever seen,” Trump said. “It was two hours on the button, and was military might, and I think a tremendous thing for France and the spirit of France.”

“And to a large extent, because of what I witnessed, we may do something like that on July 4th in Washington, down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Trump said.

He noted that France’s parade featured representatives from different wars and armed forces wearing different uniforms.

]]> 0 Trump's decision to endorse the Pentagon's plan to boost troop levels reflects mounting concerns about setbacks for Afghan forces against the Taliban and al-Qaida.Mon, 18 Sep 2017 21:24:42 +0000
Immigration protesters direct ire toward peculiar target – Nancy Pelosi Tue, 19 Sep 2017 00:27:22 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the U.S. House, was shouted down Monday by protesters at an event in her hometown of San Francisco where she planned to drum up support for legislation that would grant legal status to immigrants like those who protested.

The demonstrators were angered by Pelosi’s recent talks with President Trump about the federal program that shields from deportation hundreds of thousands of young immigrants.

“We are immigrant youth, undocumented and unafraid,” several dozen young people chanted as they overtook the event.

After smiling and occasionally trying to speak through much of the protest, an aggravated Pelosi told the protesters to “just stop it now,” shortly before she was led out of the room.

She was appearing with Democratic U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee and Jared Huffman at College Track San Francisco, a program to expand college access. She was scheduled to appear Monday afternoon in Sacramento for a similar event.

The protests appeared aimed at Pelosi’s recent engagement with Trump on the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gives temporary legal protections to immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children or whose parents overstayed visas. Trump said in early September he will halt the program in six months if Congress does not act to continue it.

Last week, Pelosi and Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer met with Trump twice and discussed a deal to extend the program. Schumer and Pelosi said they reached a deal with the White House that did not include funding for Trump’s promised border wall. But the White House and Congressional Republicans say nothing is finalized.

“Democrats created an out-of-control deportation machine,” the protesters yelled. “Democrats are not the resistance to Trump.”

“You’ve had your say, and it’s beautiful,” Pelosi told the demonstrators at one point. But the shouting did not stop.

The protesters also urged Pelosi to “demand a clean bill,” and “shut down ICE,” referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“I know some people think this hurts the cause of undocumented folks, but undocumented people will always be scapegoated,” Luis Serrano, one of the organizers, said.

]]> 0 Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tries to talk as protesters demonstrate during a press conference on the immigration on Monday in San Francisco, Calif.Mon, 18 Sep 2017 21:26:31 +0000
Sean Spicer becomes Washington talking point after Emmy Awards Tue, 19 Sep 2017 00:09:20 +0000 Before the Emmy Awards on Sunday night, Axios editor and political reporter Mike Allen teased that the show would feature a “Washington-related stunt” – and if everything went according to plan, it would be “a big talker.”

That turned out to be an understatement. A surprise onstage appearance by Sean Spicer, President Trump’s former press secretary, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles immediately became a hotly debated flash point, as the Hollywood crowd cheered Spicer’s self-deprecating cameo.

However, lots of viewers at home didn’t find much humor in an effort to “normalize” a White House official who had delivered statements to the American people that were easily proved false.

“This will be the largest audience to witness the Emmys, period, both in person and around the world,” Spicer announced, standing behind a rolling lectern similar to the one that Melissa McCarthy used to mock him with her impersonation on “Saturday Night Live.”

Spicer’s statement was, of course, a reference to his first appearance as press secretary, when he declared, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe.”

Last week, Spicer went on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and essentially admitted that he would say whatever Trump wanted him to, regardless of whether he believed it – and after the inauguration, Trump told him to talk about the crowd size. So, people wondered, who exactly was Spicer making fun of here? Was he throwing the president under the bus?

“No,” Spicer said Monday. “It was an attempt for me to poke a little fun at myself and bring some levity to the situation.”

But wouldn’t it also be making fun of the man who back in January demanded that Spicer make the original false statement about the inauguration crowd size?

“That was me at the podium,” Spicer said. “It was all about me.”

Afterward, Spicer had his picture taken with late-night hosts who raked him over the coals during his tenure, such as Emmys host Stephen Colbert of CBS’ “Late Show” and Seth Meyers of NBC’s “Late Night.”

]]> 0 press secretary Sean Spicer speaks at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.Mon, 18 Sep 2017 20:09:20 +0000
Evidence emerges of spills at toxic sites after Harvey Mon, 18 Sep 2017 23:27:54 +0000 PASADENA, Texas — The U.S. government received reports of three spills at one of Houston’s dirtiest Superfund toxic waste sites in the days after the drenching rains from Hurricane Harvey finally stopped.

Aerial photos show dark-colored water surrounding the site as the floods receded, flowing through Vince Bayou and into the city’s ship channel.

The reported spills, which have not been publicly detailed, occurred at U.S. Oil Recovery, a former petroleum industry waste processing plant contaminated with a dangerous brew of cancer-causing chemicals.

On Aug. 29, the day Harvey’s rains stopped, a county pollution control team sent photos to the Environmental Protection Agency of three large concrete tanks flooded with water. That led PRP Group, the company overseeing the ongoing cleanup, to call a federal emergency hotline to report a spill affecting nearby Vince Bayou.

Over the next several days, the company reported two more spills of potentially contaminated storm water from U.S. Oil Recovery, according to reports and call logs from the Coast Guard, which operates the National Response Center hotline. The EPA requires that spills of oil or hazardous substances in quantities that may be harmful to public health or the environment be immediately reported to the 24-hour hotline when public waterways are threatened.

The EPA has not publicly acknowledged the three spills that PRP Group reported to the Coast Guard. The agency said an on-scene coordinator was at the site last Wednesday and found no evidence that material had washed off the site. The EPA says it is still assessing the scene.

In the days after Harvey, at least seven Superfund sites in and around Houston were underwater during the record-shattering storm. Journalists surveyed the sites by boat, vehicle and on foot. EPA said at the time that its personnel had been unable to reach the sites, though they surveyed the locations using aerial photos.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reiterated that safeguarding the intensely-polluted sites is among his top priorities during a visit Friday to the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.

Pruitt then boarded a Coast Guard aircraft for an aerial tour of other nearby Superfund sites flooded by Harvey, including U.S. Oil Recovery.

Photos taken Aug. 31 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show dark-colored water surrounding the site two days after the first spill was reported to the government hotline. While the photos do not prove contaminated materials leaked from U.S. Oil Recovery, they do show that as the murky floodwaters receded, they flowed through Vince Bayou and emptied into a ship channel that leads to the San Jacinto River. The hotline caller identified Vince Bayou as the waterway affected by a spill of unknown material in unknown amounts.

Thomas Voltaggio, a retired EPA official who oversaw Superfund cleanups and emergency responses for more than two decades, reviewed the aerial photos, hotline reports and other documents.

“It is intuitively obvious that the rains and floods of the magnitude that occurred during Hurricane Harvey would have resulted in some level of contamination having been released to the environment,” Voltaggio said. “Any contamination in those tanks would likely have entered Vince Bayou and potentially the Houston Ship Channel.”

]]> 0 photo from NOAA shows floodwaters surrounding the U.S. Oil Recovery Superfund site outside Houston flowing into the San Jacinto River. The EPA is still assessing damage.Mon, 18 Sep 2017 19:27:54 +0000
Kushner family’s company buying another large housing complex Mon, 18 Sep 2017 23:26:53 +0000 NEW YORK — The real estate company owned by the family of Jared Kushner said Monday that it is expanding its holdings with the purchase of a 1,032-unit complex near Princeton, New Jersey.

The Kushner Cos. paid $190 million for Quail Ridge in Plainsboro, New Jersey. The purchase follows a deal for a 5,517-unit complex in Maryland earlier this year.

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, stepped down as CEO of the Kushner Cos. in January before becoming a senior adviser to the president. The company owns more than 20,000 multifamily apartments in six states.

The Kushner Cos. has drawn scrutiny in recent months for trying to strike deals that raise conflict of interest issues with Jared Kushner at the White House.

The company tried to raise money for its struggling 666 Fifth Avenue skyscraper from a giant Chinese insurer with ties to the ruling Communist Party. Those talks ended after lawmakers and government ethics experts expressed worry that China could be using a deal to curry favor with the White House.

In May, the Kushner Cos. cut short a fundraising tour in China for two towers it hopes to build in Jersey City, New Jersey. Critics claimed the company was trying to reassure potential investors by referencing its ties to the White House. The Kushner Cos. denied it was trying to do that.

In the Quail Ridge deal, Kushner Cos. is using loans arranged by American International Group, a global insurance company. Kushner Cos. is not disclosing how much it was borrowing or whether there are other investors in the deal, said spokesman Eric Wachter. The Kushners often tap outside investors for its projects and purchases.

Kushner Cos. said the Quail Ridge purchase is part of a “broader strategic plan” to buy more residential and commercial properties with potentially high returns, according to its media release. It is looking to buy other apartment complexes in New Jersey and across the country.

Quail Ridge is being sold by Angelo, Gordon & Co. The complex was owned 11 years ago by Kushner Cos.

The Kushner Cos. said it has struck more than $2 billion in deals in two years. It said another tower it hopes to build in Jersey City will be the tallest in the state. The company also recently bought the iconic Watchtower building in Brooklyn near the Brooklyn Bridge and will soon spend $1.1 billion to build apartments and retail space at 85 Jay St. nearby.

]]> 0 Mon, 18 Sep 2017 19:26:53 +0000
Interior secretary calls for commercial fishing in new Atlantic monument Mon, 18 Sep 2017 22:40:25 +0000 Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to open up the first marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean to commercial fishing, according to a recommendation he made in a memo to President Trump.

Zinke’s memo touches on his recommendations for a host of national monuments, including Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. Former President Barack Obama designated some 5,000 square miles off New England as the marine monument about a year ago.

Obama’s proclamation should be amended to include commercial fishing activities regulated under federal law, Zinke’s memo said. The memo says that instead of prohibiting commercial fishing, the government should allow it in the area under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which is the primary law governing the U.S.’s marine fisheries and meant to prevent overfishing and guarantee a safe source of seafood.

Zinke’s memo says the monument was established “to protect geologic features, natural resources, and species,” but regulators have charged that it disrupts their ability “to manage species to balance protection with commercial fishing.”

Trump ordered a review of national monuments earlier this year. The memo obtained by The Associated Press was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Conservationist groups slammed the recommendation on Monday, while fishing groups said they’ve been making the same proposal all along. Allowing regulated commercial fishing in the area is a conservation-minded move, said Robert Vanasse, the executive director of Saving Seafood, a fishing advocacy group.

“Regulated fishing everywhere under the Magnuson-Stevens Act is pro-conservation and appropriate for all federal waters,” he said. “It’s scientifically sound.”

Environmental groups, whale watch captains, recreational fishermen and others who pushed for the creation of the monument promised to continue fighting to protect it. Peter Shelley, senior counsel at the Conservation Law Foundation, said Trump doesn’t have the authority to modify the monument, which Obama created under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

“Our marine monument – the only one in the Atlantic – protects rare and fragile ocean life and serves as an important deep-sea laboratory that will propel forward our nation’s commitment to scientific understanding and innovation,” Shelley said.

The monument’s designated zone is at the edge of a critical fishing area east of Cape Cod and south of Nova Scotia where fishermen harvest valuable species such as lobster and haddock. The monument is also home to fragile deep sea corals and vulnerable species of marine life, including whales and sea turtles.

]]> 0 photo made during the Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition 2013 shows Anthomastus coral. Environmentalists and fishing groups say they are prepared for a legal battle over Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's decision to preserve the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.Mon, 18 Sep 2017 18:42:50 +0000
Justice Department launches criminal probe of Equifax Mon, 18 Sep 2017 21:12:51 +0000 The U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into whether top officials at Equifax Inc. violated insider trading laws when they sold stock before the company disclosed that it had been hacked, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Prosecutors are looking at the stock sales by Equifax Chief Financial Officer John Gamble; President of U.S. Information Solutions Joseph Loughran; and President of Workforce Solutions Rodolfo Ploder, said two people who asked not to be named because the probe is confidential.

The company and the executives didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Equifax disclosed earlier this month that it discovered a security breach on July 29. The three executives sold shares worth almost $1.8 million in early August. The company has said the managers didn’t know of the breach at the time they sold the shares.

To run afoul of laws that prohibit insider trading, a seller has to be aware of nonpublic information, said Stephen Crimmins, a former enforcement lawyer for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The probe will be handled by the U.S. attorney’s office in Atlanta, where the credit firm’s headquarters is located, said one of the people. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Atlanta declined to comment.

More than one-third of U.S. senators have called on the Securities and Exchange Commission, in addition to the Justice Department, to get to the bottom of whether Equifax managers violated insider trading laws when they sold stock days after the company found out it was hacked.

Separately, state and federal regulators and law enforcers are scrutinizing the company’s data security practices and its response to the breach. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and a congressional committee with subpoena power last week joined the growing number of bodies scrutinizing the cyber attack that may have compromised the privacy of 143 million U.S. consumers. More than half a million Mainers are among those potentially affected.


]]> 0 shows Equifax Inc. offices in Atlanta. A Justice Department investigation will focus on whether top officials at Equifax violated insider trading laws when they sold stock before the company disclosed it had been hacked.Mon, 18 Sep 2017 17:34:09 +0000
Trump, in U.N. debut, urges world body to reform Mon, 18 Sep 2017 17:37:57 +0000 UNITED NATIONS – President Trump made his debut at the United Nations on Monday, using his first appearance to urge the 193-nation organization to reduce bureaucracy and costs while more clearly defining its mission around the world.

But while Trump chastised the U.N. – an organization he sharply criticized as a candidate for president – he said the United States would “pledge to be partners in your work” in order to make the body a more effective force for peace across the globe.

“In recent years, the United Nations has not reached its full potential due to bureaucracy and mismanagement,” said Trump, who rebuked the U.N. for a ballooning budget. “We are not seeing the results in line with this investment.”

The president pushed the U.N. to focus “more on people and less on bureaucracy” and to change “business as usual and not be beholden to ways of the past which were not working.” He also suggested that the U.S. was paying more than its fair share to keep the New York-based world body operational.

But he also complimented steps the United Nations had taken in the early stages of reform efforts and made no threats to withdraw U.S. support. His measured tone stood in stark contrast to his last maiden appearance at a global body, when he stood at NATO’s new Brussels headquarters in May and scolded member nations for not paying enough and refused to explicitly back its mutual defense pact.

While running for office, Trump labeled the U.N. as weak and incompetent, and not a friend of either the United States or Israel. But he has softened his tone since taking office, telling ambassadors from U.N. Security Council member countries at a White House meeting that the U.N. has “tremendous potential.”

Trump more recently has praised a pair of unanimous council votes to tighten sanctions on North Korea over its continued nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests.

Trump’s big moment comes Tuesday, when he delivers his first address to a session of the U.N. General Assembly. The annual gathering of world leaders will open amid serious concerns about Trump’s priorities, including his policy of “America First,” his support for the U.N. and a series of global crises. It will be the first time world leaders will be in the same room and able to take the measure of Trump.

The president on Monday praised U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who also spoke at the reform meeting and said he shared Trump’s vision for a less wasteful U.N. to “live up to its full potential.” The U.S. has asked member nations to sign a declaration on U.N. reforms, and more than 120 have done so. The president also kicked off his maiden speech at the world body by referring to the Trump-branded apartment tower across First Avenue from the U.N.

The speech began a busy week of diplomacy for Trump, who is slated to meet separately with more than a dozen world leaders along the sidelines of the U.N. His first bilateral meeting was Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during which he declared that they “are giving it an absolute go”‘ in Middle East peace talks.

Trump is slated to meet with the head of the Palestinian Authority later in the week, though the White House has downplayed this week as a milestone in peace negotiations. U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster said “Iran’s destabilizing behavior” would be a major focus of those discussions. While seated next to Netanyahu, a vociferous critic of the Iran nuclear deal, Trump declared “you’ll see very soon” when asked if the U.S. would stay in the agreement.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said Trump’s criticisms were accurate at the time, but that it is now a “new day” at the U.N. An organization that “talked a lot but didn’t have a lot of action” has given way to a “United Nations that’s action-oriented,” she said, noting the Security Council votes on North Korea this month.

Guterres has proposed a massive package of changes, and Haley said the U.N. is “totally moving toward reform.”

Trump arrived at the U.N. a few months after announcing that he was withdrawing the U.S. from an international climate agreement – negotiated during the Obama administration and signed by nearly 200 countries – but amid speculation that he might be softening his position.

Gary Cohn, one of Trump’s top economic advisers, reiterated during a meeting with energy ministers that Trump will proceed with the withdrawal plan unless terms more favorable to the U.S. can be negotiated, said a senior White House official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss details of a private meeting. Major European powers that support the pact have said it cannot be renegotiated.

Trump riffed on his campaign slogan when asked about his main message for the General Assembly.

“I think the main message is ‘make the United Nations great.’ Not again, ‘make the United Nations great,”‘ Trump said as he left the U.N. building. “Such tremendous potential, and I think we’ll be able to do this.”

Trump also planned talks Monday with French President Emmanuel Macron. He also was having dinner with Latin American leaders.

The United States is the largest contributor to the U.N. budget, reflecting its position as the world’s largest economy. It pays 25 percent of the U.N.’s regular operating budget and over 28 percent of the separate peacekeeping budget – a level of spending that Trump has complained is unfair. The U.S has yet to make its payment this year, leading some in the U.N. to be fearful that it may slash its contribution. An internal U.N. review of members’ contributions is slated for next year.

The Trump administration is conducting a review of the U.N.’s 16 far-flung peacekeeping operations, which cost nearly $8 billion a year.

Cutting their costs and making them more effective is a top priority for Haley but the week is also a significant one for the State Department, which has faced staff shortages while its secretary, Rex Tillerson, has been in and out of favor with Trump. A State Department spokesman said the U.S. delegation to the U.N., while slightly down from last year, is within “historic norms.”

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report.

]]> 0 Trump participates in a photo shoot before the beginning of the "Reforming the United Nations: Management, Security, and Development" meeting during the United Nations General Assembly on Monday at U.N. headquarters.Mon, 18 Sep 2017 17:56:31 +0000
Prospect of timber harvesting creates uncertainties for Katahdin Woods and Waters Mon, 18 Sep 2017 16:04:50 +0000 Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendation to allow “active timber management” within Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is raising new questions about logging on the 87,500-acre swath of federal lands in Maine’s North Woods.

In a report sent to the White House last month and leaked to the media over the weekend, Zinke proposed that President Trump use his authority “to promote a healthy forest through active timber management” and to prioritize traditional uses such as hunting and fishing in Katahdin Woods and Waters. The recommendations garnered immediate, and mixed, reactions from individuals and groups involved in the years-long debate over the monument.

Several Maine and national conservation groups criticized the vague language and the continuing secrecy over Trump’s review of 27 national monuments created by his predecessors. Groups also expressed concerns about Zinke’s use of “active timber management” – an industry phrase often used in connection with commercial harvesting – and vowed to challenge in court any attempts to conduct commercial-scale logging in Katahdin Woods and Waters. Federal law prohibits commercial wood harvesting on the land, they said.

“Because this gives us a clue as to where the administration is heading, we are looking into our options at this point,” said Kristen Brengel, vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association. “We are extremely concerned about where this is going and believe the administration should reconsider this approach and leave Katahdin alone.”

Meanwhile, advocates for hunting, snowmobiling and other “traditional uses” were encouraged by the prospect of expanded access for such activities.

“From what I’m hearing, it’s a good thing,” said Mark Marston, an East Millinocket selectman who is vice chair of the Maine Woods Coalition, which opposed the monument. “That land has always been open to people to use.”


Zinke was widely expected to recommend some timber harvesting at Katahdin Woods and Waters, based on his comments during a June visit to Maine. The Katahdin region has been at the heart of Maine’s logging heritage for centuries, and much of the opposition to the monument came from the forest products sector and local residents concerned that a federal presence could further destabilize the industry.

Yet many supporters fear that Trump could undermine a national monument that, one year after its creation, is already drawing visitors and investment to the economically troubled Katahdin region.

The leading proponent of the national monument said it remained unclear to him whether Zinke envisioned the type of restricted logging operations already allowed under federal law or more aggressive harvesting.

“I’m still waiting for the details,” said Lucas St. Clair, whose mother, conservationist and entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, donated the land east of Baxter State Park to the National Park Service last year. “If there is any frustration for me it’s having to (rehash) something that the community in the Katahdin region has been working through for a long time. We feel we owe it to the Katahdin region to be decisive and to do everything we can to help the economy and promote the natural resources” in the area.

A spokeswoman for the Interior Department did not answer a question about the meaning of “active timber management” and instead referred all queries about the recommendations to the White House.


Some Katahdin region residents remain distrustful or resentful of the national monument designation because Quimby prohibited hunting, motorized access and timber harvesting on the land when she first purchased it more than a decade ago. However, Quimby and her nonprofit, Elliotsville Plantation, subsequently relaxed many of those restrictions, and they expressly included those activities in the deeds that transferred the land east of Baxter State Park to the National Park Service last year, although trapping and commercial logging are still prohibited.

Fishing is allowed throughout Katahdin Woods and Waters, and hunting is allowed on roughly one-quarter of the parcels that make up the national monument. Snowmobiling is permitted along more than 30 miles of trails, but snowmobilers have pushed for access to additional areas.

Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, opposed creation of a North Woods national monument and praised Zinke’s recommendations.

“I am pleased with the secretary’s recommendations and I believe they strike the right balance in protecting Maine jobs and our way of life,” Poliquin said in a written statement. “This monument is right in the middle of our wood basket, and we must ensure that the hundreds of Mainers who make their living in the forest products industry are not impacted by this federal land acquisition.”

Although the final decision rests with the president, Zinke proposed changes at 10 of the 27 national monuments that he reviewed after Trump’s April 2016 executive order. According to the draft report obtained by The Washington Post and other media, Zinke recommended shrinking the size of four national monuments – such as Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument – and allowing additional activities in others, including commercial fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the southern New England coast.


Zinke’s recommendation of “active timber management” at Katahdin Woods and Waters received the most scrutiny Monday in Maine.

Under federal law, the park service is barred from commercial timber harvesting but is allowed to cut trees “to control the attacks of insects or diseases or otherwise conserve the scenery or the natural or historic objects” in parks or monuments.

Brengel, with the National Parks Conservation Association, said any logging within national monuments or parks “has to serve a conservation purpose” under federal law. The phrase “active timber management” suggested more intensive logging inconsistent with the park service’s conservation obligations, she said.

“We have to see what happens,” Brengel said. “We are obviously consulting with our attorneys.”

Organizations such as the Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council also were sharply critical of Zinke’s national monument recommendations.

Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said managing timber to “restore a healthy, natural forest” or for education purposes could be consistent with Katahdin Woods and Waters’ purpose.

“If the secretary envisions commercial timber harvesting, then it would be a clear violation of the laws that determine how the National Park Service manages lands,” Pohlmann said in a written statement. “Such a proposal would almost certainly trigger a lawsuit.”

Former President Barack Obama created Katahdin Woods and Waters on the 87,500 acres just east of Baxter State Park in August 2016 after years of heated debate. Quimby’s nonprofit donated the land to the park service along with a $20 million “endowment” and the promise of $20 million more for the monument.

But critics, led by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, convinced Trump to include Katahdin Woods and Waters on a list of 27 national monuments under review.


Other members of Maine’s congressional delegation had mixed reactions to Zinke’s recommendations.

They reflect views of people on all sides of the monument debate, said Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King. Both said they looked forward to reviewing the full report.

Longtime monument supporter Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said the Trump administration review lacked transparency.

“The recommendation of opening Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument to active timber management creates confusion and unnecessary uncertainty,” Pingree said in a statement. “The National Park Service already has the authority to manage the forest for the resource’s health, so this report raises questions about what it really opens the door for.”

St. Clair, who was the public face of the monument campaign for years, also questioned why Zinke recommended that the park service revise a monument management plan that is not even completed yet. St. Clair said he and others spent more than a decade talking to Katahdin region communities “and settled on some great compromises that allowed for traditional use.”

St. Clair said the monument needs more staffing – it has just two full-time employees – and resources to succeed.

“I’d like some support,” he said. “I’d like our governor to put signs up on the highway so people know how to get there. I’d like this not to be a political football.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

]]> 0, 19 Sep 2017 12:56:18 +0000
Surge of sea lice plagues world salmon industry Mon, 18 Sep 2017 15:54:47 +0000 ST. ANDREWS, New Brunswick — Salmon have a lousy problem, and the race to solve it is spanning the globe.

A surge of parasitic sea lice is disrupting salmon farms around the world. The tiny lice attach themselves to salmon, killing or rendering them unsuitable for dinner tables.

Meanwhile, wholesale prices of salmon are way up, as high as 50 percent last year. That means higher consumer prices for everything from salmon fillets and steaks to more expensive lox on bagels.

The lice are actually tiny crustaceans that have infested salmon farms in the U.S., Canada, Scotland, Norway and Chile, major suppliers of the high-protein, heart-healthy fish. Scientists and fish farmers are working on new ways to control the pests, which Fish Farmer Magazine stated last year costs the global aquaculture industry about $1 billion annually.

So far it has been an uphill struggle that is a threat to a way of life in countries where salmon farming is a part of the culture.

“Our work has to be quicker than the evolution of the lice,” said Jake Elliott, vice president of Cooke Aquaculture in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick.

Experts say defeating the lice will take a suite of new and established technology, including older management tools such as pesticides and newer strategies such as breeding for genetic resistance. The innovative solutions in use or development include bathing the salmon in warm water to remove lice and zapping the lice with underwater lasers.

Farmers worldwide consider sea lice the biggest threat to their industry and say the problem makes the fish more expensive to consumers.

Farmed salmon was worth nearly $12 billion in 2015, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The only hope is to develop new methods to control the spread of lice, which are present in the wild, but thrive in the tightly packed ocean pens for fish farming, said Shawn Robinson, a scientist with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“There are not enough tools right now to allow the farmer to really effectively deal with it,” Robinson said.

Research about farming salmon along with mussels, which researchers have found will eat larval sea lice, is underway.

Underwater drones inhabit the other end of the technological spectrum, zapping lice with lasers to kill them. That technology was developed in Norway and has been used there and in Scotland.

]]> 0 sea louse with an extruding attached. The tiny lice attach themselves to salmon and feed on them, killing or rendering them unsuitable for dinner tables.Mon, 18 Sep 2017 19:58:38 +0000
Sen. Collins alarmed by Medicaid cuts, limits on pre-existing conditions in latest ACA repeal proposal Mon, 18 Sep 2017 15:13:28 +0000 A last-ditch attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is gaining steam, but Maine Sen. Susan Collins – who wields a crucial vote in a closely divided Senate – raised deep concerns Monday in advance of a possible vote next week.

The plan, headed up by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, slashes Medicaid, undermines protections for pre-existing conditions and defunds Planned Parenthood, health policy analysts said. The bill comes less than two months after a dramatic late-night vote that some believed meant the repeal fight was over, and less than two weeks before the clock runs out on getting a repeal bill approved with Republican-only votes.

About 20 million Americans have ACA insurance, including 80,000 Mainers. Many of the people who have ACA insurance are self-employed or have part-time jobs that don’t offer insurance.

In a statement, Collins said, “I have a number of concerns with the Graham-Cassidy proposal, including the fundamental changes to the Medicaid program, the effect on premiums for older Americans, and the fact that the bill could allow insurers to charge higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions.

“In addition, I am very concerned by projections cited by the Maine Hospital Association, which show that the bill would cut Medicaid and other federal health care spending in Maine by more than $1 billion in the next 10 years. I will be examining carefully the forthcoming (Congressional Budget Office) analysis.”

The CBO has yet to officially score the bill, and announced Monday that it would unveil a bare-bones, preliminary analysis early next week.

The bill would result in 32 million fewer Americans with insurance, according to a left-leaning Washington think tank, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Collins was one of three Republicans to buck the party and vote “no” on ACA repeal on July 27, and she has said that bill would have been a “disaster” for the country for its deep cuts to Medicaid, skyrocketing premiums for older Americans and financial impact on rural hospitals, among other reasons. The ACA repeal attempt failed 51-49 in the Senate, with Republicans Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona joining all Democrats and left-leaning independents to defeat the bill.

Now a different bill with similar impacts – millions losing health insurance – could come before the Senate.

McCain has not indicated whether he would vote against ACA repeal if it were to come up for another vote.

Read Gov. LePage’s appeal

Collins had teamed up with Cassidy in January on a much more moderate replacement plan that would have permitted states to keep most of the Affordable Care Act and preserved many of the law’s consumer protection mandates. But while Collins has maintained a position in favor of expanding access to health care and against right-wing replacement plans since then, Cassidy has moved to the political right and is now advocating for a bill that would gut Medicaid and result in millions of Americans losing health insurance.

Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, has remained steadfastly opposed to ACA repeal.

“Senator King is committed to pursuing bipartisan solutions that strengthen the Affordable Care Act and protect healthcare for the millions of Americans who rely on the ACA for affordable access to insurance,” said Jeff Sobotko, a King spokesman. “The Graham-Cassidy bill does not achieve this objective, and instead could cut more than $1 billion in (Medicaid) health care funds from Maine over a 10-year period.”

According to Senate rules, the Graham-Cassidy bill would have to be voted on before Sept. 30 to pass by a simple majority. Otherwise, 60 votes and the cooperation of Democrats would be needed.

Simultaneously, Collins is working on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee that is contemplating fixes to the ACA. Collins has consistently said that the best way to fix the ACA is to go through the committee process. None of the Republican ACA repeal plans went through congressional committees.

Meanwhile, Gov. Paul LePage, an ACA opponent, sent a mass email sent to Republicans on Sunday, urging constituents to call Collins and King to urge them to support ACA repeal.

“Democrats are about to try and use Obamacare’s failures to have the federal government completely take over the system – if we don’t do something, that could happen,” LePage wrote. “We have one last shot, this week, to get the votes in the United States Senate to save the system from collapse or takeover.”

But Mitchell Stein, a Maine-based health policy analyst, expects Collins will be a “no” vote.

“I am optimistic she would do the right thing and vote against this, based on everything she has said over the past several months,” Stein said.

He said Graham-Cassidy is inferior to the other repeal attempts, which also would have resulted in millions without insurance.

“In some ways, it’s the worst of the bunch,” Stein said. “The insurance companies wouldn’t have to cover people. All consumer protections that are built into the ACA would go away.”

Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said in a statement that Republican leadership is “throwing something against the wall in hopes that it will stick while they can still pass it with a simple majority.”

“That’s not a responsible way to write national health care policy that will affect the lives of millions,” Pingree said. “But from what I’ve seen, this bill would be awful for the people in our state. Any way you cut it, this legislation means drastically less assistance to help Mainers access the health care they need. It’s no better than any of the other awful plans that failed in the Senate.”

Emily Brostek, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care, an Augusta-based health advocacy group, said the proposal would eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions, a “scary prospect.”

“We would be going back to a world where an insurance company could deny you coverage or charge you more based on a pre-existing condition,” Brostek said.

Planned Parenthood spokesman Amy Cookson said the bill “blocks patients from going to Planned Parenthood for preventive care, including birth control, cancer screenings, and STD testing and treatment.”

An email sent by a spokesman for Rep. Bruce Poliquin did not expressly say whether the Republican representing Maine’s 2nd District supported Graham-Cassidy. But Brendan Conley said Poliquin would not support repeal “without a viable replacement.”

Poliquin said he has a 14-point plan he would use as a “guideline” if a bill reached the House and came up for a vote.

“Congressman Poliquin has consistently discussed his 14-point plan to help fix the Obamacare ACA law, which has caused Maine people to lose their choice of health plans while premiums and deductibles continued to rise, and also expressed that he will not support a repeal of the law without a viable replacement ready,” Conley said in the email. “His focus remains on those 14 points, and he will use those as a guideline for any plan which reaches the House.”

Conley said Graham-Cassidy is a “work-in-progress” and so Poliquin will wait until a bill is before the House before weighing in.

In May, Poliquin voted for the House version of the ACA replacement plan that would have left 23 million fewer Americans with insurance. That version and all other repeal efforts have failed. Both the House and Senate would have to agree on a bill, and President Trump would have to sign it, before the Affordable Care Act could be repealed and replaced.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

Twitter: joelawlorph

]]> 0 Sen. Susan Collins, shown in her Portland office in August, wields a crucial vote in the closely divided U.S. Senate.Tue, 19 Sep 2017 00:37:34 +0000
Trump’s childhood home, now part of Airbnb, provides shelter for refugees Mon, 18 Sep 2017 13:27:28 +0000 NEW YORK – President Trump’s childhood home in New York had some new occupants over the weekend – refugees who shared their stories as a way to draw attention to the refugee crisis as the United Nations General Assembly convenes this week with Trump in attendance.

The three-story Tudor-style home in Queens that Trump’s father, Fred, built in 1940 is now a rental available on Airbnb that anyone can stay in for $725 a night. It was auctioned off to an unidentified buyer in March for $2.14 million, its second time going up for auction.

The international anti-poverty organization Oxfam rented it Saturday and invited four refugees to talk with journalists. The Republican president’s administration issued travel bans on people from six Muslim-majority countries and all refugees. After various court challenges, the Supreme Court last week allowed the restrictive policy on refugees to remain temporarily. The justices will hear arguments on the bans Oct. 10.

“We wanted to send a strong message to Trump and world leaders that they must do more to welcome refugees,” said Shannon Scribner, acting director for the humanitarian department of Oxfam America.

Trump lived in the house on a tree-lined street of single-family dwellings until he was about 4, when his family moved to another home his father had built nearby.

In an upstairs bedroom, Eiman Ali, 22, looked around at the dark wood floors and a copy of the book “Trump: The Art of the Deal” on a nearby table and wondered about the home’s previous resident.

“Knowing Donald Trump was here at the age of four makes me think about where I was at the age of four,” said Ali, her smiling face framed by a dark gray hijab. “We’re all kids who are raised to be productive citizens, who have all these dreams and hopes.”

Ali was three when she arrived in the United States from Yemen, where her parents had fled when war broke out in their native Somalia. Ali said she remembered Trump as an entertaining character on “The Celebrity Apprentice,” but has since changed her opinion.

“To have someone so outspoken against my community become the president of the United States was very eye-opening and hurtful because I have invested a lot in this country,” she said.

Down the hall, Ghassan al-Chahada, 41, a Syrian refugee who arrived in the United States with his wife and three children in 2012, sat in a room with bunk beds and a sign on the wall that said it likely was Trump’s childhood bedroom.

“Before the conflict began in Syria we had dreams of coming to America,” al-Chahada said. “For us, it was a dream come true.”

Al-Chahada said his life changed when Trump signed the ban that barred people from Syria and five other countries, from entering the United States.

“I had hopes I would get my green card and be able to visit my country,” al-Chahada said. “But since Trump was elected I don’t dare, I don’t dare leave this country and not be able to come back.”

He looked out the window into the front yard and thought about what he would say to the president.

“I would advise him to remember, to think about how he felt when he slept in this bedroom,” al-Chahada said. “If he can stay in tune with who he was as a child, the compassion children have and the mercy, I would say he’s a great person.”

]]> 0 Iftin, left, of Somalia, Uyen Nguyen, second from left, of Vietnam, Eiman Ali, right, of Somalia born in Yemen, and Ghassan al-Chahada, of Syria pose for a photo outside President Trump's boyhood home in the Jamaica Estates neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York.Mon, 18 Sep 2017 10:36:32 +0000
U.S. flies powerful warplanes amid tensions with North Korea Mon, 18 Sep 2017 13:00:39 +0000 SEOUL, South Korea – The U.S. military flew advanced bombers and stealth jets over the Korean Peninsula and near Japan in drills with South Korean and Japanese warplanes on Monday, three days after North Korea fired a missile over Japan.

The United States often sends powerful military aircraft in a show of force in times of heightened animosities with North Korea. The North launched its latest missile as it protested against tough new U.N. sanctions over its sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3.

Monday’s flyovers involved two B-1Bs and four F-35Bs from the U.S. military and four F-15K fighter jets from South Korea, according to the South Korean and U.S. militaries. The U.S. and South Korean planes flew across the Korean Peninsula and practiced attacks by releasing live weapons at a firing range in South Korea, the U.S. Pacific Command said in a statement.

The U.S. warplanes also conducted formation training with Japanese fighter jets over waters near the southern island of Kyushu, according to the Pacific Command.

Since Kim Jong Un took power in North Korea in late 2011, his nation has tested weapons at a torrid pace. The country flight-tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July. Its nuclear test in September was its most powerful to date.

Many experts say it’s only a matter of time until Kim achieves his stated objective of possessing reliable nuclear-tipped missiles capable of striking anywhere in the mainland U.S.

State media on Saturday quoted Kim as saying that North Korea’s final goal “is to establish the equilibrium of real force with the U.S. and make the U.S. rulers dare not talk about military option” for the North.

Alarmed by North Korea’s advancing weapons programs, many conservatives in South Korea have called for the reintroduction of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in the South. But the liberal-leaning government of President Moon Jae-in said it has no intention of requesting that the U.S. bring back such weapons.

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo told lawmakers on Monday that it is “not proper” to reintroduce U.S. nuclear weapons. He previously said the idea should be “deeply considered” by the allies, inflaming already-heated debate on the issue.

]]> 0 this photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, South Korean F-15K fighter jets drop bombs as they fly over the Korean Peninsula during joint drills with the U.S.Mon, 18 Sep 2017 18:22:46 +0000
Hurricane Maria grows, threatens storm-battered Caribbean Mon, 18 Sep 2017 12:53:31 +0000 ROSEAU, Dominica — Hurricane Maria swept over the small island of Dominica with catastrophic Category 5 winds overnight, starting a charge into the eastern Caribbean that threatens islands already devastated by Hurricane Irma and holds the possibility of a direct hit on Puerto Rico.

Fierce winds and driving rain lashed mountainous Dominica for hours, causing flooding and tearing roofs from homes. A police official on the island, Inspector Pellam Jno Baptiste, said late Monday that there were no immediate reports of casualties but it was still too dangerous for officers to do a full assessment as the storm raged outside.

“Where we are, we can’t move,” he said in a brief phone interview while hunkered down against the region’s second Category 5 hurricane this month.

Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit earlier captured the fury of Maria as it made landfall. “The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God,” Skerrit wrote at the start of a series of increasingly harrowing posts on Facebook.

A few minutes later, he messaged he could hear the sound of galvanized steel roofs tearing off houses on the small rugged island.

He then wrote that he thought his home had been damaged. And three words: “Rough! Rough! Rough!”

A half hour later, he said: “My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding.” Seven minutes later he posted that he had been rescued.

Officials in Guadeloupe said the French island near Dominica probably would experience heavy flooding and warned that many communities could be submerged. In nearby Martinique, authorities ordered people to remain indoors and said they should be prepared for power cuts and disruption in the water supply.

Authorities in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico warned that people in wooden or flimsy homes should find safe shelter before the storm’s expected arrival there on Wednesday.

“You have to evacuate. Otherwise, you’re going to die,” said Hector Pesquera, the island’s public safety commissioner. “I don’t know how to make this any clearer.”

Maria had maximum sustained winds of 160 mph late Monday. The eye was atop Dominica and about 270 miles southeast of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was heading west-northwest at 9 mph.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm would likely intensify over the next 24 hours or longer, noting its eye had shrunk to a compact 10 miles across and warning: “Maria is developing the dreaded pinhole eye.”

That generally means an extremely strong hurricane will get even mightier, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami. He said it just like when a spinning ice skater brings in their arms and rotates faster.

This imagery composite shows the path and intensity of Hurricane Maria. NOAA National Hurricane Center

“You just don’t see those in weaker hurricanes,” he said.

The storm’s hurricane-force winds extended out about 35 miles and tropical storm-force winds out as far as 125 miles.

Hurricane warnings were posted for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. A tropical storm warning was issued for Martinique, Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, St. Lucia and Anguilla.

Forecasters said storm surge could raise water levels by 6 to 9 feet) near the storm’s center. The storm was predicted to bring 10 to 15 inches of rain across the islands, with more in isolated areas.

The current forecast track would carry it about 22 miles south of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands late Tuesday and early Wednesday, territorial Gov. Kenneth Mapp said.

“We are going to have a very, very long night,” Mapp said as he urged people in the territory to finish any preparations.

St. Thomas and St. John are still stunned from a direct hit by Hurricane Irma, which did extensive damage and caused four deaths on the two islands.

Barry University said it chartered a private plane to carry students and staff from its St. Croix facility to Florida in preparation for Maria. It said 72 people connected to the Barry’s Physician Assistant Program and a few pets were on Monday’s evacuation flight.

In neighboring Puerto Rico, nearly 70,000 people were still without power following their brush with Irma and nearly 200 remained in shelters as Maria approached.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Puerto Rico had 500 shelters capable of taking in up to 133,000 people in a worst-case scenario. He also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was ready to bring drinking water and help restore power immediately after the storm, which could hit as a Category 5 hurricane.

“That is catastrophic in every way,” said Roberto Garcia with the National Weather Service in San Juan. “People have to act, and they have to act now. They can no longer wait for a miracle.”

To the north, Hurricane Jose stirred up dangerous surf and rip currents along the U.S. East Coast, though forecasters said the storm was unlikely to make landfall. Big waves caused by the storm swept five people off a coastal jetty in Rhode Island and they were hospitalized after being rescued.

A tropical storm warning was posted for coastal areas in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and tropical storm watches were up for parts of New York’s Long Island and Connecticut.

Jose’s center was about 230 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and moving north at 8 mph. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph.

]]>, 19 Sep 2017 00:35:19 +0000
Boston College student in France acid attack asks for prayers for suspect Mon, 18 Sep 2017 11:25:35 +0000 BOSTON – American college students attacked with acid at a train station in France have offered compassion and prayers for their assailant, who authorities say suffers from a mental illness.

French authorities have said they don’t believe extremist views motivated the 41-year-old woman arrested in the attack on the four Boston College students, who are studying abroad.

One of the students, Courtney Siverling, said in a post on Facebook that she was not injured and that all the women are “safe.”

“I pray that the attacker would be healed from her mental illness in the name of Jesus and receive the forgiveness and salvation that can only come from Him,” said Siverling, of Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.

The four women intend to remain in Europe to continue their studies, the spokesman for Boston College told The Associated Press.

The four were attacked Sunday morning at the Saint Charles train station in the southern French city of Marseille. Police in France described the suspect as “disturbed” and said the attack was not thought to be terror-related, according to a statement from Boston College, a private Jesuit school.

College spokesman Jack Dunn said the women were released from the hospital and expected to return to Paris on Monday.

Michelle Krug said she was one of two who got hit in the eye with “a weak solution of hydrochloric acid.” She asked friends to “please consider thinking about/praying for our attacker” so she can receive help.

“Mental illness is not a choice and should not be villainized,” Krug, of White Plains, New York, wrote, adding she planned to continue her “incredible opportunity” to study in France.

Kelsey Kosten said on Facebook that all the women are doing much better and that she is looking forward to returning to Copenhagen to continue her studies abroad. Her father, Phillip Kosten, told The Boston Globe at his Winchester, Massachusetts, home that his daughter is “fine” and asked for privacy for his family.

]]> 0 image taken from video shows passengers inside Marseille-Saint-Charles railway station in Marseille, France, on Sunday.Mon, 18 Sep 2017 14:16:54 +0000
States boost efforts to block access to public records Mon, 18 Sep 2017 01:48:43 +0000 LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — In February, Arkansas lawmakers marked the 50-year anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act with a resolution calling it “a shining example of open government” that had ensured access to vital public records for generations.

They spent the following weeks debating and, in many cases approving, new exemptions to the law in what critics called an unprecedented attack on the public’s right to know.

When they were finished, universities could keep secret all information related to their police forces, including their size and the names and salaries of officers. Public schools could shield a host of facts related to security, including the identities of teachers carrying concealed weapons and emergency response plans. And state Capitol police could withhold anything they believed could be “detrimental to public safety” if made public.

While hailed by lawmakers as commonsense steps to thwart would-be terrorists or mass shooters, the new laws left grandmother Annie Bryant worried that she and other parents could now be kept in the dark about how schools protect kids.

“I don’t want to be overly aggressive to the point that we block out avenues and end up robbing parents, robbing students of information about their safety,” said Bryant, who lives in Pine Bluff and spoke out against the school security secrecy during a legislative hearing.

Lawmakers across the country introduced and debated dozens of bills during this year’s legislative sessions that would close or limit public access to a wide range of government records and meetings, according to a review by The Associated Press and numerous state press associations.

Most of those proposals did not become law, but freedom-of-information advocates in some states said they were struck by the number of bills they believed would harm the public interest, and they are bracing for more fights next year.

Nebraska lawmakers debated whether to keep secret the identity of the suppliers of lethal-injection drugs used in executions. The California Legislature rushed through a measure that shielded from the public the emergency action plans required for potentially unsafe dams – an idea that arose after nearly 200,000 people were forced to evacuate following a spillway failure at the state’s second-largest reservoir. Texas again considered a plan that would effectively shut down its public records law to any requesters who live outside the nation’s second most populous state.


In some cases, the bills hit resistance only after reporters caught on and began writing about them.

In Iowa, the House passed a bill to shield the audio of many 911 calls by declaring them confidential “medical records” after the AP used the open-records law to expose a series of gun-related accidents involving minors in one rural county. The plan died in the Senate after it was detailed in news reports, and media and civil rights groups raised objections.

Days later, the potential impact of the bill became clear when a beloved state celebrity, farmer Chris Soules of “The Bachelor” fame, was charged with leaving the scene of a deadly accident. A 911 call that would have remained confidential under the bill painted a far more sympathetic picture of Soules’ actions, showing he immediately reported the crash and sought aid for the 66-year-old victim.

Iowa lawmakers succeeded in passing another anti-transparency bill, approving unprecedented secrecy for the state’s $1 billion gambling industry by closing access to the detailed annual financial statements of the state’s 19 licensed casinos. Those records had been public for decades. The change came in response to lobbying from casinos, which had objected to a request from an out-of-state competitor for the records by claiming they contained proprietary information.

Florida has some of the nation’s strongest open-records and open-meetings laws, but that did not stop lawmakers from trying to tinker with them. This year, they passed 19 new exemptions to the Sunshine Law, the second most in at least two decades. The details of how public universities investigate cyberattacks and prepare for emergencies are now confidential. The identities of people who witness murders, use medical marijuana or get injured or killed at workplaces must also be withheld.

“I think the sheer number of new exemptions that were created was a bit alarming. It was almost a record. That’s never good,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, who has tracked transparency legislation in Florida since the 1990s.

One of the worst for the public’s right to know, Petersen said, is a bill requiring records of criminal charges that result in acquittal or dismissal to be automatically sealed. She asked Gov. Rick Scott to veto the measure, arguing it would harm public safety by depriving employers of relevant information about onetime suspects who avoided convictions for any number of reasons. Scott ended up signing the bill, which supporters say will protect the wrongly accused from employment and reputational repercussions.

Still, many other bills that concerned Petersen were defeated, including measures that would have kept secret the names of applicants for top university jobs and allowed members of government boards to have more private meetings.


Lawmakers supporting the limits say other concerns such as security, privacy and business interests can outweigh the public’s right to information in specific cases.

They say they proposed the changes after hearing complaints about information sought by specific requesters and general concerns about the cost and time of fulfilling the requests. Criticism of journalists seeking the records or citizens filing repeat requests sometimes came up in debate.

Kansas lawmakers proposed a bill that would keep the state database of fired police officers secret after Wichita television station KWCH exposed how some cities were hiring officers with checkered pasts, including a chief facing a federal investigation after being fired three times. The bill, which was backed by the state’s law enforcement training agency, stalled after the station’s news director warned lawmakers it would make government “less open, less transparent” around the critical issues of police misconduct and public trust.

In Arkansas, a request for seemingly innocuous information became the catalyst for the sweeping bill passed earlier this year that exempts all “records or other information” held by universities that, if released, could potentially harm public safety.

A photographer filed a request in 2015 for the names of officers assigned to work a security detail for the upcoming Mississippi State-Arkansas football game. The woman, who was shooting the game for AP, wanted to learn whether she might cross paths with an officer she had accused of rape.

University of Arkansas officials were unaware of the motive behind the request and were focused on preventing a terrorist attack at the stadium. The new law they backed specifically shields information related to the number of security personnel on campuses, any personal information about them, and all of their emergency plans, procedures and studies.

The bill also included a similar exemption for public schools. The sponsor, Republican Sen. Gary Stubblefield, said he pushed for that language after a district armed some of its teachers and staff as volunteer security guards, saying he wanted to keep their identities secret for safety reasons.

“I’m not against FOI. I believe strongly in transparency, I really do, but common sense just tells you there are some things that you cannot release especially in the day in which we live,” Stubblefield said. “Because there are actually people out there who are just looking for something, an edge where they can get in and do some damage. And I just don’t think we ought to give it to them.”


Supporters of the exemption for the Arkansas Capitol Police said it was needed because the news media had written in 1998 about secret plans to allow former Gov. Mike Huckabee to escape his office by climbing a ladder into an abandoned elevator shaft.

The disclosure caused the state to delay and modify the escape route, which was completed in 2001 and later shown to reporters by the governor’s staff. The new law gives the agency wide authority to keep secret any records related to security at the Capitol and governor’s mansion.

By the end of the session, some lawmakers believed the proposed changes were going too far.

The Legislature voted to create a new task force to study the exemptions, including whether any should be deleted or added. The House voted 33-32 to block legislation that would allow the government to declare a public records request “unduly burdensome” and give 15 business days to comply instead of the current three. A measure that would have allowed universities to keep secret wide categories of records related to potential legal action failed.

Tom Larimer, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association, said lawmakers did more damage to freedom of information than in any other session since 2004.

“We’ve always had a certain number of legislators who have had no use for the Freedom of Information Act and have no serious concerns about transparency in government,” he said. “But it just seemed like there were more of them this time, and they were more willing to side with those who are perpetually on the side of weakening the FOI.”


]]> 0 Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to a joint session of the Arkansas Legislature as it wraps up work in its regular session in Little Rock, Ark. After celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act last February, they spent the following weeks debating and, in many cases approving, new exemptions to the law. (Associated Press/Kelly P. Kissel)Sun, 17 Sep 2017 21:58:05 +0000
Trump mocks North Korean leader as ‘Rocket Man’ Mon, 18 Sep 2017 00:55:40 +0000 SOMERSET, N.J. — President Trump on Sunday mocked the leader of nuclear-armed North Korea as “Rocket Man” while White House advisers said the isolated nation would face destruction unless it shelves its weapons programs and bellicose threats.

Trump’s chief diplomat held out hope the North would return to the bargaining table, though the president’s envoy to the United Nations said the Security Council had “pretty much exhausted” all its options.

Kim Jong Un has pledged to continue the North’s programs, saying his country is nearing its goal of “equilibrium” in military force with the United States.

North Korea will be high on the agenda for world leaders this week at the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, Trump’s biggest moment on the world stage since his inauguration in January.

Trump is scheduled to address the world body, which he has criticized as weak and incompetent, on Tuesday.

Trump, who spent the weekend at his New Jersey golf club, tweeted that he and South Korean President Moon Jae-in discussed North Korea during their latest telephone conversation Saturday.

Asked about Trump’s description of Kim, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said “Rocket Man” was “a new one and I think maybe for the president.” But, he said, “that’s where the rockets are coming from. Rockets, though, we ought to probably not laugh too much about because they do represent a great threat to all.”

McMcaster said Kim is “going to have to give up his nuclear weapons because the president has said he’s not going to tolerate this regime threatening the United States and our citizens with a nuclear weapon.”

Asked if that meant Trump would launch a military strike, McMaster said “he’s been very clear about that, that all options are on the table.”

Some doubt that Kim would ever agree to surrender his arsenal.

“I think that North Korea is not going to give up its program with nothing on the table,” said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Kim has threatened Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific, and has fired missiles over Japan, a U.S. ally. North Korea also recently tested its most powerful bomb.

The U.N. Security Council has voted unanimously twice in recent weeks to tighten economic sanctions on North Korea, including targeting shipments of oil and other fuel used in missile testing. Trump’s U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, said North Korea was starting to “feel the pinch.”

Trump, in a tweet, asserted that long lines for gas were forming in North Korea, and he said that was “too bad.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was waiting for the North to express interest in “constructive, productive talks.”

“All they need to do to let us know they’re ready to talk is to just stop these tests, stop these provocative actions, and let’s lower the threat level and the rhetoric,” he said.

But Haley warned of a tougher U.S. response to future North Korean provocations, and said she would be happy to turn the matter over to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “because he has plenty of military options.”

Mattis said after Kim tested a hydrogen bomb earlier this month that the U.S. would answer any threat from the North with a “massive military response.”

]]> 0 trucks full of sand are lined up along Fifth Avenue in front of Trump Tower in New York on Sunday. World leaders gather at the United Nations starting Monday. President Trump and France's new leader, Emmanuel Macron, will both be making their first appearance at the General Assembly.Sun, 17 Sep 2017 20:59:50 +0000
Caribbean islands brace for Hurricane Maria Mon, 18 Sep 2017 00:26:54 +0000 SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — The islands of the eastern Caribbean prepared Sunday to face another potential disaster, with forecasters saying newly formed and likely to strengthen Hurricane Maria was headed for a hit on the Leeward Islands by Monday night.

Hurricane or tropical storm warnings were posted for many of the islands already coping with the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, including St. Barts and Antigua and Barbuda.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Maria was expected to gain power and could be near major hurricane strength while crossing through the Leeward Islands late Monday on a path aiming toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph late Sunday afternoon. It was centered about 275 miles east-southeast of Dominica and heading west-northwest at 15 mph.

The hurricane center said hurricane conditions should begin to affect parts of the Leeward Islands by Monday night.

It could make a direct hit on Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, long-lived Hurricane Jose was moving northward off the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard, kicking up dangerous surf and rip currents. It wasn’t expected to make landfall but tropical storm watches were posted for all of the coast from Delaware to Massachusetts’ Cape Cod.

Jose was centered about 335 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and was moving north at 9 mph. It had maximum sustained winds of 90 mph.

In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Norma’s threat to Mexico’s Los Cabos area appeared to be easing. Forecasters said the storm’s center was likely to remain offshore.

]]> 0, 17 Sep 2017 20:46:43 +0000
Salmon endure lingering effects of warm waters off West Coast Mon, 18 Sep 2017 00:23:11 +0000 SEATTLE — The mass of warm water known as “the blob” that heated up the North Pacific Ocean has dissipated, but scientists are still seeing the lingering effects of those unusually warm sea surface temperatures on Pacific Northwest salmon and steelhead.

Federal research surveys this summer caught among the lowest numbers of juvenile coho and Chinook salmon in 20 years, suggesting that many fish did not survive their first months at sea. Scientists warn that salmon fisheries may face hard times in the next few years.

Fisheries managers also worry about below average runs of steelhead returning to the Columbia River.

Returns of adult steelhead that went to sea as juveniles a year ago so far rank among the lowest in 50 years.

Scientists believe poor ocean conditions are likely to blame: Cold-water salmon and steelhead are confronting an ocean ecosystem that has been shaken up in recent years.

“The blob’s fairly well dissipated and gone. But all these indirect effects that it facilitated are still there,” said Brian Burke, a research fisheries biologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Marine creatures found farther south and in warmer waters have turned up in abundance along the coasts of Washington and Oregon, some for the first time.

“That’s going to have a really big impact on the dynamics in the ecosystem,” Burke said. “They’re all these new players that are normally not part of the system.”

Researchers with NOAA Fisheries and Oregon State University Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies have been surveying off the Pacific Northwest for 20 years to study juvenile salmon survival.

In June, they caught record numbers of warm-water fish such as Pacific pompano and jack mackerel, a potential salmon predator.

But the catch of juvenile coho and Chinook salmon during the June survey – which has been tied to adult returns – was among the three lowest in 20 years.

Burke and other scientists warned in a memo to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries administrators last month that poor ocean conditions may mean poor salmon returns to the Columbia River system over the next few years.

“There was hardly any salmon out there,” Burke said. “Something is eating them and we don’t know what and we don’t know precisely where.”

]]> 0 circle inside a lock where they joined boats heading from salt water Shilshole Bay into fresh water Salmon Bay at the Ballard Locks in Seattle. Federal research surveys this summer turned up among the lowest numbers of juvenile salmon in 20 years.Sun, 17 Sep 2017 20:26:19 +0000
Closing U.S. embassy in Cuba ‘under review,’ Tillerson says Mon, 18 Sep 2017 00:05:02 +0000 NEW YORK — The Trump administration is considering closing down the recently reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana after a string of unexplained incidents harming the health of American diplomats in Cuba, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday.

Tillerson’s comments were the strongest indication to date that the United States might mount a major diplomatic response, potentially jeopardizing the historic restart of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. The two former foes reopened embassies in Washington and Havana in 2015 after a half-century of estrangement.

“We have it under evaluation,” Tillerson said of a possible embassy closure. “It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered. We’ve brought some of those people home. It’s under review.”

Of the 21 medically confirmed U.S. victims – diplomats and their families – some have permanent hearing loss or concussions, while others suffered nausea, headaches and ear-ringing. Some are struggling with concentration or common word recall.

Some victims felt vibrations or heard loud sounds mysteriously audible in only parts of rooms, leading investigators to consider a potential “sonic attack.” Others heard nothing but later developed symptoms.

Tillerson once called the events “health attacks,” but the State Department has since used the term “incidents” while emphasizing the U.S. still doesn’t know what has occurred. Cuba has denied any involvement or responsibility but stressed it’s eager to help the U.S. resolve the matter.

The U.S. has said the tally of Americans affected could grow as more cases are potentially detected. The last reported incident was on Aug. 21, according to a U.S. official briefed on the matter.

A decision to shutter the embassy, even temporarily, would deal a demoralizing blow to the delicate detente that President Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro announced in late 2014. The next year, embassies were reopened and restrictions on travel and commerce eased – signs of a warming relationship that displeased some hard-liners in Cuba’s government. President Trump has reversed some of the changes, but left many in place.

Tillerson spoke on CBS’ “Face the Nation” as world leaders and top diplomats descended on New York for annual U.N. General Assembly meetings.

]]> 0 Sun, 17 Sep 2017 20:11:23 +0000
Louisiana slayings called likely racially motivated Sun, 17 Sep 2017 23:39:28 +0000 BATON ROUGE, La. — The slayings of two black men in Baton Rouge last week were likely racially motivated, police said Sunday, and a suspect – a 23-year-old white man – was in custody.

In both shootings, the gunman fired from his car and then walked up to the victims as they were lying on the ground and fired again multiple times.

The suspect, Kenneth Gleason, was being held on drug charges. Authorities didn’t immediately have enough evidence to arrest him on charges related to the killings, but the investigation was ongoing, Baton Rouge Sgt. L’Jean Mckneely said.

“The victims were … ambushed,” Mckneely said. “There is a strong possibility that it could be racially motivated.”

Mckneely said shell casings from the shootings linked the two slayings, and a car belonging to Gleason fit the description of the vehicle used in the killings. He said authorities had collected other circumstantial evidence but he wouldn’t say what it was.

Neither victim had any prior relationship with Gleason.

The shootings happened about five miles from each other. The first occurred Tuesday night when 59-year-old Bruce Cofield, who was homeless, was shot to death. The second happened Thursday night when 49-year-old Donald Smart was gunned down while walking to his job as a dishwasher at a cafe popular with Louisiana State University students, Mckneely said.

Smart’s aunt, Mary Smart, said she was still dealing with the shock of her nephew’s death.

“I’m feeling down and depressed. My nephew, I love him, and he was on his way to work and that makes it so sad,” she said in a telephone interview Sunday. “He was always smiling and hugging everybody. A lot of people knew him.”

Smart had a son and two daughters, she said.

She declined to comment on police allegations that her nephew might have been shot because of the color of his skin.

“I cannot say,” she said. “Only God knows.”

No one answered the door at Gleason’s house in a quiet neighborhood of mostly ranch-style homes with well-kept lawns, located about 10 miles from the sites of the shootings.

“He looks like any clean-cut American kid,” said neighbor Nancy Reynolds, who said she didn’t know Gleason or his family. She said it was “hard to believe this sort of thing is still happening.”

Gleason didn’t appear to have any active social media profiles, and two of his maternal aunts declined to comment when reached by phone. Messages left at his parents’ house and at another aunt’s house were not returned.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said a judge could issue a ruling on bond for Gleason later Sunday. Moore wouldn’t comment on what led investigators to him.

“We’re actively investigating right now,” Moore said.

Detectives searched Gleason’s home Saturday and found 9 grams of marijuana and vials of human growth hormone at his house, according to a police document. After Gleason was read his Miranda rights, he claimed ownership of the drugs, the document said.

Louisiana’s capital, a city of 229,000, is known for its championship college football team and its political scene. A year ago, racial tensions roiled the city when a black man was shot to death by white police officers outside of a convenience store. About two weeks later, a black gunman targeted police in an ambush, killing three officers before he was shot to death. The city is about 55 percent black and 40 percent white.

Smart consistently showed up for his overnight shift as a dishwasher at Louie’s Cafe in a spotless white T-shirt and bright white Nike tennis shoes, The Advocate newspaper reported.

“I’ve seen 26 years of folks washing dishes in a busy diner and this guy is untouchable,” Louie’s general manager, Fred Simonson, was quoted as saying.

“When you have an employee like Donald, he’s the type of person who’s going to make the person next to him better,” Simonson said.

]]> 0 shown in an undated booking photo provided by the East Baton Rouge Sheriff'Äôs Office. Police believe the slayings of two black men in Baton Rouge were likely racially motivated and said Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, that they have a person of interest 'Äî Gleason'Äî in custody. Gleason, was being held on drug charges. Authorities do not yet have enough evidence to charge him with murder, Baton Rouge Sgt. L'Jean McKneely told The Associated Press. (East Baton Rouge Sheriff'Äôs Office via AP)Sun, 17 Sep 2017 19:41:14 +0000
Four Boston College students attacked with acid in France Sun, 17 Sep 2017 17:57:43 +0000 PARIS — Four American college students were attacked with acid Sunday at a train station in the French city of Marseille, but French authorities so far do not think extremist views motivated the 41-year-old woman who was arrested as the alleged assailant, the local prosecutor’s office and the students’ school said.

Boston College, a private Jesuit university in Massachusetts, said in a statement Sunday that the four female students were treated for burns at a Marseille hospital after they were sprayed in the face with acid Sunday morning. The statement said the four all were juniors studying abroad, three of them at the college’s Paris program.

“It appears that the students are fine, considering the circumstances, though they may require additional treatment for burns,” said Nick Gozik, who directs Boston College’s Office of International Programs. “We have been in contact with the students and their parents and remain in touch with French officials and the U.S. Embassy regarding the incident.”

Police in France described the suspect as “disturbed” and said the attack was not thought at this point to be terror-related, according to the university.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said earlier Sunday that its counter-terrorism division had decided for the time being not to assume jurisdiction for investigating the attack. The prosecutor’s office in the capital, which has responsibility for all terror-related cases in France, did not explain the reasoning behind the decision.

A spokeswoman for the Marseille prosecutor’s office said that the suspect did not make any extremist threats or declarations during the late morning attack at the city’s Saint Charles train station. She said there were no obvious indications that the woman’s actions were terror-related.

The spokeswoman spoke on condition of anonymity, per the custom of the French judicial system. She said all four of the victims were in their 20s and were treated at a hospital, two of them for shock. The suspect was taken into police custody.

Boston College identified the students as Courtney Siverling, Charlotte Kaufman, Michelle Krug and Kelsey Korsten.

The Marseille fire department was alerted just after 11 a.m. and dispatched four vehicles and 14 firefighters to the train station, a department spokeswoman said.

Two of the Americans were “slightly injured” with acid but did not require emergency medical treatment from medics at the scene, the spokeswoman said. She requested anonymity in keeping with fire department protocol.

Regional newspaper La Provence, quoting unidentified police officials, reported that the suspect had a history of mental health problems and noted that she remained at the site of the attack without trying to flee.

A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Paris said the U.S. consulate in Marseille was in contact with French authorities. Marseille is a port city in southern France that is closer to Barcelona than Paris.

]]> 0 image taken from video shows passengers inside Marseille-Saint-Charles railway station in Marseille, France, on Sunday.Sun, 17 Sep 2017 19:37:36 +0000