Nation & World – Press Herald Thu, 20 Jul 2017 19:06:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 O.J. Simpson to be released on parole Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:58:56 +0000 LOVELOCK, Nev. — O.J. Simpson was granted parole Thursday.

Simpson received a 33-year sentence in 2008 for an armed robbery involving two sports memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel room.

The 70-year-old former football star asked Nevada parole officials to release him in October, when he will have served the minimum nine years.

There was heavy security around the prison Thursday. Authorities set up a checkpoint on a single road leading to Lovelock Correctional Center to screen vehicles.

The parking lot was filled with network media satellite trucks and tents set up to shade reporters from intense sun.

Dozens of reporters also set up outside the parole board building in Carson City, where the four parole commissioners interviewed Simpson by videoconference.

Simpson made headlines on the football field but the Heisman-winner became infamous after he was implicated in his ex-wife’s murder in 1994. He was acquitted of all charges after a highly publicized trial.

]]> 0 NFL football star O.J. Simpson enters his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday.Thu, 20 Jul 2017 14:58:56 +0000
When John McCain says he’s ‘been through worse,’ this is what he means Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:16:34 +0000 WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who has been diagnosed with a deadly form of brain cancer, told his best friend in the Senate: “I’ve been through worse.”

Much worse. Fifty years ago, the former presidential candidate faced down death repeatedly as a Navy fighter pilot during the Vietnam War.

On July 29, 1967, he was sitting in his jet on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal when a rocket from another aircraft accidentally fired, stuck a nearby plane, and ignited a fire that threatened to engulf McCain’s. He scrambled out of the cockpit to safety, seconds before the fire set off bombs that had fallen off another plane.

A chain reaction of explosions ensued. McCain saw a fellow pilot whose clothes were on fire. “I ran toward him,” he told the New York Times the next day. “He was 50 feet in front of me. I got closer and then the first bomb exploded. I was knocked back about 10 feet. I never saw him again.”

Three months later, on Oct. 26, 1967, McCain was flying a mission over Hanoi, when an antiaircraft missile blew the right wing off his jet, and he had to eject. Both arms and a leg were broken. He landed in a lake, and was beaten and bayoneted by those who captured him.

He was taken to the notorious Hanoi Hilton prison, where he was further brutalized, repeatedly tortured and kept in solitary confinement for two years. The ordeal would break his body and mind, drive him to attempt suicide and make him a national hero.

McCain’s capture generated news across the United States. His picture ran on the front page of The Washington Post, with the headline “Held in Hanoi.” He was filmed in an enemy hospital, and a copy of the footage was shown to his anguished parents. His father, McCain said in a 2007 interview with The Post, “got down every night and prayed.”

John McCain is greeted by President Richard Nixon in Washington on Sept. 14, 1973, months after McCain was released from a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, where he was held for more than five years. Associated Press photo

A few months into McCain’s imprisonment, his father, Admiral John S. McCain Jr., was named the Pentagon’s commander in chief for the Pacific, a job that essentially put him in charge of prosecuting the Vietnam War. His father insisted that his change-of-command ceremony be held aboard the USS Oriskany, the carrier from which his son had flown.

Throughout McCain’s imprisonment, his father never wrote him a letter, knowing that the enemy would use it for propaganda. But every Christmas, the elder McCain would fly to Vietnam and visit Marines near the demilitarized zone that then separated North and South Vietnam. At some point, the admiral would walk off by himself and look out to the north over the frontier, as if searching for his son.

Early in McCain’s captivity, the North Vietnamese, well aware of who their prisoner was, offered to release him. He refused, sensing it would shame his father and demoralize his comrades.

In 1972, the admiral was called on to implement B-52 bombing raids on Hanoi, where he knew his son was being held. “B-52s in those days were not exactly totally precision bombing,” McCain said. “There was never a doubt in his mind what he would do. But still, you know your kid’s there, and you’re ordering the bombing of the area.”

McCain and his fellow POWs rejoiced at the bombings. “Thank you!” the Americans shouted as the ground shook and their guards scrambled for cover.

By then, their ordeal was almost over.

This photo released by Hanoi’s Vietnam News Agency shows Lt. Cmdr. John S. McCain III as a prisoner of war in 1967. Associated Press photo

Peace accords ending the war were signed in January 1973, and McCain was released in March. His father, who had already retired and was in failing health, was invited to the welcome-home ceremony in the Philippines. He asked whether the parents of other POWs were invited. Told they were not, he declined.

Father and son were reunited a few weeks later in Jacksonville, Fla. “It was a very touching reunion,” McCain said, between the war-weary, old-school admiral and the son he might have killed.

On May 26, 1993, McCain spoke to the Naval Academy’s graduating class. He had just been elected to a second term in the Senate. Friends from around the country had come to hear his speech at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

It was a warm, breezy day and a triumphant moment.

U.S. Naval Lt. Cmdr. John S. McCain III, son of the Navy’s commander-in-chief in Europe and grandson of one of the Navy’s greatest World War II carrier commanders, is show in July 1967, in Vietnam. Associated Press photo

“For much of my life,” McCain told the crowd, “the Navy was the only world I knew. It is still the world I know best and love most.

“Here we learned to dread dishonor above all other temptations,” he said. He reviewed the achievements of past Navy heroes – pilots and gunners and submariners – and then spoke of his own ordeal.

“I have watched men suffer the anguish of imprisonment, defy appalling human cruelty … break for a moment, then recover inhuman strength to defy their enemies once more. All these things and more, I have seen,” he said. “And so will you. My time is slipping by. Yours is fast approaching. You will know where your duty lies. You will know.”

]]> 0 McCain is administered to in a Hanoi, Vietnam hospital as a prisoner of war in the fall of 1967. McCain spent 20 years in the Navy, a quarter of it in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp after his jet was shot down over Hanoi during a bombing mission Oct. 26, 1967. The Navy pilot nearly gave up during his captivity but his memory of books and movies helped him survive. (AP Photo)Thu, 20 Jul 2017 15:06:41 +0000
Budget office revises estimate of uninsured to 22 million under health bill Thu, 20 Jul 2017 17:42:34 +0000 WASHINGTON – A revised Republican health care bill would drive up the number of uninsured Americans by 22 million by 2026, the Congressional Budget Office estimated Thursday in a report unlikely to help Republican leaders persuade their party’s senators to back the reeling legislation in an upcoming showdown vote.

An earlier projection by Congress’ nonpartisan budget analysts on the initial version of the Republican legislation projected the same number of people losing coverage. That figure has already been proven to be enough to make some Republican senators unwilling to support the legislation.

The reworked bill would increase average premiums over the next two years, but reduce them starting in 2020 by 30 percent, the report estimated. But the policies would typically offer less coverage.

And because the Republican measure would also eliminate federal subsidies that let insurers lower out-of-pocket costs for low-earners, the changes “would contribute significantly to a decrease in the number of lower-income people with coverage,” the budget office said.

The report was released a day after President Trump spurred Republican senators to resume trying to resuscitate their bill erasing and replacing much of President Obama’s health care law.

White House officials and Senate leaders have been suggesting new changes aimed at winning over Republicans, but there’s no evidence so far that those efforts have worked. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he wants a vote on the legislation next week.

The budget office’s new estimate does not include the impact of the most important change McConnell made in the legislation in an attempt to gain votes from conservatives. Language added by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, would let insurers sell low-premium policies with minimal coverage, an option he and his supporters say would drive down premiums.

The coverage impact of Cruz’s proposal is unclear. Many think it would increase the number of healthy people buying policies, but drive down the number of consumers with serious pre-existing conditions who could afford to purchase coverage.

McConnell’s other changes included adding $45 billion to help states combat the abuse of drugs including opioids, extra money to help insurers curb cost increases and retention of tax increases Obama’s law aimed at higher-income people.

Republican leaders’ effort to win support for their bill may face even longer odds because of Sen. John McCain’s jarring diagnosis of brain cancer.

Nursing a slender 52-48 majority, McConnell has been unable to muster the 50 votes he’d need to approve his party’s health care overhaul. Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote.

But with McCain, R-Ariz., receiving treatment back home for an uncertain period of time, McConnell’s numerical advantage has dwindled. In McCain’s absence, if just two Republicans defect it would sink Trump’s and the Republicans’ banner legislative priority, and more than that have said they are ready to do so.

After a face-to-face lecture from Trump, around two dozen Republican senators staged a nearly three-hour bargaining session Wednesday night to resolve their disputes. When it was over, none offered specific examples of any progress.

Also attending Wednesday’s private meeting were health secretary Tom Price and Seema Verma, the Medicaid and Medicare administrator. It was interrupted by prayer after the lawmakers learned that McCain, 80, had a cancerous brain tumor.

Earlier Wednesday at the White House, Trump told them they must not leave town for their August recess without sending him an “Obamacare” repeal bill to sign.

Earlier in the week, the latest Senate Republican health care plan collapsed, leading Trump to call for simply letting Obama’s law fail.

McConnell indicated he was prepared to stick a fork in the Republican bill and move on to other issues including overhauling the tax code. But plunging into the issue after a period of lackadaisical involvement, Trump pressured McConnell to delay the key vote until next week, and he invited Republican senators to the White House for lunch.

There, with the cameras rolling in the State Dining Room, Trump spoke at length as he cajoled, scolded and issued veiled threats to his fellow Republicans, all aimed at wringing a health care bill out of a divided caucus that’s been unable to produce one so far.

McConnell has failed repeatedly to come up with a bill that can satisfy both conservatives and moderates in his Republican conference. Two different versions of repeal-and-replace legislation fell short of votes before coming to the floor, pushing him to announce Monday night that he would retreat to a repeal-only bill that had passed Congress when Obama was in office.

But that bill, too, died a premature death as three Republican senators announced their opposition on Tuesday, one more than McConnell can lose in the closely divided Senate. Further complicating that approach, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis Wednesday reaffirming its earlier findings that the repeal-only bill would mean 32 million additional uninsured people over a decade and average premiums doubling.

]]> 0 leaders discuss the Republican efforts to replace "Obamacare" during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was joined by, from left, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the ranking member of Ways and Means, Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the ranking member on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.Thu, 20 Jul 2017 13:42:34 +0000
Elon Musk says he has ‘govt approval’ for D.C.-to-NYC Hyperloop Thu, 20 Jul 2017 17:17:35 +0000 Transportation pioneer Elon Musk has been known to talk big and sometimes overpromise.

But on Thursday, the Tesla chief and rocket builder took it up a notch, offering a tantalizing but so-far undocumented announcement that his tunnel-boring company had received verbal government permission to build a super-high-speed pod-and-tube transportation system, which he calls Hyperloop, to travel from Washington, D.C., to New York.

“Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins,” he wrote on Twitter Thursday.

Questioners on Twitter asked one of the obvious ones: Who gave the permission? Musk did not offer details.

But the Trump administration did not knock the idea down.

As envisioned by Elon Musk, a hyperloop involves a tube through which capsules carry people or cargo at high speeds, free of air resistance or friction. Wikipedia image

Asked if it had given Musk the verbal approval, a White House spokesman said: “We have had promising conversations to date, are committed to transformative infrastructure projects, and believe our greatest solutions have often come from the ingenuity and drive of the private sector.”

Musk said the system would run from “City center to city center in each case, with up to a dozen or more entry/exit elevators in each city,” according to a later tweet.

Musk’s firm intends to build the system underground using an excavation machine. The futuristic technology concept envisions transporting sealed passenger capsules in a low-pressure tube at hundreds of miles an hour.

Musk first teased the Boring Company in December, and in April hinted that his network of Hyperloops could be a nationwide phenomenon.

Building a Hyperloop above ground comes with enormous physical and regulatory challenges, which may be one reason Musk is considering an underground approach. Because Hyperloop technology involves traveling at extremely high speeds, any major turns could subject passengers to undue levels of gravity forces. That suggests that the safest, most efficient way to build the Hyperloop would be in straight lines. There’s just one problem: Above ground, you need to worry about permits and land rights. Musk’s original vision for the Hyperloop budgeted $1 billion for that alone.

Subterranean land rights may be no less complicated. But go deep enough, and at least you won’t have to worry about plowing through buildings.

Musk isn’t the only one working on Hyperloop technology. Although he has done much to popularize the concept in recent years by open-sourcing the idea, Musk has allowed other companies such as Hyperloop One to compete against each other in an effort to build the first working example.

The possible need for local permissions is another complication.

Leif Dormsjo, director of D.C.’s Department of Transportation, said “I’m completely unaware of any request to the District government to permit or review anything related to an Elon Musk project,” Dormsjo said.

]]> 0, 20 Jul 2017 13:42:45 +0000
Arizona Sen. McCain, battling brain cancer, vows to return Thu, 20 Jul 2017 17:06:32 +0000 WASHINGTON – Battling brain cancer, Sen. John McCain on Thursday promised to return to work, making a good-natured dig at his Republican and Democratic colleagues who were jolted by news of the six-term lawmaker’s diagnosis.

“I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support – unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I’ll be back soon, so stand-by!” McCain said in a tweet.

The 80-year-old McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer, according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, who had removed a blood clot above his left eye last Friday.

“Subsequent tissue pathology revealed that a primary brain tumor known as a glioblastoma was associated with the blood clot,” his office said in a statement late Wednesday.

The senator and his family are considering further treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation, as he recuperates at his home in Arizona.

Prayers and words of encouragement multiplied on Thursday from presidents and Senate colleagues past and present.

“I called Senator John McCain this morning to wish him well and encourage him in his fight. Instead, he encouraged me,” said former President George W. Bush, who prevailed over McCain for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. “I was impressed by his spirit and determination.”

Former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas said: “Having known John for many decades, I am certain that he is as tough as they come – if anyone can defeat this, it’s him. John is a true American hero.”

McCain’s closest friend in the Senate, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said he spoke to the senator Wednesday night and that the diagnosis was a shock to McCain. He said McCain is fighting the illness, and “woe is me” is not in his DNA. “One thing John has never been afraid of is death,” said Graham, who said he expects McCain to be back.

According to the American Brain Tumor Association, more than 12,000 people a year are diagnosed with glioblastoma, the same type of tumor that struck McCain’s close Democratic colleague in legislative battles, the late Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. The American Cancer Society puts the five-year survival rate for patients over 55 at about 4 percent.

McCain has a lifetime of near-death experiences – surviving the July 1967 fire and explosion on the USS Forrestal that killed 134 sailors; flying into power lines in Spain; the October 1967 shoot-down of his Navy aircraft and fall into Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi; and 5½ years in a North Vietnamese prison.

“The Hanoi Hilton couldn’t break John McCain’s spirit many years ago, so Barbara and I know – with confidence – he and his family will meet this latest battle in his singular life of service with courage and determination,” said former President George H.W. Bush.

The absence of the senator and chairman of the Armed Services Committee forced Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to delay action on health care legislation.

Politics aside, McCain and Bill Clinton developed a strong friendship, and the former president said: “As he’s shown his entire life, don’t bet against John McCain. Best wishes to him for a swift recovery.”

The junior senator from Arizona, Republican Jeff Flake, said Thursday that McCain told him about his tumor only at the end of a telephone conversation, saying he was “feeling fine, but I might have some chemotherapy in my future.” Flake said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that his colleague is “optimistic, obviously. He’s John McCain. That’s what we’d expect.”

In the past, McCain had been treated for melanoma, but a primary tumor is unrelated. Doctors said McCain is recovering from his surgery “amazingly well” and his underlying health is excellent.

With his irascible grin and fighter-pilot moxie, McCain was elected to the Senate from Arizona six times, most recently last year, but was twice thwarted in seeking the presidency.

An upstart presidential bid in 2000 didn’t last long. Eight years later, he fought back from the brink of defeat to win the GOP nomination, only to be overpowered by Obama. McCain chose a little-known Alaska governor as his running mate in that race, and helped turn Sarah Palin into a national political figure.

After losing to Obama in an electoral landslide, McCain returned to the Senate, determined not to be defined by a failed presidential campaign. And when Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015, McCain embraced his new job as chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee, eager to play a big role “in defeating the forces of radical Islam that want to destroy America.”

AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard and writers Nancy Benac and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

]]> 0 Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., shown in June, is reviewing his treatment options after being diagnosed with brain cancer.Thu, 20 Jul 2017 14:27:48 +0000
Jeff Sessions says he has no plans to resign despite Trump’s comments Thu, 20 Jul 2017 15:19:22 +0000 WASHINGTON – Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he has no immediate plans to resign a day after President Donald Trump excoriated the nation’s top prosecutor for recusing himself from the probe of suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.

“We love this job, we love this department and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate,” he said Thursday.

A former senator from Alabama, Sessions was one of Trump’s earliest and ardent supporters and became attorney general in February. A month later, he took himself out of a Justice Department-led inquiry into the election following revelations he’d failed to disclose meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Trump on Wednesday told The New York Times he never would have tapped Sessions for the job had he known a recusal was coming.

“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” Trump told the newspaper. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair – and that’s a mild word – to the president.”

Trump’s blistering rebuke underscored his continuing fury with Sessions more than four months after the recusal and came during an interview in which he also lashed out at Robert Mueller, the special counsel now leading the federal probe; James Comey, the FBI director Trump fired; Andrew McCabe, the acting FBI director who replaced Comey; and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed the special counsel.

Trump’s denouncement reflected a long-simmering frustration with one of his staunchest allies, but was not a calculated attempt to force Sessions from the Cabinet, according to two Trump advisers. For weeks, the president has seethed about Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the federal investigation into whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia during last year’s election.

The White House notably made no effort to walk back Trump’s comments in the interview or display confidence in the attorney general. Instead, the two Trump advisers acknowledged that the president’s public comments largely reflected what they have heard him say about Sessions privately.

The advisers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the president’s thinking. The Justice Department declined to comment on the president’s remarks.

Sessions, one of Trump’s earliest supporters, stepped away from the Russia probe following revelations that he had failed to disclose meetings with the Kremlin’s ambassador to the U.S. His decision was made without consulting with the president and essentially paved the way for the appointment of Mueller as special counsel. Mueller’s investigation, along with separate congressional probes, has overshadowed much of Trump’s agenda and ensnared several of his associates, including son Donald Trump Jr. and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Despite his protest to the contrary, Trump continues to heavily watch cable news coverage of the Russia investigations. At times he has told allies he’s convinced that the White House has turned the corner and the controversy will soon be behind him. But at other points, he has expressed fears that it will dog him for his entire time in office.

Few developments in the snowballing controversy have irked Trump more than Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigations. The advisers said the president viewed the move as an act of disloyalty – arguably the most grievous offense in the president’s mind – and was angry that Sessions did not consult with him ahead of time.

At one point, Sessions privately told Trump he was willing to resign his post, but the president did not accept the offer. One adviser said the president’s comments to the Times did not reflect any new desire by Trump to fire Sessions, though they acknowledged that the attorney general’s response to the public denigration was less certain.

Sessions was the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump during the presidential campaign, and the two bonded over their hard-line immigration views. Some of Sessions’ long-serving advisers are now working alongside the president in the West Wing, including senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, who was one of the architects of Trump’s controversial travel ban.

A potential Sessions resignation could throw Mueller’s investigation into a state of uncertainty. Trump would nominate a replacement and could seek assurances that his pick would not recuse himself from the investigations.

Trump raised the prospect of firing Mueller in his interview with the Times, suggesting he had damaging information on the former FBI director. The president said Mueller’s selection for the job was a conflict of interest because Trump had spoken with him about returning to the FBI after the firing of James Comey in May.

“There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point,” Trump said.

He lobbed similar conflict of interest charges at acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He also accused Comey of briefing him on a dossier of unverified, incriminating information in an effort to gain leverage over the soon-to-be president.

The president has repeatedly told those close to him that he fears there is a movement underway, fueled in part by Comey, Rosenstein and potentially Mueller, to discredit his presidency. He has denied that his campaign had any contacts with Russia during the election, though that assertion has been challenged by his son’s acknowledgment that he accepted a meeting that was billed as part of the Russian government’s efforts to help the Republican win the election.

]]> 0 General Jeff Sessions agreed to appear before the Senate intelligence committee as it investigates alleged Russian election meddling.Thu, 20 Jul 2017 12:57:03 +0000
Mueller probe may include Trump business transactions Thu, 20 Jul 2017 15:09:36 +0000 The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe.

FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.

The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

John Dowd, one of Trump’s lawyers, said on Thursday that he was unaware of the inquiry into Trump’s businesses by the two-months-old investigation and considered it beyond the scope of what Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be examining.

“Those transactions are in my view well beyond the mandate of the Special counsel; are unrelated to the election of 2016 or any alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and most importantly, are well beyond any Statute of Limitation imposed by the United States Code,” he wrote in an email.

Major U.S. stock indices, which had been trading higher in the morning, fell as traders worried that the probe could derail Trump’s growth agenda. The dollar fell against the euro and U.S. government bonds rose.

The president told the New York Times on Wednesday that any digging into matters beyond Russia would be out of bounds. Trump’s businesses have involved Russians for years, however, making the boundaries fuzzy.

The Justice Department’s May 17 order to Mueller instructs him to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” suggesting a relatively broad mandate.

Agents are interested in dealings with the Bank of Cyprus, where Wilbur Ross served as vice chairman before he became commerce secretary. In addition, they are examining the efforts of Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and senior aide, to secure financing for some of his family’s real-estate properties. The information about the investigation was provided by someone familiar with the developing inquiry but not authorized to speak publicly.

The roots of Mueller’s follow-the-money investigation lie partly in a wide-ranging money-laundering probe launched by then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara last year, according to the person.

FBI agents already had been gathering information about Manafort, according to two people with knowledge of that probe. Prosecutors hadn’t yet begun presenting evidence to a grand jury. Trump fired Bharara in March.

The Manafort inquiry initially focused on actions involving a real-estate company he launched with money from Ukraine in 2008. By the time Bharara was fired, his office’s investigation of possible money laundering extended well beyond that, according to the person briefed on the Mueller probe.

The Bharara investigation was consolidated into Mueller’s inquiry, showing that the special counsel is taking an overarching approach. The various financial examinations constitute one thread of Mueller’s inquiry, which encompasses computer hacking and the dissemination of stolen campaign and voter information as well as the actions of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Joshua Stueve, Mueller’s spokesman, declined to comment, as did a Manafort spokesman and Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Kushner.

Spokesmen for the White House, Trump Organization and Ross didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mueller’s team is looking at the Trump SoHo hotel condominium development, which was a licensing deal with Bayrock Capital. In 2010, the former finance director of Bayrock filed a lawsuit claiming the firm structured transactions in fraudulent ways to evade taxes. Bayrock was a key source of capital for Trump projects, including Trump SoHo.

The 2013 Miss Universe pageant is of interest because a prominent Moscow developer, Aras Agalarov, paid $20 million to bring the beauty spectacle there. About a third of that sum went to Trump in the form of a licensing fee, according to Forbes magazine. At the event, Trump met Herman Gref, chief executive of Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank PJSC. Agalarov’s son, Emin, helped broker a meeting last year between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who was said to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton and her campaign.

Another significant financial transaction involved a Palm Beach, Florida, estate Trump purchased in 2004 for $41 million, after its previous owner lost it in bankruptcy. In March of 2008, after the real-estate bubble had begun losing air, Russian fertilizer magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the property for $95 million.

As part of their investigation, Mueller’s team has issued subpoenas to banks and filed requests for bank records to foreign lenders under mutual legal-assistance treaties, according to two of the people familiar with the matter.

]]> 0 FBI director Robert Mueller, shown testifying on Capitol Hill in 2013, has agreed to serve as special counsel to oversee the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.Thu, 20 Jul 2017 14:33:09 +0000
Now you can view the International Space Station in dazzling 360° Thu, 20 Jul 2017 14:58:14 +0000

Google has just posted a series of 360-degree images from inside the International Space Station, captured in modified Street View by Thomas Pesquet, an astronaut for the European Space Agency who spent six months aboard the station as a flight engineer.

Pesquet returned to Earth in June and now his immersive photos are online for everyone to see. Click to his blog “Welcome to Outer Space View.”

]]> 0, 20 Jul 2017 11:02:45 +0000
Senate Judiciary Committee approves FBI director nominee Thu, 20 Jul 2017 14:32:25 +0000 WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the nomination of President Trump’s pick to head the FBI.

Christopher Wray’s nomination will now move to the Senate floor. The former Justice Department official won unanimous support from the panel, with senators from both parties praising his promise at his hearing last week never to let politics get in the way of the bureau’s mission.

“Beyond credentials, I believe Mr. Wray has the right view of the job,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Wray would replace James Comey, who was abruptly fired by Trump in May amid an investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties to Trump’s campaign. The Judiciary panel is also investigating Russian interference and will hear from Trump officials next week at a hearing.

In discussion before the vote, Democrats said that Wray has the qualifications and independence to lead the bureau.

The top Democrat on the panel, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said Wray “has the strength and fortitude to stand up and do what it is right when tested.”

She added: “We need leaders with steel spines, not weak knees, and I am hopeful that Mr. Wray will be just such a leader.”

Wray, 50, would inherit the FBI at a particularly challenging time given the firing of Comey, who was admired within the bureau. At his hearing last week, Wray exhibited his low-key, disciplined style. Still, he said that “anybody who thinks that I would be pulling punches as FBI director sure doesn’t know me very well.”

]]> 0 Director nominee Christopher Wray testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 12, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Thu, 20 Jul 2017 12:17:06 +0000
In first 6 months, President Trump made 836 false or misleading claims Thu, 20 Jul 2017 14:20:33 +0000 Shortly before reaching the six-month mark of his presidency, President Donald Trump made an assertion and then paused that perhaps he should not be so definitive. “I better say ‘think,’ otherwise they’ll give you a Pinocchio. And I don’t like those – I don’t like Pinocchios.”

As it turned out, the president’s claim – that he has signed more bills (42) at this point than “any president ever” – was completely wrong. Just among recent presidents, he’s behind Jimmy Carter (70 bills signed), George H.W. Bush (55) and Bill Clinton (50).

So it goes with Trump, the most fact-challenged politician that The Fact Checker has ever encountered. He averaged 4.6 false or misleading claims a day.

Readers encouraged us to keep the list going for the president’s first year. So at the six-month mark, the president’s tally stands at 836 false or misleading claims. Once again, that’s an average of 4.6 claims a day.

Trump’s most repeated claim, uttered 44 times, was some variation of the statement that the Affordable Care Act is dying and “essentially dead.” But the Congressional Budget Office has said that the Obamacare exchanges, despite well-documented issues, are not imploding and are expected to remain stable for the foreseeable future. If anything, actions taken by the Trump administration have spawned uncertainty. Several insurance companies have cited Trump administration policy as a reason to leave insurance markets in certain states, though others have sensed opportunity and moved in to replace insurers who have left.

The apparent implosion of the Senate health-care bill suggests the limits of Trump’s rhetoric. His repeated claim that Obamacare has already failed or is dead, in the face of objective evidence that the law is actually working, failed to win enough votes for passage – and failed to sway Democrats to consider working with him. Only rarely has the president tried to make a positive case for action on health care, as opposed to simply tearing down the Affordable Care Act.

Trump, as he did during the presidential campaign, also exaggerated the impact of increases in premiums on the Obamacare exchanges, cherry-picking numbers from a handful of states. Trump also frequently uses the calculation of premium increases without incorporating the impact of tax credits – which most people in the exchanges receive. If you take the subsidies into account, the average monthly premium of most people in the Obamacare exchanges goes down, not up.

Trump also has a disturbing habit of taking credit for events or business decisions that happened before he took the oath of office – or had even been elected. Some 30 times, he’s touted that he secured business investments and job announcements that had been previously announced and could easily be found with a Google search. Nearly 20 times he’s boasted that he had achieved a reduction in the cost of Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, even though the price cut had been in the works before he was elected.

Trump even claimed that it took “one sentence” to get the president of China to agree to sell U.S. beef in China. “I said, President Xi, we’d love to sell beef back in China again. He said, you can do that. That was the end of that,” Trump bragged on July 17. Perhaps it was so easy because the Obama administration already had brokered the beef deal back in September. The only thing that was new was a set date for beef sales to start.

Seventeen times, Trump asserted that because he demanded NATO members pay their fair share, “billions of dollars more have begun to pour into NATO.” But at a NATO summit in 2014, after Russian aggression in Ukraine, NATO members pledged to stop cutting their defense expenditures and by 2024 “move toward” a goal of spending at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. Since the 2014 meeting, defense expenditures from member countries increased steadily.

The cumulative spending increase from 2015 to 2017 above 2014 level is an additional $45.8 billion, according to NATO, with another increase of $13 billion expected in 2017. But these budget decisions were made during the 2016 calendar year, before Trump became president. (Moreover, the money does not “pour into NATO” but remains with each nation.)

Ten times, Trump has said he’s proposed “the biggest tax cut in the history of our country,” even though his administration has released no plan beyond a single sheet of paper. Even if it became a reality (there are reports the tax plan is being scaled back), it still would be smaller than tax cuts passed by Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. Eight times, he’s claimed to have already achieved “record investments” in the military even though his proposed defense increase is relatively modest – and not yet been approved by Congress.

Trump’s repeated claim that he secured $350 billion of deals during a trip to Saudi Arabia, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the United States, was greatly inflated. Many of the purported deals were not concluded and simply aspirational – and key investments were in Saudi Arabia, creating few jobs for Americans.

More than a dozen times, the president dismissed investigations into Russian interference into the election as a Democratic hoax, even though nonpartisan intelligence agencies concluded Russia intervened on behalf of Trump and congressional committees led by Republicans have begun their own probes.

When the president was a real estate developer, there was little consequence for repeated exaggeration or hyperbole because few people kept track. But now that he’s president, Trump may find that the “art of the deal” often requires a close attention to the facts, especially if he wants to convince lawmakers to take tough votes.

As president, Trump has already earned 20 Four-Pinocchio ratings – and a total of 152 Pinocchios. If he doesn’t like his Pinocchios, there’s a relatively simple solution: Stick to the facts.

]]> 0, 20 Jul 2017 11:15:45 +0000
Is the painting in a N.Y. living room a Michelangelo? A $300 million question. Thu, 20 Jul 2017 13:55:32 +0000 TONAWANDA, N.Y. — Martin Kober is convinced the painting of a dying Jesus that hung above the mantel in his upstate New York childhood home is the work of Michelangelo. Getting experts to agree remains the $300 million hurdle.

That’s the potential value of the 19-by-25-inch work that Kober’s family affectionately calls the “the Mike,” a one-time living room fixture that occasionally got dinged by a thrown tennis ball and once fell from the wall while being dusted.

Kober has for the last 15 years taken his Michelangelo suspicions to the art world and gotten a mixed bag of scholarly opinions. For now, the circa 1545 family heirloom that was given to Kober’s great-great-grandfather’s sister-in-law by a German baroness remains in an out-of-state vault while he seeks the elusive validation.

“It’s tormenting now,” said Kober, a retired commercial pilot who grew up in the Rochester suburb of Greece. “I’m nobody, I’m not connected. I don’t know if that’s it.”

The wood-panel painting depicts a dying Jesus supported by two angels in the lap of the Virgin Mary. Doubters view it as simply not good enough to be by Michelangelo or believe it’s another artist’s painted version of a much-copied Michelangelo drawing. Some question whether the then-70-year-old artist would have had time to fit the painting in between the Last Judgment fresco at the Sistine Chapel and another fresco at the Pauline Chapel.

A framed copy of a painting believed by its owner to be the work of Michelangelo in the 16th century, is displayed by Martin Kober in his Tonawanda, N.Y. in 2010. Photo courtesy of Martin Kober via Associated Press

Supporters of Kober’s claim cite written historical references and forensic evidence that includes Michelangelo’s preferred paint type, small brush strokes and mid-work changes visible by infrared testing that they say indicate an original, rather than copied, work.

“Unfortunately, the world of attribution is never a definitive affair,” said Michelangelo expert William Wallace, who is not surprised a consensus has yet to emerge. Assigning any work to a master is almost always a matter of waxing and waning scholarly opinion, he said, and pieces tend to fall in and out of favor as opinions change over time.

Kober says the museums and experts that have resisted his painting have not examined the piece or fully considered the historical and scientific evidence, much of which is spelled out in a 2014 book, “The Ragusa Pieta: History and Restoration.” The book documents the philanthropic Rome Foundation’s cleaning and diagnostic analysis of the painting in Italy beginning in 2011, before it was displayed there as part of a Renaissance exhibition.

Wallace, an art history professor at Washington University in St. Louis who saw the painting before it was restored, hasn’t ruled out that it is by Michelangelo. But he believes it was more likely painted by a longtime friend and contemporary of the artist, Marcello Venusti, with Michelangelo’s blessing. In Renaissance times, Wallace said, the painting and others like it still would have been considered Michelangelo’s because they were based on a Michelangelo drawing and done at his behest.

Among the biggest obstacles to its acceptance are differing interpretations of written references to the work dating back to the Renaissance, and whether they refer to a drawing, as was long thought, or a painting.

One of the painting’s strongest champions is Italian art historian and restorer Antonio Forcellino, who has examined the painting and wrote about it in “The Lost Michelangelos” in 2011.

Compared to European scholars, “the coldness of American institutions is unexplainable to this painting,” Forcellino said in an email.

For now, a frustrated Kober can’t understand why such positive opinions have not generated more buzz among scholars. He’s now willing to turn over his quixotic verification quest to an artistic or philanthropic organization with more clout.

“This painting can be poked and prodded all over again if that’s what it takes, but the results will be the same,” he said. “It’s a Michelangelo!”

]]> 0 this June 26, 2017 photo, Martin Kober displays literature and copies of a family heirloom that he believes was painted by Renaissance master Michelangelo, at his home in Tonawanda, N.Y. Kober is convinced the painting of a dying Jesus that hung above the mantel in his upstate New York childhood home is the work of Michelangelo. Getting experts to agree remains the $300 million hurdle. (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson)Thu, 20 Jul 2017 10:01:25 +0000
Dartmouth women’s swim team placed on probation for hazing incident Thu, 20 Jul 2017 13:34:18 +0000 HANOVER, N.H. – The women’s swimming and diving team at Dartmouth College is on probation for telling first-year members to give sexualized PowerPoint presentations to teammates.

The team admitted violating the Ivy League school’s hazing policy during a winter-break training trip in December. According to school officials, neither drugs nor alcohol was involved, and no students were physically harmed. While police were informed, the case was not pursued as a criminal violation under state hazing laws.

“We hold our teams to high standards and our student-athletes understand their collective responsibility to the community,” said Harry Sheehy, director of Athletics and Recreation. “The members of the team have acknowledged that their behavior was unacceptable and that their actions have consequences.”

In addition to being placed on probation for a year by the college, the team will be required to participate in a series of educational and team development activities. Members will be allowed to train in the fall but won’t compete in three intercollegiate meets during the fall term. The team will resume its competition schedule in December, but will not be allowed to travel for training.

Hayley Winter, one of two co-captains of the team for the 2017-18 season, declined to comment Thursday.

In the last several years, Dartmouth has been implementing an ambitious plan to overhaul its campus culture to address problems such as high-risk drinking, sexual assault and a lack of inclusion of students who felt marginalized. The school had received nationwide attention for allegations of fraternity hazing and, like many other schools, was under intense scrutiny to address the intertwined problems of sexual assault and alcohol as students increasingly began speaking up and the federal government started cracking down.

]]> 0, 20 Jul 2017 12:14:10 +0000
Two of 6 missing teens from Burundi robotics team reported crossing into Canada Thu, 20 Jul 2017 12:47:41 +0000 WASHINTON — Police have received reports that two of the Burundi teenagers gone missing after an international robotics competition were seen crossing the border into Canada.

The search for all the teens is ongoing, but police have no indication of foul play in their disappearance, Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Aquita Brown said.

The teens seen crossing into Canada were 16-year-old Don Ingabire and 17-year-old Audrey Mwamikazi, Brown said.

There was no official indication Thursday that any of the teens were trying to avoid returning to their homes in Africa, but a leader in the Burundian community in the U.S. suggested that they may be intending to seek asylum.

Immigration attorneys said an asylum application could take years to sort out.

Police tweeted missing person fliers Wednesday asking for help finding the teens, who had last been seen at the FIRST Global Challenge around the time of Tuesday’s final matches. The missing team members include two 17-year-old girls and four males ranging in age from 16 to 18.

The competition, designed to encourage youths to pursue careers in math and science, attracted teams of teenagers from more than 150 nations.

A squad of girls from Afghanistan drew the most attention after they were twice rejected for U.S. visas and President Donald Trump intervened.

Competition organizers learned Tuesday night that the team’s mentor couldn’t find the six students who participated in the competition and organization President FIRST Global President Joe Sestak made the initial call to the police, according to a FIRST Global Challenge statement.

“Security of the students is of paramount importance to FIRST Global,” organizers said, noting that they ensure students get to their dormitories after the competition by providing safe transportation to students staying at Trinity Washington University. The students “are always to be under close supervision of their adult mentor and are advised not to leave the premises unaccompanied by the mentor.”

The mentor said the teens traveled from Burundi for the competition and have one-year visas, according to police reports. The mentor said they disappeared after the competition, but he doesn’t know where they went. The reports say police tried to contact one missing teen’s uncle but got no response.

The competition’s webpage about Team Burundi shows the six team members posing with a flag and says team members were selected from schools in Bujumbura, the capital city. The team’s slogan in Kirundi is “Ugushaka Nugushobora,” which translates roughly to “where there is a will, there is a way.”

Police tweeted images of the teens Wednesday, saying they are looking for 17-year-old girls, Mwamikazi and Nice Munezero; Richard Irakoze and Aristide Irambona, both 18; Kevin Sabumukiza, 17; and Ingabire, 16.

Hassan Ahmad, an immigration lawyer in northern Virginia not involved in the situation, said that if the teens make an asylum application, then Immigration and Customs Enforcement could seek to detain the teens pending removal proceedings. The teens would be eligible to seek bond and stay in the country while they await their hearing. It can take years to have a court hearing scheduled. And even if ICE declines to seek detention, it can take several years for applicants to have their formal interview to determine whether they are eligible for asylum.

Oscar Niyiragira, chairman of the United Burundian-American Community Association Inc., was not at all surprised to hear that some of the teens were heading to Canada. He had no direct knowledge of their situation, but assumed they were seeking asylum, and many in the community feel the odds are better in Canada, especially now that the Trump administration has taken a harsh stance on immigration.

He called the teens’ departure disappointing. He said that economic impoverishment, rather than political persecution, is the driving force in most people’s decision to seek asylum from Burundi, and he said it unfairly tarnishes Burundi’s reputation when people flee and exaggerate the fears of political violence.

“Now I’m not saying the government does not commit some crimes. They do,” said Niyiragira, who lives in Louisville, Kentucky. But the situation in Burundi is not nearly as bad as it was in waves of violence in the ’70s and the ’90s, he said.

Burundi, an East African nation of about 10 million people who speak the local Kirundi language and French, has faced sporadic violence in recent years.

Burundi’s government had no immediate comment Thursday.

Nkurunziza is visiting neighboring Tanzania, home to tens of thousands of Burundian refugees who have fled deadly political violence. Hundreds of people have been killed, according to the United Nations, and rights groups accuse Burundi’s security forces of abuses including killings and disappearances. Burundi’s government often dismisses the allegations, saying they are based on false information supplied by the regime’s opponents.

]]> 0, 20 Jul 2017 12:33:35 +0000
Trump says he regrets appointing Sessions as attorney general Thu, 20 Jul 2017 01:36:35 +0000 President Trump harshly criticized his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, indicating that he regrets the choice.

In an interview with The New York Times on Thursday, Trump vented about the probe and said that he would not have appointed Sessions – a top campaign supporter – if he had known Sessions would recuse himself.

“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump said.

The comments are a dramatic public scolding of one of Trump’s closest supporters in Congress during his presidential campaign, and the man now holding a top Cabinet position. Sessions recused himself from the investigation, which will look into possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and the Russians, shortly after being confirmed to the post, citing his work on the Trump campaign.

Trump, who has publicly aired his anger over the existence of the probe, attacked several other figures connected to it, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and former FBI Director James Comey.

Trump called Sessions’s decision to recuse himself “very unfair to the president.”

“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” he added. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair – and that’s a mild word – to the president.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice declined to comment.

Trump also suggested that the special counsel investigation was now rife with conflicts, though he did not specifically name them.

Mueller, a former FBI director, was appointed to lead the investigation after Trump fired Comey. Trump had also considered Mueller as a candidate to replace Comey.

“He was up here and he wanted the job,” Mr. Trump said. After he was named special counsel, “I said, ‘What the hell is this all about?’ Talk about conflicts. But he was interviewing for the job. There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.”

Trump also expressed reservations about Rosenstein, who appointed the special counsel. According to the New York Times, the president expressed annoyance when learning that Rosenstein was from Baltimore, where he had served as a federal prosecutor.

“There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any,” Trump said.

]]> 0 General Jeff Sessions agreed to appear before the Senate intelligence committee as it investigates alleged Russian election meddling.Wed, 19 Jul 2017 21:55:15 +0000
Trump tells voter fraud commission to keep ‘a very open mind’ Thu, 20 Jul 2017 01:35:07 +0000 WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday urged members of his new voter fraud commission to approach their task with “a very open mind,” despite having spent months making unfounded claims, without evidence, that millions of fraudulent ballots had been cast against him.

Speaking at the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, Trump also questioned the motives of states that have refused to comply with the commission’s request for extensive personal voter information, suggesting they had something to hide.

“If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they’re worried about,” he said. “There’s something. There always is.”

Meanwhile, Kris Kobach, the vice chair of the commission, said in an interview with MSNBC that “we may never know” whether Trump’s 2016 rival Hillary Clinton really won the popular vote.

“We will probably never know the answer to that question, because even if you could prove that a certain number of votes were cast by ineligible voters, for example, you wouldn’t know how they voted,” said Kobach, who is also Kansas’s Secretary of State.

Trump won the Electoral College by a comfortable margin, but Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes.

Even before their first meeting, the commission had drawn outrage over a request to each state for reams of personal voter information, including voter names, voting histories and party affiliations. Aides to Vice President and commission chair Mike Pence said they only asked for information that was already publicly available.

But at least 17 states, plus Washington, D.C. have rebuffed the request, citing privacy concerns and a fear that complying would legitimize the unproven idea that voter fraud is widespread. The requests have also sparked multiple lawsuits.

Critics see the commission as part of a conservative campaign to strip minority voters and poor people from the voter rolls, and to justify unfounded claims made by a president who was angry about losing the popular vote.

]]> 0 President Mike Pence, left, with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, speaks during the meeting of the president's voter fraud panel.Wed, 19 Jul 2017 21:59:39 +0000
Newest DNA technique identifies mystery victim of John Wayne Gacy Thu, 20 Jul 2017 00:46:11 +0000 CHICAGO — After running away from his Minnesota home in 1976, 16-year-old Jimmy Haakenson called his mother, told her he was in Chicago, then disappeared forever.

John Wayne Gacy

More than 40 years later, a detective from Illinois arrived at the family’s home to tell Haakenson’s relatives that at some point after hanging up the phone, the teenager crossed paths with serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Haakenson’s body, it turns out, was among dozens found in a crawl space of Gacy’s Chicago-area home in 1978. But the remains were only recently identified thanks to DNA technology that wasn’t available then, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department announced Wednesday.

Gacy was convicted of killing 33 young men and was executed in 1994. But the revelation about Haakenson is the latest turn in a yearslong effort to solve the remaining mystery surrounding Gacy’s case: Who were the eight victims authorities hadn’t been able to identify?

James “Jimmy” Byron Haakenson’s body is only the second person that authorities have identified since Sheriff Tom Dart in 2011 ordered the remains of the eight victims exhumed and asked families of young men who went missing in the 1970s to provide DNA samples. The first was William Bundy, a 19-year-old from Chicago whose remains were identified weeks after the exhumations.

Haakenson’s family in Minnesota plans to come to Chicago to mark his grave.

“One of the worst people in the world that walked the earth murdered my brother,” his sister, Lori Sisterman, who lives in North St. Paul, said Wednesday. “You hope for something different,” but she went on to add, “I’m so glad to know where my brother is.”

]]> 0 WAYNE GACYThu, 20 Jul 2017 06:17:58 +0000
Arizona Sen. John McCain diagnosed with brain cancer Thu, 20 Jul 2017 00:31:43 +0000 WASHINGTON — Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee with a well-known maverick streak that often vexes his colleagues, has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, his office said in a statement Wednesday.

The 80-year-old lawmaker has glioblastoma, an aggressive cancer, according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, where McCain had a blood clot removed from above his left eye last Friday.

“Subsequent tissue pathology revealed that a primary brain tumor known as a glioblastoma was associated with the blood clot,” his office said in a statement.

According to the American Brain Tumor Association, more than 12,000 people a year are diagnosed with glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive type of tumor. The American Cancer Society puts the five-year survival rate for patients over 55 at about 4 percent.

It’s the same type of tumor that struck McCain’s close Democratic colleague in legislative battles, the late Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

The tumor digs tentacle-like roots into normal brain tissue. Patients fare best when surgeons can cut out all the visible tumor, which happened with McCain’s tumor, according to his office. That isn’t a cure; cancerous cells that aren’t visible still tend to lurk, the reason McCain’s doctors are considering further treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation.

In a statement on Twitter, his daughter, Meghan McCain, spoke of the shock of the news and the anxiety over what happens next. “My love for my father is boundless and like any daughter I cannot and do not wish to be in a world without him. I have faith that those days remain far away,” she said.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said he spoke to McCain Wednesday evening. Graham said McCain told him: “Yeah, I’m going to have to stay here a little bit longer, take some treatments. I’ll be back.”

The senator and chairman of the Armed Services Committee had been recovering at his Arizona home. His absence had forced Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to delay action on health care legislation. McCain had been slated to oversee debate of the sweeping defense policy bill in the coming weeks.

As word spread of his diagnosis, presidents past and present along with McCain’s current and former Senate colleagues offered support in an outpouring rarely seen in Washington.

“Senator John McCain has always been a fighter. Melania and I send our thoughts and prayers to Senator McCain, Cindy, and their entire family. Get well soon,” President Trump said.

Barack Obama, who dashed McCain’s dreams of the presidency, said in a tweet: “John McCain is an American hero & one of the bravest fighters I’ve ever known. Cancer doesn’t know what it’s up against. Give it hell, John.”

Maine’s Republican Sen. Susan Collins said on Twitter, “Saddened to learn of @SenJohnMcCain’s serious illness. Looking forward to his return to the Senate.”

And Maine’s independent Sen. Angus King tweeted, “I love John McCain. I’ve traveled with him, I’ve been tongue lashed by him, I’ve worked with him, and I wish I could be with him tonight.”

McCain has a lifetime of near-death experiences — surviving the July 1967 fire and explosion on the USS Forrestal that killed 134 sailors; flying into power lines in Spain; the October 1967 shoot-down of his Navy aircraft and fall into Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi; and 5 1/2 years in a North Vietnamese prison.

“The Hanoi Hilton couldn’t break John McCain’s spirit many years ago, so Barbara and I know — with confidence — he and his family will meet this latest battle in his singular life of service with courage and determination,” said former President George H.W. Bush.

McConnell called McCain a “hero to our conference and a hero to our country.” Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said McCain “is a fighter, and I am hopeful he will once again beat the odds.” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey described McCain as “undoubtedly the toughest man in the United States Senate.”

Politics aside, McCain and Bill Clinton developed a strong friendship, and the former president said: “As he’s shown his entire life, don’t bet against John McCain. Best wishes to him for a swift recovery.”


McCain’s office disclosed the removal of the blood clot late Saturday and said the senator was awaiting pathology reports. In the past, McCain had been treated for melanoma, but a primary tumor is unrelated. Doctors said McCain is recovering from his surgery amazingly well and his underlying health is excellent.

With his irascible grin and fighter-pilot moxie, McCain was elected to the Senate from Arizona six times, but twice thwarted in seeking the presidency.

An upstart presidential bid in 2000 didn’t last long. Eight years later, he fought back from the brink of defeat to win the Republican nomination, only to be overpowered by Obama. McCain chose a little-known Alaska governor as his running mate in that race, and helped turn Sarah Palin into a national political figure.

After losing to Obama in an electoral landslide, McCain returned to the Senate, determined not to be defined by a failed presidential campaign. And when Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015, McCain embraced his new job as chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee, eager to play a big role “in defeating the forces of radical Islam that want to destroy America.”


Throughout his long tenure in Congress, McCain has played his role with trademark verve, at one hearing dismissing a protester by calling out, “Get out of here, you low-life scum.”

He tangled with McConnell over campaign finance, joined forces with Democrats on immigration and most recently had a very public spat with Sen. Rand Paul. McCain said the Kentucky Republican was working for Russian President Vladimir Putin after he blocked a vote on allowing Montenegro into NATO. Paul said McCain had gotten “unhinged.”

Early in the 2016 campaign, McCain largely held his tongue when Trump questioned his status as a war hero by saying: “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

McCain stuck by Trump at times seemingly through gritted teeth — until the release a month before the election of a lewd audio in which Trump said he could kiss and grab women. Declaring that the breaking point, McCain withdrew his support and said he would write in “some good conservative Republican who’s qualified to be president.”

In an interview with The Associated Press in 2013, McCain spoke of his decades in Congress, legislative achievements and political defeats.

“The last thing I am is bitter and angry. … I’ve had the most full life. I would compare my life to anybody that I’ve ever known and it’s been one of great good fortune and I’m grateful every day,” he said.

]]> 0, 20 Jul 2017 07:55:32 +0000
Latest health care bill would leave 32 million more uninsured, forecast says Wed, 19 Jul 2017 22:17:30 +0000 WASHINGTON — Lecturing fellow Republicans, President Trump summoned Republican senators to the White House on Wednesday and told them face-to-face they must not leave town for their August recess without sending him an “Obamacare” repeal bill to sign. Senators responded by vowing to revive legislative efforts left for dead twice already this week.

Further complicating that approach, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis Wednesday reaffirming its earlier findings that the repeal-only bill would mean 32 million additional uninsured people over a decade and average premiums doubling.

Reviving the bill was far from assured, but Trump declared “I’m ready to act,” putting the responsibility on Republican lawmakers, not himself. During last year’s presidential campaign he had declared repeatedly it would be “so easy” to get rid of the Obama law.

The developments Wednesday came just a day after the latest Republican health care plan collapsed in the Senate, leading Trump himself to say it was time to simply let President Obama’s health care law fail. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had indicated he was prepared to stick a fork in the Republican bill and move on to other issues including overhauling the tax code.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has failed repeatedly to come up with a bill that can satisfy both conservatives and moderates in his Republican conference. Associated Press/Manuel Balce Ceneta

But in an apparent change of heart, in keeping with his erratic engagement on the issue, Trump pressured McConnell to delay the key vote until next week, and he invited Republican senators to the White House for lunch.

There, with the cameras rolling in the State Dining Room, Trump spoke at length as he cajoled, scolded and issued veiled threats to his fellow Republicans, all aimed at wringing a health care bill out of a divided caucus that’s been unable to produce one so far.

“For seven years you promised the American people that you would repeal Obamacare. People are hurting. Inaction is not an option and frankly I don’t think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan,” he said.

Seated next to Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, who is vulnerable in next year’s midterm elections, Trump remarked: “He wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” as Heller gave a strained grin.

It was not clear that the White House lunch would change the calculus in the Senate, where McConnell has failed repeatedly to come up with a bill that can satisfy both conservatives and moderates in his Republican conference. Two different versions of repeal-and-replace legislation fell short of votes before coming to the floor, pushing him to announce Monday night that he would retreat to a repeal-only bill that had passed Congress when Obama was in office.

But that bill, too, died a premature death as three Republican senators announced their opposition on Tuesday, one more than McConnell can lose in the closely divided Senate.

And a new AP-NORC poll found that Americans overwhelmingly want lawmakers of both parties to work out health care changes, with only 13 percent supporting Republican moves to repeal the Obama law absent a replacement.

At the White House lunch, the discussion was not simply about repealing “Obamacare” but also how to replace it as Republicans said that after seven years of promises, they could not let their efforts die without one last fight.

“This is more than just a health care debate,” said Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas as he left the meeting. “It really means, can we come together as a conference, can we come together as a Republican Party, can we come together on a signature piece of legislation we’ve talked about for seven years.

“If we don’t, I think it’s pretty clear the political consequences are staring us right in the face,” Roberts added.

The administration scheduled a late-night meeting at the Capitol with Vice President Mike Pence and others for undecided senators to air their concerns.

McConnell announced that the Senate would vote next week to open debate, and “I have every expectation that we will be able to get on the bill” – although no one seemed quite sure what bill it will be.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who on Tuesday announced she would vote “no” on the “motion to proceed” to the repeal-only bill, demurred when asked after Wednesday’s lunch whether she remains “no,” telling reporters: “We don’t know what the motion to proceed is for all certainty. … I think that there’s going to be a lot more discussion before there’s a motion to proceed.”

Trump’s sudden re-resolve to get “Obamacare” repeal-and-replace passed came after he’s been on all sides of the issue in a whiplash-inducing series of remarks over recent days and weeks, supporting repeal and replace, straight repeal, and finally doing nothing so “we’ll just let Obamacare fail,” as he declared on Tuesday.

He’s also failed to use his “bully pulpit” to sell the Republican legislation to the public, something he promised senators he would remedy, according to Roberts.

Yet for all the determined rhetoric Wednesday, the basic divisions haven’t changed in the Senate, where conservatives like Rand Paul of Kentucky want legislation that fully repeals the Obama law while moderates like Susan Collins of Maine want something incompatible with that, a more generous bill that provides for Americans including those who gained Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

“We don’t have any delusions about the fact that this is going to be very hard,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Senate Republican. “And we still have members who are not there yet.”

Associated Press writers Ken Thomas, Catherine Lucey, Stephen Ohlemacher, Richard Lardner, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

]]> 0, 20 Jul 2017 05:52:22 +0000
New Jersy Transit considers disciplinary action over canceled trains Wed, 19 Jul 2017 22:09:42 +0000 TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Transit is weighing whether it can pursue disciplinary action against train engineers after a manpower shortage forced dozens of ride cancellations this week amid summerlong track work at New York’s Penn Station, an agency official told lawmakers Wednesday.

NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro said at a joint Assembly-Senate oversight committee that there were 40 total cancellations Sunday and Monday and that he will meet later this week with union leaders.

The union contract spells out the process for discipline, Santoro said after the Democrat-led hearing. “If it’s appropriate, disciplinary action will occur consistent with the contract,” he said.

It’s unclear how many of the cancellations stemmed from engineers exercising a contract provision that allows them to take two days to report for work when schedule changes are made. But vacations and the summer track work also may have been a factor, Santoro said.

The head of the union said NJ Transit portrayed its workers negatively, “implying that engineers simply do not want to come to work.”

“In fact, the opposite is true,” said James Brown, chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

One lawmaker in particular got heated when discussing the canceled trains. Republican state Sen. Joe Kyrillos fumed about workers, at one point asking Santoro whether it was true they were “screwing” NJ Transit customers by not working earlier this week.

“That is the end product,” Santoro said.

Democratic Assemblyman John McKeon said he would issue the panel’s first subpoena later this week for correspondence between Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s office and NJ Transit. He said he received 1,200 pages in response to a request, which he called “unacceptable.”

Santoro said after the hearing the agency has been busy with train operations but would comply with McKeon’s request.

The hearing, which also included testimony from officials at Amtrak, PATH commuter trains and the New York Waterway, came amid the second week of extensive repairs at the nation’s busiest rail station.

Lawmakers and an Amtrak official said the first week of work went better than expected.

“The summer from hell has not been quite as hot as expected,” Democratic state Sen. Bob Gordon said, referring to Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s comment earlier this year anticipating a “summer of hell.”

Aside from the NJ Transit’s staffing issues, there was general agreement that the first week of the track work went well. Michael DeCataldo, an Amtrak vice president, said the work got off to a “promising start,” with concrete and rail ties being replaced.

Amtrak owns Penn Station.

This week’s cancellations came during the second week of extensive repairs at the station that already have affected train service for hundreds of thousands of commuters.

]]> 0 New Jersey Transit train, left, passes by the sidelined Princeton Dinky train, right, Tuesday, in West Windsor, N.J. Some trains, including the Dinky, were canceled this week during summerlong repair work at New York's Penn Station, the nation's busiest train station.Wed, 19 Jul 2017 18:38:00 +0000
Catching blue lobster puts New Hampshire man among the elite Wed, 19 Jul 2017 21:00:43 +0000 PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – A New Hampshire lobsterman has joined an elite club after catching a rare blue lobster.

A rare blue lobster caught by New Hampshire lobsterman Greg Ward is on display at the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, N.H., on Tuesday. Rich Beauchesne/Portsmouth Herald via Associated Press

The Portsmouth Herald reports Greg Ward initially thought he had snagged an albino lobster when he examined his catch off the coast Monday where New Hampshire borders Maine. The Rye lobsterman quickly realized his hard-shell lobster was a unique blue and cream color.

The oft-cited odds of catching a blue lobster are 1 in 2 million. But no one knows for sure.

An Old Orchard Beach, Maine, girl caught a bright blue lobster off Pine Point in Scarborough in 2014.

Ward says the lobster is unlike anything he’s ever seen.

He gave the rare crustacean to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye to study and put on display.

Center aquarist Rob Royer says Ward’s blue lobster will go on display in the “exotic” lobster tank once it acclimates to the water.

]]> 0 rare blue lobster caught by New Hampshire lobsterman Greg Ward is on display at the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, N.H., on Tuesday.Wed, 19 Jul 2017 21:35:11 +0000
There’s literally a ton of plastic garbage for every person in the world Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:37:29 +0000 More than 9 billion tons of plastic has been produced since 1950, and the vast majority of it is still around.

A new study that tracked the global manufacture and distribution of plastics since they became widespread after World War II found that only 2 billion tons of that plastic is still in use. Seven billion tons is stuck on Earth as garbage in landfills, recycled trash or pollution in the environment, including deep oceans, where it’s been discovered in the mouths of whales and the bellies of dead seabirds that mistook it for food. A small amount is eliminated in incinerators.

As plastic becomes near-indestructible mountains of garbage on land and swirling vortexes of trash on the high seas, humans keep making more. Half of the plastic that people mostly use once and toss away was created in the past 30 years, the study says.

Plastic’s most lucrative market is packaging commonly seen in grocery stores. It could be in front of you right now, in the form of a water bottle, a carryout lunch container, or an iced-coffee or tea cup with its disposable straw.

It’s a miracle product that’s also in your office chair, phone and computer keyboard. The pipes that move water in your building are often plastic. You probably touch plastic to switch on the car radio on the foam plastic dashboard. Plastic is pretty much everywhere humans are at any part of the day, anywhere in the world.

Plastics bundled for recycling. Photo courtesy of the City of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

In 1960, plastic accounted for just 1 percent of junk in municipal landfills across the world. As single-package containers led to an explosion in convenience and use, that number grew to 10 percent in 2005. A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated the amount of plastic debris floating in the open ocean at 7,000 to 35,000 tons.

“If current trends continue, the researchers predict over 13 billion tons of plastic will be discarded in landfills or in the environment by 2050,” the American Association for the Advancement of Science said in a statement announcing the new study’s release Wednesday. It was published in the journal Science Advances.

“I think for me that’s the single most surprising thing, the implication of the large growth rate,” said Roland Geyer, one of the authors. Another surprise, he said, is how far the United States lags behind China and Europe in recycling plastic material.

In the study, Geyer wrote, “On the basis of limited available data, the highest recycling rates in 2014 were in Europe (30 percent) and China (25 percent), whereas in the United States, plastic recycling has remained steady at 9 percent.”

Recycling only delays plastic’s inevitable trip to a trash bin. Incineration is the only way to assure that plastic is eliminated, and Europe and China by far lead the United States in that category as well, up to 40 percent compared with 16 percent.

But burning plastic is risky because if the emissions aren’t carefully filtered, harmful chemicals become air pollution. Like other countries, the United States has been slow to enforce regulations on industry emissions.

China is easily the world’s largest producer of plastics, with Europe and North America also looming large as major players, Geyer said. Other Asian nations round out a long list of manufacturers. But consumers are the polluters, and people on every continent participate, from the Arctic to Africa.

Plastic’s vampire-like life cycle is nothing new. What’s new with this research is its use of plastic-production data with “product lifetime distributions from eight different industrial sectors” to build a scientific model that showed “how long plastics are in use before they reach the end of their useful lifetimes and are discarded,” the study said.

Geyer, an associate professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, wrote the study with two colleagues, Jenna Jambeck, an associate professor at the University of Georgia, and Kara Lavender Law, a researcher at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Each of them studied ocean garbage in the past, but Geyer, whose field is industrial ecology, the study of material and energy, suggested the plastics study. “I’m fascinated by materials and the way we use them . . . in particular waste management.”

The scale of the world’s plastic consumption and waste shocked them. “Even we were kind of surprised at the sheer magnitude of plastics being made and used,” Geyer said. He said he hopes politicians, conservationists and consumers will pay attention to what they found.

“My hope is readers will get a sense of the sheer magnitude of the tide of plastics and the plastic-waste challenge we’re facing,” he said. “. . . It’s enormous, and it’s accelerating.”

Unless it’s burned, plastic has nowhere to go but in the ground or the water. “I think most experts agree these polymers . . . are going to be with us for decades if not centuries,” Geyer said.

“I think the danger is permanent global contamination with plastics,” he said. “It’s just going to be everywhere, in the soil, in the ocean, in the sediment of the ocean floor, and it’s just going to accumulate.”

]]> 0, 19 Jul 2017 15:59:07 +0000
Trump ends CIA program to arm Syrian rebels, a move sought by Moscow Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:24:45 +0000 WASHINGTON — President Trump has decided to end the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Russia, according to U.S. officials.

The program was a central plank of a policy begun by the Obama administration in 2013 to put pressure on Assad to step aside, but even its backers have questioned its efficacy since Russia deployed forces in Syria two years later.

Officials said the phasing out of the secret program reflects Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on its interests. The shuttering of the program is also an acknowledgment of Washington’s limited leverage and desire to remove Assad from power.

Just three months ago, after the United States accused Assad of using chemical weapons, Trump launched retaliatory airstrikes against a Syrian air base. At the time, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, said that “in no way do we see peace in that area with Assad at the head of the Syrian government.”

Officials said Trump made the decision to scrap the CIA program nearly a month ago, after an Oval Office meeting with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and national security adviser H.R. McMaster ahead of a July 7 meeting in Germany with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Spokesmen for the National Security Council and the CIA declined to comment.

After the Trump-Putin meeting, the United States and Russia announced an agreement to back a new cease-fire in southwest Syria, along the Jordanian border, where many of the CIA-backed rebels have long operated. Trump described the limited cease-fire deal as one of the benefits of a constructive working relationship with Moscow.

The move to end the secret program to arm the anti-Assad rebels was not a condition of the cease-fire negotiations, which were already well underway, said U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the secret program.

Trump’s dealings with Russia have been under heavy scrutiny because of the investigations into the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election. The decision on the CIA-backed rebels will be welcomed by Moscow, which focused its firepower on those fighters after it intervened in Syria in 2015.

Some current and former officials who support the program cast the move as a major concession.

“This is a momentous decision,” said a current official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a covert program. “Putin won in Syria.”

The decision will not affect a separate Pentagon-led effort to work with U.S.-backed Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State. And the CIA-backed rebels were part of the larger moderate opposition.

Some analysts said the decision was likely to empower more radical groups inside Syria and damage the credibility of the United States.

“We are falling into a Russian trap,” said Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, who focuses on the Syrian resistance. “We are making the moderate resistance more and more vulnerable. . . . We are really cutting them off at the neck.”

Others said it was recognition of Assad’s entrenched position in Syria.

“It’s probably a nod to reality,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration official and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

U.S. intelligence officials say battlefield gains by rebels in 2015 prompted Russia’s direct military intervention on the side of the Assad regime. Some U.S. officials and their allies in the region urged President Barack Obama to respond by providing the rebels with advanced antiaircraft weapons so they could better defend themselves. But Obama balked, citing concerns about the United States getting pulled into a conflict with Russia.

Senior U.S. officials said that the covert program would be phased out over a period of months. It is also possible that some of the support could be redirected to other missions, such as fighting the Islamic State or making sure that the rebels can still defend themselves from attacks.

“This is a force that we can’t afford to completely abandon,” Goldenberg said. “If they are ending the aid to the rebels altogether, then that is a huge strategic mistake.”

U.S. officials said the decision had the backing of Jordan, where some of the rebels were trained, and appeared to be part of a larger Trump administration strategy to focus on negotiating limited cease-fire deals with the Russians.

Earlier this month, five days into the first cease-fire in southwest Syria, Trump indicated that another agreement was under discussion with Moscow. “We are working on the second cease-fire in a very rough part of Syria,” Trump said. “If we get that and a few more, all of a sudden we are going to have no bullets being fired in Syria.”

One big potential risk of shutting down the CIA program is that the United States may lose its ability to block other countries, such as Turkey and Persian Gulf allies, from funneling more sophisticated weapons – including man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS – to anti-Assad rebels, including more radical groups.

Toward the end of the Obama administration, some officials advocated ending the CIA program, arguing that the rebels would be ineffective without a major escalation in U.S. support. But the program still had the support of a majority of top Obama advisers, who argued that the United States couldn’t abandon its allies on the ground and give up on the moderate opposition because of the damage that it would do to U.S. standing in the region.

Even those who were skeptical about the program’s long-term value, viewed it as a key bargaining chip that could be used to wring concessions from Moscow in negotiations over Syria’s future.

“People began thinking about ending the program, but it was not something you’d do for free,” said a former White House official. “To give [the program] away without getting anything in return would be foolish.”

]]> 0 Wed, 19 Jul 2017 15:39:10 +0000
Supreme Court allows Trump travel ban enforcement with broader exemptions Wed, 19 Jul 2017 17:34:00 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed the Trump administration to enforce its refugee ban for now, but said it must allow broader exemptions to the president’s travel ban for family members, including grandparents.

The justices in a short order refused the administration’s request that it stay a lower court’s decision that said the Trump administration had too severely interpreted the court’s decision last month about exempting those with close family relationships.

The justices on Wednesday said the government’s appeal of the lower court should go through normal channels, with the next stop at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

The justices did stay a part of the lower court’s ruling, and said that it could enforce a refugee ban for now.

The court’s decision was the latest action in the Trump administration’s nearly six-month efforts to temporarily shut down the nation’s refugee program and bar visitors from several Muslin-majority countries while it examines vetting procedures.

While the Trump administration has said the effort was needed to protect the country, challengers have fought it as an unconstitutional effort to ban Muslims, which Trump had advocated during the campaign.

The latest version banned visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It and the refugee ban had been put on hold by lower courts.

The Supreme Court on June 26 said it would consider the merits of the challenge in the fall, and in the meantime struck a compromise: the ban could go in effect regarding those without a connection to the United States, people with a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the U.S. must be exempted.

The justices did not define such a relationship, but gave examples of what would qualify for the exemption: a close relative in the U.S., a spot in an American university, a job offer or speaking engagement.

The three dissenting justices who would have let the administration’s ban go into effect without restriction predicted it would prompt more litigation, and it did.

The Trump administration interpreted the close relative portion of the court’s opinion to refer only to people with a parent, spouse, fiance, son or daughter, siblings, son-in-law or daughter-in-law in the U.S. It would continue to bar refugees who had an offer from a refugee resettlement operation, which covers about 24,000 waiting refugees.

The challengers went back to U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii, who had earlier issued a nationwide injunction against the ban. Watson ruled last week that the government’s “narrowly defined list” of exemptions was not supported by either the Supreme Court decision or by the law.

“Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents,” Watson wrote. “Indeed, grandparents are the epitome of close family members. The government’s definition excludes them. That simply cannot be.”

He extended the exemptions to include those with grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. Watson wrote that refugees with an assurance from a resettlement agency are also exempt from the ban.

The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to stay Watson’s ruling.

His interpretation of what kinds of family relationships qualify “empties the court’s decision of meaning, as it encompasses not just ‘close’ family members, but virtually all family members,” the administration said in its brief to the court.

“Treating all of these relationships as ‘close familial relationships’ reads the term ‘close’ out of the court’s decision,” it said.

It added that Watson’s ruling would cover virtually all refugees.

The state of Hawaii, which has led the challenge of the travel ban, told the justices that the government’s argument was “nonsense.”

Any rule that maintained grandparents are not part of a close familial relationship was suspect, the state said in its brief to the court.

“That argument is as wrong as it sounds, and nothing in this court’s opinion, the immigration laws, or common sense supports it,” the state wrote.

It said 85 percent of awaiting refugees would still be covered by the ban, and said those who had been promised help by resettlement agencies had been comprehensively vetted.

Hawaii said it was inappropriate for the Supreme Court to get involved at this point of the litigation. But the government countered that only the justices could clarify what they meant.

“The stark division between the parties’ interpretations – and the practical need for immediate clarity – likewise warrant this court’s intervention now,” the government said.

]]> 0, 19 Jul 2017 14:16:33 +0000
Police arrest notorious jewel thief for shoplifting at Walmart Wed, 19 Jul 2017 16:27:03 +0000 ATLANTA — A notorious jewel thief with a career spanning six decades has been caught stealing again, but she wasn’t after gems this time, police near Atlanta say.

Doris Payne, 86, was arrested at a Walmart store around 5 p.m. Monday and charged with shoplifting $86.22 worth of merchandise, according to a report from Chamblee police. The charge is a misdemeanor.

Payne was the subject of a 2013 documentary film, “The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne,” that detailed her feats. In an interview with The Associated Press last year, she casually acknowledged, “I was a thief.” She’s well-known in fine-jewelry circles, and authorities say she has pocketed expensive jewels from stores around the world.

Her attorney, Drew Findling, noted that this case is different.

“This is a sharp contrast to all the cases in the past. We’re not talking about high-end jewelry,” he said. “We’re talking about what an 86-year-old woman needs to survive on a day-to-day basis, food supplies and medical supplies.”

The police report doesn’t list the items that Payne allegedly tried to steal.

Findling said he’s reviewed the police report but still needs to watch surveillance video footage to see what happened.

Payne’s latest arrest came after a Walmart employee notified an off-duty police officer working security at the store that Payne visited the pharmacy, electronics and grocery departments. She put some items in her shopping cart but hid others in her purse and a Walmart shopping bag, the employee said.

Payne then went to a register and paid for the items in her shopping cart but not the items in her shopping bag and purse, the employee said. When she tried to exit the store the employee and the off-duty officer stopped her.

When Payne was booked into the Chamblee jail, police discovered she was wearing an electronic ankle monitor because she was on probation from a prior arrest in DeKalb County. She pleaded guilty in March to a felony shoplifting charge after authorities said she tried to steal a $2,000 necklace from a Von Maur department store in December.

She bonded out of the Chamblee jail and was likely to be booked into the DeKalb County jail for charges of violating her probation, Findling said, adding that he’d like to get things cleared up as quickly as possible.

Payne was about 10 days shy of having the ankle monitor removed and had been complying with her probation before this arrest, Findling said.

Payne was raised in West Virginia and moved with her family to Ohio when she was a teenager.

Authorities have said she has used at least 22 aliases over the years and probably got away more often than she was caught, though she has done several stints in prison. The Jewelers’ Security Alliance, an industry trade group, sent out bulletins as early as the 1970s warning about her.

Payne told the AP she was a child when a store owner let her try on watches and then forgot she had the jewelry on when he turned to wait on a white customer who had come in. She said she returned the watch but the episode made her realize that a simple distraction could make it easy to slip out with a fancy trinket in hand. Her career began in her 20s when she got the idea that she could support herself by lifting jewelry.

]]> 0, 19 Jul 2017 12:34:23 +0000
Saudis release woman in miniskirt video without charge Wed, 19 Jul 2017 14:23:41 +0000 DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A young woman became the center of a controversy about clothing in Saudi Arabia after a video was posted online that showed her wearing a short skirt and cropped top in one of the nation’s most conservative provinces.

The woman was arrested by Riyadh police for wearing “suggestive clothing,” state television station al-Ekhbariya reported Tuesday.

But after an international outcry over the arrest, Saudi Arabia said the woman has been released without charge.

In a statement published Wednesday by the Saudi Center for International Communication, Riyadh said police had questioned the woman for several hours but not charged her. The video had been published without her knowledge, the statement said.

The brief clips, originally posted to the social network Snapchat over the weekend by a popular user named Khulood, showed the woman walking through an ancient fort in Ushayqir, a village in Najd province about 95 miles from Riyadh.

In the video, the woman is wearing a skirt that stops above her knees and a top that shows her midriff; her head is uncovered.

Such an outfit runs afoul of conservative Islamic ideas about women’s dress that are prevalent in Saudi Arabia. The country legally requires women to cover themselves while in public by wearing an abaya, a loose-fitting cloak. Traditionally, Saudi women are also expected to wear some kind of hijab or head covering, and some opt to cover their face with a niqab.

Although foreigners are usually exempted from such rules and Saudi women often find ways to evade them, many conservative Saudis feel strongly about the dress codes.

Ushayqir appears deserted in the video, but the footage soon spread online and quickly drew criticism – with many Saudis using a hashtag that calls for the woman to face trial.

Some argued that since the woman lived in Saudi Arabia, she should accept its laws. “Just like we call on people to respect the laws of countries they travel to, people must also respect the laws of this country,” Saudi writer Ibrahim al-Munayif wrote on his Twitter account.

But others offered support for the woman, suggesting that her behavior was brave and that prominent foreigners sometimes dress similarly when visiting Saudi Arabia and are exempted from the country’s dress codes. Many pointed out that Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump did not wear abayas when they visited the country in May, to little public outcry.

One user crudely superimposed Ivanka Trump’s face onto the woman’s. “We have solved the problem,” read the tweet, shared nearly 2,000 times.

There had been a number of official calls for an investigation into the video. Saudi newspaper Okaz reported Sunday that local officials had written a letter to the region’s governor and police asking them to act against those who made the video. Saudi Arabia’s religious police also released a statement on Twitter saying they were aware of the video and looking into the matter.

Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s strictest laws for women. In addition to the restrictions on their dress, adult women need to have the permission of a “male guardian” to do things such as work or travel, and they are prohibited from getting driver’s licenses, meaning that in practice they cannot drive.

“Saudi Arabia’s continuing obsession with policing women’s clothing choices shows authorities haven’t moved on from the paternalistic and discriminatory mind-set that hampers women’s lives,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “Saudi Arabia’s purported plans to reshape society and advance women’s rights will never succeed as long as authorities go after women for what they wear.”

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has launched an ambitious plan to reform Saudi Arabia’s society – called Vision 2030. Although the program includes some social aspects, such as the promotion of entertainment, there are doubts about whether it will be able to address the entrenched gender inequality.

A poll conducted in 2014 found that 63 percent of Saudis believed that women should wear a niqab that covers all of their face except their eyes, and just 3 percent thought women not covering their hair were dressed appropriately.

]]> 0, 19 Jul 2017 11:00:38 +0000
Israeli leader Netanyahu caught on mic, admits Syria strikes, calls EU crazy Wed, 19 Jul 2017 13:00:33 +0000  

BUDAPEST, Hungary  – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was caught Wednesday by a live microphone railing against the European Union’s “crazy” insistence on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a precondition for closer ties with the 28-state bloc, and trumpeting Israel as essential to its prosperity and survival.

Netanyahu was meeting with leaders of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia at a regional summit, where a conversation with his Czech and Hungarian counterparts discussing Iran, Syria, the Islamic State, and EU-Israel relations was accidentally broadcast to journalists covering the conference.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, right, listens to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference in Budapest on Wednesday. Associated Press

Netanyahu also made a rare public admission that Israel has struck Iranian arms convoys in Syria bound for Hezbollah “dozens and dozens of times.”

The Israeli premier was overheard blasting the European Union’s approach to Israel, saying “it’s crazy. I think it’s actually crazy” that the EU maintains that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must come before closer trade ties.

“There is no logic here. Europe is undermining its security by undermining Israel. Europe is undermining its progress by undermining the connection with Israeli innovation because of a crazy attempt to create conditions (for peace with the Palestinians),” said Netanyahu.

European ties with Israel would determine whether the 28-member union would “live and thrive or shrivel and disappear,” he added.

The EU doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over territories it captured in the 1967 Mideast war, including the West Bank and east Jerusalem, where the Palestinians hope to establish a state. It has been a vocal critic of Israel’s settlement construction and has adopted measures mandating the labeling of goods produced in West Bank settlements.

“The European Union is the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel — that produces technology in every area — on political conditions. The only ones. Nobody does it,” Netanyahu said, citing Russia, China and India’s willingness to do business with Israel despite politics.

Netanyahu has pushed for closer trade ties with India and China in recent years. Earlier this month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a state visit to Israel, during which the two countries signed a number of trade agreements cementing increasingly warm relations.

]]> 0 Prime Minister Viktor Orban, right, listens to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference held after the talks of Netanjahu with heads of government of the Visegrad Group or V4 countries in the Pesti Vigado building in Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday, july 19, 2017. Netanyahu is staying on a four-day official visit in Hungary. (Balazs Mohai/MTI via AP)Wed, 19 Jul 2017 16:23:54 +0000
Two new Harry Potter universe books coming in fall Wed, 19 Jul 2017 12:59:48 +0000 LONDON — Two new books from the Harry Potter universe are set to be released as part of a British exhibition that celebrates the 20th anniversary of the launch of the series.

The British Library’s Harry Potter exhibition, “A History of Magic,” opens in October and runs through February 2018. In an earnings statement released Tuesday, British publishing house Bloomsbury revealed that two new Potter books will be released in conjunction with the event.

“Harry Potter: A History of Magic – The Book of the Exhibition” promises to take readers through subjects studied at Potter’s wizarding school, Hogwarts. “Harry Potter – A Journey Through A History of Magic” will touch on mystical things such as alchemy, unicorns and ancient witchcraft.

Both books will be published in October.

]]> 0, 19 Jul 2017 09:02:00 +0000
Honey, is that a herd of buffalo coming down the street? Wed, 19 Jul 2017 10:24:47 +0000 GILFORD, N.H. — These buffalo have been roaming through a New Hampshire town.

Police in Gilford spent Tuesday afternoon corralling a herd of buffalo that got loose from a local farm. They said on Facebook the buffalo are “scared and running” and asked drivers not to approach the buffalo or blow their car horns.

The Bolduc Farm tells WMUR-TV nine of the buffalo made it back. Police were still looking for a mother and two yearlings.

Robert Bolduc says the buffalo may have been startled by some construction work and found a weak spot in a fence.

]]> 0, 19 Jul 2017 06:39:38 +0000
Islamic State militants on the run, but still a significant threat Wed, 19 Jul 2017 03:20:39 +0000 MOSUL, Iraq — For a time, the caliphate really did exist: a terrifying medieval prophecy sprung to life and captured in the pitiless freeze-frames of propaganda videos. Even as U.S.-led forces in Iraq and Syria deal decisive blows to the Islamic State, the group remains a potent threat.

In 2014, ensconced amid the looted bank vaults of Mosul and on the killing fields of Raqqa, the Islamic State was at the apex of its strength. From its twin bases in Iraq and Syria, it subjugated millions, dispatched operatives to strike the capitals of Europe, bestrode the cyberspace battlefield, and beheaded captive Americans and other foreigners whom the world’s mightiest militaries were powerless to pluck to safety.

Now an all-but-stateless Islamic State – largely driven from Mosul, and besieged in its self-declared capital, Raqqa – might seem poised for oblivion.

But longtime observers warn that the group’s virulent ideology is still very much alive, along with its ability to threaten both the immediate region and the wider world.

“It’s on its way to losing the caliphate, but that’s not the end of the story,” said Hassan Hassan, a fellow with the Washington-based Tahrir Institute, who has written widely about the group. “It’s a different story now, with a different plot.”

In May of last year, as U.S.-backed forces were seizing large chunks of the Islamic State’s territory, the group’s then-spokesman, Abu Mohammad Adnani – who would die a few months later in a fiery U.S. airstrike – shrugged off these losses as part of a divine plan that would leave the group ultimately victorious.

“Do you think, America, that defeat is the loss of a city or land?” he asked mockingly. “Defeat is to lose the will to fight … and you will only win, America, if you rip the Quran from our hearts.”

The nine-month battle of Mosul, where Iraqi forces are clearing out the last jihadist strongholds in the city’s western half, is all but done. But the price in what was once Iraq’s second city has been heavy, both in lives lost and the immense scope of destruction.

Swaths of Mosul’s storied Old City are now a denuded landscape. Railings and signs dangle from buildings reduced to crumbled masonry. Surviving civilians, still terrified, welcome coalition soldiers as liberators, but gesture – numbly yet insistently – toward ruins under which loved ones lie buried.

In the few structures still standing, remnants of the Islamic State’s rule still can be seen. Here, a scatter of charred religious pamphlets, one with a special prayer for patients healing from wounds and injuries. There, an explosives belt with its detonator parts scattered. On a battered wall, a smear of graffiti with a signature Islamic State slogan: “Baqiyah wa tatamadad” or “Enduring and Expanding.”

That would seem a tall order for the group at this juncture, but the Islamic State has made resilience its trademark.

Even before Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi traveled to Mosul last week to proclaim victory in the fight to retake the city, the group already was reverting to its roots as an insurgency, melting into desert hinterlands on the Syria-Iraq border, launching hundreds of attacks from areas that had been deemed primarily pacified.

“They’ve got a playbook for this that they’ve used before,” said William McCants, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of a recent book about the group. “They go to ground. In territory they don’t control, they try to blend in. They carry out assassinations and terror attacks, and prepare for a comeback.”

In Mansoura, a local leader named Sheikh Fawaz Beik helped negotiate a cease-fire and the withdrawal of Islamic State militants from the town in May. Last week, the sheikh was recovering from injuries from a remote-controlled bomb blamed on remnant fighters from Islamic State.

He described the determination of “Daesh” – an Arabic acronym the group considers pejorative – to cling to its emblems at any cost.

On the day of the cease-fire, he recounted, the fighters were asked to display green Islamic flags rather than their own black banners as part of their exodus from the town.

They heatedly refused, and amid the ensuing quarrel, one of the group’s fighters detonated a car bomb, setting off a firefight that left some 30 of the militants dead.

“They would not accept it,” the sheikh recalled. “They said, ‘There is only one flag in the world: the Daesh flag.’ “

]]> 0 State militants parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle in Mosul in 2014. The group is being routed from Mosul and Raqqa but has plans to endure.Tue, 18 Jul 2017 23:20:39 +0000
White House signals support for push to roll back net neutrality Wed, 19 Jul 2017 03:15:38 +0000 The Trump administration has signaled that it stands behind efforts by the Federal Communications Commission and its chairman, Ajit Pai, to roll back the agency’s net neutrality regulations for Internet providers.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, administration officials said that while rules can be helpful, the Obama administration “went about this the wrong way.”

“We support the FCC chair’s efforts to review and consider rolling back these rules,” said deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “and believe that the best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty.”

The FCC is currently seeking to undo rules that it approved in 2015 that ban the blocking and slowing of websites by Internet providers such as Verizon and AT&T. The regulations were enacted to prevent carriers from unfairly funneling their customers toward proprietary sites and services and potentially disadvantaging newer startups. But carriers say that the rules are unnecessarily burdensome.

Internet providers have said they support the principles behind net neutrality but oppose the specific FCC rules that attempt to enforce them; public interest groups argue that weakening or repealing the rules will make them far less effective at protecting consumers.

Sanders’ critique of the current rules are consistent with statements Trump has previously made. But Trump’s renewed support for rolling back the rules comes a day after a procedural deadline at the FCC, and as millions of commenters have filed their own feedback on the agency’s proposal. More than 3.5 million comments have been filed in the last 30 days, out of a total of roughly 9 million. It’s an issue that cuts across party lines, with even some members of Trump’s base opposing him on the issue.

The administration’s move recalls similar efforts by the White House, during the Obama administration, to make its opinion known on the issue of net neutrality. At the time, then-President Obama sought to influence the outcome of the debate by advocating for strong FCC rules. He created a YouTube video and website, and submitted formal comments to the FCC; critics soon objected to what they said was an inappropriate attempt by Obama to alter the outcome of events.

The Trump administration has not gone as far as Obama. Still, some analysts say, any attempt by a White House to address pending FCC matters should be out of bounds.

]]> 0 Tue, 18 Jul 2017 23:15:38 +0000
Police heard loud sound before officer shot 911 caller, investigators say Wed, 19 Jul 2017 03:08:07 +0000 MINNEAPOLIS — A woman who called 911 to report a possible assault was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer after the officers heard a loud sound near their squad car, according to information released Tuesday by Minnesota investigators.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said Justine Damond, 40, whose maiden name is Justine Ruszczyk and who once lived in Sydney, Australia, approached the driver’s-side window of the squad car immediately after the driver had been startled by the sound. The officer in the passenger seat, Mohamed Noor, fired his weapon, hitting Damond through the open driver’s side window, the BCA said.

The BCA said its information was based on an interview with the officer driving the car, Matthew Harrity. Harrity was interviewed Tuesday, but Noor declined to be interviewed. The BCA said his attorney did not indicate when, or if, Noor would talk to investigators, and under the law an interview can’t be compelled.

Messages left with Noor’s attorney were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Harrity and Noor are on paid administrative leave. Harrity has been with the Minneapolis police department for one year, and Noor for nearly two.

The information released Tuesday is the first narrative by the BCA since Saturday night’s shooting.

]]> 0 Noor is the Minneapolis officer who shot a woman Saturday.Tue, 18 Jul 2017 23:34:54 +0000
House passes bill to delay Obama-era smog reduction rules Wed, 19 Jul 2017 03:01:19 +0000 WASHINGTON — The House voted Tuesday to pass a Republican-backed bill delaying implementation of Obama-era reductions in smog-causing air pollutants.

Lawmakers voted 229 to 199 to approve the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017. The measure delays by eight more years the implementation of 2015 air pollution standards issued by the Environmental Protection Agency under the prior administration.

The bill also makes key technical changes that environmentalists say will weaken the Clean Air Act, including switching the EPA’s mandated review of air quality standards from every five years to every 10. Ground-level ozone can cause breathing problems among sensitive groups, causing thousands of premature deaths each year.

The House voted largely along party lines to approve the bill and defeat a series of Democratic amendments. Similar legislation is advancing in the Republican-controlled Senate.

House Republicans on Tuesday lauded what they called common-sense legislation to protect American jobs. The bill is supported by groups representing the chemical and the fossil-fuel industries. It is part of a larger push by congressional Republicans and the Trump administration to weaken, block or delay stricter pollution and public health standards approved under President Barack Obama.

Primary sponsor Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, praised the progress made in cleaning up the nation’s air since the 1970s, but he said the stricter standards approved by Obama’s EPA would force American companies to invest billions in pollution reduction measures.

“This bill is about listening to job creators back home,” said Olson, whose Houston-area district depends on the oil and gas industry.

Democrats countered that the Republican bill, which they derided as the “Smoggy Skies Act,” would cost lives through increased rates of asthma and lung disease while endangering decades of hard-won progress in cleaning up the environment.

“This is a blueprint to make America sick again,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Virginia.

Ground-level ozone is created when common pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants and other sources react in the atmosphere to sunlight. The National Ambient Air Quality Standards adopted by EPA in 2015 reduced the allowable amount of ground-level ozone from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion.

EPA estimated at the time that the $1.4 billion it would cost to meet the stricter standards would be far outweighed by billions saved from fewer emergency room visits and other public health gains.

]]> 0 House passed a Republican-backed bill Tuesday to delay by eight years implementation of Obama-era cuts in smog-causing pollutants such as those blanketing Los Angeles in 2006. Ground-level ozone causes thousands of deaths a year.Wed, 19 Jul 2017 11:25:46 +0000
Nobel laureate speaks up for Nigerian girls Wed, 19 Jul 2017 02:37:31 +0000 MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai was greeted with cheers Tuesday by dozens of young women in northeastern Nigeria, where she spoke out for the many girls abducted under Boko Haram’s deadly insurgency.

The 20-year-old Pakistani activist told The Associated Press she was excited by the courage of the young women who are undaunted as they pursue an education amid one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

“This is part of my girl power trip, visiting many parts of the world,” said Yousafzai, who also met with the freed Chibok schoolgirls taken in a mass abduction by Boko Haram more than three years ago. “I am here now because of the Nigerian girls. Fighting for them and speaking up for them.”

Yousafzai visited internally displaced camps in and around the city of Maiduguri, where thousands have sheltered from Boko Haram’s violence. The extremist group continues to carry out deadly attacks there, often using young female suicide bombers.

“They have lived in the period of extremism,” Yousafzai said of the young women around her. Many have seen family members killed.

Yousafzai was 15 when she was shot in the head by Taliban militants in 2012, targeted for her advocacy for women’s education.

The Nobel winner said her Nigeria visit was significant because it was the partial fulfillment of what she advocated the last time she was there. In 2014, she pressed then-President Goodluck Jonathan to ensure the rescue of the more than 200 abducted Chibok schoolgirls.

On Monday, Yousafzai met with more than 100 who have since been rescued and now stay in the capital, Abuja, for what the government calls rehabilitation.

While she told the AP she shared their joy at being freed, she said she was not happy that the girls haven’t been allowed to reunite fully with their families.

]]> 0 Yousafzai, center, meets Monday with activist Amina Yusuf and Nigeria's Acting President Yemi Osinbajo in Abuja, Nigeria. Associated Press/ Azeez AkunleyanTue, 18 Jul 2017 22:37:31 +0000
Author Jane Austen featured on new British 10-pound note Wed, 19 Jul 2017 01:45:02 +0000 LONDON — Two hundred years to the day after Jane Austen died, a new 10-pound note featuring an image of one of England’s most revered authors has been unveiled – right where she was buried.

At the unveiling Tuesday of the new “tenner” at Winchester Cathedral in southern England, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said the new note celebrates the “universal appeal” of Austen’s work.

Austen, whose novels include “Pride and Prejudice,” “Emma” and “Sense and Sensibility,” is considered one of the most perceptive chroniclers of English country life and mores in the Georgian era. Combining wit, romance and social commentary, her books have been adapted countless times for television and film.

The new note, which is due to go into circulation on Sept. 14, is printed on polymer, not paper.

]]> 0 new £10 note is unveiled on the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's death.Tue, 18 Jul 2017 22:34:21 +0000
Collapse of Republican health care bill leaves 10 million Americans on shaky ground Wed, 19 Jul 2017 01:26:01 +0000 The implosion of the Senate Republicans’ health-care ambitions leaves the Affordable Care Act intact for the moment – but immediately creates worrisome unpredictability for the 10 million Americans who buy health plans through the law’s insurance marketplaces.

These consumers could face a rocky few months, at the least, as the insurers on which they rely decide how to respond to the political chaos. Some companies could become more skittish about staying in the marketplaces for 2018, while others could try to ratchet up their prices depending on how events in Washington unfold.

With his bill doomed late Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., proposed a short-lived alternate path that would have repealed parts of the sprawling 2010 law and effectively would have wiped out its requirement that most people carry coverage. Insurers have long feared an end to that mandate, arguing that the marketplaces work only if everyone is insured.

Lacking clarity from Congress, the White House’s powers over the nation’s health policy loom large and murky. Although President Trump on Tuesday reiterated his intention to “let Obamacare fail,” he has not yet made two critical decisions.

Most immediately, the administration has the power to decide whether to halt the billions of dollars in payments to health plans that help their lower-income ACA customers afford deductibles and other coverage expenses. Those cost-sharing subsidies benefit 7 million Americans. The president could turn off the spigot by dropping an appeal of a federal lawsuit filed by the House over the payments’ legality.

The other decision is whether to ease off enforcement of the ACA’s penalty for Americans who shirk the coverage mandate. Trump cannot end the mandate without a change in law, but the Internal Revenue Service recently said it would continue to process refunds even when taxpayers flout a requirement to file proof that they have health coverage. The administration could go further.

“We are still considering our options,” White House spokesman Ninio Fetalvo said.

The disarray in the Senate and the ambiguity in the administration “just continues the sort of volatile environment,” said one insurance industry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivities. “It’s adding uncertainty to what was already an uncertain climate.”

The Senate’s stalemate – with Republicans, who hold the majority, seeing a way neither to rewrite the health-care law nor to end a repeal drive that has been the party’s guiding aspiration for years – comes at a particularly critical time of year for the ACA’s marketplaces.

Participating insurers already have filed the rates they plan to charge in 2018 with state agencies and federal health officials. In fact, some have submitted two sets of prices to account for whatever happens with those subsidies – and may need to make a choice before the president makes up his mind.

In early August, the 2018 rates are scheduled to be published by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. And in late September, the insurers selling health plans for next year must sign contracts with the government.

Less than four months away is the start of the next enrollment season for new and returning customers.

The willingness of insurers to sell plans on the marketplaces, intended for people who cannot get affordable health benefits from a job, is one of the linchpins responsible for the drop in the ranks of the uninsured since the marketplaces opened in 2014.

Republicans, including Trump, have long contended that the exchanges are collapsing. They have pointed to insurance rates that spiked in many places this year and threaten to do so again in 2018, as well as the defection of several of the nation’s largest insurers.

Yet other evidence suggests that Republicans’ determination to tear apart the ACA comes, ironically, as the marketplaces are finding stability. A study released this month by the Kaiser Family Foundation analyzed two measures of the financial health of insurers selling policies directly to individuals and families – the type of coverage in the ACA exchanges.

On average, the insurers “are on a path toward regaining profitability in 2017,” the study concluded.

“That could still all blow up through administration actions or what Congress might do,” said Larry Levitt, Kaiser’s senior vice president.

For the coming year, officials in several states have worried that they might have areas without any insurers willing to sell plans on their exchanges. About 25,000 customers in 38 counties in Ohio, Nevada and Indiana face that prospect at the moment.

Of the 20 million other people who rely on the ACA’s insurance benefits – through either marketplace plans or an expanded version of Medicaid – their presence is part of the buzz saw thwarting Senate Republicans’ efforts to demolish the law.

History is not on the Republicans’ side. Congress has never managed to reverse a major program of social benefits once constituents have begun to draw upon it. And it took eight decades of futile efforts by presidents from both parties before President Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress achieved a major expansion of health insurance aiming to encompass all Americans.

So even with the Republican domination of political Washington, the collapse of the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act is more norm than outlier.

Still, it leaves consumers and insurers alike craving certainty.

The failure of the Senate bill “is a victory for consumers, but they are still on unstable ground until the administration shifts their approach and starts working not to tear down their health care,” said Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA, a liberal consumer health lobby.

Last week, as Senate Republicans were sparring over their bill, Cigna chief executive David Cordani said that what he most wanted from lawmakers was “clarity around the ruleset.” The ACA, he said, is a basket of many ingredients – the insurance requirement, the cost-sharing subsidies and the enrollment procedures among them.

“How that basket gets refreshed, changed or solidified,” he said, “is what’s most important.”

]]> 0 Tue, 18 Jul 2017 22:15:07 +0000
Trump, Putin had previously undisclosed hourlong talk during G-20 summit Tue, 18 Jul 2017 22:47:59 +0000 After his much-publicized, two-and-a-quarter-hour meeting early this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Germany, President Trump chatted informally with the Russian leader for up to an additional hour later the same day.

The second meeting, undisclosed at the time, took place at a dinner for G-20 leaders, a senior administration official said. At some point during the meal, Trump left his own seat to occupy a chair next to Putin. Trump approached alone, and Putin was attended only by his official interpreter.

In a statement issued Tuesday night after published reports of the conversation, the White House said that “there was no ‘second meeting’ between Trump and Putin, just a brief conversation at the end of a dinner. The insinuation that the White House has tried to ‘hide’ a second meeting,” it said, “is false, malicious and absurd.”

“All the leaders” circulated around the room throughout the dinner, and “President Trump spoke with many leaders,” the statement said. “As the dinner was concluding,” it said, Trump spoke “briefly” with Putin, who was seated next to first lady Melania Trump.

The dinner conversation with Putin was first reported Monday by Ian Bremmer, president of the New York-based Eurasia Group, in a newsletter to group clients. Bremmer said the meeting began “halfway in” to the meal and lasted “roughly an hour.” The senior official said it began with the dessert course, but did not comment on its length.

Pool reporters covering Trump noted that his and Putin’s motorcades were among the last to leave the event, departing within minutes of each other just before midnight.

The encounter appeared to underscore the extent to which Trump was eager throughout the summit to cultivate a friendship with Putin. During last year’s campaign, he spoke admiringly of the Russian leader and at times seemed captivated by him.

Meeting each other face-to-face for the first time at the Hamburg summit, the two presidents seemed to have a chemistry in their more formal bilateral session, evidenced by the fact that, despite being scheduled for 35 minutes, it continued for more than two hours.

But Trump’s newly revealed conversation with Putin at the G-20 dinner is likely to stoke criticism, including perhaps from some fellow Republicans in Congress, that he is too cozy with the leader of a major U.S. adversary.

Putin’s aide provided the only Russian-English interpretation, the White House statement said, because the president was seated next to the wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “Each couple was allowed one translator,” it said. “The American translator accompanying President Trump spoke Japanese.”

The only version of the conversation provided to White House aides was that given by Trump himself, said the administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity before the White House statement was issued. Reporters traveling with the White House were not informed during the trip, and there was no formal readout of the chat.

The official Trump-Putin meeting, earlier in the day, led to confusion over whether Trump agreed, as Putin later implied, to accept the Kremlin’s denial of any wrongdoing regarding interference in last year’s election.

That meeting was attended by the leaders and their two interpreters, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Tillerson later said Trump twice asked Putin if the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia had meddled in the race were true, and Putin twice denied it, so they moved on to other subjects of importance to the bilateral relationship, including Syria.

Russia’s activities during the election, along with allegations that members of Trump’s campaign may have coordinated with Kremlin attempts to tilt the race in Trump’s direction, are the subject of investigations in Congress and by a special counsel.

In Trump’s own account of the formal meeting, he repeated earlier comments that another country might have been responsible for cyber-interference in the election. “I’m not saying it wasn’t Russia. What I’m saying is that we have to protect ourselves no matter who it is,” he told reporters on Air Force One as he returned from a visit to France last week.

“You know, China is very good at this,” Trump said. “I hate to say it, North Korea is very good at this.”

Trump also said that Putin was unlikely to have preferred him over Hillary Clinton as president, since his goals include taking international energy business away from Russia and building up the U.S. military.

The dinner at the G-20, held July 7-8, occurred hours after Trump and Putin’s lengthy formal meeting. Leaders and their spouses were invited to a musical performance at Hamburg’s riverside concert venue, followed by an intimate dinner in which they were seated next to the spouse of one of their counterparts, rather than their own. First lady Melania Trump was seated next to Putin.

Trump, who is among the newest world leaders in the G-20, remained at the dinner for the entire night. He was among the last to leave – after the host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, had already departed. Pool reporters with the president saw Putin’s motorcade leave at 11:50 p.m., followed shortly by Trump, who departed the concert hall at 11:54 p.m.

Leaders who witnessed the meeting were “bemused, nonplussed, befuddled” by the animated conversation, held in full view – but apparently not within listening distance – of others present, Bremmer said in a telephone conversation. He said he spoke with two participants at the dinner.

One senior European official whose head of government was there played down the attention the Trump-Putin chat garnered, saying that it was not unusual for leaders to circulate or “withdraw to a corner” at such private gatherings.

“Part of the rationale is the flurry of bilateral contacts that happen,” the official said. “I don’t find it a sensation,” he said of the lengthy dinner chat, although “maybe Trump and Putin are a little different” from other attendees.

The administration official said there was nothing unusual in a meeting with no aides present, noting that Trump met alone with French President Emmanuel Macron when he visited Paris last week. He also held a one-on-one session, with no aides present, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when Modi visited the White House late last month, the official said.

]]> 0 Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit on July 7 in Hamburg. The two also had a previously undisclosed hourlong conversation at the summit, a White House spokesman says.Tue, 18 Jul 2017 21:52:31 +0000
Whale rescue teams resume work following tragedy Tue, 18 Jul 2017 18:20:30 +0000 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it’s allowing its whale disentanglement teams to resume rescue operations in the wake of a review of safety protocols.

The agency suspended efforts to free whales tangled in fishing line last week after a Canadian rescuer was killed by a whale after freeing it. NOAA says Tuesday the resumption of whale disentanglement operations applies to all large whales except rights.

North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered marine mammals in the world. NOAA says the whales’ “unpredictable behavior” can be “particularly challenging during rescue attempts.”

NOAA says it plans to continue working closely with whale experts to review all rescue protocols for large whales.

Veteran whale rescuer Joe Howlett died on July 10 after freeing a whale off New Brunswick, Canada.

]]> 0, 18 Jul 2017 19:58:26 +0000
Republican effort to undo Affordable Care Act fails, raising question of what’s next Tue, 18 Jul 2017 17:18:22 +0000 WASHINGTON – As divisions between the party’s two main ideological camps widened Tuesday, Republicans were scrambling to contain the political fallout from the collapse of a months-long effort to rewrite former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment.

President Trump predicted Tuesday that Republicans would wait for the federal insurance market to collapse and then work to broker a deal to rewrite the nation’s landmark health-care law, while Senate leaders pressed ahead with a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act without an immediate replacement.

But it quickly became apparent that Republican leaders, who were caught off guard by defections of their members Monday night, lacked the votes to abolish parts of the 2010 law outright. Three centrist Republican senators – Susan Collins of Maine, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – said they would oppose any vote to proceed with an immediate repeal of the law.

“I did not come to Washington to hurt people,” Capito said on Twitter.

Collins said that she had urged Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, to hold hearings in an attempt to fashion a legislative fix for the ACA, while leaving it in effect in the meantime.

“I do not think that it’s going to be constructive to repeal a law that at this point is so interwoven within our health care system and then hope that over the next two years we will come up with some kind of replacement,” Collins said in a statement Tuesday morning. “I think that would create great anxiety for individuals who rely on the ACA.

“I believe it would cause the insurance markets to go into turmoil. And I don’t think it is the right way to proceed.”

Maine independent Angus King was among a handful of senators who were joined by 11 Republican and Democratic governors in calling on congressional leaders to launch a bipartisan process to revamp the nation’s health care system.

“The events of the last couple of days around here with regard to health care have given us a real opportunity to do something together on a bipartisan basis – to improve the present health care delivery system in this country,” he said in a statement.

He suggested starting with lowering the cost of prescription drugs to make health care more affordable.

“What I hope we can do is put aside the ideology, put aside ‘you know, we got to check a box on repealing or replacing,’ and let’s talk about how we can work together to improve the health care system, make it more accessible, and more cost effective – or another way to say that is – less expensive for the American people,” he said.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, said Tuesday that lawmakers need to get a more detailed analysis of what has caused consumers’ premiums to rise and what could make insurance more affordable.

“We didn’t have the courage to lay out exactly what caused premiums to increase,” Johnson said, noting that senators didn’t even have an up-to-date budget analysis of the latest health care proposal. “It’s an insane process. If you don’t have information, how can you even have a legitimate discussion and debate.”

The 11 governors – a group that included Republicans Charles D. Baker of Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland, John Kasich of Ohio, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Phil Scott of Vermont – said they “stand ready to work with lawmakers in an open, bipartisan way to provide better insurance for all Americans.”

But these appeals did little to sway Trump, who issued a tweet that blamed the demise of a plan to rewrite the ACA on Democrats “and a few Republicans.”


Speaking to reporters in the Roosevelt Room on Tuesday afternoon, Trump said he was “disappointed” in the demise of the Senate bill and viewed the cratering of the nation’s individual insurance market as the best way to advance his goals.

Now his plan is to “let Obamacare fail; it will be a lot easier,” he said. “And I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll just let Obamacare fail.”

“We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it,” the president said. “I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us.”

Trump’s latest comments intensified the political uncertainty on Capitol Hill, where Republican leaders were debating what to do next, and they raised anxiety among insurers that must commit to staying on the federal health exchange within a matter of weeks.

Republicans are reeling after two more Republican senators declared their opposition Monday to the party’s plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system, likely ending their quest to make good on a Republican promise that has defined the party for nearly a decade and has been one of Trump’s top priorities.

In many ways, the leadership plan did not go far enough for those on the right, but was too radical for Republican centrists. It scaled back some key ACA requirements and made deep cuts over time in Medicaid, but preserved popular provisions of the law such as a ban on denying coverage to consumers with costly medical conditions.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he was “very concerned” by the overall situation and he offered a blunt assessment of why Senate Republicans fell short on their bill.

“We are so evenly divided and we’ve got to have every Republican to make things work and we didn’t have every Republican,” he said.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, showed no signs of abandoning his push for a single-party solution, opening the Senate on Tuesday morning touting his latest plan – to vote on a pure repeal, with a two-year delay, by taking up the House’s health-care bill.

But in a sign of the extent to which Senate leaders have lost control of the process, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas – whose job is to count votes – said he had “no idea” that Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, was joining Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, in defecting Monday night.

Cornyn learned about it that night “a little after 8 o’clock,” he said, after he and six other Republican senators dined with Trump at the White House.

As Republicans tried to regroup, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-New York, renewed his calls for the majority to work with Democrats to shore up the health insurance system.

“It should be crystal clear to everyone on the other side of the aisle that the core of the bill is unworkable. It’s time to move on. It’s time to start over,” he said. “Rather than repeating this same, failed partisan process again, Republicans should work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the insurance markets and improves our health-care system.”

“Now that their one-party effort has largely failed, we hope they will change their tune,” he said, noting that some Republicans have been calling for bipartisan talks.

Schumer quoted Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who said Monday night that “Congress must return to regular order” and rewrite the health-care legislation with input from both parties.

“The door to bipartisanship is open now,” Schumer said. “Republicans only need to walk through it.”

As Schumer spoke on the Senate floor, Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-West Virginia, one of the few in the chamber who has tried to be a bipartisan broker, was placing calls to fellow senators who, like him, are former governors – a total of 11 senators including King, Alexander, John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, and Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire. Aides said Manchin was presenting nothing specific yet to his colleagues, just a plea to “sit down and start bipartisan talking.”


But Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at the National Retail Federation’s annual Retail Advocates Summit, challenged Congress to “step up” and repeal the current law so that lawmakers can “work on a new health-care plan that will start with a clean slate.”

And McConnell declared on the Senate floor, “This doesn’t have to be the end of the story.”

McConnell said the Senate would next take up “a repeal of Obamacare combined with a stable two-year transition period.” He said that President Barack Obama had vetoed such legislation before, but that “President Trump will sign it now.”

The Senate leader also acknowledged that his party has suffered a political setback.

“I regret that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failures of Obamacare will not be successful,” he said. “We will now try a different way to bring the American people relief from Obamacare.”

The confusion over next steps highlights the predicament now faced by Republicans, who have made rallying cries against Obama’s 2010 health-care law a pillar of the party’s identity. They may be forced to grapple with the law’s shift from a perennial Republican target to an accepted, even popular, provider of services and funding in many states, which could make further repeal revivals difficult.

Meanwhile, Trump and other Republicans will confront a Republican base that, despite fervent support for the president, still seeks a smaller federal government and fewer regulations.

]]> 0 Susan Collins, R-Maine gets in an elevator as she arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)Wed, 19 Jul 2017 00:35:55 +0000
Eighth person in Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting is identified Tue, 18 Jul 2017 16:38:52 +0000 A U.S.-based employee of a Russian real estate company took part in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr., bringing to eight the number of known participants at the session that has emerged as a key focus of the investigation of the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russians.

Ike Kaveladze attended the meeting as a representative of Aras and Emin Agalarov, the father-and-son Russian developers who hosted the Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013, according to Scott Balber, an attorney for the Agalarovs who said he also represents Kaveladze.

Balber said Tuesday that he had received a phone call over the weekend from a representative of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III asking if Kaveladze would agree to be interviewed. Balber said his client would cooperate.

The request is the first public indication that Mueller’s team is investigating the meeting.

The presence of Kaveladze at the Trump Tower meeting introduces a new and intriguing figure into the increasingly complex Trump-Russia drama. A native of the Soviet republic of Georgia who came to the United States in 1991, Kaveladze was the subject nearly two decades ago of a congressional inquiry into Russian money laundering in U.S. banks, although he was never charged with a crime and Balber said there was never any sign of wrongdoing by Kaveladze.

The emergence of new information Tuesday – 10 days after the Trump Tower meeting was first reported – underscored how details of the session have been slow to emerge amid incomplete and potentially misleading explanations from Trump Jr.

After The New York Times first reported the meeting, Trump Jr. said only that the lawyer had primarily discussed the adoption of Russian children by Americans.

More information about the meeting and its participants has emerged since July 11, when Trump Jr. said he wished to be “transparent” and released emails dating to June 2016 between himself and Rob Goldstone, a music promoter who represented Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop singer, setting up the meeting.

Those emails revealed that Trump Jr. had agreed to meet with the Russian lawyer on the promise that he would be provided damaging information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s presidential campaign, according to emails released by Trump Jr. last week.

Trump Jr.’s acknowledgment of the meeting undercut months of denials from top Trump aides that campaign officials had any contact with Russians before the November election.

The meeting brought together then-candidate Donald Trump’s innermost circle, including son-in-law Jared Kushner and top campaign adviser Paul Manafort, as well as a Russian and Russian Americans with deep ties to Trump’s business and the priorities of the Russian government. Goldstone, the music promoter, told The Washington Post that he also attended.

The Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was leading an effort to get Congress to lift sanctions imposed in 2012 to punish Russia for human rights abuses, a topic of deep importance to the Russian government. Angered over the law, called the Magnitsky Act, Russia had put a hold on adoptions of children by U.S. families.

Also at the meeting was Rinat Akhmetshin, a Soviet army veteran whose military service in the 1980s came in a unit whose responsibilities included counterintelligence. Now a Russian American lobbyist, he has earned a reputation as a savvy political operator, at times boosting the reputation of his clients by sullying the reputations of their enemies. He has denied working for the Russian government or intelligence services.

Kaveladze came to the meeting as a representative of the Agalarov family, business associates and friends of Donald Trump and his children who were also a key tie between the Trump family and Russia in the years before Trump began his campaign.

Trump and Aras Agalarov had discussed building a Trump Tower in Moscow, but plans fizzled after Western sanctions were imposed in 2014 and the Russian economy tanked, the elder Agalarov told The Post last year.

Alan Futerfas, Trump Jr.’s attorney, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday about the presence of Kaveladze, nor did a spokesman for Kushner. An attorney for Manafort declined to comment.

Kaveladze works as a vice president focusing on real estate and finance for the Agalarovs’ company, the Crocus Group, Balber said.

Balber said that Aras Agalarov asked Kaveladze to attend on his behalf. Kaveladze is a U.S. citizen and has lived in this country for many years, according to Balber.

Balber said Kaveladze believed he would act as a translator but arrived to discover that Veselnitskaya had brought her own translator, a former State Department employee named Anatoli Samochornov. Samochornov declined to comment, citing a nondisclosure agreement he signed as a professional translator. Balber said he believes eight people attended the meeting and the names of each participant is now known to the public.

Balber said Kaveladze recalls the meeting lasted about 30 minutes and mostly involved discussion of the 2012 sanctions law.


In attending the meeting, Kaveladze brought a history of controversy.

In 2000, his actions as the head of a Delaware company called International Business Creations were the subject of a congressional investigation into how Russians and other foreigners were able to launder large amounts of money through U.S. banks.

The Government Accountability Office report, which had been requested by then-Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), concluded that it was “relatively easy” for these foreigners to use shell companies to open U.S. bank accounts and route hidden money through the American financial system.

The report described the activities of IBC’s president, who Balber confirmed was Kaveladze.

Balber said Kaveladze was not charged with any crime as a result of the inquiry, which he said was largely focused on the internal procedures of U.S. banks.

“There has never been any indication that he did anything wrong,” Balber said. “From his perspective, it was a big nothing.”

But Levin, who at the time was the senior Democrat on a Senate investigations subcommittee and retired in 2014, issued a statement Tuesday calling Kaveladze a “poster child” of the practice of using shell companies to launder funds and that the inquiry helped spark reforms.

“Kaveladze’s conduct helped us reinvigorate the requirement that banks know the true owner of their accounts, a policy that hadn’t been enforced over the years,” Levin said.

According to the GAO, Kaveladze opened 236 bank accounts in the United States for corporations formed in Delaware on behalf of mostly Russian brokers. The GAO report said that Kaveladze had told officers of two U.S. banks that he had conducted investigations of the Russian companies for which he opened accounts – but that he acknowledged to GAO investigators that he had not been truthful.

“He admitted to us that he made such representations to the banks but that he in fact had not investigated the companies,” the report said.

All told, the report traced the movement of $1.4 billion in wire-transfer transactions deposited into 236 accounts opened at the two banks, Citibank and Commercial Bank.

What exactly was discussed at the 2016 Trump Tower meeting remains unclear.

Akhmetshin, the Soviet army veteran who attended, told The Post last week that Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer, spent a portion of the meeting describing what she felt could be “a great campaign issue” for the Trumps – allegations of Russian tax improprieties by a U.S. venture capital firm whose executives were political donors. One of them had donated to the Clinton Global Initiative, an arm of the foundation established by former president Bill Clinton that became a target for Republicans who accused the Clintons of rewarding donors with political favors.

Akhmetshin said that Veselnitskaya left behind a document with the Trump associates describing the allegations. “It was corporate stuff – lawyerly stuff,” Akhmetshin said.

The venture capital firm, Ziff Brothers Investments, had a financial stake in Hermitage Capital, whose chief executive became the leading global advocate of the Magnitsky Act, which was named for a former Hermitage auditor who died in a Russian jail under suspicious circumstances.

A spokesman for Ziff Brothers Investments, Michael Freitag, declined to comment.

Trump Jr. has said Veselnitskaya’s information was “vague” and “made no sense,” and he decided the offer of damaging information about Democrats was a pretense to secure the meeting to discuss sanctions.

]]> 0, 18 Jul 2017 21:57:15 +0000
Commerce department defends decision on flounder fishery Tue, 18 Jul 2017 16:38:27 +0000 The federal Department of Commerce says its secretary was right to reverse a decision about flounder fishing regulations that was made by an interstate commission.

The regulatory Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission announced last month it had found New Jersey out of compliance with management of the fishery. But Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross disagreed, and did not sign off on a ruling that could’ve forced a local moratorium on flounder fishing.

Ross’ move attracted criticism from the commission and conservationists who say the decision overrides sustainable fishing rules on the East Coast. But a spokesman for the commerce department says on Tuesday that Ross doesn’t think a fishing moratorium is warranted.

The spokesman says Ross feels alternative measures implemented by New Jersey are adequate to protect the fish’s population.

]]> 0, 18 Jul 2017 14:42:16 +0000
Massachusetts deal calls for up to 20% tax on pot sales Tue, 18 Jul 2017 14:36:51 +0000 BOSTON — State House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement Monday on a revamped version of Massachusetts’ voter-approved marijuana law that would allow retail pot sales to be taxed at a maximum 20 percent rate.

The deal was struck following closed-door negotiations by a six-member conference committee tasked with reconciling sharply different approaches to marijuana regulation and taxation. The talks had dragged on well past the June 30 deadline legislative leaders originally set for crafting a compromise.

The bill mostly splits the difference between a House proposal to raise the total tax on marijuana to a mandatory 28 percent and the Senate version, which called for keeping the tax at the maximum 12 percent established by the November ballot question.

The compromise calls for consumers to pay a 10.75 percent excise tax in addition to the state’s regular 6.25 percent sales tax. Cities and towns also would have the option of adding a 3 percent local tax.

Municipalities could temporarily recoup an additional 3 percent of sales through host community agreements signed with marijuana businesses.

Lawmakers also compromised on a dispute over local control of pot shops.

In cities and towns where voters backed the ballot question — which was the case in more than 260 of the states 351 communities — a referendum would be required to ban or restrict retail marijuana stores.

But in communities where a majority of residents voted against Question 4, pot shops could be barred by a simple vote of the board of the selectmen or city council, without the need for a vote of local residents.

The compromise bill faces up or down votes in the House and Senate later this week.

Marijuana legalization advocates had discouraged lawmakers from making any changes to the ballot question, but expressed relief Monday that the final bill did not include what they viewed as more onerous language contained in an earlier House-passed bill.

“We obviously wanted to see it move forward as passed by voters, but we’re not naive,” said Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the group Yes on 4. “We knew there was going to be a compromise of some kind.”

Neither the House nor the Senate tinkered with the current legal possession limit of up to one ounce of marijuana, or home growing allowances of up to a dozen pot plants per household.

“We have protected the right of adults to grow, possess, and use marijuana. To give them access to a safe, legal supply, the bill removes barriers to the development of a legal market,” said Sen. Patricia Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat who was the lead Senate negotiator in the conference committee.

The compromise on taxes would keep Massachusetts below the rates in several states, including Colorado and Washington, which previously legalized recreational marijuana.

“We feel confident this will bring in enough revenue to properly implement and regulate this new marketplace, and allow us to invest in key areas such as substance abuse,” said Rep. Mark Cusack, a Braintree Democrat who led the House in the talks.

House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, who also was involved in negotiations, called the bill a “fair compromise” and said the local option taxes would encourage municipalities to embrace marijuana businesses.

The measure calls for a five-member Cannabis Control Commission, appointed by the state treasurer, governor and attorney general, to regulate all aspects of recreational and medical marijuana in Massachusetts. The ballot question envisioned a three-member commission controlled entirely by the treasurer.

Lawmakers also added measures to promote racial diversity in the legal cannabis industry and address the historically disproportionate impact the “war on drugs” had on minority neighborhoods.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday he had not seen details of the final bill, but did not indicate major concerns with the compromise language on taxes or local control.

]]> 0, 18 Jul 2017 11:22:11 +0000
Trump blasts Congress over failure of Republican health care bill Tue, 18 Jul 2017 13:20:05 +0000 WASHINGTON – President Trump blasted congressional Democrats and “a few Republicans” Tuesday over the failure of the Republican effort to rewrite the Obama health care law, and warned, “we will return.”

Trump’s early morning tweet unleashed a barrage of criticism at Congress over the collapse of the GOP’s flagship legislative priority. For seven years, the party has pledged to repeal President Barack Obama’s law.

“Most Republicans were loyal, terrific & worked really hard,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning, but said, “We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans.”

Two Republican senators – Utah’s Mike Lee and Jerry Moran of Kansas – sealed the measure’s doom late Monday when they announced they would vote “no” in an initial, critical vote that had been expected as soon as next week. That meant that at least four of the 52 Republican senators, including Maine’s Susan Collins, were ready to block the measure – two more than Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had to spare in the face of unanimous Democratic opposition.

“Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful,” McConnell said in a late evening statement that essentially waved a white flag.

It was the second stinging setback on the issue in three weeks for McConnell, whose reputation as a legislative mastermind has been marred as he’s failed to unite his chamber’s Republicans behind a health overhaul package that highlighted jagged divides between conservatives and moderates. In late June, he abandoned an initial package after he lacked enough Republican support to pass.

The episode has also been jarring for Trump, whose intermittent lobbying and nebulous, often contradictory descriptions of what he’s wanted have shown he has limited clout with senators. That despite a determination by Trump, McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to demonstrate that a Republican running the White House and Congress can govern effectively.

Now, McConnell said, the Senate would vote on a measure the Republican-run Congress approved in 2015, only to be vetoed by Obama – a bill repealing much of Obama’s statute, with a two-year delay designed to give lawmakers time to enact a replacement. Trump embraced that idea last month after an initial version of McConnell’s bill collapsed under Republican divisions, and did so again late Monday.

But the prospects for approving a clean repeal bill followed by work on replacement legislation, even with Trump ready to sign it, seemed shaky. Trump and party leaders had started this year embracing that strategy, only to abandon it when it seemed incapable of passing Congress, with many Republicans worried it would cause insurance market and political chaos because of uncertainty that they would approve substitute legislation.

McConnell’s failed bill would have left 22 million uninsured by 2026, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, a number that many Republicans found unpalatable. But the vetoed 2015 measure would be even worse, the budget office said last January, producing 32 million additional uninsured people by 2026 – figures that seemed likely to drive a stake into that bill’s prospects for passing Congress.

That would seem to leave McConnell with an option he described last month – negotiating with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. That would likely be on a narrower package aimed more at keeping insurers in difficult marketplaces they’re either abandoning or imposing rapidly growing premiums.

“The core of this bill is unworkable,” Schumer said in a statement. He said Republicans “should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the markets and improves our health care system.”

Similar to legislation the House approved in May after its own setbacks, McConnell’s bill would repeal Obama’s tax penalties on people who don’t buy coverage and cut the Medicaid program for the poor, elderly and nursing home residents. It rolled back many of the statute’s requirements for the policies insurers can sell and eliminated many tax increases that raised money for Obama’s expansion to 20 million more people, though it retained the law’s tax boosts on high earners.

Besides Lee and Moran, two other Republican senators had previously declared their opposition to McConnell’s bill: moderate Collins and conservative Rand Paul of Kentucky. And other moderates were wavering and could have been difficult for McConnell and Trump to win over because of the bill’s Medicaid cuts: Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Dean Heller of Nevada, probably the most endangered Senate Republican in next year’s elections.

The range of objections lodged by the dissident senators underscored the warring viewpoints within his own party that McConnell had to try patching over. Lee complained that the bill didn’t go far enough in rolling back Obama’s robust coverage requirements, while moderates like Collins berated its Medicaid cuts and the millions it would leave without insurance.

McConnell’s revised version aimed to satisfy both camps, by incorporating language by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas allowing insurers to sell skimpy plans alongside more robust ones, and by adding tens of billions of dollars to treat opioid addiction and to defray consumer costs. His efforts did not achieve the intended result.

]]> 0 Trump speaks during a "Made in America" product showcase featuring items created in each of the 50 states at the White House Monday.Tue, 18 Jul 2017 17:32:07 +0000
Interrupted sleep may lead to Alzheimer’s, new studies show Tue, 18 Jul 2017 13:11:35 +0000 Getting a solid night’s sleep is crucial not only for feeling good the next day – there is increasing evidence that it may also protect against dementia, according to new research presented Tuesday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London.

Three studies by researchers at Wheaton College found significant connections between breathing disorders that interrupt sleep and the accumulation of biomarkers for Alzheimer’s Disease. Treating the problems with dental appliances or CPAP machines that force air into airways could help lower the risk of dementia or slow its progress, the researchers said.

People with sleep-disordered breathing experience repeated episodes of hypopnea (under breathing) and apnea (not breathing) during sleep. The most common form, Obstructive Sleep Apnea, occurs in around 3 in 10 men and 1 in 5 women, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“If you’re only making it to Stage 1 or Stage 2 and then you start choking or snoring or whatever, you . . . may be accumulating this bad amyloid in the brain rather than clearing it,” says Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Shutterstock photo

It occurs when the upper airway closes fully or partially while efforts to breathe continue, and it can wake a person up 50 or 60 times a night, interrupting the stages of sleep necessary for a restful night. It often starts in middle age, before clinical signs of Alzheimer’s usually appear.

In one study of 516 cognitively normal adults 71 to 78, those with sleep disordered breathing had greater increases in beta-amyloid deposits over a three-year period. This was true regardless of whether they had the ApoeE4 gene considered a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

A second study found that OSA was associated with increases in amyloid buildup in older people with mild cognitive impairment, and a third found such an association in both normal and MCI subjects.

While correlation between sleep apnea and dementia has been documented in the past, these are among the first longitudinal studies to look at the relationship between sleep disruption and the biomarkers, such as beta-amyloid accumulation, that are commonly associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, said Megan Hogan, one of the Wheaton researchers.

Noting that past research has found that the brain clears up deposits of amyloid plaque during sleep, Hogan hypothesized that apnea may impede this process.

“During sleep, when your brain has time to wash away all the toxins that have built up throughout the day, continually interrupting sleep may give it less time to do that,” she said.

It may be in the deepest stages of sleep that the clearing up takes place, said Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. “If you’re only making it to Stage 1 or Stage 2 and then you start choking or snoring or whatever and you wake yourself up and you do it again and again, you may not even be aware of it, but you…may be accumulating this bad amyloid in the brain rather than clearing it,” he said.

In recent research, people repeatedly jolted awake during the night showed immediate increases in amyloid buildup and, if the sleep disruption continued for a couple of weeks, subjects also showed increases in the tau protein tangles that are also associated with Alzheimer’s, Petersen said.

Repeated deprivation of oxygen to the brain that occurs during apnea may also contribute to amyloid buildup, as oxygen regulates an enzyme that plays a role in creating amyloid, Hogan said.

It is not yet clear whether the relationship between apnea and dementia is causative – “whether people with very early levels of brain disease are having trouble sleeping or whether people having trouble sleeping are more likely to develop brain disease,” said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs & outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association. He noted that animal studies have shown it could go both ways.

“Ultimately it doesn’t matter what the direction is for this to have an effect on your life,” he said. “If you’re waking up your partner multiple times a night or you’re tired all day, then you really, really need to go get checked by your doctor because it could be a sign of something serious, or if it’s not, just treating the apnea could help with your day-to-day cognition.”

A next step in confirming that sleep disruption causes amyloid buildup could be to conduct an intervention with CPAP machines and see if their use reduces the incidence of amyloid buildup, Hogan and Fargo said.

]]> 0, 18 Jul 2017 20:09:45 +0000
Pentagon faults Pratt & Whitney on F-35 engine cost overruns Tue, 18 Jul 2017 12:07:42 +0000 United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt and Whitney unit has been slow to incorporate promised cost savings techniques for the latest and biggest batch of engines to power F-35 jets, the Pentagon’s costliest weapons program, according to a new report.

Pratt is producing 102 engines for the fighters built by Lockheed Martin under what’s now a $2.1 billion contract, including management, engineering support and spare parts. When it was signed in July 2016, Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, who headed the Defense Department’s F-35 office, said Pratt’s team “has kept their word in delivering on their price reduction commitments.”

One year later, the F-35 office took a different view in its annual Selected Acquisition Report on the program’s progress. It reviewed the schedule and cost status from July 2016 to April of this year, disclosing estimates of $43 million in cumulative cost overruns for materials, which Pratt & Whitney will have to absorb if they persist.

The largest of the five modules that make up the Pratt & Whitney engine that powers the F-35 is pictured in the hold of the USS Wasp during fighter plane testing off the coast of North Carolina in May 2015. The warplane did well in nearly two weeks of testing on an amphibious warship, the Pentagon said at the time. Reuters/Andrea Shalal

Engine hardware “is costing more than planned,” according to the report, primarily because the contractor’s targets aren’t “achievable today due to delays with incorporating enough engineering changes and affordability initiatives to lower the manufacturing costs,” according to the document obtained by Bloomberg News.

Pratt & Whitney’s supply chain team also has “been unable to negotiate lower pricing from the supply chain,” the F-35 office added.

Through April, the engine maker, which has an engine part maintenance facility in North Berwick, Maine, was behind on $51 million in work due to late engine hardware deliveries, some quality lapses with engine nozzle parts and other supplier issues, according to the report.

Controlling costs is crucial as the Pentagon plans to increase its budget requests to 77 engines in fiscal 2019 from 74 this year. The number would jump to 99 by 2022. The Pentagon’s annual engine procurement requests are planned to increase to $2 billion by 2022 from $1.6 billion this year.

Pratt & Whitney spokesman Matthew Bates deferred comment on the cost report to the Pentagon. In general, since 2009 when Pratt launched its “War on Cost,” the company has reduced F-35 engine costs “by more than half,” Bates said in an email.

“We continue to focus on implementing engineering design changes and working with our supply chain to further reduce costs, and we expect further cost reduction as the volume from the engine production ramp increases,” Bates said.

Although the report “shows engine hardware is costing more than the contractor planned, those additional costs are not being passed on to taxpayers,” F-35 program office spokesman Joe DellaVedova said in an email. “If Pratt & Whitney falls short on their commitments, the company accepts full responsibility for cost overruns” under its fixed price, incentive fee contract.

The Government Accountability Office said this year in its annual F-35 report that “manufacturing efficiency and quality metrics are improving for Pratt & Whitney. Although some engine aircraft reliability and maintainability metrics are not meeting program expectations, there has been progress in some areas, and there is still time for further improvements.”

The $51 million overrun caused by lagging work is likely to disappear when the contract is completed, DellaVedova said. “Although Pratt & Whitney and its supply chain is delivering late items to their original plan, there is schedule margin and engine deliveries continue to support aircraft requirement dates,” he said.

Even with the troubling early overruns engine cost targets are going down with each successive contract, DellaVedova said.

]]> 0, 18 Jul 2017 08:36:33 +0000
House Republicans unveil budget that boosts military, cuts social safety net Tue, 18 Jul 2017 10:27:18 +0000 WASHINGTON – House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a budget that proposes trillions of dollars in cuts to the social safety net and other domestic programs while sharply boosting military spending, a blueprint that elicited criticism from conservatives and moderates.

The Republican plan, authored by Budget Chairman Diane Black, R-Tenn., is critical to Republican hopes to deliver on one of President Trump’s top priorities – a Republican-only effort to overhaul the tax code. Unclear, however, is whether Republican leaders can get the budget measure through the House. Conservatives want a larger package of spending cuts to accompany this fall’s tax overhaul bill while moderates are concerned cuts to programs such as food stamps could go too far.

Black announced a committee vote for Wednesday, but action by the entire House could be delayed by the ongoing quarrel between the Republicans’ factions.

Medicare is the second-largest mandatory program after Social Security, and the House Republican plan again proposes to turn Medicare into a voucher-like program in which future retirees would receive a fixed benefit to purchase health insurance on the open market. Republicans have proposed the idea each year since taking back the House in 2011, but they’ve never tried to implement it – and that’s not going to change now, even with a Republican as president. Trump opposes the idea.

The plan, in theory at least, promises to balance the budget through unprecedented and politically unworkable cuts across the budget. It calls for turning this year’s projected $700 billion or so deficit into a tiny $9 billion surplus by 2027. It would do so by slashing $5.4 trillion over the coming decade, including almost $500 billion from Medicare, $1.5 trillion from Medicaid and the Obama health law, along with sweeping cuts to benefits such as federal employee pensions, food stamps, and tax credits for the working poor.

“The status quo is unsustainable. A mounting national debt and lackluster economic growth will limit opportunity for people all across the country,” Black said. “But we don’t have to accept this reality. We can move forward with an optimistic vision for the future and this budget is the first step in that process. This is the moment to get real results for the American people. The time for talking is over, now is the time for action.”

But in the immediate future the Republican measure is a budget buster. It would add almost $30 billion to Trump’s $668 billion request for national defense, which already exceeds an existing “cap” on spending by $54 billion. But while Trump proposed taking that $54 billion from domestic agencies and foreign aid, the Republican budget plan would restore most of the cuts, trimming non-defense agencies by just $5 billion. And of the more than $4 trillion in promised saving from mandatory programs like Medicare and Medicaid, the plan assumes just $203 billion would actually pass this year.

Democrats focused their fire on the plan’s sweeping, but nonbinding, promises to cut from almost every corner of the budget other than Social Security, defense and veterans programs.

“It embraces the worst extremes of the Trump budget, sacrificing nearly every investment that helps American families get ahead,” said top Budget Committee Democrat John Yarmouth of Kentucky. “It puts education, job training, transportation, medical research, and veterans’ healthcare at risk – all investments that the American people overwhelmingly support.”

All told, the Republican plan would spend about $67 billion more in the upcoming annual appropriations bills than would be allowed under harsh spending limits set by a failed 2011 budget and debt agreement and pads war accounts by $10 billion. And, like Trump’s budget, the House Republican plan assumes rosy economic projections that would erase another $1.5 trillion from the deficit over 10 years.

The budget resolution is nonbinding. It would allow Republicans controlling Congress to pass follow-up legislation through the Senate without the threat of a filibuster by Democrats. Republican leaders and the White House plan to use that measure to rewrite the tax code.

As proposed by House leaders, tax reform would essentially be deficit neutral, which means cuts to tax rates would be mostly “paid for” by closing various tax breaks such as the deduction for state and local taxes. However, the Republican plan would devote $300 billion claimed from economic growth to the tax reform effort.

But conservatives are insisting on adding cuts to so-called mandatory programs, which make up more than two-thirds of the federal budget and basically run on autopilot. After extended negotiations, Black would instruct 11 House panels to draw up $203 billion worth of mandatory cuts.

“I just think that if you’re dealing with too many mandatory cuts while you’re dealing with tax reform you make tax reform that much harder to enact,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.

]]> 0, 18 Jul 2017 13:29:19 +0000
Separate attorneys defend Trump, aides Tue, 18 Jul 2017 02:39:53 +0000 WASHINGTON — As the government’s Russia investigations heat up, a growing cast of lawyers is signing up to defend President Trump and his associates.

But the interests of those lawyers – and their clients – don’t always align, adding a new layer of drama and suspicion in a White House already rife with internal rivalries.

Trump himself has both an outside legal team and a new in-house special counsel, Ty Cobb, for Russia-related matters.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, has a pair of high-powered attorneys working for him.

The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., recently hired his own lawyer. And former campaign aides who expect to be caught up in the expanding probes are also shopping for representation – and dealing with sticker-shock over the cost.

The result is a crowded group of high-priced attorneys bent on defending their own clients, even if it means elbowing those clients’ colleagues.

“Any one of those individuals can anticipate that they will be in a position to provide information adverse to any of the other individuals,” said Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor and legal ethics expert. “They have to have their own lawyer.”

The diverging interests began to emerge more clearly during last week’s fallout over a June 2016 meeting with a Russian attorney that both the president’s son and his son-in-law attended during the presidential campaign. Legal teams for the president, Trump Jr. and Kushner all discussed the matter before the meeting was first reported by The New York Times.

But the lawyers couldn’t agree on a single, public explanation for the meeting and ultimately settled on a statement that had to be repeatedly amended as new information dripped out. The job of coordination was especially challenging because the lawyers couldn’t always speak freely about what they knew, out of concern for attorney-client privilege, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

With each new disclosure, the lawyers tweaked their public statements – and anxiously speculated over who in the group was disclosing the damaging information to the media.

In Trump’s inner circle, a group long split into factions, the potential for fueling other officials’ legal difficulties could be high.

It’s all going to get even more complicated as both Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and three separate congressional probes gather steam. Kushner is expected to talk to the Senate intelligence committee soon, and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley wants to summon Trump Jr. for testimony.

The president and his son have both tried to downplay last year’s meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya.

“Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!” the president tweeted Monday.

But emails about the meeting that were released by Trump Jr. rattled some White House advisers, particularly his enthusiastic response to being told directly that the attorney had damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton that was being provided by the Russian government.

Last week’s revelations helped prompt the president to bolster his own legal defense. He hired Cobb, an experienced white-collar attorney, who is due to join the White House staff on July 31, according to Cobb’s law firm. Cobb is expected to play a public role, crafting official White House responses to developments.

His hiring came with an acknowledgement that the current arrangement wasn’t working. Trump’s personal lawyers were supposed to take the pressure off the White House to respond to Russia inquiries.

But it’s become untenable for the West Wing staff to keep punting questions about the president.

“We end up spending a lot of time talking to the counsel’s office about what can and can’t be referred to outside counsel, what still remains in our purview,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday. Spicer said he did not believe Cobb had vetted the president’s tweet Monday.

Trump will continue to work with the outside legal team already representing his personal interests: Jay Sekulow, a frequent television commentator, and New York-based attorney Marc Kasowitz, whose unconventional style has left some aides to the president unimpressed.

Kasowitz and Sekulow don’t work out of the White House, though both are there on occasion for meetings with the president. Sekulow made multiple appearances at the White House last week as the controversy over the meeting with the Russian lawyer unfolded.

The expanding legal teams come at a cost.

The Trump presidential campaign has spent almost $1 million on legal fees since the beginning of the year, according to a campaign finance report filed Saturday with the Federal Election Commission.

That includes a $50,000 charge for the law firm of Alan Futerfas, who is representing Trump Jr. The payment was made nearly two weeks before news reports about the younger Trump’s Russia meeting.

]]> 0, 17 Jul 2017 22:39:53 +0000
Trump wants NAFTA deal to cut trade deficit Tue, 18 Jul 2017 02:24:00 +0000 Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Trump vowed Monday to boost U.S. manufacturing by cutting the $64 billion trade deficit with Mexico as he showcased products made in all 50 states – everything from a fire truck to a baseball bat.

“No longer are we going to allow other countries to break the rules, to steal our jobs and drain our wealth,” Trump said at a White House event that spilled from the East Room to the South Lawn.

Shortly after Trump’s remarks, the U.S. trade representative released an 18-page report about its goals for updating the decades-old North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. In addition to reducing the trade deficit, the administration wants to insert a chapter on the digital economy into the deal. It also wants to strengthen labor and environmental obligations, as well as amending the rules of origin so that more of the products traded come from the United States and North America.

Facing an investigation into his campaign’s ties with Russia and a tax and health care agenda struggling to make headway as quickly as promised, Trump is turning his focus to trade this week. Administration officials are to meet Wednesday with economic officials from China, a nation the president has accused of dumping steel on the global market to hurt U.S. steelmakers. The White House emphasis on trade follows a string of other recent theme weeks on energy, job-training and infrastructure that mostly failed to draw much attention away from the Russia inquiry.

The president took his time checking out products from all over the country: Trump donned a cowboy hat from Texas. He swung a baseball bat from Louisiana. And he even climbed into the cab of a Wisconsin-built fire truck and pretended to be a firefighter, saying, “Where’s the fire? Where’s the fire? Put it out fast!”

The new NAFTA objectives, a requirement to begin talks on updating the agreement in the next 30 days, contain the first specifics for a Trump administration that has made bold promises on trade. Trump has pledged to recover factory jobs and boost wages by crafting new trade deals. Supporters note that NAFTA enabled companies to charge cheaper prices for products that range from cars to vacuum cleaners, helping many U.S. consumers.

The president said he only seeks a level playing field for U.S. companies and workers, but “if the playing field was slanted a little bit toward us, I would accept that, also.”

But the president has a conflicted relationship with global trade. His namesake clothing business depended on the work of low-wage workers living overseas, as does the fashion line of his daughter and White House aide, Ivanka Trump.

As of now, Ivanka Trump’s firm continues to have its products made overseas. Her lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said Monday that the president’s daughter “has resigned from the company, does not control its operations, and has been advised that she cannot ask the government to act in an issue involving the brand in any way, constraining her ability to intervene personally.”

Trump has blasted trade deficits as hampering the economy by sending money abroad. But the trade deficit actually improved from $762 billion in 2006 to $505 billion last year, a change brought about largely because U.S. consumers cut back spending during the Great Recession. His administration already is pursuing multiple trade cases on individual products and weighing whether to impose tariffs and quotas on foreign steel in hopes of curbing production in China, even though that country represents a fraction of U.S. steel imports.

Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the administration’s NAFTA objectives “will be further developed as the negotiations proceed.” The senator said he wants stronger protections for intellectual property rights as part of an amended agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Democratic lawmakers said Monday that Trump should move away from trade agreements that favor multinational companies to focus on workers.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said that any new agreements must provide for more jobs and higher wages that he has pledged to generate.

“He’s got to deliver on those promises he made to my constituents and the working men and women across the country,” Dingell said.

When NAFTA went into effect in 1994, the United States ran a small trade surplus in goods with Mexico and a slight deficit with Canada. But the size of the deficits steadily began to increase afterward.

By last year, the United States ran a $64 billion trade deficit with Mexico and a nearly $11 billion gap with Canada. Neither trade deficit is near its peak level. The trade deficit with Canada hit a high in 2008, while the trade gap with Mexico nearly reached $75 billion in 2007.

]]> 0 Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, gives a thumbs-up from the cabin of a Pierce fire truck during a "Made in America" product showcase featuring items created in each of the 50 states Monday at the White House in Washington.Mon, 17 Jul 2017 22:24:00 +0000
Venezuelan opposition calls for a national strike Tue, 18 Jul 2017 01:55:40 +0000 CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan opposition leaders called Monday for a 24-hour nationwide strike to increase pressure on the socialist government after more than 7 million people rejected a plan to rewrite the constitution and consolidate the ruling party’s power over the country, which has been stricken by shortages and inflation and riven by more than 100 days of clashes between protesters and police.

The opposition said the country’s National Assembly, which it controls, would name new members to the government-dominated Supreme Court, setting up a showdown with President Nicolas Maduro, whose party controls nearly all other state institutions. Opposition parties also plan to sign a declaration calling for the formation of an alternative “government of national unity,” a step toward total rejection of government authority.

“Overall the package is pretty radical, especially the idea of a parallel government,” said David Smilde, a Tulane University expert on Venezuela. “I think it could lead to real chaos.”

He noted, however, that the opposition moves were to be implemented in phases over the next week, giving both sides the opportunity to negotiate possible concessions.

After some procedural moves in the National Assembly on Tuesday, the opposition said it would launch a plan it called “zero hour” on Wednesday that includes an agreement to form an alternate government and create 2,000 local committees that would function as street-level support for the opposition.

That will be followed Thursday by a nationwide strike, which could bring much of Venezuela’s already sputtering economy to a standstill. Venezuela’s largest chamber of commerce said that its members would not punish employees for participating in the strike.

On Friday, the opposition will name 13 judges to the supreme court to replace those named by the outgoing, ruling party-dominated congress in 2015 in a process that legal experts say violated nomination procedures. The nominations would not give the opposition a supreme court majority but are almost certain to be rejected by the current court and the executive branch, making them a largely symbolic tactic to increase pressure on Maduro.

“We call on the whole country to launch a 24-hour national strike this Thursday, a massive, nonviolent protest, as a way to pressure the government and to prepare for the final steps, which will be next week, to confront this fraud … and to restore constitutional order,” opposition leader Freddy Guevara said. He didn’t say what the final steps would be.

More than three months of street protests have left at least 93 people dead and 1,500 wounded. More than 500 protesters and government opponents have been jailed.

The opposition said 7.6 million Venezuelans participated in Sunday’s symbolic referendum rejecting Maduro’s plans for the July 30 election of an assembly that would remake the country’s political system. Maduro’s allies have called on the assembly to impose executive branch authority over the few remaining institutions outside the control of Venezuela’s socialist ruling party. The government labeled the vote as an internal party poll with no relevance.

Maduro made no mention of the strike plans in a television appearance Monday.

]]> 0 Assembly first Vice President Freddy Guevara speaks to the media in Caracas, Venezuela, on Monday, a day after voters rejected a plan to rewrite the constitution.Mon, 17 Jul 2017 21:55:40 +0000
Health care bill falling short as 2 more Senate Republicans announce opposition Tue, 18 Jul 2017 01:11:29 +0000 The latest Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act suffered a fatal setback Monday night when two more Republican senators announced their opposition to the legislation strongly backed by President Trump.

The announcements by Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas left the Republican Party’s long-promised efforts to get rid of President Barack Obama’s health care legislation reeling. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that he will retreat, and try to pass the more straightforward Obamacare repeal bill that Republicans approved while Obama was still in office and certain to veto it. That looks unlikely to succeed, now that it could actually become law and unleash wide-ranging effects likely to frighten off senators.

“Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful,” McConnell said in a statement that sounded like a death knell to the Republican Party’s promises to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better.

Trump, who had predicted success for McConnell’s repeal-and-replace legislation just hours earlier, urged over Twitter: “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” But Republican leaders rejected that clean-repeal approach months ago because it could not pass in Congress.

Lee and Moran both said they could not support McConnell’s legislation in the form it was proposed last week. They joined Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky, both of whom announced their opposition right after McConnell released the bill on Thursday.

McConnell’s bill “fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare’s rising costs,” said Moran.

Lee said, “In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations.”

That left McConnell at least two votes short in the closely divided Senate from being able to move forward with his bill. Instead, he said, he will try to open debate on a repeal-and-replace bill passed by the House, and the first allowed amendment would be on the legislation approved by Congress in 2015 repealing much of Obamacare, with a two-year delay for the repeal to take effect.

Obama was in the White House when that bill passed, and he vetoed it. Few Republicans reckoned then with the reality of sending the bill to a president of their party who might actually sign it and invite all the consequences, including casting tens of millions off the rolls of the insured and off Medicaid. This year’s debate has already shown that Republicans are highly wary of any such move, and a similar straightforward repeal was rejected early on.


Monday night’s retreat was the second straight failure for McConnell, who had to cancel a vote on an earlier version of his repeal-and-replace bill last month when defeat became inevitable.

Trump had kept his distance from the Senate process, but Monday night’s development was a major blow for him, too, as the president failed to rally support for what has been Republicans’ trademark issue for seven years, ever since Obama and the Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act. Republicans won the White House and full control of Congress in large part on the basis of their promises to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” but have struggled to overcome their deep internal divisions and deliver on those promises.

The Senate bill, like an earlier version that barely passed in the House, would eliminate mandates and taxes included in Obamacare, and unravel an expansion of the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled. For conservatives like Lee and Paul, it didn’t go far enough in delivering on Republican promises to undo Obama’s law. But moderates like Collins viewed the bill as too extreme in yanking insurance coverage from millions.

McConnell’s latest version aimed to satisfy both camps, by incorporating language by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas allowing insurers to sell skimpy plans alongside more robust ones, and by adding billions to treat opioid addiction and to defray consumers’ costs. His efforts did not achieve the intended result.

“This second failure of Trumpcare is proof positive that the core of this bill is unworkable,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “Republicans should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long term stability to the markets and improves our health care system.”

Some Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, also called for a new bipartisan approach, but McConnell opted to go in the other direction. One outcome could be to prove to conservatives agitating for a repeal-only vote that such repeal-only legislation cannot pass in the Senate.

Before the stunning announcements by Lee and Moran, the bill stood on the knife’s edge, with zero votes to spare but not dead yet. It was apparent that no Republican senator wanted to be the third to announce opposition and become responsible for killing the bill, so the news from Lee and Moran came simultaneously.

It arrived as about a half-dozen senators were at the White House meeting with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence about the next steps in the Republican effort to ensure passage of the bill.

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Answers sought in mysterious police killing of 911 caller in Minneapolis Mon, 17 Jul 2017 22:45:49 +0000 MINNEAPOLIS — Relatives and neighbors of a woman who was fatally shot by Minneapolis police over the weekend demanded answers Monday about the mysterious death in which the 40-year-old meditation teacher and bride-to-be was reportedly killed by a bullet fired through a squad-car door.

Authorities released no details about what led to the shooting of Justine Damond, whose fiance said she had called 911 to report what she believed was a sexual assault in an alley near her home.

Police said only that officers were responding to a call about a possible assault late Saturday when Damond was killed. There were no known witnesses other than the two officers in the squad car that showed up. A newspaper report said Damond was shot while standing outside the car driver’s door in her pajamas.

Her fiancé, Don Damond, said the family has been given almost no additional information about what happened after police arrived.

Justine Damond’s family members in Australia also released a statement Monday through Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, saying they “are trying to come to terms with this tragedy and to understand why this has happened.”

The Star Tribune newspaper reported that Damond is from Sydney, Australia, She was engaged to be married in August and was using her fiance’s last name, the newspaper said. Her maiden name was Justine Ruszczyk.

Almost two days after her death, police offered no public explanation and referred questions to the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. A Monday statement from the BCA said more information would be provided once the officers were interviewed.

An undated photo of Justine Damond, of Sydney, Australia, who was fatally shot by police in Minneapolis on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Stephen Govel/ via AP

The BCA said no weapons were found at the scene.

Local media identified the officer who fired as Mohamed Noor, a Somali-American. A city newsletter said he joined the police department in March 2015.

His attorney, Tom Plunkett, released a statement to Minneapolis television station WCCO saying: “We take this seriously with great compassion for all persons who are being touched by this.” Plunkett did not respond to messages left by the Associated Press.

The Star Tribune, citing three unidentified people with knowledge of the shooting, said the officers pulled into the alley in a single squad car, and Damond talked to the driver. The newspaper’s sources said the officer in the passenger seat shot Damond through the driver’s side door. A BCA spokeswoman did not return messages seeking to confirm that account.

Neighbor Joan Hargrave called the killing “an execution” and said there was no reason for a well-trained officer to see Damond as a threat.

“This is a tragedy – that someone who’s asking for help would call the police and get shot by the police,” Hargrave said.

Officials said the officers’ body cameras were not turned on and that a squad car camera did not capture the shooting. Investigators were still trying to determine whether other video exists.

It’s not clear why the body cameras were not activated. The department’s policy allows for a range of situations in which officers are supposed to do so, including “any contact involving criminal activity” and before use of force. If a body camera is not turned on before use of force, it’s supposed to be turned on as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Once the investigation is complete, it would be up to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to decide whether to charge the officer.

Freeman would not comment on the broader case Monday, but said both officers likely should have turned on their body cameras as they were approached by Damond in an alley.

Police Chief Janee Harteau called the killing a “tragic death” and said she understands why the community has questions. “I’ve asked for the investigation to be expedited to provide transparency and to answer as many questions as quickly as we can,” she said.

The Fulton neighborhood where the shooting happened is a mix of middle- and upper-middle-class homes. Some 50 friends and neighbors gathered in a semicircle Sunday near the shooting site, with many more watching from the sidewalk and street. Chalk hearts containing the names of some people who were victims of police violence were drawn on the driveway.

By Monday, flowers had been left at the scene, along with a handwritten sign that asked, “Why did you shoot and kill our neighbor?”

Damond’s death is yet another high-profile police shooting in the Twin Cities area in recent years. Last year, 32-year-old Philando Castile was killed by an officer during a traffic stop in a nearby suburb after he told the officer he was armed. And in November 2015, a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed Jamar Clark during a struggle in which the officer said Clark grabbed his partner’s weapon.

Damond’s business website indicates that she relocated to Minneapolis and worked as a yoga instructor, meditation teacher and personal health and life coach.

Originally trained as a veterinarian, Damond indicated on the site that she was “most passionate about supporting individuals and organizations to discover the power and potential within their own brains and hearts.”

Damond’s mother was Australian, and she spent her formative years there, but also spent some of her early childhood in the Buffalo, New York, area, said Peter Suffoletto, a cousin of Damond’s father. Suffoletto said Damond frequently returned to New York state and stayed with Suffoletto and his wife, Elaine, in Hamburg, New York, as recently as April.

“She was the sweetest soul that I’ve ever met,” Elaine Suffoletto said.

Peter Suffoletto added: “She was just a loving free spirit. … We’re devastated, beyond devastated.”

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