Nation & World – Press Herald Wed, 29 Mar 2017 13:22:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 After defeat on Obamacare, Trump advisers want him to delay another campaign pledge Wed, 29 Mar 2017 12:56:24 +0000 WASHINGTON – One of President Donald Trump’s economic advisers, a co-author of his tax plan, is urging the administration to delay efforts to make child care more affordable. The advice comes days after Trump failed to persuade the Republican-dominated Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare, a core campaign promise.

Steven Moore, a policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the White House can nab an early win with tax reform – by perhaps opting for a politically safer package.

“Trump needs a victory,” Moore said. “Individual tax reform is really hard to do. It’s politically risky, even though it’s the right thing to do.”

Trump could focus instead on corporate tax reform this year, he said, and tackle the individual system in 2018. Such an approach could more quickly slash business expenses nationwide, but working parents would have to wait longer for tax-deductible day care, another campaign pledge.

“Obviously,” Moore said, “child care wouldn’t have a place in that.”

During the campaign, Trump said he would streamline the tax system, a feat last accomplished under the Reagan administration. His proposal, unveiled in September, would reduce the number of brackets from seven to three, with rates of 12 percent, 25 percent and 33 percent.

The blueprint also expanded relief for families who face staggering day-care bills. Trump wanted to allow households to deduct the average cost of child care from their income taxes. He did not reveal how, exactly, the new deductions would work, but credited his older daughter, Ivanka Trump, for coming up with the idea.

“For many families, child care is now the single largest expense, even more so than housing,” he said in a September speech.

In the United States, the average cost of child care ranges from about $5,400 annually in Alabama to roughly $22,000 in Washington, D.C., according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a think tank in the District of Columbia.

The Trump campaign claimed that middle-class parents would benefit the most from the child care plan.

“A married couple earning $50,000 per year with two children and $8,000 in child care expenses will save 35 percent from their current tax bill,” the Trump campaign told The Washington Post. “Married couples earning $5 million per year with two children and $12,000 in child care expenses will get only a 3 percent reduction in their tax bill.”

The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan group, estimated that Trump’s tax plan would slash federal revenue by $4.4 trillion over a decade – or by $2.6 trillion, factoring in the estimated economic growth it would produce.

Larry Kudlow, an informal Trump adviser, would not comment on whether the administration would change course on tax reform. But, he added, “there’s been some debate in the White House.”

Kudlow, who helped Trump with his tax plan, said he thinks starting with business reform is a wiser idea. “You might get some bipartisan support,” he said, “and more business-investment impact, rapidly, which is what we need right now.”

Marc Goldwein, senior policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan research organization, said lawmakers for years have debated the best approach to tax reform. “We keep going in a policy circle on this,” he said.

Economists have long debated if and how tax tweaks could lift the economy. The political landscape is easier to read.

“There’s some left-right agreement that the corporate rate should be lower,” Goldwein said, “but there’s not even an agreement on the direction of the individual rate.”

]]> 0, 29 Mar 2017 09:05:08 +0000
Britain formally delivers breakup letter to EU triggering Brexit talks Wed, 29 Mar 2017 11:50:44 +0000 LONDON — The United Kingdom filed for divorce from the European Union on Wednesday, overturning four decades of integration with its neighbors, demolishing the notion that EU expansion is inevitable and shaking the foundations of a bloc that is facing challenges to its identity and its place in the world.

Britain’s top envoy to the EU, Tim Barrow, hand-delivered a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk formally triggering a two-year countdown to the final split.

“Today the government acts on the democratic will of the British people,” Prime Minister Theresa May told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

For Britons who voted to leave the bloc in a referendum nine months ago, it was a time for celebration.

“In my opinion, this is the greatest moment in modern British history,” said Brendan Chilton, general secretary of the pro-Brexit group Labour Leave. “We are finally beginning the process by which we leave the European Union, restore our Parliament and once again become a sovereign nation.”

For “remain” campaigners, it was time to fight for a divorce settlement that preserves what they see as key benefits of EU membership, including free trade in goods and services and the right to live and work anywhere in the bloc.

“The phony war is over,” said Joe Carberry, co-director of the pro-EU pressure group, Open Britain. He said Britain had decided that it would leave the bloc — but “the issue of how we will leave, and the democratic checks and balances along the process of the negotiations, remains unresolved.”

For Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU’s executive Commission, Britain’s departure is “a failure and a tragedy.”

The loss of a major member is destabilizing for the EU, which is battling to contain a tide of nationalist and populist sentiment and faces unprecedented antipathy from the new resident of the White House.

It is even more tumultuous for Britain. For all the U.K. government’s confident talk of forging a close and friendly new relationship with its neighbors, it cannot be sure what it’s future relationship with the bloc will look like — whether businesses will freely be able to trade, students to study abroad or pensioners to retire with ease in other EU states. Those things have become part of life since the U.K. joined what was then called the European Economic Community in 1973.

It’s not even certain that the United Kingdom will survive the exit intact. Scotland’s parliament voted Tuesday to back First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a referendum on independence within two years. Scottish voters backed remaining in the EU in last year’s vote, and Sturgeon insists Scotland must not be “taken down a path that we do not want to go down without a choice.”

May insists “now is not the time” for a referendum, setting her on course for a showdown with the Edinburgh administration just when the U.K. government wants to devote all its energies to the EU talks.

The trigger for all the economic and constitutional uncertainty is Article 50, a previously obscure clause of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty that allows a member state to withdraw from the bloc. The two sides now have until March 2019 to agree on a divorce settlement and — if possible — establish a new relationship between Britain, the world’s fifth-largest economy, and the EU, a vast single market stretching over 27 countries and half a billion people.

Brexit Secretary David Davis — the man charged with leading Britain’s side in the talks — has called it “the most complicated negotiation in modern times, maybe the most complicated negotiation of all time.”

Tusk has said that within 48 hours he will respond with a draft negotiating guidelines for the remaining 27 member states to consider. Leaders of those nations will then meet on April 29 to finalize their negotiating platform before instructing the EU’s chief negotiator, French diplomat Michel Barnier.

Then Barnier will sit down with his British counterpart, Davis, who has said the first item on the agenda will probably be: “How we do this?”

As in many divorces, the first area of conflict is likely to be money. The EU wants Britain to pay a hefty bill — Juncker put it at around 50 billion euros ($63 billion) — to cover pension liabilities for EU staff and other commitments the U.K. has agreed to.

British negotiators are sure to quibble over the size of the tab.

Davis said Monday that Britain will “meet our international obligations,” but added: “I don’t think we are going to be seeing that sort of money change hands.”

Juncker has said the EU will not try to punish Britain for leaving.

“I do not think we will get anywhere by clobbering the British, insulting them and driving too hard a bargain,” he said in a speech this month. But, he added, “There can be no cherry picking either. …. You are either in or out.”

Negotiations will soon hit a major contraction: Britain wants “frictionless” free trade, but says it will restore control of immigration, ending the right of EU citizens to live and work in Britain. The EU says Britain can’t have full access to the single market if it doesn’t accept free movement, one of the bloc’s key principles.

Both Britain and the EU say a top priority will be guaranteeing the rights of 3 million EU citizens living in Britain, and 1 million Britons living elsewhere in the bloc.

The two sides also appear to disagree on how the talks will unfold. EU officials say the divorce terms must be settled before negotiators can turn to the U.K.’s future relationship with the bloc. British officials want the two things discussed simultaneously.

May has suggested that if talks stall she could walk away, saying that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”

That prospect alarms many British businesses. If Britain crashed out of the EU without a trade deal it would fall back onto World Trade Organization rules, meaning tariffs and other barriers to trade.

Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee has warned that the British government has not done enough for the “real prospect” that talks may break down, ending in no deal and “mutually assured damage” to both Britain and the EU.

Even if talks go well, EU leaders say there is little chance a final agreement on relations between the two parties will be reached by 2019. Some say it could take a decade.

May insists that Britain is not turning its back on Europe. She says the U.K. wants “a new and equal partnership” with “our friends and allies in the EU.” She wants the U.K.’s exit to be “smooth and orderly.”

She will start to find out soon whether that is wishful thinking.

Carberry, from Open Britain, accused the government of offering an unrealistic picture of the costs of Brexit.

“They are saying everyone’s going to get free money and a free pony, basically,” he said. “The government is going to need to start being up front with people about the risks and outline more clearly how they are going to mitigate against those risks.”

But Labour Leave’s Chiltern predicted that soon “the chest-beating will stop and actually you’ll get down to cool, hard diplomacy and we’ll get a good deal.”

“It is in the interests of both parties to get this done as quickly as possible and as amicably as possible,” he said.

The AP’s Danica Kirka in London and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed to this story.

]]> 0, 29 Mar 2017 08:08:35 +0000
Two Weather Channel storm chasers crash into a third while pursing tornado, killing all 3 Wed, 29 Mar 2017 10:18:06 +0000 A few miles west of Spur, Texas, three storm chasers died while tracking a tornado when their two vehicles collided at a rural intersection on Tuesday afternoon.

One storm chaser, driving a black Chevrolet Suburban, disregarded a stop sign and slammed into another storm chaser’s black Jeep, authorities with the Texas Department of Public Safety said.

The Suburban’s two occupants and the Jeep driver were pronounced dead at the scene, Sgt. John Gonzalez, a representative for the department, told Lubbock’s Avalanche-Journal in a statement.

Kelley Gene Williamson, a 57-year-old storm chaser from Cassville, Mo., was driving the Suburban. Fifty-five-year-old Randall Delane Yarnall, also from Cassville, rode in the passenger seat. Storm chaser Corbin Lee Jaeger, 25, of Peoria, Ariz., drove alone in the Jeep.

“Mr. Williamson was ejected from the vehicle at the time of the crash,” Gonzalez said in the statement. “Mr. Williamson was not wearing his seat belt.” Both Jaeger and Yarnall wore theirs, he said. The investigation into the crash remains ongoing, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Authorities did not mention whether stormy conditions played a role, but one official confirmed to CNN that the storm chasers were following a tornado through Dickens County. A storm bringing heavy rains had passed through the area. Following reports of a twister, the National Weather Service station in Lubbock, some 60 miles from Spur, issued a tornado warning for northwestern Texas. At 3:30 p.m., the weather service took to Twitter to urge residents of Crosby County to seek immediate shelter.

“We would encourage anyone driving down these remote roads to slow down and pay attention to traffic signs especially in inclement weather. It can become dangerous for all involved,” Gonzalez said, reported CBS Dallas-Fort Worth.

Williamson and Yarnall worked as contractors for the Weather Channel, which released a statement mourning the storm chasers. “This afternoon we learned that three people died in a car accident in Texas, including two contractors for the Weather Channel, Kelley Williamson and Randy Yarnall. Kelley and Randy were beloved members of the weather community. We are saddened by this loss and our deepest sympathies go out to the families and loved ones of all involved.”

Storm chasers and meteorologists expressed their sympathies. “Tragedy strikes our community once again,” wrote veteran storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski on Twitter, “confirming 3 storm chasers killed west of Spur TX. Now is the time to pray not share names.”

After the storm chasers were identified, Missouri news station KSPR published an interview between meteorologist Kevin Lighty and Williamson, discussing the dangers of storm chasing. “People ask what we do, well, we track weather, tornadoes for the Weather Channel you know,” Williamson told Lighty. “About 50-50. Some people says you’re crazy and the other half says – I want to go with you.”

Williamson said he was aware of the risk that storm chasers posed to each other. “The biggest danger out there is the other chasers and the Grandma that’s trying to get her kids,” Williamson said. “You know, you’ve got to watch out for everybody out there, and then the storms come secondary.”

Fatalities in the field are rare. In the decades since the first death, when a University of Oklahoma meteorology student’s car swerved off the road in 1984, the few storm chasers who died perished in automobile accidents. No tornado killed a storm chaser until 2013 when a massive twister mortally struck four, one amateur storm chaser and three veterans of the field.

A few storm chasers predicted that deaths would continue. “Yes, more chasers will die in tornadoes (or be killed in vehicle crashes while chasing). That seems inevitable,” storm chaser and retired NWS meteorologist Charles Doswell told The Washington Post in May. “What’s gratifying is how uncommon it’s been.”

The three deaths in Texas on Tuesday came at a time when the storm chasing community had already been subject to scrutiny, in part fueled by thrill-seeking chasers who shared “tornado selfies” and other risky exploits on social media.

But storm chaser and Washington Post Capital Weather Gang forecaster/photographer Ian Livingston argued that recklessness was not the norm. He wrote in June, “there are many misconceptions about storm chasing that need to be set straight. The plains are not overrun by storm-chasing caravans every spring. There are not thousands of cars on the road preventing first responders from doing their jobs. We do not do it for the money. We do not disrupt local residents’ lives.”

]]> 0, 29 Mar 2017 08:40:51 +0000
Alec Baldwin ‘stunned’ by popularity of Trump impression Wed, 29 Mar 2017 03:03:47 +0000 NEW YORK — Alec Baldwin says he’s “stunned” by the popularity of his impression of President Trump on “Saturday Night Live.”

Baldwin tells Vanity Fair that he took up “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels’ offer to play the Republican billionaire after a planned movie role fell through. He says it’s turned out to be an “incredible opportunity.”

Baldwin says Kate McKinnon is “one of the three most talented people” he’s worked with on the show. She has played Hillary Clinton, Trump aide Kellyanne Conway and Attorney General Jeff Sessions on “SNL” this season.

Baldwin also praises former “30 Rock” co-star Tina Fey.

]]> 0 Wed, 29 Mar 2017 00:28:59 +0000
President Trump’s policies on coal production may not bring about rapid change Wed, 29 Mar 2017 02:57:52 +0000 BILLINGS, Montana — Here’s a look at how President Trump’s rule changes will affect the coal industry:


Trump’s move to support coal mining is unlikely spur a quick turnaround.

Experts say coal’s biggest problem isn’t a shortage of the fuel to dig or even climate change regulations, but cheap, plentiful natural gas. Gas prices dropped as advances in drilling such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, greatly increased the amount of gas on the market. For many utilities, that’s made gas a more attractive fuel than coal.

Meanwhile, companies have gotten more efficient at extracting coal, meaning fewer workers are needed to dig a given amount of fuel. Mountaintop removal mining, in which hilltops in Appalachia are blasted off with explosives to expose coal seams, is less expensive and more automated than underground mining. So are the massive strip mines developed since the 1970s in Wyoming and Montana, where conveyor belts move coal for miles across the open landscape to load onto trains.

U.S. coal production fell to 739 million tons last year, the lowest level in almost four decades. From 2011 through 2016, the coal mining industry lost about 60,000 jobs, leaving just over 77,000 miners, according to preliminary Labor Department data that excludes mine office workers.

Coal’s share of the U.S. power market has dwindled from more than 50 percent last decade to about 32 percent last year. Gas and renewables have both made gains, and hundreds of coal-burning power plants have been retired or are scheduled to shutter soon – trends over which Trump has limited influence.

FEDERAL coal subsidies

The Obama administration blocked the sale of new coal leases on federal lands in January 2016 to determine if the coal program was shortchanging taxpayers and exacerbating climate change by effectively subsidizing coal.

In some cases, coal companies bought leases for as little as 1 cent per ton under a program that’s supposed to be competitive but often involves just a single bidder. The royalties these companies pay to the government on each ton of coal mined have remained unchanged since 1976.

Under the moratorium, the Obama administration was considering raising royalty rates as much as 50 percent. Trump has put that proposal on hold.


About 40 percent of coal produced in the U.S. comes from federal land in Western states. Companies operating in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, the nation’s dominant coal region, control enough reserves to last 20 years. But even before the moratorium, many mining companies were going bankrupt. They have voluntarily delayed their plans to lease tracts holding 1.5 billion tons of coal, including public lands not covered by the moratoriums.

The Appalachian region once dominated coal mining but now accounts for less than 25 percent of production.


Lease applications blocked by the Obama moratorium included more than 1.8 billion tons of coal from two dozen mines.

Burning that coal would unleash an estimated 3.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide. That’s equivalent to a year of emissions from 700 million cars. And that is just a small portion of the federal government’s coal reserves.

Environmentalists say keeping those reserves in the ground is crucial to the global effort to minimize climate change.

]]> 0 truck hauls away a load of coal Tuesday at Contura Energy's Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo.Tue, 28 Mar 2017 22:57:52 +0000
Hunger crisis hitting Africa as Trump proposes foreign aid cuts Wed, 29 Mar 2017 02:53:22 +0000 NAIROBI, Kenya — The world’s largest humanitarian crisis in 70 years has been declared in three African countries on the brink of famine, just as President Trump’s proposed foreign aid cuts threaten to pull the United States from its historic role as the world’s top emergency donor.

If the deep cuts are approved by Congress and the U.S. does not contribute to Africa’s current crisis, experts warn that the continent’s growing drought and famine could have far-ranging effects, including a new wave of migrants heading to Europe and more support for Islamic extremist groups.

The conflict-fueled hunger crises in Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan have culminated in a trio of potential famines hitting almost simultaneously. Nearly 16 million people in the three countries are at risk of dying within months.

Famine already has been declared in two counties of South Sudan and 1 million people there are on the brink of dying from a lack of food, U.N. officials have said. Somalia has declared a state of emergency over drought and 2.9 million of its people face a food crisis that could become a famine, the U.N. said. And in northeastern Nigeria, severe malnutrition is widespread in areas affected by violence from Boko Haram extremists.

“We are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations,” Stephen O’Brien, the U.N. humanitarian chief, told the U.N. Security Council after a visit this month to Somalia and South Sudan.

At least $4.4 billion is needed by the end of March to avert a hunger “catastrophe” in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in late February.

But according to U.N. data, only 10 percent of the necessary funds have been received so far.

Trump’s proposed budget would “absolutely” cut programs that help some of the most vulnerable people on Earth, Mick Mulvaney, the president’s budget director, told reporters last week. The budget would “spend less money on people overseas and more money on people back home,” he said.

The United States traditionally has been the largest donor to the U.N. and gives more foreign aid to Africa than any other continent. In 2016 it gave more than $2 billion to the U.N.’s World Food Program, or almost a quarter of its total budget. That is expected to be reduced under Trump’s proposed budget, former and current U.S. government officials said.

“I’ve never seen this kind of threat to what otherwise has been a bipartisan consensus that food aid and humanitarian assistance programs are morally essential and critical to our security,” Steven Feldstein, a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration, told The Associated Press.

If Trump’s foreign aid cuts are approved, the humanitarian funding burden for the crises would shift to other large donors like Britain. But the U.S.’s influential role in rallying global support will slip.

]]> 0 Wed, 29 Mar 2017 00:31:16 +0000
Returning to limelight, Clinton jabs Trump Wed, 29 Mar 2017 02:41:31 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — A spirited Hillary Clinton took on the Trump administration Tuesday in one of her first public speeches since she lost the presidential election, criticizing the country’s Republican leaders on everything from health care to the shortage of female appointees in top administration posts.

Cracking jokes about her November defeat and her months out of the limelight since, Clinton spoke to thousands of businesswomen in San Francisco, joking there was no place she’d rather be, “other than the White House.”

Without mentioning President Trump by name, Clinton faulted the Republican presidential administration repeatedly, including calling its representation of women in top jobs “the lowest in a generation.”

She rebuked White House press secretary Sean Spicer, again not by name, for hours earlier Tuesday chiding a black woman journalist during a news conference for shaking her head.

“Too many women have had a lifetime of practice taking this kind of indignity in stride,” Clinton said. “I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know all the nasty things they were saying about me. I thought some of them were kind of creative,” she said. “But you just have to keep going.”

Clinton declared herself appalled at a much-circulated photo showing an all-male group of Republican lawmakers last month negotiating women’s coverage in health care legislation, noting a social-media parody of it that showed an all-dog panel deciding on feline care.

Last week’s failure of the Republican health care bill, Clinton told a cheering crowd, was “a victory for all Americans.”

Trump has named four women to his Cabinet, the same number as in former President George W. Bush’s first Cabinet. Trump earlier this week pointed to the work he planned to have his daughter, Ivanka Trump Kushner, do on child care and other issues involving working women and men in her unsalaried role in his administration.

]]> 0 Wed, 29 Mar 2017 00:30:23 +0000
‘Jackal’ gets life in prison for third time Wed, 29 Mar 2017 02:40:06 +0000 PARIS — A French court on Tuesday convicted the man known as “Carlos the Jackal,” once the world’s most-wanted fugitive, of a deadly 1974 attack on a Paris shopping arcade and sentenced him to life in prison for the third time.

The Venezuelan-born Ilich Ramirez Sanchez is already serving two life sentences in France for murders and attacks he was convicted of perpetrating or organizing on behalf of the Palestinian cause or of communist revolution in the 1970s and ’80s.

His lawyers, who had pleaded for acquittal, said they will appeal the latest verdict, though the third life sentence doesn’t affect how long he will stay behind bars.

A few hours before the decision was returned, the 67-year-old known worldwide as Carlos took the floor one last time and denounced “an absurd trial” for a 42-year-old crime. He had denied involvement, saying there was no proof against him or direct witnesses.

]]> 0 Tue, 28 Mar 2017 22:40:06 +0000
Presidential flip: Trump’s boyhood home sold again Wed, 29 Mar 2017 02:34:17 +0000 It’s a deal that would make the president proud: A New York investor made a $750,000 profit on Donald Trump’s childhood home, flipping it for a 54 percent premium in a matter of weeks.

Real estate investor Michael Davis bought the five-bedroom, Tudor-style home in Queens for $1.39 million, sight unseen, right before the election. The transaction closed in mid-December. And although Davis lives in Manhattan, he never made it over to Jamaica Estates to see his prize. He also resisted any temptation to gut, say, the kitchen and improve the property. Still, weeks later, he decided it was ready to flip.

And he was right. He put it up for auction and a buyer came through with a $2.14 million cash offer.

“We bought this with the expectation that Donald Trump would win the election – that was the gamble,” Davis said. “After he won, we didn’t hold it very long.” The house now belongs to Trump Birth House LLC. The buyer, whose identity has not been made public, was represented by Michael X. Tang, an attorney who specializes in helping Chinese investors buy real estate.

It was not immediately clear how the new owners planned to use the home, but they have talked about possibly turning it into a library or a museum, according to Misha Haghani, owner of Paramount Realty USA, the New York auction house that facilitated the sale.

“The value of this property has nothing to do with the physical house,” Haghani said. “Normally people buy real estate because of its location. In this case, frankly, location has very little to do with the value of the property. Size of the house, size of the lot, number of bedrooms and baths – these things are all irrelevant. Somebody bought this because of what it’s associated with, and that’s the current president.”

President Trump’s father, Fred C. Trump, built the home in 1940. According to the auction brochure, the home has “an old world charm interior featuring arched doorways, hardwood floors and more.” Its address, 85-15 Wareham Place, is listed on Trump’s birth certificate.

]]> 0 Trump's childhood home, a five-bedroom Tudor-style house in Queens, sold last week for $2.14 million. MUST CREDIT: Courtesy ofTue, 28 Mar 2017 22:38:49 +0000
Study shows brain damage from lead likely permanent Wed, 29 Mar 2017 01:43:50 +0000 Children with elevated blood-lead levels at age 11 ended up as adults with lower cognitive function and lower-status occupations than their parents, according to research that offers one of the clearest looks yet at the potential long-term health impact of the potent neurotoxin.

The findings, published Tuesday in JAMA, were based on a study that followed about 1,000 children born in the early 1970s in the coastal city of Dunedin, New Zealand. More than half were tested for lead in 1983, and nearly three decades later, those who’d had higher blood-lead levels as children were more likely to have lower IQs and to wind up lower on the socioeconomic ladder. Both associations remained even after researchers accounted for the children’s IQs, their mothers’ IQs and their social-class backgrounds.

“Lead damages brain health. We know what it does,” said study co-author Aaron Reuben, a graduate student in clinical psychology at Duke University. “What we didn’t know until this study was, how long do those effects last? . . . There’s no reason to believe they ever go away.”


Public health officials have repeatedly said that there is no safe level of lead in a child’s blood and that lead exposure can seriously affect the IQ and attention span of children, as well as cause other problems. But the new study adds another layer of evidence to what many scientists have long suspected – that environmental exposures to lead not only risk an array of physical, behavioral and cognitive problems but can change the very trajectory of a child’s life.

It also raises questions about how best to respond to catastrophes such as the water crisis in Flint, Mich., in which thousands of young children were exposed for months to lead-tainted water. Although many of those children are eligible for a range of interventions, including nutritional and educational programs, Reuben and his co-authors note that short-lived public responses may not be enough given the potential lifelong effects.

“The thing that surprised me is that the impairment you experience once exposed to lead doesn’t go away,” Reuben said. “Even mild cognitive impairment really seemed to have a knock-on effect to the social trajectories people’s lives took. We know from other studies that even small changes in IQ can have large implications for earnings potential and wealth over time.”

Flint is not New Zealand, of course. And the 1970s were a different era for widespread lead exposures. At the time, for instance, New Zealand had among the highest lead-in-gasoline levels in the developed world, meaning children at all levels of society, rich and poor, were likely to be exposed through emissions into the air.

“This cohort in New Zealand, unlike the United States, itself didn’t have a correlation with lead levels and socioeconomic status at the beginning. It was a much more uniform population, a homogeneous population racially, socioeconomically,” said Maitreyi Mazumdar, an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study.

That meant the correlation between lead and long-term cognitive and socioeconomic consequences was much clearer, she said. In studies in the United States and elsewhere, she noted, it has been difficult to separate out the effects of lead from the effects of poverty, given that lead exposures tend to be more prevalent in poor communities.


The latest research “underscores the story of lead is not over,” she said, adding that although lead has long been banned in gasoline, paint and most plumbing fixtures, plenty of threats remain in the United States and particularly in other parts of the world. “This is still a continuing story. There are health effects we need to prepare for.”

The study has clear limitations. The children growing up in 1970s New Zealand likely experienced ongoing lead exposures during childhood, mainly from emissions in the air. The way that affected them over an extended period could differ from the consequences of relatively short but severe exposures, as happened in Flint.

Researchers also had only a snapshot of lead levels from the tests taken when the children were 11, and there was no way to measure their cumulative lead exposures by the time they were 38, Reuben said. In addition, the conclusions were based on only one group of primarily white children in one city, so generalizing the findings to other populations and settings could be problematic.

Still, the findings were stark enough to prompt David C. Bellinger, a professor of environmental health at Harvard, to write in an accompanying JAMA editorial that much more needs to be done to eliminate lead exposures in every form.

]]> 0 Cade with her year-old daughter Zariyah Cade in Flint, Mich., last March. The girl's blood had tested high for lead. A new study shows children with elevated blood-lead levels at age 11 ended up as adults with lower cognitive function than their parents.Tue, 28 Mar 2017 22:26:36 +0000
Republican-controlled legislature in Kansas votes to expands Medicaid but could face veto Wed, 29 Mar 2017 01:26:12 +0000 TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas’ Republican-controlled Legislature approved an expansion Tuesday of state health coverage to thousands of poor adults under former President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, days after the collapse of GOP leaders’ repeal effort in Washington.

The bill would expand the state’s Medicaid program for the poor, disabled and elderly so that it would cover up to 180,000 additional adults who aren’t disabled. It now heads to conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

The collapse of efforts by President Donald Trump and top Republicans in the U.S. House to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act buoyed supporters of expanding Medicaid in Kansas. But the move’s success in the GOP-leaning state also reflected elections last year that brought more moderates and liberals into the Legislature.

“I’m ecstatic! I am, and I’m high on happiness,” said state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a moderate Kansas City-area Republican and retired anesthesiologist. “The citizens of this state took a stand in November and said we wanted change, and now you’re seeing it.”

But lawmakers on both sides of the debate expect Brownback to veto the measure. He has long been a vocal critic of Obama’s health care law and endorsed a plan pursued by Trump and GOP congressional leaders. The term-limited governor declared in January that expanding Medicaid under the law would be “airlifting onto the Titanic,” though he hasn’t said whether he would veto this bill.

The failure of Republicans in Washington to quickly repeal Obama’s health care law has created speculation that more states will consider Medicaid expansion. Democratic governors are pursuing expansions in North Carolina and Virginia; an initiative is on the ballot in November in Maine.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday that he will give its Republicans another chance at passing a health care overhaul.

]]> 0 Tue, 28 Mar 2017 21:26:12 +0000
Cambodia bans export of human breast milk Wed, 29 Mar 2017 01:07:41 +0000 PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia has permanently banned the export of human breast milk by a company headed by a former Mormon missionary that pioneered the business two years ago.

A letter issued Tuesday by the Cabinet to the Health Ministry said Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered a halt to U.S.-based Ambrosia Labs Ltd. buying and exporting the milk. The product is marketed as food for babies and as an supplement for adults with special needss, and sells for as much as $4 an ounce.

The letter indicated national pride was at stake. “Even though we are still poor, we are not so poor that we have to sell human breast milk,” said the statement by Secretary of State Ngor Hongly.

The milk’s export was recently suspended while the Health Ministry investigated the health effects on babies of nursing mothers selling their milk and whether the business violated a law on trafficking in human organs.

]]> 0 Tue, 28 Mar 2017 21:07:41 +0000
Lawmaker seeks data on opioids from drug companies Wed, 29 Mar 2017 00:57:49 +0000 Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri demanded information Tuesday from five top opioid manufacturers, saying she would investigate their alleged role in the drug epidemic responsible for more than 200,000 overdose deaths since 2000.

“This epidemic is the direct result of a calculated sales and marketing strategy major opioid manufacturers have allegedly pursued over the past 20 years to expand their market share and increase dependency on powerful – and often deadly – painkillers,” McCaskill, who is the ranking Democrat of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote to company executives. “To achieve this goal, manufacturers have reportedly sought, among other techniques, to downplay the risk of addiction to their products and encourage physicians to prescribe opioids…”

McCaskill sent letters to Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Insys Therapeutics, Mylan, and Depomed, which she said make the top-five-selling prescription painkillers. She is seeking sales and marketing materials, any studies the companies might have conducted about the addictive properties of their drugs, information on compliance with legal settlements and figures on donations to advocacy groups.

McCaskill said she wants to know whether manufacturers have contributed to overuse and overprescribing of opioids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 180,000 people have died of overdoses of prescription opioids since 2000 and tens of thousands more have succumbed to overdoses from heroin and fentanyl.

Most of the companies said Tuesday that they were reviewing McCaskill’s request. A spokesman for Purdue Pharma issued a statement noting that its brand-name product, OxyContin, “accounts for only 2 percent of the opioid analgesic prescriptions nationally, but we are an industry leader in the development of abuse-deterrent technology and advocating for the use of prescription drug monitoring programs. We are reviewing Senator McCaskill’s letter and will respond accordingly.”

And in a separate statement, a spokeswoman for Janssen Pharmaceuticals said “we believe that we have acted appropriately, responsibly and in the best interests of patients regarding our opioid pain medications, which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings …”

Earlier this month, McCaskill asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate why the Drug Enforcement Administration had delayed or blocked enforcement efforts against wholesale distributors of opioids accused of failing to follow laws designed to keep legal painkillers from reaching the black market.

]]> 0 Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. says the opioid epidemic is the result of marketing strategies by drug firms.Tue, 28 Mar 2017 22:30:23 +0000
Trump says he expects a deal on a new health care bill Wed, 29 Mar 2017 00:45:30 +0000 WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Tuesday he expects to make a deal on health care, even though his first attempt failed just a few days ago.

Trump hosted a reception for senators and their spouses at the White House that attracted both Republicans and Democrats.

He said the bipartisan crowd was “a very good thing” and predicted a deal on health care will happen “very quickly.”

“I know that we’re all going to make a deal on health care,” he said. “And that’s such an easy one.”

Trump also sees potential for working with Democrats on other issues like infrastructure.

House Republicans also struck an optimistic note Tuesday that they would be able to salvage their failed health-care bill, but there was little indication of any concrete shift in the political fundamentals that led to its failure.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters that “some of those who were in the ‘no’ camp expressed a willingness to work on getting to yes and to making this work.” He did not, however, commit to a particular path forward.

“I’m not going to put a timeline on it, because this is too important to not get right and to put an artificial timeline on it,” he said.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday acknowledged talks but no imminent plans for reviving the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that the “status quo” would remain after Trump and Ryan “went all out” to pass their bill: “I’m sorry that didn’t work, but our Democratic friends now have the law that they wrote in place, and we’ll see how that works out.”

]]> 0 Tue, 28 Mar 2017 20:49:42 +0000
Britain starts circulating anti-counterfeit coin with 12 sides Tue, 28 Mar 2017 23:58:45 +0000 LONDON — A new 12-sided British pound coin is entering circulation amid concern that the round pound was too easy to counterfeit.

The new coin introduced Tuesday is intended to be the most secure in the world, featuring a hologram that changes from the pound symbol to the numeral one. It also has micro-lettering and milled edges.

It is slightly larger in diameter, but lighter than the round pound. And despite its many sides, the Royal Mint says the new coin will roll and has been tested for the last three years to make sure it will work in vending machines.

The old coin and the new coin will co-exist together for a period of about six months.

It’s the first new pound coin to be introduced in 30 years.

]]> 0's new 12-sided pound coin is intended to be hard to counterfeit and works just fine in vending machines.Tue, 28 Mar 2017 20:19:16 +0000
House votes to block internet privacy regulations, allow providers to sell customers’ data Tue, 28 Mar 2017 22:28:18 +0000 WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Tuesday, by a margin of 215-205, to repeal a set of landmark privacy protections for Web users, issuing a sweeping rebuke of internet policies enacted under the Obama administration. It also marks a sharp, partisan pivot toward letting internet providers collect and sell their customers’ Web browsing history, location information, health data and other personal details.

The measure, which was approved by a 50-48 margin in the Senate last week, now goes to the White House, where President Trump is expected to sign it.

Maine’s Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin voted in favor of the measure, while Maine’s Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree voted against it.

Congress’ joint resolution empowers internet providers to enter the $83 billion market for online advertising now dominated by Google and Facebook.

It is likely to lend momentum to a broader rollback of Obama-era technology policies, and calls into question the fate of other tech regulations such as net neutrality, which was approved in 2015 over strident Republican objections and bans Internet providers from discriminating against websites. And it is a sign that companies such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon will be treated more permissively at a time when conservatives control all three branches of government.

Supporters of Tuesday’s repeal vote argued the privacy regulations, written by the Federal Communications Commission, stifle innovation by forcing Internet providers to abide by unreasonably strict guidelines.

“(Consumer privacy) will be enhanced by removing the uncertainty and confusion these rules will create,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees the FCC.

Internet providers can collect enormous amounts of personal information because they can see all of the online activities of users as they browse different sites on the Web, critics of the legislation said. And unlike search engines or streaming video sites, which consumers can easily abandon if they do not agree with their privacy practices, it is far more difficult to choose a different Internet provider. Many Americans have a choice of only one or two broadband companies in their area, according to federal statistics.

Privacy advocates called the House vote “a tremendous setback for America.”

“Today’s vote means that Americans will never be safe online from having their most personal details stealthily scrutinized and sold to the highest bidder,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “Donald Trump, by giving away our data to the country’s leading phone and cable giants, is further undermining American democracy.”

Industry groups said Tuesday’s vote does not diminish broadband companies’ commitment to user privacy.

“Our providers care very deeply and have a strong track record of operating in ways that protect and safeguard the privacy of their customers’ data,” said James Assey, executive vice president of NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, a top cable trade association. “These are program features that are built in by design; they existed long before the FCC rules were adopted, and they will exist long after the FCC rules are withdrawn.”

The FCC’s new Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, called the legislation “appropriate” and blamed his predecessor for executive overreach. He also said that responsibility for regulating Internet providers should fall to the Federal Trade Commission, despite the fact that the agency currently lacks the legal authority to do so.

“Moving forward, I want the American people to know that the FCC will work with the FTC to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected though a consistent and comprehensive framework,” said Pai. “The best way to achieve that result would be to return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in this area.”

]]> 0 Tue, 28 Mar 2017 22:42:22 +0000
Trump moves decisively to wipe out Obama’s climate change record Tue, 28 Mar 2017 18:50:10 +0000 WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Tuesday took the most significant step yet in obliterating his predecessor’s environmental record, instructing federal regulators to rewrite key rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions.

The sweeping executive order – which the president signed with great fanfare in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Map Room – also seeks to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing and remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.

The order sends an unmistakable signal that just as President Barack Obama sought to weave climate considerations into every aspect of the federal government, Trump is hoping to rip that approach out by its roots. The president did not utter the words “climate change” once, instead emphasizing that the move would spur job creation in the fossil fuel industry.

“Our administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” he said, accompanied onstage by more than a dozen coal miners, Vice President Pence and three Cabinet members. “We’re ending the theft of American prosperity, and rebuilding our beloved country.”

Some of the measures could take years to implement and are unlikely to alter broader economic trends that are shifting the nation’s electricity mix from coal-fired generation to natural gas and renewables. The order is silent on whether the United States should withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, under which it has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions between 26 and 28 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels, because the administration remains divided on that question.

The order comes after several moves by Trump to roll back Obama-era restrictions on mining, drilling and coal- and gas-burning operations. In his first two months as president, Trump has nullified a regulation barring surface-mining companies from polluting waterways and set aside a new accounting system that would have compelled coal companies and other energy firms to pay more in federal royalties.

The administration also has announced it will reconsider stricter fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks and has approved two major oil pipelines, Dakota Access and Keystone XL, that Obama had halted.

Accelerating fossil-fuel production on federal lands and sidelining climate considerations could lead to higher emissions of the greenhouse gases driving climate change and complicate a global effort to curb the world’s carbon output. But Trump has repeatedly questioned whether climate change is underway and emphasized that he is determined to deliver for the voters in coal country who helped him win the Oval Office.

The president thanked the miners onstage twice during the ceremony, and as they gathered around him when he signed the executive order, he looked up and remarked, “You know what it says, right? You’re going back to work.”

U.S. coal jobs, which number about 75,000, have been declining for decades. A senior administration official who briefed reporters Monday evening did not predict how many jobs might be spurred by this shift in policy.

Still, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and other administration supporters said the change in policy would have a tangible impact on the economy. “This order is a clear sign to the country that Trump is serious about unleashing this country’s energy dominance,” Inhofe said in a statement.

The centerpiece of the new presidential directive, telling the Environmental Protection Agency to begin rewriting the 2015 regulation that limits greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants, will trigger a laborious rulemaking process and a possible legal fight.

The agency must first get permission from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where the rule is tied up in litigation, to revisit the matter. Then, agency officials will have to justify reaching the opposite conclusion of the Obama EPA, which argued it was technically feasible and legally warranted to reduce carbon pollution by about one-third by 2030, compared with 2005 levels.

“So, for the president, even if he would like to revoke the Clean Power Plan, he doesn’t have legal authority to do that,” said Jeffrey Holmstead, a partner at the Bracewell law firm who opposes the Obama-era rule. Holmstead, who headed the EPA’s air and radiation office under President George W. Bush, said he thinks the agency can justify reversing the regulation. But “they have to justify why they have changed,” he added.

While environmental groups decried Trump’s move, mining officials welcomed it as an important course correction in federal energy policy.

“This rule was an unlawful attempt to radically transform the nation’s power grid, destroying valuable energy assets and leaving our economy more vulnerable to rising power prices – all for an insignificant environmental benefit,” said Hal Quinn, president and chief executive of the National Mining Association.

Environmentalists vowed to fight the executive order in court and press ahead with their goals on the state level.

David Doniger, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean-air program, said unwinding the Clean Power Plan will not happen quickly, no matter what the president wants. “Tearing the rules down require going through the same process it took to build them up,” Doniger said. “We will make them face the music at every step.”

Christopher Field, a professor at Stanford University’s Wood Institute for the Environment, said in an email that the directive carries long-term risks, rather than immediate ones. “Some are risks from eroding the position of U.S. companies in the clean energy sector,” Field said. “Others are from the loss of irreplaceable natural heritage that is put in jeopardy by ill-conceived policies.”

The president will also instruct the Interior Department to rewrite a 2015 rule, currently stayed in court, that imposes restrictions on hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands. The directive will also make it easier to flare methane in oil and gas operations on federal land, by triggering the review of a rule the Interior Department finalized in November.

Other aspects of the executive order can take effect immediately, though it is unclear how quickly they will translate into greater coal extraction. One section overturns a 2016 White House directive to consider climate change when agencies conduct reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, a sweeping law that informed any federal decisions that have a significant environmental impact.

Another provision instructs Interior’s Bureau of Land Management to lift a freeze on federal coal leasing. That moratorium has been in effect since December 2015.

Tom Sanzillo, director of finance for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said in an interview that the move “becomes a largely politically symbolic measure for right now” because other, lower-carbon sources of energy are out-competing coal. He noted that U.S. coal consumption has declined 27 percent since 2005, from 1.02 billion tons to 739 million tons in 2016, its lowest level in nearly four decades.

“They’re not going to reverse the fundamental economic law here,” Sanzillo said. “There’s no market signal that’s telling them they should be mining more coal.”

Still, regulatory relief could make some coal firms, nearly 50 of which have filed for bankruptcy since 2012, somewhat more economically viable. Some of the sector’s biggest companies – including Arch Coal, Peabody Energy and Alpha Natural Resources – are just now emerging from bankruptcy protection.

Ethan Zindler, head of U.S. research at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in an email that solar and wind are competitive with coal in some parts of the country and that natural gas ranks as the lowest-cost source of electricity generation overall. The sector that could suffer the greatest hit from the elimination of the Clean Power Plan is nuclear energy, which provides about a fifth of U.S. businesses’ and households’ power.

“Many of the 100 or so U.S. plants are aging, and approximately a third are economically uncompetitive today,” Zindler said. Without stricter federal emissions limits, he added, “there may be little to stop the retirement of these plants in coming years and their replacement with a combination of gas/wind/solar.”

Separately, Trump has instructed federal officials to abandon the practice of factoring in the impact of climate change – what is dubbed “the social cost of carbon” – in their policymaking decisions. That calculus, which is currently set at $36 per ton of carbon dioxide, aims to capture the negative consequences of allowing greenhouse-gas emissions to continue to rise. But some conservatives have criticized it as too sweeping.

Federal officials will return to the traditional cost-benefit analysis outlined in a 2003 Office of Management and Budget guidance, which appears to put the cost associated with carbon emissions at zero.

As Trump seeks to scale back federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions, states and cities are likely to take on a larger role in charting the course forward.

An analysis by the Rhodium Group, an economic consulting firm, found that Trump’s forthcoming executive order would slow the country’s shift away from carbon-emitting sources of energy. It found after Trump’s action, the United States would be 14 percent below its 2005 emissions levels by 2025, compared to 21 percent below that mark had current Obama-era policies remained in place.

Three West Coast governors and a handful of mayors issued a statement within minutes of the order’s signing, vowing to press ahead with their own policies to cut carbon emissions.

“President Trump’s decision to ax the Clean Power Plan cedes U.S. global leadership and increases the risk that climate change will continue to damage our state,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, D. “We can’t afford to slow our efforts, and we won’t.”

Tim Profeta, who directs Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, said regulators from more than half-dozen states in the Southeast are now talking about how to chart their own path forward. Having met for nearly three years, the group stopped discussing how to comply with the Clean Power Plan after November’s election, but it is still talking.

“We are now talking about the evolution of the power sector in an environment of uncertainty,” Profeta said in an interview. “We’re seeing the beginning of states taking control of their destiny.”

]]> 0, 28 Mar 2017 16:02:14 +0000
Panic spreads in Iraq, Syria as record numbers of civilians reported killed in U.S. strikes Tue, 28 Mar 2017 18:13:41 +0000 MOSUL, Iraq – A sharp rise in the number of civilians reported killed in U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria is spreading panic, deepening mistrust and triggering accusations that the United States and its partners may be acting with an unprecedented disregard for lives of noncombatants.

The escalation comes as local ground forces backed by air support from a U.S.-led coalition close in on the Islamic State’s two main urban bastions – Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.

In front-line neighborhoods in western Mosul, families described cowering in basements for weeks as bombs rained down around them and the Islamic State battled from their rooftops. Across the border in Raqqa, residents desperately trying to flee before an offensive begins are being blocked by the militants, who frequently use civilians as human shields.

Throughout his election campaign, President Donald Trump pledged to target Islamic State militants more aggressively, criticizing the U.S. air campaign for being too “gentle” and asking for a reassessment of battlefield rules. The United States has denied there has been any shift and defended the conduct of its campaign.

But figures compiled by monitoring organizations and interviews with residents paint an increasingly bloody picture, with the number of casualties in March already surpassing records for a single month.

The worst alleged attack was in Mosul, where rescue teams are still digging out bodies after what residents describe as a hellish onslaught in the Mosul al-Jadida neighborhood during the battle to retake it two weeks ago. Iraqi officials and residents say as many as 200 died in U.S. -led strikes, with more than 100 bodies recovered from a single building. The U.S.-led coalition says it is investigating the reports but has acknowledged carrying out a strike against militants in the area.

The wooden carts that residents use to carry vegetables and other wares in the once busy market area instead ferried out cadavers recovered from the rubble last week.

Amnesty International on Tuesday said the coalition was not taking sufficient precautions to prevent civilian deaths in Mosul, in a “flagrant violation” of international humanitarian law.

It was just one of numerous incidents across Iraq and Syria in recent weeks that have raised concerns that the United States has flouted rules requiring it to protect civilians. In both countries, local politicians and activists say the high numbers of deaths are spreading alarm among civilians and sewing distrust of the U.S.-backed campaign advancing toward their homes.

“People used to feel safe when the American planes were in the sky, because they knew they didn’t hit civilians,” said Hussam Essa, a founder of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which monitors violence in Raqqa province. “They were only afraid of the Russian and regime planes. But now they are very afraid of the American airstrikes. It is only American planes that are active, and they are targeting everywhere.”

According to the U.K.-based organization Airwars, which tracks allegations of civilian deaths in airstrikes, out of 1,257 claims of deaths in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes this month, a record 337 have been assessed as being “fair,” meaning that there is a reasonable level of public reporting of the alleged incident from two or more generally credible sources and that strikes have been confirmed in the vicinity on the day in question.

“The scale of the destruction is huge, and we are reeling from the number of alleged cases, not just in Mosul but in Raqqa, too,” said Chris Woods, the director of Airwars. “Casualty numbers from western Mosul are absolutely shocking. In Syria it’s a car here, a family there. It happens every day.”

The group has stopped monitoring Russian strikes in Syria, in order to focus on accusations linked to the U.S.-led coalition, saying its organization is overwhelmed. In the first two months of the year, U.S. strikes were responsible for more civilian casualties than Russian strikes for the first time since Russia intervened in 2015, according to Airwars figures. Russian strikes are now climbing again as a partial cease-fire collapses.

“In Raqqa they haven’t yet completed the encircling, and yet there’s been a huge jump in reported casualties from coalition strikes since Trump,” Woods said. “That is an indication that the U.S. is taking less care.”

Woods said the intensification began during the Obama administration but escalated under Trump. In December, the U.S.-led coalition delegated approval to battlefield commanders in Mosul, speeding up the responsiveness of strikes after a tough battle for the eastern part of the city. The coalition says strikes are subject to the same scrutiny.

“There is no military force in the world that has proven more sensitive to civilian casualties,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday. “We are keenly aware that every battlefield where an enemy hides behind women and children is also a humanitarian field, and we go out of our way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people.”

The escalation of U.S. strikes around the city of Raqqa ramped up in February as the United States intensified efforts to train and equip a Syrian force in preparation for an offensive against the city, expected to begin in the coming months.

In March, the tempo increased further, with more sites being targeted that have no obvious military value, according to a Syrian living in Turkey who is from Raqqa and is in regular contact with his family and friends who are still there. “They are hitting everything that isn’t a small house,” he said, including the barges that ferry passengers across the river dividing the city now that the bridges have been disabled.

Among the bigger incidents was a strike last week on a farmhouse sheltering displaced people in the town of Mansoura outside Raqqa that killed at least 30 people, according to monitoring groups. An attack on a mosque in western Aleppo that the U.S. military said was aimed at known al-Qaida operatives also appears to have killed dozens of people attending prayers, according to witness accounts and monitoring groups.

A wave of continued attacks in the past week in the small town of Tabqa has added to a record toll of 101 civilians killed by U.S. strikes from the beginning of the month to March 21, Essa said. He provided the names of 41 people alleged to have been killed in a three-day period last week in strikes that hit a bakery, a carwash, a slaughterhouse and other targets.

In Iraq and Syria, there has also been a discernible shift in the kinds of targets being hit – with infrastructure such as hospitals and schools coming under fire. The U.S.-led coalition contends that militants are increasingly using such protected buildings as bases for attack, knowing that there are restrictions on bombing them under U.S. rules of engagement.

Tabqa is a crucial step on the path to Raqqa, and it is the current focus of the battle. Reports that the Tabqa dam have also been hit by airstrikes during the fighting have further contributed to the sense of panic after the Islamic State issued a warning on Sunday that the dam could burst.

Downstream from the dam, residents are terrified by the intensified bombing and of the risk of a dam breach, the Syrian said. His family is desperate to escape, but the Islamic State has erected checkpoints to prevent people from fleeing. “People don’t know what to do,” he said.

In Iraq, too, civilians are trapped as Iraqi forces push into the most densely packed areas of Mosul, including the Old City, where an estimated 400,000 people are trapped in old structures on narrow streets.

The United Nations said that at least 307 civilians have been killed and 273 wounded in western Mosul since Feb. 17, warning Iraqi security forces and the coalition to avoid falling into the Islamic State’s “trap” as the group deliberately puts civilians in danger.

With a large amount of artillery and ordnance being fired into the city, though, it is also hard to ascertain which deaths the coalition is responsible for, Woods said. Iraqi commanders, who call in airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition, say its difficult for them to know whether civilians are in houses when many are stuck inside for weeks at a time and it is not possible to see them through drone surveillance.

Lt. Gen. Abdul Ghani al-Asadi, commander of Iraq’s counterterrorism units, said the troops are instead relying on tips from those fleeing as to which houses have civilians inside.

Still, Mosul Eye, a monitoring group in the city, said it had warned Iraqi forces that civilians were trapped in homes in Mosul al-Jadida days before the U.S. strike there and sent coordinates.

Amnesty International said that because the government has told residents to stay in their homes, the U.S.-led coalition should have known that strikes would be likely to result in significant numbers of civilian casualties.

For civilians, many of whom are trapped and unable to leave, the situation is dire.

Nour Mohammed’s family of 23 people hid in a basement in western Mosul for nearly two weeks as explosions rang out around them, crammed into an area of just 12 square meters.

Islamic State militants forced the family to keep the front door open so that they could move in and out of the building freely and fend off the advancing Iraqi forces from the roof.

“We were terrified every time we’d hear the sound of an airplane that they’d bomb us all,” she said as she fled the city last week.

– – –

Sly reported from Beirut. The Washington Post’s Mustafa Salim in Mosul contributed to this report.

]]> 0 resident carries the bodies of six people killed during fights between Iraq security forces and Islamic State on the western side of Mosul, Iraq, Friday, March 24, 2017.Tue, 28 Mar 2017 14:21:22 +0000
This woman is growing a second skeleton – and it’s locking her inside her own body Tue, 28 Mar 2017 17:04:34 +0000 Jasmin Floyd was on her way to kindergarten in northeastern Connecticut, buckled into the back seat of her mother’s car.

On the way, she called out, “Mommy, my neck hurts,” her mother, RoJeanne Doege, recently recalled. Doege said she peered through the rearview mirror and tried to reassure her, “Honey, it’s probably just how you slept.”

But it wasn’t – and, not long after that, Floyd’s father noticed that their 5-year-old’s neck was tilted ever so slightly to the side.

Jasmin Floyd as a child; by the time she was 7 or so, Floyd said, her shoulders had started sticking; gradually, she found herself unable to rotate them. Photo courtesy of Jasmin Floyd via The Washington Post

It was not the first time the girl and her family had been confronted with troublesome medical questions. Floyd had been born with an unexplained bunion on her big toe, and by the time she was a toddler, she had developed small bumps on her head and her spine. Doctors said the bumps were extra growths of bone, or osteomas, but that they were nothing to worry about, her mother said. Indeed, as Floyd grew, that bone fused and the bumps disappeared.

By January 1999, Floyd was on another quest for answers and, this time, she got one: a diagnosis of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), a rare genetic disease that causes muscle tissue and connective tissue to turn into bone – gradually forming a second skeleton and making it nearly impossible to move.

“It was the hardest, darkest time of our lives,” Doege said. “We were helpless. There was nothing we could do. It was going to take on a life of its own.”

Since then, there have been bad mornings when the now-23-year-old from Danielson, Connecticut, has woken up with a tight neck or an elbow locked in place, then slowly but permanently lost the ability to move them.

By the time she was 7 or so, Floyd said, her shoulders had started sticking; gradually, she found herself unable to rotate them. She had to relearn how to ride a bike – and soon, how to do simpler tasks, such as switch on lights and turn on water faucets.

She now relies on a “reacher” to pick up things. She uses a long hairbrush to brush her hair and also to help pull on her shirts, laughing about the MacGyver-like skills she has acquired over the years.

“As I got older, I started to learn more about what FOP was,” she said. “Now when something happens, I know what’s happening and why it’s happening.”

But it does not make it any easier to live that way.

It was about a year ago, Floyd said, when her jaw started locking, which “has been the most traumatic thing I’ve ever had to deal with.” Now, she said, she can open her mouth about a centimeter.

“I’ve accepted it the best I can, but it’s not something I can put behind me,” she said. “I dread brushing my teeth. I never used to have any dietary needs, but now I have to avoid crunchy or chewy foods. My jaw gets tired easily.”

She calls each new issue a “new normal.”

FOP is a rare and debilitating disorder that plagues about one in 2 million people worldwide, according to data from the National Institutes of Health. It is caused by mutations in a gene called ACVR1, which regulates bone growth and turns cartilage to bone as children grow up.

Frederick Kaplan, Floyd’s doctor and head of the Division of Orthopaedic Molecular Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, said he and his colleagues discovered the FOP gene in 2006. He said FOP patients have an overactive copy of the abnormal gene that sends signals to the body’s muscles and soft tissues – especially after an injury – telling the muscles to repair themselves by forming bone rather than muscle or scar tissue.

“The body thinks the injured muscles are fractures and heals them as if they were fractures,” he said. “So the extra bone that forms is normal bone, but it forms in the wrong place and it locks the joints.”

Jasmin Floyd in 2015; she has been diagnosed with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, a rare genetic disease that turns her muscle tissue and connective tissue into bone. Photo courtesy of Jasmin Floyd via The Washington Post

Any attempt to surgically remove that extra bone, he said, “leads to catastrophic explosions of new bone formation.”

Kaplan said patients with FOP are born with the bunion-like bumps – which are not bunions at all but malformations. He said the bumps are not an issue but are “a harbinger of things to come.”

Starting in the preschool years, FOP patients usually start to develop severe swellings in the body’s skeletal muscles that look like tumors.

These “flare-ups” can be triggered by the mildest injuries, such as bumps and bruises. But about 80 percent of the time, the flare-ups occur for no known reason at all, Kaplan said.

Kaplan explained how it happens: Intense inflammation erupts around the blood vessels in the muscles and destroys muscle tissue. Stem cells harboring the FOP gene are then awakened and start to divide and build a scaffold of sorts from connective tissue. The scaffolding turns to cartilage, on which the new bone begins to grow.

“FOP is a particularly cruel disease because, at a time when children are becoming adolescents and adults, at a time when they’re trying to become more independent, their bodies are betraying them because of this mutation and they’re becoming more dependent rather than less dependent,” he said. “People with FOP have normal minds, but they’re trapped in this prison of an extra skeleton.

“The other very difficult part of FOP is that you don’t know when the next flare-up is going to occur, how long it’s going to last, how painful it’s going to feel and how disabling it’s going to be.”

By 40 or 50, he said, most patients succumb to a restrictive chest wall disease. He said that the extra skeleton severely limits lung capacity and, ultimately, the overworked heart starts to fail.

Floyd, who has chronicled her struggles on her blog, “One Spirit, Two Skeletons,” said she has been sharing her story to inspire others and raise awareness about her disease.

At 23, she said, she now stands a bit off-balance and walks with a limp.

When she travels – which she likes to do on her own to reclaim some independence – she has to use a wheelchair or a scooter to get around, she said. Sometimes, she said, her jaw gets tired and she gets tongue-tied.

She said her greatest fear is the unpredictable and unsparing progression.

“I could wake up and not be able to unbend my leg,” she said. “I’ve had it happen where my elbow will lock at a 90-degree angle.”

Floyd said her most sudden flare-up was when she lost mobility in her jaw.

“I had eaten dinner and later that night before bed and I had pain in my jaw. That was it,” she said. “It was painful – not just physically but also emotionally. It gradually locked throughout the next few months.”

But despite her fears, Floyd said, FOP has been a motivation.

“Even though I have fears, I do my best to make things happen so I can experience something,” she said. “My motto is to try to as much as I can for as long as I can and not let anything stop me from achieving.”

]]> 0, 28 Mar 2017 13:15:52 +0000
White House: Pay for wall with $18 billion in other cuts, including medical research, infrastructure Tue, 28 Mar 2017 16:14:44 +0000 WASHINGTON — The White House is calling for immediate budget cuts of $18 billion from programs like medical research, infrastructure and community development grants to help pay for the border wall that President Donald Trump repeatedly promised would be financed by Mexico.

Like President Trump’s 2018 budget, which was panned by both Democrats and Republicans earlier this month, the proposals have little chance to be enacted.

But they could create bad political optics for the struggling Trump White House, since the administration asked earlier for $3 billion to pay for the Trump’s controversial U.S.-Mexico border wall and other immigration enforcement plans. During the campaign, Trump promised Mexico would pay for the wall.

Now, the White House wants the wall and Pentagon increases to be paid for using steep, immediate cuts to research into medical cures and funding for new roads and bridges here at home.

Unlike the budget document itself, the roster of cuts do not represent official administration proposals. Instead, they were sent to Capitol Hill as a set of “options” for Republican staff aides and lawmakers crafting a catchall spending bill for the ongoing budget year, which ends Sept. 30. That suggests the White House isn’t determined to press the cuts.

The documents arrived as negotiations over a catchall spending package continue Tuesday with the aim of averting a partial government shutdown at the end of next month. The package would wrap up $1.1 trillion in unfinished spending bills and address the administration’s request for an immediate $30 billion in additional Pentagon spending.

Those talks are intensifying, but Senate Republicans are considering backing away from a showdown with Democrats over whether to fund Trump’s request for immediate funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Senate Democrats have threatened to filibuster any language providing money for the wall.

Asked about including Southern border wall financing in the broader spending package, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a key negotiator, said, “They will not pass together. That’s just my view.”

Blunt added, “My view is there’s a path to get 60 votes” in the Senate, the total required to overcome a Democratic filibuster.

“There is no path to put a supplemental (wall) as currently described on that package,” said Blunt, a member of the Senate Republican leadership team and is major player on health and human services accounts.

The government would shut down except for some functions on April 29 without successful action on spending. Republican leaders are eager to avoid a politically damaging shutdown, especially in the wake of last week’s embarrassing failure to pass the Trump-pushed bill to “repeal and replace” former President Obama’s landmark health care law and Trump’s decision to abandon the effort.

Negotiators have made progress on the core elements of a dozen must-do funding bills but have ignored the White House’s list of cuts in doing so.

But the White House badly wants funding for the Mexico wall and hasn’t fully engaged in the Hill negotiations. Pitfalls and land mines lay ahead in the talks, and the situation is especially fragile because of divisions among Republican ranks and uncertainty over who’s playing the lead role at the White House on the particulars of budget work.

The new list of cuts include $1.2 billion in National Institutes of Health research grants. The community development block grant program would be halved, amounting to a cut of $3 billion, and $500 million would be stripped from popular transportation project funding known as TIGER grants.

White House budget office spokesman John Czwartacki said the proposals were not being shared with the media. A Capitol Hill aide described the cuts to The Associated Press, speaking only on grounds of anonymity because the budget document is not yet public.

]]> 0 Tue, 28 Mar 2017 18:28:49 +0000
U.S. consumer confidence hit 16-year high in March Tue, 28 Mar 2017 14:50:37 +0000 WASHINGTON — U.S. consumer confidence climbed in March to its highest level in more than 16 years, a strong gain for one of President Trump’s preferred economic indicators.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index rose to 125.6 from 116.1 in February, the best reading since December 2000. The index measures both consumers’ assessment of current conditions and their expectations for the future. Both improved this month.

The “renewed optimism suggests the possibility of some upside to the prospects for economic growth in the coming months,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators for the business group.

More Americans, according to the survey, said that they expect hiring and incomes to increase over the next six months, while nearly a third described business conditions as “good” in March.

Economists closely monitor the mood of consumers because their spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.

Trump has cited consumer confidence as evidence that his administration is succeeding.

]]> 0 Photo by John Ewing: 20070119 Friday, January 19, 2007....Mel Clarrage, a blind rehabilitation councilor at the Disability Rights Center in Augusta, has his money folded so as to be able to identify their denominations readily. Clarrage was grocery shopping at the Westbrook Hannaford's store on Friday afternoon.Tue, 28 Mar 2017 20:07:14 +0000
Trump administration sought to block Sally Yates from testifying to Congress on Russia Tue, 28 Mar 2017 14:27:50 +0000 The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying to Congress in the House investigation of links between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, The Washington Post has learned, a position that is likely to further anger Democrats who have accused Republicans of trying to damage the inquiry.

According to letters The Post reviewed, the Justice Department notified Yates earlier this month that the administration considers a great deal of her possible testimony to be barred from discussion in a congressional hearing because the topics are covered by the presidential communication privilege.

Yates and other former intelligence officials had been asked to testify before the House Intelligence Committee this week, a hearing that was abruptly canceled by the panel’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. Yates was the deputy attorney general in the final years of the Obama administration, and served as the acting attorney general in the first days of the Trump administration.

Trump fired Yates in January after she ordered Justice Department lawyers not to defend his first immigration order temporarily banning entry into United States for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees from around the world.

As acting attorney general, Yates played a key part in the investigation surrounding Michael Flynn, a Trump campaign aide who became national security adviser before revelations that he had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the United States in late December led to his ouster from the administration.

The White House and Justice Department had no immediate comment.

In January, Yates warned White House Counsel Don McGahn that statements made by White House officials about Flynn’s contacts with the ambassador were incorrect, and could therefore expose the national security adviser to future blackmail by the Russians.

In a March 23 letter to the Justice Department’s Acting Assistant Attorney General Samuel Ramer, Yates’ lawyer David O’Neill described the government’s position. O’Neill, who declined to comment, noted in the letter that Yates is willing to testify, and will avoid discussing classified information, or details that could compromise ongoing investigations.

“The Department of Justice has advised that it believes there are further constraints on the testimony Ms. Yates may provide at the [House intelligence committee] hearing. Generally, we understand that the department takes the position that all information Ms. Yates received or actions she took in her capacity as Deputy Attorney General and acting Attorney General are client confidences that she may not disclose absent written consent of the department,” the lawyer wrote.

“We believe that the department’s position in this regard is overbroad, incorrect, and inconsistent with the department’s historical approach to the congressional testimony of current and former officials,” the letter continues. “In particular, we believe that Ms. Yates should not be obligated to refuse to provide non-classified facts about the department’s notification to the White House of concerns about the conduct of a senior official. Requiring Ms. Yates to refuse to provide such information is particularly untenable given that multiple senior administration officials have publicly described the same events.”

Another Justice Department official, Scott Schools, replied in a letter the following day, saying the conversations with the White House “are likely covered by the presidential communications privilege and possibly the deliberative process privilege. The president owns those privileges. Therefore, to the extent Ms. Yates needs consent to disclose the details of those communications to [the House intelligence committee], she needs to consult with the White House. She need not obtain separate consent from the department.”

Yates’ lawyer then sent a letter Friday to the White House lawyer, McGahn, saying that any claim of privilege “has been waived as a result of the multiple public comments of current senior White House officials describing the January 2017 communications. Nevertheless, I am advising the White House of Ms. Yates’ intention to provide information.”

That same day, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, announced he would not go forward with the public hearing that was to feature Yates’ testimony.

]]> 0, 28 Mar 2017 17:53:36 +0000
Calls grow for Rep. Nunes to recuse himself from Russia probe Tue, 28 Mar 2017 13:08:59 +0000 WASHINGTON — House intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes acknowledges he went to the White House grounds to review intelligence reports and meet the secret source behind his claim that communications involving associates of President Trump were caught up in “incidental” surveillance.

The Republican congressman’s revelation Monday prompted the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, as well as the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, to call on Nunes to recuse himself from the committee’s Russia probe.

Schiff said Nunes’ connections to the White House have raised insurmountable public doubts about whether the committee could credibly investigate the president’s campaign associates.

“I believe the public cannot have the necessary confidence that matters involving the president’s campaign or transition team can be objectively investigated or overseen by the chairman,” Schiff said in a statement Monday.

Nunes confirmed Monday that he met with the source at the White House complex, but he denied coordinating with the president’s aides.

After reviewing the information last week, Nunes called a news conference to announce that U.S. spy agencies may have inadvertently captured Trump and his associates in routine targeting of foreigners’ communications. Trump quickly seized on the statements as at least partial vindication for his assertion that President Obama tapped his phones at Trump Tower – though Nunes, Schiff and FBI Director James Comey have said there is no such evidence.

The Senate intelligence committee is also conducting an investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and possible ties with the Trump campaign. On Monday, it announced that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has agreed to be interviewed. The White House confirmed that Kushner, a senior Trump adviser, had volunteered to be interviewed about arranging meetings with the Russian ambassador and other officials.

Kushner is the fourth Trump associate to offer to be interviewed by the congressional committees looking into the murky Russia ties. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, Trump adviser Carter Page and Trump associate Roger Stone last week volunteered to speak as well.

A Russian state bank says it has met with Kushner as part of a series of meetings on future strategies.

Vnesheconombank, or VEB, said in Monday’s statement carried by state RIA Novosti news agency that it met with Kushner last year as part of ‘road show’ discussions with representatives of leading financial institutions in Europe, Asia and the United States. It said the meetings focused on global development banks’ strategies and perspective sectors. VEB provided no further details.

Trump suggested late Monday that the House panel should investigate Bill and Hillary Clinton’s dealings with Russia. “Trump Russia story is a hoax,” he tweeted.

Besides the two congressional committees, the FBI is also investigating connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The House investigation, meanwhile, has been plagued with partisan divisions under Nunes’ leadership.

The chairman did not tell the top Democrat on the committee about the meeting at the White House complex. It is highly unusual for a committee chairman and ranking member not to coordinate meetings related to an investigation.

Nunes argued he had to review classified, executive branch documents from a secure facility at the White House because the reports had not been provided to Congress and could not be transported to the secure facilities used by the House intelligence committee.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., a member of the committee, said Tuesday that Nunes should step down from the panel “in the interest of our integrity.” She said his actions raise questions about whether the panel’s investigation can be unbiased and independent.

“If you become a White House whisperer, you are not independent,” she said on CNN.

Nunes would not name the source of the information, nor would he disclose who invited him on the White House grounds for the meeting. He described the source as an intelligence official, not a White House official. In an interview on CNN, he suggested the president’s aides were unaware of the meeting.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to replace Nunes as chairman of the intelligence committee.

“He has not been operating like someone who is interested in getting to the unvarnished truth. His actions look like those of someone who is interested in protecting the president and his party,” Schumer said.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said, “Chairman Nunes’ discredited behavior has tarnished that office,” and said Ryan should insist that Nunes “at least recuse himself” from the Russia probe.

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said Monday the speaker has “full confidence that Chairman Nunes is conducting a thorough, fair and credible investigation.”

When Nunes disclosed the intelligence reports last week, he said what he reviewed had nothing to do with Russia, which could suggest that Trump associates were in touch with other foreign targets of U.S. intelligence surveillance in November, December or January.

“The chairman is extremely concerned by the possible improper unmasking of names of U.S. citizens, and he began looking into this issue even before President Trump tweeted his assertion that Trump Tower had been wiretapped,” said Nunes spokesman Jack Langer.

Nunes and Schiff have asked the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency for the names of officials who were cited in intelligence reports. The committee has said it is getting some of what it requested, but has not received everything.

The AP’s Vivian Salama and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

]]> 0, 28 Mar 2017 09:33:05 +0000
Trump takes steps to dismantle Obama’s climate change policies Tue, 28 Mar 2017 03:43:31 +0000 WASHINGTON — President Trump will take the most significant step yet in obliterating his predecessor’s environmental record Tuesday, instructing federal regulators to rewrite key rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions.

The sweeping executive order also seeks to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing and remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.

The order sends an unmistakable signal that just as President Barack Obama sought to weave climate considerations into every aspect of the federal government, Trump is hoping to rip that approach out by its roots.

“This policy is in keeping with President Trump’s desire to make the United States energy independent,” said a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the directive Monday evening and asked for anonymity to speak in advance of the announcement. “When it comes to climate change, we want to take our course and do it in our own form and fashion.”

Some of the measures could take years to implement and are unlikely to alter broader economic trends that are shifting the nation’s electricity mix from coal-fired generation to natural gas and renewables. The order is silent on whether the United States should withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, under which it has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions between 26 and 28 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels, because the administration remains divided on that question.

The order comes after several moves by Trump to roll back Obama-era restrictions on mining, drilling and coal- and gas-burning operations. In his first two months as president, Trump has nullified a regulation barring surface-mining companies from polluting waterways and set aside a new accounting system that would have compelled coal companies and other energy firms to pay more in federal royalties.

The administration also has announced it will reconsider stricter fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks and has approved two major oil pipelines, Dakota Access and Keystone XL, that Obama had halted.

Accelerating fossil-fuel production on federal lands and sidelining climate considerations could lead to higher emissions of the greenhouse gases driving climate change and complicate a global effort to curb the world’s carbon output. But Trump has repeatedly questioned whether climate change is underway and emphasized that he is determined to deliver for the voters in coal country who helped him win the Oval Office.

“He’s made a pledge to the coal industry and he’s going to do whatever he can to help those workers,” the senior administration official said.

U.S. coal jobs, which number about 75,000, have been declining for decades. The official did not predict how many jobs might be spurred by this shift in policy.

The centerpiece of the new presidential directive, telling the Environmental Protection Agency to begin rewriting the 2015 regulation that limits greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants, will trigger a laborious rulemaking process and a possible legal fight.

The agency must first get permission from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where the rule is tied up in litigation, to revisit the matter. Then, agency officials will have to justify reaching the opposite conclusion of the Obama EPA, which argued it was technically feasible and legally warranted to reduce carbon pollution by about one-third by 2030, compared with 2005 levels.

“So, for the president, even if he would like to revoke the Clean Power Plan, he doesn’t have legal authority to do that,” said Jeffrey Holmstead, a partner at the Bracewell law firm who opposes the Obama-era rule. Holmstead, who headed the EPA’s air and radiation office under President George W. Bush, said he thinks the agency can justify reversing the regulation. But “they have to justify why they have changed,” he added.

While environmental groups decried Trump’s move, mining officials welcomed it as an important course correction in federal energy policy.

“This rule was an unlawful attempt to radically transform the nation’s power grid, destroying valuable energy assets and leaving our economy more vulnerable to rising power prices – all for an insignificant environmental benefit,” said Hal Quinn, president and chief executive of the National Mining Association.

Environmentalists vowed to fight the executive order in court and press ahead with their goals on the state level.

David Doniger, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean-air program, said unwinding the Clean Power Plan will not happen quickly, no matter what the president wants. “Tearing the rules down require going through the same process it took to build them up,” Doniger said. “We will make them face the music at every step.”

Christopher Field, a professor at Stanford University’s Wood Institute for the Environment, said in an email that the directive carries long-term risks, rather than immediate ones. “Some are risks from eroding the position of U.S. companies in the clean energy sector,” Field said. “Others are from the loss of irreplaceable natural heritage that is put in jeopardy by ill-conceived policies.”

The president will also instruct the Interior Department to rewrite a 2015 rule, currently stayed in court, that imposes restrictions on hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands. The directive will also make it easier to flare methane in oil and gas operations on federal land, by triggering the review of a rule the Interior Department finalized in November.

Other aspects of the executive order can take effect immediately, though it is unclear how quickly they will translate into greater coal extraction. One section overturns a 2016 White House directive to consider climate change when agencies conduct reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, a sweeping law that informed any federal decisions that have a significant environmental impact.

Another provision instructs Interior’s Bureau of Land Management to lift a freeze on federal coal leasing. That moratorium has been in effect since December 2015.

Tom Sanzillo, director of finance for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said in an interview that the move “becomes a largely politically symbolic measure for right now” because other, lower-carbon sources of energy are out-competing coal. He noted that U.S. coal consumption has declined 27 percent since 2005, from 1.02 billion tons to 739 million tons in 2016, its lowest level in nearly four decades.

“They’re not going to reverse the fundamental economic law here,” Sanzillo said. “There’s no market signal that’s telling them they should be mining more coal.”

Still, regulatory relief could make some coal firms, nearly 50 of which have filed for bankruptcy since 2012, somewhat more economically viable. Some of the sector’s biggest companies – including Arch Coal, Peabody Energy and Alpha Natural Resources – are just now emerging from bankruptcy protection.

Ethan Zindler, head of U.S. research at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in an email that solar and wind are competitive with coal in some parts of the country and that natural gas ranks as the lowest-cost source of electricity generation overall. The sector that could suffer the greatest hit from the elimination of the Clean Power Plan is nuclear energy, which provides about a fifth of U.S. businesses’ and households’ power.

“Many of the 100 or so U.S. plants are aging, and approximately a third are economically uncompetitive today,” Zindler said. Without stricter federal emissions limits, he added, “there may be little to stop the retirement of these plants in coming years and their replacement with a combination of gas, wind and solar.”

Separately, Trump has instructed federal officials to abandon the practice of factoring in the impact of climate change – what is dubbed “the social cost of carbon” – in their policymaking decisions. That calculus, which is currently set at $36 per ton of carbon dioxide, aims to capture the negative consequences of allowing greenhouse-gas emissions to continue to rise. But some conservatives have criticized it as too sweeping.

Federal officials will return to the traditional cost-benefit analysis the George W. Bush administration adopted nearly 15 years ago, which has a much lower cost associated with carbon emissions.

As Trump seeks to scale back federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions, states and cities are likely to take on a larger role in charting the course forward.

An analysis by the Rhodium Group, an economic consulting firm, found that Trump’s forthcoming executive order would slow the country’s shift away from carbon-emitting sources of energy. It found after Trump’s action, the United States would be 14 percent below its 2005 emissions levels by 2025, compared to 21 percent below that mark had current Obama-era policies remained in place.

Tim Profeta, who directs Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, said regulators from more than half-dozen states in the Southeast are now talking about how to chart their own path forward. Having met for nearly three years, the group stopped discussing how to comply with the Clean Power Plan after November’s election, but it is still talking.

“We are now talking about the evolution of the power sector in an environment of uncertainty,” Profeta said in an interview. “We’re seeing the beginning of states taking control of their destiny.”

]]> 0 Tue, 28 Mar 2017 00:13:13 +0000
Attorney general: Sanctuary cities are risking federal money Tue, 28 Mar 2017 02:46:03 +0000 WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday warned so-called sanctuary cities they could lose federal money for refusing to cooperate with immigration authorities and suggested the government would come after grants that have already been awarded if they don’t comply.

Sessions said the Justice Department would require cities seeking some of $4.1 billion available in grant money to verify that they are in compliance with a section of federal law that allows information sharing with immigration officials.

His statements brought to mind tough talk from President Trump’s campaign and came three days after the administration’s crushing health care defeat. But Sessions also acknowledged he was reiterating a similar policy adopted by the Obama administration last year.

“I urge the nation’s states and cities to carefully consider the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws,” Sessions said.

The message is a furtherance of Trump’s campaign promise to “defund” sanctuary cities by taking away their federal funding. But legal precedent suggests that would be difficult.

The Obama administration issued the same warning last year, telling cities they risked losing grant money in 2017 if they didn’t comply with the law.

Sessions did not detail what specific factors would trigger the government to deny or strip a city of money, only that it would take “all lawful steps to claw-back” funds already awarded to cities deemed to be out of compliance.

At stake are grants that go toward an array of programs, including victim services, police body cameras, tools to cut rape kit testing backlogs and police involvement in community events.

In fiscal year 2016, the Office of Justice Programs made nearly 3,000 grants totaling $3.9 billion to cities, counties, states and other local governments.

Philadelphia, which has designated itself as a “sanctuary city,” received $57.5 million in Justice Department grants in fiscal year 2016 – mostly to cover police expenses for the Democratic National Convention.

Although there is no official definition of what makes a locality a “sanctuary,” the Trump administration has begun to publish weekly reports of local jurisdictions that aren’t cooperating with federal efforts to find and deport immigrants in the country illegally, as part of executive order Trump signed in January.

The White House last week listed more than 200 cases of immigrants released from custody before federal agents could intervene. Sessions on Monday pointed to two cases in which immigrants who had been released by local law enforcement went on to commit violent crimes.

Refusing to honor such immigration detainer requests would not put a city in violation of the statute Sessions cited, which deals instead with law enforcement sharing of information about someone’s immigration status.

Meanwhile, municipal leaders nationwide vowed to defy any crackdown.

“We are going to become this administration’s worst nightmare,” said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was among officials gathered in New York for a small conference that attracted officials from cities including San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York.

Mark-Viverito and others promised to block federal immigration agents from accessing certain private areas on city property, to restrict their access to schools and school records and to offer legal services to immigrants in the country illegally.

California Senate leader Kevin de León called Sessions’ message, “nothing short of blackmail. … Their gun-to-the-head method to force resistant cities and counties to participate in Trump’s inhumane and counterproductive mass-deportation is unconstitutional and will fail.”

Associated Press writers Meghan Hoyer in Washington, Steve Peoples in New York and Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

]]> 0 SessionsMon, 27 Mar 2017 22:51:09 +0000
Complaint to Justice Department says Sessions lied to Senate under oath Tue, 28 Mar 2017 02:25:50 +0000 Nearly two dozen people from five states are accusing Attorney General Jeff Sessions of lying to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his communications with the Russian government, and subsequently trying to cover up that lie, according to a complaint sent to the Department of Justice.

The complaint, which names 23 residents, says that Sessions gave false and misleading testimony during his confirmation hearing in January when he told the Senate committee that he “did not have communications with the Russians.” It further accuses the attorney general of covering up the alleged perjury by directing a spokeswoman to make a public statement saying he did not mislead the committee.

“We feel there is probable cause to charge him with a crime,” J. Whitfield Larrabee, a Massachusetts lawyer who represents the 23 residents, told The Washington Post. “We want indictments in the case. We want Attorney General Sessions to be treated just the same as anyone else. We don’t think that just because he’s the attorney general, that there should be a higher standard to bring charges against him.”

Larrabee said the complaint was sent Monday to three Justice Department divisions that investigate alleged crimes and misconduct by agency employees and public officials.

Larrabee said the department should appoint a special prosecutor to handle the investigation and prosecution.

]]> 0 General Jeff Sessions removes his glasses before speaking to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, March 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Mon, 27 Mar 2017 22:52:34 +0000
U.S., others boycott nuclear ban talks Tue, 28 Mar 2017 02:23:15 +0000 UNITED NATIONS — U.N. talks aimed at banning nuclear weapons began Monday, but the United States, Russia, China and other nuclear-armed nations are sitting out a discussion they see as impractical.

Supporters of the potential pact say it’s time to push harder toward eliminating atomic weapons than nations have been doing through the nearly 50-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

With international tensions rising while public awareness of the nuclear threat has waned, “the need for progress on nuclear disarmament has rarely been as urgent as it is today,” U.N. Under Secretary-General for disarmament Kim Won-soo said as the talks opened.

More than 100 countries voted for a U.N. General Assembly resolution last year to start discussions, with nations including Austria, Brazil and Ireland leading the effort.

But the U.S. and several other nuclear powers say a ban won’t work and the world should instead stick with a more gradual approach.

“As a mom, as a daughter, there is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons. But we have to be realistic,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said as she and colleagues from Britain, France and about 20 other nations gathered Monday outside the General Assembly chamber to show opposition to the talks starting inside.

Haley argued that a treaty would end up disarming nations “trying to keep peace and safety,” while “bad actors” wouldn’t sign on or comply.

“North Korea would be the one cheering, and all of us and the people we represent would be the ones at risk,” she said.

North Korea carried out two nuclear tests last year and has continued to test ballistic missiles as recently as this month, in violation of U.N. resolutions. The North has said its nuclear efforts are meant as a deterrent against what it sees as U.S. hostility. North Korea’s U.N. Mission didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry Monday about the disarmament talks.

Opponents of the ban plan say gradual disarmament has made a difference. The U.S. has reduced its nuclear arsenal by 85 percent under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Haley said; Britain has cut its nuclear forces by over 50 percent since the height of the Cold War, according to Ambassador Matthew Rycroft.

Still, “our countries continue to rely on nuclear deterrence for security and stability,” French Deputy Ambassador Alexis Lamek said.

Chinese and Russian representatives didn’t join the boycotters’ news conference, but the two countries had said previously that they wouldn’t participate in the talks.

Japan – which during World War II experienced the only atomic bomb strikes in history – did take part in opening remarks Monday. Saying that North Korea’s actions challenge the non-proliferation approach, Japanese representative Nobushige Takamizawa said it was “crucial to have a realistic perspective as to how nuclear disarmament measures can contribute effectively to addressing actual security concerns.”

The negotiations aim to create “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” Backers hope a document will be inked by July.

Any treaty would bind only nations that ratified it. But despite the opposition from key nuclear players, supporters of the proposed ban feel it could help create a new international norm of rejecting atomic arms.

“It’s very difficult to eliminate a weapon that you haven’t prohibited first,” said Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, an advocacy group.

]]> 0 by representatives from supporting countries, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, center, speaks to reporters outside the General Assembly at U.N. headquarters Monday.Mon, 27 Mar 2017 22:54:09 +0000
Trump signs legislation rolling back Obama-era regulations Tue, 28 Mar 2017 02:09:54 +0000 WASHINGTON — President Trump signed a handful of measures Monday rolling back Obama-era regulations under the Congressional Review Act.

It’s part of a larger Republican effort to eliminate an array of regulations issued during President Barack Obama’s final months in office and comes days after Trump’s effort to repeal and replace “Obamacare” failed. Trump has made overturning what he deems government over-reach a centerpiece of his first months in office.

“I will keep working with Congress, with every agency, and most importantly, the American people, until we eliminate every unnecessary, harmful and job-killing regulation that we can find,” Trump said at a White House signing ceremony. “We have a lot more coming.”

Two of the regulations nullified Monday had to do with school performance and teacher preparation programs.

One, issued by the Education Department in October, required that federally funded teacher preparation programs be evaluated based on the academic outcomes of those teachers’ students. Republican senators opposed the rules, arguing such matters should be left to the states.

The other aimed to help states identify failing schools and come up with plans to improve them.

Another rule nullified by Trump required federal land managers to consider climate change and other long-term effects of proposed development on public lands. The regulation had been imposed by the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees more than 245 million acres of public lands.

Republicans argued the rule, finalized in December, shifted decision-making authority away from state and local officials to the federal government. The signing came the day before Trump was expected to reverse Obama’s signature effort to address climate change, the Clean Power Plan, which restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants.

The final rule targeted by Republicans had been aimed at forcing government contractors to disclose violations of federal labor laws as they sought more work. The “blacklisting rule” required contractors to disclose violations of 14 federal labor laws, including those pertaining to workplace safety, wages and discrimination.

The White House argued the rule would “bog down” the federal procurement process, while business groups said that it would increase compliance costs.

Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration have made curbing government regulation a top priority this year. Dozens of resolutions pulling back various Obama-era rules have been introduced under an expedited process established through the Congressional Review Act. Under that process, a regulation is invalidated when a simple majority of both chambers pass a joint resolution of disapproval and the president signs it.

]]> 0 Trump holds up the pen he used to sign a bill in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Monday. From left are Sen. Tom Barrasso, R-Wyo., Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.Mon, 27 Mar 2017 22:55:38 +0000
Kansas man recognized for 60 years of blood donations Tue, 28 Mar 2017 01:48:20 +0000 TOPEKA, Kan. — An 87-year-old Kansas man who has donated 32 gallons of blood over more than six decades credits his father for his award-winning generosity.

Harold Facklam Jr. of Topeka recently was recognized by the Kansas Health Care Association and the Kansas Center for Assisted Living for the 259 pints he has donated through the American Red Cross, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Facklam, who donated until health reasons caused him to stop in April 2015, said he doesn’t think about how his donations have affected others or even saved lives.

But he gave a nod to his late father, Harold Facklam Sr., who he said encouraged him to donate when the younger Facklam was almost 21 in 1951. Facklam’s father gave blood for about 11 years, stopping at age 60.

“My father was giving; he certainly had a great influence on me. He was very, so pleased to give and that’s why I started, of course,” Facklam Jr. said.

For years, the younger Facklam sprang to action every time a newspaper or radio announcement said the Red Cross would be in his area accepting blood donations.

]]> 0 Facklam Jr. displays the many pins he has collected for having donated 32 gallons of blood over more than six decades.Mon, 27 Mar 2017 21:48:20 +0000
Cosby prosecutors object to prescreening 2,000 potential jurors Tue, 28 Mar 2017 01:14:41 +0000 PHILADELPHIA — Prosecutors in Bill Cosby’s sex assault case in Pennsylvania objected Monday to defense efforts to prescreen as many as 2,000 potential jurors.

They also said in a court filing that the jury should be selected weeks before the scheduled June 5 trial so jurors can prepare to be sequestered nearly 300 miles from home.

And they challenged defense claims that it will be tough to find people without opinions of the longtime Hollywood icon.

Cosby, who turns 80 next month, is accused of drugging and molesting a Temple University basketball team manager at his home in 2004, an encounter he calls consensual.

Cosby was 66 at the time; the woman, Andrea Constand, was 30.

]]> 0 Mon, 27 Mar 2017 21:14:41 +0000
Thieves make off with a single coin: 221 pounds of pure gold Tue, 28 Mar 2017 01:06:57 +0000 BERLIN — Until it disappeared under the darkness of night, the 220-pound gold coin sat behind bulletproof glass in Berlin’s Bode Museum.

Since December 2010, the gargantuan coin delighted museum visitors, who likely could not imagine the absurdity of transporting such a weighty hunk of money. Early Monday morning, however, thieves appear to have done just that.

“The coin was stolen last night,” museum spokesman Markus Farr told Reuters. “It’s gone.”

If so, how it was stolen remained a mystery early Tuesday morning. Berlin police stayed fairly mum on the museum heist, offering only a few tantalizing details that resembled the plots of the “Ocean’s Eleven” films.

The museum’s back wall backs up to passing railroad tracks. Perched about four yards above the tracks was a window leading to the museum, which police found ajar, the New York Times reported. Near the open window, they found a ladder that may have been used in the robbery, police told CNN

“Based on the information we have so far we believe that the thief, maybe thieves, broke open a window in the back of the museum next to the railway tracks,” police spokesman Winfrid Wenzel told Reuters. “They then managed to enter the building and went to the coin exhibition.”

The working theory, as the New York Times noted, is that thieves dragged the coin through the museum then along the railroad tracks, likely to a nearby park. How they would have avoided any further security systems or cameras remained unclear, as police declined to comment further.

There was, though, little doubt that the coin was a specific target. The bulletproof glass encapsulating the coin “appeared to have been violently shattered,” Wenzel said. Meanwhile, the other coins in the display remained peaceably untouched.

The Royal Canadian Mint produced its first $1 million (Canadian) gold coin in 2007. One one side appeared the head of Queen Elizabeth II. The other side bore the image of a maple leaf.

Nicknamed the “Big Maple Leaf,” the coin boasts impressive metrics: it is 99.999 percent pure gold, more than an inch thick and its diameter exceeds 20 inches. It was featured in the Guinness Book of Records for its “unsurpassed purity,” CNN reported. The coin’s face value is a misnomer. Given its gold content, it is actually worth around $4.5 million.

Pleased with its creation, which the Royal Canadian Mint’s website called, “a true milestone in minting,” the mint then decided to produce up to 10 copies “after several interested buyers came forward.” Eventually, it settled on producing five replicas, one of which landed in (and subsequently disappeared from) the Bode Museum.

“Why did the Royal Canadian Mint make the world’s purest and largest gold bullion coin?” a statement on the mint’s website said. “Because we can.”

Selling such a notable coin on the black market would prove difficult, of course, unless one first melted it down and sold the crude gold comprising it.

]]> 0 "Big Maple Leaf" coin stolen from the Bode Museum in Berlin is over an inch thick and has a diameter of 20.9 inches.Tue, 28 Mar 2017 15:58:39 +0000
Russian protest organizer handed 15-day jail sentence Tue, 28 Mar 2017 00:40:09 +0000 MOSCOW — The wave of nationwide demonstrations that shook Russia’s long dormant political scene over the weekend showed a new face of protest: mostly teenage demonstrators driven by accusations of high-level official corruption, glaring amid the nation’s painful two-year recession.

A year before facing re-election, President Vladimir Putin has a dilemma: to further tighten the screws or to devise more artful means for keeping a lid on dissent. On Monday, a Moscow court handed a 15-day jail term to the protest organizer, Alexei Navalny, whose charisma and social media savvy helped rally the young.

Navalny was arrested as he walked to a protest in Moscow on Sunday and spent the night in jail before showing up in court. Police have arrested more than 1,000 people for taking part in the unauthorized protest in the capital, and many of them face jail sentences or fines. Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation has promised to offer legal assistance to all those who were arrested.

“Even the slightest illusion of fair justice is absent here,” Navalny told reporters Monday from the defendant’s bench, complaining about the judge striking down one motion after another. “Yesterday’s events have shown that quite a large number of voters in Russia support the program of a candidate who stands for fighting corruption. These people demand political representation – and I strive to be their political representative.”

Journalists and well-wishers packed the courtroom in central Moscow, where Navalny, in a selfie posted on Twitter, declared: “A time will come when we’ll put them (the authorities) on trial too – and that time it will be fair.”

The 40-year-old Navalny, Russia’s most popular opposition leader, has had three convictions on fraud and embezzlement charges that he dismisses as politically motivated. Even though the convictions technically disqualify him, he has announced a presidential bid for 2018.

With his colorful and sarcastic expose of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s alleged collection of mansions, villas and vineyards – which garnered over 13 million views on YouTube – Navalny managed to draw tens of thousands to the streets across Russia in the biggest show of defiance since a 2011-2012 wave of protests rattled the Kremlin and led to harsh new laws aimed at suppressing dissent.

On Monday, Putin met with senior officers of the National Guard, which took part in arresting participants in the demonstrations along with police, but he didn’t mention the protest. Russian state television completely ignored the demonstrations in their broadcasts Sunday, and Medvedev refrained from comment.

“The question now is what kind of balance between propaganda and repression the government will choose,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center. “The government needs to preserve itself for another presidential term – if not forever – and now there is an important moment when the government is choosing its strategy and tactics.”

Medvedev’s job had reportedly been in jeopardy amid infighting among various factions in the Kremlin, but now his tenure seems secure as his dismissal would look like caving in to protesters’ demands – something Putin never does.

The Kremlin has long sought to cast the opposition as a phenomenon of a privileged Westernized urban elite.

]]> 0 opposition leader Alexei Navalny, foreground, speaks to the press in a courtroom in Moscow on Monday, a day after being arrested while on his way to a major opposition rally. A Moscow court handed a 15-day jail term to Navalny, the protest organizer.Mon, 27 Mar 2017 20:40:09 +0000
Cape Cod officials send out balloon to detect sharks Tue, 28 Mar 2017 00:08:34 +0000 ORLEANS, Mass. — In the Nauset Beach parking lot, Joseph Ciampa and Thomas Davis filled a creamy white weather balloon with hydrogen from a tank in the trunk of Ciampa’s car.

Winds from an approaching storm slapped the balloon around like a punching bag.

In the end, the wind won out. The azure sky beckoned, but the drag created by the balloon and its payload, a high-definition camera, kept it from soaring very far.

The problem, said Ciampa – the vice president for operations for the Miami-based Altametry SmartBalloon company – was resolved in the latest versions, with a more rigid PVC balloon equipped with spoilers to deflect the wind.

But it’s not the whipping winds of winter these balloons would be expected to endure. Cape Cod towns, particularly those along the Atlantic side, need eyes in the summer sky to look for great white sharks, which return by the hundreds each summer to hunt gray seals numbering in the tens of thousands.

New technology, streaming HD video and thermal imagery, wedded to one of the oldest uses for balloons, harkening back to 18th-century battlefield reconnaissance: Surveillance. With sharks hunting seals close to shore and swimmers, beach managers have been looking for effective methods of detection. Officials have long believed that a visual detection system would work best, but the Cape doesn’t have high hills or cliffs to use as vantage points.

The spotter plane used for shark tagging is expensive and only flies over a beach for a short period of time, while drones have limited battery life, can be noisy, and need almost perfect weather conditions to fly. At one point, Orleans officials brought a fire engine to the beach and extended a ladder skyward to see how high they’d have to build a lifeguard tower to get a good look into the water.

“I think it has great potential and I’m excited to be trying it,” state shark researcher Gregory Skomal said about the balloon.

Skomal is working to fund a pilot project this summer on Shark Cove, the area south of Chatham where sharks are known to congregate to feed on a massive seal colony.

The company was founded three years ago by Ciampa’s uncle, John Ciampa, who also co-founded Pictometry International, a highly successful three-dimensional aerial mapping firm. Altametry equipment has been tried in various case studies, including marine research with endangered sea turtles.

“I’m a huge fan of Shark Week and I was watching an older program and I said, maybe this would work,” Ciampa said.

Altametry balloons and cameras can operate effectively in wind speeds a little over 17 mph, he said. Given that wind speeds drop dramatically from June through to October, when the average wind speed is around 8 mph, it would be relatively easy to send the balloons aloft to scan the water, Ciampa said. Battery life in the camera currently allows for five to six hours of operation, but Ciampa said his company has nearly developed a tether wire that could provide power to the cameras directly from the ground.

Equipped with specialized lens filters, the cameras have proven capable of peering 130 feet down into the crystal clear water of South Florida, but have also been able to spot manatees around 8 feet below the surface in murky coastal water. Image resolution is roughly four times that of a conventional high-definition television camera.

“I believe in the white sandy bottom of Shark Cove in Chatham where Greg (Skomal) would like to utilize the platform will enable us to see animals deeper below the surface because of the differences in contrast,” Ciampa said.

A thermal imaging camera could detect sharks and seals, which are both warmer than the surrounding water temperature. The basic package for beaches, including the balloon, high resolution imaging camera, HD streaming video, filters and polarized lenses, as well as a battery with three to six hours of power, would run about $3,000, Ciampa said.

“I’ve talked with the engineers and they have all kinds of options with camera optics,” Skomal said. “Testing needs to happen. Let’s look at them and give them a try and see what’s optimal for Cape Cod.”

Ciampa said one balloon could cover all of the protected area at Nauset Beach, and yet still zoom in on a target with finger control on a tablet screen. Or, the target can be marked with GPS coordinates and a drone can fly out to get a better look. Technicians are now working on shape-recognition software that may be able to discern the torpedo shape of a shark on the video feed and send out an alert, he said.

“I’m sure, on the right day (weather-wise), it’s great, but I need to see it do it for a season,” Orleans Natural Resources Manager Nathan Sears said. “If it is a useful tool on regular basis, then it needs to be looked at.”

]]> 0 Mon, 27 Mar 2017 20:08:34 +0000
Building the wall on Mexico border: What businesses and workers will benefit? Mon, 27 Mar 2017 23:43:08 +0000 LOS ANGELES — As a billionaire developer, Donald Trump built casinos, luxury condo towers and lush golf courses. Now, as president, Trump aims to develop perhaps his most ambitious and surely his most contentious project yet: A wall along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

How? At what cost? And who would benefit?

Much remains unknown. Ultimately, though, experts say the project, if built, could deliver a windfall for some large construction companies and their suppliers. Engineering and infrastructure companies that have worked on previous government projects could capture a chunk of the multibillion-dollar work. Among them are Kiewit and Flour Enterprises. Subsidiaries of both have signed up as interested vendors.

But the project would likely also be stymied by the struggles that have beset the industry in recent years, notably a shortage of skilled labor and rising materials costs.

Here’s what’s known and not known about the potential effects on U.S. construction companies and workers:

Q: Which companies would likely work on the wall?

A: The government has laid out plans to hire contractors for design and construction. Some smaller businesses would serve as subcontractors. One factor the government is to consider in choosing contractors is their track record in hiring small businesses as subcontractors and making significant use of them. The Customs and Border Protection agency has set a goal of having 38 percent of subcontracts go to small businesses.

Roughly 850 companies have expressed interest online in being vendors. Among them are self-described small, disadvantaged firms, like Nationwide Construction Services of Jacksonville, Florida, and Northwest Geotechnical Consultants of Wilsonville, Oregon. Some of the big companies include a subsidiary of the construction and engineering firm Parsons Corp. and Vulcan Materials Co., a producer of asphalt and ready-mixed concrete.

“It probably will take a really big general contractor that is used to managing multiple projects under one large umbrella and that will need many suppliers,” said Ty Gable of the National Precast Concrete Association. “It’s going to help a lot of individual suppliers along the way.” The Trump administration has said it wants the wall to provide not only a physical barrier but also access roads, motorized vehicle gates, lighting, communication towers, ground sensors and remote video surveillance. That would mean job opportunities for companies beyond construction firms. Some that have expressed interest include Border Technology Inc. of Hereford, Arizona, whose website says it’s worked with the Border Patrol using drones and other equipment to monitor the border.

Q: What kinds of jobs are we talking about?

A: Along with engineering and design work, the project would require numerous construction and heavy machinery operators. Among the jobs: Truck drivers to ferry materials, crane operators, concrete workers, digging-equipment operators, site supervisors and general laborers. Any employees who work on-site would have to pass an immigration and criminal-history check.

Finding enough skilled laborers could be tough, though, because thousands of skilled construction workers left the industry after the housing meltdown and Great Recession a decade ago.

“It ultimately comes down to how much they’re willing to pay,” Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, said of the contractors. “Firms would price in the difficulty of recruiting workers in their bids for doing the work.”

Q: How long might it take to build?

A: Unclear. For now, the government’s contract solicitations are intended only to assess prototype designs for the wall and to build some segments of the structure. In addition, acquiring land from private owners that would be needed to build the wall would likely add delays.

Q: What might the wall look like?

A: The government has been inviting companies to submit designs for a wall made of either reinforced concrete or other materials. The idea is to evaluate several prototypes before deciding on a design and material.

The wall is envisioned being as high as 30 feet, with automated gates for pedestrians and vehicles. The wall would also extend at least 6 feet underground to deter tunneling across the border; be resistant to climbing tools; and be strong enough to withstand attempts to make a 12-inch diameter breach in the wall using a sledgehammer, drill or other power tools.

And, among other things, the Trump administration wants the side of the wall facing the United States to be “aesthetically pleasing in color.”

Q: What benefits might the wall deliver for the U.S. construction industry?

A: Given the estimated cost – somewhere between $8 billion and roughly $20 billion – the project would represent just a thin slice of overall U.S. construction spending. Spending last year on public construction totaled $286 billion. And that was just a quarter of overall construction spending, which includes residential and commercial developments.

Still, “as a single project, it would dwarf everything else,” Simonson said. “Even if it came in at the low end, a single $8 billion construction project would top anything else that’s out there now.”

Q: How soon will a design be chosen?

A: Companies have until Wednesday to submit prototype designs. Up to 20 finalists will be selected to make more detailed design renderings and an oral presentation in Washington. The government would then award a contract based on sample walls that are to be built in San Diego and be visible to the public. It’s unclear how soon construction on prototype designs would begin or when the designs would eventually be available to see. Initial documents laying out the timeline for how companies should submit wall designs indicated that the government wants to finalize a design and begin awarding contracts as early as May.

Q: How much would the project cost?

A: Unclear. Trump has suggested that the project would cost $12 billion. Congressional Republicans have estimated it could go as high as $15 billion.

An internal report prepared for Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly projected the cost of building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border at about $21 billion, according to a U.S. official who is involved in border issues. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been made public. An estimate by engineers at the National Precast Concrete Association puts the cost of the wall at $8 billion. This would be for a design made up of reinforced concrete panels, with some portion of the panels extending underground. Not included is the potential cost of acquiring land.

“That’s the variable that probably gets these numbers much higher than $8 billion,” Gable said.

Q: Where would the money come from?

A: The White House’s budget proposal to Congress included $2.6 billion to forge ahead with the border wall.

Critics – Democrats and some Republicans – have argued that a border-long wall is unnecessary and have chafed at the notion that Trump wants to draw upon U.S. taxpayer money, even though he promised repeatedly during the campaign that Mexico would be forced to pay for the wall.

It’s unclear how soon Congress might act on Trump’s request or how much money might be approved or appropriated. The government has cautioned would-be contractors that the project is subject to “availability of appropriated funds.”

Q: Any other potential hurdles?

A: The Trump administration appears to be bracing for a fight with private landowners over the government’s likely use of eminent domain. Under eminent domain, the government can, under some circumstances, order landowners to accept buyouts for their property to make way for the fence. The administration’s recently proposed budget includes money to hire 20 lawyers to work on land acquisition.

]]> 0 - This Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, file photo shows a section of the border fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas. As a billionaire business tycoon, Donald Trump forged deals to acquire or develop casinos, luxury condo towers and lush golf courses. Now, as president, Trump aims to build perhaps his most ambitious and certainly his most contentious structure yet: A wall along the nearly 2,000-mile border between the United States and Mexico. (Jason Hoekema/The Brownsville Herald via AP, File)Mon, 27 Mar 2017 19:43:08 +0000
New director will take the reins at Massachusetts therapeutic riding center Mon, 27 Mar 2017 23:15:42 +0000 NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Pamela Skinner loved riding her horse around the woods of Boxford as a child and into adulthood.

It was one of her greatest pleasures in life, only surpassed by the work she does as an instructor at the therapeutic riding center Windrush Farm in North Andover.

After 20 years, Skinner has decided to retire from her post, leaving behind what she sees as a vibrant and evolving riding center that is looking to expand.

But Skinner said though she is leaving formally, she knows she won’t be able to stay away from the farm and the horses for long.

“There is such a bond created between human and horse – there’s really nothing like it,” she said.

While Skinner is retiring, Windrush Farm’s new chief executive is eager to bring plans to expand the riding center’s offerings to fruition.

Windrush Farm was founded in 1964, when Marjorie Kittredge invited students from a school for children with special needs to ride horses at her farm spanning 35 acres in North Andover and Boxford. Officially called Windrush Farm Therapeutic Equitation Inc., the farm became one of the first therapeutic riding centers in the country.

“She was really a pioneer,” said Skinner, who admitted that she was intimidated by Kittredge as a young woman.

Skinner’s husband was doing contract work on the farm in the 1990s and encouraged her to stop by to chat with Kittredge.

“I honestly haven’t left since that first time,” she said.

Skinner started as a volunteer around the farm. It wasn’t until she had a close encounter with disability herself that she realized she wanted to do more.

Skinner was admitted to the hospital for meningitis, and she said doctors weren’t sure she would survive. And there was a possibility that she would lose her arms and legs.

“Sitting in that bed, alone, you have a lot of time to think,” she said. And when she got up and walked out of the hospital, Skinner said she knew she wanted to help those with disabilities feel whole again.

“So much has changed since I first started,” she said. “But the feeling of seeing a nonverbal child start giving their horse commands, saying “walk on” … or having parents tell me their child was going through movements of the lesson at the dinner table, that feeling will always be incredible.”

Skinner said most instructors and training staff today have degrees in physical or occupational therapy. All of them are certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship.

“I don’t have any formal degrees,” she said. “But I’ve got the experience, and the newer staff often come to me for that.”

In addition to the difference in training across generations of Windrush Farm staffers, the farm has begun to branch out beyond therapy for traditional special-needs groups.

“We have so many new programs here that have such opportunity to serve the community,” said CEO Janet Nittman, who joined the farm in October.

Windrush now runs a program with at-risk youths in Lawrence, called Giddy Up and Grow, where children learn to care for and ride a horse, then write about their experiences.

There’s a bereavement program where groups of people who have lost someone can come and connect with the horses and each other.

And there’s a program for veterans to lead a horse through an obstacle course.

As Skinner finishes her chapter at Windrush, she said she hopes those programs continue to grow.

]]> 0 Mon, 27 Mar 2017 19:15:42 +0000
New Hampshire lawmaker Steve Vaillancourt, known for fiery speeches, dies at 65 Mon, 27 Mar 2017 22:53:25 +0000 CONCORD, N.H. — Steve Vaillancourt, a 10-term state representative known for his colorful floor speeches, has died at age 65, lawmakers said.

“He was a spicy representative whose floor speeches kept us spellbound and amused,” Republican Rep. Neal Kurk said Monday before dedicating a moment of silence to Vaillancourt’s memory.

The time and cause of Vaillancourt’s death weren’t immediately known.

Lawmakers asked police to check on Vaillancourt on Monday morning when he didn’t show up for a House Finance Committee budget hearing, Kurk said. The police found him dead in his home.

Vaillancourt had been suffering from health problems and recently had a heart-related surgery, Kurk said. His colleagues mourned the news of his death during Monday’s finance meeting.

Vaillancourt, a Republican from Manchester, built a reputation as an outspoken lawmaker unafraid to wade into controversy.

In 2012, he was kicked out of the House chamber after shouting the Nazi salute “Sieg Heil” when then-Speaker Bill O’Brien, a fellow Republican, shut down debate on a bill.

In 2007, he accused his former roommate and friend Ray Buckley, then a candidate for chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, of formerly possessing child pornography. The attorney general found no evidence to support his claim.

Before becoming a Republican, Vaillancourt ran and served as a Democrat and as a Libertarian.

During House debates, Vaillancourt often would deliver passionate floor speeches on the issues of the day, from marijuana legalization to a ban on election ballot selfies. He was a strong proponent of legislation aimed at ending animal cruelty.

“We will remember Steve as an outstanding orator and a man who was certainly dedicated to his principles,” Republican House Speaker Shawn Jasper said.

Vaillancourt grew up in Vermont and attended Vergennes Union High School. He is survived by his brother, Jasper said.

]]> 0 RepublicanMon, 27 Mar 2017 18:53:25 +0000
Historian, journalist and activist Roger Wilkins dies at 85 Mon, 27 Mar 2017 22:39:11 +0000 WASHINGTON — Roger Wilkins, a historian, journalist and activist who held a key civil rights post in President Lyndon Johnson’s administration and helped The Washington Post win a Pulitzer for its Watergate coverage, died Sunday, relatives said. He was 85.

Wilkins, most recently a history professor at George Mason University, died at an assisted-living facility in Kensington, Maryland, said his wife, Patricia King, and his daughter, Elizabeth Wilkins. The cause of death was complications from dementia, they said.

His uncle Roy Wilkins was the longtime executive director of the NAACP.

From the mid-1960s to the early 1980s, Wilkins worked in the Johnson administration, the Ford Foundation, The Washington Post and The New York Times. In his 1982 autobiography, “A Man’s Life,” he described the frustrations of being “the lead black in white institutions for 16 years.”

In a Washington Post review, famed author James Baldwin wrote that Wilkins “has written a most beautiful book, has delivered an impeccable testimony out of that implacable private place where a man either lives or dies.”

In 1965, Johnson tapped Wilkins to head the federal Community Relations Service, which was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to mediate racial disputes and foster progress in black communities.

The New York Times said Johnson told him it would be “the toughest job ever given any Negro in the Federal Government. … You have one mandate – to do what is right.”

As many cities were racked by rioting in the mid-1960s, Wilkins advocated efforts to improve conditions there. “We have to change the way people live,” he said in the Times in 1967. “All the rest is Band-Aids and lollipops.”

He joined the Ford Foundation when Johnson left office in early 1969. In 1970, he wrote a Washington Post essay about being almost the only black at the Gridiron Dinner, the annual Washington frolic of the male power elite. He wrote that its convivial insider jokes about things such as President Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” amounted to “a depressing display of gross insensitivity and both conscious and unconscious racism.”

He wound up leaving the Ford Foundation for journalism. His Washington Post editorials in the early months of the Watergate scandal in 1972 contributed to the paper’s 1973 Pulitzer Prize for public service, a staff award.

Wilkins left the Post in 1974 to join The New York Times, doing commentary on the final stages of the Watergate scandal from his new post.

Among his other books were “Jefferson’s Pillow: The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism,” 2001; and “Quiet Riots: Race and Poverty in the United States” a 1988 look back at the Kerner Commission’s 1968 report of urban unrest that Wilkins co-edited with former Sen. Fred R. Harris, who had been a commission member.

In a 1992 Associated Press story on black and white relations, he criticized the notion among some blacks that blacks should stay away from the mainstream white culture lest they be guilty of “selling out” or “acting white.”

“If we tried to enforce a black orthodoxy, then we would fall into the white folks’ trap. They would love for us to all think alike,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins was born in 1932 in Kansas City, Missouri, where he was forced to attend segregated schools. His father was a journalist and his mother was national leader in the Young Women’s Christian Association.

]]> 0 WilkinsMon, 27 Mar 2017 18:39:11 +0000
This popular painkiller is no better than a placebo, study says Mon, 27 Mar 2017 20:07:52 +0000 A drug frequently prescribed for pain is no more effective than a placebo at controlling sciatica, a common source of pain in the lower back and leg, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers at the George Institute for Global Health in Australia followed 209 sciatica patients who were randomly assigned to receive either pregabalin, more commonly known as Lyrica, or a placebo.

The results showed no significant differences in leg-pain intensity between the group on the placebo and that on Lyrica after eight weeks taking the drug or during the rest of the year on follow-up exams. Similarly, there were no differences for other outcomes such as back pain, quality of life and degree of disability.

After Lyrica was approved in 2004, it has become the most commonly prescribed medicine for neuropathic pain, which is caused by damage to the nervous system. The drug was ranked as the 19th-highest-earning pharmaceutical in 2015, with worldwide sales rising annually at a rate of 9 percent and U.S. sales of more than $3 billion in 2015.

“We have seen a huge rise in the amount of prescriptions being written each year for patients suffering from sciatica. It’s an incredibly painful and disabling condition, so it’s no wonder people are desperate for relief and medicines such as pregabalin have been widely prescribed,” Christine Lin, one of the authors of the study, said in a news release.

Sciatica can be particularly debilitating and is a symptom of a problem with the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body. In most cases, the cause of the pain remains unclear. Often accompanied by weakness, numbness and tingling, the pain usually radiates on one side of the body and can spread from the lower back to the lower leg and the foot. Sciatic symptoms can subside on their own.

According to the researchers, around 12 percent of the world’s population has lower back pain at any one time, and around 5 to 10 percent of those with such pain have sciatica.

The randomized, double-blind placebo study also found significantly more side effects in people who took Lyrica than in those who were on the placebo. Nearly two-thirds of the participants were very satisfied or satisfied with their drug regimen, regardless of whether they were taking Lyrica or a placebo.

“It seems people associate a drop in pain being due to taking a capsule, rather than something which would happen naturally over time. General practitioners who are prescribing Lyrica should take note of these findings and talk with their patients about other ways of managing and preventing pain,” Lin said.

Lyrica became the best-selling drug for Pfizer after the company’s patent for the statin Lipitor expired in 2012.

Pfizer issued a statement about the study saying, “Lyrica is currently approved in more than 130 countries and regions globally. The efficacy and safety of Lyrica for its approved indications has been demonstrated in large-scale, double blind, randomized, placebo controlled pivotal trials. Lyrica continues to be an important treatment option for the conditions for which it is approved.”

]]> 0, 27 Mar 2017 16:16:14 +0000
NFL owners approve Raiders’ move from Oakland to Las Vegas Mon, 27 Mar 2017 18:26:15 +0000 PHOENIX — Invoking his father’s name, and copying what the Hall of Fame owner did with the Raiders, Mark Davis is moving the franchise out of Oakland.

NFL owners approved the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas 31-1 at the league meetings Monday. Miami was the lone dissenter.

“My father used to say the greatness of the Raiders is in the future,” said Davis, son of Al Davis. “This gives us the ability to achieve that.”

The vote was a foregone conclusion, after the league and the Raiders were not satisfied with Oakland’s proposals for a new stadium and Las Vegas stepped up with $750 million in public money. Bank of America also is giving Davis a $650 million loan, further helping to persuade owners to allow the third team relocation in just over a year.

The Rams moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles in 2016, and in January the Chargers relocated from San Diego to LA.

“You know our goal is to have 32 stable franchises for each team and the league,” said Commissioner Roger Goodell. “We work very hard and never want to see the relocation of a franchise. We worked tirelessly over the last nine months or so on a solution. We needed to provide certainties and stability for the Raiders and the league.”

The Raiders, whose relocation fee of about $350 million is less than the $650 million the Rams and Chargers paid, likely will play two or three more years in the Bay Area before their $1.7 billion stadium near the Las Vegas Strip is ready.

“I wouldn’t use the term lame duck,” Davis insisted. “We’re still the Raiders and we represent Raider Nation.

“There will be disappointed fans and it’s important for me to talk to them to explain why and how.”

Las Vegas, long taboo to the NFL because of its legalized gambling, will also get an NHL team this fall, the Golden Knights.

“Today will forever change the landscape of Las Vegas and UNLV football,” said Steve Sisolak, chairman of the Clark County Commission and a former member of a panel appointed by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval to study the stadium tax funding plan. “I couldn’t be more excited for the fans and residents of Clark County as we move forward with the Raiders and the Rebels.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and a group trying to keep the team in Oakland made a last-ditch presentation to the NFL last week. But that letter was “filled with uncertainty,” according to Goodell.

Monday, she asked owners to delay the vote, wanting to give her city a chance to negotiate with a small group of owners to complete a stadium deal at the Coliseum site.

“Never that we know of has the NFL voted to displace a team from its established market when there is a fully financed option before them with all the issues addressed,” Schaaf said in a statement. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t do everything in my power to make the case for Oakland up until the very end.”

Schaaf said the city presented a $1.3 billion plan for a stadium that would be ready by 2021. She said the existing Coliseum would be demolished by 2024, with the Oakland Athletics baseball team either moving to a new stadium at the Coliseum site or somewhere else in the city.

But the presence of the A’s in that sports complex was particularly troubling to the NFL, Goodell said.

“We understand the Raiders’ need for a new stadium,” said A’s President Dave Kaval. “Oakland is an incredible sports town and we would be sorry to see them leave. We commend the city’s and county’s efforts to keep the Raiders in Oakland. The mayor and her team have worked incredibly hard to save the franchise.

“We are focused on, and excited about, our efforts to build a new ballpark in Oakland and look forward to announcing a location this year.”

The Raiders’ move became more certain this month when Bank of America offered the loan. That replaced the same amount the Raiders lost when the league balked at having casino owner Sheldon Adelson involved and he was dropped from the team’s plans.

Davis thanked Adelson on Monday for his “vision and leadership,” saying the entire deal might not have happened without him.

Leaving the Bay Area is not something new with the Raiders, who played in Los Angeles from 1982-94 before going back to Oakland. Davis was passed over last year in an attempt to move to a stadium in the LA area that would have been jointly financed with the Chargers. Instead, the owners approved the Rams’ relocation and gave the Chargers an option to join them, which they exercised this winter.

Now, it’s off to the desert for the Raiders. Well, in a few years.

“The opportunity to build a world-class stadium in the entertainment capital of the world,” Davis said, “is a significant step toward achieving that greatness.”

]]> 0 Oakland Raiders, with quarterback Derek Carr, left, and defensive end Khalil Mack, are tied with the Pats for the AFC's best record, but Carr's injury may be a postseason factor.Mon, 27 Mar 2017 21:22:38 +0000
Democrats force 1-week delay for panel vote on Gorsuch Mon, 27 Mar 2017 17:21:20 +0000 WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats on Monday forced a one-week delay in a committee vote on President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, who remains on track for confirmation with solid Republican backing.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, announced that, as expected, Democrats have requested a postponement. The committee vote on Judge Neil Gorsuch now will be held April 3.

At least 15 Democrats and independents, led by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, have announced their opposition to the Denver-based appeals court judge, arguing that Gorsuch has ruled too often against workers and in favor of corporations.

Several Democrats have expressed frustration with the lack of answers Gorsuch gave during two lengthy days of questioning at his confirmation hearing last week. They also expressed concerns that he wouldn’t be an independent voice from Trump, who nominated him in January.

But the nominee is supported by all Republican senators, and the party has a 52-48 majority. Republicans praised Gorsuch’s testimony, saying he showed humility and a deep understanding of legal precedent and separation of powers.

“Before the hearing started we all knew how qualified the judge is. His resume speaks for itself,” Grassley said. “But last week we got to see up-close how thoughtful, articulate, and humble he is. He is clearly deeply committed to being a fair and impartial judge. And he isn’t willing to compromise that independence to win votes in the Senate.”

Democrats criticized Gorsuch for declining to give his personal views on most any issue, including abortion, campaign finance and others they asked him about.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, also noted at the brief meeting Monday the “depth of feeling” among Democrats after Republicans blocked former President Barack Obama’s nominee for the same seat, Merrick Garland. Within hours of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016, Republicans said they wouldn’t take up Obama’s eventual choice, saying the next president should have the say.

The Democrats who have announced their opposition have also said they will try to block the nominee, meaning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will have to hold a procedural vote requiring 60 votes to move forward. Based on the Republican edge, at least eight Democrats and independents will have to vote with Republicans.

McConnell says he hopes Gorsuch would get Democratic votes in the end, but he seems ready to change Senate rules, if necessary, to confirm him with a simple majority. He has said he hopes to confirm Gorsuch on the Senate floor by April 7, before the Senate leaves for a two-week recess and in time for the Court’s April arguments.

]]> 0 Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch faced legislators during a confirmation hearing last week but won't see the results in a vote until April 3.Mon, 27 Mar 2017 13:32:34 +0000
Nunes reviewed surveillance documents at White House Mon, 27 Mar 2017 15:47:45 +0000 WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee went to the White House to review the classified documents that he later used to brief the White House on the possibility that President Trump and his associates might have been swept up in legal surveillance, his office acknowledged Monday.

Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., went to the White House last week “in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source,” Nunes’ spokesman, Jack Langer, said in a statement. Langer said that Nunes also met an unidentified source on the White House grounds.

Langer said that because the information had not been provided to Congress, Nunes could not have used secure facilities at the Capitol to review it. He added that “the White House grounds was the best location to safeguard the proper chain of custody and classification of these documents.”

But the revelation is likely to fuel suspicions, as well as accusations from Democrats, that Nunes coordinated his activities with the White House last week, when he rushed to brief Trump about intelligence reports that, he said, included references to people affiliated with Trump, and possibly the then president-elect himself.

At the time, Nunes did not say who provided the documents and where he reviewed them.

Nunes said only that the documents were offered to him after he called during an open hearing last Monday for anyone with information pertaining to the committee’s probe into Russian interference in the election and any potential links between the presidential campaigns and Russian officials to come forward. The documents Nunes reviewed, however, apparently had nothing to do with Russia.

In the past few days, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former campaign advisers Carter Page and Roger Stone have volunteered to make themselves available for interviews with the Senate and House Intelligence committees.


On Monday, officials from the White House and Senate said that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had also offered himself for an interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee, at a date yet to be determined.

A senior congressional official said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., spoke with the White House counsel “some weeks ago” to warn that the committee would be seeking to speak with administration officials, including Kushner. The White House indicated to the committee over the weekend that Kushner would be willing to participate.

According to The New York Times, Kushner met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition period, and later, at Kislyak’s request, he met with Sergey Gorkov, chief of Russian government-owned Vnesheconombank.

The congressional official was not aware that the Kushner aide had met with the Russian banker.

The bank, which handles Russia’s pensions funds and development activity for the state, including foreign debts and investments, has been under U.S. sanctions since July 2014, in response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

In early 2015, one of the bank’s New York-based employees, Evgeny Buryakov, was also arrested and accused of being an unregistered spy for Russia’s foreign intelligence service, working with two Russian diplomats who were also secretly acting as spies. According to the U.S. government, they collected information about U.S. sanctions against Russia, and American efforts to develop alternative energy resources.

Buryakov pleaded guilty in March 2016 to conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government, though he never admitted to being an employee of Russia’s foreign intelligence service.

A White House official said that Kushner was the “official primary point of contact” with foreign governments and officials during the campaign and transition period.

The House Intelligence Committee had not yet decided if it would interview Kushner as part of its investigation.


In the meantime, Nunes’ Monday revelation that he stopped at the White House to view intelligence documents concerning the president is another unorthodox choice in a sequence of events that has thrown the House Intelligence Committee into turmoil.

Nunes was on his way to an event Tuesday night when he received a phone call that inspired him to switch cars and slip away from his staff, during which time his office now says he went to the White House to review classified intelligence material relating to the president and his team. The next day, he called a news conference to tell reporters that the intelligence community had “incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.”

Nunes then left for the White House again – this time to brief the president on the material he had read at the White House the previous evening. He held a second news conference with White House reporters following that briefing.

Rep. Adam Schiff, Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that Nunes’ action “casts quite a profound cloud over our ability” to conduct an investigation into the Russian role in the election and any coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

“If the chairman is going to continue to go to the White House rather than his own committee, there’s no way we can conduct this investigation,” Schiff said.

Democrats have also charged that Nunes’ news conferences were an effort to distract from FBI Director James Comey’s revelation last week that his agency has been investigating the Trump team’s possible ties to the Kremlin since last July.

Nunes apologized to his committee colleagues for the sequence of events Thursday morning, noting it was a “judgment call” to go to the White House instead of the Intelligence Committee with such information first.

Democrats have openly questioned that judgment, asking why the chairman of a committee investigating the president for ties to foreign officials would brief the subject of his investigation before the committee. They have also questioned whether Nunes himself disclosed classified information in the process – something that could make him subject to an ethics inquiry. Nunes has argued that while the substance of the reports he viewed is classified, he has not revealed anything classified in his comments about those reports.

]]> 0, 27 Mar 2017 20:25:29 +0000
Stocks sink as Trump business plan stalls Mon, 27 Mar 2017 15:22:57 +0000 NEW YORK — Stocks around the world sank Monday on worries that the Trump White House may not be able to help businesses as much as once thought. Many of the trends that have been in place since Election Day went into sharp reverse: The dollar’s value sank against other currencies, as did bank stocks, while prices jumped for Treasury bonds.

Morgan Stanley lost 4.5 percent early Monday and copper miner Freeport-McMoRan slumped 5 percent.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 lost 20 points, or 0.9 percent, to 2,323.

The Dow Jones industrial average gave back 161 points, or 0.8 percent, to 20,437. The Nasdaq composite declined 55 points, or 1 percent, to 5,773.

Small-company stocks fell more than the rest of the market.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.35 percent.

The stock market had been on a nearly nonstop rip higher since Election Day on the belief that President Donald Trump and a Republican-led Congress will cut income taxes, loosen regulations for companies and institute other business-friendly policies. Besides stronger economic growth, investors were also predicting higher inflation would be on the way.

But last week’s failure by Republicans to fulfill a pledge they’ve been making for years, to repeal the Affordable Care Act, raises doubts that Washington can push through other promises. The House on Friday pulled its bill to revamp the country’s health care system, when it was clear that it didn’t have enough votes to pass.

The dollar fell against most of its major rivals, including the Japanese yen, euro and British pound. The ICE U.S. Dollar index, which measures the U.S. currency’s value against six others, has given up nearly all of its big gains since Election Day.

The dollar fell to 110.38 Japanese yen from 110.80 late Friday. The euro rose to $1.0883 from $1.0808, and the British pound rose to $1.2593 from $1.2500.

Among the few gainers on the day were hospital stocks. The Republican health care plan would have resulted in 24 million additional uninsured people in a decade, according to a tally by the Congressional Budget Office. And hospitals take care of patients, whether they’re insured or not.

Stocks were weak around the world. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index dropped 1.4 percent, South Korea’s Kospi index lost 0.6 percent and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong fell 0.7 percent. In Europe, the German DAX lost 0.9 percent, the French CAC 40 fell 0.4 percent and the FTSE 100 in London dropped 0.9 percent.

]]> 0 - In this Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, file photo, an American flag hangs on the front of the New York Stock Exchange. Stocks around the world sank Monday, March 27, 2017, on worries that the Trump White House may not be able to help businesses as much as once thought. Many of the trends that have been in place since Election Day went into sharp reverse: The dollar’s value sank against other currencies, as did bank stocks, while prices jumped for Treasury bonds. (AP Photo/Peter Morgan, File)Mon, 27 Mar 2017 17:57:13 +0000
U.S. travel industry fears a ‘lost decade’ under Trump Mon, 27 Mar 2017 15:09:02 +0000 Like many Washington lobby groups, the U.S. Travel Association was quick to congratulate the new president on his victory last November.

“We are encouraged that Mr. Trump’s extensive business and hospitality background … will make him a ready and receptive ear,” the trade organization said. Upon the Republican’s inauguration, the USTA’s chief executive, Roger Dow, pledged the industry as a “capable, willing partner.”

But almost immediately, things started to go sideways. A steady drumbeat of news and policy proclamations seemed likely to damage America’s $250 billion travel industry and its roughly 15 million U.S. employees.

Initial contacts between Trump and leaders of Australia, Germany, Mexico, and China didn’t go well, resulting in negative publicity in countries that send lots of travelers to America. Then came the majority Muslim nation travel bans, with protests and news coverage that made for a global public relations disaster. The first ban, since suspended by the courts, resulted in the detention of foreign travelers. The second, changed from the first, was frozen before it could take effect. Trump is appealing.

Meanwhile, the White House has instituted an airline cabin restriction on electronic devices for people flying from airports in eight nations. And last week, a State Department policy was revealed that mandates extra vetting of visa applicants in nations where U.S.-bound travelers must apply for one. This includes inspection of social media accounts for some and is likely to make it more difficult for millions of people to travel to America.

The State Department took action following a March 6 order from the White House to enhance visa screening, a spokeswoman said, declining further comment. “We will keep the public informed about changes affecting travelers to the U.S. as appropriate,” the department said in a March 26 email.

The order doesn’t apply to 38 countries in the U.S. visa-waiver program , but others are going to have to wait. The new policy covers nations with millions of business travelers and international tourists, including Brazil, Mexico, China, Argentina, Colombia, and South Africa. About 15 million annual travelers will be affected, the USTA estimated.

So, for Dow’s organization and the industry it represents, what looked like the beginning of a beautiful friendship became in just two months something bordering on adversarial. Even America’s closest ally and next door neighbor is wavering on sending its kids across the border for a field trip.

The new visa rules may have been the last straw for the USTA. Last week, Dow’s group issued an almost plaintive statement: “Mr. President, please tell the world that while we’re closed to terror, we’re open for business. Imbalanced communication is especially susceptible to being ‘lost in translation’– so let’s work together to inform our friends and neighbors, who could benefit from reassurance, not just who is no longer welcome here, but who remains invited.”

For the Trump administration, the message on travel has so far been clear: An “America First” policy is likely to mean greater travel restrictions and entry barriers, plus the possibility of a physical wall on the border with Mexico. And a trade group once excited to see a golf-resort owner in the White House has instead begun to feel trepidation about his potential impact on a massive sector of the U.S. economy.

“Yes, you are correct that you have detected a change in the tone,” Dow, a former Marriott International Inc. executive, said Friday in an interview with Bloomberg. “Travel is a very fragile thing and perception is a factor.”

The association is hopeful that, despite the inauspicious beginning, Trump Cabinet officials like billionaire financier Wilbur Ross, the commerce aecretary, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., will help protect the travel economy. “The administration is trying to move very quickly on an agenda they put together,” Dow said. “They’re just coming in and I think there may be people who don’t understand our industry.”

The USTA regularly refers to the century’s first 10 years as “the lost decade” because of the steep decline in travel to America following restrictions imposed after the 2001 terror attacks, global antipathy toward the subsequent foreign policy of President George W. Bush, and the economic fallout of the Great Recession. Outside the U.S., however, foreign travel continued to increase over the same period.

Trump’s rhetoric and unpopularity abroad is likely to reduce international arrivals by 4.3 million this year, according to market strategy firm Tourism Economics. New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami are all exposed to any declines, being among the most popular destinations for foreign travelers.

To be sure, Dow predicts U.S. arrivals won’t decline as much as after Sept. 11, 2001 – at least not yet. For now, he sees a dip of as much as 4 percent. “We haven’t seen the big damage yet,” he said. “What we’re getting is the noise level.”

During the administration of President Barack Obama, America saw international visitors rise, with arrivals growing from 51 million in 2006 to nearly 78 million in 2015, according to U.S. Travel. Some of that may be attributable to Brand USA, a marketing organization formed by Obama’s Commerce Department to help sell America as an international travel destination.

Brand USA’s CEO agreed with Dow that “misperceptions” created by the two Trump travel bans are injuring the tourism economy.

Dow says he remains hopeful that the president will “clarify” his policies so that international travelers don’t decide to skip America. “Donald Trump understands it, he is a hotel owner,” Dow said. “He understands the international traveler.”

]]> 0, 27 Mar 2017 18:00:21 +0000
White House has ambitious tax reform plan, but party divisions may get in the way Mon, 27 Mar 2017 12:53:23 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is planning a much more assertive role in undertaking a broad overhaul of the tax code than it did during the failed effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, with some advisers working to craft a concrete blueprint for specific changes instead of letting Congress dictate details.

But there are divisions with congressional Republicans and within the administration over who should be in charge of the effort – and how ambitious to go with it, say administration officials and congressional aides.

Some Republican allies say they have already produced tax legislation and it would not make sense for the White House to produce its own. Key division points could be about whether to seek a broad overhaul of the tax code or whether to limit it to more specific provisions – such as those affecting corporations – and whether such an initiative could increase the deficit without offsetting spending cuts or changes to tax policy. Also highly controversial is a proposal to impose a new tax affecting imports.

Within the administration, meanwhile, there are open questions about who will lead the charge on tax policy. The Treasury Department has close to 100 people now working on the issue, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has signaled to lawmakers that he will be a point person in any negotiations. At the same time, some legislators say National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn has also emerged as a powerful force within the White House for overseeing economic policy and he could attempt to take the reins of what is likely to be the administration’s most important policy issue going forward.

“We have so much in common with the Trump administration,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said Sunday on Fox News. “It wouldn’t make sense to have a separate tax bill from Secretary Mnuchin, a separate tax bill from Gary Cohn, a third from whomever.”

There will be several key tests of the White House’s new approach. Congress must vote by April 28 to authorize new funding for federal agencies, or there will be a partial government shutdown. If the Trump administration allows Congress to negotiate spending levels on their own, there could be another split between Republican centrists and conservatives. Another legislative setback could weaken the White House’s hand even further and embolden Democrats during the tax discussions.

That’s one reason the White House is trying to jump-start the tax negotiations. To take more of a leadership role, the administration officials are planning to issue a document that lays out the specific changes to the tax code it wants in any legislation, people familiar with the deliberations said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

This approach reflects how the White House is adjusting to lessons learned from the humiliating intraparty collapse that occurred when House Republicans drafted a bill to repeal the health care law and then splintered into different factions. The White House needs Congress to achieve key legislative victories, but some key White House officials fear the agency shouldn’t be too deferential to the legislating process.

Trump believes a major overhaul of the tax code – complete with huge tax cuts for the middle class – will lead to more economic growth and hiring. They have also said the tax code is too complicated and full of loopholes for special interest groups that have lobbied for pet provisions over numerous years.

Several Republican congressional aides said a key issue in the discussions will be which White House official emerges as their main interlocutor. Mnuchin has known Trump for 15 years but is a newcomer to government and has never negotiated even a simple piece of legislation before. Overhauling the tax code is considered to be one of the most daunting legislative tasks, and it hasn’t been completed since 1986 despite efforts by lawmakers from both parties.

“We’ve been working diligently since the first days of this administration to develop a tax reform plan that helps achieve our goal of sustained economic growth, provides relief for middle class families and creates a more competitive business environment that supports greater job creation and reinvestment in the American economy,” Treasury Department assistant secretary for public affairs Tony Sayegh said in a statement.

Lawmakers have also spoken with Cohn about the tax overhaul plan, and he is seen as very close to Trump and one of his top advisers, son-in-law Jared Kushner. If Mnuchin and Cohn work closely on the effort, they could bolster the White House’s influence on Capitol Hill. But if they are seen as representing different views, the White House’s message could become cloudier.

Some House Republican leadership aides have pushed the White House to take more ownership of the tax overhaul plan, complaining that the appearance of lukewarm support for the health care law repeal, and a lack of fluency on the details by Trump, made it harder for the party to unify.

Both Brady and the White House have said they want to pursue a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code, lowering tax rates for individuals and businesses. They have each called for consolidating the seven tax brackets for individual filers down to three brackets. Brady has called for lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, while Trump has said he wants the corporate rate lowered to 15 percent.

Brady has said a goal of his plan is that it will not increase the deficit. In other words, while it might cut tax rates, it will adjust the tax code in such a way that new revenue comes in from other adjustments. He accomplishes some of this by eliminating certain tax deductions, though tax analysts have said the plan would still lead to a sizable reduction in revenue over 10 years.

Tax analysts have estimated that Trump’s proposal would lead to an even more severe revenue loss. Trump has called for huge cuts in tax rates but he hasn’t specified which deductions he would jettison to make up for the lost revenue. He has said, though, that he wants to increase taxes paid by private equity fund managers and hedge fund executives, but those increases would not make up for the lost revenue from the rate cuts.

There are other numerous differences that will test how assertive the White House plans to be.

Brady, for example, has included something called a border adjustment tax in his plan, which raises $1 trillion over 10 years by effectively imposing new taxes on goods imported into the United States. It also incentivizes U.S. companies to export goods by ending taxation on exports. While House Republican leaders support this new tax, many Senate Republicans oppose this idea, saying it would drive up costs for retailers and hurt consumers.

White House officials have studied the idea and see benefits and drawbacks, but some have acknowledged that the fierce resistance from Senate Republicans makes it hard for them to consider backing the idea.

But if the White House rejects the border adjustment tax, they will have to craft their own tax or tariff plan to follow through on Trump’s promise that companies that move outside the U.S. and try to sell goods back into the U.S. will face a financial penalty.

Mnuchin said during remarks in Washington on Friday that something akin to a border adjustment tax could be proposed for certain products or industries while others are exempt, but he didn’t give more specifics.

The effort to repeal and replace the health care law ended quickly, and a number of congressional Republicans have complained that more time wasn’t spent devising a better strategy and selling it to the public.

The White House has said it wants to complete an overhaul of the tax code by August, which would give it more time than the health care effort but still only allow a narrow window compared to past tax negotiations.

Many of these past tax discussions have sought to lower tax rates but broaden the base of revenue that is taxed, by eliminating deductions or finding new sources of revenue. Lowering rates if often popular but finding new revenue to tax elicits major fights.

“If you are going to broaden the base and lower the rates, you are going to have to spend a lot of time working,” former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said in an interview. “It just cannot be jammed. I hope that’s a lesson that’s learned in the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.”

Rohit Kumar, a former top tax aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said the White House and congressional leaders will have to soon decide whether they are going to pursue a tax overhaul that doesn’t widen the deficit or one that will simply become a major tax cut for businesses and individuals.

If they cut taxes for some, but raise it for others, it will lead to the kinds of fights that have often killed tax changes in the past.

“At some point, someone is going to look at tax reform and be a net loser in the transaction,” Kumar said. “And that person is going to complain loudly and bitterly and depending who they are, and how loudly and bitterly they complain, that will make tax reform more difficult.”

Following the collapse of the health care repeal bill, senior White House officials have said they could adjust their legislative strategy and try to woo centrist Democrats toward supporting the tax overhaul instead of trying to keep all Republicans together.

But they have made little headway with Democrats so far, holding only perfunctory meetings so far and largely keeping them out of any negotiations.

Democrats and Republicans said the White House has only a narrow window to recover from the health care law repeal mistakes, and some suggested that a fair amount of damage has already been done.

“The president lost so much prestige and so much power with the failure of the repeal and replace effort, it’s going to be awfully hard to make that up,” Baucus said.

]]> 0, 27 Mar 2017 19:53:53 +0000
Trump points finger at far-right Republicans for health care failure Mon, 27 Mar 2017 02:58:39 +0000 President Trump cast blame Sunday for the collapse of his effort to overhaul the health care system on conservative interest groups and far-right Republican lawmakers, shifting culpability to his own party after initially faulting Democratic intransigence.

His attack – starting with a tweet that singled out the House Freedom Caucus and the influential Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America – marked a new turn in the increasingly troubled relationship between the White House and a divided Republican Party still adjusting to its unorthodox standard-bearer.

And it served as a warning shot – with battles still to come on issues such as tax reform and infrastructure spending that threaten to further expose Republican fractures – that Trump will not hesitate to apply public pressure on those in his party he views as standing in the way.

In a sign Sunday of the ripple effects on the Republicans’ conservative flank, one high-profile member of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, resigned from the group and took a swipe at its opposition to the Trump-backed health care bill.

“Saying ‘no’ is easy, leading is hard,” Poe said.

The rising tensions followed a flurry of finger-pointing after Friday’s decision by Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to pull the health care measure, effectively ending for now the Republicans’ years-long quest to repeal former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

Not long ago, many Republican leaders, even as they were wary of Trump’s unusual background and style, had considered his presidency a chance to finally unify the party around passing its agenda of long-sought policies.

But now, in the health care bill’s raw aftermath, Republican leaders are learning that the Trump presidency is doing little, if anything, to heal their party.

“We’ve been here before,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., co-chairman of the centrist Tuesday Group. “The only difference is now we have a Republican president, and some people thought the fever might break a little bit. But apparently not.”

Trump’s attack Sunday had the look of a coordinated effort.

His tweet appeared at 8:21 a.m. as official Washington prepared to tune into Sunday news shows: “Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!”

Less than an hour later, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus appeared on television to echo his boss’ sentiments, saying his missive hit “the bull’s eye.”

As if to rub salt in the Republicans’ wound, Priebus hinted that Trump may simply start looking past the Republican majority and try forging more consensus with moderate Democrats in future legislative battles. He pointed to the Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group for heavily resisting the health care bill.

“We can’t be chasing the perfect all the time,” Priebus said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “I mean, sometimes you have to take the good and put it in your pocket and take the win.”

Although Trump targeted conservative opponents of the bill Sunday, he has also shown signs of frustration with its moderate critics. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Dent acknowledged that Trump told him in a private meeting that Dent was “destroying the Republican Party” and that he “was going to take down tax reform,” as first reported by the New York Times magazine.


Trump’s tweet came a day after a strange episode that prompted speculation that he was seeking to undermine Ryan’s standing. Trump encouraged his Twitter followers Saturday to watch Jeanine Pirro, one of his favorite Fox News Channel hosts, that night.

On her program, Pirro said that Ryan should resign as speaker, adding that despite his “swagger and experience,” he presided over a failed effort that allowed “our president in his first 100 days to come out of the box like that.”

Priebus, in his Sunday appearance, dismissed the episode as a coincidence, and Trump has said in recent days that he has a good relationship with Ryan.

“He doesn’t blame Paul Ryan,” Priebus said on Fox News. “In fact, he thought Paul Ryan worked really hard. He enjoys his relationship with Paul Ryan, thinks that Paul Ryan is a great speaker of the House.”

Nonetheless, the episode served to highlight the challenges ahead for Ryan in attempting to regain control over House Republicans and maintain a working rapport with the White House.

Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and former congressional aide, said Republicans’ inability to forge consensus on health care shook the party to the core.

“It’s hard to see where we can be successful, and it leads to a lot of questions as to whether Republicans can govern, even with a Republican in the White House,” he said.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, a Republican former congressman who helped found the Freedom Caucus, was at a loss Sunday to explain why so many of those members were not prepared to vote for the health care bill.

Speaking on “Meet the Press,” Mulvaney asserted that conservatives were not the only ones to blame, saying, “It was a bizarre combination of who was against this bill, some folks in the Freedom Caucus and then moderates on the other end of our spectrum.”

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who heads the Freedom Caucus, responded to the tweet without any animosity toward the president.

“I mean, if [Democrats are] applauding, they shouldn’t, because I can tell you that conversations over the last 48 hours are really about how we come together in the Republican Conference and try to get this over the finish line,” he said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

A spokeswoman for the Freedom Caucus did not comment on Trump’s tweet or Poe’s departure. It was unclear whether Trump’s statement had a direct effect on Poe’s decision to leave the caucus.


The tweet directed at the Freedom Caucus was “a reminder that nothing goes without notice,” said one Trump associate with direct knowledge of White House strategy.

The Trump associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak for the White House, said Trump was disappointed in Meadows and others in the caucus and wanted to remind them that he can use his powers to make their lives more difficult if they are not with him in the future.

The Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America, which is an affiliate of the Heritage Foundation, a longtime conservative think tank, are known for staking out positions that are often at odds with those of Republican leaders.

On Sunday, Heritage Action defended the House Freedom Caucus’ decision not to support the health care legislation while striking a conciliatory tone with the president.

The bill “had no natural constituency and was widely criticized by conservative health care experts because it left a premium-increasing provision of Obamacare in place,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action. “We now have the opportunity to reset the debate, and conservatives are eager to work with the administration and congressional leadership as things move forward.”

The Club for Growth did not respond to requests for comment.

The House Republican bill would have repealed and replaced key parts of the Affordable Care Act. It came under consistent criticism from both ends of the political spectrum. Ryan and Trump pulled the bill Friday afternoon after deciding it could not pass, after weeks of negotiations with conservative and centrist Republican members of the sizable Republican House majority.

Although Ryan’s job doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy, his ability to shepherd the rest of the Republican agenda through his chamber is in doubt.

Some Freedom Caucus members are wary of efforts that would add to the federal deficit. But in a sign that Meadows may be willing to compromise on tax reform, he said tax cuts don’t necessarily have to be paired with spending cuts or revenue increases.

“Does it have to be fully offset? My personal response is no,” he said on ABC.


Since Friday, Trump aides have been talking increasingly about reaching out to moderate Democrats for help not only on another health care bill, but also on other priorities. But prospects for such cooperation remain poor.

There has been virtually no outreach to Democrats about a tax reform package. Although Democrats like the idea of infrastructure spending, the parties have different visions of how it should be paid for.

“If he aims a proposal . . . at the middle class and the poor people . . . we could work with them. But I don’t think they’re headed in that direction, and they’re going to repeat the same mistake” they made with the health care bill, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said of tax reform on “This Week.”

Aides and advisers to Trump say it’s clear that he will need support from some Democrats, particularly in the Senate, to move parts of his agenda forward beyond tax reform.

Michael Steele, who was a senior aide to then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Trump is at a crossroads as he takes up tax reform.

“The president is going to have a choice: to reach out to moderate Democrats and work in a bipartisan fashion,” Steele said, “or to reach out to recalcitrant Republicans in his own party that he wasn’t able to get this time.”

]]> 0 Trump talks to journalists Friday after the Republican health care bill was withdrawn before a House vote. With him are Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, left, and Vice President Mike Pence.Mon, 27 Mar 2017 18:02:15 +0000
Will New York City invite ‘Fearless Girl’ to stay on Wall Street? Mon, 27 Mar 2017 01:49:21 +0000 NEW YORK — Should the “Fearless Girl” stand up to Wall Street’s charging bull forever?

That’s the question New York City officials are facing after a statue of a ponytailed girl in a windblown dress went up in front of the bronze bull early this month and immediately became a tourist draw and internet sensation.

What was intended as a temporary display to encourage corporations to put more women on their boards is now getting a second look in light of its popularity, which has spawned an online petition seeking to keep it.

But does keeping the girl past her scheduled April 2 deadline forever alter the meaning of the bull? After all, the 11-foot-tall, 7,100-pound bull has been hugely popular in its own right; it was placed in a lower Manhattan traffic median in the wake of the 1987 stock market crash as a symbol of Americans’ financial resilience and can-do spirit.

Some fans of the bronze girl already see the bull much differently.

“The bull represents men and power,” says Cristina Pogorevici, 18, a student from Bucharest, Romania, who visited the statues this past week. “So she is a message of women’s power and things that are changing in the world right now.”

Holli Sargeant, 20, a visitor from Queensland, Australia, says the 4-foot-tall, 250-pound bronze girl “is standing up against something and we see her as a powerful image. She represents all the young women in the world that want to make a difference.”

]]> 0 "Charging Bull" and "Fearless Girl" statues stand on Lower Broadway in New York. The bull has stood as an image of the spirit of Wall Street.Sun, 26 Mar 2017 21:51:46 +0000
Gov. Jerry Brown compares Trump wall with Berlin Wall Mon, 27 Mar 2017 00:55:43 +0000 WASHINGTON — California Gov. Jerry Brown likened President Trump to a strongman whose goal of walling off the U.S.-Mexico border conjures other infamous barriers from the past.

“The wall, to me, is ominous. It reminds me too much of the Berlin Wall,” Brown said during an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The pointed reference suggested that the president was, like the leaders of communist East Germany several decades ago, trying to restrict the movements of people on both sides, despite all they have in common.

“There’s a lot of odor here of kind of a strongman,” Brown told host Chuck Todd. “I think Americans ought to be very careful when we make radical changes like a 30-foot wall keeping some in and some out.”

Trump made extending the walls that line parts of the nearly 2,000-mile border a central campaign pledge. Companies seeking to build the wall must soon submit concept papers for sloped barriers that are aesthetically pleasing on the U.S. side. It’s still not clear how the administration would pay for the wall.

Brown said that although California would fight “very hard” against the wall, people should not expect a series of knee-jerk lawsuits.

“We’ll be strategic. And we’ll do the right human, and I would even say Christian, thing from my point of view,” Brown said. “You don’t treat human beings like that.”

The governor disputed Trump’s suggestion that immigration was a threat, casting it instead as an asset.

“Look around at many of our industries,” he said, citing the state’s multibillion-dollar agricultural sector and the technological hotbed of Silicon Valley. “Twenty-five percent of the people in California were foreign-born. This is our dynamism.”

Brown, who visited the nation’s capital last week to meet with federal officials, said he’s willing to work with Trump and other Republicans on issues including immigration, health care and, especially, infrastructure.

]]> 0 JERRY BROWNSun, 26 Mar 2017 20:58:56 +0000
London bridge attacker sent encrypted message Mon, 27 Mar 2017 00:08:24 +0000 LONDON — Westminster Bridge attacker Khalid Masood sent a WhatsApp message that cannot be accessed because it was encrypted by the popular messaging service, a top British security official said Sunday.

British press reports suggest Masood used the messaging service owned by Facebook just minutes before the Wednesday rampage that left three pedestrians and one police officer dead and dozens more wounded.

As controversy swirled over the encrypted messages, police made another arrest in Birmingham, England, where Masood had lived. The 30-year-old is one of two men now in custody over possible links to the attack. Neither has been charged or publicly named.

Masood drove an SUV into pedestrians on the bridge before smashing it into Parliament’s gates and rushing onto the grounds, where he fatally stabbed a policeman and was shot by other officers.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd used appearances on BBC and Sky News to urge WhatsApp and other encrypted services to make their platforms accessible to intelligence services and police trying to carry out lawful eavesdropping.

“We need to make sure that organizations like WhatsApp – and there are plenty of others like that – don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other,” she said.

Rudd did not provide any details about Masood’s use of WhatsApp, saying only “this terrorist sent a WhatsApp message and it can’t be accessed.”

But her call for a “back door” system to allow authorities to retrieve information is likely to meet resistance from the tech industry, which has faced previous demands for access to data after major attacks.

In the United States, Apple fought the FBI’s request for the passcodes needed to unlock an iPhone that had been used by one of the perpetrators in the 2015 extremist attack in San Bernardino, California.

The FBI initially claimed it could obtain the data only with Apple’s help, but ultimately found another way to hack into the locked phone.

]]> 0 in the Women's March gather on the Westminster Bridge to hold hands in silence Sunday to remember victims of the attack in London last week.Sun, 26 Mar 2017 20:08:24 +0000
Congressman resigns from Freedom Caucus Sun, 26 Mar 2017 23:49:59 +0000 If President Trump is going to put the blame for Republicans’ inability to pass health care legislation on the House Freedom Caucus, at least one member of the conservative coalition thinks it deserves it.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, resigned Sunday from the coalition of 35 to 40 conservative House lawmakers in protest over the group’s opposition to the Republican health care bill that tanked in Congress on Friday.

“I have resigned from the House Freedom Caucus,” Poe said in a statement. “In order to deliver on the conservative agenda we have promised the American people for eight years, we must come together to find solutions to move this country forward. Saying no is easy, leading is hard, but that is what we were elected to do. Leaving this caucus will allow me to be a more effective Member of Congress and advocate for the people of Texas. It is time to lead.”

Poe’s resignation comes hours after Trump tweeted that the Freedom Caucus, along with cash-flush conservative groups that share its hard-line ideological views, “have saved Planned Parenthood” and Obamacare by opposing the bill.

It’s not clear whether Trump’s statement had a direct effect on Poe’s decision to leave the caucus. He was leaning toward voting for the bill, and he was openly critical of his conservative colleagues as the bill was being pulled from a vote.

As the fallout from Republicans’ inability to make good on a major campaign promise continues, the White House and GOP leaders are increasingly vocal about their frustrations with the House Freedom Caucus.

“We can’t be chasing the perfect all the time,” Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said Sunday on Fox News, raising the possibility that the White House will put less emphasis on negotiating with the caucus going forward and try to work with Democrats instead.

Despite half a dozen concessions the White House and GOP House leaders offered to the caucus on health care, its leaders held out support – enough that, when combined with opposition from moderate Republicans, it killed the bill before it could even come to a vote.

The establishment GOP’s frustration was channeled in a single tweet over the weekend, not from Trump but from Rep. Austin Scott, Ga., whose biting accusation raised eyebrows in GOP circles because Scott is not known to be a flamethrower:

Scott tweeted, “Mark Meadows betrayed Trump and America and supported Pelosi and Dems to protect Obamacare.”

Poe is not the first lawmaker to resign from the Freedom Caucus.

In September 2015, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., became the first to step away from the group as it threatened to shut down the government over federal funding for Planned Parenthood. In a comment that channels what Trump said Sunday, McClintock protested the group’s tactics as playing right into the hands of the Democrats.

“It has thwarted vital conservative policy objectives,” he wrote, “and wittingly become Nancy Pelosi’s tactical ally.”

In October 2015, Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., resigned after the Freedom Caucus played a role in forcing then-Rep. John Boehner, R-Wis., to resign as House speaker.

“I was a member of the Freedom Caucus in the very beginning because we were focused on making process reforms to get every Member’s voice heard and advance conservative policy,” Ribble said in a statement. “When the Speaker resigned and they pivoted to focusing on the leadership race, I withdrew.”

]]> 0 Sun, 26 Mar 2017 19:54:25 +0000
Russian opposition voices heard in rallies across nation Sun, 26 Mar 2017 23:40:53 +0000 MOSCOW — Russia’s opposition, often written off by critics as a small and irrelevant coterie of privileged urbanites, put on an impressive nationwide show of strength Sunday with scores of protest rallies spanning the vast country.

Hundreds of protesters were arrested, including Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner who is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic.

It was the biggest show of defiance since the 2011-2012 wave of demonstrations that rattled the Kremlin and led to harsh new laws aimed at suppressing dissent. Almost all of Sunday’s rallies were unsanctioned, but thousands braved the prospect of arrests to gather in cities from the Far East port of Vladivostok to the “window on the West” of St. Petersburg.

An organization that monitors Russian political repression, OVD-Info, said it counted more than 800 people arrested in the Moscow demonstrations alone. That number could not be confirmed and state news agency Tass cited Moscow police as saying there were about 500 arrests.

Navalny, who was arrested while walking from a nearby subway station to the demonstration at Moscow’s iconic Pushkin Square, was the driving force of the demonstrations. He called for them after his Foundation for Fighting Corruption released a report contending that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has amassed a collection of mansions, yachts and vineyards.

Navalny is a persistent thorn in the Kremlin’s side. He has served several short jail terms after arrests in previous protests and has twice been convicted in a fraud case, but given a suspended sentence. He intends to run for president in 2018 – an election in which Putin is widely expected to run for another term – even though the conviction technically disqualifies him. Putin has dominated Russian political life, as president or prime minister, since 2000.

No overall figures on arrests or protest attendance were available. Some Russian state news media gave relatively cursory reports on the demonstrations; the state news TV channel Rossiya-24 ignored them altogether in evening broadcasts.

Police estimated the Moscow crowd at about 7,000, but it could have been larger. The 2.5-acre Pushkin Square was densely crowded, as were sidewalks on the adjacent Tverskaya Street.

In St. Petersburg, about 5,000 protesters assembled in the Mars Field park, shouting slogans including “Putin resign!” and “Down with the thieves in the Kremlin!”

Russia’s beleaguered opposition is often seen as primarily a phenomenon of a Westernized urban elite, but Sunday’s protests included gatherings in places far from cosmopolitan centers, such as Siberia’s Chita and Barnaul.

There were no comments reported from Putin, Medvedev or other top Russian politicians.

]]> 0 detain a protester in downtown Moscow on Sunday. Russia's leading opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, and his supporters held anti-corruption demonstrations throughout the country.Sun, 26 Mar 2017 20:01:06 +0000