The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Nation & World Thu, 08 Dec 2016 11:51:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Michael Jordan wins China court ruling in trademark case Thu, 08 Dec 2016 10:46:41 +0000 BEIJING — China’s highest court on Thursday ruled in favor of basketball legend Michael Jordan at the culmination of a years-long case over use of the Chinese rendering of his globally-known name and trademark.

The former NBA star has been in a dispute with a sportswear company based in southern China called Qiaodan Sports since 2012. He had previously argued unsuccessfully in Beijing courts that they had used his Chinese name “Qiaodan” by which he has been known since he gained widespread popularity in the mid-1980s, his old jersey number 23 and basketball player logo to make it look like he was associated with their brand.

The Supreme People’s Court on Thursday announced that it was overturning two rulings by Beijing courts against Jordan from 2014 and 2015 that had found there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support the athlete’s allegations over the use of his image. It also ordered the trademark bureau to issue a new ruling on the use of the Chinese characters in the brand name “Qiaodan.”

Pronounced “CHEEOW-dan,” it is the transliteration of “Jordan” in Mandarin.

The court’s judgment was broadcast live on its website.

Jordan said in a statement that millions of Chinese fans and consumers had always known him by the name Qiaodan and that he was happy the court had recognized his right to protect his name.

A man shops for shoes at a Qiaodan Sports retail shop in Beijing Thursday. Associated Press/Ng Han Guan

A man shops for shoes at a Qiaodan Sports retail shop in Beijing Thursday. Numerous Chinese companies sell products with names that sound suspiciously similar to well-known foreign brands, often with only one or two letters changed.Associated Press/Ng Han Guan

“Chinese consumers deserve to know that Qiaodan Sports and its products have no connection to me. Nothing is more important than protecting your own name, and today’s decision shows the importance of that principle,” Jordan said.

In a twist to the legal saga, Qiaodan Sports successfully counter-sued Jordan in 2013 for preventing it from pursuing a stock market listing because of the trademark lawsuit.

The Beijing law firm representing Qiaodan Sports Co. Ltd. declined to comment.

The case reflects the difficulties faced by foreign individuals and companies in protecting their copyrights in China, where domestic firms have long taken a cavalier attitude toward intellectual property.

Numerous Chinese companies sell products with names that sound suspiciously similar to well-known foreign brands, often with only one or two letters changed.

Chinese law protects foreign companies in cases where their brand was already famous in China before being registered by a Chinese firm seeking to capitalize on its notoriety.

However, Apple Inc. lost a legal battle earlier this year when a Beijing court ruled the company had failed to prove that iPhone was a famous brand in China before a Chinese company applied for the “iPhone” trademark in 2007. The Chinese company uses “iPhone” on its handbags and mobile phone cases.

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Ohio anti-abortion bill awaits Gov. Kasich’s signature Thu, 08 Dec 2016 02:39:31 +0000 With little notice and stunning quickness, anti-abortion legislators in Ohio stand one signature away from enacting the nation’s most stringent abortion law in the hopes of sparking a nationwide reversal of the legal right of women to terminate their pregnancies.

With a day left in their annual session, lawmakers Wednesday delivered to Gov. John Kasich a revived “heartbeat bill,” a ban on abortions from the moment a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as five or six weeks from conception. They left no exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, but abortions would be permitted to save the life of a pregnant woman.

“No person shall knowingly and purposefully perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman,” the bill reads, “with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of the unborn human individual the pregnant woman is carrying and whose fetal heartbeat has been detected.”

The legislation has already drawn promises of legal challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union, even before Kasich decides whether to cast a veto.

The Ohio Senate passed the abortion-ban amendment to an unrelated bill concerning child-abuse reporting on Tuesday afternoon, then passed the bill itself and sent it to the Ohio House, which voted 56-39 on Tuesday night to send the bill to Kasich for his signature.

Within hours, a Midwestern state that had already placed a number of restrictions on abortions opened the door to a new round of legal challenges on an issue likely to be key under President-elect Donald Trump, who will be nominating at least one U.S. Supreme Court justice early in his new administration.

Kasich, who unsuccessfully ran for the GOP presidential nomination this year, has generally favored moderate restrictions on abortion. “I am pro-life with the exceptions of rape, incest and the life of the mother,” he said on CNN in February.

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Ancient astronomers help prove that time is off a bit Thu, 08 Dec 2016 00:59:36 +0000 The latest findings in Earth science are brought to you by ancient astronomers who observed the heavens as much as 2,700 years ago.

Thanks to hundreds of records of lunar and solar eclipses carved in clay tablets and written into dynastic histories, modern scientists have determined that the amount of time it takes for Earth to complete a single rotation on its axis has slowed by 1.8 milliseconds per day over the course of a century, according to a report published Wednesday.

It might not sound significant, but over the course of 2½ millenniums, that time discrepancy adds up to about 7 hours.

In other words, if humanity measured time with an atomic clock that started running back in 700 BC, today that clock would read 7 p.m. when the sun is directly overhead rather than noon.

“There is time and then there is how fast the Earth spins,” said Duncan Agnew, a geophysicist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, who was not involved with the work. “Traditionally those things are closely linked, but they are not the same.”

Our earliest ancestors measured time based on the position of celestial bodies in the sky, such as the rising and setting of the sun or the changing shape of the moon. Scientists refer to this as Universal Time, and it is governed by the dynamic gravitational motions of the Earth, moon and sun.

Terrestrial Time, on the other hand, is measured by clocks and is independent of the laws of physics. Since the 1960s, it has been tracked by exquisitely precise atomic clocks. According to our modern take on Terrestrial Time, there are exactly 86,400 seconds in a day and each second is defined as exactly 9,192,631,770 oscillations of a cesium-133 atom.

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Anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack marked with silence, ovations Thu, 08 Dec 2016 00:26:23 +0000 PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — Thousands observed a moment of silence before fighter jets streaked across the sky during a ceremony Wednesday at Pearl Harbor marking the 75th anniversary of the attack that plunged the United States into World War II and left more than 2,300 service people dead.

The crowd bowed their heads at the precise moment decades ago when Japanese planes began their assault on the U.S. naval base at the harbor. And they stood and clapped when survivors joined active-duty servicemen and women and National Park Service rangers in dedicating wreaths to those killed.

Attendees also gave a lengthy ovation to Adm. Harry Harris of the U.S. Pacific Command when he spoke in favor of standing for the national anthem.

The anniversary is a tribute to “what freedom does when it is faced with fascism,” said Paul Hilliard of the National World War II Museum.

“America went abroad to gain freedom for millions of other people,” said Hilliard, a Marine veteran and one of several dignitaries and officials who presented wreaths for the fallen at a memorial over the sunken hull of USS Arizona. “We are kind of unique. We are an exceptional nation.”

Wednesday’s ceremony started with the USS Halsey sounding its whistle to mark the start of the moment of silence at 7:55 a.m. It ended with F-22 fighter jets flying in formation overhead.


Harris told the crowd the servicemen attacked at Pearl Harbor “engaged the enemy as best they could,” and there is sorrow for those who died. “Yet we are also inspired by their great gift to the world – the gift of freedom itself,” he said.

Harris also said: “You can bet that the men and women we honor today” never failed to stand for the national anthem. The crowd applauded for nearly a minute.

In recent months, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others have knelt through the anthem to protest police brutality and the treatment of minorities – drawing both criticism and acclaim.

Reached later, Pacific Command spokesman Robert Shuford said Harris’ remarks “speak for themselves.”

The ceremony wrapped up with Marines firing a gun salute and the Pacific Fleet band playing taps.

Laura Stoller accompanied her adoptive grandfather and Pearl Harbor survivor Stan VanHoose of Beloit, Wisconsin, to the event. At one point, she watched as crowds jostled for autographs and photos with survivors. “All of these men who for so long didn’t get the recognition they deserve – they’re soaking it up. And it’s so fun to see,” Stoller said.

VanHoose, 96, served on the USS Maryland.

Fellow survivor Jim Downing of Colorado Springs, Colorado, said he returns to Hawaii for the anniversary commemorations to be with his shipmates.

“We get together and have a great time and compare our stories,” he said.

Downing said fear, anger and pride overcame him as Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor. Then a newlywed sailor, he recalled a Japanese plane flying low and slow in his direction as he rushed to his battleship from his home after learning of the attack on the radio.

“When he got the right angle, he banked over, turned his machine guns loose,” Downing, now 103, said in an interview at a Waikiki hotel. “He didn’t bank far enough so it went right over my head.”


The next aviator might have better aim, Downing remembers thinking. And with nowhere to hide, “I was afraid,” he said.

His ship, the USS West Virginia, was hit by nine torpedoes.

“We were sinking, and everything above the water line was on fire,” he said.

Downing said he felt proud while watching sailors balance the capsizing ship by allowing water to seep in. The tactic let the giant battleship slide into mud below.

The West Virginia lost 106 men. Downing, who also served as the ship’s postmaster, spent two hours fighting fires and checking the name tags of the dead so he could write their families personal notes about how they died.

Pearl Harbor events took place across the country Wednesday. In Texas, hundreds of well-wishers applauded World War II veterans George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole during a patriotic ceremony. A tattered U.S. flag that flew at Pearl Harbor was on display at an Ohio museum, and dozens of WWII veterans in the Cincinnati region recounted their experiences for high school students gathered at the Sharonville Convention Center.

President Obama issued a statement saying he and first lady Michelle Obama join Americans in remembering those who gave their lives.

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And now his watch has ended: Actor Peter Vaughan, who played Maester Aemon on ‘Game of Thrones,’ dead at 93 Thu, 08 Dec 2016 00:01:13 +0000 LONDON — Veteran British character actor Peter Vaughan, who played the enigmatic Maester Aemon in “Game of Thrones,” has died aged 93.

Vaughan’s agent Sally Long-Innes says he died Tuesday, surrounded by his family.

Vaughan’s face – if not his name – was familiar to generations of television viewers in Britain and around the world. His best-known roles included criminal Harry Grout in 1970s prison sitcom “Porridge.”

Film appearances included “The Naked Runner,” opposite Frank Sinatra, and “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.”

Like many British actors, he gained wider fame through HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Vaughan played blind scholar Maester Aemon on the hit fantasy series.

Born Peter Ohm in the central England county of Shropshire, Vaughan was married first to the late actress Billie Whitelaw, and then to Lillias Walker, who survives him.

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Broad rally drives Dow, S&P to record highs Wed, 07 Dec 2016 22:16:31 +0000 NEW YORK – The Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500 indexes soared to their biggest gains since the presidential election on Wednesday and set all-time highs. Investors bought stocks that do well in times of faster economic growth, like technology and industrial companies, but they also snapped up stocks that pay large dividends.

Stocks moved steadily higher throughout the day after a mixed open. Phone and real estate companies made the largest gains, but the rally moved into high gear in the afternoon, as airlines, railroads and trucking companies soared.

Investors took the rally in transportation stocks as a sign of optimism about economic growth. Technology and consumer-focused companies also jumped. Biotech drug companies took steep losses after President-elect Donald Trump said he wants to reduce drug prices.

The transportation sector reached an all-time high for the first time in two years. Julian Emanuel, an equity strategist for UBS, said investors were pleased to see that record because they see it as a sign businesses will start spending more, which would bolster economic growth.

“The consumer has really been the engine of the economy,” he said. “The missing piece has been the corporate side, the industrial side.”

The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 297.84 points, or 1.5 percent, to 19,549.62. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 29.12 points, or 1.3 percent, to 2,241.35. The Nasdaq composite recovered from an early loss to rise 60.76 points, or 1.1 percent, to 5,393.76. That was about five points short of its all-time high.

The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks also recovered from an early loss and set its own a record as it gained 11.84 points, or 0.9 percent, to 1,364.51.

U.S. government bond prices rose, sending yields lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.34 percent from 2.39 percent. Bond yields have risen sharply since the summer but have slipped in the last few days.

The lower bond yields have helped stocks that are seen as bond substitutes, like real estate investment trusts. Their big dividends are attractive to investors who want income, so when bond yields fall, investors often turn to those stocks. Industrial real estate company Prologis rose $1.62, or 3.2 percent, to $52.32 and Verizon picked up $1.02, or 2 percent, to $51.38.

AT&T also jumped as a Senate antitrust panel scrutinized its planned $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner, the parent of HBO. Legislators asked if the deal would improve competition and reduce prices for consumers, as the companies say it will. AT&T gained $1.10, or 2.8 percent, to $40.45 and Time Warner edged up 8 cents to $93.98.

A wide array of companies that stand to benefit from faster economic growth also climbed. Home improvement retailer Lowe’s rose $3.94, or 5.4 percent, to $76.40 and truck maker Paccar jumped $3.20, or 5 percent, to $67.63. U.S. Steel added $1.54, or 4.3 percent, to $37.49.

IBM led technology companies higher as it rose $4.44, or 2.8 percent, to $164.79. Hard drive maker Western Digital climbed $5.30, or 8.3 percent, to $69.15 after it extended a patient licensing deal with Samsung.

In an interview with Time magazine, which named him Person of the Year, the president-elect said he wants to reduce drug prices. He did not say how his administration plans to do that. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton campaigned on reducing drug prices, and drug company stocks had rallied since the election as investors felt that was less likely to happen under Trump.

The Nasdaq biotechnology index tumbled 2.9 percent, as those companies make costly medications and might stand to lose the most under tighter price regulations. Amgen lost $3.92, or 2.7 percent, to $141.19 and Vertex Pharmaceuticals sank $2.80, or 3.6 percent, to $75.32.

Abbott Laboratories moved to terminate its purchase of diagnostic test maker Alere. Abbott agreed to buy Alere in February for about $5.8 billion, or $56 per share. But since then, Alere has recalled a key monitoring device and delayed a financial statement, and it’s being investigated over its overseas business. Alere said Abbott’s lawsuit is without merit.

Alere stock dropped $3.19, or 8 percent, to $36.67 and Abbott stock added 6 cents to $38.48.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil lost $1.16, or 2.3 percent, to $49.77 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, slid 93 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $53 a barrel in London. Energy companies traded higher Wednesday, although they rose less than the rest of the market.

European stock indexes jumped as investors anticipated that the European Central Bank will extend its bond-buying stimulus program Thursday. The stimulus is designed to boost growth and inflation. European stock indexes climbed. Germany’s DAX gained 2 percent and the FTSE 100 in Britain rose 1.8 percent. The CAC 40 of France picked up 1.4 percent.

The dollar fell to 113.85 yen from 114.05 yen. The euro rose to $1.0759 from $1.0715.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline lost 3 cents to $1.51 per gallon. Heating oil slipped 2 cents to $1.62 a gallon. Natural gas fell 3 cents to $3.60 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose $7.40 to $1,177.50 an ounce. Silver jumped 47 cents to $17.28 an ounce. Copper dipped 4 cents to $2.64 a pound.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.7 percent and the South Korean Kospi inched up 0.1 percent. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong gained 0.5 percent.

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Search goes on for survivors of Indonesian earthquake Wed, 07 Dec 2016 21:17:32 +0000 MEUREUDU, Indonesia — Rescue workers, soldiers and police combed through the rubble of a devastated town in Indonesia’s Aceh province early Thursday, resuming a search for earthquake survivors that was halted at night by rain and blackouts.

Nearly 100 people died in the shallow and powerful quake that struck northeast Sumatra before dawn on Wednesday. Hundreds were injured and dozens of buildings were destroyed. The worst damage appears to be in Pidie Jaya district near the epicenter, but assessments of the region are still underway.

Scores of rescue personnel were crawling over a market in Meureudu, the hard-hit town, where many shop houses collapsed. One shop owner, Hajj Yusri Abdullah, didn’t hold out much hope of finding survivors. He said nearly two dozen bodies were pulled from the market debris the day before.

Some people spent the night outdoors while thousands of others took refuge in mosques and temporary shelters.

Many were homeless after the magnitude 6.5 quake destroyed or damaged their homes and others were too scared to return home. Killer quakes occur regularly in the region, where many live with the terrifying memory of a giant Dec. 26, 2004, earthquake that struck off Sumatra. The magnitude 9.1 quake triggered a devastating tsunami that killed more than 100,000 Acehnese.

Aceh’s disaster mitigation agency said Thursday the death toll had risen by 1 to 98 and more than 8,000 displaced people were at several shelters in Pidie Jaya. The Indonesian government has declared a two-week emergency period in Aceh and some aid was already reaching hard-hit areas.

Humanitarian organization CARE said it would was leading a joint assessment mission of four international aid organizations.

“It will take several more days to get a full picture of the impact,” CARE’s Indonesia director Helen Vanwel said in a statement. “We know from experience that after an earthquake of such a scale, people urgently need water, shelter, food and medicine,” she said.

The Indonesian Red Cross deployed emergency response teams and announced bank accounts for donations.

Its head of disaster management, Arifin Hadi, said five water trucks had been sent into the quake area. Aid, including hygiene kits, tarpaulins, jerry cans, blankets and family assistance kits, is being distributed, with more to be sent from Jakarta, he said. The International Organization for Migration sent an assessment team to Aceh.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake was centered about 12 miles southeast of Sigli, a town near the northern tip of Sumatra, at a depth of 11 miles. The agency had initially placed the epicenter undersea. It did not generate a tsunami.

Siti Rukiah, 51, a mother of four, was among the many people who took refuge for the night in local mosques. She and about 100 other people from Pante Raja, a seaside village in Pidie Jaya district, fled to Nur Abdullah mosque located on higher ground in a nearby hamlet.

She said the quake felt so powerful she had to grab onto a table to keep from falling down. She was sure a tsunami was coming.

“I’m really scared about a tsunami,” said Rukiah, whose brother and neighbors died in the 2004 disaster. She said she didn’t want to return home “not only because my house is damaged, but I am still afraid an aftershock could cause a tsunami.”

Aceh’s disaster mitigation agency said more than 600 people were injured. The national disaster agency said about 245 buildings were seriously damaged or destroyed in Pidie Jaya and neighboring Bireuen district, including 14 mosques. The rest were mainly dwellings and shop houses. Roads also cracked and power poles toppled over.

The world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia is prone to earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. The 2004 quake and tsunami killed a total of 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Aceh.

John Ebel, professor of earth and environmental sciences at Boston College, said there is a risk of aftershocks that even if relatively weak could cause further damage to buildings, particularly because modern building codes aren’t consistently enforced in Indonesia.

The general hospital in Pidie Jaya was overwhelmed with the numbers of injured, and many people were being treated in tents pitched on its grounds, according to its director Muhammad Reza Faisal.

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Trump’s choice to lead EPA is part of group suing the environmental agency Wed, 07 Dec 2016 20:02:48 +0000 In a move signaling an intention to dismantle President Obama’s climate change and environmental legacy, President-elect Trump will nominate Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of the oil and gas intensive state of Oklahoma, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pruitt has spent much of his energy as attorney general fighting against the agency he will now lead.

Pruit, who has written that the debate on climate change is “far from settled,” joined a coalition of state attorneys general in suing the agency’s Clean Power Plan, the principal Obama-era policy aimed at reducing the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. He has also sued, with fellow state attorneys general, over the EPA’s recently announced regulations trying to curtail the emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from the oil and gas sector.

He has also taken on the administration in other areas, joining other Republican attorneys general in a lawsuit over Obama’s immigration policies.

An ally of the energy industry, Pruitt also came to the defense, along with fellow Alabama attorney general Luther Strange, of oil company ExxonMobil when it fell under investigation by attorneys general from more liberal states seeking information about whether the oil giant failed to disclose material information about climate change.

“We do not doubt the sincerity of the beliefs of our fellow attorneys general about climate change and the role human activity plays in it,” they wrote at the conservative publication National Review. “But we call upon them to press those beliefs through debate, not through governmental intimidation of those who disagree with them.”

In an interview with the Post in September, as a D.C. federal appeals court was preparing to hear arguments over the Clean Power Plan, Pruitt detailed why he had remained a leading opponent of the EPA’s efforts to curb carbon emissions by regulating power plants.

“What concerns the states is the process, the procedures, the authority that the EPA is exerting that we think is entirely inconsistent with its constitutional and statutory authority,” he said at the time.

Agencies such as the EPA, he said, should not be trying to “pinch hit” for Congress.

“This is a unique approach by EPA, whether they want to acknowledge it or not,” he said of the provisions of the Clean Air Act the agency had relied upon to write new regulations.”The overreach is the statutes do no permit [EPA officials] to act in the way they are. They tend to have this approach that the end justifies the means …They tend to justify it by saying this big issue, this is an important issue.”

But he added that’s where Congress should have authority, not EPA. ” This is something from a constitutional and statutory perspective that causes great concern.”

Environmental groups reacted with alarm Wednesday at the nomination.

“Scott Pruitt has a record of attacking the environmental protections that EPA is charged with enforcing. He has built his political career by trying to undermine EPA’s mission of environmental protection,” said Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “Our country needs – and deserves – an EPA Administrator who is guided by science, who respects America’s environmental laws, and who values protecting the health and safety of all Americans ahead of the lobbying agenda of special interests.”

Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that “over the past five years, Pruitt has used his position as Oklahoma’s top prosecutor to sue the EPA in a series of attempts to deny Americans the benefits of reducing mercury, arsenic, and other toxins from the air we breathe; cutting smog that can cause asthma attacks; and protecting our wetlands and streams.”

In 2014, the New York Times reported that Pruitt wrote a letter alleging that the agency overestimated air pollution from natural gas drilling, but that the letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of the state’s largest oil and gas companies.

But industry representatives expressed satisfaction on Wednesday. “The office he headed was present and accounted for in the battle to keep EPA faithful to its statutory authority and respectful of the role of the states in our system of cooperative federalism,” said Scott Segal, head of the policy group at the lobbying and legal firm Bracewell. “Given that we are almost two decades overdue for an overhaul of the Clean Air Act, there is interest on both sides of the aisle to look at that statute.”

The state’s natural gas output accounts for 10 percent of the nation’s overall. For the week ended Oct. 28, there were 73 drilling rigs in operation in the state.

The nomination suggests an extraordinarily tough road ahead for the Clean Power Plan, president Obama’s signature climate policy. However, the precise fate of the regulation most immediately turns on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which has not yet ruled in the lawsuit brought by Pruitt and his fellow attorneys general against the agency Pruitt is now named to lead.

Dismantling the regulation if it survives the courts would not be simple, because the agency has already finalized it – meaning that it would have to go through a public review and comment process.

However, interestingly, many of the Clean Power Plan’s signature objectives appear to have been already realized long before it came into effect. The U.S. is already burning less coal and more natural gas. In 2030, the EPA said in its final Clean Power Plan rule, coal would be reduced to providing 27 percent of the U.S.’s electricity, with natural gas at 33 percent. Yet this very year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas will provide 34 percent of U.S. electricity, and coal 30 percent.

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Thousands of snow geese die after landing in toxic Montana mine pit Wed, 07 Dec 2016 19:38:44 +0000 Snow geese migrate in huge, honking flocks, each bird winter-white except for a beak and wingtips smudged black. A single flock may comprise tens of thousands of birds. When the geese land en masse, bird hunters call it swirl, as though a twister were touching down rather than 4-pound animals.

On Nov. 28, a great flock of snow geese traveling south came upon small body of water in Butte, Mont. They swirled.

This was no ordinary pond, however. It was the 700-acre Berkeley Pit, a former mine now submerged in water as acidic as distilled vinegar. From 1955 until operations ceased in 1982, miners extracted nearly 300 million tons of copper ore from the pit. They left behind an immense crevasse, which filled with water 900 feet deep. Concentrated within the floodwater are arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, copper, iron, zinc and other inorganic compounds.

After it was abandoned, the pit became a federally managed Superfund site. It also became a tourist destination, where visitors observe the mine’s toxic, reddish water for an admission fee of $2. And microorganisms able to survive in the pit became an object of scientific study.

But snow geese, unlike extremophilic green slime, cannot tolerate acid water heavy in metallic compounds. Roughly 10,000 geese landed in the Berkeley Pit at the end of November, turning the water “white with birds,” said a mine official with Montana Resources, which jointly manages the pit with the Atlantic Richfield Company, to the Montana Standard. On Tuesday, investigators could not give an exact measure of how high the death toll would go. But a preliminary estimate, via drone and flyover counts, found thousands of dead birds.

“I can’t underscore enough how many birds were in the Butte area that night,” Mark Thompson, a Montana Resources environmental affairs manager, said to the Associated Press. “Numbers beyond anything we’ve ever experienced in our 21 years of monitoring by several orders of magnitude.”

As it happened this November, it has happened before.

Twenty-one years ago, in November 1995, 342 snow goose carcasses were found floating in the mine pit. High Country News reported at the time that the Atlantic Richfield Company initially disputed the water was to blame. The company pointed to a Colorado State University necropsy of two birds, which suggested the animals had died from eating tainted grain.

The grain defense did not stick. “Postmortems conducted under the auspices of the University of Wyoming later revealed what most people immediately suspected: that the geese had succumbed to the water, which is acidic enough to liquefy a motorboat’s steel propeller, and to its poisonous mineral contents, principally copper, cadmium, and arsenic,” wrote Harper’s in 1996. “In each bird autopsied, the oral cavity, trachea, and esophagus, as well as digestive organs like the gizzard and intestines, were lined with burns and festering sores.”

Because exposure to the pit water does not mean instantaneous death, officials will refine the 2016 toll in coming days. In the week since the birds landed, Butte residents have found dead birds in a Wal-Mart parking lot, on roadsides and outside the city, the Montana Standard reported.

“Trying to get some idea of mortality has been difficult,” said Joe Vranka, the EPA’s Montana Superfund director, to the Billings Gazette.

Due to the dangers that the mine posed to birds, the companies managing the pit had enacted a hazing strategy to scare animals from spending too much time on the water. This included an observation deck, with scopes and spotlights. If spotters saw an incoming flock, employees would fire off shotguns or loud rifles to deter the animals from coming closer. Around the pit are devices called Phoenix Wailers, speakers which emit predator cries and loud electronic noises. Until November, the effort seemed to be working; the EPA recorded 14 bird fatalities at the Berkeley Pit between 2010 and 2013.

Montana Resource’s Thompson told the Associated Press the company “did incredible things to save a lot of birds.” New deterrents, such as unmanned aircraft, may be added to the hazing program.

There are a few early theories as to what brought about November’s goose devastation. A storm may have driven birds to look for an unfrozen place to land, and the Berkeley pit was one of the only nearby options.

It is also possible that unseasonably warm weather delayed the southward migration, University of Montana Western ornithologist Jack Kirkley told the Montana Standard. At the same time, snow geese flocks are booming. The overall total population rose from about three million animals 30 years ago to 15 million. Driven to find new habitats, birds have been seen in areas where they were historically scarce.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which was unable to rely to a request for comment from The Washington Post early Wednesday, is reviewing the incident. The Montana Standard reported that the EPA will issue fines if the managing companies are found negligent.

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Conservative groups, foreign leaders flock to Trump’s D.C. hotel Wed, 07 Dec 2016 19:08:14 +0000 WASHINGTON — On Tuesday night there was a conference honoring top donors of the Heritage Foundation, filling the main ballroom. On Wednesday an anniversary celebration for the Kingdom of Bahrain is scheduled. And next week there will be a Hannukah Party hosted by Jewish leaders and the embassy of Azerbaijan.

Although Barack Obama remains president until Jan. 20, the political winds in Washington have shifted and they are blowing business into the expansive ballroom at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Donald Trump’s D.C. hotel.

Although Trump apparently sold his public stock positions over the summer, the president-elect remains the majority owner of the $212 million hotel as it does business with foreign diplomats and lobbying organizations. Ethics experts say the arrangement constitutes a conflict of interest and may violate the Constitution when Trump becomes president.

Trump says his grown children will run his companies by then.

But for now the D.C. business is good, something Trump told the New York Times last month, saying the hotel “will be probably a more valuable asset now than it was before, OK? The brand is certainly a hotter brand than it was before.”

After the election, the hotel’s general manager, Mickael Damelincourt, said the entire building was booked for the inauguration festivities. “We have no space. I wish my hotel was 10 times bigger for that weekend,” he said.

No numbers are available but business beyond the Jan. 20 inauguration appears to be picking up as well. The President’s Club event for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative D.C. think tank, featured a keynote speech from Vice President-elect Mike Pence and enough $1,000 donors to fill the hotel’s 13,200-square-foot “Presidential Ballroom.”

The Embassy of Bahrain sent out invitations to guests for a celebration planned for Wednesday afternoon to mark “the 45th national day of the Kingdom of Bahrain and the 17th anniversary of his majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s accession to the throne,” according to a copy obtained by Politico.

Doing business with the Bahrainian government drew sharp criticism from House Rep. James McGovern, D.-Mass., who wrote Trump Wednesday saying Bahrain “is widely recognized as an increasingly repressive monarchy that has repeatedly imprisoned and tortured peaceful critics” and asking Trump to reconsider.

That letter follows others written from Democrats in Congress to the General Services Administration, which owns the building where the hotel is located, to address potential conflicts of interest that arise once Trump becomes president. The agency says it will work with the Trump Organization to address any potential issues.

Officials for the Trump Organization have repeatedly said the hotel will follow all applicable rules and regulations, and so far there are no signs of a change in course.

On Dec. 14 the embassy of Azerbaijan – a nation where a five-star Trump-branded hotel sits unfinished – plans to host a Hannukkah party along with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an advocacy group working to strengthen American-Israeli relations, as reported earlier by the Jerusalem Post.

A view of the lobby of the Trump International Hotel. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

A view of the lobby of the Trump International Hotel. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Malcolm Hoenlein, chief executive of the Jewish group, told the Associated Press that the event had nothing to do with gaining Trump’s favor.

“Until January 20, he’s a private citizen so I don’t think the conflict issue comes in,” Hoenlein said. He added, “Do you think the president-elect knows who rents rooms for two hours?”

Business at Trump’s hotel has drawn the attention and likely some income from luxury competitors according to the District’s top marketing and tourism official, Elliott Ferguson, president and chief executive of Destination D.C.

“I think they would be doing well anyway for the inauguration because of its location, right there on Pennsylvania Avenue,” he said. “But I do think we’ve seen some of the other [hotels] in the city feeling the effects to some degree.”

Some recent clients of the hotel hold conservative positions that may align with Trump’s. One of the first groups to hold an event there after the election was the Young America’s Foundation, which aims to inspire youth to support individual freedom, strong national defense, free enterprise and “traditional values.”

The group held its annual banquet for about 300 students there Nov. 12, said Emily Jashinsky, the group’s spokeswoman. She said the plans were made about a year earlier, before the hotel was open. Among the foundation’s most important political issues is protecting free speech on campus and she said she hoped the Trump administration would be supportive.

“We would love to see President-elect Trump facilitating free speech on college campuses A lot of our students’ speech is silenced on a daily basis. Anything the president-elect can to address that we would welcome,” she said.

Ethics experts have raised concerns that Trump could use the presidency to provide favors or assistance to clients or partners of his company, but Jashinsky said she had no expectation that holding an event at Trump’s hotel might curry any kind support from his administration.

“We hope that’s an issue he will tackle because he’s interested in it,” she said.

If staying in a Trump property has become a political statement so too has deciding not to stay at one. The Cleveland Cavaliers became the fourth NBA team this week to dodge a stay at a Trump property when members of the team including LeBron James opted out of a reservation at Trump Soho in New York. The team made other accommodations.

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 14:21:43 +0000
That overhead bin is now going to cost United passengers Wed, 07 Dec 2016 19:02:26 +0000 Gone are the days of the free sandwiches, the complimentary pillows, the headphones that didn’t cost $5. The in-flight comforts that were once a given are now nothing more than a nostalgic reminder of decades past.

Out went the free checked bag, in came the fees for those few extra inches of leg room. Want to make sure you sit next to your children on a flight? On some airlines, there’s a fee for that.

Now, on United Airlines, you won’t necessarily get the use of an overhead bin without paying more money.

The overhead bin: “one of the last sacred conveniences of air travel,” as an angry Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., put it Sunday as he denounced the move.

Of course, the airlines, when they come up with a new fee for something that was once free, always say that’s not what they’re doing. They’re just creating a fare tier that does not include it.

As part of the company’s new pricing tier, Basic Economy, passengers who purchase the airline’s cheapest fares will only be allowed one personal item that must fit under a seat. Additionally, customers will not be assigned seats until the day of departure, meaning people on the same ticket could be separated.

The move marks the first time a large U.S. airline limits low-fare customers to one carry-on bag that fits under a seat, Reuters reported. The company expects such fare initiatives to add $1 billion to its annual operating income by 2020, as more customers pay to check luggage or select higher fares for two carry-on bags.

The continual accretion of extra fees has led passengers to ask: What will airlines begin to charge for next? Cushions? Oxygen masks?Shutterstock photo

The steady accretion of extra fees has led some passengers to ask: What will they charge for next? Cushions? Oxygen masks? Shutterstock photo

Of course, next to cable providers, airlines are the companies Americans love the most to hate. Many on Twitter saw United’s new tier as a mere invention.

And the constant nickel-and-diming has led passengers to ask: What will airlines begin to charge for next? Cushions? Oxygen masks?

“Maybe it will be extra for sitting soon,” tweeted one disgruntled flyer.

“Seriously!?! When will it end?” said Sandra Cochrane. “Which airline will join next?”

From WHO radio: “How long before we have to pay for oxygen? Discuss.”

“We need to boycott United Airlines,” tweeted a woman identifying herself as Sandra Lespinasse.

Schumer called the proposed fare structure “one of the most restrictive policies on airline passengers we have seen in a long time.”

“The overhead bin is one of the last sacred conveniences of air travel and the fact that United Airlines – and potentially others – plan to take that convenience away unless you pay up is really troubling,” Schumer wrote. “It seems like each year, airlines devise a new, ill-conceived plan to hit consumers and it has simply got to stop.”

The clamor sent United Airlines marketers into a frenzy, responding to frustrated customers on Twitter to clarify the policy. The phrase “We are not charging a fee for overhead bin space” was repeated dozens of times on the airline’s account in response to complaints.

United explained that this is all for the benefit of passengers. United’s President Scott Kirby told Reuters that surveys indicated travelers and employees do not like scrambling to store carry-on bags in the limited overhead bins.

The purpose of the new fare structure is to create more options for customers, according to the company’s website. The new fares, which will be comparable to the low fares the airline now charges for economy cabin, will begin selling in the first quarter of 2017 for travel starting in the second quarter, according to Reuters.

It was not immediately clear whether United’s announcement would prompt rivals to make similar moves. Airlines have previously copied each other on pricing strategies, such as adding fees for checked luggage.

For some, the announcement called for a new approach to flying: Wear plenty of layers.

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 15:41:06 +0000
Spread by trade and climate, bugs butcher America’s forests Wed, 07 Dec 2016 18:54:06 +0000 PETERSHAM, Mass. – In a towering forest of centuries-old eastern hemlocks, it’s easy to miss one of the tree’s nemeses. No larger than a speck of pepper, the Hemlock woolly adelgid spends its life on the underside of needles sucking sap, eventually killing the tree.

The bug is one in an expanding army of insects draining the life out of forests from New England to the West Coast. Aided by global trade, a warming climate and drought-weakened trees, the invaders have become one of the greatest threats to biodiversity in the United States.

Scientists say they already are driving some tree species toward extinction and are causing billions of dollars a year in damage – and the situation is expected to worsen.

“They are one of the few things that can actually eliminate a forest tree species in pretty short order – within years,” said Harvard University ecologist David Orwig as he walked past dead hemlocks scattered across the university’s 5.8-square-mile research forest in Petersham.

This scourge is projected to put 63 percent of the country’s forest at risk through 2027 and carries a cost of several billion dollars annually in dead tree removal, declining property values and timber industry losses, according to a peer-reviewed study this year in Ecological Applications.

That examination, by more than a dozen experts, found that hundreds of pests have invaded the nation’s forests, and that the emerald ash borer alone has the potential to cause $12.7 billion in damage by 2020.

Insect pests, some native and others from as far away as Asia, can undermine forest ecosystems. For example, scientists say, several species of hemlock and almost 20 species of ash could nearly go extinct in the coming decades. Such destruction would do away with a critical sponge to capture greenhouse gas emissions, shelter for birds and insects and food sources for bears and other animals. Dead forests also can increase the danger of catastrophic wildfires.

Today’s connected world enables foreign invaders to cross oceans in packing materials or on garden plants, and then reach American forests. Once here, they have rapidly expanded their ranges.


While all 50 states have been attacked by pests, experts say forests in the Northeast, California, Colorado and parts of the Midwest, North Carolina and Florida are especially at risk. Forests in some states, like New York, are close to major trade routes, while others, like in Florida, house trees especially susceptible to pests. Others, like New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine, are experiencing record warming.

“The primary driver of the invasive pest problem is globalization, which includes increased trade and travel,” Andrew Liebhold, a Forest Service research entomologist in West Virginia. “But there are cases where climate change can play an important role. As climates warm, species are able to survive and thrive in more northerly areas.”

The emerald ash borer, first found in 2002 in Michigan, is now in 30 states and has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees. The gypsy moth, discovered in 1869 in Boston, is now found in 20 states and has reached the northern Great Lakes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Native bark beetles have taken advantage of warming conditions and a long western drought to rapidly range from Mexico into Canada. An outbreak in Colorado spread across 3.4 million acres of forest from 1996 to 2013, according to the Forest Service, and in California 100 million-plus trees have died in the Sierra Nevada since 2010.

Though small, bugs can easily overwhelm big trees with sheer numbers.

“They drain the resin that otherwise defends the tree,” said Matt Ayres, a Dartmouth College ecologist who worked on the Ecological Applications study. “Then, the tree is toast.”


Forest pests in the era of climate change are especially concerning for timberland owners, said Jasen Stock, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association.

“We’re dealing with pests we’ve never been around before, never had to manage around before,” Stock said. “It’s something we’re going to be dealing with forever.”

Urban forests, too, are at risk from outbreaks. In Worcester, Massachusetts, a city of about 180,000, an Asian longhorned beetle infestation in 2008 resulted in the removal of 31,000 trees.

“You would leave for work with a tree-lined street, and you come back and there was not a tree in sight,” recalled Ruth Seward, executive director of the nonprofit Worcester Tree Initiative. Most trees have since been replaced.

Though trees can die off quickly, the impact of pests on a forest ecosystem can take decades to play out. Dead hemlocks, for example, are giving way to black birch and other hardwoods. Gone are favorite nesting spots for two types of warblers, as well as the bark that red squirrels love to eat, Harvard’s Orwig said. The birds won’t die off, he said, but their ranges will be restricted.

“It’s a great example of how one species can make a difference in the forest,” Orwig said.

As pests proliferate, scientists seek to contain them.

Among the methods are bio controls, in which bugs that feed upon pests in their native lands are introduced here. Of the 30 states with emerald ash borer outbreaks, the USDA says 24 have released wasp species to combat them. Some scientists worry about introducing another pest; others complain they aren’t effective because they can’t eat enough of the fast-breeding pests to make a difference.

“With all bio controls, the hope is to create balance – balance between predator and prey,” said Ken Gooch, forest health program director for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Genetic modifications also offer promise.

On a research farm in Syracuse, New York, are rows of 10-foot chestnut trees tweaked with a wheat gene to make them resistant to chestnut blight, a fungus that came from Japan more than a century ago and killed millions of trees. Genetic engineering could likewise be applied to fight insects, said William Powell, a State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry professor directing the chestnut research.

An alternative strategy, also a slow one, is to plant trees 50 or 100 miles away from their normal range so they can escape pests, or adapt to a more favorable climate, said Steven Strauss, a professor of forest biotechnology at Oregon State University.

“Mother Nature knows best,” he said. “It’s assisted migration.”

To stop the next pest from entering the country, researchers like Gary M. Lovett, of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York, propose measures such as switching from solid wood shipping material that can harbor insects and restricting shrub and tree imports.

Nonetheless, Lovett said new pests are inevitable. “We have this burgeoning global trade,” he said, “so we will get a lot more of these.”

Whittle reported from Portland, Maine. Associated Press writer Michael Hill in Syracuse, New York, contributed to this report.

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 19:48:16 +0000
Manatee rescued off Cape Cod swims to another unusual spot Wed, 07 Dec 2016 16:45:32 +0000 FALMOUTH, Mass. — The pregnant manatee rescued off Massachusetts’ Cape Cod and released off Florida’s Atlantic coast is now in another unusual place – the Bahamas.

The Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut reported this week that the 800-pound female manatee dubbed Washburn has been electronically tracked to the islands, about 350 miles from where she was released Nov. 1.

A Sea to Shore Alliance scientist says just as it was unusual to find a manatee off Massachusetts, it’s also rare to find one near the Bahamas.

She says Washburn “has us on our toes wondering where she’ll go next.”

The manatee was rescued off Washburn Island in Falmouth on Sept. 22 because of concerns that northern waters would get too cold.

The Florida manatee is typically found in the coastal waters and rivers of the southeastern United States and Gulf of Mexico. It can move freely between salinity extremes including freshwater, brackish and marine habitats.

Washburn underwent a month of rehabilitation at Mystic Aquarium before being flown to Florida in October.

]]> 0 Wed, 07 Dec 2016 11:45:32 +0000
School district to stop using textbook that says some Connecticut slaves were treated like family Wed, 07 Dec 2016 16:04:00 +0000 NORWALK, Conn. — A social studies textbook that says some slaves in Connecticut were cared for like family members is being pulled from fourth-grade classrooms in Norwalk.

Norwalk public school officials said they began reviewing the book, “The Connecticut Adventure,” after a parent raised concerns last month about its depiction of slavery.

The district’s chief academic officer, Michael Conner, said in a letter to parents that the textbook minimizes the impact and implications of slavery, Hearst Connecticut Media reported.

The book by John W. Ifkovic was published in 2001 by Gibbs Smith Publishing. In a chapter on slavery in Connecticut, the book says, “Compared to other colonies, Connecticut did not have many slaves. Some people owned one or two slaves. They often cared for and protected them like members of the family. They taught them to be Christian, and sometimes to read and write.”

Schools officials said hundreds of the books will be removed in January.

A district spokeswoman, Brenda Wilcox Williams, said the 250-page book has been in use for several years at 10 of the 12 Norwalk elementary schools. Concerns about the book were brought to district officials Nov. 29, and within a week they announced the decision to stop using the book.

“When it was brought to our attention it was pretty clear it wasn’t consistent with our core beliefs and values,” Williams said. “We felt it was important to respond quickly as a result of that.”

]]> 0 Wed, 07 Dec 2016 11:04:00 +0000
Pakistani plane crashes with more than 40 aboard Wed, 07 Dec 2016 13:24:31 +0000 A Pakistan International Airlines passenger plane with more than 40 people aboard crashed Wednesday shortly after taking off in northern Pakistan, authorities said.

The PIA plane had departed from Chitral, near the Afghan border about 175 miles northwest of Islamabad, when it lost contact with ground controllers.

Rescue teams were dispatched to a mountainous region believed to be the scene of the crash, but there were no immediate details on the cause or possible casualties, the spokesman for Pakistan’s civil aviation agency, Pervez George, told the Reuters news agency.

PIA said about 40 people were aboard the Islamabad-bound flight, but civil aviation officials said there were 47 passengers and crew.

]]> 0 Wed, 07 Dec 2016 08:33:51 +0000
Pearl Harbor anniversary: U.S. rose from ashes of ‘infamy’ to become a global superpower Wed, 07 Dec 2016 04:22:41 +0000 SAN DIEGO — Pearl Harbor wasn’t a defeat, Stuart Hedley insists. It was an eye-opener.

Hedley, the president of a Pearl Harbor survivors group in San Diego, turned 95 in October, which means he was 20 when the West Virginia, the battleship on which he was stationed, was hit by a torpedo and badly damaged. He still remembers a lot of the details and shares them regularly in talks at schools and in front of civic groups.

“Let me tell you,” he said. “The majority of people today don’t even have the slightest idea what happened there.”

Wednesday marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese aerial attack that pushed the United States into World War II. Except for Hawaii, where the surprise attack happened — and where more than a week of anniversary events are planned this year — few communities have cared as much as San Diego about keeping the memory of that horrific day vibrant and relevant.

San Diego is a place — maybe the only place — that still has an active local chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. San Diego is where the USS Midway Museum holds an annual Pearl Harbor Day ceremony.

And it’s where the dock landing ship Pearl Harbor — the first Navy vessel to be named after the attack — is based. San Diegans helped persuade military brass to swallow their pride and use the moniker. The Navy doesn’t like naming ships after lost battles. But Pearl Harbor over the years has come to represent something more than loss.

A small boat rescues seamen from the USS West Virginia in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941. About 2,400 U.S. service members and civilians were killed in the attack.

A small boat rescues seamen from the USS West Virginia in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941. About 2,400 U.S. service members and civilians were killed in the attack. (U.S. Navy via AP)

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the first wave of a strike force of 350 fighters, torpedo planes and bombers launched from six aircraft carriers that had traveled 12 days across the Pacific Ocean, undetected, to get within striking distance.

They zeroed in on Battleship Row, destroying or damaging 19 U.S. battleships, cruisers, destroyers and auxiliary ships, including the Arizona, which blew up when a bomb crashed through the deck and detonated in a powder magazine. Hedley, who was on the West Virginia docked nearby, remembers seeing dozens of bodies fly through the air.

Fifteen other ships were damaged or destroyed, and the water surrounding them was soon covered in burning oil. Hedley said he dove under the building-high flames toward shore. “I knew how to swim, but not underwater,” Hedley said. “I swam underwater that day.”

Roused on a sleepy Sunday morning, their ammunition locked away in storage sheds, U.S. service members fought back as best they could.

Gordon Jones was at Kaneohe Bay that day. Now 94 and living in Chula Vista, the former aircraft instrument technician recalled how angry everybody was in the aftermath. “We hadn’t heard anything about any war starting,” he said.

The attack lasted about 75 minutes. It killed 2,400 Americans. A day later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt got Congress’ approval to declare war, famously calling what happened in Hawaii “a date which will live in infamy.”

In his new book, “Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness,” New York writer Craig Nelson argues that the nation we live in today was born not on the Fourth of July but at Pearl Harbor.

“The attack on American soil galvanized and united a United States torn apart by partisan squabbling and helped Americans to start thinking of themselves as citizens of the country and of the world,” Nelson wrote. “Being forced to wage war on two oceans and three continents meant an end to America’s Great Depression — 1933’s unemployment rate of 24.9 percent became 1942’s rate of 1.2 percent — as well as a transformation of the country from a timid and withholding isolationist into a global superpower.”

One of the things Nelson and his research team examined was archives of oral histories. “There’s almost nothing with any specific detail when the veterans are interviewed in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s,” Nelson said. “They didn’t talk about it. They were traumatized, but (post-traumatic stress disorder) was something you just got over. You got on with your life.”

That changed after the Pearl Harbor survivors started getting together for reunions and then formed local associations. They came to know one another not just by name, but by where they were that morning. It wasn’t Joe Smith; it was Joe Smith from the Oklahoma. In this way, they positioned themselves over and over on the stage of a drama that defined their lives.

When they were together, they could talk about how the Japanese bullets clanged off metal and sizzled through water. What the mixture of burning oil and flesh smelled like. How shocking it was, in the days after, to walk by boxes marked “Body Parts.” And how lucky they felt to have survived.

They became recognizable by their uniforms: Hawaiian shirts and white slacks. And they started going out into the community, to schools and libraries and civic meetings, to share their stories.

Pearl Harbor survivor Stuart Hedley, 95, says he dove from the battleship USS West Virginia 75 years ago and swam to shore underwater to avoid building-high flames.

Pearl Harbor survivor Stuart Hedley, 95, says he dove from the battleship USS West Virginia 75 years ago and swam to shore underwater to avoid building-high flames. (Misael Virgen/San Diego Union-Tribune via TNS)

On a recent Monday evening, Hedley drove from his home in San Diego’s Clairemont area to the Admiral Baker Golf Course west of Allied Gardens. In the clubhouse, he gave a talk to a group of about a dozen active and retired social studies teachers. He talked about seeing the Arizona explode, about finding one of his friends cut in half by a sheet of flying glass, about how he’s come to believe that if the leaders of countries want to wage war, they should all get in a ring and fight it out themselves and “not send millions of young men to their deaths.”

When the Pearl Harbor was put into service on May 30, 1998, about 5,000 people attended the ceremony at North Island Naval Air Station. Among them was Jones, the retired Kaneohe Bay aircraft instrument technician.

He and other local Pearl Harbor survivors had spent 15 years trying to persuade the Navy to name a ship after the attack. Jones wrote more than 60 letters. The reply was always the same: “We have more names than we do ships, but we will consider you in the future.”

Between the lines, what the survivors read is that the Navy wasn’t interested in naming anything after the military disaster. To the survivors, though, remembering it was the whole point. How else could the nation avoid a bloody repeat? “Remember Pearl Harbor” was only half of the association’s motto. The other half: “Keep America Alert.”

After the survivors won the argument and the 610-foot-long dock landing ship was stationed in San Diego, Jones often showed up pier-side to wave goodbye when it left on deployments, and to wave hello when it returned. “Hey, Jonesy!” crew members shouted at him. He waved back. He once went as a guest on the ship when it sailed back from Hawaii.

Ask Jones about all that now, and his brow furrows. “I did that?” Like many of the survivors, his memory isn’t what it used to be.

But the connection between the ship and the men, between the ship and what happened 75 years ago, remains strong. There’s a silver service on board from the Raleigh, a cruiser that was hit with a Japanese torpedo and a bomb during the attack but suffered no loss of life. The ship’s anti-aircraft batteries were credited with shooting down five Japanese planes.

That’s just one of several Pearl Harbor artifacts on board the ship, Cmdr. Ted Essenfeld said. He acknowledged the awkwardness of having a ship named after a lost battle, but the crew has embraced the larger message. On baseball hats for the Pearl Harbor is an image of a phoenix rising.

At least six San Diego Pearl Harbor survivors are planning to go to Hawaii for the commemoration ceremonies, which started Thursday. A couple of dozen sons and daughters and other relatives of survivors from San Diego are going too, along with civilian survivors.

The emotional high point of the trip figures to be Wednesday morning at Kilo Pier for a Remembrance Day event that begins at 7:45 a.m., around the time Japanese planes began strafing and bombing the island. There will be speeches and music. The survivors, many of them in wheelchairs, will be front and center.

This may be the last major gathering for many of them, but people have been saying that for at least 25 years, and the former servicemen always seem to rally themselves, just as they did on that Sunday morning so many years ago.

“It means a lot to me to be there because I was part of the men who were lost,” said Ray Chavez, who lives in Poway and, at age 104, is believed to be the oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor. He was on board the Condor as a quartermaster in charge of navigation during the attack.

“The only difference is I lived and they died,” he said. “It makes me feel like I’m seeing old friends. It’s an honor.”

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 09:01:21 +0000
Trump’s national security chief fuels fake-news fears Wed, 07 Dec 2016 03:50:41 +0000 WASHINGTON — On issues of national security and intelligence, no one is likely to have more influence in Donald Trump’s White House than retired Gen. Michael T. Flynn.

Yet Flynn, Trump’s incoming national security adviser, has gained prominence in Republican politics by fueling conspiracy theories and Islamophobic rhetoric that critics warn could create serious distractions – or alienate allies and embolden enemies – if it continues.

“His job is to ensure that the White House is focused at all times on all of the threats that the United States faces abroad,” said Julianne Smith, a former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. She said she was “deeply troubled” by a Flynn tendency to promote fake news stories on his Twitter feed.

“You don’t want to have a distracted national security adviser,” said Smith, who now directs the strategy and statecraft program at the Center for a New American Security.

She was among several national security experts who raised concerns Tuesday about Flynn’s willingness to share bad intelligence on a social media feed as he prepares to move to the West Wing.

Flynn served until 2014 as the head of U.S. military intelligence. Although he left that job over disputes with the Obama administration over policy and his management of the Defense Intelligence Agency, he is widely regarded as a top intelligence officer, a job that requires an understanding of the power of disinformation.

The issue of sharing fake news was highlighted when Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, tweeted about the false idea that prompted a shooting at a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor. He had been promoting a conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton’s allies had been operating a secret pedophilia ring in the restaurant and noted it would remain a story until “proven to be false.”

Vice President-elect Mike Pence acknowledged Tuesday that the younger Flynn was helping his father with scheduling and administrative items during the presidential transition but told CNN “that’s no longer the case.”

Asked repeatedly whether a security clearance was requested, Pence refused to answer directly. “Whatever the appropriate paperwork was to assist him in that regard, Jake, I’m sure was taking place,” he said.

Trump’s team did not clarify whether Michael G. Flynn’s departure from Trump’s transition team was related to the tweets.

Less than a week before the election, the elder Flynn tweeted a link to a story that falsely claimed Clinton emails contained proof of money laundering and sex crimes with children, among other illegal activities. The incoming national security adviser called the baseless story a “must read” and instructed his followers: “U decide.”

Flynn also promoted conspiracy theorists, some of them white supremacists, throughout the campaign even as he emerged as Trump’s highest profile national security adviser.

He encouraged his followers to read a book by Mike Cernovich, whose website has suggested Clinton’s campaign chairman was part of a “sex cult with connections to human trafficking.” Flynn also tagged white nationalist Jared Wyand, whose website is popular with followers of the white nationalist movement that calls itself the “alt-right.”

Flynn’s appointment is not subject to Senate confirmation.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Tuesday that Flynn’s willingness to promote fake news “raises profound questions about his suitability for this important position.”

Trump’s team did not respond to questions about Flynn’s social media activity. Pence praised Flynn more broadly on Tuesday, even as he distanced the incoming administration from Flynn’s son.

“We are so grateful and honored to have Gen. Flynn as our nominee for national security adviser. He brings an extraordinary wealth of experience,” Pence said.

The role of national security adviser has varied by administration, but usually centers on coordinating the policy positions of the secretaries of state and defense, the attorney general and other members of a president’s team.

It is an especially important position because of the national security adviser’s access to the president in the West Wing of the White House. Flynn’s office will be steps away from the Oval Office, proximity that allows him to act as a gatekeeper on a wide range of issues, including matters of war and peace as well as diplomacy and intelligence. Flynn, who turns 58 this month, will also oversee the National Security Council, a White House department that has grown to about 400 people involved in making policy recommendations.

“If the national security adviser is going to be the direct conduit between the president and the national security world, of course it’s a concern that that adviser is being taken in by conspiracy theories and fake news,” said Tom Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Whoever has the president’s ear on international affairs, Nichols said, should have “a firm grip on what’s true and what’s false.”

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 00:13:43 +0000
Stopgap bill boosts war funding, puts $170 million toward Flint water crisis Wed, 07 Dec 2016 03:17:34 +0000 WASHINGTON — Republicans controlling Congress Tuesday unveiled $10 billion in supplemental war funding and $4 billion more for disaster relief for Louisiana and other states as key additions to must-pass legislation to keep the government running into next spring.

The bill would also deliver $170 million in long-delayed help for Flint, Michigan, to fix its lead-tainted water system.

The legislation would prevent the government from shutting down this weekend and buy several months for the new Congress and incoming Trump administration to wrap up more than $1 trillion worth of unfinished agency budget bills.

Democrats complained the GOP measure shortchanged New York City by giving it just $7 million, rather than the $35 million requested, to cover police overtime and other security costs for President-elect Donald Trump, who lives in midtown Manhattan. And they complained that a provision to help retired Appalachian coal miners keep their health benefits for a few months was woefully inadequate.

The bill attracted attention as the final legislative locomotive to leave the station before Congress closes shop this year. Nothing else on Capitol Hill’s agenda had the power to tow other unfinished legislation into law.

The White House and mainstream Republicans were denied in a bid to revive the Export-Import Bank’s ability to approve export financing deals exceeding $10 million. But the trucking lobby appeared poised to win permanent relief from recent Transportation Department rules mandating longer rest breaks for long-haul carriers.

Democrats complained about a proposal to help speed a congressional waiver required next year to confirm retired Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense. Mattis would otherwise be ineligible to serve because of a law that requires a seven-year wait for former members of the military to serve in the post. A late change aimed at mollifying Democrats would maintain the 60-vote filibuster threshold to deliver the waiver.

One major dispute centered on protecting health care benefits for about 16,000 retired coal miners facing the loss of coverage on Dec. 31.

The measure had divided coal-state Republicans. Several supported longer-term legislation tackling the loss of health care, but GOP leaders – including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky – were wary of bailing out unionized workers.

McConnell said Tuesday that the temporary health care help for miners would be part of the spending bill. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., protested that the fix would last just a few months and vowed to push for a permanent solution.

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 00:19:24 +0000
Lebanese women protest law benefiting rapists Wed, 07 Dec 2016 02:57:55 +0000 BEIRUT — A dozen Lebanese women, dressed as brides in white wedding dresses stained with fake blood and bandages, gathered Tuesday outside government buildings in Lebanon’s capital to protest a law that allows a rapist to get away with his crime if he marries the survivor.

The law, in place since the late 1940s in Lebanon, is currently being discussed in parliament after a lawmaker called for it to be repealed.

Standing before a banner that reads: “White won’t cover rape,” the activists are taking advantage of a reinvigorated Lebanese political life following parliament’s election of a president after a two-and-half-year paralysis. They are calling on lawmakers who meet Wednesday to discuss the law to repeal it altogether.

“If they don’t put themselves in our shoes and feel what we feel, nothing will change,” said Hayam Baker, one of the protesters, dressed in a white gown and leaning on crutches. Baker said she was sexually harassed by a male nurse several years ago as she lay in a hospital bed recovering from a life-threatening injury.

“Imagine if he had raped me?” Baker said. “If my children ask how did I meet their father, what do I say? ‘I married the person who raped me!’ “

After years of campaigning against articles dealing with violence against women, activists said they are optimistic they may be able to change them.

The law states that rapists are punishable by up to seven years. If the survivor is a person with a special need, physical or mental, the penalty is increased. Article 522 then added that if the violator marries the survivor, criminal prosecution is suspended.

“We reject this violation of women regardless of their age, background, environment, whether they have special needs or the circumstances of the rape,” said Ghida Anani, head of Abaad, a local NGO campaigning against the law.

Some supporters of the law argue that the marriage will salvage the honor of the woman and her family. During parliament discussions, some lawmakers proposed amending it and leaving the marriage option as a choice for families, Anani said.

“This is like saying the victim is a victim twice, a daily victim because she has to share her life with a person that violated her, and is hence raped every day,” she said.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 21:57:55 +0000
Refrigerator possible source of Oakland warehouse fire Wed, 07 Dec 2016 02:38:07 +0000 OAKLAND, Calif. — Investigators said Tuesday a warehouse fire in Oakland that killed 36 people did not appear to have been set intentionally and may have been caused by a refrigerator or other electrical appliance.

Details about a possible cause emerged as fire crews nearly completed their search for bodies in the most lethal building fire in the U.S. in more than a decade. The death toll remained at 36 and was not expected to go higher.

Tearful family members visited the scene and exchanged hugs hours after the founder of the arts collective that used the warehouse stood near the gutted building and said he was “incredibly sorry.”

“Everything that I did was to make this a stronger and more beautiful community and to bring people together,” Derick Ion Almena told the “Today Show” on NBC.

Almena said he was at the site to put his face and his body in front of the scene, but he deflected blame for the blaze, saying he signed a lease for the building that “was to city standards, supposedly.”

The fire broke out during a dance party Friday night in the cluttered warehouse. It had been converted to artists’ studios and illegal living spaces, and former residents said it was a death trap of piled wood, furniture, snaking electrical cords and only two exits.

A refrigerator was a potential source of the fire, but it was too soon to say for sure, said Jill Snyder, special agent in charge of the San Francisco office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Snyder said investigators were looking at “anything electrical” on the first floor of the warehouse near the origin of the blaze.

“We have no indication that this was intentionally set,” she said.

]]> 0 Tue, 06 Dec 2016 22:33:08 +0000
China Daily newspaper urges leaders to take low-key approach to Trump Wed, 07 Dec 2016 02:13:12 +0000 The Communist Party’s flagship newspaper is urging Chinese leaders to keep cool heads and play the adult should Donald Trump continue to test ties in the run up to his inauguration as president next month.

A commentary published in the People’s Daily overseas edition on Tuesday said China must remain calm in response to “waves” of criticism after Trump announced his protocol-breaking chat with the president of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a province. The country had learned from decades of interaction with Washington, according to the front-page piece, which was headlined, “Handling Variables in China-U.S. Relations With Strategic Composure.”

“Some would argue that Trump’s out-of-the-line talk and behavior was meant to poke at China, and that the Chinese should retaliate. Otherwise he might think China is a soft persimmon, easy to pinch,” the commentary said. But the country “doesn’t throw a tantrum to strive for only temporary superiority, or to gain immediate gratification.”

The piece offered insight into China’s measured response since Trump’s Friday telephone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, which he followed up with tweets knocking Beijing over currency and trade policies. The call with Tsai flouted nearly four decades of U.S. policy against recognizing Taiwan’s sovereignty or allowing direct communication between top leaders.

While China lodged a “solemn representation” and urged U.S. authorities to adhere to the so-called one-China principle, it stopped short of criticizing Trump. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi appeared to blame Tsai for the call, describing it as “little trick pulled off by Taiwan,” even though Trump advisers have said the call was planned in advance.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 22:36:01 +0000
Drowsy drivers’ crash risk put at same level as drunken driving Wed, 07 Dec 2016 01:48:18 +0000 Drivers who have had too little sleep are no different than those who have had three or four drinks and are too drunk to drive.

Those are the findings of an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report released Tuesday that draws on original research and past studies to create a troubling picture of the risk caused by a go-go world where many people don’t get enough rest.

“Managing a healthy work-life balance can be difficult, and far too often we sacrifice our sleep as a result,” said Jake Nelson, director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research for AAA.

About 35 percent of people get fewer than the needed seven hours of sleep, and 12 percent say they sleep for five hours or less, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Earlier research by AAA Foundation showed that 21 percent of fatal crashes involved a sleep-deprived driver. The group’s new work uses data from the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey to delve into how much driving ability decreases based on varying lack of sleep.

Not surprisingly, the less sleep, the higher the risk of a crash. “You cannot miss sleep and still expect to be able to safely function behind the wheel,” said David Yang, executive director for the foundation. “Our new research shows that a driver who has slept for less than five hours has a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.”

People who pride themselves on their ability to function on less sleep than the recommended seven-plus hours will contend otherwise, but the foundation used a sample of 4,571 crashes in which police determined a cause to conclude that those non-sleepers are wrong.

The report says those who slept for less than 4 of the past 24 hours had an 11.5 higher risk of getting in a crash. Drivers who slept 4-5 hours had a 4.3 percent higher risk; 5-7 hours had a 1.9 percent higher risk; and 6-7 hours had a 1.3 percent higher risk.

]]> 0 Tue, 06 Dec 2016 22:30:18 +0000
Watching screens 9 hours a day, parents see themselves as role models for children’s media use, study shows Wed, 07 Dec 2016 01:10:08 +0000 LOS ANGELES — Parents spend more than nine hours a day with TVs, computers and other screen devices while giving themselves high marks as role models for their children’s media use, according to a survey released Tuesday.

Among all those surveyed – nearly 1,800 parents in the U.S. – daily screen time averaged nine hours and 22 minutes, with the bulk of that, seven hours and 43 minutes, categorized as personal screen time and the other roughly 90 minutes spent on work.

The study also found they were enthusiastic about technology’s role in their kids’ lives but wary of the risks it may hold, including loss of sleep and online oversharing. Researchers from the nonprofit Common Sense Media group and Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development conducted the project.

Two-thirds of those surveyed, 67 percent, said monitoring their children’s devices and social media accounts is more important than allowing them privacy.

Another finding: Latino and black parents expressed more concern about their kids’ media use (66 and 65 percent, respectively) than white ones (51 percent). Latinos are more diligent in managing it than other parents, checking devices and social media accounts more often.

It was the gap between how much adults use media and what that might mean for their offspring that was particularly striking to James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, which helps families and educators assess and use media and technology effectively. The group’s first-ever deep dive on parents’ tech habits mirrors its ongoing analysis of those of children and teenagers.

“I found the numbers astounding, the sheer volume of technology used by parents,” Steyer said. “There’s really a big disconnect between their own behavior and their self-perception, as well as their perception of their kids.”

“Yet 78 percent of all parents believe they are good media and technology role models for their children,” according to a survey summary.

The range of activities includes TV or other video viewing; video gaming; social networking or website browsing, and any other task on a computer, smartphone or tablet. Media consumed with a child or another family member along with solo use is included in the personal screen tally, according to Common Sense Media.

Personal media usage by educational level ranges from about nine hours for parents with a high school degree or less to about six hours for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

White parents averaged six hours and 38 minutes on personal media, with Latinos spending about two-and-a-half hours more and African-American parents four hours more.

The top concerns among all parents about potential adverse media effects included the fear that children may become technology addicts (56 percent of parents); that their physical activity will be affected (50 percent) and their face-to-face communication and sleep habits will be hurt (both 34 percent).

When it comes to kids’ online activities, parents worry about how much time is spent (43 percent), how much personal information is shared (38 percent) and whether youngsters are being exposed to pornography or violent images or videos (both 36 percent).

But nearly all parents, 94 percent, believe technology is helpful for children’s schoolwork and education, with 89 percent agreeing it will prepare youngsters for 21st-century jobs. About three-quarters of those surveyed said technology increases exposures to other culture and supports kids’ expression of their personal beliefs.

For parents seeking guidance on their family’s media use, Steyer offers these tips:

“No. 1 is role-modeling your own behavior so kids can learn from that. You have to start with the fact that when your kids are around, you have to use media the way you want them to use it,” he said.

Have times and places set aside that exclude all media devices. Steyer suggests family dinners, an hour or two before bedtime and, of course, never while driving. His group recently launched a (hash)DeviceFreeDinner challenge.

Use media with your kids and be engaged. “Learn from them, ask them questions, have an ongoing conversation,” he said, including on topics they may otherwise be uncomfortable addressing, such as sex and drugs.

“Media can give you a lot of teachable moments, if you use it wisely,” Steyer said.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 22:59:44 +0000
Mind-controlled robotic hand improves patients’ grasp Wed, 07 Dec 2016 00:54:20 +0000 BERLIN — Scientists have developed a mind-controlled robotic hand that allows people with certain types of spinal injuries to perform everyday tasks such as using a fork or drinking from a cup.

The low-cost device was tested in Spain on six people with quadriplegia affecting their ability to grasp or manipulate objects.

By wearing a cap that measures electric brain activity and eye movement, the users were able to send signals to a tablet computer that controlled the glovelike device attached to their hand.

Participants in the small-scale study were able to perform daily activities better with the robotic hand than without, according to results published Tuesday in the journal Science Robotics.

The principle of using brain-controlled robotic aids to assist people with quadriplegia isn’t new. But many existing systems require implants, which can cause health problems, or use wet gel to transmit signals from the scalp to the electrodes. The gel needs to be washed out of the user’s hair afterward, making it impractical in daily life.

It took participants just 10 minutes to learn how to use the system before they could carry out tasks such as picking up potato chips or signing a document.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 22:43:55 +0000
Insiders’ tips illegal even when they’re free, U.S. Supreme Court says Wed, 07 Dec 2016 00:39:17 +0000 WASHINGTON — A unanimous Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with the government in a legal clash over the nation’s insider trading laws, a victory for prosecutors seeking to curb corruption on Wall Street.

The justices ruled that sharing corporate secrets with friends or relatives is illegal even if the insider providing the tip doesn’t receive anything of value in return.

The ruling upheld the conviction of Bassam Yacoub Salman, an Illinois man convicted of making investments based on inside information he received from a member of his extended family. It also limited the impact of a 2014 ruling from the federal appeals court in Manhattan that had raised doubts about the scope of insider trading laws.

Prosecutors have relied on a broad reading of the law to support aggressive anti-corruption efforts that have netted more than 80 arrests and 70 convictions for insider trading over several years.

Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito rejected arguments that insider trading prosecutions should be limited to those who make secret profits from revealing confidential data. Government officials had argued that sharing corporate secrets with friends or family is just as damaging to the integrity of financial markets.

Salman was prosecuted for earning more than $1.5 million in profits from trading on nonpublic information he received about future health care deals. The tip originated with Salman’s brother-in-law, Maher Kara, an investment banker at Citigroup Global Markets in New York. Kara passed the tip on to his own brother, Michael Kara, who then gave it to Salman.

Salman was aware that Maher Kara was the source. Kara pleaded guilty to conspiracy and securities fraud charges.

“Salman’s jury was properly instructed that a personal benefit includes the benefit one would obtain from simply making a gift of confidential information to a trading relative,” Alito said.

Alito said that Maher Kara disclosed confidential information as a gift to his brother with the expectation that his brother would trade on it. That was a breach of his duty of trust to Citigroup, Alito said, and that breach of duty continued when Salman received the information and traded on it.

Prosecutors had suffered a blow two years ago when the federal appeals court in Manhattan overturned the conviction of hedge fund managers Todd Newman and Anthony Chiasson after finding they were too far removed from inside information to be prosecuted.

The Manhattan court said Newman and Chiasson got their information through a chain of traders who didn’t have a close personal relationship with them. The ruling forced Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to drop some cases and put others on hold.

Alito specifically noted the Manhattan ruling and rejected any notion that an insider doesn’t violate the law unless he receives something of value when giving confidential information to a friend or relative.

Bharara said in a statement that the Supreme Court “easily” rejected the Manhattan court’s “novel interpretation of insider trading laws.”

“The Court stood up for common sense and affirmed what we have been arguing from the outset – that the law absolutely prohibits insiders from advantaging their friends and relatives at the expense of the trading public,” Bharara said.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 21:50:31 +0000
House passes veterans bill with provisions sought by Rep. Pingree and a Maine veteran Tue, 06 Dec 2016 23:25:42 +0000 The U.S. House of Representatives passed a veterans’ bill on Tuesday that includes provisions authored by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-District 1, and inspired by a sexual assault survivor from Maine.

The Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016 aims to address a range of issues, from expanding the time period for widows and widowers of veterans to take advantage of the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill to addressing concerns about the Department of Veterans Affairs’ responsibilities for individuals receiving emergency treatment. The bill also includes language that would increase the VA’s reporting requirements pertaining to disability claims submitted by sexual assault victims.

Specifically, the bill would require the VA to report to Congress annually on the number of sexual assault-related claims that have been denied and approved, the number of pending and appealed claims, and the most common reasons the VA denied those claims.

The provisions were originally included in a broader bill submitted by Pingree, called the Ruth Moore Act, that passed the House last year but was never taken up by the Senate.

The bill is named for Ruth Moore, a Maine veteran who was sexually assaulted twice by a superior officer while stationed overseas. Moore reported the incident but she was subsequently discharged from the Navy under a false mental health diagnosis and never received proper treatment. After decades of silence, Moore went public with her story in 2012, testifying before Congress about her decades-long fight for benefits as well as the physical and psychological problems she endured from the sexual assault.

The VA retroactively awarded Moore disability benefits in 2014. The Milbridge resident now works with other sexual assault survivors.

The veterans bill passed by the House on Tuesday is expected to be taken up by the Senate.

“I’m grateful that language from the Ruth Moore Act was included in this bill, and I hope the Senate takes swift action on the legislation,” Pingree said in a statement. “It will provide the information we need to make sure the VA follows through on its promises to fairly treat our veterans. But there is more to be done. I will continue pushing the VA and Congress to ease the burdensome standards that survivors of military sexual assault must meet to receive benefits.”

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 10:49:18 +0000
Rock-wielding orangutan causes $200,000 in damage to St. Louis Zoo windows Tue, 06 Dec 2016 18:35:04 +0000 ST. LOUIS — A rock-loving orangutan named Rubih went ape on the observation windows of her St. Louis zoo enclosure, forcing nearly $200,000 in repairs and the temporary closure of the exhibit.

Rubih, a 12-year-old female orangutan, learned all too well how to get the attention of zookeepers. St. Louis Zoo Orangutan Conservation Education Center photo

Rubih, a 12-year-old female orangutan, learned all too well how to get the attention of zookeepers. St. Louis Zoo Orangutan Conservation Education Center photo

Zookeepers say the 12-year-old female orangutan repeatedly tapped and banged rocks against four 7-foot-tall windows over several months, causing considerable damage. The windows were replaced in mid-November and the exhibit is expected to open later this month, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Susan Gallagher, a spokeswoman for the zoo, said replacing the triple layer of glass with 3-inch thick acrylic required re-engineering the frames that hold them, plus caulking requiring three weeks to cure.

Zoo officials say Rubih even dug up cement from the base of a tree for her destructive endeavors.

The zoo’s ape care team taught the orangutan to bring them rocks in exchange for treats. But the ape started banging on the windows with rocks when zookeepers weren’t around, presumably to get someone’s attention for a reward.

Zookeepers now hope to train Rubih to drop rocks in a tube — regardless of whether staffers are around to reward her – and give her a treat if they later find rocks when they check the tube.

Not including insurance coverage, the zoo ended up paying $71,000 of the cost for the new windows.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 14:00:39 +0000
Massachusetts school board official avoids trial in frozen fish assault Tue, 06 Dec 2016 14:29:01 +0000 SAUGUS, Mass. – A member of a Massachusetts town’s school committee charged with assaulting a man with frozen fish patties has been ordered to attend anger management classes.

The Daily Item of Lynn reports that 67-year-old Arthur Grabowski was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He was accused of hitting 73-year-old Martin Graney with a bag of frozen fish patties during an argument at a veterans’ food drive at the Saugus Senior Center in May.

Both men said the other man was the aggressor.

Grabowski, a member of the Saugus School Committee, was scheduled to go on trial this month, but he agreed to take anger management classes. The case was continued without a finding for six months and the charge will be dismissed if he complies with court orders.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 13:48:07 +0000
Damaging Bill Cosby testimony can be used at criminal trial Tue, 06 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 PHILADELPHIA — Bill Cosby on Monday lost one of the biggest legal battles leading up to his looming sex-assault trial when a Montgomery County judge ruled that prosecutors can tell jurors about damaging, decade-old testimony in which Cosby acknowledged offering drugs to women he wanted to seduce.

The decision means the once-sealed 2005 deposition that led District Attorney Kevin R. Steele’s office last year to reopen the investigation and charge the entertainer can become a pillar of the evidence offered to try to convict him.

Cosby’s lawyers argued that he agreed to the deposition – taken to resolve a lawsuit by his accuser, Andrea Constand – only because he had been promised by a previous district attorney that he would never be charged in connection with her claims.

But Judge Steven T. O’Neill concluded that no such agreement existed.

“There was neither an agreement nor a promise not to prosecute,” he wrote, “only an exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”

O’Neill’s six-page ruling marked a significant victory for prosecutors and the latest setback for the 79-year-old comedian-actor as he inches toward a trial the judge has said he wants to begin by June.

Cosby’s lawyers declined to comment on the latest ruling. Steele praised it.

“Allowing the jury to hear Mr. Cosby’s deposition testimony is another step forward in this case and will aid the jury in making its determination,” he said in a statement. “It’s important that we are able to present all of the evidence available.”

Since he was charged last year with three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault, Cosby has lost on every issue he has raised with the court, including a bid to have the case thrown out based on the same purported 2005 oral agreement with then-District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 11:37:22 +0000
Rebel shelling in Aleppo kills 2 nurses, 8 civilians Tue, 06 Dec 2016 02:09:07 +0000 ALEPPO, Syria — Rebel shelling killed two Russian nurses and eight civilians Monday in Aleppo, and a Russian fighter jet crashed as it was returning to an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean after a sortie over Syria, but the pilot ejected safely, Moscow officials said.

The shelling that targeted government-controlled western Aleppo was one of the most intense in recent days. It coincided with a crushing air and ground assault that has seen forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad recapture more than half of opposition-held eastern Aleppo.

Russia and militias allied with Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah have been staunch supporters of Assad in his country’s bitter civil war, now in its sixth year.

The shelling initially killed one female nurse and wounded two Russian medics working in a field hospital, a Russian officer told reporters in the northern city. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Another nurse who was wounded later died, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

At the U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, Russia and China blocked a draft resolution demanding a seven-day truce in Aleppo.

]]> 0 Tue, 06 Dec 2016 11:36:45 +0000
Pentagon hid study exposing $125 billion in administrative waste Tue, 06 Dec 2016 01:57:57 +0000 The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post.

Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power. But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.

The report, issued in January 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.

The study was produced last year by the Defense Business Board, a federal advisory panel of corporate executives, and consultants from McKinsey and Company. Based on reams of personnel and cost data, their report revealed for the first time that the Pentagon was spending almost a quarter of its $580 billion budget on overhead and core business operations such as accounting, human resources, logistics and property management.

The data showed that the Defense Department was paying a staggering number of people – 1,014,000 contractors, civilians and uniformed personnel – to fill back-office jobs far from the front lines. That workforce supports 1.3 million troops on active duty, the fewest since 1940.

The cost-cutting study could find a receptive audience with President-elect Donald Trump. He has promised a major military buildup and said he would pay for it by “eliminating government waste and budget gimmicks.”

For the military, the major allure of the study was that it called for reallocating the $125 billion for troops and weapons. Among other options, the savings could have paid a large portion of the bill to rebuild the nation’s aging nuclear arsenal, or the operating expenses for 50 Army brigades.

But some Pentagon leaders said they fretted that by spotlighting so much waste, the study would undermine their repeated public assertions that years of budget austerity had left the armed forces starved of funds. Instead of providing more money, they said, they worried Congress and the White House might decide to cut deeper.

So the plan was killed. The Pentagon imposed secrecy restrictions on the data making up the study, which ensured no one could replicate the findings. A 77-page summary report that had been made public was removed from a Pentagon website.

“They’re all complaining that they don’t have any money. We proposed a way to save a ton of money,” said Robert “Bobby” Stein, a private-equity investor from Jacksonville, Florida, who served as chairman of the Defense Business Board.

Stein, a campaign bundler for President Barack Obama, said that the study’s data were “indisputable” and that it was “a travesty” for the Pentagon to suppress the results.

“We’re going to be in peril because we’re spending dollars like it doesn’t matter,” he added.

The missed opportunity to streamline the military bureaucracy could soon have large ramifications. Under the 2011 Budget Control Act, the Pentagon will be forced to stomach $113 billion in automatic cuts over four years unless Congress and Trump can agree on a long-term spending deal by October. Playing a key role in negotiations will likely be Trump’s choice for defense secretary, retired Marine general James Mattis.

The Defense Business Board was ordered to conduct the study by Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, the Pentagon’s second-highest-ranking official. At first, Work publicly touted the efficiency drive as a top priority and boasted about his idea to recruit corporate experts to lead the way.

After the board finished its analysis, however, Work changed his position. In an interview with The Post, he did not dispute the board’s findings about the size or scope of the bureaucracy. But he dismissed the $125 billion savings proposal as “unrealistic” and said the business executives had failed to grasp basic obstacles to restructuring the public sector.

“There is this meme that we’re some bloated, giant organization,” he said. “Although there is a little bit of truth in that . . . I think it vastly overstates what’s really going on.”

Work said the board fundamentally misunderstood how difficult it is to eliminate federal civil service jobs – members of Congress, he added, love having them in their districts – or to renegotiate defense contracts.

He said the Pentagon is adopting some of the study’s recommendations on a smaller scale and estimated it will save $30 billion by 2020. Many of the programs he cited, however, have been on the drawing board for years or were unrelated to the Defense Business Board’s research.

Work acknowledged that the push to improve business operations lost steam after then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was replaced by Ashton Carter in February 2015. Carter has emphasized other goals, such as strengthening the Pentagon’s partnerships with high-tech firms.

“We will never be as efficient as a commercial organization,” Work said. “We’re the largest bureaucracy in the world. There’s going to be some inherent inefficiencies in that.”


Work, a retired Marine officer, became deputy defense secretary in May 2014. With the military budget under the most pressure since the end of the Cold War, he sought help from the Defense Business Board, an advisory panel known for producing management studies that usually gathered dust.

Work told the board that the outcome of this assignment would be different. In a memo, he directed the board to collect sensitive cost data from the military services and defense agencies that would reveal how much they spent on business operations.

Pentagon officials knew their back-office bureaucracy was overstaffed and overfunded. But nobody had ever gathered and analyzed such a comprehensive set of data before.

Some Defense Business Board members warned that exposing the extent of the problem could have unforeseen consequences.

“You are about to turn on the light in a very dark room,” Kenneth Klepper, the former chief executive of Medco Health Solutions, told Work in the summer of 2014, according to two people familiar with the exchange. “All the crap is going to float to the surface and stink the place up.”

“Do it,” Work replied.

To turn on the light, the Pentagon needed more outside expertise. A team of consultants from McKinsey was hired.

In a confidential August 2014 memo, McKinsey noted that while the Defense Department was “the world’s largest corporate enterprise,” it had never “rigorously measured” the “cost-effectiveness, speed, agility or quality” of its business operations.

Nor did the Pentagon have even a remotely accurate idea of what it was paying for those operations, which McKinsey divided into five categories: human resources; health-care management; supply chain and logistics; acquisition and procurement; and financial-flow management.

McKinsey hazarded a guess: anywhere between $75 billion and $100 billion a year, or between 15 and 20 percent of the Pentagon’s annual expenses. “No one REALLY knows,” the memo added.

The mission would be to analyze, for the first time, dozens of databases that tracked civilian and military personnel, and labor costs for defense contractors. The problem was that the databases were in the grip of the armed forces and a multitude of defense agencies. Many had fought to hide the data from outsiders and bureaucratic rivals, according to documents and interviews.

Information on contractor labor, in particular, was so cloaked in mystery that McKinsey described it as “dark matter.”

Prying it loose would require direct orders from Work. Even then, McKinsey consultants predicted the bureaucracy would resist.

“This is a sensitive exercise conducted with audiences both ‘weary’ and ‘wary’ of efficiency, cost, sequestration and budget drills,” the confidential memo stated. “Elements of the culture are masterful at ‘waiting out studies and sponsors,’ with a ‘this too shall pass’ mindset.”


From the outset, access to the data was limited to a handful of people. A $2.9 million consulting contract signed by the Pentagon stipulated that none of the data or analysis could be released to the news media or the public.

Moreover, the contract required McKinsey to report to David Tillotson III, the Pentagon’s acting deputy chief management officer. Anytime the Defense Business Board wanted the consultants to carry out a task, Tillotson would have to approve. His office – not the board – would maintain custody of the data.

“Good news!” Work emailed Tillotson once the contract was signed. “Time to cook.”

In an Oct. 15, 2014, memo, Work ordered the board to move quickly, giving it three months to produce “specific and actionable recommendations.”

In a speech the next month, Work lauded the board for its private-sector expertise. He said he had turned it into “an operational arm” of the Pentagon leadership and predicted the study would deliver transformational results.

In an aside, he revealed that early findings had determined the average administrative job at the Pentagon was costing taxpayers more than $200,000, including salary and benefits.

“And you say, hmmm, we could probably do better than that,” he said.

The initial results did not come as a surprise.

Former defense secretaries William S. Cohen, Robert M. Gates and Hagel had launched similar efficiency drives in 1997, 2010 and 2013, respectively. But each of the leaders left the Pentagon before their revisions could take root.

“Because we turn over our secretaries and deputy secretaries so often, the bureaucracy just waits things out,” said Dov Zakheim, who served as Pentagon comptroller under President George W. Bush. “You can’t do it at the tail end of an administration. It’s not going to work. Either you leave the starting block with a very clear program, or you’re not going to get it done.”

Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine general and former staff director for the Senate Armed Services Committee, said lawmakers block even modest attempts to downsize the Pentagon’s workforce because they do not want to lose jobs in their districts.

Without backing from Congress, “you can’t even get rid of the guy serving butter in the chow hall in a local district, much less tens of thousands of jobs,” he said.


The Defense Business Board assigned five members to conduct the study alongside consultants from McKinsey. Scott Rutherford, senior partner at McKinsey’s Washington, D.C., office, declined to comment.

The team ran into resistance as several Pentagon offices delayed requests for data, according to emails and memos. Work and Tillotson had to intervene to get the data flowing. At one point, more than 100 people were feeding data from different sectors of the bureaucracy.

Laboring under its tight deadline, the team hashed out an agreement with Pentagon officials over which job classifications to count in their survey. The board added a sixth category of business operations – real property management. That alone covered 192,000 jobs and annual expenses of $22.6 billion.

On Christmas Eve, Klepper emailed Work and Tillotson to thank them for putting their muscle behind the project. Without it, he said, “this would all have been DOA and the naysayers would all have been right.”

He hinted the board would make some eye-catching recommendations and expressed relief its work had not been torpedoed.

“I have to admit, with all the caution, negative reaction and pushback,” Klepper said, “I had a bit of concern at the end of the analysis some form of censorship would stop us from showing the true opportunity.”

Work replied that he could not be happier.

“Time to hunt!” he said in an email, adding that he was “very excited about 2015” and ready to make “some bold moves.”

The year kicked off with promise. On Jan. 21, 2015, the Pentagon announced Stein, the private-equity investor, had been reappointed as the board’s chairman and praised him for his “outstanding service.”

The next day, the full board held its quarterly public meeting to review the results of the study. The report had a dry title, “Transforming DoD’s Core Business Processes for Revolutionary Change,” and was packed with charts and jargon. But it began plainly enough.

“We are spending a lot more money than we thought,” the report stated. It then broke down how the Defense Department was spending $134 billion a year on business operations – about 50 percent more than McKinsey had guessed at the outset.

Almost half of the Pentagon’s back-office personnel – 457,000 full-time employees – were assigned to logistics or supply-chain jobs. That alone exceeded the size of United Parcel Service’s global workforce.

The Pentagon’s purchasing bureaucracy counted 207,000 full-time workers. By itself, that would rank among the top 30 private employers in the United States.

More than 192,000 people worked in property management. About 84,000 people held human-resources jobs.

The study laid out a range of options. At the low end, just by renegotiating service contracts and hiring less-expensive workers, the Pentagon could save $75 billion over five years. At the high end, by adopting more aggressive productivity targets, it could save twice as much.

After a discussion, the full board voted to recommend a middle option: to save $125 billion over five years.


Afterward, board members briefed Work. They were expecting an enthusiastic response, but the deputy defense secretary looked uneasy, according to two people who were present.

He singled out a page in the report. Titled “Warfighter Currency,” it showed how saving $125 billion could be redirected to boost combat power. The money could cover the operational costs for 50 Army brigades, or 3,000 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters for the Air Force, or 10 aircraft-carrier strike groups for the Navy.

“This is what scares me,” he said, according to the two people present. Work explained he was worried Congress might see it as an invitation to strip $125 billion from the defense budget and spend it somewhere else.

A few weeks later, Carter replaced Hagel as defense secretary. Carter sounded as though he would welcome the kind of revolutionary change the board was urging.

“To win support from our fellow citizens for the resources we need, we must show that we can make better use of every taxpayer dollar,” Carter said in an inaugural message in February 2015. “That means a leaner organization, less overhead, and reforming our business and acquisition practices.”

In briefings that month, uniformed military leaders were receptive at first. They had long groused that the Pentagon wasted money on a layer of defense bureaucracies – known as the Fourth Estate – that were outside the control of the Army, Air Force and Navy. Military officials often felt those agencies performed duplicative services and oversight.

But the McKinsey consultants had also collected data that exposed how the military services themselves were spending princely sums to hire hordes of defense contractors.

For example, the Army employed 199,661 full-time contractors, according to a confidential McKinsey report obtained by The Post. That alone exceeded the combined civil workforce for the Departments of State, Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development.

The average cost to the Army for each contractor that year: $189,188, including salary, benefits and other expenses.

The Navy was not much better. It had 197,093 contractors on its payroll. On average, each cost $170,865.

In comparison, the Air Force had 122,470 contractors. Each cost, on average, $186,142.


Meantime, the backlash to the $125 billion savings plan intensified.

On Feb. 6, 2015, board members briefed Frank Kendall III, the Pentagon’s chief weapons-buyer. Kendall’s operations were a major target of the study; he oversaw an empire of purchasing agents and contractors that were constantly under attack from Congress for cost overruns and delays.

Kendall put up a stiff fight. He challenged the board’s data and strenuously objected to the conclusion that his offices were overstaffed.

“Are you trying to tell me we don’t know how to do our job?” he said, according to two participants in the meeting. He said he needed to hire 1,000 more people to work directly under him, not fewer.

“If you don’t believe me, call in an auditor,” replied Klepper, the board’s restructuring expert. “They’ll tell you it’s even worse than this.”

In an interview, Kendall acknowledged he was “very disappointed” by the board’s work, which he criticized as “shallow” and “very low on content.” He said the study had ignored efforts by his agencies to become more efficient, and he accused the board of plucking the $125 billion figure out of thin air.

“It was essentially a ballpark, made-up number,” he said.

Still, Kendall knew that lawmakers might view the study as credible. Alarmed, he said, he went to Work and warned that the findings could “be used as a weapon” against the Pentagon.

“If the impression that’s created is that we’ve got a bunch of money lying around and we’re being lazy and we’re not doing anything to save money, then it’s harder to justify getting budgets that we need,” Kendall said.

More ominously, board members said they started to get the silent treatment from the Pentagon’s highest ranks.

Briefings that had been scheduled for military leaders in the Tank – the secure conference room for the Joint Chiefs of Staff – were canceled. Worse, the board was unable to secure an audience with Carter, the new defense secretary.

Stein, the board chairman, accused Carter of deliberately derailing the plan through inaction. “Unfortunately, Ash – for reasons of his own – stopped this,” he said in an interview.

Peter Cook, a spokesman for Carter, said the Pentagon chief was busy dealing with “a long list of national security challenges.” He added that Work and other senior officials had already “concluded that the report, while well-intentioned, had limited value.”

The fatal blow was struck in April. Just three months after Stein had been reappointed as board chairman, Carter replaced him with Michael Bayer, a business consultant who had previously served on the panel and clashed with Stein. Bayer declined to comment.

A few weeks later, Klepper resigned from the board. The $125 billion savings plan was dead.

In an interview, Tillotson, the Pentagon’s acting deputy chief management officer, called the board’s recommendations too ambitious and aggressive. “They, perhaps, underestimated the degree of difficulty we have in doing something that in the commercial sector would seem to be very easy to do.”

Yet he acknowledged that its overall strategy for scaling back the bureaucracy was sound and that, given more time, it would be possible to realize huge savings.

“If we had a longer timeline, yes, it would be a reasonable approach,” he said. “You might get there eventually.”


Frustration, however, persisted in some corners over the Pentagon’s unwillingness to tackle the inefficiency and waste documented by the study.

On June 2, 2015, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus delivered a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. He complained that 20 percent of the defense budget went to the Fourth Estate – the defense agencies that provide support to the armed forces – and called it “pure overhead.”

He singled out the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and the Defense Logistics Agency, which together employ about 40,000 people, as egregious examples.

When a reporter in the audience asked whether he thought the agencies should be abolished, Mabus resisted the temptation to say yes.

“Nice try on getting me into deep trouble,” he replied.

But trouble arrived in Mabus’s email the next day.

“Ray, before you publicly trash one of the agencies that reports through me I’d really appreciate a chance to discuss it with you,” wrote Kendall, the Pentagon’s chief weapons-buyer, whose management portfolio included the Defense Logistics Agency.

He said that if Mabus had a complaint, he should raise it directly with their mutual bosses, Carter and Work, and copied the email to both.

In his interview with The Post, Kendall said he was “completely blindsided” by the Navy secretary’s criticism, “so I sent him what I thought under the circumstances was a pretty polite note.”

Mabus did not back down. In an emailed retort to Kendall, he referred to the ill-fated Defense Business Board study.

“I did not say anything yesterday that I have not said both publicly . . . and privately inside this building,” he said. “There have been numerous studies, which I am sure you are aware of, pointing out excessive overhead.”

That prompted a stern intervention from Work.

“Ray, please refrain from taking any more public pot shots,” Work said in an email. “I do not want this spilling over into further public discourse.”

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 00:47:28 +0000
Man who left son to die in hot SUV gets life without parole Mon, 05 Dec 2016 23:53:55 +0000 MARIETTA, Ga. — A judge on Monday sentenced a Georgia man to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole after a jury found that he intentionally left his toddler son in a hot SUV to die.

Jurors last month convicted Justin Ross Harris, 36, of malice murder and other charges in the June 2014 death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper.

Prosecutors argued throughout the trial that Harris was unhappily married and intentionally killed his son because he wanted an escape from family life.

Defense attorneys maintained that Harris was a loving father and that while he was responsible for the boy’s death, it was a tragic accident.

Harris did not testify at trial and did not speak at his sentencing hearing.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark told Harris she thought about statements Harris made during conversations with police and his wife the day his son died about wishing to be an advocate to keep anyone else from ever leaving a child in a hot vehicle.

“Perhaps not the way you intended, you in fact have accomplished that goal,” she said as she gave him the maximum sentence.

Prosecutors had decided not to seek the death penalty, and Cobb County Senior Assistant District Attorney Chuck Boring, the lead prosecutor on the case, said the sentence Harris got was appropriate.

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 18:53:55 +0000
Woman dies as sinkhole swallows two cars in San Antonio Mon, 05 Dec 2016 23:41:13 +0000 A deadly sinkhole in an industrial part of San Antonio swallowed two cars Sunday evening, killing one person and nearly trapping another who had to be rescued by passersby.

The chasm opened just after 7:30 p.m. in an area where the city is engaged in an “aggressive, vigorous, replacement program” for aging sewer pipes, San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor said at a news conference Monday.

The 12-foot sinkhole appeared near a connection between a pipe that was replaced a year ago and pipe that is decades old, officials said.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office identified the victim as a reserve sheriff’s deputy, Dora Linda Nishihara.

Her car was upside down, almost completely submerged and filled with gravel, dirt and other debris by the time emergency officials arrived.

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 18:41:13 +0000
Mistrial declared in shooting of black driver by S.C. police officer Mon, 05 Dec 2016 21:01:23 +0000 CHARLESTON, S.C. – A South Carolina judge has declared a mistrial after a jury deadlocked in the murder trial of a white police officer charged in the shooting death of an unarmed black motorist.

Circuit Judge Clifton Newman declared a mistrial in the case after a jury said it could not reach a verdict after deliberating more than 22 hours over four days.

Former patrolman Michael Slager was charged with murder in the April 4, 2015, shooting death of 50-year-old Walter Scott. The judge had said the jury could also consider a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Cellphone video showing taken by a bystander that showed Scott being shot in the back was shown widely in the media and on the internet and shocked the country, inflaming the national debate about how blacks are treated by law enforcement officers.

After the video went public, Slager was fired by the police department and charged with murder. Scott’s family called for peace in the North Charleston community. Their calls for calm are believed to have helped prevent the kind of violence that erupted elsewhere when black men were killed in encounters with law enforcement.

It’s the second time in recent weeks a jury has deadlocked in an officer-involved shooting. A mistrial was declared Nov. 12 when a jury in Cincinnati couldn’t reach a verdict in the case of a former campus police officer who was also charged with shooting a black motorist.

The video in the Scott slaying renewed debate over how blacks are treated by white law officers. There have been similar debates over race and policing in places from New York to Ferguson, Missouri and from Tulsa, Oklahoma to North Carolina.

Scott was pulled over in North Charleston for having a broken taillight on his 1990 Mercedes and then fled the car, running into a vacant lot. Family members have said he may have run because he was worried about going to jail because he was $18,000 behind on child support.

The prosecution argued that the 35-year-old Slager let his sense of authority get the better of him.

The defense maintained that the two men wrestled on the ground, that Scott got control of Slager’s stun gun and then pointed the weapon at the 35-year-old officer before the shooting. The defense also contended there was no way the officer could tell if Scott was armed.

Much of the testimony at the trial centered on the cellphone video, which at times was blurry and shaky. The jurors saw the video numerous times, including several times frame by frame.

Last year, the city of North Charleston reached a $6.5 million civil settlement with Scott’s family. In the wake of the shooting, the city also asked that the U.S. Justice Department conduct a review of its police department policies with an eye toward how the department can improve its relationship with residents.

Slager also faces trial next year in federal court on charges of depriving Scott of his civil rights.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 08:17:36 +0000
No bail for Mass. teen charged with decapitating classmate Mon, 05 Dec 2016 20:27:33 +0000 LAWRENCE, Mass. – A 15-year-old boy charged with killing a high school classmate whose headless body was found near a river said in a police report made public Monday that they had gone to smoke marijuana together and he had last seen the classmate alive.

Mathew Borges was held without bail after pleading not guilty at his brief arraignment in Lawrence District Court on a murder charge. Borges is being prosecuted as an adult, so court proceedings were open. His lawyer, Edward Hayden, did not argue for bail.

The body of 16-year-old Lee Manuel Viloria-Paulino was found near the Merrimack River in Lawrence on Thursday by a woman walking her dog. Police recovered his head nearby. His forearms had also been cut off, but it was unclear if they were recovered.

Borges told police that he and Viloria-Paulino had gone to the river on Nov. 18 to smoke pot and later parted ways.

But the police report also said Borges told a witness that he had “done something bad” and that he had “stabbed a kid and cut his head off killing him.” Borges was arrested Saturday.

The motive for the killing is unclear and remains under investigation, Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said. Police recovered evidence at Borges’ home, he said.

Both boys were sophomores at Lawrence High School.

Hayden, the defense lawyer, said Borges was a student in good standing with a part-time job. But he said he didn’t know enough about the case to comment other than to say Borges is “holding up well as can be expected of someone facing this kind of charge.”

Borges is being held at a youth detention facility and is due back in court Jan. 10.

Viloria-Paulino’s family has been critical of police, saying they at first said he was just a runaway and took too long to launch an investigation. Police haven’t responded to that.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 08:17:49 +0000
Trump vows prompt review of Dakota Pipeline rejection Mon, 05 Dec 2016 18:32:04 +0000 President-elect Donald Trump backs the Dakota Access Pipeline and will review a decision by the Obama administration to deny a permit for the project, a spokesman said.

After weeks of protests from Native Americans and environmental activists, the Army Corps of Engineers announced Sunday that it was refusing to let Energy Transfer Partners LP build a section of the project under Lake Oahe in North Dakota and would begin a lengthy environmental review. But that decision runs headlong into the pledge from Trump to greenlight new energy infrastructure.

The pipeline “is something we support construction of, and we will review the situation when we are in the White House to make the appropriate determination at that time,” Jason Miller, a spokesman for the Trump transition team, told reporters Monday.

Trump has pledged to overhaul the nation’s energy policy in a way that favors oil and natural gas producers. He has also said he will find a way to reverse the Obama administration’s rejection of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline, and overturn environmental regulations he blames for quashing energy production.

Last week, Trump intervened with United Technologies Corp. to keep part of a Carrier air-conditioning plant in Indiana rather than moving to Mexico, a sign he plans to use the office of the president to intervene with specific business decisions even before his Jan. 20 swearing-in.

Christine Tezak, managing director of research at ClearView Energy Partners in Washington, says the new administration could do an expedited environmental review, but even that could delay the project until mid to late 2017.

“Since the Obama administration was improvising and finding new rationale to justify not issuing the easement, it would seem to provide the incoming administration the ability to find rationale to reverse it,” Tezak said in an interview. “Anything is possible.”

But, Thomas Cape of Evercore says Trump could move quickly to reverse the Army Corps decision, and the pipeline could still be put online within the first three months of 2017.

Congress, too, may get involved.

“That might be quicker,” Tezak said. “Congress reconvenes on the third, that’s before” Trump is sworn into office.

Republicans’ attempt to speed a final decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline backfired in 2012, when Obama rejected an application for the project, citing a “rushed and arbitrary deadline.”

Several bills already pending in Congress aim to speed up permitting of major energy infrastructure projects by streamlining reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act. One measure, proposed by Sens. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, and Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, would require federal agencies to coordinate their reviews and shorten the window for opponents to challenge permit decisions.

Asked Monday if lawmakers will challenge the Army Corps decision, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, “I think we’ll get a new administration, we’ll get new eyes, and there’s always a possibility.”

Native Americans and environmentalists have challenged the Army Corps’ initial approval of the project in court, and a change in course by Trump could give fodder to that challenge — or another one.

Protests against the crude-oil pipeline have resulted in hundreds of arrests and drawn support from celebrities. But Trump has pledged quicker approval of pipeline projects, saying it is key to unleashing more oil and natural gas production in the U.S.

The standoff over the Dakota Access pipeline is emblematic of a broader effort by environmentalists to stall those pipelines, which they say hurt the nation’s progress in reducing its reliance on fossil fuels. Protesters who have camped for months in North Dakota had been told the area would be closed on Monday and they would have to move to designated protest zones.

Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners called the move “a purely political action” in a statement Sunday, adding that they are fully committed to bringing the project to completion.

“This is nothing new from this administration, since over the last four months, the administration has demonstrated by its action and inaction that it intended to delay a decision in this matter until President Obama is out of office,” the companies said in the statement.

But the setback may be temporary.

“The Obama administration’s refusal to issue an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline violates the rule of law and fails to resolve the issue,” North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican, said in a statement. “Instead, it passes the decision off to the next administration, which has already indicated it will approve the easement, and in the meantime perpetuates a difficult situation for North Dakotans.”

Hoeven called for the protesters to immediately vacate the site.

Dakota Access has been central to the intensifying debate over the need for new pipelines in the U.S. It has become a rallying point for the anti-fossil fuel movement and has drawn intense opposition from Native Americans who say it’ll damage culturally significant sites.

“We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration,” Dave Archambault II, tribal chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said in a statement on Sunday. “In a system that has continuously been stacked against us from every angle, it took tremendous courage.”

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said the denial was driven by concerns that the environmental review of project was not substantive enough and is not part of broader backlash against energy infrastructure.

“Issues have been raised that are a great concern to many people, and it is appropriate we use the current system to make sure we’re looking at all the environmental impacts,” including impacts on tribal sacred sites, McCarthy told reporters Monday at a Christian Science Monitor event.

The pipeline could help cut costs for drillers in North Dakota’s Bakken shale region that have turned to more costly rail shipments when existing pipes filled up. Dakota Access, with a capacity of about 470,000 barrels a day, would ship about half of the current Bakken crude production and enable producers to access Midwest and Gulf Coast markets.

The permit would be for the final section of the pipeline, which spans four states. The project was originally slated to be operational at the end of this year.

“The thoughtful approach established by the Army today ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in an email.

Energy Transfer owns the project with Phillips 66 and Sunoco Logistics. Marathon Petroleum Corp. and Enbridge Energy Partners LP announced a venture in August that would also take a minority stake in the pipeline.

Bloomberg’s Iain Wilson, Billy House and Ryan Sachetta contributed.

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 13:40:59 +0000
Who is the man behind the ‘Ghost Ship’? Mon, 05 Dec 2016 17:05:59 +0000 OAKLAND, Calif. — Five months before Friday’s raging fire killed at least 36 people at the “Ghost Ship” warehouse, the brainchild of the cluttered artists’ cooperative took to Facebook in a 1,000-word rant claiming he was “the thriller love child of Manson, Pol Pot and Hitler.”

There was little sense to the bizarre writing of Derick Ion Almena, 46, known as a passionate artist from Los Angeles devoted to an alternative way of life who led the Oakland arts collective and commune with a distorted sense of reality. But he ended his writing with incredibly haunting words: “I can proverbally (sic) get away with murder.”

The warehouse had been rented for a dance party, Almena apparently wasn’t at the property Friday night, and no one has accused him of directly causing the fire. He does not own the structure. Police won’t say if they have questioned him – or anyone – but District Attorney Nancy O’Malley has opened a criminal investigation into the blaze at the facility, which wasn’t permitted for parties or residential living.

Almena’s name came up in discussions before the probe was announced, a law enforcement source close to the investigation told the Bay Area News Group. Attention has focused on the man behind the “Ghost Ship,” whom former residents and frequent visitors say was cavalier about safety hazards at the warehouse that many labeled a death trap.

Almena is no stranger to law enforcement. In January 2015, he pleaded no contest in Alameda County to a misdemeanor charge of receiving stolen property after negotiating a plea deal that saved him from facing a felony. He is on probation until 2019. Online records show his criminal history also includes an unspecified arrest in Los Angeles County. Efforts to reach Almena – whom people had identified Saturday as Derick Alemany – at addresses affiliated with him in Oakland have been unsuccessful.

Shortly after the blaze, he became a central figure of public outrage about the fire when he failed to mention the victims in a post on Facebook, lamenting his own loss: “Everything I worked so hard for is gone.”

A disturbing picture of Almena quickly emerged on social media and in interviews with people who know him; many skewered him as selfish and careless and for next-level narcissism, but some celebrated his unyielding quirky vibe. A deeper look into Almena’s past shows a man who sought to desperately defy convention in his art, work and life.

“This is NOT a nite club,” he wrote in a 2012 Facebook post about an event he promoted at Cloud 9 in Berkeley. “You will not be asked to leave at 2 am. You will not be subjected to plastic falsely proud deejays subjecting you to manufactured soul-less beats. You will be in the house of a living temple. Surrounded by magnificent Alters, Antique furniture, Balinese beds, Persian rugs, organic food and drink.”

A former neighbor from when Almena lived in the Oakland hills in the earlier part of the decade said he elicited suspicion from many in the calm hillside neighborhood.

Jurgen Braunngardt, the neighbor, said cars came and went from Almena’s home frequently at night, fueling suspicions. Almena was eccentric, the neighbor said, describing him as having “a way about him like he was founding a new religion. … I felt sorry about his wife and the people around him. It’s a tragedy.”

Almena and his wife, Micah Allison, and their three young children eventually moved into the Ghost Ship but were not there Friday night. The warehouse had been rented out for an underground dance party, as it often has been, and the couple spent the night at a hotel.

Danielle Boudreaux, a former friend of the couple, told the Associated Press she had a falling out with Almena when she persuaded Allison’s parents and sister about a year ago that the warehouse was a dangerous place for the couple’s three children to live.

“Oh my God, the children,” Allison’s relative Claudette Selvin, of Gardena, said Sunday upon hearing about the fire but learning the children were safe.

Almena’s Facebook posts, under the account Derick Ion, hinted at what some described as his growing instability. Others say drug use was widespread at the warehouse.

“Addictions never admitted armed me as revolutionary,” he wrote. “… as long as i seek help and healing, have current registration, pay my insurance, p — in a cup twice weekly … i can proverbally (sic) get away with murder.”

The couple didn’t own the Ghost Ship; they leased it from an Oakland landlord and lived at the warehouse, welcoming others to live and work in the building for $300 to $600 a month, according to interviews with former tenants.

Shelley Mack lived at the warehouse for a few months in 2014-15 and described Almena as gypsy-like, often spinning tales and writing poetry. But Mack said he was alarmed by the hazardous living conditions, questionable electrical hookups, artists using butane torches and by the propane tanks used to heat the showers upstairs.

“He knew all of it,” Mack said. “We argued a lot. They said they would fix things, and then they would collect money. They never would use the money to fix things.”

Oakland building inspectors were familiar with the property and had visited the site just last month after a complaint, but they couldn’t get inside.

Almena had converted the two-story space into a Burning Man-style arts collective and commune in Oakland’s Fruitvale district, cluttered with Persian rugs, dozens of pianos and a gangplank-style staircase to the second floor, where many of the victims of Friday’s fire were trapped.

Nikki Kelber, 44, a jewelry maker who lived in the Ghost Ship and narrowly escaped the fire with her cat, said Almena is being unfairly blamed for the fire.

“Their sole purpose was to create a space where artists could survive and thrive,” she said. “To point fingers at them is unfair. They are not bad people by any stretch of the imagination.”

While Almena’s building was known as the Ghost Ship, he had named the arts collective Satya Yuga, which in Hinduism refers to an initial golden age marked by knowledge, meditation, repentance and good deeds.

One poster on Facebook described how the “inside of the warehouse looked like his mind … beautifully exotic and creative, but with sharp edges, dangerous corners, hazardous materials and twisting turning darkness.”

“I’ve had years of being in community and hearing people have dangerous encounters with him. … All the Balinese art that’s inside is his. Same for the antiques. Same for the wooden boards and nails jutting out at all angles. Same for the mushroom infested furniture,” the Facebook poster said. “It’s his design. There wasn’t any interest in making the space be safe for people. And since so many people didn’t want to deal with him due to the trauma they went through, they stayed away.”

Alexander Dore, another former resident, fondly described the warehouse on Facebook as “a collective, a commune, a temple, a home, a place to run free stoned naked without fear, it was a sacred space that wasn’t owned by the government.”

But now, Dore wrote, it is a “mausoleum for the dead.”

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 12:19:46 +0000
Prosecutors consider charges as death toll climbs in Oakland warehouse fire Mon, 05 Dec 2016 15:24:14 +0000 OAKLAND, Calif. — Terry Ewing is waiting for the confirmation he already knows in his heart: His girlfriend was among the dozens killed in the Oakland warehouse fire.

Hundreds of family members and friends find themselves in similar limbo, as firefighters continue a painstaking search for victims. On Monday, prosecutors said murder charges could result from their investigation as the death toll rose to 36.

Officials say they know that more bodies will be discovered.

“We’ve all quietly slipped into using past tense verbs, and I think everybody, in their hearts has a good idea of what the news is,” Ewing said. His girlfriend, Ara Jo, has not been seen since Friday night, when flames tore through a building known as the “Ghost Ship” during a dance party, in the most lethal building fire in the U.S. in more than a decade.

“We’re just waiting.”

The laborious job of digging with shovels and buckets through the debris was suspended overnight because of a dangerously unstable wall. It resumed in the morning, though a rainstorm Tuesday could complicate the effort. The cluttered warehouse had been converted to artists’ studios and illegal living spaces, and former denizens said it was a death trap of piled wood, furniture, snaking electrical cords and only two exits.

This image from video provided by KGO-TV shows the Ghost Ship Warehouse after the fire. Via AP

This image from video provided by KGO-TV shows the Ghost Ship Warehouse after the fire. Via AP

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said Monday that her office has not yet determined whether a crime even occurred. But she said charges could range from involuntary manslaughter to murder. She declined to say who her team has interviewed.

“It’s too early to speculate on anything,” O’Malley said. “We just started our investigation, and we owe it to the community and those who perished in this fire, and those who survived the fire to be methodical, to be thorough, and to take the amount of time it takes to be able to look at every piece of potential evidence.”

Oakland city councilman Noel Gallo, who lives a block from the warehouse, said he confronted the property’s manager – Derick Ion Almena – several times about neighbors’ concerns about trash in the street and in front of the warehouse. Gallo said Almena essentially told authorities to “mind their own business” and appeared resistant to addressing complaints and complying with city codes.

Almena and his partner, Micah Allison, ran the building’s arts colony, called the Satya Yuga collective. They were believed to have been away at the time of the blaze.

Relatives, friends and former colleagues said Almena loved to surround himself with followers, but seemed to care little for their well-being.

Asked late Sunday by San Francisco television station KGO about his thoughts on those killed in the fire, Almena said, “They’re my children. They’re my friends, they’re my family, they’re my loves, they’re my future. What else do I have to say?”

Almena did not respond to emails or calls to phone numbers associated with him by The Associated Press. No one answered a call to a number for Allison.

The warehouse is owned by Chor N. Ng, her daughter Eva Ng told the Los Angeles Times. She said the warehouse was leased as studio space for an art collective and was not being used as a dwelling.

“We are also trying to figure out what’s going on like everybody else,” the family wrote in a statement to NBC Bay Area. “Our condolences go out to the families and friends of those injured and those who lost their lives.”

Eva Ng did not immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press.

Pictures and flowers adorn a fence Monday near the site of the warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif. The death toll climbed Monday with more bodies still feared buried in the blackened ruins. Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Pictures and flowers adorn a fence Monday near the site of the warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif. The death toll climbed Monday with more bodies still feared buried in the blackened ruins.
Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Gallo said Chor N. Ng put Almena in charge of cleaning up the Ghost Ship, and nothing was done.

“I hold the owner of the property responsible,” Gallo said. “I hold the manager responsible.”

But questions persisted about whether city officials could have done more to prevent the fire. Oakland planning officials opened an investigation last month after repeated complaints about the warehouse. An inspector who went to the premises couldn’t get inside, said Darin Ranelletti, of the Oakland Planning Department.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said city officials are putting together a record of what they knew about the property. The district attorney’s office also sent a team to search for evidence of a crime in the warehouse.

Gallo said the neighborhood was once an industrial zone and that many warehouses and vacant commercial buildings unfit for habitation remain. He said he’s concerned that many of them are being used as illegal dwellings given the dearth of affordable housing in the area. He said he will push for the city to hire more fire marshals and building inspectors to investigate.

Authorities have identified 11 of the bodies but withheld some of the names. Those whose identities were yet to be released included a 17-year-old and the son of a sheriff’s deputy, authorities said.

Investigators said they believe they have located the section of the building where the fire started, but the cause remains unknown.

Ewing, an Oakland software developer, learned something was wrong when Jo’s friends knocked on his door Saturday morning. They had been calling Jo – a 29-year-old community organizer – without luck and hoped her mobile had simply died or was lost in a couch.

They quickly figured out that wasn’t the case. And that’s when the waiting began.

Ewing looked through photographs Monday to remember Jo, as her family and friends mourned.

“At this point we have accepted the situation and are waiting for any development and announcements,” he said.

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 19:19:13 +0000
Man ‘investigating’ conspiracy theory brandishes guns, surrenders to police at popular DC pizzeria Mon, 05 Dec 2016 14:37:08 +0000 WASHINGTON – A man who said he was investigating a fake news story about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a pizza place was arrested after firing a rifle inside the Washington, D.C., restaurant, police said.

Edgar Maddison Welch, 28 of Salisbury, North Carolina, was arrested Sunday afternoon at Comet Ping Pong on Connecticut Avenue in an affluent neighborhood of the nation’s capital, police said. No one was injured in the incident.

Welch told police he’d come to the restaurant to “self-investigate” the fictitious online conspiracy theory that spread online during Clinton’s unsuccessful run for the White House, a police statement said.

Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Aquita Brown said police first received a call Sunday afternoon about a male with a weapon.

Welch walked into the front door of the restaurant and pointed a gun in the direction of an employee, the police statement said. The employee fled and notified police.

Police set up a perimeter and arrested Welch safely, Interim D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said. Welch was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon.

Bartender Lee Elmore told news outlets that people in the restaurant started to panic as the man walked to the back of the restaurant.

“One of the hosts runs up and says did you see that guy? He had a big gun,” Elmore said.

“His demeanor was bizarre, in that if you come in to a place to eat, you ask for a host or grab a seat at the bar,” Elmore said. “Didn’t make any eye contact, didn’t talk with anybody.”

Two guns were recovered inside the restaurant and an additional weapon was recovered from the suspect’s vehicle, police said.

A phone number listed for Welch in North Carolina was disconnected.

The Comet Ping Pong is in a neighborhood of well-tended private homes and apartment buildings on leafy streets that lead to a mix of shops, restaurants and the Politics and Prose book store.

The restaurant gained notoriety during the presidential campaign after fake news stories stated Clinton and her campaign chief ran a child sex ring out of the restaurant, news organizations have reported.

“For now, I will simply say that we should all condemn the efforts of certain people to spread malicious and utterly false accusations about Comet Ping Pong, a venerated DC institution,” restaurant owner James Alefantis said in a statement. “Let me state unequivocally: these stories are completely and entirely false, and there is no basis in fact to any of them. What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences.”

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 10:07:40 +0000
Trump nominates former presidential hopeful Ben Carson as HUD chief Mon, 05 Dec 2016 11:20:24 +0000 WASHINGTON – Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, picked by Donald Trump to run the Housing and Urban Development Department, has often recounted his childhood as the son of a single mother in inner-city Detroit.

Carson has not said whether his family ever lived in federally funded housing or received Section 8 subsidies to help pay rent, but as a political figure he has criticized such public assistance programs for creating “dependency” on the government among low-income minorities.

“I’m interested in getting rid of dependency, and I want us to find a way to allow people to excel in our society, and as more and more people hear that message, they will recognize who is truly on their side and who is trying to keep them suppressed and cultivate their votes,” Carson said in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015.

In his 1996 autobiography “Gifted Hands,” Carson wrote of the humiliation he felt using food stamps from his mom to pay for bread and milk, and said he began to excel at school only after receiving a free pair of glasses that allowed him to see the lessons written on chalk boards.

After Carson’s mother divorced his father, she received a small house in the settlement. But as her financial situation deteriorated, Carson and his siblings were forced to move into a succession of tenements and apartment buildings, some of which he described as having “hordes of rats” and “armies of roaches.”

With the help of financial aid and scholarships, Carson attended Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School before being the first African-American named as the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. There, he garnered national acclaim for directing the first surgery to separate twins connected at the back of the head.

Carson’s rise to political prominence began with a 2013 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, where he gave a withering critique of the modern welfare state and the nation’s overall direction while President Barack Obama was seated just feet away. During the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Carson’s inspirational life story, Christian faith and anti-establishment message briefly catapulted him last year ahead of Trump and other rivals in opinion polls.

But his success on the campaign trail quickly crumbled amid questions about whether elements of his rags-to-riches autobiography were exaggerated or fabricated – including a purported childhood fit of rage he tried to stab his best friend in the belly only to be foiled by a belt buckle. Carson’s business dealings also faced scrutiny, including his ties to a wealthy Pittsburgh dentist whom he helped avoid prison time for felony health care fraud.

The Associated Press first reported last year that Carson invested millions of dollars in real estate deals with Alfonso A. Costa, whose dentistry license was revoked following a felony conviction. According to required financial disclosure forms he filed in 2015, Carson his wife made between $200,000 and $2 million a year from those real estate investments. Costa also served on the board of Carson’s charity, the Carson Scholars Fund, which provides college scholarships to children in need.

Records show Carson appeared as a character witness at his friend’s 2008 sentencing hearing, pleading with the judge for leniency. Though he faced up to 10 years in prison, Costa received a greatly reduced sentence of one year of house arrest served in a suburban mansion. Yet in his 2013 book “America the Beautiful,” Carson called for severe penalties for those convicted of health care fraud, including at least a decade in prison and “the loss of all of one’s personal possessions.”

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 10:43:22 +0000
For first time since 1941 attack, Japanese prime minister will visit Pearl Harbor Mon, 05 Dec 2016 10:45:45 +0000 TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Pearl Harbor with President Obama later this month, becoming the first Japanese leader to visit the site of the attack on Hawaii 75 years ago that thrust America in the World War II.

The joint visit comes after Obama went to Hiroshima with Abe in May, becoming the first American leader to visit the site where the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb in 1945 to end Japan’s involvement in the war.

Abe said Monday that he would go to Hawaii on Dec. 26-27 to “pay tribute” to military personnel from both sides of the Pacific who died during the war.

“This visit is to comfort the souls of the victims. We’d like to send messages about the importance of reconciliation [between the two countries],” Abe told reporters in Tokyo.

The 75th anniversary of the attack falls this Wednesday, Dec. 7.

The White House welcomed Abe’s decision, confirming that Obama would accompany Abe to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor to honor those killed.

“The two leaders’ visit will showcase the power of reconciliation that has turned former adversaries into the closest of allies, united by common interests and shared values,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said in a statement.

“The meeting will be an opportunity for the two leaders to review our joint efforts over the past four years to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, including our close cooperation on a number of security, economic, and global challenges,” he said.

There had been speculation that Abe would reciprocate Obama’s Hiroshima visit by coming to Pearl Harbor during the final days of Obama’s presidency. The prime minister’s wife, Akie Abe, visited Pearl Harbor in August, laying flowers at the USS Arizona Memorial and meeting a survivor of the attack.

In this Dec. 7, 1941 photo, a small boat rescues a seaman from the USS West Virginia burning in the foreground in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, after Japanese aircraft attacked the military installation. More than 2,300 U.S. service members and civilians were killed in the strike that brought the United States into World War II. U.S. Navy via AP

In this Dec. 7, 1941 photo, a small boat rescues a seaman from the USS West Virginia burning in the foreground in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, after Japanese aircraft attacked the military installation. More than 2,300 U.S. service members and civilians were killed in the strike that brought the United States into World War II. U.S. Navy via AP

But the prime minister’s move will likely anger the more conservative forces in Abe’s right-wing government, who promote a revisionist view of Japan’s history and are seeking to restore Japan’s pride in its imperialist past.

While Abe shares some of these sympathies, he has also taken a pragmatic approach, issuing a statement expressing remorse for Japan’s World War II actions on the 70th anniversary of his country’s surrender last year. His government has also agreed on a final deal with South Korea to resolve the dispute over the Japanese army’s wartime use of women as sex slaves, euphemistically known as “comfort women.”

Just before 8 a.m. Hawaii time on Dec. 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Almost 200 aircraft bombed the site over 30 minutes, destroying the USS Arizona among other naval vessels. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the ambush “a date which will live in infamy,” and the following day asked Congress to declare war on Japan.

Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 20:31:49 +0000
Castro laid to rest in private ceremony Mon, 05 Dec 2016 02:13:07 +0000 SANTIAGO, Cuba — A wooden box containing Fidel Castro’s ashes was placed by his brother and successor on Sunday into the side of a granite boulder that has become Cuba’s only official monument to the charismatic bearded rebel who seized control of a U.S.-allied Caribbean island and transformed it into a western outpost of Soviet-style communism that he ruled with absolute power for nearly half a century.

The private, early-morning ceremony was attended by members of Fidel Castro’s family, the ruling Politburo of the single-party system he founded, and Latin American leaders who installed closely allied leftist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Brazil.

After nine days of fervent national mourning and wall-to-wall homages to Castro on state-run media, the government barred independent coverage of the funeral, releasing a handful of photos and brief descriptions of the ceremony later in the day.

The ceremony began at 6:39 a.m. when the military caravan bearing Castro’s remains in a flag-draped cedar coffin left the Plaza of the Revolution in the eastern city of Santiago. Thousands of people lined the two-mile route to Santa Ifigenia cemetery, waving Cuban flags and shouting “Long live Fidel!”

The ashes were delivered to Castro’s younger brother and successor, President Raul Castro, who wore his olive general’s uniform as he placed the remains into a niche in the enormous gray boulder that will serve as his tomb.

The niche was sealed with a green marble plaque emblazoned with the name “Fidel” in gold letters.

]]> 0, 04 Dec 2016 22:24:00 +0000
Single-seat plane crashes in New Hampshire woods Mon, 05 Dec 2016 00:23:59 +0000 HAMPTON, N.H. – The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to investigate the crash of a single-seat airplane in New Hampshire’s woods.

The bi-wing airplane crashed Sunday afternoon in Hampton, WMUR-TV reported. The 74-year-old pilot was able to exit the plane on his own and was released at the scene after being evaluated by rescue crews. WMUR-TV did not report the pilot’s name.

A resident reported the crash to authorities just after noon. The plane sustained minimal damage although it landed nose-down in a wooded area.

The plane is reportedly registered to a man living in Rye.

Federal authorities are likely to investigate the crash Monday.

]]> 0 Sun, 04 Dec 2016 20:07:56 +0000
Officials working to find cause of massive blaze in Cambridge Mon, 05 Dec 2016 00:18:20 +0000 BOSTON — Fire investigators on Sunday were trying to determine what caused a massive blaze that ripped through a Boston-area neighborhood, displacing 60 to 80 people but “miraculously” resulting in no serious injuries or deaths.

While the 10-alarm fire Saturday afternoon in Cambridge destroyed or damaged 15 structures and several first responders suffered minor injuries, Cambridge Assistant Fire Chief Gerard Mahoney said it’s “nothing short of a miracle” no one was killed.

“If this fire was in the middle of the night, there’s no doubt in my mind we would have had fatalities and serious injuries,” he said. The fire department received the first calls shortly before 3 p.m. About 25 nearby communities provided aid.

Mahoney said fire crews spent Sunday morning hosing down hot spots and later assessing the structural integrity of the damaged buildings. He said some buildings are beyond repair while others had only broken windows. Mahoney said about 10 vehicles also were damaged or destroyed.

“Some of these buildings are going to have to come down. There’s no doubt about it,” he said from the densely populated neighborhood, as the sound of heavy equipment moving debris could be heard. “It’s going to be a very lengthy process, a very lengthy process.”

Mahoney said it was the largest fire he’d seen in Cambridge during his 33 years with the department.

“We’re just scratching the surface,” Mahoney said, when asked about a potential cause.

Alpert Neal, chief of staff to Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons, said that the Red Cross and officials were meeting affected families to assess their short- and long-term needs. Simmons has set up the Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund online.

]]> 0, 04 Dec 2016 19:57:19 +0000
Army Corps blocks route of Dakota Access pipeline Sun, 04 Dec 2016 22:23:11 +0000 CANNON BALL, N.D. — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Sunday that it won’t grant an easement for the Dakota Access oil pipeline in southern North Dakota.

The decision is a victory for the several thousand camped near the construction site, who’ve said for months that the four-state, $3.8 billion project would threaten a water source and cultural sites.

The pipeline is largely complete except for the now-blocked segment underneath Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir. According to a news release, Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said her decision was based on the need to “explore alternate routes” for the pipeline’s crossing.

“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Darcy said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”

The company constructing the pipeline, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, had said it was unwilling to reroute the project. It and the Morton County Sheriff’s Office, which has done much of the policing of the protests, didn’t have immediate comment.

U.S. Secretary for the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement that the Corps’ “thoughtful approach … ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts” and “underscores that tribal rights reserved in treaties and federal law, as well as Nation-to-Nation consultation with tribal leaders, are essential components of the analysis to be undertaken in the environmental impact statement going forward.”

The federal government has ordered people to leave the main encampment, which is on Army Corps of Engineers’ land, by Monday. But demonstrators say they’re prepared to stay, and authorities say they won’t forcibly remove them.

Earlier Sunday, an organizer with Veterans Stand for Standing Rock said tribal elders had asked the military veterans not to have confrontations with law enforcement officials, adding the group is there to help out those who’ve dug in against the project.

About 250 veterans gathered about a mile from the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, camp in southern North Dakota for a meeting with organizer Wes Clark Jr., the son of former Democratic presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark. The group had said about 2,000 veterans were coming, but it wasn’t clear how many actually arrived.

“We have been asked by the elders not to do direct action,” Wes Clark Jr. said. He then talked about North Dakota authorities’ decision to move away from a key bridge north of the encampment by 4 p.m. Sunday if demonstrators agree to certain conditions, saying the National Guard and law enforcement have armored vehicles and are armed.

“If we come forward, they will attack us,” Clark said. Instead, he told the veterans, “If you see someone who needs help, help them out.”

Authorities said they’ll move from the north end of the Backwater Bridge if protesters stay south of it and come to the bridge only if there is a prearranged meeting. Authorities also asked protesters not to remove barriers on the bridge, which they have said was damaged in the late October conflict that led to several people being hurt, including a serious arm injury.

“The question was asked if we would consider pulling back from the Backwater Bridge,” Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said in a Saturday news release after a conversation between law enforcement and the group’s organizers, “and the answer is yes! We want this to de-escalate.”

Protesters also are not supposed to walk, ride or fly drones north of the bridge, Laney said. Any violation will “will result in their arrest,” the statement said.

The bridge blockade is something that Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault has been asking to be removed, the Bismarck Tribune reports , and something he said he would to talk to Gov. Jack Dalrymple about when they meet in person. A date for that meeting hasn’t been set.

Veterans Stand for Standing Rock’s page had raised more than $1 million of its $1.2 million goal by Sunday – money due to go toward food, transportation and supplies. Cars waiting to get into the camp Sunday afternoon were backed up for more than a half-mile.

“People are fighting for something, and I thought they could use my help,” said Navy veteran and Harvard graduate student Art Grayson. The 29-year-old from Cambridge, Massachusetts, flew the first leg of the journey, then rode from Bismarck in the back of a pickup truck. He has finals this week, but told professors, “I’ll see you when I get back.”

Steven Perry, a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran who’s a member of the Little Traverse Bay band of Odawa Indians in Michigan, spoke of one of the protesters’ main concerns: that the pipeline could pollute drinking water. “This is not just a native issue,” he said, “This is an issue for everyone.”

Art Woodson and two other veterans drove 17 hours straight from Flint, Michigan, a city whose lead-tainted water crisis parallels with the tribe’s fight over water, he said.

“We know in Flint that water is in dire need,” the 49-year-old disabled Gulf War Army veteran said. “In North Dakota, they’re trying to force pipes on people. We’re trying to get pipes in Flint for safe water.”

On Monday, some veterans will take part in a prayer ceremony in which they’ll apologize for historical detrimental conduct by the military toward Native Americans and ask for forgiveness, Clark said. He also called the veterans’ presence “about right and wrong and peace and love.”

]]> 0, 04 Dec 2016 22:38:36 +0000
Far-right candidate concedes in Austria’s presidential vote Sun, 04 Dec 2016 18:19:07 +0000 BERLIN — The center-left candidate handily defeated his far-right challenger in Austria’s presidential election on Sunday, boosting the political establishment in Europe as it sought to contain the fallout of Donald Trump’s victory in the United States and thwart the spread of nationalism.

The far-right Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer conceded defeat on his Facebook page less than 30 minutes after polls closed and following projections showing a surprisingly strong lead for Alexander Van der Bellen. The 72-year-old elder statesman and former Green Party politician was winning by 53.6 percent to 46.4 percent. Though hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots were set to be counted on Monday, they were expected to heavily favor Van der Bellen.

The result was an unexpectedly strong victory for Austria’s beleaguered political establishment, which had begged the nation to reject Hofer and rob the momentum from populists following Trump’s win.

“I’m incredibly sad that it didn’t work out,” Hofer posted on his Facebook page. “I congratulate Alexander van der Bellen and ask all Austrians to stick together and work together. We are all Austrians, no matter how we acted at the ballot box.”

Yet Europe’s political establishment was not out of the woods yet. In Italy, voting continued on a reform referendum opposed by anti-establishment populists across the political spectrum. Center-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has vowed to resign should it fail – a move that could plunge Europe’s third largest economy into a new round of political chaos while fanning fresh concerns about the country’s ailing banks. Opinion polls have suggested the result may be a nail-biter.

In Austria, the race for the ceremonial role as president held equally high stakes. The position is constitutionally ambiguous, yet Hofer, who has decried Muslim immigration and free trade, had contentiously vowed to beef it up – setting up a clash with the center-left government and the E.U.

His campaign in Austria seemed to echo Trump’s, with far-right outlets spreading damaging fake news and Hofer and his surrogates taking aim at red herrings such as his opponent’s health. There were more allegations of dirty tricks on election day.

On Sunday, Austria’s domestic intelligence service launched an investigation into a mass text message which stated that only Hofer voters should show up because polling stations were overcrowded. Van der Bellen supporters, the erroneous text said, should instead vote on Monday — although polls would actually be closed by then, according to the Austrian daily Der Standard.

Yet the race was perhaps more important as a bellwether of post-Trump voter trends in Europe, where nationalists are poised to stage potent 2017 campaigns in France, Germany and the Netherlands. A Hofer victory would have potentially signaled the new electability of far right, whose members are hailing a “New World Order” in the post-Trump world.

The Freedom Party sought to leverage Hofer’s guy-next-door demeanor that seemed to take the bite out of his harshest condemnations even though he has made blanket statements including “Islam is not part of Austria.” Yet while portraying himself as the face of a reformed far-right, he persisted to court a more extreme base by wearing, for instance, a lapel pin of a cornflower – a symbol of German nationalism also used by the Nazis.

On Sunday, Hofer attempted to assuage concerns that he would bring about sharp changes, saying, for instance, that he would work for Austria to remain part of the E.U.

The Austrian vote was a replay of elections in May, in which Hofer narrowly lost by 31,000 votes. His party successfully challenged the results, which were thrown out based on voting irregularities. His supporters on Sunday were hoping for a “Trump bump” – but it bumped the wrong way.

“The Trump bump could always go either way,” said Reinhard Heinisch, political scientist at Salzburg University. “The fact is, Trump is not very popular in Austria.”

Nevertheless, Sunday’s votes in both Austria and Italy were set to capture the extent to which Europeans are as politically polarized as Americans, split down the middle on issues ranging from immigration to free trade.

In Italy, technically Italians were just giving an up-down nod to the reform package. But the referendum to streamline the political system and diminish the role of the Senate long ago turned into a broader vote of confidence in Renzi, the youthful, Coke-chugging leader who has portrayed himself as a lone warrior against Euroskeptic forces.

Opinion polls showed the nation almost evenly divided, with many analysts saying they could not remember the last time the country felt so polarized. As a measure of how narrow the outcome was expected to be, the prime minister and his allies were counting on a handful of mailed-in ballots from Italians abroad to push them over the line to a victory. Although final opinion polls suggested Renzi would go down in defeat, his opponents were also carefully hedging expectations. Initial results were not expected until early Monday morning.

Renzi’s anti-establishment opponents were trying to capitalize on a wave of skepticism about the ability of elites to deal with globalization and the long, painful effects of the economic crisis that started nearly a decade ago. The Trump victory last month cheered the Five Star Movement, an insurgent anti-euro force that has support on both the left and the right and is led by the caustic comedian Beppe Grillo.

“With a ‘yes,’ this country will be a little less free,” Grillo said at his final campaign rally in Turin on Friday. “They are stealing freedoms a little at a time.”

If “no” prevails, Renzi is likely to resign, ushering in a period of uncertainty that could hammer Italy’s fragile banks, potentially rekindling the euro crisis. The Five Star movement is running closely behind Renzi’s Democratic Party in the polls, with a chance to prevail in parliamentary elections that are due no later than 2018.

“In the world there is a feeling of the end of a period of being together,” said Francesco Clementi, an advisor to the Renzi government who worked on the text of the constitutional reform. “We have to try to revive the sense of community.”

]]> 0 Sun, 04 Dec 2016 20:27:32 +0000
Officials confirm 33 deaths in California warehouse fire Sun, 04 Dec 2016 16:35:52 +0000
OAKLAND, Calif. — The death toll from a fire that tore through a warehouse hosting a late-night dance party climbed to 33 on Sunday as firefighters painstakingly combed through rubble for others believed to still be missing.

Less than half of the charred remains of the partly collapsed structure had been searched, and crews clearing debris were expected to find more bodies as they advanced, Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said.

Officials said they have identified seven people who were killed.

Among them is Donna Kellogg, according to her father, Keith Slocum. He declined additional comment.

Kelly said those killed range in age from teens to 30-plus years old.

Anxious family members who feared the worst gathered at the sheriff’s office to await word on their loved ones. They were told they may have to provide DNA samples to help identify remains.

The building known as the “Ghost Ship” had been carved into artist studios and was an illegal home for a rotating cast of a dozen or more people, according to former denizens who said it was a cluttered death trap with few exits, piles of wood and a mess of snaking electric cords.

“If you were going there for a party, you wouldn’t be aware of the maze that you have to go through to get out,” said Danielle Boudreaux, a former friend of the couple who ran the warehouse.

As many as 100 people were there for a party Friday night when the fire broke out just before midnight. Fire officials were still investigating the cause of the blaze, but they said clutter fueled the flames, there were no sprinklers inside and few exits to escape.

Boudreaux identified the operators of the Satya Yuga collective as Derick Ion Almena and Micah Allison. She had a falling out with Almena when she convinced Allison’s parents and sister about a year ago that the warehouse was a dangerous place for the couple’s three children to live.

The couple rented out five recreational vehicles and other nooks on the ground floor as living spaces. A rickety makeshift staircase led to a second floor where concerts were held. Former residents said there frequently was no electricity or running water.

Oakland planning officials opened an investigation last month after repeated complaints from neighbors who said trash was piling up and people were illegally living in the building zoned as a warehouse. An inspector who went to the premises couldn’t get inside, said Darin Ranelletti, of the Oakland Planning Department.

The city had not confirmed people lived there, but a former resident said she had been lured in part by reasonable rents in a region beset with a housing shortage and exorbitant leases driven by the tech boom.

Shelley Mack said she wasn’t told the residence was illegal until after she moved in a couple years ago and stayed for four to five months, paying about $700 a month. She said she was instructed to tell visitors it was a 24-hour workspace for artists and when outsiders or inspectors planned to visit, residents would scurry to hide clothes and bedding.

“It’s like a horror house. Just horrors in there,” she said.

To a first-time visitor, though, the labyrinth of uniquely designed spaces was “stunning,” said Alastair Boone, a University of California, Berkeley student who arrived at the party with five friends around 11 p.m.

Photographs from before the fire showed that the Bohemian community of musicians, painters, woodworkers, dancers and other artists had decorated the scene with Tibetan prayer flags, Christmas lights and scores of wooden statues of Buddha, the virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, elephants and dragons that sat atop pianos and turntables. Tapestries hung from the walls, mannequin legs and arms stuck out from the ceiling and a small wooden spot of floor was used for art performances.

“It was obvious to me everyone who lives there cared about each other and were invested in a space they made a home,” Boone said.

Almena did not immediately respond to emails or phone numbers associated with him. Authorities declined to talk about the manager, saying they were focused on recovering the bodies and consoling families.

A man identified as Derick Ion posted a Facebook message early Saturday, saying, “Everything I worked so hard for is gone. Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound.” He drew rebukes online from others who said he was warned the building was unsafe.

Almena, 46, has lived in California since at least 1990, mostly in Los Angeles, where public records show he was evicted from a North Hollywood apartment in Los Angeles in 1993.

Allison, 40, spent much of her life residing in Northern California, although she had also lived in Southern California, where she filed for a fictitious business name, Sacred Image, at a Los Angeles address.

Online records listed the building’s owner as Nar Siu Chor. The Associated Press could not locate a telephone number for her Saturday. Efforts to reach her at other Oakland addresses associated with her were not successful.

Boone said she had just received a tour of the property and stepped outside when someone yelled, “Fire!”

“In a couple of minutes there were flames coming out of the windows and black smoke was just billowing out of the house,” she said.

Some of the people who got out were crying and others stood silently in shock as firefighters arrived to put the flames out.

“The people who lived there were clustered together, and they were just so sad,” Boone said. “They were losing their loved ones, and there was nothing they could do.”

Monica Kat was outside the warehouse Saturday and said she feared four of her friends are dead. “They’re still not accounted for, and I can only think the worst at this point,” she said.

]]> 0, 04 Dec 2016 20:45:01 +0000
Trump warns of ‘retribution’ for companies that move jobs overseas Sun, 04 Dec 2016 15:49:37 +0000 President-elect Donald Trump on Sunday issued a dramatic warning to companies that they would face “retribution” in the form of tariffs if they move American jobs overseas, setting up a collision with corporate America and the free-market wing of the Republican Party.

In a string of early-morning tweets, Trump said he intends to keep jobs in the United States by lowering taxes for companies and slashing regulations, two key components of his economic agenda. But he also warned that companies that send jobs offshore would face a 35 percent tariff on goods sold back to the United States.

“Any business that leaves our country for another country, fires its employees, builds a new factory or plant in the other country, and then thinks it will sell its product back into the U.S. … without retribution or consequence, is WRONG!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The threat marked perhaps the clearest sign yet since the election that Trump has not abandoned the controversial economic positions he adopted during the campaign. In addition to vowing to hit American companies with severe consequences if they imperil American jobs as a candidate, he pledged to tear up trade agreements and tag products from countries such as China and Mexico with tariffs if those nations continue to take American jobs.

The comments set up a clash with Republicans who have long argued in favor of free trade and against excessive intrusion by government into the affairs of businesses.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., a frequent Trump critic, argued that a 35 percent tariff would be passed along to American consumers in the form of higher prices.

“Pres-Elect Trump means well. But won’t his 35% tariff idea raise prices on American families? How would it not be a new 35% tax on families?” Sasse wrote on Twitter.

A conservative advocacy group, the Club for Growth, said that it favors Trump’s proposals on tax and regulatory changes but warned of the consequences of cutting off trade.

“We think it’s bad economic policy. It’ll cost more American jobs than it saves” said former Indiana congressman David McIntosh, the head of the Club for Growth.

“Therefore it needs to be stopped.”

Trump’s threat Sunday also put American companies in an extraordinarily difficult position. Offshoring has been a key element of corporate America’s strategy in recent decades, and major lobbying groups have been defenders of trade agreements. But groups stood nearly silent on Sunday, potentially worried about drawing the wrath of the president-elect.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobby, declined to directly respond to Trump’s comments but signaled that it has not budged in its opposition to tariffs.

“We are not going to comment on Trump’s comments directly, but in general, the Chamber has always called for pro-growth policies that help American companies succeed globally and welcome foreign investment within our borders,” said Blair Latoff Holmes, a spokeswoman for the group.

She pointed to a recent Fox Business Network interview in which the Chamber’s chief economist said that tariffs are “self-destructive.”

Last week, Trump made clear he would intervene in specific situations in which companies are considering moving work overseas. Last week he traveled to an Indiana factory owned by furnace and air-conditioner manufacturer Carrier to champion a deal to keep about 800 jobs in the United States. To much criticism, Carrier had planned to move them to Mexico.

On Sunday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said that Trump would continue the extraordinary interventions, working on deals with such companies “on a day-by-day basis.”

Although Trump would be able to follow through on some of his threats without congressional approval – for example, declaring China a currency manipulator and launching a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement – it’s not clear whether he could penalize companies broadly for moving jobs overseas without congressional authorization.

Gary Clyde Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a think tank that regularly supports proposed trade deals, predicted that Trump would face legal obstacles if he tries to impose tariffs on individual companies unilaterally.

“This would be, in my way of thinking, a real intrusion of congressional powers over foreign commerce,” Hufbauer said.

“We’ve never had this kind of policy before, so he’s on novel ground.”

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Scientists expect warmer water will taint more oysters Sun, 04 Dec 2016 15:19:29 +0000 DURHAM, N.H. — For the past 25 years, researcher Stephen Jones has tried to understand the threat that bacteria may pose to oysters in New Hampshire’s Great Bay estuary. He often couldn’t get funding to study the problem. But that is beginning to change as scientists notice “something is going on.”

Scientists are recognizing that a waterborne disease sickening tens of thousands of people each year is associated with warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico moving northward, partly because of climate change. The problem is extremely rare in New Hampshire and neighboring Maine, but scientists have seen cases elsewhere in New England and expect it to become a bigger problem.

“We have this situation in the northern part of the United States and other cooler climates where people haven’t thought this had been a problem,” said Jones, of the Northeast Center for Vibrio Disease and Ecology at the University of New Hampshire. “In the last 10 or 20 years, it’s become very apparent that there is something going on.”

In a paper in the science journal PLOS One, Jones and other scientists reported their findings that illnesses from vibrio bacteria have jumped significantly in New England – from five cases in 2000 to 147 in 2013. Disease-causing bacteria can contaminate oysters, leading to infections such as diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Jones and his colleague, Cheryl Whistler, concluded that warmer waters in the Great Bay, higher salinity and the presence of chlorophyll all contributed to higher concentrations of one of the more common vibrio species that makes people sick – vibrio parahaemolyticus. The researchers are hoping their findings will serve as the foundation of an early warning system for the region’s booming oyster industry.

Currently, all experts can do is monitor the waters and rapidly cool harvested oysters to halt bacteria growth.

“Eventually, we would want shellfish managers to have access to these models that would allow them to communicate to the growers that conditions have changed and that we now need this to manage the potential risk to reduce whether there will be exposures,” Whistler said.

The bacteria fueled by warmer temperatures are also a stark reflection of the impact that climate change is having on the world’s oceans, experts say. An August report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that warming waters were linked to waterborne food poisoning, especially from eating raw oysters.

“There is similar reporting in Alaska where it has been found that increased cases have been occurring where it has not been reported before because of the temperature rise,” said the study’s lead author, Rita Colwell, of the University of Maryland.

The industry has welcomed Jones and Whistler’s work, noting that outbreaks like the one that occurred last month in Massachusetts need to be avoided. Nearly 75 people were sickened.

“When you are involved with a recall because people have gotten sick, you are a losing tremendous amount of money and a tremendous amount of credibility,” said Tom Howell, president of Spinney Creek Shellfish Inc., in Eliot, Maine, which harvests oysters from the Great Bay. A predictive model would allow the industry to move more aggressively to avoid an outbreak, he said.

But Howell and Chris Nash, New Hampshire’s shellfish program manager, said that day could be far off.

“We are still learning what seems to trigger these pathogenic strains to multiply … We don’t have that knowledge yet and it may be that we never do,” Nash said. “We are talking about biological organisms … They react to their environment different, the same way humans do.”

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Ivanka Trump ill-suited to boost U.S. apparel manufacturing Sun, 04 Dec 2016 00:17:13 +0000 If President-elect Donald Trump needs an object lesson on the difficulty of reviving broad sectors of U.S. manufacturing, he need look only as far as his daughter’s closet.

Ivanka Trump’s $100 million apparel line is sewn in Asian countries under a licensing agreement with G-III Apparel Group Inc., which has expanded from making coats in New York’s Garment District to become a manufacturer of global scope.

That method of selling $140 sheath dresses and $80 sweaters could mean political embarrassment for her father, who has threatened a trade war against China, the world’s second-largest economy.

But she can make a profit in few other ways.

Manufacturing apparel in the U.S. would be much more expensive, doubling the cost of goods, by some estimates. The nation no longer has the infrastructure for large-scale garment manufacturing or the labor force – much of which would be automated in any event.

“In the past 40 years we’ve done basically nothing but shut down all the production. It’s not so easy to ramp it up again,” said Marshal Cohen, industry analyst at NPD Group, a Port Washington, New York, research firm. “We have interest in it, but we don’t act on it. The cost of putting it together is prohibitive.”

Donald Trump campaigned on soaring promises to revive U.S. manufacturing and bring jobs back from overseas, even negotiating directly with Carrier to preserve an Indianapolis plant that had been set to move to Mexico. He has vowed to renegotiate and even nullify trade agreements. Delivering won’t be easy, as evidenced by the fact that even his own Donald J. Trump collection of suits, ties, dress shirts and accessories is made overseas.

Manufacturing jobs in the U.S. have declined 37 percent since 1979. Cheap labor overseas has reduced costs for companies and trained consumers to expect low-priced goods. Only 16 years ago, the garment industry made 50 percent of U.S. apparel in the Western Hemisphere. Today, a mere 20 percent is produced in the Americas – and only 2 percent domestically, said Ed Gribbin, president of Alvanon, a New York consulting company.

The Ivanka Trump brand is interested in “being a part of the conversation” about increasing U.S. production, President Abigail Klem said.

G-III, which does the brand’s physical work, exemplifies the way homegrown U.S. industry has moved jobs elsewhere.

The company was founded in 1956 by Aron Goldfarb, a Holocaust survivor who moved to New York and found a job cutting leather. First called G&N, the company became the publicly traded G-III in 1989.

In the 1970s, G-III became one of the first apparel companies to import coats from South Korea. CEO Morris Goldfarb, son of the founder, expanded its manufacturing in Asia, according to a history on its website. In the 1990s, G-III started partnering with national brands that now include Jessica Simpson and Calvin Klein, which helped it place its clothes in Kohl’s Corp., Macy’s Inc. and Nordstrom Inc.

Four years ago, G-III announced its deal with Ivanka Trump’s IT Apparel II company to license her name on a line of dresses, activewear and underwear. Morris Goldfarb said at the time that the clothes would “capture the next generation of young, confident and sophisticated women.”

It would do so at a reasonable price.

The Trump clothes are sourced primarily from China and Vietnam because that’s where fabrics are made and the labor is cheap and skilled. The brand generates an estimated $100 million in sales – a small part of G-III’s annual take of more than $2 billion, said John Kernan, an analyst for Cowen & Co.

Donald Trump stoked anger at such outsourcing in an October speech in Greensboro, North Carolina, once home to textile and furniture industries.

“They get the jobs, they get the factories, they get the cash, and all we get – we get illegal immigration and we get drugs,” he said in the speech. But dissonance persists between his public stances and the family’s private business.

Ivanka Trump has taken a small step to distance herself from her branding company: They now have separate Twitter accounts. Still, protesters gathered outside her New York City home last week for a candlelight vigil. Groups are organizing boycotts of retailers that sell her goods.

“All eyes are upon her, and soon, all eyes will be on her brand,” Cohen said. “She’s going to be put under a microscope, and any step she takes is going to be analyzed and scrutinized.”

Even if Ivanka Trump could persuade G-III to move all or part of its manufacturing to the U.S., it would dramatically increase the cost of her goods, Cohen said. And that could be a death knell.

“If you ask a person if they prefer to buy made in America, they’ll always say yes, but when it comes to shopping they don’t act that way,” Gribben said. “They want a bargain, they want a value, they want something that looks great. They never look at the label.”

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