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    Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) at CIA Director Mike Pompeo's confirmation hearing to become Secretary of State, (Photo ©2018 Doug Christian)

    On the Hill with Doug Christian, June 1, 2018

    • Republicans’ tariff rebellion
    • Ryan’s revolt
    • Brady’s threat
    • Make America 1929 again

     

    WASHINGTON- House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) on Tuesday evening announced that the Republican tax reform bill will not be released until Thursday.

    “In consultation with President Trump and our leadership team, we have decided to release the bill text on Thursday,” Brady said in a statement.

    “We are pleased with the progress we are making and we remain on schedule to take action and approve a bill at our Committee beginning next week,” he added.

    Brady initially said the bill would be released on Wednesday.

    The postponement follows reports of contentious debate among committee members over provisions that would drastically limit tax-deferred 401k contributions as well as eliminate many state and local tax deductions.

    Brady on Saturday announced that the legislation would permit property tax deductions.

    The House last week narrowly approved the Senate version of a budget resolution that paves the way for tax reform legislation.

    Twenty Republicans voted against the budget resolution, most of whom represent highly populated states where constituents pay hefty municipal taxes.

    Three more defections would have resulted in the budget resolution being defeated.

    House GOP leaders have said they hope to pass tax reform legislation before Congress adjourns for its one-week Thanksgiving recess.

    WASHINGTON- House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) on Saturday said the GOP tax reform bill has been amended to include a provision allowing property tax deductions.

    “At the urging of lawmakers we are restoring an itemized property tax deduction to help taxpayers with local tax burdens,” Brady said in a statement.

    Brady’s statement comes just two days after the House narrowly approved the Senate version of a budget resolution that paves the way for tax reform legislation.

    Twenty Republicans voted against the budget resolution, most of whom represent highly populated states that might have been adversely affected by the proposal to eliminate state and local deductions.

    Three more defections would have resulted in the budget resolution being defeated.

    Brady has said he expects to release the text of the legislation on Wednesday.

    House GOP leaders have said they are hoping to pass tax reform legislation before Congress adjourns for its one-week Thanksgiving recess.

     

    WASHINGTON – The search for quarterback Tom Brady’s stolen Super Bowl jersey is over.

    “Through the cooperation of the NFL and New England Patriots’ security teams, the FBI and other law enforcement authorities, the Super Bowl LI jersey won last month by MVP Tom Brady has been recovered,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement released Monday.

    “Also retrieved during the ongoing investigation was the jersey Brady wore in the Patriots’ victory in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks in 2015.”

    Both jerseys was recovered in Mexico, Houston police said Monday.

    The NFL said both jerseys were “found in the possession of a credentialed member of the international media.”

    No further information on the suspect has been released, although Houston police said the suspect is not a Houston resident.

    The suspect is expected to face federal charges – including transporting stolen goods across state lines and outside the country.

    Houston police had previously said the theft would be considered a felony since the jersey was estimated to be worth $500,000. No value has been given for Brady’s Super Bowl XLIX jersey.

    The jersey from Super Bowl LI disappeared from the Patriots’ locker room shortly after the Feb. 5 game against the Atlanta Falcons. Brady said the jersey vanished from his duffel bag.

    Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said the department devoted a “handful” of investigators from the Major Offenders Division to the case, and the Texas Rangers assisted.

    “This was not the highest priority of the Houston Police Department,” Acevedo said at a Monday news conference.

    But the theft was the “only blemish” on Houston’s moment in the international spotlight as a Super Bowl host, he said.

    Houston investigators found an informant who led the investigation to Mexico, Acevedo said.

    Once Houston tracked the jersey to Mexico, the department asked the FBI to connect with Mexican authorities, who then assisted, he said.

    The NFL and the FBI have the jerseys in Boston, Acevedo said, where they will be tested to confirm they are the missing items. But Acevedo said police are “highly confident” they found the right jerseys. Both will be returned to Brady.

    The FBI would not comment on the investigation Monday.

    The New England Patriots star previously said he was optimistic about the jersey’s return. “So if it shows up on eBay somewhere, someone let me know, try to track that down,” Brady said at the Super Bowl post-game news conference.

    Not everyone is celebrating the return of Brady’s jerseys.

    While testifying Monday afternoon at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, FBI Director James Comey said he hated the New England Patriots.

    By Mariela Hernandez

    Washington (Talk Media News) – The Brady Campaign and Ogilvy & Mather are launching “Zero Minutes of fame,” a Google Chrome plugin that removes killers’ names and images from major news sites and Google search results.

    Mass shootings in the U.S. — like Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Lafayette and Charleston — often receive extensive media coverage, but this coverage only encourages similar crimes, according to the Brady Campaign.

    The plugin filters search results to focus on the victims of these mass killings, instead of the perpetrators.

    “Instead of rewarding killers and inspiring copycats, we should be lifting up the stories and the lives of victims, heroes, and survivors,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign. “The fact is, notoriety serves as a reward for these killers and as a call-to-action for others who would seek to do similar harm in the name of infamy.”

    More than 30 percent of mass shootings and as many as 22 percent of all school shootings are inspired by previous violent incidents with guns, according to the campaign.

    In their efforts to cut gun deaths in half by 2025, the Brady Campaign has also launched a new petition that encourages the media to stop showing perpetrators’ name and images on their channels, “turning 15 minutes of fame into 0 minutes of fame.”

    “I can understand why this issue is very important to survivors and why they want much more focus to be on the lives of victims and survivors as a pose to the background of shooters, that makes sense to me,” Ladd Everitt, communications director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “I applaud the Brady Campaign for doing this, I am confident that, you know, moving forward we can have intelligent fact base conversations about these tragedies to include how these shooters got their guns and the steps we can take to prevent future shooters from getting guns without giving them notoriety and potentially in some of these situations, the attention that they crave.”

    The Brady Law signed in 1993 requires background checks on handgun purchases and a five-day waiting upon approval by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and has extended to long guns such as rifles and shotguns.

    Idaho is the most recent and eighth state to recognize a law-abiding ability to posses a concealed handgun for self-defense, Gov. Butch Otter signed into law residents 21 years of age and older to carry concealed firearms without the need of a permit and will take effect July 2016.

    Brady campaign fights to prevent gun violence while states like Missouri have passed House Bill 1464 Wednesday to the Senate that would allow every person to permitless carry a concealed firearm anywhere that is not expressly prohibited by law.

    Washington (Talk Media News) — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady must serve a four-game suspension that the NFL issued last season, a federal appeals court said Monday.

    “We hold that the Commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement and that his procedural rulings were properly grounded in that agreement and did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness,” the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a ruling in a 2-1 decision, reviving the “deflategate” controversy that has dogged the Patriots for more than a year.

    The battle between the star quarterback and the NFL has brewed since the AFC Championship back in January 2015 in which it was discovered that some footballs had been deflated below official limits. It was charged that Brady instructed equipment officials to deflate the footballs in order to gain a competitive advantage given that the game was played in inclement weather.

    While the Patriots would go on to decisively win that game, and ultimately the Super Bowl, the league handed down heavy penalties against the team itself and eventually Brady himself.

    Brady’s original four-game suspension was to be served at the beginning of last season, but a federal judge halted the order, allowing Brady to play the entirety of the 2015 season.

    However, the issue at hand was not whether or not Brady had any involvement in the footballs themselves, but the authority granted to NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell under the collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players.

    “Our role is not to determine for ourselves whether Brady participated in a scheme to deflate footballs or whether the suspension imposed by the Commissioner should have been for three games or five games or none at all. Nor is it our role to second-guess the arbitrator’s procedural rulings,” Judge Barrington D. Parker said in the majority opinion. “Our obligation is limited to determining whether the arbitration proceedings and award met the minimum legal standards established by the Labor Management Relations Act.”

    The NFL said in a statement that it was pleased with the ruling, saying that Goodell has the “authority…to act in cases involving the integrity of the game.”

    Meanwhile, the NFL Players Association blasted the ruling, saying it “fought Roger Goodell’s suspension of Tom Brady because we know he did not serve as a fair arbitrator and that players’ rights were violated under our collective bargaining agreement.”

    Neither the Patriots or Tom Brady had an immediate comments on the matter.

    This is far from the first time the team has been in the spotlight for allegations of cheating.

    Dating back to 2007, the team has been punished for illegally filming its opponents, more specifically, the defensive signals of the New York Jets.

    Under scrutiny from the public, and concerns from members of Congress, the league went on to heavily punish the Patriots, including a maximum fine of $500,000, a $250,000 fine against head coach Bill Belichick, and the loss of the team’s first round draft pick.

    In 2008, video tapes emerged that claimed to show the team illegally filming the practices of the then St. Louis Rams prior to Super Bowl XXXVI. The league acknowledged the tapes, but said no new information was revealed that wasn’t already known.

    Monday’s ruling is sure to reignite the debate between the league and the Patriots, with some calling the actions against Brady a witch hunt, while others see it as an extension of past allegations of cheating against the organization.

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is meeting with Republican members of the House Tuesday, one day after he drew bipartisan ire for a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he cast doubt on his intelligence community and said the U.S. was partially responsible for strained relations with Moscow.

    According to the White House, Trump will discuss the next wave of tax reform in the White House’s Roosevelt Room with the following members of the House Ways and Means Committee:

    • Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas)
    • Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Mich.)
    • Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.)
    • Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.)
    • Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio
    • Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.)
    • Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.)

    While there is no indication the president’s press conference will be addressed in the closed-door meeting, some of the invited members have criticized Trump’s remarks in his joint news conference with Putin after their summit.

    The meeting is the only item on the president’s Tuesday schedule, which was updated Monday evening to remove an intelligence briefing and lunch with the vice president.

    WASHINGTON —  A former attorney for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday pleaded guilty after being accused of stealing immigrants’ identities.

    Raphael Sanchez — who served as ICE’s chief counsel in Seattle before resigning on Monday — was convicted of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

    Justice Department prosecutors say Sanchez stole the identities of seven people who were “in various stages of immigration proceedings” allegedly to obtain $190,000 by defrauding credit card companies including Bank of America and Capital One. He carried out the scheme for over four years, according to prosecutors.

    ICE has identified approximately 20 more potential victims whose personal information was found at Sanchez’s residence.

    He is likely to receive a four-year sentence under a plea agreement, The Seattle Times reports.

    Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a statement that it is the job of federal immigration authorities to “ensure the honest enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws.”

    Sanchez admitted, “I betrayed that solemn responsibility.”

    SEC blocks Chinese takeover of the Chicago Stock Exchange

    The Securities and Exchange Commission — the top regulator for U.S. financial markets — is barring a Chinese-led group of investors from buying the Chicago Stock Exchange, according to CNN.

    The SEC is highlighting various concerns, including whether the deal would allow it to supervise the exchange properly.

    The SEC said that during a review, it was unable to obtain all the information it needed from the Chinese-led group of investors, including details about how some of the entities involved in the deal were funded. The regulator said this “raises significant doubts” that it could monitor the exchange if the deal went through.

    The deal was first announced in February 2016, and had been in regulatory limbo for two years.

    A U.S. panel that vets foreign deals for potential national security concerns had cleared the acquisition. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States said in December 2016 that there were “no unresolved national concerns” related to the takeover.

     

    Trump to visit Parkland, site of Florida school shooting

    President Trump will today visit Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in the latest mass shooting that has stunned the nation.

    The stop comes two days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and during a previously scheduled visit to Florida for Presidents’ Day weekend.

    Trump says he plans to meet with families and local officials and “continue coordinating the federal response.”

    The president, who talked about mental illness but made no mention of gun control Thursday in his first public remarks about the shooting, is facing mounting pressure to tighten the nation’s gun laws following the deadliest U.S. school shooting in five years.

    Some people are criticizing the president’s visit, saying it is hypocritical because he has not responded to calls to address gun violence in the nation.

    Community calls for action after deadly Florida school shooting

    More prayer services and candlelight vigils are scheduled today as the grieving Parkland, Fla., community remembers the 17 lives lost in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

    A parent organization is demanding gun control legislation after a march on the state Capitol, according to The Hill.

    Despite the National Rifle Association’s heavy influence in Washington, several leading Republicans also says it’s time for Congress to finally dive into the issue of gun violence.

    Thousands of mourners are expected to pay tribute to the victims of the Wednesday massacre, with friends, family and coaches sharing their memories.

    Trump ended a ban on gun sales to the mentally ill a year ago this month

    One day after a Florida shooting left 17 people dead, President Trump pledged that his “top priority” will be “making our schools and our children safer” — tweeting that the shooter was “mentally disturbed” and promising to address “the difficult issue of mental health,” according to USA Today.

    Trump proposed no specific policies in the wake of the shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school, in which a former student opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle and a big supply of bullets.

    USA Today notes that Trump didn’t mention gun laws or that he reversed a rule banning gun purchases by the mentally ill last February.

    Republicans worry that the White House’s stumbling response to that controversy will further erode their standing with women ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

    Cubs star, Stoneman Douglas alum: ’Something has to change’

    Chicago Cubs star Anthony Rizzo issued a broad call for action after a deadly shooting at the South Florida high school that the MLB player attended more than a decade ago.

    Rizzo, an alum of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., joined mourners of the mass shooting that claimed the lives of 17 people, saying that such violence has become all too common, saying, “While I don’t have all the answers, I know that something has to change before this is visited on another community, and another community, and another community.”

    The accused gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder he allegedly committed with an assault-style AR-15 rifle, he bought legally a year ago. Cruz was himself a former student of Stoneman Douglas but had been expelled for disciplinary reasons.

    The attack has prompted renewed calls for stricter gun-control laws, particularly for individuals with mental illness.

    Winter Olympics: Swiss athletes hit by norovirus outbreak

    Two Swiss athletes at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea have become the first competitors to be hit by an outbreak of the norovirus, according to the BBC.

    The freestyle skiers, Fabian Boesch and Elias Ambuehl, were isolated from the rest of the team after being diagnosed, the Swiss team says.

    More than 200 people have been affected by the outbreak of the highly contagious virus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea.

    Olympic spokesman Christophe Dubi says that measures had been put in place to avoid a further outbreak of the highly contagious virus, adding “As soon as a case is reported then all the area gets disinfected.”

    Business groups pressing for repeal of ObamaCare employer mandate

    Business groups are pressing Congress to repeal ObamaCare’s employer mandate to offer health insurance to workers, but getting Republicans to act on the issue will likely be an uphill battle, according to The Hill.

    After repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in December, business groups are demanding Congress also take action on the employer mandate — which requires most employers to offer insurance to their workers or face fines — arguing that having one without the other is inequitable.

    Business groups aiming to repeal the rule aren’t likely to get action from Republicans during an election year, when health care is an especially thorny issue.

    Boston sports radio station goes silent today for sensitivity training

    Boston sports radio station WEEI is going off the air today from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. for staff sensitivity training in the wake of recent on-air controversies, including one that led to the suspension of a host after he criticized New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s 5-year-old daughter.

    The station says it ordered the mandatory session “to ensure that our programming is never intolerant or harmful to our listeners or our city,” reports USA Today.

    Host Alex Reimer was suspended indefinitely last month after calling Brady’s daughter, Vivian, an “annoying little pissant.”

    Brady then went on air before the Super Bowl, saying that he would “evaluate” whether he would continue his relationship with the station.

    Favorite Mikaela Shiffrin misses out on slalom medal at Olympics

    Less than 24 hours after her triumph in the giant slalom came a reminder that Olympic titles do not come easily, not even for phenomenal talents like Mikaela Shiffrin.

    The 22-year-old defending champion, the overwhelming favorite, missed out on a medal in the slalom, finishing fourth to end her dream of becoming the first skier to win successive Olympic gold medals in the event.

    The talented all-rounder — set to compete in all five Alpine events before these Games began —  has already withdrawn from Saturday’s super-G and may now only race in next week’s alpine combined, USA Today reports.

    GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures

    Republicans are looking for a Plan B on immigration after a series of proposals were rejected in the Senate, leaving little time to act before some 800,000 immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children could face deportation.

    Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, is floating a proposal to extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program indefinitely in exchange for $25 billion for border security, according to The Hill.

    President Trump has opposed any deal that does not also include changes to two legal immigration programs, however.

    It is also far from clear whether GOP House conservatives would go along with the plan. GOP leaders in that chamber are trying to build support for a harder-line bill, though an initial version has come up short in whipping efforts.

    Still, GOP lawmakers are taking a close look at new ideas after legislation based on Trump’s framework for an immigration deal won just 39 votes— fewer than two other proposals.

    VA Secretary Shulkin to pay back some travel expenses after Europe trip faulted

    Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin told lawmakers on Thursday that he would repay more than $4,000 that was spent on his wife’s airfare for an 11-day trip to Europe last summer, according to Fox News.

    A report made public by the VA’s internal watchdog recommends that Shulkin reimburse $4,312 that was spent by the department on a plane ticket for Shulkin’s wife, Merle Bari. The report also finds that Shulkin had improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

    Admits Shulkin to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, “I do recognize the optics of this are not good,” adding that he wants to “make things right.”

    The report also finds that Shulkin’s chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, altered emails to make it appear that Shulkin was receiving an award to justify his wife’s traveling on the public’s dime.

    ACLU challenges Ohio law criminalizing abortion after Down Syndrome diagnosis

    The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging an Ohio law that criminalizes abortions if a doctor performing a termination is aware that the woman has received a diagnosis that her fetus has Down syndrome.

    The Ohio ACLU filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, arguing the law violates the liberty and privacy clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

    The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Cleveland abortion provider Preterm, seeks to delay enforcement of the law, which is scheduled to go into effect March 23. The law was passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. John Kasich last December. Kasich had previously called the law “appropriate.”

    Says Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, “This ban is just a thinly-veiled attempt to criminalize abortion in Ohio.”

    Under the law, doctors would lose their medical licenses in the state and face a fourth-degree felony charge if they were to perform an abortion with that knowledge.

    Pruitt faced profanities from fellow passengers when he flew coach

    The Environmental Protection Agency reveals that Administrator Scott Pruitt faced profanities and confrontations while traveling after controversy surrounding his use of first-class flights, according to The Hill.

    The director of the EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Henry Barnet, tells Politico that Pruitt was “approached in the airport numerous times” and had profanities “yelled at him” during his travels.

    Barnet tells the publication a person approached him, and shout “Scott Pruitt, you’re f—ing up the environment” while recording it on a cellphone.

    The EPA’s defense of the administrator’s traveling habits comes after The Washington Post reported Pruitt frequently flies first-class on official trips, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.

    CBS News reports that Pruitt flew business class in June on an Emirates flight back from Italy after obtaining a waiver to rules that require official travel to be on United States-flagged airlines.

    Pruitt blames his first-class flying on interactions that have “not been the best,” telling the

    The New Hampshire Union Leader reports that his security detail dictates his travel choices, and he plays no role in the decisions.

    Russian bots flood twitter with pro-gun messages after Florida shooting

    Tweets from Russia-linked accounts related to the deadly school shooting in South Florida spiked after the attack, Wired reports.

    Hamilton 68, a website that tracks Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence campaigns, identified trending hashtags and topics, including Parkland, guncontrolnow, Florida and guncontrol, as well as Nikolas – the name of the accused shooter –according to the magazine.

    The findings came a day after a shooter opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 people.

    Russian bots are being used to spread misinformation about who the shooter was and what groups he belonged to with the goal, according to Wired, not to promote one side over another but “to amplify the loudest voices in that fight, deepening the divisions between us.”

    According to Wired, some bot operators create hashtags and push them until they are picked up by human users. Other bots seize on hashtags already in use to hijack the conversation.

    Bannon talks to Mueller, but balks at some congressional questions about Russia probe

    Steve Bannon, the combative former chief strategist for President Trump, testified for 20 hours as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation this week, an unnamed source familiar with the testimony tells the Associated Press.

    Bannon allegedly answered every question that was put to him by Mueller’s team, in contrast to his appearance before the House intelligence committee, where he declined to answer some of lawmakers’ questions, despite a subpoena.

    In questioning Bannon, Mueller is investigating whether there was any coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russians who meddled in the 2016 election, and whether there have been any efforts to obstruct the ongoing FBI probe into those contacts. The House panel is investigating the meddling and whether Trump’s campaign was involved.

    South Africa’s new president Cyril Ramaphosa, a favorite of Mandela

    Cyril Ramaphosa, a protégé of Nelson Mandela before becoming one of South Africa’s richest men, is South Africa’s fifth president, vowing to address gaping inequality, The New York Times reports.

    The 65-year old Ramaphosa, who was the lead negotiator in the transition from apartheid to democracy in the early 1990s, promises to take a hard line on corruption and clean up the government after the corrosive period of decline and division under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma.

    In an indication of the challenges facing Ramaphosa, who delivered a measured and conciliatory speech to lawmakers, the two main opposition parties refused to participate in the National Assembly vote that made him president, arguing it was a sham process because the ruling African National Congress party was tainted by its association with corruption scandals during the Zuma era.

    Red Stripe comes to the rescue of Jamaican bobsled team at Olympics

    The Jamaican bobsled team desperately needed a new sled before competing next Wednesday in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

    And, in an amazing twist, a Jamaican beer company steps in to provide it.

    Red Stripe, which is based in the nation’s capital of Kingston, has supplied a sled for the Jamaican bobsled team to use in competition early next week after the dramatic departure of driver coach Sandra Kiriasis left the team without a sled.

    Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation spokesperson Kathleen Pulito tells USA Today Sports that the team has accepted Red Stripe’s offer of a new sled and is preparing it for competition.

    Kiriasis wrote in a post that, among other things, she had secured sponsors for the Jamaican team and rented its sled in Winterberg, Germany, for use in Pyeongchang, The BBC reports that she claims to be legally responsible for the sled and was seeking payment for it.

    FCC Chair Ajit Pai being investigated for Sinclair ties, lawmakers say

    Ajit Pai, the controversial chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is under investigation by the FCC Inspector General for his ties to a broadcaster, according to lawmakers.

    Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey and Elijah Cummings of Maryland requested the investigation, saying that Pai and aides improperly pushed for rule changes to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting in its attempt to acquire Tribune Media.

    Last April Pai suggested rule changes about how many stations broadcasters could own. Sinclair followed up with a $3.9 billion deal and snapped up Tribune, thanks to the new rules.

    The question for the Inspector General: was Pai’s push for the new rules improper and were they timed to benefit Sinclair.

    Sinclair is already the largest U.S. broadcaster with 191 stations. Tribune brings another 42 stations to the deal.

    Tom Ashbrook, host of NPR’s ‘On Point,’ fired over workplace abuse allegations

    Tom Ashbrook, host of one of National Public Radio’s most successful programs, has been fired over allegations of workplace abuse.

    Boston radio station WBUR says that On Point host Ashbrook was cleared of sexual misconduct but created an abusive environment for staff. He’s been on leave since last yDecember.

    Ashbrook says he’s “deeply disappointed” and calls his firing “profoundly unfair.” He apologized to colleagues who found him and the show’s pace “just too much.”

    The station received complaints from 11 men and women who previously worked on the show and accused Ashbrook of verbal abuse, bullying and unwanted touching.

    Outside firms hired to investigate say Ashbrook didn’t violate sexual misconduct policies but was abusive in other ways. On Point is carried by more than 290 NPR stations.

    Transgender woman breastfeeds baby after hospital-induced lactation

    A transgender woman has become the first recorded to successfully breastfeed her baby, The Washington Post reports, citing a study published last month in Transgender Health.

    The 30-year-old says she decided to breastfeed her then-unborn baby. Her partner was pregnant with the baby, but didn’t plan on breastfeeding, The Post reports.

    According to the study, the woman underwent a three-and-half month treatment that included a drug to stimulate lactation and hormone therapy to suppress testosterone.

    Stamford High students’ yeast experiment wins NASA nod

    A science experiment by New Jersey’s Stamford High School students is launching into space in June, the Associated Press reports.

    Traveling on a SpaceX Dragon rocket, their project will land at the International Space Station as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program sponsored by NASA.

    Stamford High was among the 30 finalists for the spaceflight program chosen last summer from a pool of about 11,000. The program asks students to think critically about problems encountered by humans in space, from retaining vision in low pressure to eating and making food — each topics that Stamford students proposed studying.

    Special education teacher Sue Dougherty, who also teaches chemistry and physics, is overseeing the spaceflight projects of 13 junior and senior boys, including the winning project about how yeast breeds in space, according to the Stamford Advocate.

    This week, the Toshiba America Foundation awarded the school $4,000 for a bioreactor that students can use to simulate space conditions.

    Happy Lunar New Year!

    Millions around the world will celebrate Chinese New Year today, ushering in the year of the Dog, reports USA Today.

    The biggest celebrations will be held in China, where 1.3 billion people will travel to be with family and friends, but there are festivities in many Asian countries, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Korea.

    Lunar New Year celebrations last 15 days, beginning by cleaning the house to sweep away bad luck and culminating in the spectacular Lantern Festival.

    Popular traditions include fireworks, the dragon dance, the giving of money in red envelopes and eating traditional foods.

    Welcome to Wakanda: ‘Black Panther’ is here

    Black Panther, the most high-profile black movie superhero yet, hits theaters today, USA Today reports.

    Directed by Ryan Coogler, the highly anticipated film has already broken Marvel’s pre-sale records and is expected to pull a box-office opening of $100 million to $120 million.

    The movie, starring Chadwick Boseman as the titular African king and masked warrior, is poised to royally rock pop culture, and fans are already praising the film for celebrating black excellence at an unprecedented level.

    The all-star cast includes Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Martin Freeman and Daniel Kaluuya.

    WASHINGTON — Miguel Perez Jr., who did two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army and has an accompanying case of PTSD, is on a hunger strike in a Kenosha, Wisc., jail, awaiting possible deportation to Mexico — a country he left 30 years ago, according to a CNN report.

    Perez, 39, says he fears deportation not just because it would separate him from his family in the United States, including his two children born here. He thinks it could kill him.

    The substance-abuse and mental-health counseling he desperately needs would not be readily available in Mexico, he says, and he predicts that drug cartels would recruit him because of his combat experience and kill him if he didn’t cooperate.

    Perez is not the first veteran of the U.S. military to face deportation. Like those who have been deported, Perez mistakenly believed enlisting in the U.S. military would automatically make him a U.S. citizen.

    Philadelphia Eagles finally fly

    After 52 years and three tries, the Philadelphia Eagles are finally Super Bowl champions.

    Nick Foles, who started the season as a back-up, outplayed the league M.V.P., Tom Brady, in a 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots.

    The final score – 41 to 33— prompted Eagles fans to erupt in celebration, and some rowdiness.

    Trump, Dems: dueling Super Bowl messages

    President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders offered dueling messages during Super Bowl LII on protesting racial injustice, according to CNN.

    Trump, a long-time sports fan and backer of the New England Patriots, issued a Super Bowl message opposing NFL protests of police brutality and racial injustice, calling on players and fans to stand for the national anthem.

    But Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Cory Booker and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, invoked Rosa Parks’ birthday, Feb. 4, to send an implicit message Sunday night supporting protests against racism.

    Memo vindication: yes, no, irrelevant

    Democrats argue the release of a controversial memo accusing the Justice Department of surveillance abuses does not vindicate President Trump in the Russia investigation — and Republicans also are avoiding declarations of Trump’s exoneration.

    Trump claims in a tweet that the memo “totally vindicates” him in the Russia investigation following its release Friday.

    But GOP Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC on Sunday that the memo doesn’t vindicates Trump. GOP House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, also a member of the intelligence committee, argues the memo had nothing to do with the Russia probe, only evidence of Justice’s abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) used to gain a warrant — not proof of the president‘s innocence from allegations of collusion.

    FBI agent resigns, citing political attacks on bureau

    An FBI special agent says he’s turned in his badge, so he can publicly voice his concerns over the politicization of the bureau by Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration.

    Former FBI special agent Josh Campbell wrote in a New York Times op-ed: “FBI agents are dogged people who do not care about the direction of political winds. But to succeed in their work, they need public backing.” Campbell went on to say that “scorched-earth attacks from politicians with partisan goals now threaten that support.”

    The op-ed comes amid Republicans’ increased focus on the Justice Department and the FBI for their handling of the Russia investigation.

    14 million Americans observing #SuperSickMonday

    About 14 million Americans will call in sick today, which, conveniently, is also the day after the Super Bowl, according to USA Today.

    Last year, 16.5 million Americans said they planned to call in sick because of the game.

    This year the numbers may be skewed and have nothing to do with the Super Bowl.  People may really be sick because it is the worst flu season in years.

    Flu season isn’t over… and it could get worse

    This year’s flu season is one of the worst on recent record, and federal officials warn it’s not getting better, according to USA Today.

    So far 53 children have died of the flu this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    CDC officials aren’t sure why this season has been so rough, but most of the country has been hit by the flu at the same time, which officials say is unusual.

    The disease also has sent more people to the hospital than any other time in recent history.

    There are three different flu viruses circulating this year — H3N2, H1N1 and influenza B —and the flu vaccine is meant to fight against them. H3N2 is predominant this year, with more complications among the young and elderly, and the one the flu vaccine is least effective against.

    U.S. shifting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan

    The U.S. military is pulling its forces from an American-led coalition base in Iraq and shifting them to Afghanistan — America’s longest war — following the apparent defeat ISIS militants in the country.

    Western contractors at the base say U.S. troops began the drawdown over the past week, with groups of soldiers leaving the base on daily flights. The exact scale of the redeployment is unclear.

    According to various estimates, as of 2016, more than 5,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed in Iraq, with nearly 4,000 deployed to support and assist local groups fighting ISIS militants.

    The remaining personnel included special operations forces, logistics workers and troops on temporary rotations, the BBC reports.

    The White House reportedly signed off in August on deploying an additional 4,000 troops in Afghanistan.

    Payday lenders exuberant as restrictions are eased

    Life for payday lenders just got easier, the result of the industry’s lobbying campaign and a newly defanged Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under the Trump administration, according to The New York Times.

    This month White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney ended tight restrictions on short-term payday loans and scuttled a case against payday lenders in Kansas accused of charging rates of nearly 1,000 percent.

    The Center for Responsive Politics reports that payday lenders, whose annual convention at the Trump National Doral Golf Club in April, contributed $13 million to members of Congress since 2010, most to Republicans — including Mulvaney, a former South Carolina congressman — with a priority of rolling back financial regulations put in place by former President Barrack Obama after the financial crisis.

    Tillerson’s South American trip: sanctions, drugs, aid and threats

    The U.S. is weighing sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says, as he continues a South America trip that’s being unsettled by President Trump’s threat to cut aid to the very countries on Tillerson’s tour.

    During meetings with Argentina’s leaders, Tillerson raised the possibility of oil sanctions as a way of pushing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to abide by his country’s constitution.

    Tillerson now heads for talks in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia — U.S. aid recipients and all sources of illegal cocaine.

    Trump told a U.S. Customs and Border Protection audience Friday that he wants to “stop the aid” to countries that don’t stem the flow of drugs, saying, “We send them massive aid and they’re pouring drugs into our country and they’re laughing at us.”

    A senior State Department official, who asked not to be identified, calls Trump’s remarks “unhelpful.” Tillerson acknowledged that the U.S. also bears responsibility because American demand creates a market for the illegal drugs.

    Government funding…5th temporary budget under consideration

    GOP lawmakers fresh off their annual GOP legislative retreat will be confronting an all-too-familiar problem today: avoiding a government shutdown.

    Republican leaders are eyeing a six-week funding bill that would keep the government’s lights on until March 23. The measure could include sweeteners like funding for community health centers.

    But even though leaders dismissed concerns that the government could close again when current funding runs dry Thursday, it’s still unclear whether frustrated defense hawks will go along with the plan to pass a funding bill without a boost for the military.

    And Democrats are insisting that Congress pass an immigration bill before they agree to a budget caps deal, which is needed to write a massive omnibus-spending bill for the rest of the fiscal year.

    The House is expected to vote on a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government Tuesday.

    Pentagon agency can’t account for spending hundreds of millions of dollars

    The Defense Logistics Agency at the Pentagon is reportedly not able to document hundreds of millions of dollars of money it spent.

    An internal audit by Ernst & Young finds the agency can’t account for more than $800 million in construction projects, Politico reported.

    According to Politico, the audit raises concerns about how the Defense Department can handle its $700 billion annual budget.

    GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, says, “If you can’t follow the money, you aren’t going to be able to do an audit”

    The Defense Logistics Agency has 25,000 employees and processes about 100,000 orders a day, according to Politico.

    Some Eagles players boycotting Trump White House

    The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl for the first time in the franchise’s history, but several players have already indicated that they will not participate in the traditional White House visit, citing their opposition to President Trump, according to CNN.

    Wide receiver Torrey Smith, who raised his fist on the field to express solidarity with the “Black Lives Matter” movement, expressed his disapproval of Trump’s war against players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest racism.

    Trump, who released a statement on Super Bowl Sunday urging players to “proudly stand for the anthem,” congratulated the Eagles for their historic win.

    Holocaust denier is sole GOP contender in Illinois congressional race

    A Holocaust denier is currently the only candidate on the ballot in the GOP primary for Illinois’s third congressional district, according to multiple reports.

    Arthur Jones, who, according to The Washington Post, has called the Holocaust a “racket” and a “lie,” faces no Republican opponents in the race for the heavily Democratic district representing parts of Chicago and its suburbs.

    The party’s primary will be held March 20.

    Jones’s website says there is no proof that the Holocaust took place in Europe, claiming survivors’ accounts of the genocide are propaganda, the Post reported. He also praises the Confederate flag on his website, saying it represents “a symbol of White pride and White resistance.”

    Despite Jones appearing to be poised to claim the GOP nomination, the Illinois Republican party says it will not support him.

    IOC nixes banned Russian athletes’ request to join Winter Olympics

    The International Olympic Committee refuses the request for 15 previously banned Russian athletes and coaches to attend the PyeongChang Games, just days before the Olympics begins in South Korea on Friday.

    The 13 athletes and two coaches were among 28 Russians whose lifetime bans for doping were overturned by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) last week.

    CAS ruled there was insufficient evidence to show they had broken doping rules during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

    But the IOC says today its review panel examined applications on behalf of the 15 individuals and had lingering suspicions about potential anti-doping violations, putting it at loggerheads with CAS.

    Trump attacks top Democrat and others in intelligence community

    President Trump attacked as “liars and leakers” several senior figures in the intelligence community today — chief among them the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Adam Schiff.

    A prominent critic of the administration, Schiff, a California Democrat, opposed the release last week of a controversial memo, written by Republicans on the panel, about the investigation into ties between Trump aides and Russia.

    Trump tweeted, “Little Adam Schiff who is desperate to run for higher office, is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington, right up there with Comey, Warner, Brennan and Clapper!”

    Trump claims the four-page memo penned by Devin Nunes, the GOP chair of the House committee and approved for release by the White House, “totally” vindicated him in the investigation into Russian election meddling, links between Trump aides and Russia and potential obstruction of justice.

    Carter Page touted Kremlin connections in 2013

    President Trump’s campaign aide Carter Page boasted he was a “Kremlin adviser” in 2013, years before a dossier about Trump’s Russian connections was prepared during the presidential campaign, Time magazine reports.

    Page, a key figure in the Republican-authored memo that Trump and his allies claim shows FBI bias against the president, bragged about his Kremlin connections in an Aug. 13, 2013, letter to an academic publication about a manuscript he had submitted, according to Time.

    Page’s letter says, “Over the past half year, I have had the privilege to serve as an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin in preparation for their Presidency of the G-20 Summit next month…”

    The letter appears to undercut the controversial GOP memo authored by GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California contending that Page was investigated by the FBI after the allegedly biased dossier was assembled in research paid for by Democrats.

    British health secretary fires back at Trump

    British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt today fired back at President Trump’s use of a London protest to say, “no thanks” to any Democratic push for universal health care.

    Trump in an early morning tweet cited a weekend march in London protesting health service budget cuts to bolster his argument against adopting universal health care in the U.S.

    Trump tweeted, “The Democrats are pushing for Universal HealthCare while thousands of people are marching in the UK because their U system is going broke and not working… No thanks.”

    Hunt tweeted, “I may disagree with claims made on that march but not ONE of them wants to live in a system where 28m people have no cover… I’m proud to be from the country that invented universal coverage – where all get care no matter the size of their bank balance.”

    Railroad switch in wrong position in fatal S.C. Amtrak crash

    Federal safety officials are focusing on why a railroad switch was set in the wrong position, sending a New York-to-Miami bound Amtrak train with more than 140 people aboard off the main line and onto a side track where it collided with an empty freight train early Sunday.

    Two people were killed and 116 injured in the crash that occurred around 2:35 a.m. in Cayce, S.C., a few miles south of Columbia, officials said. The two men who died were Amtrak employees — the engineer and conductor who were riding in the front of the train.

    Dow opens 320 points lower after worst week in years

    U.S. stocks opened trading today with heavy losses as investors brace for a series of Federal Reserve rate hikes.

    The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened 320 points lower than its Friday close of 25,520, starting the week at 25,165. The Nasdaq (down 0.8 percent) and S&P 500 (down 0.7 percent) also opened with losses.

    Today’s losses come after the worst week for U.S stocks in two years.

    Investors fear the Fed, spurred by low employment pushing wages higher, will raise interest rates. Rate hikes will give the Fed more leeway to respond to a crisis and prevent rampant inflation, at the same time tempering the torrid stock market with higher borrowing costs.

    The Department of Commerce accused Canadian aircraft manufacturers of violating U.S. trade laws by selling planes at heavily discounted prices, and imposed a 292% antidumping duty on 100- to 150-seat large civil aircraft. The antidumping order applies uniquely to Quebec-based Bombardier Inc. and affects the purported $5.6 billion sale of 75 planes to Delta Air Lines. The Boeing Co. complained that Delta paid about $20 million for a plane that should have cost $33 million, and called the deal detrimental to the U.S. aircraft industry and its workers. The case goes to the U.S. International Trade Commission which will determine the final amount of punitive duties.

    Political consultant snared in widened FBI net
    Donald Jones, 62, of Willingboro, N.J., pleaded guilty to conspiring with executives of a Missouri charity to collect nearly $1 million as compensation for illegal political and lobbying activity. The Department of Justice didn’t say if Jones’ involvement in the Missouri case had any relation to another case where he is under indictment for arranging a $90,000 payment from the campaign account of U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (D-Philadelphia) that went to Brady’s 2012 primary foe who agreed to withdraw from the race. DOJ said Jones provided his “services” to Preferred Family Healthcare Inc., of Springfield, Mo., a tax-exempt charity that received $53 million worth of grants, loans and contracts from six federal agencies: HHS, Labor, USDA, HUD, VA, and DOJ.

    Idaho captures “fastest-growing” title
    Idaho was the nation’s fastest-growing state during the 12-month period from July 1, 2016, to July 1, 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau said. But it seemed to be the result of a statistical anomaly. Idaho grew by 2.2% in the 2016-17 period, a higher percentage than any other state, but its population went from 1.68 million to 1.72 million—or an addition of roughly 37,000 people. In contrast, Texas grew by 400,000 persons and Florida grew by 327,800 persons.

    Traitor draws 13-year prison sentence
    Jalil Aziz, 21, of Harrisburg, Pa., was given a 13-year prison sentence for committing treason against the U.S. by providing support to the radical Islamic terrorist cult known as ISIS, and for threatening the lives of U.S. servicemen by posting their names and private home addresses on the internet. The Department of Justice described Aziz as “an American citizen.”

    Religious ad lawsuit consigned to litigation hell
    A three-judge panel in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected an emergency injunction sought by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington to force the public transit system to display religious-themed advertising during the final week of the Christmas shopping season. Instead, the court appeared to consign the Catholic Church’s lawsuit to its own litigation hell. The church offered no evidence to prove that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority favors holiday season advertising while disfavoring religious-themed ads. The church claimed, for example, that the WMATA accepted a Christian radio station’s ad, but WMATA countered that the ad appeared on another bus company’s vehicles.

    Drug maker fined for kickback payments
    United Therapeutics Corp., a pharmaceutical manufacturer based in Silver Spring, Md., was fined $210 million for False Claims Act violations that occurred when the company paid the copayments for patients who used the company’s drugs. The Department of Justice said the Medicare law specifically prohibits such payments because copays are intended to serve as a check on health care costs. DOJ said the company concealed the illegal payments by funneling them through a tax-exempt foundation.

    Rip ‘n Read is a daily compilation of press releases found on hundreds of websites that are maintained by the federal government, think tanks, watchdog groups, and national advocacy organizations. Press releases selected for this feature are, in the opinion of the editor, exceptionally newsworthy, interesting or just plain curious.

    The press releases and documents linked to this report were posted on their websites on Wednesday, December 20