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WASHINGTON — A Missouri death-row inmate will get the chance to argue before the Supreme Court that his execution would cause him “excruciating pain” and “needless suffering” because of a rare birth defect.
The high court Monday granted a petition to hear the case from 49-year-old Russell Bucklew. His attorneys say Bucklew, a convicted murderer and rapist, suffers from cavernous hemangioma, which causes weakened and malformed blood vessels, tumors in his nose and throat and bleeding from his nose, eyes and ears.
Because of the birth defect, Bucklew’s attorney argues, a lethal injection would cause so much pain, it would amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. In court papers, the attorneys say lethal injection would cause Bucklew’s tumors to burst and that he would choke on his own blood.
Bucklew’s lawyers have suggested that if the state executes him that it use nitrogen gas instead of lethal injection. But the state no longer has a gas chamber.
In March, a divided Supreme Court stayed Bucklew’s scheduled execution for a second time.
Bucklew was convicted in 1998 of first-degree murder, kidnapping, burglary and forcible rape. Angry at his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Pruitt, after she moved in with another man, Michael Sanders, Bucklew fatally shot Sanders in front of Pruitt, her children and Sanders’ children, then handcuffed, beat and raped Pruitt. Bucklew fired at Sanders’ 6-year-old son but missed and shot and wounded a state trooper. After escaping from jail, Bucklew beat Pruitt’s mother with a hammer at her home.
Prosecutor Morley Swingle had described Bucklew as “the most evil person I’ve ever prosecuted.” Missouri’s Supreme Court had rejected Bucklew’s appeals and set a March 2017 execution date.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Bucklew v. Anne L. Precythe, director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, during its next term, which begins in October.
WASHINGTON – Fewer than half of registered U.S. voters approve of President Donald Trump’s job performance, according to a poll that was released on Monday.
The Rasmussen Daily Presidential Tracking poll found that 47 percent of the respondents said Trump is doing a good job, compared with 52 percent who said they are not pleased with his performance.
The Rasmussen sampling included 1,500 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
Monday’s poll results are consistent with Rasmussen projections since April 26, which show Trump’s approval rating at its lowest since April 6.
The survey follows a contentious week for the Trump administration that saw White House physician Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson withdraw his nomination for Veterans Affairs Secretary and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt refute allegations of ethical misconduct before Congress.
The controversies caused lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to question the administration’s process for vetting nominees as well as selecting cabinet members.
The survey suggests Trump did not receive a boost from last week’s diplomatic outreach to French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both leaders met with Trump at the White House and participated in joint news conferences with the president. Macron addressed a joint meeting of Congress during his state visit, which was the first for the Trump administration.
WASHINGTON – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to begin rolling back Obama-era vehicle emissions standards.
“EPA Administrator Pruitt’s decision to begin rolling back fuel economy standards is a victory for big oil and major corporations at the expense of American consumers and clean air for our kids,” Schumer said in a statement on Monday evening. “As usual, the administration sides with big, powerful special interests over the interests of average American families, who will pay the price for lower miles per gallon and dirtier air.”
Pruitt announced the decision on Monday following the agency’s completion of a mid-term review of standards set in 2011. The rules require automakers to ensure that cars and trucks average about 54 miles per gallon by 2025. The revision eases restrictions for vehicles that are to be built between 2022-2025.
“The Obama Administration’s determination was wrong,” Pruitt said in a statement. “Obama’s EPA cut the Midterm Evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.”
Pruitt has long been considered a foe of environmental activists. As Oklahoma attorney general he eliminated a unit within the AG’s office charged with prosecuting polluters. Pruitt sued the EPA more than a dozen times during the Obama administration.
Pruitt has expressed doubt as to whether human activity has exacerbated global warming and while attorney general he received substantial campaign contributions from the fossil-fuel industry.
The revised emissions guidelines come amid reports that Pruitt rented a D.C. condo for $50 a night. The property reportedly is co-owned by the wife of the chairman of an energy lobbying firm.
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.
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Ag Professional reports farmers, researchers, and other biotech supporters have taken to social media after Stonyfield Organics began deleting pro-GMO comments on Facebook. The censorship was in response to critics who argue Stonyfield’s ad video utilized children to spread the company’s anti-GMO message. University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta says argues that there is no room for mistruths or unfair censorship when discussing ag technology and advancements.
Also discussing misinformation, Press Trust of India reports on remarks made by scientist Richard Roberts who was criticizing anti-GMO claims. The Nobel Prize winner urged politicians not to pay attention to those who oppose science with nonsense and lies, and instead listen to experts. He asserts that the misinformation spread by anti-GMO activists is killing people, by incorrectly preventing scientific innovation from providing solutions to global issues including malnutrition and crop disease.
Meanwhile, In the U.S., the Washington Examiner reports on the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to transform the Endangered Species Act. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announces the new goal is to implement a system which ensures endangered species aren’t harmed when approving the use of new pesticides. Many state officials and members in the ag industry applauded the announcement, voicing appreciation for the Administration’s effort to consult with rural America.
In other pesticide news, Capital Press reports a Washington State committee passed a bill to to develop plans by which farmers would notify the state and public before spraying pesticides. The bill requires farmers to inform the Health Department four days in advance of spraying, but farmers argue they don’t know that far in advance if weather will let them spray and need to react more quickly to pests. The task force includes representatives from a variety of stakeholders to ensure the a compromise solution for everyone.
Maya Menon, Washington.
WASHINGTON – Former “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon says if President Donald Trump fires Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the commander-in-chief’s opponents must “take to the streets.”
Nixon said, “We must make the firing of Robert Mueller a stark line in the sand and if Trump crosses it we must take to the streets as never before!”
Nixon was among several celebrity speakers at an anti-Trump event, dubbed the “People’s State of the Union,” in New York the evening before Trump’s first State of the Union address to Congress tonight.
The New York Times reported last week that in June Trump wanted to fire Mueller — who’s leading the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election — but ultimately backed off when White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit.
Trump in tricky territory for State of the Union
President Trump delivers his State of the Union address before Congress this evening and can fairly boast about a strong economy and a record-breaking stock market, according to USA Today.
But it is also a time of grave danger for his presidency, with special counsel Robert Mueller investigating allegations of election fraud and obstruction of justice.
It is unlikely that Trump will mention the investigation – the elephant in the room.
White House officials say Trump will put the spotlight on a few priorities, including an immigration overhaul.
To counter Trump, Democrats have invited a host of “DREAMers” – undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. Massachusetts Rep. Patrick Kennedy will deliver the official Democratic response afterward.
US releases list of Russian politicians, oligarchs who ‘flourished’ under Putin
President Trump’s administration released a list of more than 200 Russian politicians and oligarchs who have “flourished” under the regime of President Vladimir Putin, but the Trump administration, surprisingly, announced that nobody will be punished, according to USA Today
The “Putin list” was released following a demand by Congress that the U.S. punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election.
Some U.S. lawmakers said Trump was giving a free pass to those on the list, fueling further questions about whether the president is too soft on Russia.
Trump says he’s willing to testify in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and that his testimony could take place within two to three weeks.
Wray alludes McCabe departure result of government watchdog investigation
FBI Director Chris Wray hinted to FBI staff in an all-employee email that a government watchdog investigation played a role in FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s departure Monday, sources who have seen the memo told CNN.
Wray said in the message that he could not comment on the coming inspector general report about the FBI’s conduct during the 2016 election and defended himself as not being swayed by politics.
A source familiar with the matter told CNN that Wray had informed McCabe, who had been expected to retire soon, that he is bringing in his own team, which McCabe would not be a part of, and that it was McCabe’s decision whether to stay or leave.
The coming inspector general report into the handling of the 2016 Hillary Clinton email investigation has taken on increased scrutiny as President Trump and his allies have railed against FBI officials like McCabe for months over the agency’s handling of sensitive political matters and what they argue is political bias.
Sen. Collins, a centrist power player
GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is suddenly finding herself in the driver’s seat when it comes to getting legislation through the Senate in an increasingly divisive political atmosphere, according to The Hill.
A centrist in a party drifting to the right, Collins is flexing her strength as a dealmaker and signaling she intends to be a power player while Republicans enjoy just a 51-49 edge in the upper chamber.
Collins was instrumental in ending a three-day government shutdown earlier this month, convening a bipartisan group of senators in her office for days that slowly tiptoed toward a deal.
Colleagues say the 65-year-old Collins, a frequent presence on cable television with close relationships to members of both parties, could also be at the center of talks on infrastructure and health care that the Trump administrations plans.
First lady ‘blindsided’ by report of payment to porn star
First lady Melania Trump was reportedly “blindsided” by reports that her husband’s personal lawyer arranged a hush-money payment to an adult film star over an alleged affair that took place the year after her marriage to President Trump.
The affair and six-figure payment made Melania Trump furious with the president, prompting her to keep a low profile in recent day, according to a part of a larger story about what the story about the Trumps’ “tumultuous” relationship, in The New York Times.
Melania Trump was expected to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos with her husband, but she suddenly backed out of the trip last week, instead making a surprise 24-hour visit to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla.
The first lady’s aides told the Times that she has been focusing on her “role and her family.”
The first lady is expected to attend her husband’s State of the Union address tonight.
EPA chief braces for grilling
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt will face harsh questioning today as he testifies for the first time before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
It will be only Pruitt’s second appearance before a congressional oversight panel in the year since taking the helm of the EPA, and Democrats are expected to make the most of it because of his reshaping of the agency.
Pruitt has downsized the EPA – leaving hundreds of positions unfilled – and rolled back environmental protection initiatives from the Obama administration.
And Pruitt has made major changes to the agency’s science advisory boards, recruiting more industry voices and barring scientists who receive EPA grants from being members. The latter policy move has spurred legal challenges, including a lawsuit last week from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Dems block 20-week abortion ban
Democrats blocked a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks, a blow to anti-abortion groups that considered its passage a top priority for Congress in 2018, according to a report in The Hill.
The bill, authored by GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, was unable to get the 60 votes necessary to end a filibuster and proceed to a vote, meaning the bill is effectively dead in the upper chamber.
The bill failed with a 51-46 vote. GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine were among those who voted “no.” Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, who recently won in a special election against Republican candidate Roy Moore, also voted “no.”
#MeToo activists launch new initiatives
The women behind the #MeToo movement aren’t showing any signs of slowing down, according to USA Today.
Actor and activist Rose McGowan’s new E! documentary series, “Citizen Rose,” premieres tonight at 8 p.m. EST. The two-hour special explores McGowan’s biography as well as a recent history of the #MeToo movement. McGowan’s memoir Brave hits the shelves today, too.
Fellow #MeToo alum Alyssa Milano is launching another online initiative today, #StateOfTheDream, to support immigrants and raise money for United We Dream, an immigrant youth-led organization.
Milano called for social media users to create brief videos describing “your dream for America” and post them at 9 p.m. EST.
Pentagon blocks data on progress, troop levels and attrition in war in Afghanistan
The Pentagon has restricted the release of information on progress in the war in Afghanistan, a move that will limit transparency, the U.S. government’s top watchdog on Afghanistan says.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, publishes a quarterly report that includes unclassified data on the amount of territory controlled or influenced by the Taliban and the government.
John Sopko, who leads SIGAR , says the independent watchdog agency has been told not to release that information. The military also classified, for the first time since 2009, data on troop numbers and attrition rate.
This is the latest move by the Pentagon to limit the amount of publicly available information about the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan – America’s longest.
CIA director: Russia will try to interfere with 2018 US elections
CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the BBC in an interview today that Russia will target U.S. mid-term elections later this year as part of the Kremlin’s attempt to influence domestic politics across the West, and warned that the world had to do more to push back against Chinese meddling.
Pompeo said Russia has a long history of information campaigns and that its threat would not go away.
Russia has been accused of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the allegations, which Moscow denies.
Asked if Russia would try to influence the mid-term elections, Pompeo said: “Of course. I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that.”
He also says the Chinese posed a threat of equal concern and were “very active” with a world-class cyber capability.
The State of the Union… misspelled
Whoever printed tickets for President Trump’s first State of the Union speech must be feeling very chagrined right now, according to The HuffPost.
Trump is set to deliver his first State of the Union speech tonight, and it will likely be different than previous addresses ― as were some of the initial tickets.
It seems that some of the tickets misspelled “union” as “uniom,” based on numerous tweets from guests with tickets in hand.
The error was quickly corrected, but no one knows how many of the original tickets were delivered– whichm like stamps with errors, may become highly valuable collectibles.
ICE deports Jordan native living in U.S. for almost 40 years
Youngstown, Ohio, residents came out in droves, organizing vigils and protests to support Amer Othman Adi, who arrived in the U.S. 39 years ago and whose wife and daughters are all U.S. citizens.
To no avail. Despite a House Judiciary Committee bill requesting the Department of Homeland Security to review his case, which would allow him to temporarily remain in the U.S., the Immigration and Customs Enforcement put Othman Adi on a flight to Amman, Jordan, Monday night. He said goodbye to his family by phone.
Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who was working on his release, said: “Amer was a pillar of the community…hired members of our community… paid taxes. He did everything right… yet our government wasted our precious resources incarcerating him… I’m sad that America, and the American Presidency has become a place where politics outweighs doing what is right.”
FEMA cutting aid to Puerto Rico
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced today that it will end free supplies of food and water in Puerto Rico this week as the island’s supermarkets and other businesses reopen following Hurricane Maria, according to an NPR report.
FEMA will “officially shut off” aid to the island Wednesday after providing more than 30 million gallons of drinking water and 60 million meals to its inhabitants, according to NPR.
FEMA Puerto Rico director Alejandro De La Campa told the radio broadcast: “The reality is that we just need to look around. Supermarkets are open, and things are going back to normal.”.
Not all of Puerto Rico’s government officials agree with the agency’s decision to end aid this week. Mayor Carmen Maldonado said in her town of Morovis, the number of customers without power restored to their homes is close to 80 percent and that most residents can’t afford the cost of a generator.
“This is all something that FEMA should contemplate before eliminating its delivery of these supplies,” the mayor added.
Christie: Trump shouldn’t let Mueller interview him
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said today that he doesn’t believe President Trump should sit for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of the Russia investigation.
Christie, now a regular contributor on ABC News, said, “Robert Mueller is not someone to be trifled with. And he’s not someone who takes lightly the words of anybody who he’s looking at.”
Mueller is leading a criminal probe into Russian election meddling and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. His investigation has thus far led to two guilty pleas and two indictments.
Trump, who has called Mueller’s investigation a “hoax” and a “witch hunt” said last week he would be willing to speak with Mueller under oath, but details of an interview with Mueller are still being worked out.
Christie, a former federal prosecutor, said he believes the Trump administration has cooperated with Mueller’s investigation, adding that he hasn’t seen evidence of an obstruction of justice case against the president.
Airbnb ad: ‘Let’s open doors, not build walls’
Airbnb is launching a new ad calling for the country to “open doors, not build walls.”
The text reads at the beginning of the ad: “We heard there’s been some expletive-filled interest in these beautiful destinations.”
It then shows scenes from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa.
The ad goes on, “We also know a few people who would love to show you around…let’s open doors, not build walls.”
At the end of the ad, text reads: “#weaccept.”
The ad comes in the wake of reports that President Trump during a White House meeting earlier this month referred to Haiti and African nations as “sh–hole countries.”
Trump faced widespread backlash and accusations of racism over the reported comments, which he denies making.
Trump furious over DOJ guidance against releasing Nunes memo
President Trump blew up in anger after learning that a top Department of Justice official had warned against releasing a classified memo by Republican staffers that allegedly proves an anti-Trump bias in the DOJ and FBI, Bloomberg reports.
Trump was furious when he learned that Associate Attorney General Stephen Boyd had said it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to release the classified memo.
The incident reportedly took place as Trump was traveling to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week.
Sources told Bloomberg that Trump viewed Boyd’s letter warning against the release of the memo as another attempt by the DOJ and FBI to undercut him. He also saw it as a way to block the GOP push to reveal what Trump thinks is a politically motivated attack against him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, according to the report.
Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, JPMorgan Chase to tackle employee health care
Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are combining efforts to improve health care for their U.S. employees.
The three companies announced today they are teaming up to explore “ways to address healthcare for their U.S. employees, with the aim of improving employee satisfaction and reducing costs,” according to a news release about the venture.
An independent company, which “is free from profit-making incentives and constraints,” they say, will initially tackle technological solutions to deliver “simplified, high-quality and transparent” health care to employees at economical prices.
Sen. Doug Jones hopes Trump delivers ‘presidential address’ instead of campaign speech
Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama said on “CBA This Morning” that he’s hopeful President Trump will deliver a message of unity during his State of the Union speech tonight.
Jones said, “I’m hoping and expecting that the president will deliver a presidential address. Not a campaign address but a presidential address in which he lays out not only his accomplishments this past year, but also his goals for the future.”
Jones defeated embattled Republican candidate Roy Moore in a December special election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s vacant seat. His victory marked the first time in decades a Democrat had won a Senate seat in Alabama.
Jones said today that he thinks his election win was a “wake-up call” that Democrats and Republicans need to find common ground.
Europe’s economy grew faster than the US’ in 2017
The U.S. economy is growing at a nice clip, but Europe’s economy is expanding at an even faster rate, according to a report in USA Today.
Economic growth in the 19 countries that use the euro currency surged by 2.5% in 2017, according to official data published today. Growth in the 28-member European Union was also up 2.5 percent last year.
It’s the best period of growth for both groupings since 2007, putting Europe just ahead of the 2.3 percent expansion posted by the U.S. in 2017.
The improving economic picture in Europe helped boost the euro to $1.25 this month, an increase of 21 percent from its low of $1.03 at the start of 2017.
Harley-Davidson closing Kansas City, Mo., plant as motorcycle sales fall
Harley-Davidson’s sales fell sharply in 2017 and the company will move ahead with a plan to consolidate manufacturing operations, including the closure of its Kansas City, Mo., plant, according to USA Today.,
The world’s largest maker of heavyweight motorcycles has struggled to reverse a four-year sales slide, with growth overseas somewhat helping offset a decline in the U.S. bike market.
By Anthony Jackson
WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats on Tuesday slammed Republican tax provisions in the Senate-passed House bill that dismantle green-energy tax incentives.
“If you thought the Republican tax plan wasn’t bad enough, the House and Senate tax bills both contain provisions added at the behest of their fossil-fuel allies meant to kneecap the clean- energy, blue-collar job revolution in the United States,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said at the news conference.
The tax bill includes provisions to prevent renewable-energy companies from financing green projects; stipulates slashing tax credits for solar and wind companies; providing fossil-fuel industries a $15 billion tax subsidy; and removing a $7,500 tax credit for electric-vehicle purchases.
General Motors’ Chief Executive Mary Barra said on Monday that the electric-vehicle tax credit makes the cost easier on consumers, and eliminating it “changes the equation.”
Markey said if Republicans fail to remove these provisions from the bill, then “tens of thousands of clean-energy jobs” could be lost.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruit told the Kentucky Farm Bureau on Oct. 9 that he fully supported the provisions in the bill on which lawmakers would eventually vote in favor of.
“I would do away with these incentives that we give to wind and solar,” Pruitt said, adding that he wants renewable energy companies to “stand on their own and compete against coal and natural gas.”
The Senate version of the tax bill protects the renewable energy tax credits and subsidies, but sells drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to fossil-fuel companies.
On Oct. 4, President Donald Trump rolled back 85 percent of national park protections for Utah’s Bears Ears Monument and 50 percent for the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, potentially opening the lands for mining and fossil-fuel ventures.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. government has fined pest control company Terminix $10 million after a Delaware family vacationing in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands was exposed to a restricted pesticide in their villa.
Terminix International Co. LP and its Virgin Islands subsidiary were sentenced on Monday for violating a federal law that banned the use of methyl bromide indoors in 1984, the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement released Monday. The local company used methyl bromide in several residences in the Virgin Islands, including a St. John resort where the family was staying in March 2015. A couple and their two teenage sons fell seriously ill after the villa below theirs was fumigated with the odorless, highly toxic pesticide.
In addition to the fines, Terminix will perform community service related to training commercial pesticide applicators and a separate health services training program. Terminix also agreed to stop using methyl bromide in the U.S. and its territories.
“The sentences in this case reflect the serious nature of the defendants’ illegal actions and the unacceptable consequences of those actions,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in the statement. “This case should serve as a stark reminder that pesticides must be applied as intended and that those who ignore laws that protect public health will be held accountable by EPA and our law enforcement partners.”
The two teens are still paralyzed while their father is partially paralyzed and can barely speak, officials said. Last year, Terminix agreed to pay the family an $87 million settlement, on top of $3 million it already had paid to the family and an undisclosed payment from the Memphis-based company’s insurer.
WASHINGTON—A majority of voters believe that climate change has at least partially contributed to the hurricanes that have hit the U.S. this month, according to a Morning Consult/POLITICO poll released Wednesday.
When asked “how much did climate change contribute to recent natural disasters, such as hurricanes that impacted parts of Texas and Louisiana?”, 34 percent said “a lot” and 27 percent said “some.”
In contrast, 9 percent said “not much,” 12 percent said “not at all” and 18 percent said they do not know or have no opinion.
When asked “how concerned are you with the issue of climate change and the affect it’s having on the U.S. environment?”, 41 percent said that they were “very concerned,” 26 percent said “somewhat concerned,” 15 percent said “not too concerned” and 10 percent said that they were “not concerned at all.”
Nine percent said they did not know or had no opinion.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt told CNN last week that the emphasis for the federal government should be focusing on immediate disaster relief rather than the cause of the hurricanes.
“To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm; versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced,” Pruitt said.
Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert told reporters on Monday that the administration is taking the effects of climate change, but not the cause, into account.
“I will tell you that we continue to take seriously the climate change — not the cause of it, but the things that we observe,” Bossert said.
Trump has not stated whether or not he believes climate change contributed to the recent storms.
Wednesday’s poll was conducted among 1976 registered voters between September 7 and 11. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
SEC charges radio hostess for Ponzi scheme
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused Dawn Bennett, a financial advisor and host of a radio program, of defrauding investors by promising them a 15% annual return on their funds which she used to make Ponzi-like payments to earlier investors and to enrich herself. Bennett raised more than $20 million by selling notes issued by her company, DJB Holdings LLC, a luxury sports apparel firm in Washington, D.C. According to its website, the Financial Myth Busting With Dawn Bennett radio program featured interviews with guests such as magazine publishers Steve Forbes and Mortimer Zuckerman, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). The SEC said Bennett used invested funds for homes in Chevy Chase, Md., and Santa Fe, N.M., and a $500,000 fee for a luxury suite at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
EPA administrator is EPA probe target
The Inspector General’s Office of the Environmental Protection Agency announced an investigation of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s travel habits, American Oversight said. A month ago, AO called for an investigation after a Freedom of Information Act request yielded documents that showed Pruitt spent 43 out of his first 93 days in office either in Oklahoma or traveling to or from Oklahoma. “While Pruitt has every right to return to Oklahoma, he can’t expect American taxpayers to foot the bill for politically motivated or personal travel,” AO senior advisor Melanie Sloan said.
DREAMers make solid progress at school and work
A survey sponsored by several pro-immigration organizations, led by the Democrat-aligned Center for American Progress, claims that children of illegal aliens who are enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are making substantial educational and economic gains despite the program’s uncertain future. CAP said DACA enrollees are advancing in the economy by gaining higher wage jobs, buying cars and houses, and starting businesses.
Consumer groups ask court to brake overdraft fees
Several pro-consumer advocacy groups led by the Center for Responsible Lending filed a friend-of-the-court brief that asks a federal appeals court to find unlawful a bank’s practice of charging overdraft penalties when consumers have enough funds in their debit credit card accounts to cover a transaction at the time it is made. CRL, joined by the National Consumer Law Center, said a $35 penalty charged by Capital One Financial Corp. is based on a misleading interpretation of “available balance.”
Marshals seize vials of stem cell vaccine
The U.S. Marshals Service seized five vials of an unproven vaccine from StemImmune Inc., of San Diego, Calif., and its affiliated California Stem Cell Treatment Centers in Rancho Mirage and Beverly Hills, Calif., the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said. FDA said the vaccine’s use is restricted for people at high risk for smallpox, particularly members of the military. Because it is not commercially available in the U.S., the FDA said it has “serious concerns” about how the vaccine was obtained by SemImmune.
IRS alerts taxpayers to new scam
Calling it “a new twist on an old scheme,” Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen warned taxpayers of a phony email scheme that uses IRS and FBI emblems to create a false authenticity. The email asks recipients to click on a “here” button to display a fake FBI questionnaire, but instead opens the taxpayer’s computer to install a ransomware program that prevents users from accessing their data until they pay a ransom to the scammers. Koskinen reminded that the IRS doesn’t use email or telephone calls to initiate inquiries with taxpayers.
FTA announces funds for Maryland “purple” line
The Federal Transit Administration announced its agreement to provide $900 million for the Maryland Purple Line light rail project that will enable commuters to travel between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in suburban Washington, D.C. The 16.2-mile railway will have 21 stations and provide direct access to Washington Metro (WMATA) stations, all three Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) train stations, and Amtrak’s New Carrolton station.
FBI nabs “most wanted” fugitive
Luis Macedo was taken into custody by law enforcement authorities in Guadalajara, Mexico, just 15 months after he was added to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list. Macedo became a fugitive in 2010 after he was charged with murdering a rival gang member and he fled the country to avoid prosecution. Macedo, who was living in Oak Lawn, a south Chicago suburb at the time, was added to the “most wanted” list in May 2016.
77 million fill U.S. classrooms
Approximately 77.2 million people were enrolled in America’s public and private schools in 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau said, representing a 9.9% increase in classroom population since 1996. Elementary and secondary school enrollment remained fairly constant through the last decade, the Census Bureau said.
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 Monday, August 28