Nation & World – Press Herald Sat, 18 Nov 2017 21:43:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Mugabe must quit, Zimbabweans insist Sat, 18 Nov 2017 21:20:48 +0000 HARARE, Zimbabwe — Giddy with joy and finally free to speak out, vast throngs of demonstrators turned Zimbabwe’s capital into a carnival ground on Saturday in a peaceful outpouring of disdain for President Robert Mugabe and calls for him to quit immediately.

Still clinging to his now-powerless post, the longtime leader has been put under house arrest by the military.

People in Harare, meanwhile, clambered onto tanks and other military vehicles moving slowly through the crowds; danced around soldiers walking in city streets, and surged in the thousands toward the building where Mugabe held official functions, a symbol of the rule of the now-93-year-old man who took power after independence from white minority rule in 1980. There, in a situation that could have become tense, the protesters instead showed deference to the small number of soldiers blocking their way and eventually dispersed.

It was a historical day when the old Zimbabwe, a once-promising African nation with a disintegrating economy and a mood of fear about the consequences of challenging Mugabe, became something new, with a population united, at least temporarily, in its fervor for change and a joyful openness that would have seemed fanciful even a few days ago.

The euphoria, however, will eventually subside, and much depends on the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to get Mugabe to officially resign, jump-start a new leadership that could seek to be inclusive, and reduce perceptions that the military staged a coup against Mugabe. The president was to meet military commanders on Sunday in a second round of talks, state broadcaster ZBC reported.

“The common enemy is Robert Mugabe. That’s for starters,” said 37-year-old Talent Mudzamiri, an opposition supporter who was born shortly after Zimbabwe’s independence.

He had a warning for whoever takes over Zimbabwe: “If the next leader does the same, we are going to come out again.”

Many Zimbabweans believe the most likely candidate will be Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former vice president with close military ties whose dismissal by Mugabe triggered the intervention of the armed forces, which sent troops and tanks into the streets this week, effectively taking over the country. The increasing presidential ambitions of Mugabe’s wife, Grace, a polarizing figure who denounced Mnangagwa amid a factional battle within the ruling ZANU-PF party, alarmed those who feared a dynastic succession.

“Leadership is not sexually transmitted,” read a poster at the Harare rallies. Other signs denounced “Gucci Grace,” a reference to the first lady’s record of high-end shopping expeditions outside Zimbabwe, which suffered hyperinflation in the past and is currently struggling with a cash shortage and massive unemployment.

The discussions over Mugabe’s fate come ahead of a key ruling-party congress next month, as well as scheduled elections next year.

The president, who is believed to be staying at his private home in Harare, a well-guarded compound known as the Blue Roof, is reported to have asked for more time in office. He has been deserted by most of his allies, with others arrested. The ruling party has turned on him, asking for a Central Committee meeting this weekend to recall both him and his wife, who heads the women’s league of the party. Impeachment is also a possibility when Parliament resumes Tuesday.

]]> 0 demanding that longtime President Robert Mugabe stand down march toward the State House in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Saturday.Sat, 18 Nov 2017 16:28:02 +0000
Blazing fireball lights up Arctic sky over Finland Sat, 18 Nov 2017 21:01:09 +0000 COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A blazing fireball lit up the dark skies of Arctic Finland for five seconds, giving off what scientists said was “the glow of 100 full moons” and spurring hurried attempts to find the reported meteorite.

Finnish experts were scrambling to calculate its trajectory and find where it landed, according to Tomas Kohout of the University of Helsinki’s physics department, who said Thursday night’s fireball “seems to have been one of the brightest ones.”

It produced a blast wave that felt like an explosion about 6:40 p.m. and could also be seen in northern Norway and in Russia’s Kola peninsula, he said Saturday.

It might have weighed about 220 pounds, according to Nikolai Kruglikov of Yekaterinburg’s Urals Federal University.

“We believe it didn’t disintegrate but reached a remote corner of Finland,” Kohout said, adding that any search plans for the meteorite must face the fact that “right now we don’t have much daylight” – four hours, to be precise.

The Norwegian meteorite network said the fireball likely was going northeast, perhaps “to the Norwegian peninsula of Varanger,” north of where the borders of Russia, Finland and Norway meet.

Kohout said scientists looked forward to any space debris they can get their hands on.

“We are happy to recover (it) since this is a unique opportunity to get otherwise inaccessible space material,” Kohout said.

“This is why it’s worth it to search for them.”

Viktor Troshenkov of the Russian Academy of Sciences told the Tass news agency that the fireball could be part of a prolific meteor shower known as the Leonids, which peaks at this time of year. He said Thursday’s fireball likely wasn’t the sole meteorite but others maybe were not seen because of thick clouds elsewhere.

Troshenkov told Tass that meteor showers can be even stronger. The Leonids reach their maximum once every 33 years – and the last time that happened was in 1998, he said. Amateur astronomers in the Arctic then saw about 1,000 meteors, 40 meteorites and one fireball in just one night.

In 2013, a meteorite streaked across the Russian sky and exploded over the Ural Mountains with the power of an atomic bomb, its sonic blasts shattering countless windows and injuring about 1,100 people, many cut by flying glass.

]]> 0 Sat, 18 Nov 2017 16:01:09 +0000
AC/DC founding member Malcolm Young dies at 64 Sat, 18 Nov 2017 15:55:58 +0000 NEW YORK — Malcolm Young, the rhythm guitarist and guiding force behind the bawdy hard rock band AC/DC who  helped create such head-banging anthems as “Highway to Hell,” “Hells Bells” and “Back in Black,” has died. He was 64.

AC/DC announced the death Saturday on their official Facebook page and website Saturday. A representative for the band confirmed that the posts were true. The posts did not say when or where Young died, but said the performer had been suffering from dementia. He was diagnosed in 2014.

“It is with deepest sorrow that we inform you of the death of Malcolm Young, beloved husband, father, grandfather and brother. Malcolm had been suffering from Dementia for several years and passed away peacefully with his family by his bedside,” one of the posts read.

The family put out a statement posted on the band’s website calling Young a “visionary who inspired many.”

While Young’s younger brother, Angus, the group’s school-uniform-wearing lead guitarist, was the public face of the band, Malcolm Young was its key writer and leader, the member the rest of the band watched for onstage changes and cutoffs.

AC/DC were remarkably consistent for over 40 years with its mix of driving hard rock, lusty lyrics and bluesy shuffles, selling over 200 million albums, surviving the loss of its first singer and creating one of the greatest rock records ever in “Back in Black,” the world’s second best-selling album behind Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

The Glasgow-born Young brothers – who moved to Sydney, Australia, with their parents, sister and five older brothers in 1963 – formed the band in 1973. They were inspired to choose the high-energy name AC/DC from the back of a sewing machine owned by their sister, Margaret.

Angus experimented with several different stage costumes at first – including a gorilla suit and a Zorro outfit – but the school uniform was a natural, since he was only 16 at the time.

The Youngs went through several drummers and bass guitarists, finally settling on Phil Rudd on drums in 1974 and Englishman Cliff Williams on bass three years later. Their original singer was fired after a few months when they discovered Bon Scott, who was originally hired as the band’s driver.

By 1980, the band was on a roll, known for its high energy performances and predictably hard-charging songs. Their album “Highway To Hell” was certified gold in America and made it into the top 25 Billboard album charts, and the single “Touch Too Much” became their first UK Top 30 hit. But on Feb. 18, 1980, everything changed – Scott died of asphyxiation after choking on his own vomit after an all-night drinking binge.

The band decided to keep going and hired English vocalist Brian Johnson at the helm. The newly reconfigured group channeled their grief into songwriting and put out 1980’s “Back In Black,” with the songs “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” and “Hells Bells.” The cover of the album was black, in honor of Scott’s death.

The band continued with a studio or live album every few years , blending their huge guitar riffs with rebellious and often sophomoric lyrics – song titles include “Big Balls,” “Beating Around the Bush,” “Let Me Put My Love Into You” and “Stiff Upper Lip.” AC/DC won only a single Grammy Award, for best hard rock performance in 2009 for “War Machine.”

Rolling Stone said in 1980 that “the AC/DC sound is nothing more and nothing less than aggressively catchy song hooks brutalized by a revved-up boogie rhythm, Malcolm’s jackhammer riffing, Angus’ guitar histrionics and Johnson’s bloodcurdling bawl.”

In the book “The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC” by Jesse Fink, Angus Young said the formula worked. “We’ve got the basic thing kids want,” he said. “They want to rock and that’s it. They want to be part of the band as a mass. When you hit a guitar chord, a lot of the kids in the audience are hitting it with you. They’re so much into the band they’re going through all the motions with you. If you can get the mass to react as a whole, then that’s the ideal thing. That’s what a lot of bands lack, and why the critics are wrong.”

AC/DC’s infectious, driving sound stretched further than rock arenas. The song “Shoot to Thrill” was heard in the film “The Avengers,” “Back in Black” made it into “The Muppets,” “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” was played in “Bridesmaids” and their songs were included in the “Iron Man” franchise. On TV, the band’s music was heard in everything from “Top Gear,” the “Hawaii Five-0” reboot, “Glee,” “CSI: Miami” and “The Voice.”

Though the band championed good-natured hell-raising, it had to weather suggestions in the 1980s that they were a threat to the moral fabric of society. There were rumors the band’s name stood for Anti-Christ/Devil’s Children and many were shocked when it was learned that serial murderer and rapist Richard Ramirez identified himself as a fan and left an AC/DC baseball cap behind at a crime scene.

In 2014, the band released “Rock or Bust,” the first AC/DC album without Malcom Young. Even so, he is very present on the record since the 11 songs are credited to the Young brothers (Angus said he built the album from guitar hooks the two had accumulated over the years).

Around the album’s release, Angus Young told The Associated Press that Malcolm was doing fine, but that he couldn’t perform anymore.

“It was progressing further, but he knew he couldn’t do it,” Angus Young said of his older brother’s dementia. “He had continued as long as he could, still writing. But he said to me, ‘Keep it going.”’

The fate of the band was also put into doubt by the retirement of Williams, legal trouble for Rudd and Johnson’s hearing loss, which forced him to leave. The band enlisted Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose to sing on tour in 2016.

]]> 0 2003 photo shows the members of AC/DC, from left: Malcolm Young, Brian Johnson, Angus Young, Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams from AC/DC posing for photographers at the Apollo Hammersmith in London. The band announced Saturday that 64-year-old Malcolm Young has died.Sat, 18 Nov 2017 15:57:24 +0000
Trump fans flames in Franken groping scandal Sat, 18 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 President Trump’s decision to mock Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., for groping a sleeping woman while posing for a photo has once again made him a central figure in the national discussion about sexual assault, harassment and misconduct – and has again brought attention to past accusations against the president himself.

As a growing number of prominent men have publicly faced accusations, Trump has been selective in responding, largely on the basis of whether the accused is an ally or foe, and focusing relatively little on the alleged victims.

Trump called his own accusers “horrible, horrible liars” and threatened to sue them, while coming to the defense of friends such as political commentator Bill O’Reilly and former Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes, accused of harassment or assault. Trump also has been mostly silent on Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, who has been accused of trying to initiate a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30s, sexually assaulting a 16-year-old waitress and pursuing relationships with at least five other teenagers who were much younger than he.

Trump’s responses have been notably different for some Democrats. Late Thursday night, the president tweeted about Franken, saying that a photograph of Franken appearing to grope a woman “is really bad, speaks a thousand words” and chastising the Minnesotan for “lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women.”

Trump also has said he was not surprised by accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, a major Democratic donor; released an ad during the presidential campaign calling former New York congressman Anthony Weiner a “pervert;” and hosted a campaign news conference with three women who had accused former president Bill Clinton of sexual assault or misconduct, calling those women “very courageous.”


Liz Mair, a Republican communications consultant who has been critical of the president, said Friday that Trump appears to be attempting to egg on Democrats to react and, in the process, muddy distinctions between allegations against him and others accused of wrongdoing.

“Even if he’s totally loathed, as long as he’s a little less loathed by comparison, he’s good,” Mair said.

But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday pushed back against the idea that Trump treats Democrats differently than Republicans, pointing to comments of concern over the Moore allegations. Sanders also said that there was a key difference between the accusations against Franken and those against Trump.

“Sen. Franken has admitted wrongdoing, and the president hasn’t,” Sanders said. “I think that’s a very clear distinction.”


Last week, The Washington Post published allegations that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl nearly four decades ago when he was in his early 30s and that he pursued three other girls around the same time who were between the ages of 16 and 18.

On Monday, another woman held a news conference in New York to accuse Moore of sexually assaulting her in the late 1970s when she was 16 and he was in his 30s. And on Wednesday, The Post published the accounts of two additional women who say that Moore pursued them in the late 1970s and early 1980s when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers who worked at the local mall. One of those women said that she went to a movie with Moore and that he aggressively kissed her without permission.

During Trump’s lengthy overseas trip to Asia last week, Sanders told reporters that “like most Americans, the president does not believe we can allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life. However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.”

On Saturday, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he is sticking with that same statement “for now, but I’ll have further comment as we go down the road” when he returned from the trip.

Since returning late Tuesday, Trump has not mentioned Moore in any public comments or tweets, and he has ignored questions about Moore that reporters have shouted at him. On Thursday, Sanders said that Trump considers the allegations against Moore “extremely troubling,” but doesn’t plan to rescind his endorsement and believes that Alabama voters should be the ones to pick their next senator.


The news about Franken broke Thursday morning when radio news anchor Leeann Tweeden, a former model who participated in USO shows in war zones, published an essay accusing the Democrat of aggressively kissing her without permission and shared a photo that showed Franken groping her as she slept on a plane wearing a bulletproof vest.

Late Thursday night, Trump jumped into the fray. “The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?” he wrote on Twitter, misspelling the nickname. “And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Lesley Stahl tape?”

The latter reference appeared to be a reference to a 1995 New York magazine article in which Franken, then a writer on “Saturday Night Live,” is described as advocating a joke about raping Stahl, a prominent CBS journalist.

Trump didn’t mention that Tweeden also accused Franken of kissing her against her will – the same thing that at least eight women have publicly accused Trump of doing.

The accusations span from the early 1990s, when beauty pageant organizer Jill Harth alleged in a lawsuit that Trump had repeatedly kissed and groped her against her will, to November 2015, when NBC News reporter Katy Tur says that Trump gave her an unwelcomed kiss on the cheek and then bragged about it on air.

Two of those women, along with at least four others, have accused Trump of groping their breasts or touching their genitals without their consent. Jessica Leeds alleges that as she sat next to Trump on a flight in the early 1980s, he touched her breasts and started putting his hand up her skirt.

Trump repeatedly denied the allegations during the campaign, calling his accusers liars and vowing to sue them, which he has not done. And referring to Leeds in October 2016, Trump said: “Believe me, she would not be my first choice. That I can tell you.”

Several beauty pageant contestants also accused Trump of barging into their dressing rooms unexpectedly, seeing them when they were not fully dressed – something that Trump admitted to doing during a 2005 interview with shock jock Howard Stern.

In early October 2016, The Post published audio from an interview Trump did with “Access Hollywood” in 2005 in which he bragged about kissing women without waiting to see if they want to be kissed and grabbing women by their genitals without asking. “And when you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said. “You can do anything.”

Trump has defended those comments as being “locker room banter,” although he also issued an apology in which he said the “words don’t reflect who I am.”

At the time, Franken criticized Trump for the remarks: “I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms. I belong to a health club in Minneapolis – you can tell. Our locker room banter is stuff like, ‘Is Trump crazy?’ ”

In Alabama on Friday, Moore’s opponent – Alabama Democratic Senate nominee Doug Jones – said the accusations against Franken are a “serious matter” and that he supports an ethics investigation. He declined to comment on the president on directly addressing the allegations against Moore.

“You just ought to ask the president and his people that, not me,” Jones said at a campaign stop at a seafood restaurant in Dothan, Alabama.

]]> 0 - In this Sept. 20, 2017 file photo, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid, on her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Franken is accused of forcibly kissing a woman while rehearsing for a 2006 USO tour; Franken also was photographed with his hands over her breasts as she slept wearing a flak vest. He has apologized, while maintaining that he remembered the rehearsal differently. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)Sat, 18 Nov 2017 16:21:25 +0000
Trump delays new policy on importing elephant trophies Sat, 18 Nov 2017 03:24:50 +0000 WASHINGTON — President Trump said Friday that he’s delaying a new policy allowing the body parts of African elephants shot for sport to be imported until he can review “all conservation facts.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday it would allow such importation, arguing that encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill the threatened species would help raise money for conservation programs.

Animal rights advocates and environmental groups criticized the decision. California Rep. Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urged the administration to reverse the policy, calling it the “wrong move at the wrong time.”

Trump tweeted Friday that the policy had been “under study for years.” He said he would put the decision “on hold” and review it with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Zinke issued a statement later Friday saying: “President Trump and I have talked and both believe that conservation and healthy herds are critical. As a result, in a manner compliant with all applicable laws, rules and regulations, the issuing of permits is being put on hold as the decision is being reviewed.”

Royce questioned the action because of concerns not only about African wildlife but U.S. national security, citing the political upheaval in Zimbabwe, where the longtime president was placed under house arrest this week by the military.

“The administration should withdraw this decision until Zimbabwe stabilizes,” the committee chairman said in a statement. “Elephants and other big game in Africa are blood currency for terrorist organizations, and they are being killed at an alarming rate. Stopping poaching isn’t just about saving the world’s most majestic animals for the future – it’s about our national security.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service said in a written notice issued Thursday that permitting elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back as trophies will raise money for conservation programs. The change marks a shift in efforts to stop the importation of elephant tusks and hides, overriding a 2014 ban imposed by the Obama administration. The new policy applies to the remains of African elephants killed between January 2016 and December 2018.

“Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve those species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” the agency said in a statement.

Royce said that when carefully regulated, conservation hunts could help the wildlife population, but “that said, this is the wrong move at the wrong time.”

He described the perilous situation in Zimbabwe, where the U.S. Embassy has advised Americans to limit their travel outdoors.

“In this moment of turmoil, I have zero confidence that the regime – which for years has promoted corruption at the highest levels – is properly managing and regulating conservation programs,” Royce said. “Furthermore, I am not convinced that elephant populations in the area warrant overconcentration measures.”

The world’s largest land mammal, the African elephant has been classified as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1979.

Illicit demand for elephant ivory has led to devastating losses from illegal poaching as the natural habitat available for the animals to roam has also dwindled by more than half. As a result, the number of African elephants has shrunk from about 5 million a century ago to about 400,000 remaining. And that number continues to decline each year.

Two other lawmakers, Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., co-chairs of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, assailed the administration’s decision.

“We should not encourage the hunting and slaughter of these magnificent creatures,” Buchanan said. “We don’t get a second chance once a species becomes extinct.”

One group that advocates for endangered species called for more action after Trump’s Friday night tweet. “It’s great that public outrage has forced Trump to reconsider this despicable decision, but it takes more than a tweet to stop trophy hunters from slaughtering elephants and lions,” said Tanya Sanerib, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need immediate federal action to reverse these policies and protect these amazing animals.”

]]> 0, 17 Nov 2017 23:52:47 +0000
Purdue Pharma proposing settlement of opioid claims Sat, 18 Nov 2017 02:42:00 +0000 WILMINGTON, Del. — Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma is proposing a settlement in an attempt to end state investigations and lawsuits over the U.S. opioid epidemic, according to people familiar with the talks.

Purdue’s lawyers raised the prospect with several southern state attorneys general who haven’t sued the company, as they try to gauge interest for a wide-ranging deal, said four people who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Opioid makers are accused of creating a public health crisis through their marketing of the painkillers. More than a dozen states and about 100 counties and cities have sued Purdue, other opioid makers and drug distributors, in a strategy echoing the litigation that led to the 1998 $246 billion settlement with tobacco companies.

A group of 41 attorneys general is also investigating how companies like Purdue and other opioid makers marketed and sold prescription opioids. It’s not clear whether Purdue’s lawyers are authorized to speak for other drugmakers being sued, but the people familiar with the talks say Purdue’s attorneys are looking for an agreement to include all U.S. states’ claims against all manufacturers.

Purdue spokesman Robert Josephson, declined to comment on the settlement discussions. The company said earlier that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Oxycontin for use as a painkiller, and approved the safety warnings. Cases focusing on opioids are targeting a government-regulated product, the company said. That means judges must defer to the FDA’s finding that the painkillers are safe and effective, and that Purdue properly disclosed addiction risks on its warning label, according to the company’s filing.

Any settlement would likely include cash and changes to the company’s manufacturing and marketing practices, the people said. It would resolve only the state claims, they said.

]]> 0 Scripts will soon limit the number and strength of opioid drugs such as OxyContin prescribed to first-time users.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 22:00:12 +0000
Home construction in U.S. reaches strongest pace in a year Sat, 18 Nov 2017 02:11:25 +0000 WASHINGTON — Construction of new homes climbed 13.7 percent in October, the biggest jump in a year as builders broke ground on more apartments and single-family houses.

The Commerce Department said Friday that the monthly gain put U.S. housing starts at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.29 million units. That is the best pace for home construction in 12 months.

Housing starts have risen just 2.4 percent year-to-date, largely because fewer apartment complexes are being built. Single-family house construction has driven much of the growth this year in a sign of greater demand from buyers amid a healthy job market.

But recent building trends reversed themselves somewhat in October, with most of the momentum coming from apartment construction. The building of multi-family properties jumped 37.4 percent in October. Construction of single-family houses increased 5.3 percent.

Still, the building of new homes has done little to alleviate the growing shortage of existing homes for sale. This shortage has started to stifle the broader real estate market. Purchases of existing homes have fallen over the past 12 months, according to the National Association of Realtors. The decline largely reflects that there are 121,600 fewer homes on the market during the same period, a 6.4 percent decrease that new construction has been unable to offset.

“For a significant increase in new homes, municipalities are going to have to work harder to make more land available for building,” said Robert Frick, a corporate economist with Navy Federal Credit Union.

Construction in the South rose 17.2 percent last month, a sign the region is regaining its footing after damage from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Home construction shot up in the Northeast due to ground breakings for apartments. Construction also increased in the Midwest but declined in the West.

Building permits, an indicator of future construction, rose 5.9 percent in October to 1.3 million.

]]> 0 builder works on the roof of a home under construction at a housing development in Jackson Township, Butler County, Pa. Apartment complexes drove new construction in the Northeast.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 21:58:46 +0000
Monsanto asks Arkansas court to halt ban on weedkiller Sat, 18 Nov 2017 02:10:35 +0000 LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A major agribusiness company asked an Arkansas judge Friday to halt the state’s plan to ban an herbicide that’s drawn complaints from farmers across several states who say the weed killer has drifted onto their fields and caused widespread damage.

Monsanto asked a Pulaski County judge to strike down the rule approved by the state Plant Board this month that would prohibit the use of dicamba from April 16 through Oct. 31. The ban is expected to go before a legislative panel next month, but the Missouri-based company said action is needed now because farmers are already buying their products for next year’s growing season.

“The ban severely curtails Monsanto’s ability to sell its new dicamba-tolerant seed and low-volatility dicamba herbicide within the state, and every day the ban remains in place costs Monsanto sales and customers,” the company said in its filing.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Dicamba has been around for decades, but problems arose over the past couple of years as farmers began to use it on soybean and cotton fields where they planted new seeds engineered to be resistant to the herbicide. Because it can easily evaporate after being applied, the chemical sometimes settles on neighboring fields. The state earlier this year approved a temporary ban on the herbicide’s sale and use, and has received nearly 1,000 complaints about dicamba this year.

The request to halt next year’s ban was added to a lawsuit Monsanto filed last month over the board’s decision in 2016 to prohibit the use of dicamba.

In its amended lawsuit filed Friday, the company argued the Plant Board exceeded its authority by banning dicamba and did not consider the financial impact on the state’s farmers. Monsanto said it would ask the court to move quickly on its complaint, and hoped the board would join in that request.

“This is all about having the newest technology available to growers so they can choose what products they wish to use to combat those difficult-to-control weeds,” said Scott Partridge, the company’s vice president of global strategy. “There’s no reason to delay.”

The company also challenged the makeup of the 18-member board, arguing a state law that gives private groups such as the state Seed Growers Association power to appoint members violates Arkansas’ Constitution.

Farmers have also complained about dicamba causing damage to their crops in other states, including Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Tennessee. The Environmental Protection Agency last month announced a deal with Monsanto and two other makers of dicamba herbicides, BASF and DuPont, for new voluntary restrictions on the weedkiller’s use.

]]> 0 Arkansas soybean farmer Reed Storey looks at his field in Marvell last summer. He said half of his crop had shown damage from dicamba, an herbicide that has drifted onto unprotected fields and spawned hundreds of complaints from growers.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 22:01:13 +0000
Keystone pipeline leak won’t affect Nebraska regulators’ decision Sat, 18 Nov 2017 01:05:16 +0000 LINCOLN, Neb. — Discovery of a 210,000-gallon oil leak from the Keystone pipeline would seem to be poor timing four days before regulators in Nebraska decide whether to allow a major expansion of the system. But officials say state law does not allow pipeline safety to be a factor in their decision.

The Nebraska Public Service Commission was scheduled to rule Monday if a Keystone XL expansion pipeline proposed by TransCanada Corp. can cross the state. The commission’s decision is the last major regulatory hurdle for a project that has faced numerous local, state and federal reviews and lawsuits since it was announced in 2008.

Keystone operator TransCanada Corp. shut down the existing pipeline early Thursday, and workers were testing to determine the cause of the spill on agricultural land in Marshall County, South Dakota, near the North Dakota border, about 250 miles west of Minneapolis.

State and company officials said the spill was not a threat to waterways or drinking water, but critics were quick to use the leak as an example of what they see as the risks to the environment.

The Nebraska vote Monday will be on a proposed route for Keystone XL, a massive expansion that also would be operated by TransCanada.

The new pipeline would carry an estimated 830,000 barrels of oil a day from the oil sands areas of Canada through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it would connect with the existing Keystone pipeline.

The decision will hinge on testimony and documents generated from public hearings over the summer and from more than 500,000 public comments, Nebraska Public Service Commission spokeswoman Deb Collins said. A state law passed in 2011 prevents the commission from factoring pipeline safety or the possibility of leaks into its decisions.

“The commission’s decision … will be based on the evidence in the record,” Collins said.

The Keystone XL proposal has faced intense opposition in Nebraska from a coalition of environmental groups, Native American tribes and some landowners who don’t want the pipeline running through their property.

Nebraska lawmakers gave the five-member commission the power to regulate major oil pipelines in 2011 in response to a public outcry over the pipeline and its potential impact on the Sandhills, an ecologically fragile region of grass-covered sand dunes.

But when they passed the law, legislators argued that pipeline safety is a federal responsibility and should not factor in the state decision.

Opponents of Keystone XL are incensed that the leak won’t be considered.

]]> 0 sign for TransCanada's Keystone pipeline facilities stands in Hardisty, Alberta, Canada.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 20:29:19 +0000
Moscow meeting in June under scrutiny in Trump probe Sat, 18 Nov 2017 01:04:50 +0000 WASHINGTON – Earlier this year, a Russian-American lobbyist and another businessman discussed over coffee in Moscow an extraordinary meeting they had attended 12 months earlier: a gathering at Trump Tower with President Trump’s son, his son-in-law and his then-campaign chairman.

The Moscow meeting in June, which has not been previously disclosed, is now under scrutiny by investigators who want to know why the two men met in the first place and whether there was some effort to get their stories straight about the Trump Tower meeting just weeks before it would become public, the Associated Press has learned.

Congressional investigators have questioned both men – lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze, a business associate of a Moscow-based developer and former Trump business partner – and obtained their text message communications, people familiar with the investigation told the AP.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team also has been investigating the Trump Tower meeting, which occurred weeks after Trump had clinched the Republican presidential nomination and which his son attended with the expectation of receiving damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. A grand jury has already heard testimony about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which in addition to Donald Trump Jr., also included Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and his then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The focus of the congressional investigators was confirmed by three people familiar with their probe, including two who demanded anonymity to discuss the sensitive inquiry.

One of those people said Akhmetshin told congressional investigators that he asked for the meeting with Kaveladze to argue that they should go public with the details of the Trump Tower meeting before they were caught up in a media maelstrom. Akhmetshin also told the investigators that Kaveladze said people in Trump’s orbit were asking about Akhmetshin’s background, the person said.

Akhmetshin’s lawyer, Michael Tremonte, declined to comment.

Scott Balber, a lawyer for Kaveladze, confirmed that his client and Akhmetshin met over coffee and that the Trump Tower meeting a year earlier was “obviously discussed.” But Balber denied his client had been contacted by associates of Trump before he took the meeting with Akhmetshin.

Balber said the men did not discuss lining up their stories in expectation of the meeting becoming public and receiving media attention. Balber said Akhmetshin did raise the possibility that his name could come out in connection with the Trump Tower meeting and cause unwanted attention given that he had been linked in earlier news reports to Russian military intelligence, coverage that Akhmetshin considered unfair. Akhmetshin has denied ongoing ties with Russian intelligence, but acknowledged that he served in the Soviet military in the late 1980s as part of a counterintelligence unit.

“That was the impetus,” Balber said. “It had absolutely nothing to do with anticipation of the meeting coming out in the press.”

The meeting in Moscow occurred during a tumultuous time for the administration. Mueller had been appointed as special counsel weeks earlier following the firing in May of FBI Director James Comey, and as associates of Trump were under pressure to disclose any contacts they had with Russians during the campaign.

The June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower first became public on July 8 in a report in The New York Times.

The White House initially said the meeting was primarily about U.S. adoption of Russian children, but days after the story was published, Trump Jr. released emails showing he took the meeting after being offered damaging information on Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to aide his father’s candidacy. Mueller’s investigation has included scrutiny of the White House’s drafting of the initial incomplete statement.

As part of their inquiry, congressional investigators are reviewing copies of the text messages between the two men that were turned over, Balber said. He declined to say what the text messages showed. One person familiar with the messages said they reflect the logistics of the meeting during a trip by Akhmetshin to Moscow.

Associated Press writer Chad Day contributed to this report.

]]> 0 House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner was among those at a meeting at Trump Tower in 2016 that has been one focus of the special counsel investigating whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 20:04:50 +0000
Head of Puerto Rico’s power company resigns as blackouts continue Sat, 18 Nov 2017 01:00:17 +0000 SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The director of Puerto Rico’s power company resigned on Friday amid ongoing blackouts and scrutiny of a contract awarded to a small Montana-based company to help rebuild the electricity grid destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority said Ricardo Ramos presented his letter of resignation to the company’s board effective immediately. Ramos said in a brief video posted on Twitter Friday evening that it was a very personal decision and that it had nothing to do with any issues covered by the media.

“The focus has to remain on restoring the electrical system,” he said as he thanked his power company crews and those that had arrived from New York and Florida.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello briefly told reporters that Ramos is a professional who worked hard to bring power back to Puerto Rico, but that “there were a series of distractions, and a decision was taken to go in another direction.”

“That resignation was taken … in the best interest of the people of Puerto Rico,” he said.

Hours after the resignation, Rossello recommended that the board appoint Justo Gonzalez, the company’s power generation director, as interim director.

Earlier this week, Ramos testified before a U.S. Senate committee about a $300 million contract awarded to Whitefish Energy Holdings that has since been canceled. The contract is undergoing a local and federal audit.

Prior to the announcement of Ramos’ resignation, local newspaper El Vocero had reported on Friday that Ramos had awarded a nearly $100,000 contract to an attorney for consulting work just days after Hurricane Irma brushed past Puerto Rico. It was the same attorney Ramos previously had tried to appoint as sub-director of the power company. Rossello said that contract also will be reviewed.

Ramos said in a Facebook post published on Friday before his resignation that the contract was legitimate.

“Absolutely nothing was done outside the law,” he said.

Ramos acknowledged mistakes Tuesday as the utility sought immediate help in the aftermath of the storm, which destroyed the island’s power grid.

Whitefish was one of only two companies that offered immediate services, Ramos said. The other company required a guaranteed payment of $25 million – money the bankrupt utility with a $9 billion debt load did not have, he said.

Lawmakers from both parties criticized the power authority for failing to seek mutual assistance from other public power providers – assistance that was offered to Florida and Texas utilities following hurricanes Harvey and Irma

More than 20 of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities remain without power nearly two months after Maria hit the U.S. territory as a Category 4 hurricane. A major blackout occurred on Wednesday just as the government had announced it had reached 50 percent of power generation. Two more large blackouts have since been reported as crews work to restore power.

Ramos said the recent blackouts were a result of problems ranging from overgrown vegetation to fuel not being supplied on time.

Rossello has said he anticipates 80 percent power generation by end of November and 95 percent by mid-December. However, the U.S. Corps of Engineers has said it expects 75 percent power generation by end of January.

]]> 0 Fri, 17 Nov 2017 22:01:52 +0000
Lebanon’s prime minister says trip to Saudi Arabia was taken to get political advice Fri, 17 Nov 2017 23:42:14 +0000 BEIRUT — Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Friday his stay in Saudi Arabia was to consult with officials there on the future of Lebanon and its relations with its Arab neighbors, dismissing as “rumors” reports about his alleged detention.

Hariri’s tweet came hours before he was expected in France two weeks after his surprise resignation in Saudi Arabia.

The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said Hariri was expected in Paris’ presidential palace by midday Saturday. Macron said Hariri will be received “with the honors due a prime minister,” even though he has announced his resignation, since Lebanon hasn’t yet recognized it.

]]> 0 Fri, 17 Nov 2017 18:42:14 +0000
Red Cross: Cholera threat to 1 million in Yemen Fri, 17 Nov 2017 23:37:04 +0000 SANAA, Yemen — One million people across three Yemeni cities are at risk of a renewed cholera outbreak and other water-borne diseases following the closing of airports and sea ports by a Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Shiite rebels, an international aid group said Friday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that the cities of Hodeida, Saada and Taiz were not able to provide clean water in recent days because of a lack of fuel.

“Close to 1 million people are now deprived of clean water and sanitation in crowded urban environments in a country slowly emerging from the worst cholera outbreak in modern times,” said Alexander Faite, head of the Red Cross delegation in the war-ravaged nation.

The Red Cross said other major urban cities, including the capital, Sanaa, will find themselves in the same situation in less than two weeks unless imports of essential goods resume immediately.

The U.S.-backed coalition imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Nov. 6 after a missile attack by rebels targeted the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia said Monday the coalition would lift the blockade after widespread international criticism.

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote to Saudi Arabia’s U.N. ambassado, saying the Gulf kingdom’s failure to reopen key Yemen airports and sea ports is reversing humanitarian efforts to tackle the crisis in the impoverished country.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Guterres welcomed the reopening of the port in the city of Aden; however, he said this “will not meet the needs of 28 million Yemenis.”

Suspected airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition killed at least 21 people Friday in the country’s west and northwest, said Yemeni security officials and witnesses.

One airstrike hit a bus in the el-Zaher district in the western province of Hodeida, killing six civilians, they said.

At least 15 people were killed in another airstrike on a market in Yemen’s northwestern Hajja province, controlled by the Shiite rebels, the officials and witnesses said.

Over the past two years, more than 10,000 people have been killed and 3 million displaced in the coalition’s air campaign. With the country in a stalemate war, cholera began to rear its ugly head in October 2016, but the epidemic escalated rapidly in April.

The fighting has damaged infrastructure and caused shortages of medicine and pushed the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.

]]> 0 malnourished child lies in a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. Save the Children says 130 children die every day in Yemen from hunger and disease.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 18:37:04 +0000
Not real news: At look at what didn’t happen this week Fri, 17 Nov 2017 23:09:56 +0000 A roundup of some of the most popular, but completely untrue, headlines of the week. None of these stories are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked these out; here are the real facts:

NOT REAL: Second Roy Moore accuser works for Michelle Obama right now

THE FACTS: The woman named as an accuser of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore in a story by the Last Line of Defense doesn’t work for Michelle Obama. In fact, it’s unclear that she’s a real person. The article claims a woman named Fiona Dourif told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last week that she was groped by Moore in 1957. No one by that named appeared on Maddow’s show. An actress with the same name called out the story on Twitter, saying she has nothing to do with Moore. The story is linked to a photo of former Alabama U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance. An Obama family representative tells the AP the claim that the woman worked as a housekeeper for the Obamas is completely false.

Lexy is a therapy dog at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. An article claiming President Trump discontinued an animal therapy program at Walter Reed National Medical Center is false. Associated Press/Lolita Baldor

NOT REAL: Trump abruptly shuts down dogs for Wounded Warriors program, leaving vets high and dry on Veterans Day!

THE FACTS: Officials at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, did issue a stop-work order to an animal therapy group contracted with the hospital, but it came on Oct. 27, more than two weeks before Veterans Day. The order to the Warrior Canine Project came from hospital officials, not the White House. Hospital spokeswoman Sandy Dean says it’s looking to restructure its animal therapy contracts to improve patient care. She adds that therapy dogs continue to be available for patients at Walter Reed.

NOT REAL: British intelligence seizes Clinton Foundation warehouse, $400 million in cash

THE FACTS: Several websites have posted a story claiming the Clinton Foundation was leasing a British warehouse owned by a man on the U.K.’s terrorist watch list, quoting an unnamed assistant to Chelsea Clinton stating that the facility was “rented through an agency.” Foundation spokesman Brian Cookstra tells the AP the story is “totally false.” He adds: “We don’t rent a warehouse in the UK, the quote from ‘Chelsea Clinton’s assistant’ is made up, and nothing in this story seems to be based in reality.” A photo included with the story is a picture from Britain’s The Sun newspaper that shows unrelated police activity in Kent, England.

Actor Ian McKellan is shown here in 2013, but not to worry, he’s still alive despite an article circulating online claiming otherwise. Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/Associated Press

NOT REAL: English actor Ian McKellen dies at age 78

THE FACTS: McKellen is alive and actively working despite a story from a website appearing to mimic Britain’s Daily Mail reporting he died after a lengthy hospitalization for pneumonia. The story first published last year has recirculated in recent days. McKellen has starred in several projects on stage and screen this year alone, including the British sitcom “Vicious.” The show’s Twitter account posted a photo of McKellen and co-star Derek Jacobi on Saturday with the note: “In case you were wondering, we’re still alive.”

NOT REAL: Iceland mandates mental health warnings on all Bibles

THE FACTS: No warnings are required to be put on Bibles sold in the island nation. A widely-shared hoax story from the website Patheos offers a clue to the joke by naming the prime minister of the country as Andrew Canard. Canard is a seldom used word that means a fabricated report. The actual prime minister of Iceland is Bjarni Benediktsson.

This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

]]> 0 Ian McKellan is shown here in 2013, but not to worry, he's still alive despite an article circulating online claiming otherwise.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 18:14:41 +0000
Man sentenced to death in killing of former Maine residents in Texas Fri, 17 Nov 2017 21:57:40 +0000 BRYAN, Texas — A man was sentenced to death Wednesday for a rampage that left six people – including former Mainers – dead at a remote East Texas campsite.

A Brazos County jury deliberated about 45 minutes before deciding that William Hudson, 35, of Tennessee Colony, should face execution.

The same jury found him guilty last week on three counts of capital murder in the 2015 shooting and beating deaths of 77-year-old Carl Johnson, a former professor at the University of Maine at Farmington; his daughter, 40-year-old Hannah Johnson, a Mt. Blue High School and University of Maine graduate; and four members of their extended family, 45-year-old Thomas Kamp, 23-year-old Nathan Kamp, 21-year-old Austin Kamp and 6-year-old Kade Johnson.

The verdict on punishment comes exactly two years after Hudson’s arrest, which was on Nov. 15, 2015.

Evidence showed the victims were part of a blended family that gathered for a weekend together to camp on property in Tennessee Colony, about 90 miles southeast of Dallas. They had recently bought the land from Hudson’s family. Prosecutors said Hudson resented the sale.

Cynthia Johnson, the wife of Carl Johnson, managed to hide and survived the rampage.

The Eagle of Bryan-College Station reported that Cynthia Johnson testified that she heard Hudson fatally beat her husband and her daughter, Hannah, inside a recreational vehicle. She hid until dawn the next morning, retrieved a cellphone dropped by her daughter and called police.

Four victims were found in a pond.

Defense witnesses testified that Hudson suffered brain damage from multiple seizures, two car accidents and extreme alcohol abuse, and had been emotionally and sometimes physically abused by his father.

“William Hudson was created, he wasn’t born that way,” said Stephen Evans, one of Hudson’s attorneys.

Prosecution experts said Hudson had a personality disorder and not a mental illness.

“This is just who he is,” special prosecutor Lisa Tanner said. “This is a man who is not gonna change. That ought to scare you.”

The case had been moved from Anderson County to Bryan, about 90 miles to the southwest, to avoid potential jury bias.

]]> HudsonFri, 17 Nov 2017 21:49:27 +0000
Senators get tax bill as analysts conclude it would eventually cost the middle class Fri, 17 Nov 2017 21:41:36 +0000 WASHINGTON – Republicans have stretched closer to delivering the first big legislative victory for President Trump and their party, whisking a $1.5 trillion overhaul of business and personal income taxes through the House. Thorny problems await in the Senate, though.

The House passage of the bill Thursday on a mostly party-line 227-205 vote also brought nearer the biggest revamp of the U.S. tax system in three decades.

But in the Senate, a similar measure received a politically awkward verdict from nonpartisan congressional analysts showing it would eventually produce higher taxes for low- and middle-income earners but deliver deep reductions for those better off.

The Senate bill was approved late Thursday by the Finance Committee and sent to the full Senate on a party-line 14-12 vote. Like the House measure, it would slash the corporate tax rate and reduce personal income tax rates for many.

But it adds a key feature not in the House version: repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that everyone in the U.S. have health insurance. Elimination of the so-called individual mandate under the Obama health care law would add an estimated $338 billion in revenue over 10 years that the Senate tax-writers used for additional tax cuts.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that repeal of the mandate would result in 13 million more uninsured people by 2027, making it a political risk for some lawmakers.

The Senate panel’s vote came at the end of four days of often fierce partisan debate. It turned angrily personal for Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as he railed against Democrats’ accusations that the legislation was crafted to favor big corporations and the wealthy.

“I come from the poor people. And I’ve been working my whole stinking career for people who don’t have a chance,” Hatch insisted.

After the panel’s approval, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, “For the millions of hard-working Americans who need more money in their pockets and the chance of a better future, help is on the way.”

The analysts’ problematic projections for the Senate bill came a day after Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson became the first Republican senator to state opposition to the measure, saying it didn’t cut taxes enough for millions of partnerships and corporations. With at least five other Republican senators yet to declare support, the bill’s fate is far from certain in a chamber the Republican Party controls by just 52-48.

Even so, Republicans are hoping to send a compromise bill for Trump to sign by Christmas.

“Now the ball is in the Senate’s court,” Vice President Mike Pence said after the House vote. Speaking at a conservative Tax Foundation dinner in Washington, Pence said, “The next few weeks are going to be vitally important and they’re going to be a challenge.”

A White House statement that “now is the time to deliver” also underscored the Republicans’ effort to maintain momentum and outrace critics. Those include the AARP lobby for older people, major medical organizations, Realtors – and, in all likelihood, every Senate Democrat.

Despite controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House, the Republicans are still smarting from this summer’s crash of their effort to dismantle President Obama’s health care law. They see a successful tax effort as the best way to avert major losses in next year’s congressional elections. House Republicans concede they are watching the Senate warily.

“Political survival depends on us doing this,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “One of the things that scares me a little bit is that they’re going to screw up the bill to the point we can’t pass it.”

The House plan and the Senate Finance bill would deliver the bulk of their tax reductions to businesses.

Each would cut the 35 percent corporate tax rate to 20 percent, while reducing personal rates for many taxpayers and erasing or shrinking deductions. Projected federal deficits would grow by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

As decades of Republicans have done before them, Republican lawmakers touted their tax cuts as a boon to families across all income lines and a boost for businesses, jobs and the entire country.

“Passing this bill is the single biggest thing we can do to grow the economy, to restore opportunity and help those middle-income families who are struggling,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Ryan also said he’d seek to add tax breaks to help Puerto Rico recover from recent hurricanes to a House-Senate compromise.

Democrats said the tax measure would give outsized benefits to the wealthy and saddle millions of moderate-income Americans with tax increases. Among other things, the House legislation would reduce and ultimately repeal the tax Americans pay on the largest inheritances, while the Senate would limit that levy to fewer estates.

The bill is “pillaging the middle class to pad the pockets of the wealthiest and hand tax breaks to corporations shipping jobs out of America,” declared House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Thirteen House Republicans – all but one from high-tax California, New York and New Jersey – voted “no” because the plan would erase tax deductions for state and local income and sales taxes and limit property tax deductions to $10,000. Defectors included House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., who said the measure would “hurt New Jersey families.”

Besides Johnson, Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have yet to commit to backing the tax measure.

Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation estimated the Senate plan would mean higher taxes beginning in 2021 for many families earning under $30,000 annually. By 2027, families making less than $75,000 would face tax boosts while those making more would enjoy cuts.

Republicans attributed the new figures to two provisions: one ending the measure’s personal tax cuts starting in 2026 and the other abolishing the “Obamacare” requirement that people buy health coverage or pay tax penalties.

Ending the personal tax cuts for individuals in 2026, derided as a gimmick by Democrats, is designed to pare the bill’s long-term costs to the Treasury. Legislation cannot boost budget deficits after 10 years if it is to qualify for Senate procedures that bar bill-killing filibusters.

Other features:

• Both chambers’ bills would nearly double the standard deduction to around $12,000 for individuals and about $24,000 for married couples and dramatically boost the current $1,000 per-child tax credit.

• Both would erase the current $4,050 personal exemption and reduce or cancel other tax breaks. The House would limit interest deductions to future home mortgages of up to $500,000, down from today’s $1 million. The Senate would end deductions for moving expenses and tax preparation.

Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Richard Lardner and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

]]> 0 Trump gives a thumbs up as he walks with Vice President Mike Pence as he departs Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. Across the Capitol, Democrats pointed to new numbers Friday showing the Senate version of the Republican tax plan would boost taxes on lower- and middle-income Americans.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 16:41:36 +0000
Sex scandals topple the powerful, but why not Trump? Fri, 17 Nov 2017 21:13:35 +0000 WASHINGTON – “You can do anything,” Donald Trump once boasted, speaking of groping and kissing unsuspecting women.

Maybe he could, but not everyone can.

The candidate who openly bragged about grabbing women’s private parts – but denied he really did so – was elected president months before the cascading sexual harassment allegations that have been toppling the careers of powerful men in Hollywood, business, the media and politics. He won even though more than a dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct, and roughly half of all voters said they were bothered by his treatment of women, according to exit polls.

Now, as one prominent figure after another takes a dive, the question remains: Why not Trump?

“A lot of people who voted for him recognized that he was what he was, but wanted a change and so they were willing to go along,” theorizes Jessica Leeds, one of the first women to step forward and accuse Trump of groping her, decades ago on an airplane.

The charges leveled against him emerged in the supercharged thick of the 2016 campaign, when there was so much noise and chaos that they were just another episode for gobsmacked voters to try to absorb – or tune out. “When you have a Mount Everest of allegations, any particular allegation is very hard to get traction on,” says political psychologist Stanley Renshon.

And Trump’s unconventional candidacy created an entirely different set of rules.

“Trump is immune to the laws of political physics because it’s not his job to be a politician, it’s his job to burn down the system,” says Eric Dezenhall, a crisis management expert in Washington.

Now Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, accused of assaulting teenage girls when he was in his 30s, is waving that same alternative rulebook.

Long a bane to establishment Republicans, Moore is thumbing his nose at calls by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican members of Congress to drop out of the campaign, and accusing them of trying to “steal” the race from his loyal insurgents.

As for Trump, the president who rarely sits out a feeding frenzy is selectively aiming his Twitter guns at those under scrutiny.

He quickly unloaded on Democrat Al Franken after the Minnesota senator was accused Thursday of forcibly kissing and groping a Fox TV sports correspondent, now a Los Angeles radio anchor, during a 2006 USO tour.

Yet Trump has been largely mum as Washington Republicans try to figure out what to do about Moore. McConnell and company have zero interest in welcoming an accused child molester to their ranks nor in seeing their slim 52-48 Senate majority grow even thinner should Moore lose to Democrat Doug Jones in a special election Dec. 12.

Trump did support moves by the national Republican Party to cut off money for Moore. But he hasn’t said whether he still backs Moore’s candidacy.

Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, pressed repeatedly on the matter this week, would say only that Trump “thinks that the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their next senator should be.”

As for the allegations against Moore, Sanders said Trump finds them “very troubling.”

As for Franken, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News that Trump had merely “weighed in as he does on the news of the day” when jabbing at the senator.

But Trump’s broadsides at Franken served as an open invitation for critics to revisit his own history of alleged sexual misconduct.

Leeds, for her part, called the president “the walking definition of hypocrisy.”

Look no further than the bipartisan howl that greeted Ivanka Trump’s statement this week about Moore for a demonstration of the perilous crosscurrents around Trump on the issue.

“There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children,” Trump’s daughter told the AP, adding that she had “no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts.” She did not call for Moore to leave the race.

Liberals and conservatives both pounced. Those on the left noted she had waited a week to chime in and had never given similar credence to the claims of her father’s accusers. Some on the right faulted her for buying into unproven accusations.

Liberal movie director Rob Reiner tweeted: “Ivanka believes Roy Moore’s accusers. But the more than 12 women who accuse her father of sexual abuse are all liars. The difference is? …”

The sexual assault drama is playing out as a painful sequel for Leeds and other women who came forward during the 2016 presidential campaign to accuse Trump of harassment and more – only to see him elected president anyway.

“My pain is every day,” Jill Harth, a former business associate who claimed Trump put his hands under her dress during a business dinner in 1992, tweeted in October. “No one gets it unless it happens to them. NO one!”

It’s the same for those who accused former President Clinton of sexual misconduct, their charges once written off as “bimbo eruptions.”

“I am now 73 … it never goes away,” nurse Juanita Broaddrick, who accused Clinton of raping her in 1978, tweeted Friday.

Allegations of womanizing, extramarital affairs and abuse dogged Clinton over the course of his political life, culminating in his 1998 impeachment – and acquittal – over his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He also agreed to an $850,000 settlement with Arkansas state worker Paula Jones, who had accused him of exposing himself and making indecent propositions when he was governor. The settlement included no apology or admission of guilt.

Leading feminists and Democratic-leaning groups stayed loyal to him throughout – though some are rethinking that stance now.

Even in the current charged environment, when every new allegation can produce screaming headlines, Trump may well be able to go his own way – and take a hands-off approach to Moore.

“Trump’s base likes him when he’s gratuitously ornery: Insulting war heroes, Gold Star families and the disabled have all been good for him, so what does he gain by strongly opining on Moore?” asks Dezenhall. “Nothing that I can see, so as a guideline, he doesn’t need to do all that much.”

]]> 0 Trump is selectively criticizing those under scrutiny for alleged sexual misconduct. He's been largely silent about Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore but hasn't hesitated to skewer Democratic Sen. Al Franken.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 17:06:44 +0000
Jesse Jackson discloses Parkinson’s disease diagnosis Fri, 17 Nov 2017 18:23:09 +0000 The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader and former presidential candidate, announced Friday that he has Parkinson’s disease.

Jackson, 76, said he had found it “increasingly difficult to perform routine tasks” and get around in recent years. After initially resisting due to his work, Jackson said, he relented and sought medical testing.

“Recognition of the effects of this disease on me has been painful, and I have been slow to grasp the gravity of it,” Jackson said in a statement released through the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, his social change group. “For me, a Parkinson’s diagnosis is not a stop sign but rather a signal that I must make lifestyle changes and dedicate myself to physical therapy in hopes of slowing the disease’s progression.”

Jackson was diagnosed with the disease in 2015, according to a statement released by Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. “Since that time, Northwestern has been treating Jackson in an outpatient setting.”

Jackson remains an active presence in American life and politics. Last year, he shuttled across the country speaking and registering people to vote, saying that people “are very motivated when we are inspired.”

He is one of the best-known and influential activists of the civil rights era, extending the movement into national politics with his presidential campaigns in the 1980s that have since been viewed as paving the way for former president Barack Obama’s election as the first black president in 2008. Jackson’s efforts added millions of African-Americans to the voter rolls and increased the influence of black political leaders and strategists in the Democratic Party.

In 1988, during his second bid for the Democratic nomination, Jackson finished second to Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Ron Brown, who led Jackson’s team at the Democratic National Convention in 1988, later became the party’s first African-American chairman. Former president Bill Clinton appointed Brown as the first black secretary of the Commerce Department. He was killed in a plane while in office.

Jackson surprised many political observers that he was able to get support from some working-class whites with an economic message not unlike the one that the insurgent campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., in last year’s Democratic presidential primary.

During an appearance in late summer on HBO’s “Real Time,” Jackson reiterated that message when host Bill Maher noted that a significant number of President Trump’s white working-class supporters feel that they are victims of racial discrimination. “Seventy-eight percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck; 51 percent of Americans make $30,000 a year or less,” he said, adding that many had been left behind in the fast-changing global economy. As a result, Jackson said, some of those working-class whites have “a deep sense of anxiety … they feel locked out and they start scapegoating.” He said that politicians like Trump exploit their fears but “there is tremendous economic anxiety that must not be ignored.”

Donna Brazile, who launched her career in national politics as Jackson’s field director in 1984, later called Jackson’s legacy a transformative one for the Democratic Party. “He made it possible not just for blacks to sit at the black desk, but to sit at every desk in American politics,” Brazile told The Washington Post in 2008. She was manager of Al Gore’s 2000 presidential bid, the first African American woman to run a major party’s presidential campaign.

In a brief interview Friday, Brazile said she was praying for her friend and longtime mentor.

“If there is anyone who can beat the odds and rise above the challenges, it’s Rev. Jackson,” she said, adding that she had seen him a few months ago and she asked about his health he said he felt fine. “He’s a strong man, he’s a determined man, a man of faith and a powerful, powerful force for good.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who once worked for Jackson, said Friday he had spent recent days in New York with the man he described as his mentor, and he praised Jackson’s work and legacy on civil rights issues and in electoral politics.

“He changed the nation,” Sharpton said in a video statement. “He served in ways he never got credit [for]. No one in our lifetime served longer and stronger. We pray for him because he’s given his life for us.”

Andrew Young, the United States ambassador to the United Nations and former mayor of Atlanta, was stunned by the news about Jackson, with whom he worked alongside in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1960s. “I saw him a couple of months ago. He seemed to be very healthy. He’s always on the go and he always speaks in a very strong voice,” Young said in a phone interview Friday.

In his announcement Friday, Jackson described Parkinson’s as “a disease that bested my father” and pledged to use his platform and voice to seek a cure for the illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Parkinson’s is the second-most-common neurodegenerative disorder, trailing only Alzheimer’s disease.

Parkinson’s affects the parts of the brain that control the body’s motor system. The National Parkinson Foundation’s web site states that symptoms develop slowly over time and people with the disease could experience tremors in their hands, rigidity of their limbs and difficulty walking. There is treatment to slow the progression of the disease, but there is no cure for Parkinson’s, which itself is not fatal, but can lead to serious complications that can lead to death. People can live for decades with Parkinson’s.

“I will continue to try to instill hope in the hopeless, expand our democracy to the disenfranchised and free innocent prisoners around the world,” Jackson wrote, adding that he would also work on a memoir. “I steadfastly affirm that I would rather wear out than rust out.”

]]> 0 Rev. Jesse Jackson says he's been seeking outpatient care for two years for Parkinson's disease.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 19:53:29 +0000
A woman with a profane anti-Trump decal on her truck was arrested – for something else Fri, 17 Nov 2017 17:40:39 +0000 A woman whose profane anti-Trump truck decal caught the attention of a Texas sheriff – and set off a debate about free speech – was arrested Thursday on an unrelated outstanding warrant.

Karen Fonseca, 46, had defied calls to remove or alter a ‘(Expletive) Trump’ sticker on the back of her truck after a Houston-area sheriff said on Facebook that it could lead to disorderly conduct charge.

Karen Fonseca Fort Bend (Texas) County Sheriff's photo

Fonseca and others defended the decal as an exercise of free speech, and Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy E. Nehls eventually walked back his threat and retreated from social media.

But as controversy over the decal swirled, the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office received a tip there was an outstanding felony warrant for fraud for Fonseca, according to a department spokeswoman.

Fonseca was arrested Thursday, then released after posting $1,500 bond, CBS affiliate KHOU reported.

After her release, Fonseca questioned the timing of the arrest and accused the sheriff’s office of retaliation.

“I’m almost certain it does have to do with [the anti-Trump sticker],” she told the news station. “People abuse the badge, and in my opinion, money talks. When you’re in politics, people know how to work the system.”

Representatives from the Rosenberg Police Department, which issued the warrant in August, did not immediately return calls Friday morning.

On Wednesday, Nehls, the Republican sheriff from Fort Bend County, posted a photo of the truck on his personal Facebook page after he said he’d received several complaints from unhappy locals. He mentioned authorities in his Houston-area county were considering charging its owner with disorderly conduct.

“If you know who owns this truck or it is yours, I would like to discuss it with you,” the sheriff wrote. “Our Prosecutor has informed us she would accept Disorderly Conduct charges regarding it, but I feel we could come to an agreement regarding a modification.”

But his threat immediately raised alarm among free speech advocates – and caused the sheriff to retreat: The Facebook post was removed Thursday, and the sheriff said he was done talking about the matter after receiving hateful messages.

“The objective of the post was to find the owner/driver of the truck and have a conversation with them in order to prevent a potential altercation between the truck driver and those offended by the message,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. “Since the owner of the truck has been identified, the Sheriff took down the post. Due to the hate messages he has been receiving toward his wife and children, the Sheriff will not be commenting on the matter further.”

The Houston Chronicle reported that she and her husband have no plans to remove the custom graphic, which they ordered after Trump’s election.

“It’s not to cause hate or animosity,” Fonseca told the newspaper before her arrest. “It’s just our freedom of speech and we’re exercising it.”

The Chronicle reported:

“Fonseca said the truck belongs to her husband but that she often drives it. They had the sticker made and added it to the window after the billionaire real estate magnate and reality TV star was sworn into office.

“The sticker has attracted attention many times before, Fonseca said. People shake their head. They take photos of it. Officers have pulled her over but failed to find a reason for writing a ticket.”

“It makes people happy. They smile. They stop you,” Fonseca told ABC affiliate KTRK. “They want to shake your hand.”

The Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union offered to help Fonseca – and provided Nehls with a “Constitutional Law 101” lesson: “You can’t ban speech just because it has [expletive] in it.”

Texas penal code describes disorderly conduct as “intentionally or knowingly [using] abusive, indecent, profane, or vulgar language in a public place, and the language by its very utterance tends to incite an immediate breach of peace.” Making “an offensive gesture or display in a public place” is also prohibited if “the gesture or display tends to incite an immediate breach of peace.”

But the ACLU cited a 1971 Supreme Court decision, Cohen v. California, in which the high court overturned a man’s disturbing-the-peace conviction after he’d gone to a courthouse in Los Angeles wearing a jacket that said “(Expletive) the Draft.”

Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey said Thursday that a prosecutor in his office had told a sheriff’s deputy that she would be willing to charge the owner of the truck. Shortly after Nehls’s Facebook post went viral, the same deputy contacted Healey to ask him whether the owners of the vehicle could be charged for disorderly conduct for the sticker.

Healey said they could not.

“Here’s the bottom line – forget about freedom of speech for a minute,” Healey said, who has held the office for 25 years. “The elements of the crime of disorderly conduct are not met. That the obscene or vulgar language depicted or uttered tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace. I don’t believe it does, nor did a select group of prosecutors in my office who reviewed the matter.”

While he said he agrees that the language of the bumper sticker is inappropriate, especially when viewed by children, prosecutors still have to work “within the bounds of the criminal law,” he said.

“No matter how distasteful it may be, it should not be prosecuted,” Healey said. “If people have problems with that . . . they need to contact their legislators and have the law changed. And the national legislators, to have the constitution changed.”

At a news conference Wednesday, after his Facebook post went viral, Nehls said he supports freedom of speech, according to the Associated Press.

“We have not threatened anybody with arrest; we have not written any citations,” Nehls said. “But I think now it would be a good time to have meaningful dialogue with that person and express the concerns out there regarding the language on the truck.”

In Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston, Hillary Clinton won the majority of the vote in last year’s presidential election, with 51 percent vs. 45 percent for Trump.

Nehls – a Republican who is considering a congressional bid, according to the Chronicle – has not responded to requests for comment.

It’s not uncommon for bumper stickers to bluntly convey political viewpoints, from messages such as “Impeach Clinton” during Bill Clinton’s presidency to “Hail to the Thief” after George W. Bush’s 2000 election win over Al Gore.

While the First Amendment protects the bulk of offensive speech, there have been several incidents in which law enforcement officials cited drivers for the messages of their bumper stickers.

Typically, those who are cited have bumper stickers with profane language or pictures. A man in Georgia, James Daniel Cunningham, was arrested and fined $200 for his bumper sticker, which read, “(Expletive) happens.” The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that the state’s law banning bumper stickers with offensive messages wrongfully restricted the driver’s right to free speech.

A few states still have laws specifically prohibiting offensive bumper stickers. Tennessee law, for example, states: “To avoid distracting other drivers and thereby reduce the likelihood of accidents,” displaying obscene or offensive movies, bumper stickers, window signs or other markings on or in a motor vehicle is prohibited, punishable by a fine of up to $50.

In 2011, Tennessee officials said they’d begin ramping up their enforcement of bumper sticker language – although there haven’t been many incidents reported.

In March 2017, a man was cited for a bumper sticker depicting stick figures having sex, which read, “making my family.” He filed a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, claiming the sticker does not meet the Constitution’s definition of obscenity. Days later, the charges were dropped after police attorneys conceded that the stick-figure display was protected by the First Amendment.

]]> 0, 17 Nov 2017 12:50:06 +0000
Abusive passengers captured on video show how (not) to behave in a rideshare Fri, 17 Nov 2017 16:45:11 +0000 0, 17 Nov 2017 16:53:39 +0000 Sen. Collins joins group seeking review of air quality monitoring Fri, 17 Nov 2017 16:43:21 +0000 PORTLAND — Sen. Susan Collins is joining a pair of Democratic senators to call for a review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s operation of air quality monitoring networks.

Collins, a Maine Republican, is joining Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper on the request. They say they want the Government Accountability Office to conduct a “top-to-bottom review” of the EPA’s air quality monitoring work.

The senators say the review should include a look at whether the monitoring networks provide enough good-quality data to help protect vulnerable populations from air pollution.

The senators say emissions carried on prevailing winds from Midwestern smokestacks often end up in downwind states on the East Coast, such as their own.

]]> 0 - In this Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, file photo, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks to members of the media while attending an event in Lewiston, Maine. Collins said Sunday, Sept. 24, she finds it "very difficult" to envision backing the last-chance GOP bill repealing the Obama health care law. That likely opposition leaves the Republican drive to fulfill one of the party's premier campaign promises dangling by a thread. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)Fri, 17 Nov 2017 11:46:55 +0000
Rape survivor asks that Sen. Franken’s name be taken off bill to help survivors Fri, 17 Nov 2017 16:32:20 +0000 WASHINGTON — A Minnesota woman and rape survivor who worked with Sen. Al Franken to craft legislation for fellow survivors says the senator should take his name off the bill.

Abby Honold, 22, was brutally raped by a fellow University of Minnesota student in 2014. Her rapist was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty in 2016.

She worked with Franken on an upcoming bill to fund special training for law enforcement officers interviewing trauma victims. But those plans changed after allegations surfaced Thursday that Franken forcibly kissed a Los Angeles radio anchor and was photographed reaching out to grope her while she slept during a 2006 USO tour.

Honold said Friday that someone else should champion the bill — and said Franken’s office agrees. She calls his conduct disappointing.

The Minnesota senator personally apologized to the radio anchor who has accused him, saying he remembers their encounter differently but he is “ashamed that my actions ruined that experience for you.”

In a guest appearance Friday on ABC’s “The View,” Leeann Tweeden read a letter she received from the Democratic lawmaker in which he also discussed a photo showing him posing in a joking manner, smiling at the camera with his hands on her chest as she naps wearing a flak vest aboard a military plane.

Both had been performing for military personnel in Afghanistan two years before the one-time “Saturday Night Live” comedian was elected to the Senate. Tweeden has said Franken had persisted in rehearsing a kiss and “aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.”

The letter read: “Dear Leeann, I want to apologize to you personally. I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture. But that doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I understand why you can feel violated by that photo. I remember that rehearsal differently. But what’s important is the impact on you and you felt violated by my actions, and for that I apologize. I have tremendous respect for your work for the USO. And I am ashamed that my actions ruined that experience for you. I am so sorry. Sincerely Al Franken.'”

Los Angeles radio anchor Leeann Tweeden discusses her allegations of sexual harassment by Al Franken during a 2006 overseas USO tour, before he became a U.S. senator from Minnesota. Franken faces a storm of criticism and a likely ethics investigation.Franken is the first member of Congress caught up in the recent wave of allegations of sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior.

Franken apologized Thursday, but there were no signs the issue would go away any time soon. Fellow Democrats swiftly condemned his actions, mindful of the current climate as well as the prospect of political blowback.

Republicans, still forced to answer for the multiple allegations facing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, joined in pressing for an investigation. Franken said he would welcome it.

Franken abruptly canceled a sold-out book festival appearance scheduled for Monday in Atlanta, festival organizers said. He had been scheduled to speak and promote his book, “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.”

Leeann Tweeden posted her allegations, including a photo of Franken and her, on the website of KABC, where she works as a news anchor for a morning radio show.

After the rehearsal, Tweeden said, “every time I hear his voice or see his face, I am angry.” She’s angry with herself, too, she said, for not speaking out at the time “but I didn’t want to rock the boat.”

On Friday, Tweeden said she didn’t come forward with the hope that Franken would step down.

“That’s not my call,” Tweeden told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” She later added: “I think that’s for the people of Minnesota to decide.”

Franken faces re-election in 2020.

Franken, 66, was the latest public figure to be caught in the deluge of revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct that have crushed careers, ruined reputations and prompted criminal investigations in Hollywood, business and beyond. The swift rebukes from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers suggest that momentum from the online #Metoo movement has begun to spur a culture shift on Capitol Hill, where current and former staffers say misogynistic and predatory behavior has long been an open secret.

In a statement Thursday, Franken apologized to Tweeden and his constituents while maintaining that he remembered the rehearsal differently. Tweeden said she accepted his apology.

“Coming from the world of comedy, I’ve told and written a lot of jokes that I once thought were funny but later came to realize were just plain offensive,” Franken wrote.

“I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t,” he added. “And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.”

President Trump ridiculed Franken in tweets Thursday night:

Trump, who misspelled the name Frankenstein, referred to a New York magazine story from 1995 in which Franken, while a writer for “Saturday Night Live,” suggested a skit in which “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney would muse about drugging correspondent Leslie Stahl and taking pictures of her.

Trump has been publicly silent about the allegations against Moore, the Republican nominee in Alabama’s special Senate election. Through a spokeswoman, he called the allegations of sexual misconduct against the former judge “very troubling” but stopped short of calling on Moore to drop out.

The accusations against Franken come just days after the Senate unanimously adopted mandatory sexual harassment training for members and staffs amid a flood of stories about harassment, sexual misconduct and gender hostility from staffers, aides and even female elected officials.

Senate Democrats spoke with one voice in describing Franken’s actions as unacceptable and calling for an ethics probe.

Franken’s fellow Minnesota Democrat, Amy Klobuchar, condemned Franken’s behavior. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, facing a tough re-election next year, said, “Comedy is no excuse for inappropriate conduct, and I believe there should be an ethics investigation.”

Associated Press writers Kyle Potter and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

]]> 0 Judiciary Committee member Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington in this July 12 photo. Franken apologized Thursday after a Los Angeles radio anchor accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour and of posing for a photo with his hands on her breasts as she slept.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 14:11:57 +0000
For $50,000 this Texas company will clone your beloved dog (cats are half-price) Fri, 17 Nov 2017 15:20:13 +0000 You love your dog. But would you spend $50,000 to clone it? If the answer is yes, then a Texas company is standing by and ready to help.

The veterinarians at Viagen Pets use a propriety process for genetically preserving your pet’s DNA and safely maintain it at its cryo-storage facility. Using a donor egg, the company’s technicians join it and your pet’s previously frozen cells (which are easily taken by any veterinarian from a skin sample – even if your dog is sick or late in life) to produce an embryo. The embryo is then implanted into surrogate animal. The result is an identical genetic twin that’s delivered after a normal gestation period. The entire process takes about six-to-seven months.

“People have a hard time wrapping their brain around that it that it is a real technology,” Melain Rodriguez, a manager at the company, said in this report on television station web site “It is not science fiction.” Viagen’s been doing this for more than 15 years and has successfully cloned thousands of animals including cattle, horses, pigs, sheep and – yes – dogs and cats.

The process isn’t cheap. A cloned dog costs $50,000, but cats are done for half the price.

Even at this price, the company reports it has a waiting list – and no, not professional breeders (the American Kennel Club will not register cloned dogs). It’s just normal people who desperately love their pets and are willing to pay just about anything to keep them – or a cloned version of them – still around. “Pets’ lives are very short compared to ours,” Rodriguez told KDKA, “so if you can clone that pet and have another one that is very similar, it’s very rewarding.”

Rodriguez assures us that your cloned pet will not be a Frankenstein. It will be “just a normal dog like any other dog. You would never know that he’s a cloned puppy.” Well, yeah but can’t my cloned dog at least know not to pee on the sofa like my dog does now? If so, then sign me up.

]]> 0, 17 Nov 2017 11:51:33 +0000
H.W. Bush accused of groping Michigan woman while he was president Fri, 17 Nov 2017 13:54:22 +0000 A Michigan woman claims former President George H.W. Bush grabbed her buttocks during a fundraiser for his re-election campaign over two decades ago, making her the eighth person to accuse Bush of sexual misconduct.

In an interview with CNN, the now 55-year-old woman said Bush squeezed her rear during a photo-op at a campaign event in Dearborn, Mich., in April 1992. The woman, who did not give her name, said her father was also posing for the photo when Bush touched her.

“We got closer together for a family photo and it was like ‘Holy crap!’ ” the woman said. “It was like a gentle squeeze.”

The woman said she was stunned and just kept smiling for the cameras. Dozens of people, including Secret Service agents, were present. For years, she said she rationalized the incident as “an accident” but, as several women came forward with similar accounts, the woman felt compelled to tell her story.

“All the focus has been on ‘He’s old.’ OK, but he wasn’t old when it happened to me,” she said. “I’ve been debating what to do about it.”

]]> 0, 17 Nov 2017 10:11:17 +0000
Charles Manson alive, prison officials say, as reports of ill health swirl Fri, 17 Nov 2017 03:12:29 +0000 LOS ANGELES — For nearly 50 years, Charles Manson has been the living personification of evil, a demonic presence captured in scores of photos, each of them marked by his piercing dark eyes and the crude Nazi swastika he carved into his forehead.

That personification returned to the public consciousness again this week, complete with a prison mug shot of a now-elderly but still evil-looking Manson, after a report by that the killer of glamorous actress Sharon Tate and six others is seriously ill and hospitalized in Bakersfield, California.

The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation declined to confirm that Thursday, saying only that Manson, who turned 83 on Sunday, is still alive. To reveal more, spokeswoman Vicky Waters said, would violate federal and state privacy laws.

Serial murderers before and after have killed far more than Manson. Fifty-one years ago, a former Marine named Charles Whitman climbed to the observation deck of a tower at the University of Texas and opened fire on dozens of people, killing 11, after killing five before reaching the deck. Just last month, Stephen Paddock fired down from a hotel window on a Las Vegas concert, killing 58.

But like Whitman’s, Paddock’s name if not his deed seems destined to be largely forgotten. Not so with Manson.

“I was thinking today about why Manson is so remembered and such a part of our cultural history, whereas other serial killers have done far worse,” said former AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch, who covered the 1970-71 trials of Manson and his followers, as well as all of their parole hearings, until she retired two years ago.

It was, she concluded, because Manson killed more than just seven people. He also destroyed a Baby Boomer generation’s dream of a peace-and-love era that had begun with 1967’s San Francisco Summer of Love, two years before Los Angeles’ 1969 Manson murders.

“For most of that period, the hippies up in San Francisco and throughout the country really spread a message of love and understanding,” Deutsch said. “And now here come these people who wore these hippie clothes and although they were not hippies, they were just people who came together in a commune, they became symbolic of that hippie era.

“In addition to killing seven people, he killed a whole counterculture,” she said.

A career criminal and con artist, Manson had reinvented himself during the Summer of Love as a Christ-like figure who attracted young people to a commune he established at an old, abandoned movie ranch on the edge of Los Angeles.

“To tell you the truth, the older I get the harder it is to deal with all of this, to know what I did, how it happened,” one of the youngest of his followers, Leslie Van Houten, told a parole panel in September.

The panel has recommended she be released, but Gov. Jerry Brown could reject that recommendation as he did once before. No Manson Family member convicted of murder has ever been freed.

]]> 0 Manson in 1969, left, and in 2017.Thu, 16 Nov 2017 23:41:54 +0000
Trump lifts ban on importing elephants killed as trophies Fri, 17 Nov 2017 03:09:55 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said it will allow the importation of body parts from African elephants shot for sport, contending that encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill them will aid the vulnerable species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a written notice issued Thursday that permitting elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back as trophies will raise money for conservation programs. A licensed two-week African elephant hunt can cost more than $50,000 per person, not including airfare, according to advertised rates.

The change marks a shift in efforts to stop the importation of elephant tusks and hides, overriding a 2014 ban imposed by the Obama administration. The new policy applies to the remains of African elephants killed between January 2016 and December 2018.

“Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve those species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” the agency said in a statement.

Animal rights activists and environmental groups expressed skepticism Thursday that killing elephants could help save them. Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said the policy change sends the wrong signal amid international efforts to curb illegal poaching.

“What kind of message does it send to say to the world that poor Africans who are struggling to survive cannot kill elephants in order to use or sell their parts to make a living, but that it’s just fine for rich Americans to slay the beasts for their tusks to keep as trophies?” Pacelle asked.

But the move was quickly praised by groups that champion big-game trophy hunting, including Safari Club International and the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association.

Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, called the action “a significant step forward in having hunting receive the recognition it deserves as a tool of sound wildlife management, which had been all but buried in the previous administration.”

“By lifting the import ban on elephant trophies in Zimbabwe and Zambia the Trump administration underscored, once again, the importance of sound scientific wildlife management and regulated hunting to the survival and enhancement of game species in this country and worldwide,” Cox said.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday referred questions about the policy change to the Fish and Wildlife Service, saying no announcement had yet been “finalized.”

]]> 0, 17 Nov 2017 07:12:50 +0000
Moore targets female accusers as his critics decry intimidation Fri, 17 Nov 2017 02:17:45 +0000 BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Ever defiant, Republican Roy Moore’s campaign Thursday lashed out at the women accusing him of sexual misconduct, declaring “let the battle begin.”

Women’s advocates decried the talk as worn intimidation tactics in a desperate attempt to keep his imperiled Senate bid alive.

Moore ignored mounting calls from Washington Republicans concerned that he may not only lose a seat they were sure to win but also may do significant damage to the party’s brand among women nationwide as they prepare for a difficult midterm election season.

Moore’s team showed no such concerns.

“You ask me if I believe the girls. No, I don’t believe the girls. I believe Judge Moore,” Moore chief strategist Dean Young said. “Let the battle begin … Get ready to fight Mitch McConnell. We’re going to fight you to the death on this.”

President Trump, through a spokeswoman, called the allegations of sexual misconduct against the former judge “very troubling.” The president stopped short of calling on Moore to quit the race, however, breaking with most Republican leaders in Washington, including McConnell, the Senate majority leader.

“He thinks that the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their next senator should be,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

In Alabama, Moore appeared alongside more than a dozen religious leaders, who took turns bashing the Christian conservative’s many critics – especially his female accusers.

“This is a man who does not lie. Compare that to his accusers,” charged Gordon Klingenschmitt of the group Pray in Jesus’ Name.

With Moore looking on, Klingenschmitt quoted the Ten Commandments in a message aimed at two women he called out by name – one has said she was 14 and the other that she was 16 when Moore initiated sexual contact as a district attorney in his 30s.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness,” Klingenschmitt declared.

Another Moore supporter, professor Joel Brind of Baruch College, singled out Gloria Allred, the attorney for one of the accusers, for supporting an agenda designed to “enable serial child predators” – a reference, Brind said, to Allred’s support for abortion rights.

Moore called the allegations “unsubstantiated,” “unproven” and “fake.” “They’re not only untrue, but they have no evidence to support them,” he insisted, refusing to answer any questions from reporters about the allegations.

Moore has given a single media interview about the allegations to Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity. His campaign website has added a form asking people to report “inappropriate news organization contact.”

Still, he has repeatedly hinted that his team has gathered evidence against his critics. He cited evidence of “collusion” soon after the initial report surfaced last week.

His wife circulated a fake report earlier in the week that reporters were offering to pay thousands of dollars for women to come forward with new claims against Moore. In a subsequent social media post, she described the media’s actions as “an all-out assault, which is why we are suing them.”


Moore’s attorney has demanded that one of the accusers, Beverly Young Nelson, release a yearbook she contends Moore signed so it can be analyzed by a handwriting expert to prove its authenticity.

Nelson says that Moore aggressively groped her in a locked car when she was 16.

The Moore campaign dug up Nelson’s divorce papers, which had been signed by Moore, and held them up to cameras suggesting she had copied the signature.

It was unclear whether the campaign was taking other steps to probe the background of his accusers. Moore strategist Young said “no” when asked Thursday whether the campaign had hired a private investigator.

Allred, Nelson’s attorney, said she and her client were prepared for Moore’s “slash and burn” approach.

“If in fact his attempt is to intimidate her or me, he has failed miserably,” she said. “We prepared. We knew that this would be a battle for the truth, that this is someone who most likely will fight to the end.”

]]> 0 Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at a news conference Thursday in Birmingham, Ala., with his wife, Kayla Moore.Thu, 16 Nov 2017 23:38:10 +0000
Kushner accused of withholding information from Senate panel in Russia probe Fri, 17 Nov 2017 01:55:55 +0000 WASHINGTON — President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, received and forwarded emails about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” during last year’s campaign that he withheld from Senate Judiciary Committee investigators, according to lawmakers who are demanding that he produce the missing records.

Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking Democratic member Dianne Feinstein, Calif., sent a letter Thursday to Abbe Lowell, Kushner’s attorney, charging that Kushner has failed to disclose several documents, records and transcripts in response to multiple inquiries from committee investigators.

Lowell disputed the committee’s characterization of Kushner’s compliance, saying Thursday that he has “been responsive to all requests” and provided the Judiciary Committee with all relevant documents.

In their letter, Grassley and Feinstein instruct Kushner’s team to turn over “several documents that are known to exist” because other witnesses in their probe already gave them to investigators. The correspondence includes a series of September 2016 messages to Kushner concerning WikiLeaks, the website that published hacked Democratic emails at the height of the campaign. The committee leaders say Kushner had forwarded those messages to another campaign official.

Earlier this week, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. revealed that he had had direct communication with WikiLeaks through private Twitter messages during the campaign.

Committee leaders said Kushner also withheld from the committee “documents concerning a ‘Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite’ ” that he had forwarded to other campaign officials. And they said that Kushner had been made privy to “communications with Sergei Millian” – a Belarusan American businessman who claims close ties to the Trumps and was the source of salacious details in a dossier about the president’s 2013 trip to Moscow – but failed to turn those records over to investigators.

Spokesmen for Grassley and Feinstein did not offer any additional information about the missing records when asked about them.

According to two people familiar with the exchanges, in one of the disputed emails Rick Clay, a conservative Iraq War contractor, passed on a request for Kushner or other campaign officials to meet with people connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kushner told a campaign aide to “take a pass.” Kushner wrote that he feared people exaggerated their connections and could later brag about access to the Trump campaign, these people said.

No meeting happened, at Kushner’s direction, according to the people familiar with the exchanges. Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights activist, was part of a group that sought Clay’s help in arranging a meeting with the campaign in June 2016 to discuss persecution of Christians around the world.

Clay later said “they made the right call” in turning down the meeting.

The second email is one that Donald Trump Jr. forwarded to Kushner and other top aides, the two people said, after he received a direct message from the WikiLeaks twitter account in September 2016.

In their letter, Grassley and Feinstein complained that Kushner had withheld additional information.

“You also have not produced any phone records that we presume exist and would relate to Mr. Kushner’s communications,” they wrote.

Grassley and Feinstein demanded that Kushner comply with their request for documents by Nov. 27 but stopped short of issuing a formal threat to subpoena those records if Kushner misses the deadline.

Lowell said he and Kushner “will be open to responding to any additional requests.”

Kushner’s team last supplied documents to the committee Nov. 3, according to Grassley and Feinstein, who stressed that what they received “appears to be incomplete.” They noted that their letter was an effort “to clarify the scope” of the committee’s request, after Lowell asked for more details about precisely what the committee was seeking.

In addition to the emails and records that Grassley and Feinstein noted as missing, the Judiciary Committee is waiting for Kushner to turn over promised transcripts from his interview with other committees. Kushner has spoken with investigators from both the Senate and House intelligence committees, who are probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, but has not met with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Grassley and Feinstein also wrote that Kushner’s team “should produce” his security clearance forms, which Kushner had to update on more than one occasion because he left out contacts with foreign individuals. Kushner’s team has argued that the forms are confidential.

The committee leaders also expressed general frustration that Kushner’s team had left out communications about individuals they had identified when asking Kushner to turn over his records.

Finally, the committee leaders asked Kushner’s team to search for a series of records of communications with and about former national security adviser Michael Flynn, including any that Flynn may have simply been copied on involving many of the Russian individuals and businesses that were known to have contact with members of Trump’s campaign team.

]]> 0 House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, seen Sept. 12 at the White House, hasn't been fully forthcoming with the Senate Judiciary Committee's probe into Russian interference in last year's election, say committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The senators are asking Kushner to provide emails sent to him involving WikiLeaks and a "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite."Fri, 17 Nov 2017 00:14:38 +0000
Project to bring Canadian hydropower to New England gets federal approval Fri, 17 Nov 2017 01:25:56 +0000 CONCORD, N.H. — The Department of Energy on Thursday awarded a key permit for a transmission project that would carry hydropower from Canada to more than a million homes in southern New England.

The granting of what is called the Presidential permit allows for the $1.6 billion project to take hydropower across an international border and connect to the United States grid. First conceived in 2010, the Northern Pass project calls for building a 192-mile electricity transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield in New Hampshire, carrying enough Hydro-Quebec energy to power about a 1.1 million homes.

The permit approval is the latest sign of progress for a project that has sparked angry protests and heated debates at scores of hearings. It has pitted supporters who argue it will create jobs and cut energy costs against those who fear the transmission lines will destroy scenic views, reduce property values and hurt tourism.

“We are pleased to see the DOE permitting process for Northern Pass draw to a close, and appreciate the years of diligent work done by the federal agencies in reaching this critical project milestone,” Bill Quinlan, president of the utility Eversource New Hampshire, said in a statement.

“With the New Hampshire and Canadian permitting processes also nearing completion, and considering we have all major contractor, equipment and labor agreements in place, Northern Pass is on track to begin construction by mid-2018,” he said. Quinlan added the progress is “good news” for customers and other interested parties “who support this project for the many benefits it will bring to the state and the region.”

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has long favored the project, said it would be a “home-run for small businesses, rate-payers, and clean energy advocates.”

“Today, New Hampshire is one step closer to lowering energy rates across the Granite State,” he said in a statement.

Opponents said they were not surprised by the decision and are putting their hopes on a state group that also must weigh in on the transmission project. The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, or SEC, is expected to announce its final written decision on the project by March 31, 2018.

Along with the state approval, the project also is awaiting a permit from the U.S. Forest Service allowing the project to pass through parts of the White Mountain National Forest and a wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected by the end of the year.

“They have a permit to cross the international border but they don’t have a permit to site the project on 192 miles of New Hampshire landscape. That is what the SEC will determine,” said Will Abbott, the vice president for policy with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which opposes the project.

“Their exuberance may be a bit premature,” he said. “We believe the evidence makes a clear argument why the permit should be denied. We feel very confident that there is a very compelling argument for the SEC to get a decision not to issue a permit.”

]]> 0, 17 Nov 2017 07:42:10 +0000
At 330 degrees below, Pluto far colder than scientists predicted Fri, 17 Nov 2017 00:52:30 +0000 When the New Horizons spacecraft arrived at Pluto in 2015, the probe revealed the dwarf planet’s true nature: Pluto is a frozen lump, but it is an odd and interesting lump. Pluto has a heart-shaped icecap that, in theory, could hide an ocean. For no obvious reason, Pluto spits out X-rays. And when New Horizons took Pluto’s temperature, the dwarf planet was even colder than anyone had predicted. Researchers were puzzled.

Earthbound instruments gauged Pluto to be minus-280 degrees Fahrenheit. New Horizons showed that Pluto’s thermostat was dialed to 330 degrees below. Pluto makes the coldest spot on Earth seem downright balmy: In 2013, researchers announced that a NASA satellite observed a record Antarctic chill at minus 135.8, a temperature humans could survive for just three minutes.

You would expect Pluto to be chilly. The dwarf planet drifts through the solar system’s back roads at an average distance of 3.67 billion miles from the sun. Earth is 40 times as close to our star.

Pluto is small, which means its gravity is weak. Lacking a firm grip, its atmosphere leaks into space.

In fact, the thinness of Pluto’s atmosphere made estimating its temperature from Earth very difficult, said Xi Zhang, a planetary scientist at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Pluto is not so far away that the chemicals in its atmosphere are immune to sunlight. Researchers hypothesize that the sun’s ultraviolet rays break down nitrogen, methane and other gases in Pluto’s atmosphere, creating a haze of solid particles.

“New Horizons’ images basically showed a lot of haze particles,” Zhang said. Zhang and his colleagues, in a report published in the journal Nature this week, argue that Pluto’s hazy coat explains why the dwarf planet is extra-chilly.

Pluto’s haze is so abundant that it can absorb a lot of solar radiation, Zhang said, though there’s a good deal of uncertainty about this complex atmospheric chemistry.

]]> 0, 17 Nov 2017 11:06:09 +0000
Once a nuisance, now toxic algae is a severe nationwide threat Thu, 16 Nov 2017 22:40:50 +0000 MONROE, Mich. — Competing in a bass fishing tournament two years ago, Todd Steele cast his rod from his 21-foot motorboat – unaware that he was being poisoned.

A thick, green scum coated western Lake Erie. And Steele, a semipro angler, was sickened by it.

Driving home to Port Huron, Michigan, he felt lightheaded, nauseous. By the next morning he was too dizzy to stand, his overheated body covered with painful hives. Hospital tests blamed toxic algae, a rising threat to U.S. waters.

“It attacked my immune system and shut down my body’s ability to sweat,” Steele said. “If I wasn’t a healthy 51-year-old and had some type of medical condition, it could have killed me.”

He recovered, but Lake Erie hasn’t. Nor have other waterways choked with algae that’s sickening people, killing animals and hammering the economy. The scourge is escalating from occasional nuisance to severe, widespread hazard, overwhelming government efforts to curb a leading cause: fertilizer runoff from farms.

Pungent, sometimes toxic blobs are fouling waterways from the Great Lakes to Chesapeake Bay, from the Snake River in Idaho to New York’s Finger Lakes and reservoirs in California’s Central Valley.

Last year, Florida’s governor declared a state of emergency and beaches were closed when algae blooms spread from Lake Okeechobee to nearby estuaries. More than 100 people fell ill after swimming in Utah’s largest freshwater lake. Pets and livestock have died after drinking algae-laced water, including 32 cattle on an Oregon ranch in July. Oxygen-starved “dead zones” caused by algae decay have increased 30-fold since 1960, causing massive fish kills. This summer’s zone in the Gulf of Mexico was the biggest on record.

Blue-green algae covers an area along the St. Lucie River in Stuart, Florida, in June. Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post via Associated Press

Tourism and recreation have suffered. An international water skiing festival in Milwaukee was canceled in August; scores of swimming areas were closed nationwide.

Algae are essential to food chains, but these tiny plants and bacteria sometimes multiply out of control. Within the past decade, outbreaks have been reported in every state, a trend likely to accelerate as climate change boosts water temperatures.

“It’s a big, pervasive threat that we as a society are not doing nearly enough to solve,” said Don Scavia, a University of Michigan environmental scientist. “If we increase the amount of toxic algae in our drinking water supply, it’s going to put people’s health at risk. Even if it’s not toxic, people don’t want to go near it. They don’t want to fish in it or swim in it. That means loss of jobs and tax revenue.”

Many monster blooms are triggered by an overload of agricultural fertilizers in warm, calm waters, scientists say. Chemicals and manure intended to nourish crops are washing into lakes, streams and oceans, providing an endless buffet for algae.

Government agencies have spent billions of dollars and produced countless studies on the problem. But an Associated Press investigation found little to show for their efforts:

• Levels of algae-feeding nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are climbing in many lakes and streams.

• A small minority of farms participate in federal programs that promote practices to reduce fertilizer runoff. When more farmers want to sign up, there often isn’t enough money.

• Despite years of research and testing, it’s debatable how well these measures work.


The AP’s findings underscore what many experts consider a fatal flaw in government policy: Instead of ordering agriculture to stem the flood of nutrients, regulators seek voluntary cooperation, an approach not afforded other big polluters.

Farmers are asked to take steps such as planting “cover crops” to reduce off-season erosion, or installing more efficient irrigation systems – often with taxpayers helping foot the bill.

The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the Department of Agriculture, says it has spent more than $29 billion on voluntary, incentive-based programs since 2009 to make some 500,000 operations more environmentally friendly.

Jimmy Bramblett, deputy chief for programs, told AP the efforts had produced “tremendous” results but acknowledged only about 6 percent of the nation’s roughly 2 million farms are enrolled at any time.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the agency provided data about its biggest spending initiative, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, which contracts with farmers to use pollution-prevention measures and pays up to 75 percent of their costs.

An AP analysis shows the agency paid out more than $1.8 billion between 2009 and 2016 to share costs for 45 practices designed to cut nutrient and sediment runoff or otherwise improve water quality.

A total of $2.5 billion was pledged during the period. Of that, $51 million was targeted for Indiana, Michigan and Ohio farmers in the watershed flowing into western Lake Erie, where fisherman Steele was sickened.

Yet some of the lake’s biggest algae blooms showed up during those seven years. The largest on record appeared in 2015, blanketing 300 square miles — the size of New York City. The previous year, an algae toxin described in military texts as being as lethal as a biological weapon forced a two-day tap water shutdown for more than 400,000 customers in Toledo. This summer, another bloom oozed across part of the lake and up a primary tributary, the Maumee River, to the city’s downtown for the first time in memory.

The type of phosphorus fueling the algae outbreak has doubled in western Lake Erie tributaries since EQIP started in the mid-1990s, according to research scientist Laura Johnson of Ohio’s Heidelberg University. Scientists estimate about 85 percent of the Maumee’s phosphorus comes from croplands and livestock operations.

NRCS reports, meanwhile, claim that conservation measures have prevented huge volumes of nutrient and sediment losses from farm fields.

Although the federal government and most states refuse to make such anti-pollution methods mandatory, many experts say limiting runoff is the only way to rein in rampaging algae. A U.S.-Canadian panel seeking a 40 percent cut in Lake Erie phosphorus runoff wants to make controlling nutrients a condition for receiving federally subsidized crop insurance.

“We’ve had decades of approaching this issue largely through a voluntary framework,” said Jon Devine, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Clearly the existing system isn’t working.”

Farmers, though, say they can accomplish more by experimenting and learning from each other than following government dictates.

“There’s enough rules already,” said John Weiser, a third-generation dairyman with 5,000 cows in Brown County, Wisconsin, where nutrient overload causes algae and dead zones in Lake Michigan’s Green Bay. “Farmers are stewards of the land. We want to fix the problem as much as anybody else does.”

The Environmental Protection Agency says indirect runoff from agriculture and other sources, such as urban lawns, is now the biggest source of U.S. water pollution. But a loophole in the Clean Water Act of 1972 prevents the government from regulating runoff as it does pollution from sewage plants and factories that release waste directly into waterways. They are required to get permits requiring treatment and limiting discharges, and violators can be fined or imprisoned.

Those rules don’t apply to farm fertilizers that wash into streams and lakes when it rains. Congress has shown no inclination to change that.

Without economic consequences for allowing runoff, farmers have an incentive to use all the fertilizer needed to produce the highest yield, said Mark Clark, a University of Florida wetland ecologist. “There’s nothing that says, ‘For every excessive pound I put on, I’ll have to pay a fee.’ There’s no stick.”

Some states have rules, including fertilizer application standards intended to minimize runoff. Minnesota requires 50-foot vegetation buffers around public waterways. Farmers in Maryland must keep livestock from defecating in streams that feed the Chesapeake Bay, where agriculture causes about half the nutrient pollution of the nation’s biggest estuary.

But states mostly avoid challenging the powerful agriculture industry.

Wisconsin issues water quality permits for big livestock farms, where 2,500 cows can generate as much waste as a city of 400,000 residents. But its Department of Natural Resources was sued by a dairy group this summer after strengthening manure regulations.

The state’s former head of runoff management, Gordon Stevenson, is among those who doubt that the voluntary approach will be enough to make headway with the algae problem.

“Those best-management practices are a far cry from the treatment that a pulp and paper mill or a foundry or a cannery or a sewage plant has to do before they let the wastewater go,” he said. “It’s like the Stone Age versus the Space Age.”


Do the anti-pollution measures subsidized by the government to the tune of billions of dollars actually work?

Agriculture Department studies of selected watersheds, based largely on farmer surveys and computer models, credit them with dramatic cutbacks in runoff. One found nitrogen flows from croplands in the Mississippi River watershed to the Gulf of Mexico would be 28 percent higher without those steps being taken.

Critics contend such reports are based mostly on speculation, rather than on actually testing the water flowing off fields.

Although there is not a nationwide evaluation, Bramblett said “edge of field” monitoring the government started funding in 2013 points to the success of the incentives program in certain regions.

Federal audits and scientific reports raise other problems: Decisions about which farms get funding are based too little on what’s best for the environment; there aren’t enough inspections to ensure the measures taken are done properly; farm privacy laws make it hard for regulators to verify results.

It’s widely agreed that such pollution controls can make at least some difference. But experts say lots more participation is needed.

“The practices are completely overwhelmed,” said Stephen Carpenter, a University of Wisconsin lake ecologist. “Relying on them to solve the nation’s algae bloom problem is like using Band-Aids on hemorrhages.”

The AP found that the incentives program pledged $394 million between 2009 and 2016 for irrigation systems intended to reduce runoff – more than on any other water protection effort.

In arid western Idaho, where phosphorus runoff is linked to algae blooms and fish kills in the lower Snake River, government funding is helping farmer Mike Goodson install equipment to convert to “drip irrigation” rather than flooding all of his 550 acres with water diverted from rivers and creeks.

But only 795 water protection contracts were signed by Idaho farmers between 2014 and 2016, accounting for just over 1 percent of the roughly 11.7 million farmland acres statewide. Even if many farmers are preventing runoff without government subsidies, as Bramblett contends, the numbers suggest there’s a long way to go.

Goodson says forcing others to follow his example would backfire.

“Farmers have a bad taste for regulatory agencies,” he said, gazing across the flat, wind-swept landscape. “We pride ourselves on living off the land, and we try to preserve and conserve our resources.”

But allowing farmers to decide whether to participate can be costly to others. The city of Boise completed a $20 million project last year that will remove phosphorus flowing off irrigated farmland before it reaches the Snake River.

Brent Peterson spends long days in a mud-spattered pickup truck, promoting runoff prevention in eastern Wisconsin’s Lower Fox River watershed, where dairy cows excrete millions of gallons of manure daily – much of it sprayed onto cornfields as fertilizer.

The river empties into algae-plagued Green Bay, which contains less than 2 percent of Lake Michigan’s water but receives one-third of the entire lake’s nutrient flow. Farmers in the watershed were pledged $10 million from 2009 to 2016 to help address the problem, the AP found.

Peterson, employed by two counties with many hundreds of farms, has lined up six “demonstration farms” to use EQIP-funded runoff prevention, especially cover crops.

“This is a big step for a lot of these guys,” he said. “It’s out of their comfort zone.”

And for all the money devoted to EQIP, only 23 percent of eligible applications for grants were funded in 2015, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Funding of the incentives program has risen from just over $1 billion in 2009 to $1.45 billion last year. The Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposes a slight cut.

“It sounds like a lot, but the amount of money we’re spending is woefully inadequate,” said Johnson of Heidelberg University.


While there’s no comprehensive tally of algae outbreaks, many experts agree they’re “quickly becoming a global epidemic,” said Anna Michalak, an ecologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University.

A rising number of water bodies across the U.S. have excessive levels of nutrients and blue-green algae, according to a 2016 report by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Geological Survey. The algae-generated toxin that sickened Steele in Lake Erie was found in one-third of the 1,161 lakes and reservoirs the agencies studied.

California last year reported toxic blooms in more than 40 lakes and waterways, the most in state history. New York created a team of specialists to confront the mounting problem in the Finger Lakes, a tourist magnet cherished for sparkling waters amid lush hillsides dotted with vineyards. Two cities reported algal toxins in their drinking water in 2016, a first in New York.

More than half the lakes were smeared with garish green blooms this summer.

“The headlines were basically saying, ‘Don’t go into the water, don’t touch the water,'” said Andy Zepp, executive director of the Finger Lakes Land Trust, who lives near Cayauga Lake in Ithaca. “I have an 11-year-old daughter, and I’m wondering, do I want to take her out on the lake?”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is developing a system for compiling data on algae-related illnesses. A 2009-2010 study tallied at least 61 victims in three states, a total the authors acknowledged was likely understated.

Anecdotal reports abound – a young boy hospitalized after swimming in a lake near Alexandria, Minnesota; a woman sickened while jet-skiing on Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio.

Signs posted at boat launches in the Hells Canyon area along the Idaho-Oregon line are typical of those at many recreation areas nationwide: “DANGER: DO NOT GO IN OR NEAR WATER” if there’s algae.

In Florida, artesian springs beloved by underwater divers are tainted by algae that causes a skin rash called “swimmer’s itch.” Elsewhere, domestic and wild animals are dying after ingesting algae-tainted water.

A year ago, shortly after a frolic in Idaho’s Snake River, Briedi Gillespie’s 11-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever stopped breathing. Her respiratory muscles were paralyzed, her gums dark blue from lack of air.

Gillespie, a professor of veterinary medicine, and her veterinarian husband performed mouth-to-nose resuscitation and chest massage while racing their beloved Rose to a clinic. They spent eight hours pumping oxygen into her lungs and steroids into her veins. She pulled through.

The next day, Gillespie spotted Rose’s paw prints in a purplish, slimy patch on the riverbank and took samples from nearby water. They were laced with algae toxins.

“It was pretty horrendous,” Gillespie said. “This is my baby girl. How thankful I am that we could recognize what was going on and had the facilities we did, or she’d be gone.”

Associated Press data journalist Angeliki Kastanis reported from Los Angeles.

]]> 0 floats in the water at the Maumee Bay State Park marina in Lake Erie in Oregon, Ohio, in September. Pungent, ugly and often-toxic algae is spreading across U.S. waterways, even as the government spends vast sums of money to help farmers reduce fertilizer runoff that helps cause it.Thu, 16 Nov 2017 21:13:48 +0000
What’s in the House-passed version of the tax bill? Here’s a rundown. Thu, 16 Nov 2017 21:39:10 +0000 President Trump and Republican House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin won a major victory as the House passed the tax bill Thursday, the central piece of the Republican plan to boost the U.S. economy. No Democrats voted for the bill. Ryan could lose 22 Republican votes, but in the end, he only lost 13.

The legislation would affect every American household and business owner. The bill was first introduced Nov. 2 and was voted on just two weeks later, leaving little time for analysis or debate on the 440-page legislation. The next step is for the Senate to pass its version and then for both chambers to reconcile their substantial differences.

The main goal of the House’s “Tax Cut and Jobs Act” is to lower taxes on companies in an effort to make them more competitive and discourage them from moving abroad. The bill reduces the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and the rate for pass-through businesses down to 25 percent (with some restrictions). Many families would also pay less, although Ryan has admitted that won’t be the case for everyone. Here’s a rundown of what is actually in the final version of the bill that passed:

It keeps the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. The House voted on a tax bill only. The Senate bill includes a provision to scrap the legal requirement that almost all Americans buy health insurance or pay a penalty. The House isn’t touching that, which may lead to a showdown between the two chambers if they have to resolve their very different versions of the bill.

Big businesses win. The House bill cuts the top rate that large corporations pay from 35 percent to 20 percent, the biggest one-time drop in the big-business tax rate ever. It is a permanent change that does not expire. On top of that, companies would get some new tax breaks to help lower their bills, such as the ability to deduct all the costs of purchasing new equipment for five years, as well as a special low rate on any money they bring back to the United States from low-tax countries such as Ireland. Many businesses have been holding cash overseas to avoid 35 percent U.S. taxes. Now they would get to bring the money home at a tax rate of 12 percent. The entire business tax system would also change from a worldwide system, in which money anywhere around the globe is taxed, to a territorial system in which it’s mostly money made in the United States that is taxed. Businesses have long lobbied for this change.

Small businesses get a mini-win. The National Federation of Independent Businesses, the largest small business lobby, initially was against the House bill, but Republicans made some changes and now the NFIB is giving its blessing. 95 percent of American businesses are organized as pass through companies (LLCs, S-Corps, partnerships), and they “pass through” the business income to the owner’s individual tax rate. The House plan lowers the top rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent for small businesses (excluding “service companies” like consultants and lawyers) and requires a complex formula where the 25 percent rate only applies to about 30 percent of the business income. But the reality is most small businesses – 85 percent – already pay taxes at rates of 25 percent or less. To help out the small “mom and pops,” the final bill has a 9 percent rate on the first $75,000 in income for business owners making $150,000 or less. But that tax break phases in, meaning it isn’t fully available until 2022.

The rich do very well. The wealthy get a lot of benefits in the bill. The estate tax, which is paid only when property and other assets worth over $5.5 million are passed on to heirs, doubles to about $11 million in 2018 (around $22 million for couples), meaning a lot fewer people have to pay it. And the estate tax goes away entirely in 2024. The mega-wealthy also would get to keep charitable deductions, a popular way that lowers their tax bills, and they no longer would have to pay the alternative minimum tax (AMT), a safeguard against excessive tax dodging that’s been in place since 1969. Some wealthy business owners would be able to take advantage of the lower pass-through rate as well. Overall, the Tax Policy Center found that half the benefits of the bill go to the top 1 percent by 2027.

Donald Trump would probably benefit a lot. As The Washington Post explains, many parts of the bill help Trump. One of the interesting ones is that the lower 25 percent pass-through rate would apply to all income for passive real estate investors like Trump, a much better deal than most active pass-through business owners get.

Most Americans pay the same – or lower – taxes until 2023. For the next five years, the vast majority of Americans (92 percent) would either pay less or see little change, according to the official estimates from the Joint Committee on Taxation. But that shifts sharply after five years. In 2023, only 40 percent of Americans would pay less. Twenty-two percent would pay more (the rest see little change), JCT found.

After 2023, a key middle-class tax break expires. Many of the people facing tax hikes are solidly middle class ($40,000 to $75,000) or else in the “upper upper” middle class ($200,000 to $400,000), JCT found. A key savings for the middle class – the Family Flexibility Credit – goes away after 2022. The House bill also uses a low measure of inflation after 2022, meaning more and more people start to jump from the 12 percent tax bracket to the 25 percent bracket (which starts to kick in at $67,500 for heads of households). Higher income earners are impacted by the elimination of numerous itemized deductions (see more explanation on those below).

Taxes will get simpler for many. The House bill collapses the seven tax brackets the country has down to just four (12 percent, 25 percent, 35 percent and 39.6 percent). The top rate becomes a “millionaire rate” applying to income of $1 million or more a year for couples (and of $500,000 or more for individuals).

In an effort to simplify, the House bill also does away with many of the credits and deductions and replaces them with a larger standard deduction, a slightly larger child tax credit ($1,600 per kid versus $1,000 now) and a new Family Flexibility Credit worth $300 a year for individuals and $600 for couples. The larger standard deduction means the first $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples is tax-free.

Say goodbye to most deductions. Almost all itemized deductions are going away, except for three. The final House bill keeps the deductions for charitable donations, property taxes up to $10,000 a year and the mortgage interest deduction. The mortgage interest deduction would be capped at $500,000 for mortgages (down from $1 million now).

About 30 percent of filers itemize. Most of the people who itemize claim the state and local tax deduction (SALT) where they deduct their state and local sales, income and property taxes. Under the House bill, only the property deduction would remain. This hurts people living in high-tax (and often blue) states like New Jersey, New York and California. Several GOP representatives from these states plan to vote no on the bill in protest.

The adoption credit stays. The 401(k) exemption stays. But . . .

Say goodbye to the tax credits for plug-in motor vehicles. It gets repealed in 2018.

Say goodbye to the deduction for medical expenses. It goes away in 2018.

Say goodbye to being able to write off the costs of your tax preparer. That goes away in 2018.

Say goodbye to the deduction for moving expenses. It goes away in 2018, except for members of the military.

Say goodbye to most tax benefits for college. At the moment, low- and middle-income Americans can deduct up to $2,500 a year in student loan interest. That benefit would go away in 2018. In addition, grad students who get tuition waivers because they teach or do research would now have to pay income tax on the waiver, a big change. For students currently in school, the American Opportunity Tax Credit would remain, which allows a $2,000 credit for higher education expenses.

Say goodbye to the deduction for theft or loss of valuables. Right now people can write a lot of their losses off on their taxes, but that would be gone in 2018. The one exemption is losses for a natural disaster such as Hurricane Harvey. Those would stay.

How much does the bill cost (and who pays)? The price tag for the bill is just over $1.4 trillion, according to JCT, meaning that amount would be added to the debt if spending cuts are not made (or more revenue raised) in the coming years to offset the cost. Economists believe the tax cuts would generate some additional growth, but not nearly enough to cover the costs.

It total, about three-quarters of the benefits go to businesses and the remaining quarter goes to individuals.

]]> 0 Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, right, pauses as he speaks during a news conference following a vote on tax reform on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 08:15:54 +0000
House Republicans pass tax bill, but plan’s fate is uncertain in Senate Thu, 16 Nov 2017 18:50:02 +0000 WASHINGTON – House Republicans passed legislation Thursday that would overhaul the U.S. tax code, a crucial step forward in their effort to enact the centerpiece of President Trump’s economic agenda.

The bill passed with 227 votes in favor and 205 against, a comfortable margin in the divided chamber. Thirteen Republicans voted against the bill, while no Democrats voted for it.

Maine’s representatives split their votes. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, announced his support for the bill this week. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, voted against it.

Trump and Republican leaders in Congress are aiming to pass legislation by year’s end that would simplify the code and deliver $1.5 trillion in tax cuts over a decade. Both the House and Senate bills would deliver the majority of the cuts to corporations and wealthy Americans, but there are significant differences between the bills that will have to be resolved.

Passing the bill is a major victory for House leaders, including Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who have long asserted that cutting taxes on the wealthy and businesses will spur economic growth that benefits all Americans.

Trump visited House Republicans personally on Thursday to urge support for the bill, leaving them, according to multiple people at the closed-door meeting, with a concise closing message: “I love you. Now go vote.”

The party’s tax plan faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Republican leaders, working with a slimmer majority than in the House, are struggling to find enough support for their bill.

Multiple Republicans have expressed reservations about the Senate plan, which would permanently reduce the corporate tax rate but allow cuts for households and individuals to expire. The plan would also repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate to buy health insurance, a difference from the House plan that gives Senate leaders more revenue to work with but would undermine a system aimed at providing health coverage to millions of Americans.

Congress’s nonpartisan tax analysts dealt the Senate bill an additional setback Thursday when they concluded that it would, by the end of a decade, raise the average tax burden for households making less than $75,000 a year. Much of the hit to poor and working-class Americans would stem from the changes to the health-care law, as many would no longer get subsidies to help them afford health insurance because they would give up on buying it altogether, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

If the Senate is able to pass a tax bill, Republicans will have to reconcile their two versions, a complicated task because each bill contains compromises that leaders added to shore up support in their own chamber that would pose problems in the other.

The Senate bill would eliminate Americans’ ability to deduct taxes they pay to state and local governments from their federal tax bills, a critical provision for people in high-tax states such as New Jersey, New York and California. The House bill passed after leaders negotiated a compromise on the issue, eliminating most breaks for many state and local payments but allowing Americans to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes. Many Republican members from districts in high-tax states voted for the bill Thursday after initially threatening to oppose it over the state and local issue.

Both the Senate’s expiring tax cuts for individuals and the elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate were included to reduce the bill’s contributions to the national debt. Republicans say they expect the cuts to be extended in future legislation, but the gap between the measure’s treatment of corporations and individuals has given moderates pause in both chambers.

Republicans hope to pass the measure with 50 votes, rather than the 60 votes typically needed to get bills through the Senate, by using a Senate procedure known as “reconciliation.” But the rules of reconciliation limit the bill’s addition to the debt at $1.5 trillion over a decade and no more additions in years beyond that.

Republicans control only 52 of the chamber’s 100 seats, and Democrats’ opposition appears unanimous, meaning the bill would likely go down if only three Republican senators vote against it.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., a conservative whose vote leaders were counting on, said Wednesday he opposed the measure because it favored corporations over small businesses, although he left open the possibility of supporting an amended measure.

And Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, this week reiterated her stance that it’s “a mistake” to attempt to alter the health-care law as part of the tax effort.

Several other Republican senators, including Bob Corker, Tenn., John McCain, Ariz., and Lisa Murkowski, Alaska, have yet to declare their support for the bill.

The Senate Finance Committee continued a multiday meeting to debate and amend the bill Thursday, and the Senate’s final version could still change drastically as leaders work to address members’ concerns.

But House Republicans on Thursday largely set aside any concerns about how their Senate counterparts were handling the legislation. Republican lawmakers erupted in cheers on the House floor when the bill gained enough votes to pass, reflecting a sense of relief that a major campaign promise might be fulfilled after months of failure on health care.

“Passing this bill is the single biggest thing we can do to grow the economy, restore opportunity, and help these middle income families who are struggling,” Ryan said before the vote. “This is something that’s going to refresh our confidence in ourselves and our confidence in each other.”

According to several members and aides present while Trump met with lawmakers, the president was unusually happy and freewheeling as he watched one of his legislative priorities proceed as planned, a departure from the party’s contentious and ultimately failed attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act earlier this year.

Trump thanked party leaders, expressed optimism about the Senate bill, and said he believed that Congress ought to move to “welfare reform” after completing the tax bill, according to several members in the room. He also discussed his trip to Asia, including his efforts to free several UCLA basketball players accused of shoplifting in China, said the members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the private meeting.

Even before the vote, Republican leaders were confident that the pep talk wasn’t necessary. Fewer than a dozen of the 240 House Republicans had indicated they were opposing the bill. The Republicans could have lost up to 22 votes and still passed the bill.

Democrats, meanwhile, decried the plan as a giveaway to the wealthy that was written on a false premise.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said most Americans would get a “raw deal” under the Republican bill. “This tax scam won’t create jobs. It won’t raise wages. . . . It will only fill the coffers of donors and the fat cats,” Pelosi said, addressing Republicans on the floor: “You know why you’re here. You know what you’re doing.”

Of the 13 Republicans who broke with their colleagues to oppose the bill, most did so because they believed it would actually raise taxes on many of their constituents because of the elimination of many popular existing deductions and credits.

“When my constituents who are very good with their numbers tell me that they’re going to [pay] $5,000 to $10,000 more in taxes, you know, I’m supposed to represent their interests,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, one of three California Republicans who opposed the bill.

But many other Republicans in districts where some middle-class taxpayers could see hikes – many of them representing affluent suburban areas, such as Reps. Barbara Comstock, Va., Brian Fitzpatrick, Pa., and Mimi Walters, Calif., – opted to vote for the bill, risking attacks from Democratic opponents in next year’s midterm elections.

Comstock said Thursday that she voted to advance legislation that would improve the economy and create jobs but that she would continue working to improve the bill. “There’s a lot of differences between the House and Senate bill, so this is going to be a process,” she said.

Republican strategists have warned in recent months that vulnerable lawmakers need to show some sort of governing accomplishment going into 2018, and the leader of the most prominent super PAC charged with electing Republicans to the House warned Thursday it would help members less if they didn’t back the bill.

“CLF will never spend a dollar attacking a Republican,” said Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund. “But CLF is going to raise and spend $100 million to protect the Republican majority. CLF, like any organization, will allocate resources to friends and family first.”

The House bill delivers more than 80 percent of its overall cuts to corporations, business owners and wealthy families who are subject to the federal estate tax, according to estimates released by the Joint Committee on Taxation. But most middle-class Americans would see an immediate tax cut because of a lowering of individual tax rates, the near-doubling of the standard deduction and a larger child tax credit.

But under the House bill, many households that itemize their deductions – taking advantage of write-offs for state income taxes, medical expenses and more – could see immediate tax increases. In future years, the benefits of the bill for individuals wane because of the phaseout of a key tax credit and because the bill would change how the government calculates inflation, moving them more quickly into higher tax brackets.

]]> 0 Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., left, leads applause for House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, along with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., during a news conference following a vote on tax reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. Republicans passed a near $1.5 trillion package overhauling corporate and personal taxes through the House, edging President Donald Trump and the GOP toward their first big legislative triumph in a year in which they and their voters expected much more. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)Thu, 16 Nov 2017 20:38:03 +0000
China calls for U.S.-North Korea tradeoff deal Thu, 16 Nov 2017 18:31:13 +0000 BEIJING — China on Thursday reiterated its call for an agreement between North Korea and the U.S. under which the North would gain concessions if it freezes its nuclear weapons program, apparently contradicting remarks a day earlier by President Trump.

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang Geng said China’s position has not changed and the “freeze-for-freeze” initiative, under which the U.S. and South Korea would suspend large-scale military exercises in return, remained a “first step.”

The U.S. has long dismissed the proposal, saying North Korea must unilaterally cease its program before negotiations can begin. On Wednesday, Trump told reporters that China had agreed with the U.S.

]]> 0 Thu, 16 Nov 2017 23:33:02 +0000
Bribery trial of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez ends in hung jury Thu, 16 Nov 2017 18:24:04 +0000 NEWARK, N.J. – The federal bribery trial of Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez ended in a mistrial Thursday when the jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked on all charges against the New Jersey politician and a wealthy donor.

Prosecutors can seek to retry the lawmaker.

U.S. District Judge William Walls declared the mistrial after more than six full days of deliberations that had to be re-started midway through when a juror was replaced.

There was no immediate word on which way the jury was leaning – toward conviction or toward acquittal.

The inconclusive end to the 2½-month trial could leave the charges hanging over Menendez as he gears up for an expected run for re-election next year to the Senate, where the Republicans hold a slim edge and the Democrats need every vote they can get.

Menendez, 63, is accused of using his political influence to help Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for luxury vacations in the Caribbean and Paris, flights on Melgen’s private jet and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to organizations that supported the senator directly or indirectly.

Prosecutors said Menendez pressured government officials on Melgen’s behalf over an $8.9 million Medicare billing dispute and a stalled contract to provide port screening equipment in the Dominican Republic, and also helped obtain U.S. visas for the doctor’s girlfriends.

The defense argued that the gifts were not bribes but tokens of friendship between two men who were “like brothers.” In Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell’s closing argument, he used the words “friend,” “friends” or “friendship” more than 80 times.

Menendez’s lawyers contended also that the government failed to establish a direct connection between Melgen’s gifts and specific actions taken by the senator.

Prosecutors said that didn’t matter. Melgen, they said, essentially put Menendez on the payroll and made the politician his “personal senator,” available as needed.

The two men faced about a dozen counts each, including bribery, conspiracy and honest services fraud. The most serious charge against Menendez, honest services fraud, is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The jury deliberated most of last week, then restarted on Monday with an alternate after a member was excused because of a long-planned vacation.

Melgen is already facing the possibility of a long prison sentence after being convicted in April of bilking Medicare out of as much as $105 million by performing unneeded tests and treatments.

Menendez, who has been under indictment for 2½ years, raised $2.58 million for his Senate campaign from January through September, according to federal campaign finance filings. The Republicans have a 52-48 edge in the Senate as they try to push through President Trump’s agenda.

The last sitting senator convicted of a crime was Ted Stevens of Alaska, a Republican found guilty in 2008 of concealing more than $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts. His conviction was later thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct, and he died in a 2010 plane crash.

The Menendez case was the first major federal bribery trial since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 threw out the conviction of Republican former Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia and narrowed the definition of bribery.

In recent months, the McDonnell ruling led judges to overturn the convictions of at least three other public officials, including a former Louisiana congressman. Menendez’s lawyers had likewise hoped to get the case against the senator dismissed, but the judge refused.

Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, served in the House from 1993 until he was appointed to fill a Senate vacancy in 2006. He has chaired the Foreign Relations Committee and was a major player in the unsuccessful bipartisan “Gang of Eight” effort to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws in 2013.

More recently, he drew the ire of some fellow Democrats when he opposed President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and efforts to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.

]]> 0 Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, leaves Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Courthouse on Thursday in Newark, New Jersey, where the jury in his bribery trial deadlocked.Thu, 16 Nov 2017 13:27:11 +0000
Why do male exhibitionists force women to watch them? 2 therapists explain Thu, 16 Nov 2017 18:10:34 +0000 Harvey Weinstein. James Toback. Mark Halperin. Brett Ratner. Louis C.K. There’s one act that keeps popping up in the recent accusations against these men: forcing a woman to watch them masturbate.

What compels a man to do this? The Washington Post spoke to two sex therapists who, although they don’t have experience treating these men specifically, could explain why some men find this behavior erotic and what factors can lead to it.

“If it was just about power, there are other ways that men can get power,” says Michael Vigorito, a sex therapist in Washington, D.C., and author of “Treating Out of Control Sexual Behavior: Rethinking Sex Addiction.” Vigorito and others say that masturbating in front of someone without their consent can be about feeling powerful and dominant while also experiencing sexual pleasure at the same time. “The person is demonstrating or displaying what has become culturally symbolic of male sexuality, which is their penis or their erection,” Vigorito adds.

The man who is drawn to this type of exhibitionistic behavior is often someone who grew up with a mother who was not attentive, leaving the child feeling angry, hurt or invalidated, says Alexandra Katehakis, clinical director of the Center for Health Sex in Los Angeles and author of “Erotic Intelligence: Igniting Hot, Healthy Sex While in Recovery from Sex Addiction.” “It’s like he’s being erased in a way. And that same child is not going to grow up with confidence and the ability to meet girls appropriately,” Katehakis says. “If this guy is always the nerd, or the dweeb, or the guy that is your friend but nobody wants to go out with, there’s anger there.”

Katehakis says: “We can literally think of exhibitionism as: Look at me. I want you to see me. I’m angry that you’re not seeing more of me.”

Both the typical exhibitionist – a man in a trench coat who flashes unsuspecting strangers on a street corner – and the exhibitionist who targets a specific person, might get aroused by “the horror, the terror, the anger on the woman’s face,” Katehakis says. “It’s an act of rage.”

But the person who does this in a more targeted, personal way – rather than anonymously – is doing so to feel powerful and aroused at the same time. When someone like Louis C.K. exposes himself, the psychological torture is also part of the arousal. “This kind of exhibitionism is also rooted in deep sexual inadequacy,” she says, adding that perpetrators might think to themselves: I’m not good enough. Nobody would want me. Or: I’m sexually ashamed of myself, so I’ve got to go take what I want.

“It’s a hair’s breadth away from rape,” Katehakis says. “It’s what we call a non-contact offense, but it’s an offense.”

These impulses are not just seen in non-consensual masturbation. Katehakis says that men sending pictures of their genitals to women, a practice that’s common in online dating, is also exhibitionistic. “Full-on genitalia is not usually a turn-on for most women,” Katehakis says. “It’s so much about men’s power and men’s need to be seen and male competition.”

Another factor contributing to non-consensual masturbation can be the lack of consequences that such powerful men have long felt. There’s very little to inhibit their baser impulses. And if they lack empathy, Vigorito says, “that’s not going to be putting on the brakes on something that feels good to them.”

Now that these men are starting to experience negative consequences, they might start to get help – especially if they feel the pain of what they’ve done. But getting emotionally sober isn’t a quick or easy task. “Typically they learn these behaviors a long time ago, and they’re victims of violence themselves usually: emotional violence in their family of origin or abuse; sexual, physical abuse,” Katehakis says.

As more stories of abuse surface, Katehakis hopes that people have compassion for the perpetrators, as difficult as that might be. “What they’re doing is so egregious,” she says, “but we forget that there’s a broken person in there.”

She estimates that recovery can take three to five years, including and then followed by restricting a person’s access to situations that might trigger sexual misconduct all over again. Weinstein continuing to work with young women in Hollywood would be like a recovering alcoholic working in a bar, Katehakis says. “He won’t be able to handle it,” she adds.

Finding the right course of treatment is important and might not be happening in the rush to address these allegations. Kevin Spacey, for example, has reportedly checked in to a sex addiction rehabilitation center, but that might not be the appropriate treatment. Vigorito cautions that treatment for sex addiction (which conflates consensual and non-consensual sex) is not the same as treatment for sexual offenses (which are always non-consensual).

“People would rather say: ‘I’m a sex addict’ and go into addiction rehab than say: ‘I’m engaged in non-consensual sex’ and go see someone who has experience in working with sex offenders,” Vigorito says. But “that’s where they need to go.” disables reader comments on certain news stories, including those dealing with sexual assaults and other violent crimes, personal tragedy, racism and other forms of discrimination.

]]>, 16 Nov 2017 13:32:14 +0000
Sen. Al Franken under fire after L.A. radio host says he groped, forcibly kissed her in 2006 Thu, 16 Nov 2017 16:18:02 +0000 Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., faced swift condemnation and bipartisan calls for an ethics investigation Thursday after he was accused of forcibly kissing and groping a broadcaster and model while traveling overseas in 2006.

The allegations against Franken by Leeann Tweeden, who traveled with him on a USO trip to the Middle East before he was elected to the Senate, comes amid a growing swell of accusations of sexual misconduct by men in powerful positions.

Beloved by liberals for his fierce attacks on President Trump, Franken found few defenders as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, N.Y., called for the ethics committee to investigate his actions.

“Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated,” Schumer said in a statement.

Members of the ethics committee declined to comment.

The quick reaction to the accusations against Franken coincides with intense attention to charges that Alabama Republican Roy Moore made unwelcome sexual overtures to numerous women when they were teenagers. He has brushed off calls from Republican leaders to end his Senate campaign.

In an online essay published Thursday morning, Tweeden wrote that Franken had forced his tongue in her mouth during a rehearsal for a skit and then groped her while she was sleeping during a flight home – a moment that was captured in a photograph.

“You knew exactly what you were doing,” she wrote. “You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later and be ashamed.”

After initially issuing a brief apology for his behavior, Franken released a longer statement expressing contrition for his behavior.

“I’m sorry,” said the senator, who skipped a series of votes Thursday. “I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.”

Tweeden said she accepted Franken’s apology.

“Yes, people make mistakes and, of course, he knew he made a mistake,” she said at a news conference in Los Angeles, where she works as a radio news anchor for KABC. She said she would leave any disciplinary action up to Senate leaders and was not calling for Franken to step down. “That’s up to them. I’m not demanding that.”

The hasty condemnations of Franken’s behavior by fellow Democrats underlined the tinderbox atmosphere surrounding allegations of sexual harassment by influential figures.

What in the past might have brushed aside, or taken weeks to build into outrage, instantly consumed the Senate as they saw one of their own join a growing list that includes film producer Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., joined those in calling for an ethics investigation of her home-state colleague, saying in a statement, “I strongly condemn this behavior.” Just last week, the Senate unanimously approved a bill co-sponsored by Klobuchar that mandates sexual harassment training for all senators and their staffs.

Late Thursday, Trump weighed in on Twitter, writing: “The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps? …..” The president himself has been accused of unwanted touching or kissing by 11 women, charges he has repeatedly denied.

The allegations landed two days after a remarkably candid hearing in Washington, during which female lawmakers said sexual harassment is a pervasive problem on Capitol Hill and suggested current members have been guilty of misconduct.

The cauldron has created a political atmosphere similar to that of the early 1990s, when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation was nearly derailed by sexual harassment allegations from law professor Anita Hill and when Bob Packwood, R-Ore., resigned rather than get expelled from the Senate for sexual misconduct.

Those cased helped turn 1992 into “The Year of the Woman,” when a then-record number of women won seats in Congress and legislatures.

For Democrats, the charges against Franken serve as a sobering reminder that there could be bipartisan fallout as women come forward with their experiences of harassment.

Franken had been seen entering a morning hearing of the Senate Judiciary Hearing Thursday morning but quickly left and could not be found at the Capitol the rest of the day, missing four midday roll call votes. During a Democratic lunch that he did not attend, his lengthy written statement was read aloud to senators and the issue was briefly discussed, according to one person in attendance and another aide familiar with the meeting who requested anonymity to discuss a private meeting.

While it is unusual for the ethics committee to investigate incidents that occurred before a senator was elected, there are no specific limitations on what the panel can probe. Senate Republicans have made that point repeatedly this week in trying to force Moore out of the Alabama contest, warning that he will face likely expulsion from the Senate if he wins the Dec. 12 race.

Franken’s alleged misconduct occurred not long after he had moved home to Minnesota from New York, where he spent decades as a writer and performer on “Saturday Night Live” and a liberal radio talk show host. By 2006, Franken was already positioning himself to run for Senate in 2008, a race that he narrowly won after a recount.

At the time, Franken was a regular on USO tours, which often include live performances by celebrity entertainers to boost morale of U.S. service members.

Tweeden wrote in her post that the 2006 trip to the Middle East was her ninth such trip. At the time, she was a Fox Sports Network correspondent and fitness model.

She said Franken had written some skits for the show for the troops. “Like many USO shows before and since, the skits were full of sexual innuendo geared toward a young, male audience,” she wrote.

Franken, she said, “had written a moment when his character comes at me for a ‘kiss’. I suspected what he was after, but I figured I could turn my head at the last minute or put my hand over his mouth, to get more laughs from the crowd.”

But on the day of the show, she wrote, “Franken and I were alone backstage going over our lines one last time. He said to me, ‘We need to rehearse the kiss.’ I laughed and ignored him. Then he said it again. I said something like, ‘Relax Al, this isn’t SNL . . . we don’t need to rehearse the kiss.'”

Franken insisted they practice the kiss, she recounted.

“I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me. We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth,” Tweeden recalled.

She said she immediately pushed him away. “I felt disgusted and violated,” she said.

During the 36-hour flight home, Tweeden fell asleep wearing her flak vest and Kevlar helmet. It was not until she later looked a CD of photos that she came across an image of Franken, grabbing her chest provocatively as she slept, she said.

“I felt violated all over again,” she wrote. “Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated.”

In his statement Thursday, Franken expressed regret for his behavior.

“I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse,” he said. “I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what’s more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it – women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.”

Tweeden said on her radio show Thursday that she wanted to tell the world about the photo a decade ago but was worried about her career. She convinced herself, she said, that “it was not going to be worth the fight.”

“People are going to go, ‘Oh, you’re a model. You’ve been on the cover of Playboy, you’re a lingerie model and a swimsuit model and you’re a sportscaster and you’re a girl in Hollywood’ – are they going to believe you?” Tweeden said on the air. “Somehow it was going to be my fault. Somehow it was going to come down on me and he was going to get off scot-free.”

Tweeden said she finally decided to share her story because “the tide has turned.”

]]> 0, 17 Nov 2017 00:25:32 +0000
London’s Old Vic theater reveals 20 allegations against Kevin Spacey Thu, 16 Nov 2017 14:59:53 +0000 LONDON — London’s Old Vic Theatre said Thursday it has received 20 allegations of inappropriate behavior by its former artistic director Kevin Spacey, and acknowledged that a “cult of personality” around the Hollywood star had made it difficult for the alleged victims to come forward.

Kevin Spacey talks to journalists at a news conference at
the Old Vic theater in London in 2003 after being confirmed as the theaters new artistic director. Reuters/Kieran Doherty

The London theater launched an investigation into Spacey last month after claims of sexual harassment emerged in the United States. Spacey, 58, led the Old Vic between 2004 and 2015.

The Old Vic said it had received 20 allegations of “a range of inappropriate behavior,” from actions that made people feel uncomfortable to “sexually inappropriate” touching.

All the alleged victims are young men, none under 18 years old. The reported incidents took place between 1995 and 2013, many of them at the Old Vic, and all but four of the alleged victims are former staff of the theater.

In all but one case the complainants say they did not report them at the time. One man says he reported an incident to his manager, who did not act on the information.

The Old Vic said it had encouraged 14 of the complainants to go to police, but could not confirm whether any had done so.

The theater said Spacey’s “star power” contributed to an atmosphere in which staff “did not feel confident that the Old Vic would take those allegations seriously, given who he was.”

“During his tenure, The Old Vic was in a unique position of having a Hollywood star at the helm around whom existed a cult of personality,” the theater said in a statement. “The investigation found that his stardom and status at The Old Vic may have prevented people, and in particular junior staff or young actors, from feeling that they could speak up or raise a hand for help.”

A two-time Academy Award winner, Spacey is one of the biggest names to lose work and standing in Hollywood since The New York Times and The New Yorker detailed sexual harassment and abuse allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein earlier this year. The reports sparked a wave of abuse and harassment allegations to surface across the industry.

Spacey has been fired from the Netflix TV series “House of Cards,” dropped by his talent agency and publicist and is being cut out of Ridley Scott’s finished film “All the Money in the World,” replaced by Christopher Plummer.

The Old Vic appointed law firm Lewis Silkin to investigate in October, as reports and rumors circulated about Spacey’s behavior while he was at the helm of the 200-year-old theater company.

Richard Miskella, a partner at Lewis Silkin who led the investigation, said the firm invited Spacey to participate in the investigation “and he didn’t respond.”

Miskella said he found no evidence that suspicion about Spacey’s behavior was common at the Old Vic. He said the company’s board of trustees was “completely shocked” by the allegations.

“There wasn’t widespread knowledge of this,” Miskella said. “Pockets of the business knew, and it didn’t get escalated.”

The Old Vic promised to improve, and said it would appoint “guardians” whom staff could contact with concerns.

Old Vic executive director Kate Varah said this was “a really dismaying time” for the theater and apologized to the victims.

“We have not slept since this came out,” she said.

]]> 0, 16 Nov 2017 10:16:41 +0000
Health care for millions at risk as Republican tax writers look for revenue Thu, 16 Nov 2017 14:17:40 +0000 The Republican tax plans are suddenly looking a lot more like health-care bills, with provisions that may affect coverage and increase medical expenses for millions of families.

The House version of the tax bill, which President Trump endorsed on Tuesday, would end a deduction that allows families of disabled children and elderly people to write off large medical expenses. The Senate plan would repeal the Obamacare requirement that most Americans carry insurance, a move that insurers promise would raise premiums in the nationwide individual insurance market.

The provisions would help offset the cost of large tax cuts for corporations and individuals. But the move has sparked a new wave of opposition from the health-care industry and others who are concerned about its impact – the same political headwinds that tanked Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act earlier this year.

Either proposal, if signed into law, “could be devastating for some families with disabilities,” said Kim Musheno, vice president of public policy at the Autism Society, a Bethesda, Maryland, organization that advocates for people with autism. “Families depend on that deduction. And if they deal with the individual mandate, that’s going to cut 13 million people from their health care,” she said, citing a Congressional Budget Office estimate.

Republicans and some conservative groups, though, argue that removing the penalty for uninsured individuals would represent a tax cut for many low-income people who pay it now. Americans for Tax Reform, the group led by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, said that Internal Revenue Service data from tax year 2015 show that 79 percent of households that paid the penalty earned less than $50,000 a year.

Most Americans already think the tax legislation is designed to benefit the rich and oppose the bill by a two-to-one margin, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday. The survey was conducted between Nov. 7 and Nov. 13 – before the repeal of the Obamacare mandate was introduced – and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points. Some of the details in both tax plans have changed since the survey, and the Senate tax-writing committee is still working on its draft.

Few Republicans have spoken out about the House bill’s repeal of the medical-expense break. The bill faces a vote on the House floor Thursday. But some criticism has begun to surface as advocacy groups including the AARP and the American Cancer Society have highlighted the harm the House bill could have on families battling diseases and on the elderly. People with tens of thousands of dollars in annual medical expenses often rely on the tax deduction to make ends meet.

Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, said Wednesday he’ll vote against the House bill in part because it eliminates the deduction for out-of-pocket medical expenses.

“There are a lot of seniors in my district and this is life and death for them,” he said.

The deduction is allowed under current law if medical expenses exceed 10 percent of a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income. Almost 9 million taxpayers deducted about $87 billion in medical expenses for the 2015 tax year, according to the IRS.

Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, said some of his constituents who live in expensive elder-care facilities could be harmed if the deduction is scrapped.

“I think it’s one we have to continue to massage a bit,” he said. “There’s a lot of things out there and there’s maybe going to be an opportunity to adjust some of them.”

He declined to elaborate.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Republican leaders’ sudden decision to add a partial Obamacare repeal to their bill has energized Democratic opposition.

“You don’t fix the health insurance system by throwing it into a tax bill and causing premiums to go up 10 percent,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, told reporters Wednesday.

Were the ACA’s insurance mandate repealed absent a new policy to compel the purchase of coverage, the CBO projects that premiums would rise 10 percent for people who buy insurance on their own and more than 13 million Americans would lose or drop their coverage.

But a reduction in the number of people with insurance also translates to less taxpayer money spent to provide subsidies for premiums under the ACA. Ending the requirement as of 2019 would save the government an estimated $318 billion, helping to offset the cost of lowering the corporate tax rate.

In addition, the Senate’s tax plan could trigger sharp cuts to Medicare and other programs in order to meet budget deficit rules, according to CBO.

The move to target Obamacare comes after Republicans lost elections in Virginia and other states earlier this month. Health care was a significant factor in those races and Republicans will face punishing campaign ads if they try to chip away at Obamacare or end the medical-expense deduction while cutting taxes, said political analyst David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama.

“The thing that makes it more of a potent issue is that it’s all being done to facilitate what essentially is a massive corporate tax cut and an individual tax cut that’s skewed to wealthy Americans,” he said in an interview. “You don’t have to work very hard to make those ads.”

The White House argues that the ACA’s insurance mandate isn’t popular and disproportionately affects low- and middle-income Americans who are forced to buy insurance that may be more expensive than they can afford.

“The President’s priorities for tax reform have been clear from the beginning: make our businesses globally competitive, and deliver tax cuts to the middle class,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement. “He is glad to see the Senate is considering including the repeal of the onerous mandates of Obamacare in its tax reform legislation and hopes that those savings will be used to further reduce the burden it has placed on middle-class families.”

Trump, though, has said proceeds from repealing the insurance mandate should be used to cut taxes even further for wealthy people.

“How about ending the unfair & highly unpopular Indiv Mandate in OCare & reducing taxes even further?” Trump said Monday in a tweet. “Cut top rate to 35% w/all of the rest going to middle income cuts?”

Like Republicans’ failed attempts to repeal the ACA, the tax plan is amassing a growing list of opponents from the world of medicine.

Insurers, hospital groups and disability advocates have spoken out forcefully against the health-care proposals in the bill. Hospitals and insurance groups wrote a letter to congressional leaders on Tuesday warning of dire health-care outcomes if the tax measure becomes law.

“Repealing the individual mandate without a workable alternative will reduce enrollment, further destabilizing an already fragile individual and small group health insurance market on which more than 10 million Americans rely,” said the letter, signed by six health-care groups, including the American Hospital Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans.

]]> 0, 16 Nov 2017 09:49:24 +0000
Charles Manson, now 83, reportedly hospitalized in grave condition Thu, 16 Nov 2017 04:55:35 +0000 Cult leader Charles Manson has been hospitalized in California with a bleak prognosis, according to a report Wednesday.

The 83-year-old was brought to a Bakersfield hospital three days ago, said.

Charles Manson, shown in 2014, was denied parole for the 12th time in 2012 and won’t be eligible again until 2027. California Department of Corrections via Associated Press

The notorious mass murderer serving seven life sentences in Corcoran State Prison in California has been suffering from health issues for some time.

In January he had to be hospitalized for severe intestinal bleeding. He also needed surgery to repair a lesion but doctors said he was too weak and sent him back to prison.

Since arriving at the Bakersfield facility three days ago, Manson has been getting various treatments around the hospital – always guarded by five police officers, TMZ said.

A source familiar with Manson’s condition told the website “it’s not going to get any better for him.”

The source also added, “it’s just a matter of time,” TMZ said.

Famous for the crude, self-carved swastika on his forehead, Manson shocked the world on Aug. 9, 1969, when he directed his protege Charles Watson to take three female members of his cult – known as the Manson Family – to a posh house above Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and slaughter everyone there.

The Manson Family members brutally butchered movie director Roman Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, along with celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, writer Wojciech Frykowski, and visiting teen Steven Parent.

The next night, Manson joined the same four followers along with two more as they broke into the Los Feliz home of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.

Manson wanted to show the group the correct way to execute and ordered the LaBiancas bound with lamp cords and their heads covered by pillowcases before the savage stabbing started.

The vicious Manson killings stunned Los Angeles and caused a worldwide sensation.

Manson was tried for the horrific murders and sentenced to death along with several members of his cult. The sentences were commuted to life when the death penalty was briefly outlawed in 1972. Prosecutors said Manson and his followers were trying to incite a race war he believed was suggested in the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter.”

Behind bars since 1971, Manson has been denied parole a dozen times. His next hearing is scheduled for 2027.

]]> 0 Manson's next parole hearing is scheduled for 2027. Reuters/Corcoran State PrisonThu, 16 Nov 2017 12:28:35 +0000
Nevada ranchers go on trial over 2014 standoff Thu, 16 Nov 2017 04:12:05 +0000 LAS VEGAS — More than three years after Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and hundreds of militiamen faced off with federal law enforcement officers who had seized his cattle, the 71-year-old’s battle moves to the courtroom.

The Bundy family has been at the center of a long-running dispute with federal authorities over the use of public lands for cattle grazing, and Bundy gathered with militias from around the country in April 2014 to challenge the federal government. Wearing camouflage and flak jackets and carrying semiautomatic rifles, they gathered in a dusty, washed-out canyon beneath the overpasses of Interstate 15, where two dozen federal officers had corralled Bundy’s cows after he refused to pay years of grazing fees.

The standoff included militiamen on horseback carrying American flags and snipers positioned on freeway overpasses, their sights trained on the federal officers below.

No one was hurt and no shots were fired.

But Bundy and two of his sons – Ryan and Ammon – are facing federal trial here on charges of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, conspiracy to impede and injure a federal officer, and extortion, among other allegations that, if they result in convictions, could lead to lifetime prison sentences. Prosecutors argued in opening statements this week that the standoff was an attack on the government; lawyers representing the Bundys say the gathering was an exercise of the family’s right to protest.

U.S. attorney Steven Myhre argued before a jury that the Bundys gathered supporters by putting out exaggerated propaganda that the family was “under attack,” that the government had snipers pointed at them, that the situation at the desert ranch along the Arizona border had “the potential to be the next Waco or Ruby Ridge.” That message spoke to militias nationwide. “This was not a protest,” Myhre said. “A protest is when you attempt to send a message and do it peacefully.”

Bundy’s attorney, Bret Whipple, argued that the family and protesters were peaceful. As he gave his opening statement, he played several videos showing federal officers throwing a Bundy woman to the ground and deploying tasers and working dogs against Ammon Bundy. The protesters, Whipple said, caused the federal authorities to back off and to release the cattle, ultimately defusing the situation.

Whipple said that the events were the culmination of years of Bundy trying to draw attention to what he saw as overreach.

“His family was being attacked. His family was being abused,” Whipple said. “The American spirit believes you can stand up and speak your mind anytime.”

The three Bundy men have been behind bars since early 2016, held because they were believed to be flight risks and potential dangers to the community.

Cliven Bundy was arrested at Portland International Airport in Oregon, where he had flown to join his sons, who at the time were engaging in a standoff of their own at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

When prosecutors pushed to delay the trial further on Tuesday, Chief Judge Gloria Navarro asked Cliven Bundy how he wanted to proceed. He responded: “Let’s get it done.” A jury of nine men and eight women will hear the case, which is expected to last months.

Bundy’s troubles began in the early 1990s, Myhre told the jury in his opening statements, when the man stopped paying to graze his cattle on federal public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The Bundy Ranch is a 160-acre plot near the town of Bunkerville, south of Las Vegas. It’s a remote swath of dusty, rocky red desert, a place where water and vegetation is hard to come by. Like many ranchers, Bundy also leased allotments of the federal lands that surround his property to graze his cattle – 587,000 acres of land that belongs to everyone, Myhre said. Until 1993, Bundy paid his grazing fees.

“After that,” Myhre told the jury, “he refused to do so.”

The rancher squabbled with federal officials – in and out of court – over his right to graze his herd on that land for two decades, continually saying he would “do whatever it takes” to protect his cattle.

In late 2013, court orders in hand, federal officials told Bundy to move his herd off the public lands. “Ultimately the BLM came to enforce the court orders,” Myhre said, telling Bundy: “‘If you do not remove these cattle, the BLM will remove them for you.'”

That’s when Bundy put out a call for reinforcements, reaching out to militias around the country and “people who were willing to take up arms and defeat tyranny,” Myhre said.

Last year, the Bundy sons, during a trial for the Malheur standoff, alleged that the armed occupation of the bird refuge was a protest of federal land ownership. Ammon and Ryan Bundy were acquitted of all charges there in November 2016, and Tuesday’s trial in Las Vegas opened with a similar sentiment: that the family gathering armed people to Bundy’s cows back was a protest of government overreach.

On Tuesday morning, for the first time in more than 600 days, one Bundy came to his trial through the front doors of the courthouse. Just before 8 a.m., Ryan Bundy – who had been released to a halfway house on Monday evening – pulled up to the federal courthouse on a palm tree-lined street in a white stretch limousine. He strode through the courthouse doors in a three-piece suit and a white cowboy hat.

After the first day of the trial, Ryan Bundy – who is acting as his own attorney – was surrounded by reporters as he walked from the courthouse, holding his wife’s hand. He at first indicated that he didn’t want to talk, rushing down a sidewalk. But he slowed his pace to say one thing:

“The government wants to take that statement ‘whatever it takes’ as a threat,” he said. On Wednesday morning, Ryan Bundy faced the jury and addressed that statement again, saying it wasn’t a threat at all.

“It is a statement of determination …. it is a commitment to freedom,” he said. “Being right here before you today is part of ‘whatever it takes.'”

Where both Myhre and Whipple relied on computer presentations to guide jurors through their opening statements, Ryan Bundy presented his against the backdrop of a photograph of his family: his wife, six daughters and two sons. Bundy was shown holding his youngest child, looking out from under the brim of a cowboy hat.

Bundy asked jurors to take themselves to the family’s ranch, talking about his childhood chasing frogs and swimming in river streams, “to see the beautiful sunrises and moonrises,” to feel their bare feet against the sandy desert ground, to feel the pride the family has in it. He spoke about states’ rights, water rights, land rights and how evidence will show that government officials had snipers stationed around the Bundy property.

“They want to talk about guns,” Bundy said. “You should have seen all of the guns pointed at us.”

Bundy also made the argument that his family was legally protesting what it sees as infringement of basic rights.

“In America, sovereignty lies with the people,” he said. “The government is ‘we the people’ … we are their master … we are not subjects, servants or slaves to the government. We need to remember that. When we have to get permission to do everything we do, that’s not freedom. That means we are a subject.”

]]> 0 gather in Las Vegas last winter to show support for Cliven Bundy and his sons. Associated PressWed, 15 Nov 2017 23:47:41 +0000
Vermont woman who killed 3 relatives, social worker, sentenced to life Thu, 16 Nov 2017 03:32:45 +0000 BARRE, Vt. — A Vermont woman who shot and killed a state social worker and three of her own relatives as revenge for losing custody of her then 9-year-old daughter was sentenced Wednesday to life without parole.

Vermont Superior Court Judge John Pacht announced the sentence at the end of a three-day hearing for Jody Herring, 43.

Herring shot and killed Lara Sobel, a social worker as she was leaving work at the state’s Department for Children and Families in Barre on Aug. 7, 2015. Police later discovered that she also had killed her two cousins, sisters Rhonda and Regina Herring, and an aunt, Julie Falzarano, in their Berlin home.

The shootings rattled the small state, which has been among the safest states in the country, and led to fears among social workers, threats against them and changes in security measures at state office buildings.

“The case had consequences far beyond the severe damage it has done to the four individuals who were killed and their extended families,” said Matthew Levine, an assistant state attorney general who helped prosecute the case.

“By targeting Lara Sobel as a DCF worker at her place of employment, she was really assaulting the justice system as a whole,” he said.

Relatives of those killed spoke of how the murders ripped their lives and families apart.

Randy Herring, who lost his two sisters and mother, said doctors have told him he has depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“My wife told me that she lost her husband because I can no longer feel happiness,” he said.

Herring pleaded guilty in July to three counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree murder. Prosecutors say she has shown no remorse.

Herring’s attorney, David Sleigh, had asked the judge for leniency because Herring has suffered a lifetime of abuse and had reached out unsuccessfully to state officials for help.

Levine said the evidence didn’t support Sleigh’s argument.

“The reality is that childhood abuse, substance abuse, mental health problems are all too common in our society, and while we should do everything we can to combat them, they don’t and shouldn’t justify, excuse or mitigate a planned brutal, savage, multiple murder,” he said.

Herring spoke in court, saying she understands how it feels to lose a child because she has lost custody of three children.

“I’m very sorry. I can’t take back that day,” Herring said.

]]> 0 Wed, 15 Nov 2017 23:46:11 +0000
Two more women tell of unwanted encounters with Roy Moore Thu, 16 Nov 2017 02:50:51 +0000 Gena Richardson says she was a high school senior working in the men’s department of Sears at the Gadsden Mall when a man approached her and introduced himself as Roy Moore.

“He said, ‘You can just call me Roy,'” says Richardson, who says this first encounter happened in the fall of 1977, just before or after her 18th birthday, as Moore, then a 30-year-old local attorney, was gaining a reputation for pursuing young women at the mall in Gadsden, Alabama. His overtures caused one store manager to tell new hires to “watch out for this guy,” another young woman to complain to her supervisor and Richardson to eventually hide from him when he came in Sears, the women say.

Richardson says Moore – now a candidate for U.S. Senate – asked her where she went to school, and then for her phone number, which she says she declined to give, telling him that her father, a Southern Baptist preacher, would never approve.

A few days later, she says, she was in trigonometry class at Gadsden High when she was summoned to the principal’s office over the intercom in her classroom. She had a phone call.

“I said ‘Hello?'” Richardson recalls. “And the male on the other line said, ‘Gena, this is Roy Moore.’ I was like, ‘What?!’ He said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m in trig class.’ ”


Richardson says Moore asked her out again on the call. A few days later, after he asked her out at Sears, she relented and agreed, feeling both nervous and flattered. They met that night at a movie theater in the mall after she got off work, a date that ended with Moore driving her to her car in a dark parking lot behind Sears and giving her what she called an unwanted, “forceful” kiss that left her scared.

“I never wanted to see him again,” says Richardson, who is now 58 and a community college teacher living in Birmingham. She describes herself as a moderate Republican and says she didn’t vote in the 2016 general election or in this year’s Republican Senate primary in Alabama.

Moore’s campaign did not directly address the new allegations. In a statement, a campaign spokesman cast the growing number of allegations against Moore as politically motivated.

“If you are a liberal and hate Judge Moore, apparently he groped you,” the statement said. “If you are a conservative and love Judge Moore, you know these allegations are a political farce.”

Richardson, whose account was corroborated by classmate and Sears co-worker Kayla McLaughlin, is among four women who say Moore pursued them when they were teenagers or young women working at the mall – from Sears at one end to the Pizitz department store at the other. Richardson and Becky Gray, the woman who complained to her manager, have not previously spoken publicly. The accounts of the other two women – Wendy Miller and Gloria Thacker Deason – have previously been reported by The Washington Post.

Phyllis Smith, who was 18 when she began working at Brooks, a clothing store geared toward young women, said teenage girls counseled each other to “just make yourself scarce when Roy’s in here, he’s just here to bother you, don’t pay attention to him and he’ll go away.'”


The encounters described by the women occurred between 1977 and 1982, when Moore was single, in his early 30s and an attorney in Etowah County in northeastern Alabama. In October 1977, he was appointed deputy district attorney.

In all, The Post spoke to a dozen people who worked at the mall or hung out there as teenagers during the late ’70s and early ’80s and recall Moore as a frequent presence – a well-dressed man walking around alone, leaning on counters, spending enough time in the stores, especially on weekend nights, that some of the young women who worked there said they became uncomfortable.

Several of the women said they decided to share their accounts after reading a Post story last week in which four women said Moore pursued them as teenagers, including one who said she was 14 and Moore was 32 when he touched her sexually.

Since that story was published, another woman, Beverly Young Nelson, appearing with lawyer Gloria Allred, accused Moore of sexually assaulting her in his car when she was 16. A lawyer for Moore’s campaign held a news conference on Wednesday to dispute Nelson’s account, suggesting that a signature in her yearbook she said was Moore’s might have been forged.

Moore has denied engaging in any kind of sexual misconduct. In an interview last week with Sean Hannity of Fox News, Moore did not rule out that he may have dated teenage girls when he was in his 30s, though he said he could not recall. Moore said he doesn’t remember “ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother.”

Moore has brushed off mounting calls from Republican leaders in Washington to end his campaign, saying the media and the Republican establishment are aligned against him. The reaction in Alabama, among voters and elected officials, has been more mixed.

President Trump has not gone as far as other Republican leaders, saying through press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that Moore should drop out if the allegations are true. Trump ignored questions Wednesday from reporters asking if Moore should quit the race.


The sprawling Gadsden Mall opened in 1974 with a Sears at one end, a Pizitz department store at the other, a movie theater in the middle and plenty of parking all around. It quickly became a social hub for teenagers.

By 1977, Moore had returned home from law school after attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and serving in Vietnam. It was around that time, people say, that he became a regular at the mall.

“It would always be on Friday or Saturday night,” says Becky Gray, who was then 22 and working in the men’s department of Pizitz. “Parents would drop kids off, let them roam the mall. Well, he started coming up to me.”

She says Moore kept asking her out and she kept saying no.

“I’d always say no, I’m dating someone, no, I’m in a relationship,” says Gray, now 62, a retired teacher and a Democrat who supports Moore’s opponent in the Senate race. “I thought he was old at that time. Anyone over 22 was just old.”

Gray says he was persistent in a way that made her uncomfortable. She says he lingered in her section, or else by the bathroom area, and that she became so disturbed that she complained to the Pizitz manager, Maynard von Spiegelfeld. Gray says he told her that it was “not the first time he had a complaint about him hanging out at the mall.” Von Spiegelfeld has since died, according to a relative.

Pizitz is also where Deason told The Post last week that Moore asked her out when she was 18 and working behind the jewelry counter.

Beyond Pizitz was a long corridor of shops, including Brooks, which sold rabbit fur coats and fashions geared toward young women. Smith, the one-time Brooks employee, says she was probably 19 when Moore began coming into the store, which she says employed many teenage girls. She remembers him being alone and had the strong impression he wasn’t looking to shop.

“I can remember him walking in and the whole mood would change with us girls,” says Smith, 59, who lives in Gadsden and says she is a Democrat. “It would be like we were on guard. I would find something else to do. I remember being creeped out.”

Smith says Moore never approached her personally, but she saw him chatting with other young clerks, and that she would tell new hires to “watch out for this guy.” She says that occasionally, one of the store managers would have to deal with bounced checks, which meant going to the district attorney’s office where Moore worked. She says the managers would “draw straws” to decide who had to go talk to him about the cases.

“It was just sort of a dreadful experience,” she says.

At the center of the mall was a photo booth, where Wendy Miller earlier told The Post her mother worked. Miller said she hung out there with her mom when she was 16 and that Moore repeatedly asked her out on dates, which her mother forbade. Miller’s mother, Martha Brackett, confirmed her account.


At the other end of the mall was Sears, where Richardson says she was among a clique of Gadsden High girls who worked at the store during their senior year.

Richardson, whose maiden name is Burgess, was assigned to the men’s section, and her friend and classmate McLaughlin worked at the cosmetics and jewelry counter at the front of the store with a view down the long mall corridor.

“I could see when he came in,” says McLaughlin, whose maiden name was Shirley and who says that she and Richardson usually worked evening shifts on the weekends. “He didn’t really talk to me, he was over there visiting with Gena a lot. And that got to be a pattern.”

McLaughlin says she told her friend to stay away from Moore. “I hate to say this, but Gena was like my little sister. She was raised by a Southern Baptist preacher and a little naive. So I’d let her know: ‘Here he comes.'”

When Richardson met Moore she says he introduced himself as an attorney, and says she found it odd that he asked her to call him “Roy.”

“That was strange in the first place, because of the way we were always taught to call someone Mr. or Mrs.,” she says.

When he asked for her number, she says that she told him, “No, my dad is so strict. Mm-mm. No.” She and McLaughlin both say they talked about Moore after that, with McLaughlin telling her friend, “You can’t go out with him. He’s old.”

It was a few days later, Richardson says, when she was called out of her trigonometry class.

Richardson says she was startled, thinking maybe her dad was calling, and that when she realized it was Moore, “I felt like every person in that office was staring at me.”

“At that point, he said, ‘Would you like to go out some time?'” recalls Richardson, who says she described the call right afterward to McLaughlin, who confirmed the account. “I said, ‘Well, I can’t talk right now.’ And being so naive, and so not worldly, I said, ‘I’ll be at work Friday or Saturday.'”

The next Friday or Saturday night, she says, he came in to Sears and asked her out again and she again told him, “Look, my dad is so strict.”

She recalls Moore suggesting that they meet for a late movie after she got off work. She says she called her parents and told them she was going out with friends.

Instead, she says she met Moore at the movie theater. She says she can’t remember what they saw, but she remembers clearly what happened after. She says it was cold and Moore offered to drive her to her car, which was more than a football field’s distance away in a parking area behind Sears. She says he parked by her car and began chatting with her, and she says she told him again about her dad.

“I just explained to him that my dad’s a minister, and you know, I just can’t sneak around because that’s wrong,” she recalls. “So I thanked him and started to get out and he grabbed me and pulled me in and that’s when he kissed me.

“It was a man kiss – like really deep tongue. Like very forceful tongue. It was a surprise. I’d never been kissed like that,” she says. “And the minute that happened, I got scared then. I really did. Something came over me that scared me. And so I said, ‘I’ve got to go, because my curfew is now.’ ”

She says she got out of the car and into her own.

Richardson and McLaughlin say they talked about it afterward, and when Moore came into Sears after that, McLaughlin would warn her friend so she could hide in the back of the store. “I would call and say he’s coming this way,” McLaughlin says. “She would go to the back. She was uncomfortable.”

Richardson says she never spoke to Moore again. She says she first told her father about the incident on Wednesday. She says she never told her mother, who is deceased.

“All these years, I thought that was an isolated incident,” Richardson says. “Now, as a mother and a grandmother, it just makes me physically sick. I realize that it didn’t just happen to me.”

]]> 0 Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, faces six charges of violating judicial ethics.Wed, 15 Nov 2017 21:58:13 +0000
At climate talks, Merkel dodges deadline for ending use of coal Thu, 16 Nov 2017 02:39:07 +0000 BONN, Germany — German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a veteran of global efforts to curb climate change, disappointed environmental campaigners Wednesday by refusing to lay down a deadline for ending her country’s use of coal.

Green groups and developing countries had called on Merkel to use global climate talks in Bonn, Germany, this week to set a date for her country to phase out coal-fired power plants – as she has previously done with nuclear energy.

Merkel, who is sometimes referred to as the “climate chancellor” for her long-standing efforts to combat global warming, acknowledged that Germany’s practice of burning coal to generate electricity is one reason it’s not on track to cut its carbon emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

“Now, at the end of 2017, we know that we’re still missing a big chunk,” Merkel said.

Speaking to leaders and ministers from around the world, Merkel said there will be “hard discussions” on the issue in her upcoming talks with the Green party and the pro-business Free Democrats on forming a new government.

Germany generates about 40 percent of its electricity from coal, including the light brown variety called lignite that’s considered to be among the most heavily polluting fossil fuels.

“Coal, especially lignite, must contribute a significant part to achieving these goals,” Merkel said. “But what exactly that will be is something we will discuss very precisely in the coming days.”

Speaking after her, French President Emmanuel Macron said his country was committed to ending the use of coal by 2021. The task is made a lot easier for France by the fact that the country hardly has any coal-fired plants and still gets most of its electricity from nuclear power.

Several other countries, including Britain, Canada and Italy have also announced they will stop using coal in the coming years.

Macron, who has styled himself as a climate champion since being elected earlier this year, said Europe should fill the gap in funding for the U.N.’s scientific expert panel on climate change left by the U.S. decision to hold back its contribution.

]]> 0 prime minister and COP president Frank Bainimarama, left, talks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP) climate talks in Bonn, Germany, Wednesday.Wed, 15 Nov 2017 23:40:08 +0000
In a first, scientists edit DNA inside patient’s body Thu, 16 Nov 2017 02:05:01 +0000 OAKLAND, Calif. — Scientists for the first time have tried editing a gene inside the body in a bold attempt to permanently change a person’s DNA to cure a disease.

The experiment was done Monday in California on 44-year-old Brian Madeux. Through an IV, he received billions of copies of a corrective gene and a genetic tool to cut his DNA in a precise spot.

“It’s kind of humbling” to be the first to test this, said Madeux, who has a metabolic disease called Hunter syndrome. “I’m willing to take that risk. Hopefully it will help me and other people.”

Signs of whether it’s working may come in a month; tests will show for sure in three months.

If it’s successful, it could give a major boost to the fledgling field of gene therapy. Scientists have edited people’s genes before, altering cells in the lab that are then returned to patients. There also are gene therapies that don’t involve editing DNA.

But these methods can only be used for a few types of diseases. Some give results that may not last. Others supply a new gene like a spare part, but can’t control where it inserts in the DNA, possibly causing a new problem like cancer.

This time, the gene tinkering is happening in a precise way inside the body. It’s like sending a tiny surgeon along to place the new gene in exactly the right location.

“We cut your DNA, open it up, insert a gene, stitch it back up. Invisible mending,” said Dr. Sandy Macrae, president of Sangamo Therapeutics, the California company testing this for two metabolic diseases and hemophilia. “It becomes part of your DNA and is there for the rest of your life.”

That also means there’s no going back, no way to erase any mistakes the editing might cause.

“You’re really toying with Mother Nature” and the risks can’t be fully known, but the studies should move forward because these are incurable diseases, said one independent expert, Dr. Eric Topol of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego.

Protections are in place to help ensure safety, and animal tests were very encouraging, said Dr. Howard Kaufman, a Boston scientist on the National Institutes of Health panel that approved the studies.

He said gene editing’s promise is too great to ignore. “So far there’s been no evidence that this is going to be dangerous,” he said. “Now is not the time to get scared.”


Fewer than 10,000 people worldwide have these metabolic diseases, partly because many die very young. People with Hunter syndrome lack a gene that makes an enzyme that breaks down certain carbohydrates. These build up in cells and cause havoc throughout the body.

Patients may have frequent colds and ear infections, distorted facial features, hearing loss, heart problems, breathing trouble, skin and eye problems, bone and joint flaws, bowel issues and brain and thinking problems.

Weekly intravenous doses of the missing enzyme can ease some symptoms, but cost $100,000 to $400,000 a year and don’t prevent brain damage.

Madeux, who now lives near Phoenix, is engaged to a nurse, Marcie Humphrey. He met her 15 years ago in a study that tested this enzyme therapy at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, where the gene editing experiment took place.

Gene editing won’t fix damage he’s already suffered, but he hopes it will stop the need for weekly enzyme treatments.

Initial studies will involve up to 30 adults, but the goal is to treat children very young, before much damage occurs.


A gene-editing tool called CRISPR has gotten a lot of attention, but this study used a different tool called zinc finger nucleases. They’re like molecular scissors that seek and cut a specific piece of DNA.

The therapy has three parts: The new gene and two zinc finger proteins. DNA instructions for each part are placed in a virus that’s been altered to not cause infection but to ferry them into cells. Billions of copies of these are given through a vein. They travel to the liver, where cells use the instructions to make the zinc fingers and prepare the corrective gene. The fingers cut the DNA, allowing the new gene to slip in. The new gene then directs the cell to make the enzyme the patient lacked.

Only 1 percent of liver cells would have to be corrected to successfully treat the disease, said Madeux’s physician and study leader, Dr. Paul Harmatz at the Oakland hospital.

“How bulletproof is the technology? We’re just learning,” but safety tests have been very good, said Dr. Carl June, a University of Pennsylvania scientist who has done other gene therapy work but was not involved in this study.


Safety issues plagued some earlier gene therapies. One worry is that the virus might provoke an immune system attack. In 1999, 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger died in a gene therapy study from that problem, but the new studies use a different virus that’s proved much safer in other experiments.

Another worry is that inserting a new gene might have unforeseen effects on other genes. That happened years ago, when researchers used gene therapy to cure some cases of the immune system disorder called “bubble boy” disease. Several patients later developed leukemia because the new gene inserted into a place in the native DNA where it unintentionally activated a cancer gene.

“When you stick a chunk of DNA in randomly, sometimes it works well, sometimes it does nothing and sometimes it causes harm,” said Hank Greely, a Stanford University bioethicist. “The advantage with gene editing is you can put the gene in where you want it.”

Finally, some fear that the virus could get into other places like the heart, or eggs and sperm where it could affect future generations. Doctors say built-in genetic safeguards prevent the therapy from working anywhere but the liver, like a seed that only germinates in certain conditions.

This experiment is not connected to other, more controversial work being debated to try to edit genes in human embryos to prevent diseases before birth – changes that would be passed down from generation to generation.

]]> 0 Madeux, who has Hunter syndrome, waits with Marcie Humphrey, at the Oakland, Calif., hospital where an experimental gene therapy took place Monday to combat his disease.Wed, 15 Nov 2017 23:33:16 +0000
Trump stays silent on Roy Moore as Senate Republicans seek presidential intervention Thu, 16 Nov 2017 02:04:36 +0000 WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans turned to President Trump on Wednesday in hopes he would join their urgent attempt to force Republican Roy Moore out of the Senate race in Alabama following allegations of sexual misconduct, but Trump did not oblige.

Back in Washington after a 12-day trip to Asia, Trump was silent on Moore, who has been accused by two women of initiating unwanted sexual encounters when Moore was in his 30s and they were 14 and 16. Moore has denied the allegations.

His daughter Ivanka Trump, however, voiced confidence in Moore’s accusers and told the Associated Press there’s “a special place in hell for people who prey on children.” She did not call for Moore to step aside.

In Alabama, Moore showed no signs of preparing to bow out. His campaign sought to discredit one of his previous accusers at a hastily announced afternoon news conference where officials took no questions.

On Twitter, Moore sought to align himself with Trump, charging that the same forces that tried to defeat him as a presidential candidate in 2016 are now trying to beat Moore with “lies and smears.”

Moore said in a statement issued Wednesday night: “Are we at a stage in American politics in which false allegations can overcome a public record of 40 years, stampede the media and politicians to condemn an innocent man, and potentially impact the outcome of an election of national importance?”

His Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, told reporters in Alabama that “the statements made by the women up in Etowah County have much more credibility than the denials, whether by Roy Moore himself or by his handlers.”

After days of forcefully repudiating Moore and urging him to withdraw, Senate Republican leaders increasingly see Trump as pivotal to restoring some order to a race that has spiraled out of their control. Republicans are now at risk of either losing a seat to Democrats that has long been in Republican hands or being saddled with a deeply controversial figure in their ranks.

“I think he’s in a position to exercise a good amount of influence on the race down there,” said Sen. John Thune, S.D., the third-ranking Republican senator, in reference to Trump.

Thune said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is “of a mind that the president could be influential.” McConnell and Trump spoke by phone Wednesday.

Trump did not respond to questions from reporters about Moore after touting his Asia trip at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. The president sidestepped questions about Moore during his travels.

After The Washington Post reported on the first accusations Nov. 9, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president believes that if the allegations are true, Moore “will do the right thing and step aside.”

The White House consented to the Republican National Committee pulling out of a joint fundraising committee with Moore’s campaign and, according to one administration official, White House officials have been discussing Moore’s campaign since Trump returned from Asia.

But there is consensus among senior White House aides that the president is in a bind. If he publicly calls on him to withdraw and Moore demurs – or, worse for Trump, wins the race nevertheless – the president could suffer another embarrassment in Alabama. Yet continued silence from Trump may not be tenable.

“There are no good options,” said one White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Presidential advisers believe that every time McConnell calls on Moore to withdraw, he may be motivating voters in Alabama to, as one official put it, raise a collective middle finger to Washington. Trump’s advisers worry that condemnations from the president could only exacerbate the dynamic.

There is another risk for Trump. If he were to say that he believes the women’s accusations, as McConnell and others have done, it would raise comparisons to the sexual harassment accusations that he has faced and denied.

This week, Republican senators have been asked about the allegations against Trump, creating discomfort and redirection efforts.

“We’re talking about a situation in Alabama,” McConnell said Tuesday when asked if he believes the women who have accused Trump. “And I’d be happy to address that.”

Still, some Republican senators feel that Trump could be helpful in persuading key party officials in Alabama to turn on Moore. Many local leaders have defended him.

“He’s the head of the party,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “Yeah, it’d probably be good if he’d say something.”

On social media, Moore appeared to be lobbying Trump by comparing his situation to what the president faced last year.

“The Republicans and Democrats who did everything they could to stop Donald Trump and elect Hillary Clinton are the very same people who are now trying to take us down with lies and smears,” he wrote on Twitter.


At a news conference in Birmingham, Alabama, where members of the state Republican Party were meeting to discuss the race, Moore campaign attorney Phillip Jauregui raised questions about the validity of accusations that Beverly Young Nelson made against Moore this week.

Nelson, now 56, accused Moore, 70, of sexually assaulting her and bruising her neck when she was 16. She showed a copy of her high school yearbook that she said Moore signed on Dec. 22, 1977, with the inscription, “To a sweeter more beautiful girl I could not say ‘Merry Christmas.’ ” It was signed, “Love, Roy Moore D.A.”

Pending a review of the yearbook, Jauregui said it was possible that the signature had been copied by a forger. He called for Nelson and her attorney to send the yearbook to a “neutral custodian” so a handwriting expert could inspect it.

Moore, according to Jauregui, had never signed “D.A.” after his name, but had an assistant with those initials who would write them in Moore’s documents.

It is too late to remove Moore’s name from the ballot in the Dec. 12 special election. But if the state Republican Party were to disqualify him, it could prevent any votes for him from being certified. There have been no signs so far that party officials are willing to do that.

Senate Republican leaders have singled out Attorney General Jeff Sessions as someone who could wage a competitive write-in campaign. But Sessions has shown no public interest in the prospect, and people in his orbit have batted down the idea.

Republican leaders in Washington are increasingly concerned about their limited options. The National Republican Senatorial Committee conducted a poll this week showing support weakening, with Moore trailing Jones by 51 percent to 39 percent, according to findings shared by a Republican familiar with the survey. The survey was conducted Nov. 12-13 among 500 registered voters reached by live interviews on landline and cellphones.

The Post reported last week that Leigh Corfman alleged that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was 14 and he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. Moore has denied the accusation.

In addition, several other women interviewed by The Post in recent weeks said Moore pursued them when they were teenagers and young women and he was in his early 30s, episodes they said they found flattering at the time but troubling as they got older. None of the three women said Moore forced them into any sort of relationship or sexual contact.

]]> 0 Trump takes a drink of water as he speaks about his trip to Asia on Wednesday. Trump did not respond to questions about the troubled Senate candidacy of Roy Moore in Alabama.Wed, 15 Nov 2017 21:57:50 +0000
Disruptive ‘overtourism’ puts strain on world’s most-visited places Thu, 16 Nov 2017 01:36:30 +0000 LONDON — Venice is planning to divert massive cruise liners. Barcelona has cracked down on apartment rentals.

Both are at the forefront of efforts to get a grip on “overtourism,” a phenomenon that is disrupting communities, imperiling cherished buildings and harming the experience of travelers and local residents alike.

Tourism-phobia has become increasingly prevalent, particularly in European destinations where visitors crowd the same places at the same time.

The backlash has even given rise to slogans such as “Tourists go home” and “Tourists are terrorists.”

“This is a wake-up call,” Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization, told tourism ministers and industry executives last week at the World Travel Market in London.

The resentment could rise as tourism increases. The UNWTO forecasts 1.8 billion trips by 2030, up from 1.2 billion in 2016. Add in the 5 billion domestic trips now, and that’s a lot of tourists. Cheap airfare is helping to fuel the growth, along with massive growth in international travel from countries such as China.

Yet many destinations rely on tourism as a primary source of jobs and prosperity. Tourism accounts for around 10 percent of the world’s annual GDP, bringing hard currency into many countries that desperately need it, like Greece.

But tourism can also harm the quality of life for residents, with packed beaches, locals priced out of housing and congested streets in the narrow byways of European cities dating back to medieval times. Longer-term problems include environmental damage and the long-term sustainability of cities as viable places to live and work.

For all these reasons, managing tourism is a prominent topic of debate in the industry and a central theme at the World Travel Market.

Rifai, who leaves the UNWTO at the end of the year, dismissed the idea that growth is “the enemy.” Pulling up the drawbridge, he argued, would be irresponsible when tourism accounts for one in 10 jobs worldwide.

What is required, he stressed, is the need to manage tourism in a “sustainable and responsible” way that benefits local communities.

Efforts to manage overtourism are becoming more innovative and increasingly tapping new technologies. For example, apps can help tourists visit popular destinations at less busy times. And while critics say Airbnb has priced out locals, its supporters say home rentals can ease pressure on cities by spreading visitors far and wide.

Patrick Robinson, Airbnb’s director of public policy for Europe, Middle East and Africa, noted that last year 69 percent of the platform’s users in Amsterdam stayed away from the city center.

In some cases, tourist quotas make sense. In the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador has imposed a 100,000 annual limit on visitors. The Croatian city of Dubrovnik, where visitor numbers surged after the Adriatic Sea resort was used as a setting for the series “Game of Thrones,” has mulled limiting those entering the city’s medieval walls to 4,000 daily.

Other strategies include promoting offseason visits, opening up new destinations or tweaking marketing. Prague is pushing local walks off the beaten track, while London promotes neighborhoods such as Greenwich and Richmond.

“There is no one solution for all, every destination is different,” said Gloria Guevara, the new president and CEO of the London-based World Travel & Tourism Council.

Barcelona has outlined measures to balance the needs of locals and visitors. The city has cracked down on unlicensed rentals and established a tourism council that includes residents, business, unions and government. The hope is that by listening to all the stakeholders, Barcelona can reduce the strains tourism places on the city and ameliorate tensions between residents and visitors.

“Businesses do not want to put their customers in places where they are being treated as an unwelcome pest, and I think some of the language that we’ve seen that’s hostile to tourism verges on hate speech,” said Tim Fairhurst, head of strategy and policy at the European Tourism Association.

Venice has witnessed a tourism backlash in response to the monumental increase in visitors, many of whom irk locals by going to the same spots at the same time.

Last week, a plan was announced to block giant cruise ships from steaming past Venice’s iconic St. Mark’s Square. Few think it’s enough, and there’s talk of higher taxes on tourists, timed tickets to venues or even the introduction of turnstiles.

]]> 0 cruise ship transits the Giudecca canal in front of St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy, in this 2014 photo.Wed, 15 Nov 2017 20:41:45 +0000
Electric trucks emerging but still have a long haul Thu, 16 Nov 2017 01:34:31 +0000 DETROIT — Electric trucks are having a moment in the spotlight, but they won’t replace diesel-powered trucks in big numbers until they overcome costs and other limitations.

Tesla Inc. plans to unveil a semitractor-trailer this week, its first foray into trucking after more than a decade of making cars and SUVs. German automaker Daimler AG showed off its own electric semi last month and says it could be on sale in a few years. Truck rental company Ryder just added 125 all-electric vans made by California startup Chanje to its fleet.

“It’s kind of like the checkered flag is being waved,” said Glen Kedzie, energy and environmental counsel with the American Trucking Associations. “We’ve seen different fuels come and go, and electric has gotten to the front of the line.”

As battery costs fall and more options enter the market, global sales of pure electric trucks are expected to grow exponentially, from 4,100 in 2016 to 70,600 in 2026, according to Navigant Research. Delivery companies, mail services and utilities will be among the biggest purchasers, and most of the growth will come from Europe, China and the U.S.

Most electric trucks on the road will be medium-duty vehicles like delivery vans or garbage trucks. They’re quiet and emission-free, and they can be plugged in and charged at the end of a shift. They’re ideal for predictable urban routes of 100 miles or less; a longer range than that requires more batteries, which are heavy and expensive.

One issue: Cost. A medium-duty electric truck costs about $70,000 more than equivalent diesel trucks, according to the consulting firm Deloitte. Buyers considering electrics have to weigh what they can save on fuel and maintenance costs, since electrics have fewer parts.

Heavy-duty trucks like electric semis have even further to go before they can be competitive with diesels. Some of those trucks are used for shorter routes, but to achieve a longer range of 300 miles, they require more batteries.

Deloitte estimates electrification adds around $150,000 to the cost of a heavy-duty vehicle, or more than double the cost of some diesel tractor-trailers. Electric semi trucks will have the added problem of long charging times and little highway charging infrastructure.

“I see it being relevant but not ready for prime time,” Chanje CEO Bryan Hansel said of long-haul electric trucks. He thinks it will be five years or more before the battery technology and infrastructure can support cross-country electric trucking.

“It’s a big prize, but the physics haven’t caught up yet,” he said.

But analysts believe that will change. Battery costs are expected to fall significantly over the next decade as technology improves. Deloitte expects battery costs for trucks to fall from $260 per kilowatt-hour in 2016 to $122 in 2026. That would cut the cost of a 300 kWh battery pack — like the one in Daimler’s prototype semi — from $78,000 to $36,600.

In the meantime, regulations will drive interest in electric trucks. In the U.S., trucks must meet stricter emissions standards through 2027 under rules that went into effect last year. China is also tightening emissions standards. And several major cities, including Paris and Mexico City, have called for a ban on diesels by 2025 to improve air quality.

Incentives are also enticing companies to add electric trucks to their fleets. Companies that buy or lease vans from Chanje are eligible for an $80,000 voucher per vehicle from the state of California, for example. France pays out 10,000 euros ($11,669) to buyers who replace diesel vehicles with electric ones.

Companies are also experimenting with electrics — and other alternatives, like natural gas — because they want to meet their own sustainability goals and figure out the optimal mix for their fleets. United Parcel Service, for example, has 300 electric trucks in its global fleet of 100,000 vehicles, mostly in the U.S. and Europe, said Scott Phillippi, UPS’s Senior Director of Maintenance and Engineering for international operations.

Many of UPS’s delivery routes require trucks to travel less than 100 miles per day, a range easily met by an electric truck, Phillippi said. He said electric trucks also help the company take advantage of incentives. UPS has set a goal of having 25 percent of its fleet be made up of alternative fuel vehicles by 2020, in part to encourage manufacturers to keep building and improving such trucks.

“The proof of concept time is over,” he said. “Everybody is starting to agree it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

]]> 0 trucks may be quiet and emissions-free but until they overcome cost and other limitations, they cannot compete with diesel trucks, industry analysts say.Wed, 15 Nov 2017 20:43:01 +0000
Makers of self-driving cars may catch liability break Thu, 16 Nov 2017 01:32:35 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — California regulators are embracing a General Motors recommendation that would help makers of self-driving cars avoid paying for accidents and other trouble, raising concerns that the proposal will put an unfair burden on vehicle owners.

If adopted, the regulations drafted by the California Department of Motor Vehicles would protect these carmakers from lawsuits in cases where vehicles haven’t been maintained according to manufacturer specifications.

That could open a loophole for automakers to skirt responsibility for accidents, injuries and deaths caused by defective autonomous vehicles, said Armand Feliciano, vice president for the Association of California Insurance Companies. For instance, manufacturers might avoid liability if the tires on self-driving cars are slightly underinflated or even if the oil hasn’t been changed as regularly as manufacturers suggest, he said.

“When is the last time you followed everything that is listed in your car manual?” Feliciano said.


Determining liability for self-driving cars is just one of the many hurdles that still must be addressed as dozens of automakers and technology companies expand their tests of robotic vehicles cruising public roads scattered across the U.S. Some of these companies are hoping to deploy their self-driving vehicles in ride-hailing services and eventually sell them to consumers within the next few years.

As biggest testing ground for self-driving cars, California is being viewed as a bellwether for how other states might sculpt their regulations down the road.

The section addressing the limits of automakers’ liability adopts much of the wording proposed in an April 24 letter to the DMV from Paul Hemmersbaugh, formerly chief counsel for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and now chief counsel for the General Motors division overseeing self-driving cars.

Consumer Watchdog, an activist group frequently critical of business interests, believes Hemmersbaugh plied the connections he made at the California DMV while working at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to insert the clause that could make it easier for self-driving carmakers to avoid liability.

“It is the result of the ongoing and troubling federal revolving door between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the auto industry,” Consumer Watchdog officials wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to the DMV and the head of the transportation overseeing the agency.


Under current law, automakers can still be held liable for faulty equipment or other flaws in vehicles that require a human driver, even if the owners haven’t followed all the maintenance instructions.

That would change if the DMV’s proposed regulations go on the books as is, warned the Consumer Attorneys of California, a professional association of trial lawyers.

“This language creates a dangerous ‘moral hazard’ where manufacturers are encouraged to create unreasonable or impossible maintenance specifications to shift the burden onto (self-driving car) consumers or the public at large for technological failures,” the trade group wrote in its Oct. 25 comments to the DMV.

GM spokeswoman Laura Toole lauded the “transparency” of the DMV’s process. Dozens of parties also submitted comments and recommendations, leaving it to the DMV’s staff to decide which to include in the agency’s proposed rules, she said.


In his April 24 letter, Hemmersbaugh linked his recommendations to concerns that self-driving carmakers might be held responsible for all vehicle problems “without taking into account the acts of intervening parties and other factors that contributed to an incident.”

Self-driving cars are being touted as safer alternative to vehicles operated by humans who get drunk or distracted. But accidents are still bound to happen, and some are likely to be caused by equipment defects, said Jacqueline Serna, legislative attorney for the Consumer Attorneys of California. And when that happens, she said, it should be left to the courts to draw the lines of liability.

“The courts have dealt with new technology in the past and they are equipped to do it again,” Serna said.

The issue could end up in court if the DMV doesn’t revise the current wording of its regulations. Consumer Watchdog says it will sue if the current regulations are approved and insurance trade groups say they may take legal action, too.

]]> 0 regulators are embracing a General Motors recommendation that would help makers of self-driving cars avoid paying for accidents and other trouble, raising concerns that the proposal will put an unfair burden on vehicle owners.Wed, 15 Nov 2017 20:43:47 +0000
Lawmaker won’t reveal names of alleged sexual harassers Thu, 16 Nov 2017 01:04:36 +0000 WASHINGTON — A lawmaker who testified that two sitting members of Congress have engaged in sexual harassment said Wednesday she isn’t identifying them because the victims don’t want the lawmakers named publicly.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said she is barred from identifying one member because of a non-disclosure agreement, and isn’t identifying the second lawmaker at the victim’s request.

During a news conference introducing a bill to overhaul the process of reporting harassment, Speier said she has not confronted the members and isn’t naming them because “the victims are the ones who do not want this exposed.”

Currently, victims are required to undergo counseling, mediation and a 30-day “cooling off period” before filing a formal complaint with the Office of Compliance.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would eliminate non-disclosure agreements as a condition of initiating mediation and mandate that offices that have complaints be publicly listed. The bill would also protect interns and fellows, make mediation and counseling optional, rather than required before a victim can file a lawsuit or complaint, and require members of Congress who settle discrimination cases to pay back the Treasury.

The bill does not apply to staff members who settle lawsuits; Gloria Lett, counsel for the Office of House Employment Counsel, said most complaints are against staffers rather than lawmakers.

The bill comes one day after Speaker Paul Ryan announced that all members and their staffs will be required to undergo anti-sexual harassment training, which is also a provision of Speier and Gillibrand’s bill. Last week, the Senate adopted a similar resolution.

]]> 0 Wed, 15 Nov 2017 20:04:36 +0000