Nauert Says She'll Withdraw as Trump's Nominee for UN Ambassador

Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert withdrew from consideration as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, according to a statement.

Trump had said in early December that he planned to nominate Nauert, 49, to replace Nikki Haley as UN ambassador. Suspicion later mounted that her nomination was running into trouble because the White House never formally submitted her name for Senate confirmation, even after Haley resigned at year end.

State Department officials insisted there was nothing unusual in that delay, arguing that Attorney General William Barr’s nomination went more smoothly because he had already been confirmed once, in 1991. They also blamed the 35-day government shutdown and the complexity of the vetting process.

“I am grateful to President Trump and Secretary Pompeo for the trust they placed in me for considering me for the position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations,” Nauert said in the statement. “However, the past two months have been grueling for my family and therefore it is in the best interest of my family that I withdraw my name from consideration.”

Source: NewsMax Politics

Pence Chastises EU, Rejects Merkel's Call to Work with Russia

Vice President Mike Pence rebuked European powers over Iran and Venezuela on Saturday in a renewed attack on Washington's traditional allies, rejecting a call by Germany's chancellor to include Russia in global cooperation efforts.

In speeches and in private talks at the Munich Security Conference, Pence and Chancellor Angela Merkel laid out competing visions for how the West should address world crises.

"America is stronger than ever before and America is leading on the world stage once again," Pence told European and Asian officials in Munich, listing what he described as U.S. foreign policy successes from Afghanistan to North Korea, and urging support from American allies.

"America First does not mean America alone," he said, hailing the results of Donald Trump's presidency as "remarkable" and "extraordinary," and calling on the EU to follow Washington in quitting the Iran nuclear deal and recognizing the head of Venezuela's congress, Juan Guaido, as the country's president.

Addressing an audience that included Trump's daughter Ivanka, Pence's speech was the latest attempt by a Trump administration official to put the president's "America First" agenda into a coherent policy plan.

European leaders are troubled by Trump's rhetoric, which they say is erratic and disruptive, citing his decision to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as undermining an arms control agreement that prevented Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.

But Pence — who last week accused Britain, Germany and France of undermining U.S. sanctions on Iran — repeated his demand for European powers to withdraw from the deal.

"The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal," he said, and later pressed Merkel over the issue in bilateral talks.

He also reiterated to her Washington's opposition to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under construction between Russia and Germany under the Baltic Sea. "We cannot strengthen the West by becoming dependent on the East," Pence said.

Merkel, who made a robust defense of Germany's foreign trade relations and ties with Russia during her speech, said later it was unreasonable to assume that Russia would be an unreliable energy supplier.

"AMERICA WILL BE BACK"

Speaking before Pence, Merkel questioned whether the U.S. decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal and withdrawal from Syria was the best way to tackle Tehran in the region.

During a question-and-answer session, she added that it would be wrong to exclude Russia politically, but Pence said Washington was "holding Russia accountable" for its 2014 seizure of Ukraine and what the West says are efforts to destabilize it through cyber attacks, disinformation and covert operations.

"Geostrategically, Europe can't have an interest in cutting off all relations with Russia," Merkel said.

Pence, who used his trip to Europe to push Trump's policy of favoring sovereign states as opposed to alliances and blocs, took aim at the EU over Venezuela's political crisis.

"Today we call on the European Union to step forward for freedom and recognize Juan Guaido as the only legitimate president of Venezuela," he said, calling President Nicolas Maduro a dictator who must step down.

In his roving address, Pence also stepped up U.S. pressure on Chinese telecoms gear companies such as Huawei Technologies Co, urging allies to avoid the firms and saying Chinese law requires them to give Beijing access to networks and data.

China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi rejected Pence's comments. "Chinese law doesn't require companies to install back doors to collect intelligence," Yang told the conference.

Yang, one of the architects of Chinese foreign policy, echoed Merkel's vision, saying the world should "pull together" to address global challenges, while former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden got a standing ovation for a speech in which he said that after Trump, close traditional U.S.-EU would resume. "America will be back," he said.

Source: NewsMax Politics

Pete King: NY Dems Must Stop Leftists After Amazon Loss

Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., on Saturday urged Democratic leaders in New York to fight far-left members of the party who succeeded in forcing Amazon to pull out of a plan to bring thousands of jobs to Long Island City.

"Amazon's decision to leave Long Island City was a disaster for the entire New York-Long Island Metropolitan region and it was caused entirely by the radical progressive wing of the Democratic Party," King wrote in an email sent to constituents. "It is now absolutely necessary for New York Democrats to take a strong, unequivocal stand against these left wing progressives."

The Republican congressman noted he has long worked with members of both parties for the good of his state and the city, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both of whom worked with Amazon to bring the headquarters to the city.

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was among the leaders of the movement to push Amazon out, citing, among other things, $3 billion in tax breaks offered by the state and local governments.

"Democratic political and governmental leaders must make it clear that radical progressives will not have a veto power over the economic future of New York and Long Island," King warned in his Saturday message. "Not only did Amazon’s decision cost New York tens of thousands of jobs and as much $100 billion in revenues, it sent a signal to the rest of the country that New York is not open for business. And this came at a time when business people and billions of tax dollars were already leaving New York.

"The undoing of their deal was brought about by radical progressives and elected Democrats," King said. "The irresponsible policies and agendas of these radical Democrats can no longer be ignored or romanticized. Too much is at stake. Too many working people are being hurt and their futures put at risk. Democratic leaders must step and speak out."

Source: NewsMax Politics

U.S., China Trade Talks Expected to Resume in Washington Next Week

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 10:48 AM PT — Sat. Feb. 16, 2019

In an effort to end the ongoing trade war, trade talks between the U.S. and China are slated to continue in Washington D.C. next week.

On Friday, White House officials said the two sides plan to resume discussions to reach an agreement prior to the March 1st deadline.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, second from left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, left, and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, right, look on before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)

The Washington talks are expected to be led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, along with China’s Vice Premier and Chief Trade Negotiator.

This comes after President Trump floated the idea of extending the deadline if it will bring the nations closer to a deal and prevent tariffs from rising on Chinese goods.

Meanwhile, tariffs are expected to increase from 10% to 25% if no deal is reached.

Source: OANN Top News

U.S., China Trade Talks Expected to Resume in Washington Next Week

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 10:48 AM PT — Sat. Feb. 16, 2019

In an effort to end the ongoing trade war, trade talks between the U.S. and China are slated to continue in Washington D.C. next week.

On Friday, White House officials said the two sides plan to resume discussions to reach an agreement prior to the March 1st deadline.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, second from left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, left, and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, right, look on before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)

The Washington talks are expected to be led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, along with China’s Vice Premier and Chief Trade Negotiator.

This comes after President Trump floated the idea of extending the deadline if it will bring the nations closer to a deal and prevent tariffs from rising on Chinese goods.

Meanwhile, tariffs are expected to increase from 10% to 25% if no deal is reached.

Source: OANN Top News

Police: Aurora Attacker Shouldn't Have Owned Gun

Police say the fired worker who killed five people at a warehouse in Aurora, Illinois, was able to buy the gun he used because an initial background check didn't catch that he had a prior felony conviction in Mississippi.

Aurora police Chief Kristin Ziman said Saturday that Gary Martin was issued a firearm owner's identification card in January of 2014 after he passed the initial background check.

She said he bought the Smith and Wesson .40-caliber handgun on March 11, 2014, and that his 1995 felony conviction for aggravated assault in Mississippi wasn't flagged until he applied for a concealed carry permit five days later. That application process includes vetting using a more rigorous digital fingerprinting system.

Authorities say Martin fatally shot five Henry Pratt Co. workers and wounded a sixth and five police officers on Friday before officers killed him.e.

Source: NewsMax America

V.P. Mike Pence Calls for Europe to Leave Iran Nuclear Deal, Support Guaido

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 8:24 AM PT — Sat. Feb. 16, 2019

Vice President Mike Pence urges the European Union to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal.

On Saturday, Pence delivered a speech to world leaders at the Munich Security Conference, calling for European countries to join the U.S. in pressuring the Iranian regime to give the people the peace and freedom they deserve.

United States Vice President Mike Pence delivers his speech during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

He also warned of the threat posed by telecoms equipment supplied by Chinese provider Huawei.

Pence also addressed a terrorism issue and said the U.S. will continue fighting the Islamic State.

Additionally, Pence asked the leaders in the room to support Venezuela in its struggle for democracy and recognize Juan Guaido as the only legitimate President of Venezuela.

Source: OANN Top News

V.P. Mike Pence Calls for Europe to Leave Iran Nuclear Deal, Support Guaido

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 8:24 AM PT — Sat. Feb. 16, 2019

Vice President Mike Pence urges the European Union to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal.

On Saturday, Pence delivered a speech to world leaders at the Munich Security Conference, calling for European countries to join the U.S. in pressuring the Iranian regime to give the people the peace and freedom they deserve.

United States Vice President Mike Pence delivers his speech during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

He also warned of the threat posed by telecoms equipment supplied by Chinese provider Huawei.

Pence also addressed a terrorism issue and said the U.S. will continue fighting the Islamic State.

Additionally, Pence asked the leaders in the room to support Venezuela in its struggle for democracy and recognize Juan Guaido as the only legitimate President of Venezuela.

Source: OANN Top News

Trump Emergency Declaration Faces Fights in the Courts

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency along the southern border and predicted his administration would end up defending it all the way to the Supreme Court.

That might have been the only thing Trump said Friday that produced near-universal agreement.

The American Civil Liberties Union announced its intention to sue less than an hour after the White House released the text of Trump's declaration that the "current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency."

Nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen filed suit later, urging the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to "bar Trump and the U.S. Department of Defense from using the declaration and funds appropriated for other purposes to build a border wall."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several Democratic state attorneys general already have said they might go to court.

The coming legal fight seems likely to hinge on two main issues: Can the president declare a national emergency to build a border wall in the face of Congress' refusal to give him all the money he wanted and, under the federal law Trump invoked in his declaration, can the Defense Department take money from some congressionally approved military construction projects to pay for wall construction?

The Pentagon has so far not said which projects might be affected.

But after weeks of publicly ruminating whether to act, Trump's signature on the declaration set in motion a quick march to the courthouse.

Trump relied on the National Emergencies Act of 1976, which Congress adopted as a way to put some limits on presidential use of national emergencies. The act requires a president to notify Congress publicly of the national emergency and to report every six months. The law also says the president must renew the emergency every year, simply by notifying Congress. The House and Senate also can revoke a declaration by majority vote, though it would take a two-thirds vote by each house to override an expected presidential veto.

Beyond that, though, the law doesn't say what constitutes a national emergency or impose any other limits on the president.

The broad grant of discretion to the president could make it hard to persuade courts to rule that Trump exceeded his authority in declaring a border emergency. "He's the one who gets to make the call. We can't second-guess it," said John Eastman, a professor of constitutional law at the Chapman University School of Law.

Courts often are reluctant to look beyond the justifications the president included in his proclamation, Ohio State University law professor Peter Shane said on a call organized by the liberal American Constitution Society.

But other legal experts said the facts are powerfully arrayed against the president. They include government statistics showing a decades-long decline in illegal border crossings as well as Trump's rejection of a deal last year that would have provided more than the nearly $1.4 billion he got for border security in the budget agreement he signed Thursday. Opponents of the declaration also are certain to use Trump's own words at his Rose Garden news conference Friday to argue that there is no emergency on the border.

"I could do the wall over a longer period of time," Trump said. "I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster."

Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan said Congress made a conscious choice not to give Trump what he wanted. "A prerequisite for declaring an emergency is that the situation requires immediate action and Congress does not have an opportunity to act," Amash said on Twitter.

ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said Trump's remarks are an admission that there is no national emergency. "He just grew impatient and frustrated with Congress," Romero said in a statement that also said the rights group would file a lawsuit next week.

Trying to turn the president's words against him failed in the challenge to Trump's ban on travel to the United States by citizens of several mostly Muslim countries. The ban's opponents argued that Trump's comments as a candidate and as president showed the ban was motivated by anti-Muslim bias, not concern about national security. Lower courts struck down the ban, but the Supreme Court upheld it in a 5-4 vote last year.

Trump said he expected to lose in lower courts that he claims have been unfair to him, particularly if lawsuits are filed in California. "Hopefully, we'll get a fair shake and we'll win in the Supreme Court, just like the ban," he said.

Beyond the challenge to Trump's authority to declare an emergency, lawsuits also are expected to focus on the military construction project law that allows the re-allocation of money in a national emergency.

Eastman said he doubts that the Supreme Court would try to interfere with Trump's decision to send the military to the border and then authorize the use of money from other Defense Department construction projects to build miles of a border wall. "The president is authorized to make those judgments, not some judge in San Francisco," Eastman said.

But the ACLU's suit will argue that Congress allowed for flexibility in using money it appropriated for projects needed to support the emergency use of the military forces, like overseas military airfields in wartime.

Several legal experts said claims that the building of the wall is not the kind of project contemplated in the military construction law could be more difficult to rebut because border security is more like a law enforcement issue than a military emergency.

But Shane, the Ohio State professor, said, "It's hard to know how exactly this is going to unfold politically or judicially."

Source: NewsMax Politics

Trump to Nominate Satterfield Ambassador to Turkey

President Donald Trump intends to nominate David Satterfield, a veteran diplomat with deep experience in the Middle East, to be U.S. ambassador to Turkey, the White House said on Friday.

Satterfield has been the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs since 2017. He has previously served as the deputy U.S. chief of mission in Iraq, ambassador to Lebanon, director for Near Eastern affairs on the National Security Council, as well as in Syria, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

Turkey, a Muslim-majority NATO ally, borders Syria, Iraq and Iran and is a major player in the region.

The conflict in Syria following Trump's announcement of a U.S. pullout, the fallout from the murder of a Saudi journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and Turkey's demand for the extradition of a Muslim cleric from the United States are among the main issues in the two countries' relations.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Trump's decision in December to withdraw American troops from Syria. Washington has backed Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters while Turkey brands the group a terrorist organization.

Erdogan said in November Turkey would not abide by renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil and shipping industries because they were aimed at "unbalancing the world."

Trump and Erdogan have also taken different tacks in their response to the Oct. 2 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Trump has said he wants Washington to stand by the Saudi government and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite a CIA assessment it was likely the prince had ordered the killing. Saudi Arabia has said the prince had no prior knowledge of the murder.

Trump said in November that he was not considering extraditing Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup.

Source: NewsMax Politics

Trump to Nominate Satterfield Ambassador to Turkey

President Donald Trump intends to nominate David Satterfield, a veteran diplomat with deep experience in the Middle East, to be U.S. ambassador to Turkey, the White House said on Friday.

Satterfield has been the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs since 2017. He has previously served as the deputy U.S. chief of mission in Iraq, ambassador to Lebanon, director for Near Eastern affairs on the National Security Council, as well as in Syria, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

Turkey, a Muslim-majority NATO ally, borders Syria, Iraq and Iran and is a major player in the region.

The conflict in Syria following Trump's announcement of a U.S. pullout, the fallout from the murder of a Saudi journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and Turkey's demand for the extradition of a Muslim cleric from the United States are among the main issues in the two countries' relations.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Trump's decision in December to withdraw American troops from Syria. Washington has backed Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters while Turkey brands the group a terrorist organization.

Erdogan said in November Turkey would not abide by renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil and shipping industries because they were aimed at "unbalancing the world."

Trump and Erdogan have also taken different tacks in their response to the Oct. 2 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Trump has said he wants Washington to stand by the Saudi government and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite a CIA assessment it was likely the prince had ordered the killing. Saudi Arabia has said the prince had no prior knowledge of the murder.

Trump said in November that he was not considering extraditing Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup.

Source: NewsMax Politics

Trump to Nominate Satterfield Ambassador to Turkey

President Donald Trump intends to nominate David Satterfield, a veteran diplomat with deep experience in the Middle East, to be U.S. ambassador to Turkey, the White House said on Friday.

Satterfield has been the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs since 2017. He has previously served as the deputy U.S. chief of mission in Iraq, ambassador to Lebanon, director for Near Eastern affairs on the National Security Council, as well as in Syria, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

Turkey, a Muslim-majority NATO ally, borders Syria, Iraq and Iran and is a major player in the region.

The conflict in Syria following Trump's announcement of a U.S. pullout, the fallout from the murder of a Saudi journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and Turkey's demand for the extradition of a Muslim cleric from the United States are among the main issues in the two countries' relations.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Trump's decision in December to withdraw American troops from Syria. Washington has backed Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters while Turkey brands the group a terrorist organization.

Erdogan said in November Turkey would not abide by renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil and shipping industries because they were aimed at "unbalancing the world."

Trump and Erdogan have also taken different tacks in their response to the Oct. 2 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Trump has said he wants Washington to stand by the Saudi government and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite a CIA assessment it was likely the prince had ordered the killing. Saudi Arabia has said the prince had no prior knowledge of the murder.

Trump said in November that he was not considering extraditing Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup.

Source: NewsMax Politics

France: Syrian suspect accused of crimes against humanity

French authorities have filed preliminary charges of complicity in crimes against humanity against a Syrian suspected of involvement in a bloody secret police crackdown on opposition activists.

A judicial official said Saturday the man is being held in custody pending further investigation, after being detained Tuesday near Paris as part of an international probe. The official was not authorized to be publicly named discussing an ongoing investigation.

Two other suspects were detained in Germany on Tuesday, also suspected of carrying out or aiding crimes against humanity.

Human rights groups hailed the arrests. They mark the first major breakthroughs of international investigators who are trying to track down individuals they think are responsible for atrocities committed on behalf of the Syrian government during the country’s eight-year civil war.

Source: Fox News World

8 miners rescued in Zimbabwe; others remained trapped

Eight artisanal miners who were trapped underground for several days after heavy flooding in Zimbabwe have been rescued, though some of their co-workers are still missing and feared dead.

Rescuers on Saturday pulled the exhausted, muddied survivors from the ground and took them to a tent for medical treatment. Relatives waiting at the scene ululated, cheered and hugged each other.

Dozens of gold miners were caught underground Tuesday on the outskirts of Kadoma, west of the Zimbabwean capital of Harare.

It is unclear how many miners remain trapped. The government has said a total of between 60 and 70 people were working underground at the time of the accident.

Source: Fox News World

Iran: Sabotage may be behind failed satellite launches

Iran’s foreign minister says sabotage by the U.S. is a possible reason for Tehran’s failed attempts to launch two satellites in recent months.

Mohammad Javad Zarif said Friday in an interview with NBC News in Munich, Germany, that it’s possible there is a U.S. sabotage campaign against Iranian satellite launches. He confirmed that Iran suffered two failed attempts to launch satellites over the past two months.

"It’s quite possible. We don’t know yet," he said. "We need to look into it very carefully."

Both attempts took place despite U.S. criticism that Iran’s space program helps the country develop ballistic missiles. Iran denies the charge.

In January, the country launched a satellite, but authorities said it failed to reach the "necessary speed" in the third stage of its launch.

Source: Fox News World

Nigerians wake to find a delayed election, with some angry

Nigerians have awakened to find the presidential election delayed a week from Saturday until Feb. 23 because of what the electoral commission has called unspecified "challenges." The country’s top two political parties condemn the last-minute postponement.

Some bitter voters in the capital, Abuja, and elsewhere who traveled home to cast their ballots say they cannot afford to wait another seven days.

A spokesman for top opposition challenger Atiku Abubakar in Delta state said the electoral commission "has destroyed the soul of Nigeria with this act."

Abubakar is expected to speak to reporters later Saturday from his home in the north.

One ruling party campaign director said it is better to give the electoral commission time to conduct a credible vote.

The commission is to give more details in the afternoon.

Source: Fox News World

Iran threatens retaliation over car bombing that killed 27

The head of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard has threatened to retaliate against neighboring Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates over a suicide car bombing this week that killed 27 members of the elite organization.

Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari spoke late Friday at one of two funeral ceremonies for the victims of Wednesday’s attack in the central Iranian city of Isfahan. He claimed without providing evidence that the United States and Israel ordered Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to carry out the attack, which wounded 12.

"We definitely will retaliate," Jafari said in comments reported by the semi-official Tasnim news agency Saturday.

The bombing immediately raised the possibility of Iranian retaliation against the Jaish al-Adl Sunni militant group that claimed responsibility for the attack. It mainly operates near Iran-Pakistan border.

Source: Fox News World

AP Explains: What are India's options after Kashmir attack

With India’s national elections barely months away, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is under heavy pressure from his supporters to punish nuclear-rival Pakistan for a suicide attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy that killed at least 41 soldiers in disputed Kashmir.

India placed the blame for Thursday’s bombing squarely on neighboring Pakistan, which India accuses of supporting rebels in Kashmir. Pakistan denies the charge. A look at some of the steps India is likely to consider:

DIPLOMATIC ISOLATION

India’s first public reaction to the attack was to withdraw the most-favored nation trade status given to Pakistan and take all possible diplomatic steps "to ensure the complete isolation from international community of Pakistan." New Delhi insists "incontrovertible evidence is available of (Pakistan) having a direct hand in this gruesome terrorist incident." The Greater Kashmir newspaper reported that a militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, headquartered in Pakistan, claimed responsibility. India’s foreign ministry on Friday briefed New Delhi-based diplomats of key countries, including China, which has in the past blocked India’s proposal to list Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a designated terrorist by the United Nations. The ministry demanded Pakistan take "immediate and verifiable action against terrorists and terror groups operating from territories under its control to create conducive atmosphere in the region free of terror."

MILITARY STRIKES

After a 2016 attack on an Indian army base that killed 19 soldiers, India’s army said it carried out a campaign of "surgical strikes" against militants across the highly militarized frontier that divides the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan. Pakistan dismissed the reports that India’s military had targeted "terrorist launch pads" inside the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir. Islamabad said instead that two of its soldiers were killed in "unprovoked" firing by India across the border. Following the latest attack — the worst in Kashmir’s history — Modi warned that those behind it would pay a heavy price and that security forces have been given a free hand to act against terror. The Times of India newspaper reported Saturday that the military options — short of two nuclear-armed rivals going to war — could range from "shallow ground-based attacks and occupation of some heights along the Line of Control (cease-fire line) to restricted but precision airstrikes against non-state targets in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir." G.Parthasarthy, India’s former high commissioner to Pakistan, said a possible military response can’t be discussed in public. "We have said that Pakistan will pay a price. For obvious reasons we are not going to spell out how that cost would be imposed." Paul Staniland, a political science professor and South Asia expert at the University of Chicago, said that the Pakistan army is assuming it will be attacked and that Indian forces are preparing for a serious incursion of some sort.

DOMESTIC PRESSURE

Indian analysts say no political party could afford to neglect public opinion ahead of Indian elections. Already, protesters chanted "Attack Pakistan" and fiery debates on television channels demanded retaliation. "’I think the situation is extremely tense. The mood in the country is extremely angry at what has happened. And moreover there are elections in the offing. No party could afford to neglect public opinion,’" said Amitabh Mattoo, professor of international studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. Staniland said the stakes were too high for India to do nothing at all. "Modi is in a tricky position. Indian forces are quite capable but it’s not obvious what kinds of strikes would accomplish the core goal. Kashmir and Pakistan are among the few foreign policy topics that have real electoral resonance." Elections are scheduled to be held before May.

US RESPONSE

The U.S. singled out Pakistan in a statement condemning the attack and said it strengthened U.S. resolve to bolster counterterrorism cooperation with India. To improve India’s military capabilities, the U.S. has offered to sell it unarmed Guardian surveillance drones, aircraft carrier technologies and F-18 and F-16 fighter aircraft. There are sticking points, however, including the purchase by India of Iranian oil and the Russian S-400 ground-to-air missile system, which could trigger U.S. sanctions on India.

THE HIMALAYAN PUZZLE

Indian-controlled Kashmir has remained a challenge for India’s policymakers ever since the Himalayan territory was split between India and Pakistan shortly after the two archrivals gained independence in 1947. The territory has been at the heart of India’s two wars out of four the country fought against Pakistan and China. Human rights groups say India has been responding to public protest with disproportionate force while treating the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination as Islamabad’s proxy war against New Delhi. New Delhi initially grappled with largely peaceful anti-India protests. However, a series of political blunders, broken promises and a crackdown on dissent led to Kashmir’s eruption into a full blown armed rebellion against India in 1989 for a united Kashmir, either under Pakistan rule or independent of both. The conflict has intensified since Modi came to power in 2014 amid rising attacks by Hindu hard-liners against minorities in India, further deepening frustration with New Delhi’s rule in the Muslim-majority Kashmir. Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharitya Janata Party-led government has toughened its stance both against Pakistan and Kashmiri separatists. Policy experts say such an approach is intended to project the party as strong and uncompromising. But Modi’s policies have also had the unintended consequence of strengthening the resolve of those fighting for an end to India’s rule in Kashmir.

VIEW FROM PAKISTAN

After Imran Khan took over as Pakistani prime minister last August, he promised to take two steps forward for India’s one step to forge friendly ties. He said Kashmir is at the core of their differences and they have to end the tit-for-tat accusations. But the peace initiative remained a non-starter with violence rising in the Indian portion of Kashmir and India asking Pakistan to stop supporting insurgents. Khan has now proposed to hold talks with India after the Indian elections. The former cricketer is very popular in India. He recently offered to open a Sikh religious shrine for Indian visitors on the Pakistani side of the border in Punjab province as a peace gesture. But in September, India pulled the plug on a rare meeting between its foreign minister and her Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of a U.N. summit — a move that was termed "arrogant" by Khan and unleashed a barrage of insults from both sides. India says it has not seen any constructive approach from Pakistan.

___

Associated Press writer Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar contributed to this report.

Source: Fox News World

Flamengo soccer club fire in Brazil: bad luck or negligence?

Within hours of a fire at soccer club Flamengo’s training facility that would kill 10 teenage players, the club’s president called it "the worst tragedy" in the team’s 123-year history.

Soccer greats around the world expressed condolences, Rio de Janeiro’s mayor declared three days of mourning and the club, Brazil’s most popular and one of the most recognizable in Latin America, commemorated the boys during its latest home game on Thursday. Club officials repeatedly said the fire was simply a question of bad luck.

"It was not because of lack of attention and care from Flamengo. These boys are our biggest asset," said Flamengo’s CEO Reinaldo Belotti a day after the Feb. 8 blaze. "It was all a succession of events after a catastrophic day for Rio."

But for at least four years before the blaze, the club flouted city and code regulations at the training facility, incurred numerous fines and was the target of a lawsuit by state prosecutors related to the treatment of its academy players and their living quarters, an Associated Press review of city documents and a lawsuit has found. What’s more, a material used in the construction of the dorms, polyurethane, could have fueled the fast-moving blaze that engulfed the players, according to fire experts.

The findings raise questions about whether negligence by the team and a collective failure of authorities to regulate the training grounds ultimately played the largest roles in the tragedy.

"This is an irregular construction," city hall spokesman Tiago Costa told The Associated Press when asked about the container-like structures where 26 players were sleeping when fire struck.

Officials have not given an official cause for the blaze, though they have said they are investigating the possibility that an air conditioning unit caught fire after a power surge.

For years, the club had its academy players, teens between the ages of 14 and 16 identified as potential future professionals, sleeping in quarters that were never approved by the city. In fact, the area that burned was licensed as a parking lot, not a dormitory.

The most recent city license for the club, from April of last year, had no mention of sleeping quarters anywhere on the sprawling complex known as Ninho de Urubu in western Rio de Janeiro.

Since the dormitory didn’t officially exist, firefighting officials said they did not inspect or certify it.

The burned area "was not part of the security plan against fire or panic presented by the club and approved by the Fire Department," state firefighters said in a statement to the AP.

Bernardo Monteiro, a Flamengo spokesman, told the AP that the team had used the containers since 2010. He said there was one exit and the structures had fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, though could not say how many.

The existence of the containers was well known by authorities.

In March 2015, Rio state prosecutors filed a suit against the club demanding the closure of the training facility unless several irregularities were rectified.

Prosecutors demanded the club "address all the inherent peculiarities in the care of children and adolescents, from the pedagogical, social, psychological and medical all the way to the adequacy of accommodation facilities," read the suit.

The suit also called for the facility to be closed until there was "proof of compliance with the conditions imposed by the Fire Department, Civil Defense and City Hall," and any infraction to be met with a $27,000 fine.

Nearly four years later, no decision was made on the case — until Wednesday, five days after the deadly fire.

In a blistering ruling, Judge Pedro Henrique Alves said that Flamengo hadn’t just failed to address the demands in the suit, but also "didn’t even inform the court" of other changes it had made since the suit was filed.

Flamengo "used as lodging for adolescents containers that, unfortunately, caught fire, taking the lives of 10 (players) and injuring three others," he wrote, adding that children and adolescents were barred from entering the facility until further notice. Any infraction would result in a US$2.8 million fine.

The club was also frequently in the crosshairs of city officials: it was fined 31 times over the last few years for licensing violations, and in October 2017 the training facility was temporarily closed.

"If you are fined 30 times, you can’t keep postponing and get 20 more. Something has to be done," Arthur Antunes Coimbra, one of the club’s most famous players known as "Zico," told Globo’s SporTV this week.

Police have opened an investigation and say that criminal charges are possible.

Meanwhile, the company that made the dormitory, NHJ do Brasil, told the AP in a statement that its structures were made in accordance with the latest international standards. It also said the structure that burned was made of a metallic shell and lined on the inside with galvanized thermal acoustic panels that had a polyurethane core that was "self-extinguishing."

"In other words, the modules are made of metal and filled in with anti-inflammable material," said the company, which declined to answer whether the structures came with fire extinguishers, smoke detectors or air-conditioning units.

Polyurethane is an expanded plastic, or plastic injected with air, that is widely used in construction. While it can be treated with retardant, it can also burn very quickly if it catches fire from another source, three fire experts not involved in the investigation told the AP.

"Polyurethane foam used in this way is a cheap technology and dangerous from a fire protection perspective," said David Howitt, an emeritus professor at the University of California at Davis and expert in combustion. "These so-called ‘fire retardant’ foams are not retardants to the degree that the manufacturers suggest and are frequently grossly overstated."

Robert Solomon, a fire engineer with the Quincy, Massachusetts-based National Fire Protection Association, reviewed security camera video of the blaze and pictures of the aftermath. The images show drooping metallic roofs, mangled black panels and many objects so badly charred that they are indistinguishable.

Solomon said he found at least three red flags: only one exit, bars on some of the windows and an apparent lack of basic protective tools like smoke alarms. And the video footage appeared to show "flashover," when every combustible thing in an area is burning, he said. Flashover temperatures, upward of 1,900 Fahrenheit (1,037 Celsius), are so high that a person can become paralyzed, even if the flames are not touching them.

"At that point, it’s like being trapped in a prison with no way to escape," said Solomon.

After the fire, the Rio state prosecutor’s office formed a task force focused on financial compensation of the victims’ families. Many families whose children stay at academies are low income, and sometimes live far from the team.

Some family members and friends of victims have quietly questioned the safety measures the team had in place.

"There should have been an emergency door. There wasn’t," said Severino Fausto Santana, while attending the funeral of 15-year-old nephew Samuel Thomas de Souza Rosa. "That’s why the 10 (boys) died."

But for the most part, families have remained quiet, either declining to speak about Flamengo or lauded the club’s effort at a time of great grief.

"Flamengo is very useful and helping with everything," said Sergio Morikawa, who was not the biological father but was helping to raise 15-year-old Vitor Isaias, one of the kids who died. "I don’t want to judge, work myself up or blame anyone."

____

Follow Diane Jeantet: twitter.com/dianejeantet

Follow Peter Prengaman: twitter.com/peterprengaman

Source: Fox News World

Saudi crown prince delays visit to Pakistan by a day

Pakistani officials say the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been delayed by a day.

Without giving any explanation for the delay, the Foreign Ministry says Prince Mohammad will now arrive in Islamabad on a two-day visit on Sunday and that his program remains unchanged.

The crown prince is expected to sign investment agreements worth billions of dollars. He will also travel to neighboring India amid heightened tension between Islamabad and New Delhi over this week’s attack on a paramilitary convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 41 people.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi blamed Pakistan for Thursday’s bombing.

Pakistan rejected the allegation and has lodged a protest over the Indian accusations.

Source: Fox News World

Explosive device found, disarmed in Mexican mall

Authorities on the outskirts of Mexico’s capital are investigating a homemade explosive device found in a shopping mall bathroom.

The Mexico state security secretary said in a statement Friday that the device discovered inside a mall in Tlalnepantla included a battery detonator and analog clock, as well as nuts and screws. It was housed in a small wooden box.

State police disarmed the device and turned it over to federal prosecutors.

Local press reported that the device was found inside a bathroom and was housed in a cigar box. Janitors allegedly found it about an hour before it was set to detonate.

Source: Fox News World

Trump Says Japan's PM Nominated Him for Nobel Peace Prize

President Donald Trump said Friday that Japan's prime minister had nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize for opening a dialogue with North Korea.

Trump also complained about President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize and doubted he would be similarly honored.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "gave me the most beautiful copy of a letter that he sent to the people who give out a thing called the Nobel Prize," Trump said at a White House news conference when asked about his late February summit in Vietnam with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. "He said, 'I have nominated you, respectfully, on behalf of Japan. I am asking them to give you the Nobel Peace Prize.'"

The Associated Press could not immediately confirm Trump's claim.

Japan's Foreign Ministry said Saturday that it was aware of Trump's remark but cannot comment on details of the exchanges between Trump and Abe.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who also has credited Trump with starting negotiations with the reclusive North, has endorsed the U.S. leader for the Nobel Peace Prize as well.

Trump said early exchanges with Kim were filled with "fire and fury," but that the two have established a good relationship since their first meeting last year in Singapore. He said claimed Abe nominated him because he was worried about North Korea conducting missile tests over Japan.

Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, his first year in office, for laying out the U.S. commitment to "seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."

Trump complained Friday that Obama was there "for about 15 seconds" before he was awarded the prize.

"I'll probably never get it, but that's OK," Trump said. "They gave it to Obama. He didn't even know what he got it for."

Source: NewsMax Politics

Trump Picks Former Alabama Official to Lead FEMA

President Donald Trump says he will nominate a former Alabama official to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Jeffrey Byard held several positions with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency before he joined FEMA in 2017 during the agency's response to Hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida. Byard is currently the associate administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery.

If confirmed by the Senate, Byard would succeed Brock Long, who resigned this week after a two-year tenure in which he managed the response to historic wildfires and major hurricanes. Long was also dogged by questions about his use of government vehicles to and from his North Carolina home.

Long said he wants to spend more time with his family. His last day is March 8.

Source: NewsMax Politics

Graham: US should be stronger on Canadians detained in China

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham says the response by the United States to China detaining two Canadians in apparent retaliation for the arrest of a Chinese Huawei executive has not been strong enough.

Graham also told Munich Security Conference delegates Friday the international reaction to China’s arrest of ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor hasn’t been enough to persuade China that its apparent use of hostage diplomacy won’t be tolerated.

Graham says President Donald Trump "has been tough on China but this is one area where I think we need to make a more definitive statement, because the two people arrested in China had nothing to do with the rule of law. It was just grabbing two Canadians."

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland mouthed the words "thank you" to Graham.

Source: Fox News World

Trump Declares Emergency for Border Wall, First Lawsuit Filed

President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency in a bid to fund his promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border without congressional approval, an action Democrats vowed to challenge as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The Republican president's move to circumvent Congress represented an escalation in his efforts to make good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge to build a wall to halt the flow into the country of illegal immigrants, who Trump says bring crime and drugs.

Three Texas landowners and an environmental group filed the first lawsuit on Friday challenging the declaration aimed at freeing up billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen said.

The lawsuit, brought in federal court in the District of Columbia, claims the south Texas landowners were told by the U.S. government that it would seek to build a border wall on their properties if money for the project were available in 2019, Public Citizen said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee said it had launched an investigation into the emergency declaration.

In a letter to Trump, committee Democrats asked him to make available for a hearing White House and Justice Department officials involved in the action. They also requested legal documents on the decision that led to the declaration, setting a deadline of next Friday.

"We believe your declaration of an emergency shows a reckless disregard for the separation of powers and your own responsibilities under our constitutional system," said the letter signed by Chairman Jerrold Nadler and other top Democrats on the panel.

Trump on Friday also signed a bipartisan government spending bill that would prevent another partial government shutdown by funding several agencies that otherwise would have closed on Saturday.

The funding bill represented a legislative defeat for him since it contains no money for his proposed wall – the focus of weeks of conflict between him and Democrats in Congress.

Trump made no mention of the bill in comments to reporters in the White House's Rose Garden.

He had demanded that Congress provide him with $5.7 billion in wall funding as part of legislation to fund the agencies. That triggered a historic, 35-day December-January government shutdown that hurt the U.S. economy and his opinion poll numbers.

By reorienting his quest for wall funding toward a legally uncertain strategy based on declaring a national emergency, Trump risks plunging into a lengthy legislative and legal battle with Democrats and dividing his fellow Republicans – many of whom expressed grave reservations on Friday about the president's action.

Fifteen Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate introduced legislation on Thursday to prevent Trump from invoking emergency powers to transfer funds to his wall from accounts Congress has already committed to other projects.

'EXCLUSIVE POWER'

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer swiftly responded to Trump's declaration.

"The president's actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution," they said in a statement. "The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”

New York state's attorney general, Letitia James, said her office would also challenge Trump in court. California's governor, Gavin Newsom, also pledged to file suit.

"We won't stand for this abuse of power & will fight back with every legal tool at our disposal," James wrote on Twitter.

The president acknowledged his order would face a lengthy court fight.

"I expect to be sued. I shouldn't be sued … We'll win in the Supreme Court," Trump predicted.

Trump may have also undermined his administration's argument about the urgency of the situation when he told reporters, "I didn't need to do this. But I'd rather do it much faster."

In their letter to Trump, House Judiciary Democrats said that language had left them "troubled."

Both the House and the Senate could pass a resolution terminating the emergency by majority vote. However, that measure would then go to Trump, who would likely veto it. Overriding the veto would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

Trump says a wall is needed to curb illegal immigrants and illicit drugs coming across the border. But statistics show illegal immigration via the border is at a 20-year low and that many drug shipments come through legal ports of entry.

Confronted with those statistics by reporters at the Rose Garden event, Trump said they were "wrong."

Also present were a half-dozen women holding poster-sized pictures of family members killed by illegal immigrants. Trump noted their presence in announcing the emergency declaration.

He estimated his emergency declaration could free up as much as $8 billion to pay for part of the wall. Estimates of its total cost run as high as $23 billion.

As a candidate, Trump repeatedly promised Mexico would pay for the wall. It was one of his biggest applause lines at his campaign rallies. Mexico firmly refused to pay, and now Trump wants U.S. taxpayers to cover the costs.

REPUBLICANS CONCERNED

Some congressional Republicans expressed dismay following Trump's announcement.

Greg Walden, a senior House Republican, said on Twitter he was "deeply concerned about the precedent that this action sets."

Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina said in a statement that Trump' declaration was not a solution.

"It wouldn't provide enough funding to adequately secure our borders, it would likely get tied up in litigation, and most concerning is that it would create a new precedent that a left-wing president would undoubtedly utilize to implement their radical policy agenda while bypassing the authority of Congress," Tillis said.

Other Republicans, such as Senator Lindsey Graham, were supportive.

With an emergency formally declared, Trump left Washington to travel to his Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida for a holiday break.

Source: NewsMax Politics

House Panel Announces Probe of Trump's Emergency Declaration

A key committee in the U.S. House of Representatives announced on Friday it was launching an immediate investigation into President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration, saying his move to fund his promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border raised constitutional and statutory issues.

In a letter to Trump, Democrats who control the House Judiciary Committee asked the Republican president to make available for a hearing White House and Justice Department officials involved in the action. They also requested legal documents on the decision that led to the declaration, setting a deadline of next Friday.

"We believe your declaration of an emergency shows a reckless disregard for the separation of powers and your own responsibilities under our constitutional system," said the letter signed by committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and other top Democrats on the panel. (Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Source: NewsMax Politics

House Panel Announces Probe of Trump's Emergency Declaration

A key committee in the U.S. House of Representatives announced on Friday it was launching an immediate investigation into President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration, saying his move to fund his promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border raised constitutional and statutory issues.

In a letter to Trump, Democrats who control the House Judiciary Committee asked the Republican president to make available for a hearing White House and Justice Department officials involved in the action. They also requested legal documents on the decision that led to the declaration, setting a deadline of next Friday.

"We believe your declaration of an emergency shows a reckless disregard for the separation of powers and your own responsibilities under our constitutional system," said the letter signed by committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and other top Democrats on the panel. (Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Source: NewsMax Politics

Army Calls Base Housing Hazards 'Unconscionable,' Plagued by Toxic Mold

Deeply troubled by military housing conditions exposed by Reuters reporting, the U.S. Army’s top leadership vowed Friday to renegotiate its housing contracts with private real estate firms, test tens of thousands of homes for toxins and hold its own commanders responsible for protecting Army base residents from dangerous homes.

In an interview, the Secretary of the Army Mark Esper said Reuters reports and a chorus of concerns from military families had opened his eyes to the need for urgent overhauls of the Army’s privatized housing system, which accommodates more than 86,000 families.

The secretary’s conclusion: Private real estate firms tasked with managing and maintaining the housing stock have been failing the families they serve, and the Army itself neglected its duties.

“You’ve brought to light a big issue that demands our attention,” Esper said Friday morning at the Pentagon. “It is frankly unconscionable that our soldiers and their families would be living in these types of conditions when we ask so much of them day in and day out.”

The Reuters reporting described rampant mold and pest infestations, childhood lead poisoning, and service families often powerless to challenge private landlords in business with their military employers. Many families said they feared retaliation if they spoke out. The news agency described hazards across Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps base housing communities.

The reports have already spurred a raft of reforms and investigations, and on Wednesday, U.S. senators pledged more action to come during Senate Armed Services Committee hearings.

Two days after those hearings, the Army outlined to Reuters its immediate and longer-term plan of reform.

“Our instinct is this is bigger even than what’s been reported, and we want to get to the bottom of it, get to the bottom of it fast,” said General Mark Milley, the Army’s Chief of Staff.

To do so, the Army said it will conduct an extensive survey of its family housing across the country to define the scope of potentially hazardous conditions. Reports in the past, provided by the private industry companies themselves, painted a “false picture,” Milley said.

Army leaders singled out mold infestations as the leading cause of health concerns. On Thursday, the Army ordered its private partner at Maryland’s Fort Meade, Corvias Group, to conduct air quality testing in the nearly 2,800 homes it operates there, and report back within 60 days. The Army expects Corvias to cover the costs, up to $500 per home. The directive came after Army leaders visited Meade, hearing first-hand about pervasive mold and maintenance lapses.

An earlier Reuters report described Meade families suffering from mold-related illnesses, ceilings collapsing in children’s bedrooms, and maintenance neglect leaving families unprotected from hazards.

In addition, the Army said it will begin renegotiating the 50-year housing contracts it has with its seven private housing partners, including Corvias. As Reuters reported, Corvias stands to earn more than $1 billion in fees and other compensation from six of the 13 military bases where it operates. Its fees continued flowing even as maintenance lapses plagued service families.

When unsafe conditions persist, the Army will seek to reduce or withhold fees from its private partners. And, it is examining ways to give service families more avenues to stop rent payments if problems are not quickly addressed, Milley said.

The re-negotiation process could begin as early as next week, when Army Secretary Esper will start holding regular meetings with the CEOs of its private housing partners.

Another problem the Army acknowledged: Military commands across the country, many times relying on the word of private partners, allowed housing hazards to fester. Now, Milley said, Army commanders will be tasked with greater oversight.

The Military Housing Privatization Initiative, the largest-ever corporate takeover of federal housing, began in the late 1990s in an effort to rebuild an aging military housing stock by enlisting private developers and property managers.

“Just because someone said it’s privatized,” Milley said, “doesn’t wash our hands of the responsibility to take care of our soldiers and their families.”

Esper added: “We are acting now. More to follow.”

Source: NewsMax America

Army Calls Base Housing Hazards 'Unconscionable,' Plagued by Toxic Mold

Deeply troubled by military housing conditions exposed by Reuters reporting, the U.S. Army’s top leadership vowed Friday to renegotiate its housing contracts with private real estate firms, test tens of thousands of homes for toxins and hold its own commanders responsible for protecting Army base residents from dangerous homes.

In an interview, the Secretary of the Army Mark Esper said Reuters reports and a chorus of concerns from military families had opened his eyes to the need for urgent overhauls of the Army’s privatized housing system, which accommodates more than 86,000 families.

The secretary’s conclusion: Private real estate firms tasked with managing and maintaining the housing stock have been failing the families they serve, and the Army itself neglected its duties.

“You’ve brought to light a big issue that demands our attention,” Esper said Friday morning at the Pentagon. “It is frankly unconscionable that our soldiers and their families would be living in these types of conditions when we ask so much of them day in and day out.”

The Reuters reporting described rampant mold and pest infestations, childhood lead poisoning, and service families often powerless to challenge private landlords in business with their military employers. Many families said they feared retaliation if they spoke out. The news agency described hazards across Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps base housing communities.

The reports have already spurred a raft of reforms and investigations, and on Wednesday, U.S. senators pledged more action to come during Senate Armed Services Committee hearings.

Two days after those hearings, the Army outlined to Reuters its immediate and longer-term plan of reform.

“Our instinct is this is bigger even than what’s been reported, and we want to get to the bottom of it, get to the bottom of it fast,” said General Mark Milley, the Army’s Chief of Staff.

To do so, the Army said it will conduct an extensive survey of its family housing across the country to define the scope of potentially hazardous conditions. Reports in the past, provided by the private industry companies themselves, painted a “false picture,” Milley said.

Army leaders singled out mold infestations as the leading cause of health concerns. On Thursday, the Army ordered its private partner at Maryland’s Fort Meade, Corvias Group, to conduct air quality testing in the nearly 2,800 homes it operates there, and report back within 60 days. The Army expects Corvias to cover the costs, up to $500 per home. The directive came after Army leaders visited Meade, hearing first-hand about pervasive mold and maintenance lapses.

An earlier Reuters report described Meade families suffering from mold-related illnesses, ceilings collapsing in children’s bedrooms, and maintenance neglect leaving families unprotected from hazards.

In addition, the Army said it will begin renegotiating the 50-year housing contracts it has with its seven private housing partners, including Corvias. As Reuters reported, Corvias stands to earn more than $1 billion in fees and other compensation from six of the 13 military bases where it operates. Its fees continued flowing even as maintenance lapses plagued service families.

When unsafe conditions persist, the Army will seek to reduce or withhold fees from its private partners. And, it is examining ways to give service families more avenues to stop rent payments if problems are not quickly addressed, Milley said.

The re-negotiation process could begin as early as next week, when Army Secretary Esper will start holding regular meetings with the CEOs of its private housing partners.

Another problem the Army acknowledged: Military commands across the country, many times relying on the word of private partners, allowed housing hazards to fester. Now, Milley said, Army commanders will be tasked with greater oversight.

The Military Housing Privatization Initiative, the largest-ever corporate takeover of federal housing, began in the late 1990s in an effort to rebuild an aging military housing stock by enlisting private developers and property managers.

“Just because someone said it’s privatized,” Milley said, “doesn’t wash our hands of the responsibility to take care of our soldiers and their families.”

Esper added: “We are acting now. More to follow.”

Source: NewsMax America

Army Calls Base Housing Hazards 'Unconscionable,' Plagued by Toxic Mold

Deeply troubled by military housing conditions exposed by Reuters reporting, the U.S. Army’s top leadership vowed Friday to renegotiate its housing contracts with private real estate firms, test tens of thousands of homes for toxins and hold its own commanders responsible for protecting Army base residents from dangerous homes.

In an interview, the Secretary of the Army Mark Esper said Reuters reports and a chorus of concerns from military families had opened his eyes to the need for urgent overhauls of the Army’s privatized housing system, which accommodates more than 86,000 families.

The secretary’s conclusion: Private real estate firms tasked with managing and maintaining the housing stock have been failing the families they serve, and the Army itself neglected its duties.

“You’ve brought to light a big issue that demands our attention,” Esper said Friday morning at the Pentagon. “It is frankly unconscionable that our soldiers and their families would be living in these types of conditions when we ask so much of them day in and day out.”

The Reuters reporting described rampant mold and pest infestations, childhood lead poisoning, and service families often powerless to challenge private landlords in business with their military employers. Many families said they feared retaliation if they spoke out. The news agency described hazards across Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps base housing communities.

The reports have already spurred a raft of reforms and investigations, and on Wednesday, U.S. senators pledged more action to come during Senate Armed Services Committee hearings.

Two days after those hearings, the Army outlined to Reuters its immediate and longer-term plan of reform.

“Our instinct is this is bigger even than what’s been reported, and we want to get to the bottom of it, get to the bottom of it fast,” said General Mark Milley, the Army’s Chief of Staff.

To do so, the Army said it will conduct an extensive survey of its family housing across the country to define the scope of potentially hazardous conditions. Reports in the past, provided by the private industry companies themselves, painted a “false picture,” Milley said.

Army leaders singled out mold infestations as the leading cause of health concerns. On Thursday, the Army ordered its private partner at Maryland’s Fort Meade, Corvias Group, to conduct air quality testing in the nearly 2,800 homes it operates there, and report back within 60 days. The Army expects Corvias to cover the costs, up to $500 per home. The directive came after Army leaders visited Meade, hearing first-hand about pervasive mold and maintenance lapses.

An earlier Reuters report described Meade families suffering from mold-related illnesses, ceilings collapsing in children’s bedrooms, and maintenance neglect leaving families unprotected from hazards.

In addition, the Army said it will begin renegotiating the 50-year housing contracts it has with its seven private housing partners, including Corvias. As Reuters reported, Corvias stands to earn more than $1 billion in fees and other compensation from six of the 13 military bases where it operates. Its fees continued flowing even as maintenance lapses plagued service families.

When unsafe conditions persist, the Army will seek to reduce or withhold fees from its private partners. And, it is examining ways to give service families more avenues to stop rent payments if problems are not quickly addressed, Milley said.

The re-negotiation process could begin as early as next week, when Army Secretary Esper will start holding regular meetings with the CEOs of its private housing partners.

Another problem the Army acknowledged: Military commands across the country, many times relying on the word of private partners, allowed housing hazards to fester. Now, Milley said, Army commanders will be tasked with greater oversight.

The Military Housing Privatization Initiative, the largest-ever corporate takeover of federal housing, began in the late 1990s in an effort to rebuild an aging military housing stock by enlisting private developers and property managers.

“Just because someone said it’s privatized,” Milley said, “doesn’t wash our hands of the responsibility to take care of our soldiers and their families.”

Esper added: “We are acting now. More to follow.”

Source: NewsMax America

President Trump declares a National Emergency at the southern border because of “invasion”

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 8:56 AM PT — Friday, February 15, 2019

President Trump said the U.S. is confronting a crisis at home, while declaring a national emergency over the issues at the border.

During a speech at the White House Friday, the president said the U.S. must handle what he described as the national security crisis at our southern border. He said he isn’t taking the action to fulfill a campaign promise, but rather because the country needs it.

The president said there’s an invasion of drugs, gangs and people coming into our country, and by signing the national emergency he is doing his part to try and stop it.

President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

“We’re talking about an invasion of our country, with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs,” explained President Trump.

Democrat leadership responded to the declaration by calling it unlawful. The president indicated it’ll likely get challenged in court, but he said he’s dealt with that before.

Source: OANN Top News

House Democrats attempt to block president’s National Emergency declaration

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 11:20 AM PT — Friday, February 15, 2019

Two Democrat representatives said they are co-sponsoring a bill to stop President Trump’s National Emergency declaration. The proposal by New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Texas congressman Joaqin Castro is an attempt to block the president’s move to secure additional border funding.

On Thursday, Castro called the declaration a “fake emergency,” saying he would be filing a joint-resolution under the National Emergency Act to terminate the declaration.

“There have been very critical comments that have been made by senators, including Republican senators, about the president’s ability and wisdom of declaring a National Emergency for this purpose,” he stated.

U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro. 9Photo/TOM WILLIAMS/AP)

In a recent tweet, Ocasio-Cortez said she and Castro aren’t going to let the president declare an emergency without a fight.

The House would have to vote on the resolution before it headed to the Senate.

When the bill would be introduced is still unknown as Congress has already adjourned, and will be out next week for the President’s Day holiday.

Source: OANN Top News

House Democrats attempt to block president’s National Emergency declaration

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 11:20 AM PT — Friday, February 15, 2019

Two Democrat representatives said they are co-sponsoring a bill to stop President Trump’s National Emergency declaration. The proposal by New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Texas congressman Joaqin Castro is an attempt to block the president’s move to secure additional border funding.

On Thursday, Castro called the declaration a “fake emergency,” saying he would be filing a joint-resolution under the National Emergency Act to terminate the declaration.

“There have been very critical comments that have been made by senators, including Republican senators, about the president’s ability and wisdom of declaring a National Emergency for this purpose,” he stated.

U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro. 9Photo/TOM WILLIAMS/AP)

In a recent tweet, Ocasio-Cortez said she and Castro aren’t going to let the president declare an emergency without a fight.

The House would have to vote on the resolution before it headed to the Senate.

When the bill would be introduced is still unknown as Congress has already adjourned, and will be out next week for the President’s Day holiday.

Source: OANN Top News

President Trump could have first 2020 GOP challenger

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 9:46 AM PT — Friday, February 15, 2019

Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld on Nov. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

President Trump may soon have a 2020 challenger on the GOP side. On Friday, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld announced he is launching an exploratory committee as he eyes a possible White House run.

Weld would be the first Republican candidate to announce a bid against the president as all major polls indicate President Trump would crush any GOP opponent in a hypothetical 2020 primary.

Weld looks to be trying to frame himself as a candidate who moderate Republicans and Independents can get behind, but still maintains the president has skills others will never have.

“He may have great energy and considerable raw talent, but he does not use them in ways that promote democracy, truth, justice and equal opportunity for all,” he stated when referencing President Trump.

Weld decided earlier this month to rejoin the Republican Party after switching to the Libertarian Party in 2016. He served as Massachusetts governor from 1991 to 1997.

Source: OANN Top News

Maduro alleges secret meetings with U.S. special envoy, invites him to Venezuela

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 6:31 AM PT — Friday, February 15, 2019

Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is inviting a U.S. special envoy to the country, following alleged “secret talks” with the U.S.

During an interview Thursday, Maduro claimed US. Special Envoy Elliott Abrams privately met with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in two separate meetings. He went on to allege the U.S. threatened military action and severe sanctions during the talks, however, his claims have not been confirmed.

Maduro said he would gladly meet with Abrams, and even said he hopes to meet with President Trump in the near future to discuss America’s recognition of Juan Guiado as Venezuela’s leader.

“I can tell you that we have had two meetings already with Mr. Elliott Abrams in New York, our Chancellor has met twice with Elliott Abrams — the first meeting lasted two hours, the second three hours, a few days ago,” claimed Maduro. “I invited Elliott Abrams to come to Venezuela in private, in public, in secret or if he wants to meet, let him say when, how, where, and I will be there.”

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

The embattled Venezuelan president continued by reaffirming he would not step down from power despite increasing pressure from across the globe.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Juan Guaido has said humanitarian aid will enter the country despite Maduro’s efforts to block it. At a rally this week, Guaido”said he will organize relief so supplies can be brought into the country next week.

Truck loads full of food and medicine arrived last week, but Maduro has continued to resist foreign efforts to help the country’s people who are suffering from rising hunger. More than two million people have fled Venezuela over the past two years due to soaring hyperinflation and severe food and medical shortages.

“Because the humanitarian crisis, the humanitarian aid…it’s not a box, it’s not a blister. It is a mother in Anzoategui who lost her baby boy to dehydration. It is a grandfather who can’t get his medicine. It is a mother who doesn’t have anything to give her son for lunch, and we say enough already, enough already.”

— Juan Guaido, self-proclaimed interim President – Venezuela

Venezuelans living in Colombia protest the government of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, and its blocking the entry of humanitarian aid in Cucuta, Colombia, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, on the border with Venezuela. The sign reads in Spanish “Urgent. The entry of humanitarian help is needed now. There are Venezuelans at risk of dying.” (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

Source: OANN Top News

North and South Korea to launch joint bid to host 2032 Summer Olympics

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 8:06 AM PT — Friday, February 15, 2019

Delegates from both North Korea and South Korea have arrived in Switzerland ahead of talks for a potential bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympics. The two Koreas are expected to discuss their plans to co-host the games in both Seoul and Pyongyang.

The mayor of Seoul claimed the event would be the “last stop to establish peace” between both countries, but any athletic feats may be overshadowed by the political achievements needed to make the games happen.

In order to make Olympic history, experts are saying the bid would need to overcome international sanctions against North Korea as well as decades of mistrust between Seoul and Pyongyang. The two countries are still at war over wide political and economic differences.

North Korea’s Olympic Committee President and sports minister Kim Il Guk, left, talks to South Korean Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan, right, at the meeting with the IOC for their bid to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics, at the IOC Headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, Friday, February 15, 2019. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

“Since we’re a single team, you can’t go it alone. — North and South have to be in it together,” said Lee Kee-Hong, president of the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee. “For example, there are events where the South has a team, but the North doesn’t have athletes, so in those situations, we would have further discussions and the IOC said they would be open about it.”

If the bid is granted, the event would mark the first time the Olympics takes place in two locations.

“If we can figure out which events we can have good synergy in, then I think the results will be better than Pyeongchang,” stated Ryu Seung-Min, member of the International Olympic Committee.

The meeting in Switzerland on Friday comes ahead of a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump in Vietnam, which could set an example of how Pyongyang will work alongside world leaders in the future.

Source: OANN Top News

North and South Korea to launch joint bid to host 2032 Summer Olympics

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 8:06 AM PT — Friday, February 15, 2019

Delegates from both North Korea and South Korea have arrived in Switzerland ahead of talks for a potential bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympics. The two Koreas are expected to discuss their plans to co-host the games in both Seoul and Pyongyang.

The mayor of Seoul claimed the event would be the “last stop to establish peace” between both countries, but any athletic feats may be overshadowed by the political achievements needed to make the games happen.

In order to make Olympic history, experts are saying the bid would need to overcome international sanctions against North Korea as well as decades of mistrust between Seoul and Pyongyang. The two countries are still at war over wide political and economic differences.

North Korea’s Olympic Committee President and sports minister Kim Il Guk, left, talks to South Korean Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan, right, at the meeting with the IOC for their bid to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics, at the IOC Headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, Friday, February 15, 2019. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

“Since we’re a single team, you can’t go it alone. — North and South have to be in it together,” said Lee Kee-Hong, president of the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee. “For example, there are events where the South has a team, but the North doesn’t have athletes, so in those situations, we would have further discussions and the IOC said they would be open about it.”

If the bid is granted, the event would mark the first time the Olympics takes place in two locations.

“If we can figure out which events we can have good synergy in, then I think the results will be better than Pyeongchang,” stated Ryu Seung-Min, member of the International Olympic Committee.

The meeting in Switzerland on Friday comes ahead of a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump in Vietnam, which could set an example of how Pyongyang will work alongside world leaders in the future.

Source: OANN Top News

Trump Org Scraps Plans for 2 Hotel Chains, Blaming Politics

President Donald Trump's company is scrapping plans for two new hotel chains announced two years ago, casting blame in part on a hostile political environment.

The Trump Organization said Thursday that it will no longer try to open hotels under its Scion and American Idea brands catering to budget and mid-priced travelers, a departure from its focus on luxury hotels. The announcement comes as the company has posted losses at a few of its golf properties and brand experts say it has lost some of its appeal.

"We live in a climate where everything will be used against us, whether by the fake news or by Democrats who are only interested in presidential harassment and wasting everyone's time, barraging us with nonsense letters," the president's son, Eric Trump, said in an emailed statement. "We already have the greatest properties in the world and if we have to slow down our growth for the time being, we are happy to do it."

The rollout began with promises of fast success. The company said in March 2017 that nearly two dozen developers had already signed letters of intent to open mid-priced Scion hotels, and was enthusiastic about the future prospects.

"It's full steam ahead," said Eric Danziger, who oversees the hotel business for the family. "It's in our DNA."

But the avalanche of deals never materialized, as was the case for its budget-priced American Idea, which was launched a few months later at a party at the Trump Tower in New York.

The only developer willing to strike a deal was Chawla Hotels of Mississippi. It planned to open as many as four hotels in the state — but now that is off, too.

"In today's politically charged environment," hotel consultant Lee Hunter told The Associated Press recently, "everyone is cautious."

The company is also struggling with some self-imposed restraints on expanding its business.

When Trump became president, he handed day-to-day control of the company to Eric and his other adult son, Donald Jr. He also agreed his company would not pursue new deals abroad and that domestic deals would be vetted by a lawyer hired to make sure they posed no conflicts with Trump's presidency.

"We walked away from billions of dollars' worth of deals and ceased virtually all expansion," said Eric Trump in his statement. "We continue to make tremendous sacrifices and understand the bigger picture more than anyone — our father has the most important and powerful job in the world."

The Trump Organization did not dismiss the possibility that it could revive the new brands someday, perhaps when Trump leaves the presidency.

The end of the rollout follows bad news for the company in other areas.

Charities have canceled events at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, his Scottish clubs lose millions of dollars each year and several buildings have stripped the Trump names off their facades.

The Trump Organization owns or has licensed its name to 17 golf clubs and more than two dozen hotels and residential buildings around the world.

The Trump Organization has also drawn scrutiny in federal probes into Russian interference in the 2016 election and Michael Cohen's campaign finance violations. More recently, it is facing blowback from Democrats in Congress for firing long-time workers at several of its U.S. golf clubs for being in the country illegally, raising doubts about its hiring practices amid the president's vow to crack down on such workers and build a wall to keep more from coming in.

The company has said it had no choice but to fire workers once it discovered they were in the country illegally.

Source: NewsMax America

Trump Org Scraps Plans for 2 Hotel Chains, Blaming Politics

President Donald Trump's company is scrapping plans for two new hotel chains announced two years ago, casting blame in part on a hostile political environment.

The Trump Organization said Thursday that it will no longer try to open hotels under its Scion and American Idea brands catering to budget and mid-priced travelers, a departure from its focus on luxury hotels. The announcement comes as the company has posted losses at a few of its golf properties and brand experts say it has lost some of its appeal.

"We live in a climate where everything will be used against us, whether by the fake news or by Democrats who are only interested in presidential harassment and wasting everyone's time, barraging us with nonsense letters," the president's son, Eric Trump, said in an emailed statement. "We already have the greatest properties in the world and if we have to slow down our growth for the time being, we are happy to do it."

The rollout began with promises of fast success. The company said in March 2017 that nearly two dozen developers had already signed letters of intent to open mid-priced Scion hotels, and was enthusiastic about the future prospects.

"It's full steam ahead," said Eric Danziger, who oversees the hotel business for the family. "It's in our DNA."

But the avalanche of deals never materialized, as was the case for its budget-priced American Idea, which was launched a few months later at a party at the Trump Tower in New York.

The only developer willing to strike a deal was Chawla Hotels of Mississippi. It planned to open as many as four hotels in the state — but now that is off, too.

"In today's politically charged environment," hotel consultant Lee Hunter told The Associated Press recently, "everyone is cautious."

The company is also struggling with some self-imposed restraints on expanding its business.

When Trump became president, he handed day-to-day control of the company to Eric and his other adult son, Donald Jr. He also agreed his company would not pursue new deals abroad and that domestic deals would be vetted by a lawyer hired to make sure they posed no conflicts with Trump's presidency.

"We walked away from billions of dollars' worth of deals and ceased virtually all expansion," said Eric Trump in his statement. "We continue to make tremendous sacrifices and understand the bigger picture more than anyone — our father has the most important and powerful job in the world."

The Trump Organization did not dismiss the possibility that it could revive the new brands someday, perhaps when Trump leaves the presidency.

The end of the rollout follows bad news for the company in other areas.

Charities have canceled events at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, his Scottish clubs lose millions of dollars each year and several buildings have stripped the Trump names off their facades.

The Trump Organization owns or has licensed its name to 17 golf clubs and more than two dozen hotels and residential buildings around the world.

The Trump Organization has also drawn scrutiny in federal probes into Russian interference in the 2016 election and Michael Cohen's campaign finance violations. More recently, it is facing blowback from Democrats in Congress for firing long-time workers at several of its U.S. golf clubs for being in the country illegally, raising doubts about its hiring practices amid the president's vow to crack down on such workers and build a wall to keep more from coming in.

The company has said it had no choice but to fire workers once it discovered they were in the country illegally.

Source: NewsMax America

Reports: Police Probe Whether Jussie Smollett Made up 'MAGA' Attack

Actor Jussie Smollett is suspected of having made up the entire story about being attacked by two men who yelled "this is MAGA country," according to multiple reports.

ABC Chicago reported that Chicago police are now investigating whether Smollett lied about the attack — and whether he had help from two people.

Sources told the news station that police picked up two persons of interest at O'Hare International Airport Wednesday night and questioned them.

According to CBS Chicago, the men are of Nigerian descent and have appeared on the "Empire" show with Smollett as extras. Police served a search warrant at a home they are staying at and took bleach, shoes, electronic devices, receipts, and other items.

Smollett is reported to have skipped a follow-up interview with police on Thursday. ABC reported that Smollett's motivation for potentially making up the story was that he is being written off "Empire."

Police would not confirm the reports.

The 36-year-old Smollett is openly gay and told police he was attacked by two men on Jan. 29 in Chicago. He said the attackers yelled "this is MAGA country," a reference to President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan, and hurled racial and homophobic slurs as they beat him up and placed a noose around his neck.

Holes have appeared in Smollett's story, however, which has raised the possibility that he made it up.

According to CBS Chicago, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said in a statement: "The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of EMPIRE is patently ridiculous. He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him."

Source: NewsMax America

Trump Gains Weight, Now Considered Obese

President Donald Trump has put on some pounds and is now officially considered obese.

The White House on Thursday released results of his most recent physical, revealing that his Body Mass Index is now 30.4. That's based on the fact that he's now carrying 243 pounds on his 6-foot, 3-inch frame. People with an index rating above 30 are considered obese.

Dr. Sean Conley, the president's physician, said the 72-year-old president "remains in very good health overall."

He gained four pounds from last year. His resting heart rate is 70 beats a minute and his blood pressure reading was 118 over 80, well within the normal range.

Conley said routine lab tests were performed and Trump's liver, kidney and thyroid functions are all normal as were his electrolytes and blood counts. An electrocardiogram, a test that measures electrical activity generated by the heart as it beats, remained unchanged from last year.

Trump went to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last week for his second periodic physical, which lasted about four hours. During his exam, he received a flu shot and an inoculation to help prevent shingles, a viral infection that causes a painful rash.

"I performed and supervised the evaluation with a panel of 11 different board-certified specialists," Conley wrote in a memorandum to the White House. "He did not undergo any procedures requiring sedation or anesthesia."

Source: NewsMax America

Blue 'Mexican Oxy' Pills Devastating US Southwest

Aaron Francisco Chavez swallowed at least one of the sky blue pills at a Halloween party before falling asleep forever. He became yet another victim killed by a flood of illicit fentanyl smuggled from Mexico into the Southwest — a profitable new business for drug gangs that has pushed the synthetic opioid to the top spot for fatal U.S. overdoses.

Three others at the party in Tucson also took the pills nicknamed "Mexican oxy" and police flagged down by partygoers saved them by administering naloxone overdose reversal medication. But the treatment came too late for Chavez, who died at age 19.

The four thought they were taking oxycodone, a much less powerful opioid, investigators believe. The death of Chavez and many others, officials said, illustrate how Arizona and other southwestern states bordering Mexico have become a hot spot in the nation's fentanyl crisis. Fentanyl deaths tripled in Arizona alone from 2015 through 2017.

"It's the worst I've seen in 30 years, this toll that it's taken on families," said Doug Coleman, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge of Arizona. "The crack (cocaine) crisis was not as bad."

With plenty of pills and powder sold locally out of the arriving fentanyl shipments that are also distributed around the U.S., the drug that has surpassed heroin for overdose deaths has touched all Arizona demographic groups. Chavez' family says he was working at a restaurant as a prep cook with dreams of becoming a chef and trying to turn his life around after serving prison time for a robbery conviction.

Also killed in the state over the last year by the pills that go for $9 to $30 each were a 17-year-old star high school baseball pitcher from a Phoenix suburb and a pair of 19-year-old best friends and prominent former high school athletes from the mountain town of Prescott Valley. The parents of one, Gunner Bundrick, said their son's death left "a hole in our hearts."

Popping the pills at parties "is a lot more widespread than we know," said Yavapai County Sheriff's Lt. Nate Auvenshine. "There's less stigma to taking a pill than putting a needle in your arm, but one of these pills can have enough fentanyl for three people."

Stamped with "M''on one side and "30" on the other to make them look like legitimate oxycodone, the pills started showing up in Arizona in recent years as the Sinaloa cartel's newest drug product, said Tucson Police Lt. Christian Wildblood.

The fentanyl that killed Chavez was among 1,000 pills sneaked across the border crossing last year in Nogales, Arizona by a woman who was paid $200 to tote them and gave two to Chavez at the party, according to court documents. It's unknown if he took one or both.

At the same crossing last month, U.S. officials announced their biggest fentanyl bust ever — nearly 254 pounds (115 kilograms) found in a truckload of cucumbers, enough to potentially kill millions. Valued at $3.5 million, most was in powder form and over 2 pounds (1 kilogram) was made up of pills.

The tablets in most cases are manufactured in primitive conditions with pill presses purchased online and the amount of fentanyl in each pill can vary widely, Wildblood said.

"There is no quality control," he said.

While Chinese shipments were long blamed for illegal fentanyl entering the U.S., Mexico's Army in November 2017 discovered a rustic fentanyl lab in a remote part of Sinaloa state and seized precursors, finished fentanyl and production equipment — suggesting some of it is now being synthesized across the U.S. border.

Most fentanyl smuggled from Mexico is about 10 percent pure and enters hidden in vehicles at official border crossings around Nogales and San Diego, Customs and Border Protection data show. A decreasing number of smaller shipments with purity of up to 90 percent still enter the U.S. in packages sent from China.

Although 85 percent of the fentanyl from Mexico is seized at San Diego area border crossings, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment said seizures have surged at Arizona's border and elsewhere around the state.

DEA statistics show Arizona fentanyl seizures rose to 445 pounds (202 kilograms), including 379,557 pills, in the fiscal year ending in October 2018, up from 172 pounds (78 kilograms), including 54,984 pills, during the previous 12-month period.

The Sinaloa cartel's ability to ramp up its own production of fentanyl and label it oxycodone shows the group's business acumen and why it remains among the world's top criminal organizations, despite the conviction in New York this week of cartel kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, Coleman said.

"If they see a market for their stuff, they'll make it and bring it up," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fentanyl is now the drug involved in the most fatal overdoses in the U.S., with fatalities from synthetic opioids including fentanyl jumping more than 45 percent from 2016 to 2017, when they accounted for some 28,000 of about 70,000 overdose deaths of all kinds.

Fentanyl was also involved more than any other drug in the majority of overdose deaths in 2016, the year the pop artist Prince died after taking fake Vicodin laced with fentanyl. Heroin was responsible for the most drug overdose deaths each of the four years before that.

CDC figures for Arizona show the statewide deaths involving synthetic opioids excluding methadone, largely from fentanyl, rose from 72 in 2015 to 123 in 2016 and then skyrocketed to 267 in 2017.

In the first federal conviction of its kind in Arizona that linked a death to distribution of any drug, a woman from a Phoenix suburb last year got 12 years in prison for selling fentanyl tablets that killed a 38-year-old Arizona man.

And in Tucson, Chavez' relatives wonder why the woman accused of smuggling the pills across the border allegedly decided to hand them out at the party, saying they were Percocet, which contains oxycodone and acetaminophen, and "something else," according to court documents.

The woman, Jocelyn Sanchez, denied describing them that way and was charged with transporting and transferring narcotics. Her lawyer, Joel Chorny, declined to discuss the case.

Nicknamed "Sonny Boy, Chavez was the third of 10 children born to Leslie Chavez, who was brought to the U.S. as an infant and deported back to Mexico last year, two months before he died. In a phone interview, she said Mexican officials arranged to have her son's body brought across the border so she could say goodbye.

She said she had "heard about how these pills were killing people" but never thought it would happen to one of her children.

Chavez had a 2-year-old daughter and despite his robbery conviction "was trying to get his life together, he was trying to be good" for the toddler, said his sister, Seanna Leilani Chavez.

The dealers, she said, are only interested in profits.

"They will sell you poison, take your money, and not think twice about how they could possibly be killing someone's son, father, brother or grandson," she said.

Source: NewsMax America

House Panel Backs Expanded Gun Background Checks

A key House committee has approved a bill to require background checks for all sales and transfers of firearms, a first step by majority Democrats to tighten gun laws after eight years of Republican rule.

The House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the bill 23-15 Wednesday, sending it to the House floor. If approved by the full House, the bill would be the most significant gun-control legislation approved by either chamber of Congress in at least a decade.

Democrats have pledged additional gun legislation, including restrictions on high-capacity magazines and a measure to allow temporary removal of guns from people deemed an imminent risk to themselves or others.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., called the background checks bill long overdue to address a "national crisis of gun violence" that claimed nearly 40,000 lives in 2017.

"Our country is awash in guns, and we have the shameful death toll to show for it," he said.

The vote on the bill came after a contentious, daylong hearing in which Republicans offered a series of amendments, all of which were blocked by Democrats. Republicans said they were ready to offer additional amendments when Nadler shut off debate around 8 p.m., 10 hours after the hearing began.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the panel's senior Republican, called Nadler's action "disturbing" and said it did not bode well for the two-year congressional session.

"If this is the way the chairman wants to begin this session of Congress, I really wonder where we go from here" and whether the two parties can work together, Collins said.

But Democrats said Republicans were delaying a vote on the bill because they oppose universal background checks for gun purchases.

"This isn't a debate, it's a show," said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla. She called universal background checks for all gun sales common sense and said, "Let's move forward."

As if to demonstrate her point, freshman Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., displayed a large cup that read, "The Second Amendment is my gun permit." Steube was among several Republicans who tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill.

Fellow freshman Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., said lawmakers "know background checks work, that they save lives, and yet we need to close loopholes" that allow some private purchases and transfers to be made without background checks.

Instead of working with Democrats, "Republicans are adding more loopholes, which is shameful," Dean said.

Republicans pushed to allow exceptions for victims of domestic violence and transfers among family members, but were dismissed by Democrats.

Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., a freshman whose son was killed by gun violence, said she has been working on gun legislation since his death more than six years ago.

"As a survivor of gun violence myself, I refuse to let my colleagues stand here and devalue the importance that this bill has," she said.

Wednesday's vote came a day before the one-year anniversary of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said that while the bill "can't bring back" any of those killed in Parkland or other shootings, it will help reduce gun violence. "If this legislation prevents one person wishing to do harm to others with a gun from doing that, it will be something we can be proud of," he said.

Source: NewsMax America

House Panel Backs Expanded Gun Background Checks

A key House committee has approved a bill to require background checks for all sales and transfers of firearms, a first step by majority Democrats to tighten gun laws after eight years of Republican rule.

The House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the bill 23-15 Wednesday, sending it to the House floor. If approved by the full House, the bill would be the most significant gun-control legislation approved by either chamber of Congress in at least a decade.

Democrats have pledged additional gun legislation, including restrictions on high-capacity magazines and a measure to allow temporary removal of guns from people deemed an imminent risk to themselves or others.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., called the background checks bill long overdue to address a "national crisis of gun violence" that claimed nearly 40,000 lives in 2017.

"Our country is awash in guns, and we have the shameful death toll to show for it," he said.

The vote on the bill came after a contentious, daylong hearing in which Republicans offered a series of amendments, all of which were blocked by Democrats. Republicans said they were ready to offer additional amendments when Nadler shut off debate around 8 p.m., 10 hours after the hearing began.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the panel's senior Republican, called Nadler's action "disturbing" and said it did not bode well for the two-year congressional session.

"If this is the way the chairman wants to begin this session of Congress, I really wonder where we go from here" and whether the two parties can work together, Collins said.

But Democrats said Republicans were delaying a vote on the bill because they oppose universal background checks for gun purchases.

"This isn't a debate, it's a show," said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla. She called universal background checks for all gun sales common sense and said, "Let's move forward."

As if to demonstrate her point, freshman Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., displayed a large cup that read, "The Second Amendment is my gun permit." Steube was among several Republicans who tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill.

Fellow freshman Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., said lawmakers "know background checks work, that they save lives, and yet we need to close loopholes" that allow some private purchases and transfers to be made without background checks.

Instead of working with Democrats, "Republicans are adding more loopholes, which is shameful," Dean said.

Republicans pushed to allow exceptions for victims of domestic violence and transfers among family members, but were dismissed by Democrats.

Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., a freshman whose son was killed by gun violence, said she has been working on gun legislation since his death more than six years ago.

"As a survivor of gun violence myself, I refuse to let my colleagues stand here and devalue the importance that this bill has," she said.

Wednesday's vote came a day before the one-year anniversary of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said that while the bill "can't bring back" any of those killed in Parkland or other shootings, it will help reduce gun violence. "If this legislation prevents one person wishing to do harm to others with a gun from doing that, it will be something we can be proud of," he said.

Source: NewsMax America

Trump Tells California to Return $3.5B for High-Speed Rail Line

President Donald Trump wants the $3.5 billion back from California for the high-speed rail line project that would have connected major cities in the north and south of the state following California Gov. Gavin Newsom's announcement he was scaling back the plan, Politico reports.

Trump on Wednesday tweeted that California officials "owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now."

California started construction on the line in 2015, a project backed by $10 billion from the state and $2.5 billion from the federal government. It was most recently projected to cost $77 billion.

Newsom did not officially cancel the project but said it would "cost too much and take too long" as currently planned.

"There simply isn't a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A.," Mr. Newsom said. "I wish there were."

California could be forced to give the money back to the federal government if it misses Central Valley construction by a December 2022 deadline, according to Politico.

Source: NewsMax America

THE WAR IN AMERICA!!! Many of you are starting to recognize there is a “war” going on in our United States. We are in times never seen before in history. Our Democracy is being challenged and civil liberties are being taken from us! What used to be the Democratic party “No Longer” represents America… Facts […]

MATRIX 101!!!! LUCIFER ENTERPRISES <——- Ok guys… Yesterday, driving to work I saw an interesting business sign… Caught my interest, due to its name… “Lucifer Enterprises” WHAT??? I found it really an inquisitive name so I googled it…. I have said in other posts I have found it interesting how “Scripture” has much more meaning […]


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