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Braxie Helps to Promote ‘Monstrous’ Tourism in Flatwoods Area

Folklore and scary stories are often passed down through generations, but one West Virginia county is creatively using those tales to promote tourism.

The Flatwoods Monster, commonly referred to as “Braxie,” has been a popular Braxton County tale since Sept. 12, 1952, when there was a supposed alien sighting in the hills of Flatwoods.

“What makes it particularly interesting is it was a group of a lot of boys, from the ages of like 10 to 17 or so, and two of the boys’ mothers,” said Andrew Smith, executive director of Braxton County Convention Visitors Bureau. “It was a kind of reputable group and an interesting group, which I think was one of things that kind of helped propel it into notoriety nationally at the time.”

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With the national attention that the excitement quickly gained, Braxton County continues to use that fame as a method of tourism to the area.

Smith said the story of Braxie is what makes Braxton County so unique.

“We have it and nobody else does,” he said. “Just like Point Pleasant has with Mothman for the last 20 years or so, we’re more or less doing the same thing. If you want potential travelers to take note of your area as a possible destination, the first thing you’ve got to get them to do is stop and look and listen.”

Braxie has even gained some international attention, with frequent spottings in popular video games.

“I’m not sure why but it seems like Japanese video game designers particularly really grabbed ahold of our monster,” Smith said. “It’s been used for ‘bosses’ for games, which is the person you have to beat at the end of the game, for four of five different games and spanning a couple decades.”

The most famous video game appearance of Braxie’s has been in Zelda.

Of course, Braxie isn’t the only attraction in Braxton County, but simply a way to draw people in to all that the county has to offer.

“Of course we’re home to two great lakes — not Great Lakes with a capital ‘G’ but fantastic lakes — the Burnsville Lake and the Sutton Lake,” Smith said. “We have the Elk River Water Trail that starts at the Sutton Dam and goes all the way down to Charleston.”

Coupled with its central proximity and Interstate 79 running through the middle of the county, towns such as Sutton and Flatwoods are a great meeting spot for many state organizations. Several hotels and conference centers have popped up in the area as a result.

Those destinations will continue to be attractions for years to come, and area businesses gladly welcome those looking to explore Braxie’s story.

“I think they’re seeing the positivity that’s coming from it, and maybe what could have been thought as negativity that could’ve come from it just doesn’t come,” Smith said.

~~  Brittany Murray ~~

West Virginia News

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►  State OKs cap for special ed students in general ed classes

The West Virginia Board of Education has passed policy changes capping the percentage of students who receive specially designed instruction for disabilities that schools can place in general education classrooms.

Under the new Policy 2419, “special education students requiring specially designed instruction” won’t be able to make up more than half of a co-taught classroom, in which a general and special education teacher share duties.

In an integrated classroom, which doesn’t have a special education teacher, special education students requiring accommodations won’t be able to make up more than 30 percent.

The new policy doesn’t apply to classrooms not in English, math, science or social studies.

Those wanting more information can visit the state Department of Education’s Office of Special Programs at http://wvde.state.wv.us/osp .


►  WV AG’s Disability Fraud Unit Approaches $6M in Total Savings

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s disability fraud partnership reached a new milestone in the most recent quarter – achieving nearly $6 million in total savings during its first 18 months of operation.

The partnership generated nearly $1.29 million in projected savings for state and federal governments during the second quarter of 2017. That pushed the unit’s total savings to $5.8 million since its inception in West Virginia.

“This unit’s continued progress in rooting out fraud, waste and abuse is remarkable,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “Together, our partnership is reaching new heights in identifying those who seek to jeopardize this crucial safety net and take from those in legitimate need of disability benefits.”

The Cooperative Disability Investigations Unit, a partnership with the Social Security Administration, investigates suspicious or questionable disability claims. It investigates beneficiaries, claimants and any third party who facilitates fraud.

The unit’s findings help disability examiners make informed decisions and ensure payment accuracy, while also equipping state and federal prosecutors with the facts needed to secure a conviction. This, in turn, generates significant savings for taxpayers.

CDI Units help resolve questions of potential fraud, in many instances, before benefits are ever paid. The Attorney General’s Office joined the program in December 2015, making it a first-of-its-kind unit for the Mountain State.

The West Virginia unit joins two investigators and an analyst from the Attorney General’s Office with representatives from SSA, its Office of the Inspector General and the state’s Disability Determination Section.

Nationally, the CDI program is one of the most successful anti-fraud initiatives with regard to federal disability programs. It operates 39 units covering 33 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The Attorney General has also asked the Legislature to transfer West Virginia’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit from the state Department of Health and Human Resources to his office. In fact, 43 of 50 units nationwide are housed within the state attorney general’s office.

Such a move would fix deficiencies in West Virginia’s existing unit and yield greater efficiency and effectiveness to the benefit of the taxpayer.

►  The Secretary of State’s Office Offers Resources for Voters with Disabilities

Secretary of State Mac Warner is pleased to announce that July 17th through July 21st is the second annual National Disability Voter Registration Week.

National Disability Voter Registration Week started in 2016 as a way to increase civic engagement among the disability community. Secretary Warner encourages West Virginia’s disability community to register to vote, and to exercise that vote at the ballot box.

“One way to make politicians take notice is by using your right to vote to send them a message,” Warner said. “The disability community’s voice deserves to be heard at election time, and it’s the duty of the Secretary of State’s Office to make sure it’s easy to register and vote.”

The Secretary of State’s Office and West Virginia’s 55 county clerks can help any member of the disability community get registered to vote. You can also easily register to vote at ovr.sos.wv.gov/register.

The Office also offers resources to voters with disabilities who chose to exercise their vote at the ballot box, including offering at least one ADA-approved voting machine at all polling places. You can read more about our resources on our website. Voters needing immediate assistance can also call 866.SOS.VOTE (866.767.8683) or 304.558.6000.


►  Manchin, Capito announce almost $10M in Head Start funding

West Virginia’s two U.S. senators say almost $10 million is being awarded to Head Start programs in the state.

U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito announced the funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources on Friday.

The individual grants are $5.4 million to Northern Panhandle Head Start Inc. and $4.5 million to Regional Education Service Agency 8.

Capito said in a news release from Manchin’s office that such programs have been important in setting young people on successful paths.

Manchin said in the release that the funding will help provide access to education, health and social services necessary for families and children to thrive.


►  Capito Says She Opposes Health Care Repeal Without Replacement

West Virginia’s Republican U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito said Tuesday, July 18, that she won’t vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement that meets the needs of the people in her state.

Capito said all the draft Senate Republican substitutes so far failed to adequately address her concerns about continuing to provide affordable care under the Medicaid expansion and she “cannot vote to repeal Obamacare without a replacement that addresses my concerns.”

Capito’s full statement on the matter is as follows: “As I have said before, I did not come to Washington to hurt people. For months, I have expressed reservations about the direction of the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. I have serious concerns about how we continue to provide affordable care to those who have benefited from West Virginia’s decision to expand Medicaid, especially in light of the growing opioid crisis. All of the Senate health care discussion drafts have failed to address these concerns adequately.
“My position on this issue is driven by its impact on West Virginians. With that in mind, I cannot vote to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan that addresses my concerns and the needs of West Virginians.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, acknowledging earlier Tuesday he lacks support for his latest proposed substitute, says the Senate instead would vote on dismantling in two years much of statute enacted under President Obama, giving Congress time to approve replacement legislation.

About 525,000 of West Virginians are enrolled in Medicaid. About 175,000 joined under the expansion.


►  CWA, Frontier extend contract as negotiations on new deal continue

Just like they did four years ago, Frontier Communications and the Communication Workers of America have agreed to extend their contract while negotiations continue.

The Communication Workers (CWA) announced Tuesday its bargaining team has been working to negotiate a fair agreement and the two sides have agreed to extend the current contract set to expire August 05 to November 04.

The contract impacts approximately 1,600 workers in West Virginia and Ashburn, Va.

The talks on a new contract began in May.

The contract extension option has been used before. CWA members ratified a four-year contract in August 2014. The negotiations had started more than a year earlier. Once ratified, the deal was retroactive to August 2013.

Health care benefits were believed to be the sticking point in the last negotiations although neither the union nor the company released specifics about the deal.

Did You Know?

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WHO TRUMP HELD AN UNDICSCLOSED MEETING WITH

Donald Trump had another, previously undisclosed conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Germany this month.


RUSSIAN DEVELOPER’S STAFFER ALSO AT TRUMP TOWER MEETING

Revelations that a Russian developer’s representative was the eighth attendee at a Trump Tower campaign meeting arranged by Trump’s eldest son brought word that the special counsel investigating possible Trump campaign ties to Russia wants more information about the sit-down.


TRUMP NAMES NEW RUSSIA AMBASSADOR

Donald Trump announced he intends to nominate former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman to be U.S. ambassador to Russia, a high-profile post amid ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.


WHAT TRUMP SAYS NOW THAT OBAMACARE REPEAL COLLAPSED

Trump declares it’s time to “let Obamacare fail” after the latest GOP health care plan crashed and burned in the Senate, a stunning failure for Trump and Republicans.


HOW SENATORS USED TWITTER TO TORPEDO GOP BILL

Senators Mike Lee and Jerry Moran decided chose Donald Trump’s favorite medium to announce they were sinking the legislation, and gave no heads up to the White House or Senate leaders before pressing send.


TRUMP ADMINISTRATION RESTORING ASSET SEIZURES WITH SAFEGUARDS

The U.S. Justice Department will soon restore the ability of police to seize suspects’ money and property with federal help, but The Associated Press has learned the policy will come with a series of new provisions aimed at preventing the types of abuse that led the Obama Justice Department to severely curtail the practice.


OFFICIALS SAY AUSTRALIAN WOMAN SHOT AFTER COPS HEARD LOUD SOUND

The woman who called 911 to report a possible assault was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer after the officers heard a loud sound near their squad car, according to information released by Minnesota investigators.


TURKISH COURT JAILS SIX HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS

Amnesty International’s Turkey director and five other human rights activists were jailed pending trial for allegedly aiding an armed terror group - making them the latest suspects in a massive government crackdown initially launched against alleged supporters of last year’s failed coup but has since broadened to include government opponents.


POWERFUL OPIOID SUSPECTED IN MIAMI BOY’S DEATH

A 10-year-old boy from a drug-ridden Miami neighborhood apparently died of a fentanyl overdose last month, becoming one of Florida’s littlest victims of the opioid crisis, authorities say. How he came into contact with the powerful painkiller is a mystery.


WHAT THE ARCTIC NOW LOOKS LIKE

An AP team reporting team is sailing through the Arctic Circle’s Northwest Passage on an icebreaker to document the changes global warming has wrought in one of the world’s most fragile enviornments.


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The annex will be open this Wednesday, July 19th, 11 to 3 and the Knitwits and Needlers craft group will meet; on Thursday, July 20th at noon, covered dish lunch and meeting….AND

this Saturday, July 22nd, 2 to 4 PM - BEACH BLAST TEA PARTY - come sip iced Steeped Tea, look at Tupperware, get your fortune told, or just have fun with us!! $2 admission if you want to win a door prize!!

This summer, the annex is open every Wednesday 11 to 3 and for special events…we’ll post a fall schedule soon!!

Next, in August - we will entertain the Calhoun County Historical Society at our August meeting which will be at 6 PM on Thursday, August 17th (no noon meeting that day…just dinner and entertainment!).

 

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Gilmer County High School will hold new student enrollment/registration on Thursday, August 03; Friday, August 04 and Monday, August 07 from 9 a.m-3 p.m.

Parents/guardians need to bring the child’s immunization records, proof of residency in Gilmer County, photo identification of the parent/guardian enrolling the student, and any court documents relating to the student (if applicable). 

Please call 304.462.7960 beginning Monday, July 24 or email to make an appoint with a counselor.

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Netflix crushed its growth targets, adding more than 5 million new subscribers for its second quarter

Revenue and earnings per share were in line with analyst guidance, and the results sent the firm’s stock up 8%.


Investor and startup platform AngelList has suspended an employee, Lee Jacobs, as it investigates allegations of assault

According to TechCrunch, Jacob allegedly assaulted a woman at an event in 2013.


A security flaw in MySpace meant that someone could hack into an account knowing just the user’s real name, user name, and birth-date

It isn’t clear if any MySpace accounts were affected by the vulnerability.


Google’s troubled high-speed broadband business, Google Fiber, is losing its new chief executive just five months after he joined

Gregory McCray was hired to head up Access, the Google division which includes Fiber, and it’s not clear why he’s left.


Uber’s global retreat continues after it pulled out of China-controlled Macau

The company said it couldn’t “secure” the right business environment, and leaves after less than two years in the market.


Amazon registered a trademark application for “prepared food kits”, suggesting the firm’s about to take on the likes of Blue Apron in meal kits

Blue Apron’s stock sank 11% on the news.


Internet archivists are trying to download the bulk of files stored on SoundCloud in case the streaming service shuts down after job losses

One Redditor claimed he had downloaded 900TB of SoundCloud files.


Hackers reportedly stole $8 million in the cryptocurrency Ethereum during a disastrous initial coin offering

Coindash had to warn investors their funds had been stolen minutes after it began raising.


Hand-tracking firm Leap Motion has raised $50 million in Series C funding to expand its human-computer interaction technology

The firm will expand into different sectors and open a new office in Shanghai.


The entire board of Hampton Creek, a Silicon Valley startup famous for making egg-less mayonnaise, has quit except the CEO, Josh Tetrick

The outgoing board members reportedly left because of conflicts with Tetrick.

America Leaves Future Generations with Massive Debts, Obligations

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The United States is heading down the path to becoming an insurance company with a really big army.

Let’s start with Medicaid.  The most recent report shows that federal and state spending on health care for lower income Americans rose nearly sixteen percent from 2014 to 2016, to $576 billion. Much of the rapid rise is attributable to the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.

If nothing changes—and we don’t know yet what, if anything, Congress will do—Medicaid spending will approach $1 trillion by 2025.  Congressional Republicans are trying to curb the rise in Medicaid spending, but that’s politically difficult.

Nearly lost in the healthcare debate is a new release on the status of Social Security and Medicare programs. The annual report quantifies the worsening threat to the long-term fiscal soundness of both programs.

“Both Social Security and Medicare will experience cost growth substantially in excess of GDP growth through the mid-2030s due to rapid population aging caused by the large baby-boom generation entering retirement and lower birth rate generations entering employment,” the report said.

That’s the essential problem for all three of the programs; they are growing faster than the economy. If no changes are made, they will swamp the country in debt and generate an even larger drag on the economy.

The report says the combined retirement and disability programs under Social Security are okay for now, but by 2034 the trust funds will be depleted. At that point, benefits will need to be reduced or taxes will have to be raised.

(One additional note: Trust fund is a misnomer. The federal government has already spent that money and replaced it with special treasury bonds that amount to I.O.U.s from Uncle Sam.)

Investor’s Business Daily reports, “Waiting only makes the problem worse.  Putting off fixes would require a payroll tax hike of nearly 4 percentage points or across-the-board benefit cuts of 23 percent.”

Medicare is also in trouble.  The report says the hospital insurance trust fund portion of the program will be depleted in 2029. “At that time, dedicated revenues will be sufficient to pay 88 percent of HI costs.”

Our policy makers have willingly indebted future generations, and Americans have been complicit because we recoil against more taxes, benefit cuts and increases in retirement age—anything we fear will impact our quality of life.

Future generations will not look back fondly on us. They will wonder why, for all the talk from us about wanting a better life for our children and grandchildren, we spent their retirement and burdened them with debt that made it harder for them to achieve their dreams.

ETC.

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  • Day by Day, Faith in American Democracy Is Being Tested at Every Level:  What do we have if we don’t have real elections?  ESQUIRE


  • White House Reluctantly Agrees to Recertify Iran Deal:  It took hours of arguing. President Trump has long railed against the nuclear deal made with Iran, but advisers — including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — convinced him to recertify Iran’s compliance, even as the president reportedly ordered them to formulate a more aggressive strategy toward Tehran. The U.S. must certify Iran’s compliance every 90 days. Officials said they planned to introduce new sanctions against Iran nonetheless, claiming Tehran had violated the “spirit” of the deal even if it technically complied with the terms.    Al Jazeera


  • Scrutiny of Paperwork Erases Some Student Loans:  It’s the subprime mortgage crisis 2.0. Private student loans lack the protections for borrowers available from federal loans — but several recent lawsuits have ended with students’ debt being erased: National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts, which holds about $12 billion in private student loans, has struggled to produce adequate paperwork proving it owns the debt in the first place. A recent audit sampling 400 loans from the trust found none of them had proper paperwork, and many student loan-holders hope the tide may be turning against such companies.    NYT


  • Russian Appeals Court Bans Jehovah’s Witnesses:  It’s the end of the line. Russia’s Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that designated the denomination an extremist organization, essentially outlawing it. The move will force the Jehovah’s Witnesses to shutter their 395 Russian chapters and hand over their property to the state. Most non-mainstream denominations face discrimination in Russia — a predominantly Orthodox Christian country — where the Kremlin has stirred up patriotic fervor in a bid to consolidate support. The church is expected to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, but any ruling would be purely symbolic.  RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBRARY


  • House conservatives fear health-care deja vu on secret tax plan:  “House conservative leaders worry they’ll be forced to vote to advance a vehicle for a tax-code rewrite without knowing details of the plan, setting up a repeat of Congress’s troubled efforts on health-care legislation. With a committee markup of a key budget resolution scheduled for Wednesday, leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have demanded details about the tax package and about welfare-spending cuts that GOP leaders have agreed to in principle. But they’ve received no guarantees, and the prospects for seeing specifics ahead of a budget vote appear to be diminishing.”  Bloomberg


  • DeVos undermines civil rights and favors predatory lenders over students:  “DeVos said earlier this month that she wanted to return the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights ‘to its role as a neutral, impartial, investigative agency. An official with the office came under fire last week after she said that most campus rape claims amount to two young people who are “both drunk.” Meanwhile, attorneys general in 18 states are suing DeVos and the Department of Education over a rule to protect student loan borrowers that was set to go into effect on July 01, until DeVos announced a “reset” of the rule, known as “borrower defense to repayment.”  TruthOut

National News

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►  ‘Let Obamacare fail,’ Trump declares as GOP plan collapses

Donald Trump declared Tuesday it’s time to “let Obamacare fail” after the latest GOP health care plan crashed and burned in the Senate, a stunning failure for the president, Republican leader Mitch McConnell and a party that has vowed for years to abolish the law.

In a head-spinning series of developments, rank-and-file Republican senators turned on McConnell and Trump for the third time in a row, denying the votes to move forward with a plan for a straight-up repeal of “Obamacare.” This time, it was three GOP women — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — who delivered the death blow.

All had been shut out of McConnell’s initial all-male working group on health care.

McConnell, who could afford to lose only two votes in the narrowly divided Senate, had turned to the repeal-only bill after his earlier repeal-and-replace measure was rejected on Monday. That had followed the failure of an earlier version of the bill last month.

The successive defeats made clear that despite seven years of promises to repeal former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Republicans apparently cannot deliver. Nonetheless, McConnell insisted he would move forward with a vote on his measure to repeal the law, effective in two years, with a promise to work — along with Democrats — to replace it in the meantime.

The vote to move ahead to the bill will take place early next week, McConnell announced late Tuesday. It appears doomed to fail, but GOP leaders want to put lawmakers on record on the issue and move on.

At the White House, Trump appeared to recognize defeat, at least for the moment, while insisting he bore none of the blame.

“I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll just let Obamacare fail,” the president said. “We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you that the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they’re going to say, ‘How do we fix it?’”

Despite the current law’s problems, most health care experts do not believe it is at immediate risk of outright failure, and Democratic cooperation to adjust the law is far from assured.

Nor does it appear likely that Republicans can escape owning the problems with the law and the health care system overall, now that they control the House, Senate and White House, partly on the strength of campaigning against the law.

“They seem to have this notion that they can be a majority party, and have control of the White House, and not be responsible for bringing down the health care system,” said Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Asked how he would justify the GOP’s failure on health care to voters, McConnell responded: “Well, we have a new Supreme Court justice” — suggesting inaction on health care would be forgiven because of that success along with some regulatory roll-backs.

As the day began Tuesday, McConnell was hunting for votes to open debate on a revived version of legislation Congress sent to Obama’s desk in 2015 that would have repealed major portions of Obamacare, with a two-year delay built in. He had turned to that approach after getting stunned Monday night by defections by Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas on a repeal-and-replace bill.

Many Republicans support the repeal-only approach, and they questioned how senators who voted for the legislation two years ago could oppose it now.

“We’re going to find out if there’s hypocrisy in the United States Senate in the next few days I’m afraid,” said Senator David Perdue, R-Georgia.

But for others, the implications were too severe now that the bill could actually become law with a Republican president in the White House ready to sign it. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that more than 30 million people would lose insurance over a decade under the legislation.

Collins voted against the legislation in 2015 while Murkowski and Capito both supported it. Murkowski told reporters Tuesday that repealing the Affordable Care Act without the promise of a replacement would cause uncertainty and chaos.

“To just say repeal and ‘Trust us, we’re going to fix it in a couple of years,’ that’s not going to provide comfort to the anxiety that a lot of Alaskan families are feeling right now,” she said.

Said Capito: “I did not come to Washington to hurt people.”

What’s next? Go back to the committee room and work on a bipartisan basis “in a way that the public feels that we are really working toward their best interests,” Murkowski said. “It’s where we should have started. ... And yes, this is hard.”

Sure enough, later in the day health committee chairman Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee announced he planned hearings on the issue in the next few weeks, a step Senate Republicans have not taken to date.

The GOP’s struggles over the latest measures came down to differences between moderates who feared the implications of a full-blown repeal, and conservatives who wanted nothing less. Speaker Paul Ryan managed to bridge those divides in the House in May, barely passing a bill that would have eliminated the coverage mandates and tax hikes in the Affordable Care Act, while unwinding the Medicaid expansion and removing insurance coverage for millions.

But the GOP bills polled poorly, and Trump never tried to sell them to the country. Meanwhile, Obama’s law grew steadily more popular in polls, and Republicans learned anew that a benefit, once given, is hard to take away.


►  Trump blasts Congress over failure of GOP health care bill

Donald Trump blasted congressional Democrats and “a few Republicans” Tuesday over the collapse of the GOP effort to rewrite the Obama health care law. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a vote on a backup plan simply repealing the statute, but that idea was on the brink of rejection, too.

Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said they opposed McConnell’s Plan B. If a third GOP senator opposes it — and several are expected to — it would be defeated, and that might send a message to conservative Republicans that it is time to abandon efforts to tear down Obama’s law.

All Senate Democrats are opposed.

Trump’s early morning tweet led off a barrage of Republican criticism of Congress over the party’s failure on its flagship legislative priority. For seven years, the GOP has pledged to repeal President Barack Obama’s law.

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

He added, “As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!”

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

On the Senate floor Tuesday, McConnell conceded that the legislation repealing the 2010 law and replacing it with GOP-preferred programs “will not be successful,” essentially waving a white flag.

He said instead, the Senate would vote on legislation dismantling much of Obama’s statute that would take effect in two years, which Republicans say would give Congress time to approve replacement legislation. But such legislation seems unlikely to be approved, with many Republicans concerned the two-year gap would roil insurance markets and produce a political backlash against the GOP.

Moderate Republican Senator Capito said she’d oppose scuttling Obama’s statute “without a replacement plan that addresses my concerns and the needs of West Virginians.” She’s criticized the GOP bill’s cuts in Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people that her state relies on heavily.

Another moderate, Susan Collins, also said she’d oppose McConnell’s measure. She said repealing the law without an immediate replacement would produce “great anxiety for individuals” who benefit from Obama’s statute and “cause the insurance markets to go into turmoil.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


►  John Glenn memorial plans abound on July birth date

Some plans to honor John Glenn didn’t fly, but that hasn’t stopped the late astronaut’s devotees from pushing forward with other ideas.

Numerous memorials and honors were being pursued as Glenn’s birth date arrived Tuesday for the first time since his death in December at age 95.

They span from Glenn’s childhood birthplace and first flight school, to the starry skies over Glenn’s native Ohio, to the shores of New York where he touched down after setting the transcontinental speed record.

An application to place Glenn’s birthplace in Cambridge in eastern Ohio on the National Register of Historic Places was rejected, on grounds that the Glenn family lived there only two years after his birth. The National Park Service said New Concord, site of Glenn’s boyhood home, is a more appropriate spot to honor him.

But Cambridge still thinks it has the right stuff to memorialize Glenn, the hometown boy who made history as a military aviator in two wars, a longtime U.S. senator and, most notably, the first American to orbit Earth in 1962. He became the oldest person to travel to space in 1977.

Debbie Robinson, executive director of the Cambridge/Guernsey County Visitors and Convention Bureau, said St. John’s University graduate student Adam Sackowitz is working with the current owners to get a plaque placed there. In the meantime, the bureau has made one of its own.

“I have a beautiful brown, Ohio-shaped sign that I just had made that I’m getting ready to give to the mayor, to place wherever he wants it,” she said. It bears Glenn’s birth date of July 18, 1921.

A Glenn sculpture envisioned for the Ohio Statehouse also hit a snag, but the city of New Philadelphia, about 50 miles (about 80 kilometers) north of New Concord, is exploring placing one at Harry Clever Field, where Glenn learned to fly.

Airport Manager Eric Hubbard said two airport commission members have been approached about the sculpture, but a decision hasn’t been made. In the meantime, the airport still sells its John Glenn T-shirts.

In southern Ohio’s Hocking Hills, ground was broken last week on the John Glenn Astronomy Park . The Friends of the Hocking Hills, which is spearheading the project, hopes to have the project completed by year’s end.

Ohio lawmaker Nickie Antonio is preparing a resolution for the fall urging Congress to award Glenn and his 97-year-old widow, Annie, the Medal of Honor. Sackowitz said he would also like to see a plaque or statue placed at Floyd Bennett Field in New York City, where Glenn touched down after setting the transcontinental speed record on July 16, 1957.


►  Veterans hospital officials removed over care allegations

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has removed two top officials at New Hampshire’s only veterans hospital and has ordered a review of the facility starting Monday amid allegations of “dangerously substandard care.“

The Boston Globe reported that 11 physicians and medical employees alleged the Manchester VA Medical Center was endangering patients. They described a fly-infested operating room; surgical instruments that weren’t always sterilized; and patients whose conditions were ignored or weren’t treated properly.

The Office of the Special Counsel, a federal whistle-blower agency, found “substantial likelihood” the allegations were true and ordered an investigation, which began in January. Shulkin also said the VA Office of the Medical Inspector and the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection were starting a “top-to-bottom review” of the hospital, beginning Monday.

Following the newspaper report Sunday, Shulkin removed hospital Director Danielle Ocker and Chief of Staff James Schlosser. A VA spokesman told the newspaper the two would be assigned other duties in the interim.

“We will stop at nothing short of delivering the best care for our veterans,“ said Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who said he called Shulkin on Sunday morning.

Representative Annie Kuster, a member of the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — both Democrats — met with VA doctors last year about their allegations and brought the concerns to the VA’s Office of Special Counsel and the Office of the Inspector General for further investigation. Kuster said she was “deeply concerned.“

“I appreciate the seriousness with which Secretary Shulkin is taking this matter,“ Kuster said in a statement.

The Globe reported in a recent interview, Ocker and Schlosser acknowledged significant cuts in services, such as the elimination of cataract surgery, and administrative problems, such as ordering a $1 million nuclear medicine camera but never installing it because it was too big for the examination room. As a result, the hospital stopped offering nuclear stress tests for heart disease risk and bone scans that can detect tumors this year.

But Ocker and Schlosser said they were surprised that so many medical staff members reported the problems to federal investigators. They said the hospital was addressing the shortcomings and patient safety hasn’t been compromised.

Much of the Globe’s report focused on accounts from Dr. William “Ed” Kois, head of Manchester VA’s spinal cord clinic, who compiled a list of at least 80 patients at the hospital over five years suffering from advanced and potentially crippling nerve compression in the neck, and using canes, wheelchairs and walkers, instead of getting surgery. He said the condition is easy to diagnose and treat with surgery before it progresses too far.

“It’s like if you suddenly saw cases of syphilis — a disease that has long been curable with penicillin,“ Kois said.

New Hampshire is one of a few states without a full-service VA hospital. The Manchester center provides urgent care, primary care, ambulatory surgery, mental health treatment and other services, but it contracts with Concord Hospital and others for more elaborate surgery and inpatient care. Members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation have lobbied for the hospital to become full-service going back at least a decade.

Dave Kenney, chairman of the State Veterans Advisory Committee, which brings together numerous veterans organizations to advise New Hampshire’s Legislature about veterans affairs, said he hopes the investigation results in significant change.

“They need to put their money where their mouth is,“ he said. “They need to put the resources in to get it done and fix it.“
Veterans hospital officials removed over care allegations

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has removed two top officials at New Hampshire’s only veterans hospital and has ordered a review of the facility starting Monday amid allegations of “dangerously substandard care.“

The Boston Globe reported that 11 physicians and medical employees alleged the Manchester VA Medical Center was endangering patients. They described a fly-infested operating room; surgical instruments that weren’t always sterilized; and patients whose conditions were ignored or weren’t treated properly.

The Office of the Special Counsel, a federal whistle-blower agency, found “substantial likelihood” the allegations were true and ordered an investigation, which began in January. Shulkin also said the VA Office of the Medical Inspector and the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection were starting a “top-to-bottom review” of the hospital, beginning Monday.

Following the newspaper report Sunday, Shulkin removed hospital Director Danielle Ocker and Chief of Staff James Schlosser. A VA spokesman told the newspaper the two would be assigned other duties in the interim.

“We will stop at nothing short of delivering the best care for our veterans,“ said Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who said he called Shulkin on Sunday morning.

Representative Annie Kuster, a member of the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — both Democrats — met with VA doctors last year about their allegations and brought the concerns to the VA’s Office of Special Counsel and the Office of the Inspector General for further investigation. Kuster said she was “deeply concerned.“

“I appreciate the seriousness with which Secretary Shulkin is taking this matter,“ Kuster said in a statement.

The Globe reported in a recent interview, Ocker and Schlosser acknowledged significant cuts in services, such as the elimination of cataract surgery, and administrative problems, such as ordering a $1 million nuclear medicine camera but never installing it because it was too big for the examination room. As a result, the hospital stopped offering nuclear stress tests for heart disease risk and bone scans that can detect tumors this year.

But Ocker and Schlosser said they were surprised that so many medical staff members reported the problems to federal investigators. They said the hospital was addressing the shortcomings and patient safety hasn’t been compromised.

Much of the Globe’s report focused on accounts from Dr. William “Ed” Kois, head of Manchester VA’s spinal cord clinic, who compiled a list of at least 80 patients at the hospital over five years suffering from advanced and potentially crippling nerve compression in the neck, and using canes, wheelchairs and walkers, instead of getting surgery. He said the condition is easy to diagnose and treat with surgery before it progresses too far.

“It’s like if you suddenly saw cases of syphilis — a disease that has long been curable with penicillin,“ Kois said.

New Hampshire is one of a few states without a full-service VA hospital. The Manchester center provides urgent care, primary care, ambulatory surgery, mental health treatment and other services, but it contracts with Concord Hospital and others for more elaborate surgery and inpatient care. Members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation have lobbied for the hospital to become full-service going back at least a decade.

Dave Kenney, chairman of the State Veterans Advisory Committee, which brings together numerous veterans organizations to advise New Hampshire’s Legislature about veterans affairs, said he hopes the investigation results in significant change.

“They need to put their money where their mouth is,“ he said. “They need to put the resources in to get it done and fix it.“


►  Delta tells Ann Coulter her insults are ‘unacceptable’

Delta Air Lines has pushed back at Ann Coulter after the conservative commentator berated the carrier on Twitter over a changed seat assignment.

Coulter began tweeting about the episode Saturday in which she said the airline gave away an “extra room seat” she reserved before a flight from New York to Florida departed. Coulter had booked an aisle seat, but got a window seat.

She joked that Delta hires people who seek to be prison guards, animal handlers or East German police. She also tweeted a photo of a woman she said took the seat she booked and labeled her “dachshund-legged.“

Delta responded to Coulter on Twitter on Sunday night that it was refunding her the extra $30 she paid for her preferred seat. It added that “your insults about our other customers and employees are unacceptable and unnecessary.“ In a separate statement on its website, the company called Coulter’s comments “derogatory and slanderous.“

Coulter was moved to a window seat at the time of boarding as the airline was “working to accommodate several passengers with seating requests,“ Delta said in the statement. Delta said that during some confusion over the assignments, a flight attendant asked everyone to move to the seats listed on their tickets. Coulter and the other passengers complied, according to the airline, and the flight departed.

Coulter has continued her online rant against Delta.

International News

The Free Press WV

►  Trump had second conversation with Putin in Germany

Donald Trump had another, previously undisclosed conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Germany this month.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer and National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton confirmed that Trump and Putin spoke at a dinner for world leaders and their spouses at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

The conversation came hours after Trump and Putin’s first official face-to-face meeting on July 07, which was originally scheduled to last just half an hour but stretched on for more than two. The two world leaders were also captured on video shaking hands and exchanging a few words after they arrived at the G-20 summit of industrialized and developing nations earlier that day.

Anton would not specify the duration of the conversation. But he said the discussion was casual and should not be characterized as a “meeting” or even a less formal, but official, “pull-aside.”

“A conversation over dessert should not be characterized as a meeting,” he said.

The dinner, hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was open only to world leaders and their spouses, as well as one translator per couple, according to a senior White House official who described the event on condition of anonymity despite the president’s criticism of un-named sources.

The official stressed that Trump spoke with many leaders over the course of the dinner and said that he spoke briefly with Putin, who was seated next to first lady Melania Trump, as the event was concluding. Trump spoke with Putin using Russia’s translator, since the American translator did not speak Russian.

But Ian Bremmer, who said he spoke with two people who attended the dinner, said that Trump and Putin spoke for nearly an hour while sitting among the other world leaders and their spouses at the dinner. Bremmer is a foreign affairs columnist and the president of the Eurasia Group, a consulting firm.

Attendees described the meeting as startling, said Bremmer, who was told Trump was very animated as he spoke with Putin, often using his hands to gesture.

Trump and Putin’s relationship has been under scrutiny since the election campaign, when Trump repeatedly praised Putin as a strong leader and publicly encouraged him to hack then-rival Hillary Clinton’s emails. Trump aides have since said he was joking.

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election in order to help Trump. Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on their findings and dismissed investigations into potential collusion between his campaign and Moscow as a “witch hunt.”


►  United Nations Approves Treaty to Ban Nuclear Arms

In a victory for peace activists around the world, a historic decision made by the UN brings us closer than ever to our mission of ending the arms race and eliminating nuclear weapons.

Today, July 7th, at 12pm EDT, the United Nations approved a 10-page treaty to ban nuclear arms. Months of negotiations beginning in March of this year culminated in a final draft immediately endorsed by 122 countries.

The final draft of the treaty, titled “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”, requires that all states who have ratified it “never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.“

More than 130 countries participated in discussions, boycotted by most members of NATO. None of the nine nuclear-armed states (Russia, the United States, China, India, Israel, France, North Korea, Pakistan and the United Kingdom) took part in the negotiations.

Instead of negotiating in good faith to reduce and eventually eliminate its nuclear arsenal, as called for in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to which it is a signer, the U.S. is building ever more lethal nuclear weapons, and deploying “missile defenses” that make a U.S. first strike nuclear attack more possible.

Furthermore, U.S. wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and its aggressive military posture vis-a-vis Syria, Russia, China and North Korea are inviting the very real possibility of a catastrophic nuclear exchange.

Certainly, this is even more scary with the unpredictable brinkmanship of Donald Trump, who has asked, “if we have them, then why don’t we use them?“ 

These are dangerous times indeed, but such dangers can focus the collective mind and create new possibilities for real change, if activists and organizers are prepared to seize the moment.

Along with a ban on nuclear weapons, the U.S. and the world must recommit themselves to the UN Charter which forbids military intervention and requires respect for the sovereignty of all nations.

While the approval of the treaty by the UN is a great triumph, the hardest part is yet to come. Make sure to follow the Golden Rule, Veterans For Peace’s anti-nuclear peace boat for updates on what you can do to ensure that the remaining nations ratify the treaty and eliminate nuclear weapons entirely. It’s not just about peace and justice; it’s about the survival of all life on earth.


►  Veterans For Peace Applauds the Adoption of a Nuclear Ban Treaty And Calls on U.S. To Sign Immediately

On July 7th, 2017, the United Nations approved a legally binding Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. At last, the world now has the first-ever treaty to ban all nuclear weapons.

The day the treaty was signed, the U.S. issued a statement that said “We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”  The U.S., the sole remaining superpower, is developing new, more accurate and more lethal nuclear weapons, while deploying “missile defenses” that make a nuclear first strike more possible and more likely.

Veterans For Peace is dismayed that the U.S. refuses to sign the monumental treaty that will make the world a safer place.  The Treaty is a victory for humanity and the shared natural world. It brings Veterans For Peace closer than ever to achieving our mission to abolish war by forwarding our goal of of ending the arms race and to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.

Veterans For Peace remains committed to fulfilling our mission, redoubling our efforts to ensure that the United States ratifies the treaty and eliminate nuclear weapons entirely.  Let this be the generation that will finally ban nuclear weapons.

It’s not just about peace and justice; it’s about the survival of all life on earth.


►  Separatists proclaim a new state to replace all of Ukraine

Separatists in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday proclaimed a new state that aspires to include not only the areas they control but also the rest of the country. But Russia, their chief backer, sought to play down the announcement, saying it was merely part of public discussion.

The surprise announcement in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk casts further doubt on the 2015 cease-fire deal that was supposed to stop fighting in Ukraine’s industrial heartland and bring those areas back into Kiev’s fold while granting them wide autonomy. Some rebels said they have no intention of joining the new state.

More than 10,000 people have died in fighting since Russia-backed rebels took control of parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions in April 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. The rebels originally sought to join Russia but the Kremlin stopped short of annexing the area or publicizing its military support for the rebels.

Donetsk separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko said in comments broadcast on Russian television that rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk as well as representatives of other Ukrainian regions would form a state called Malorossiya.

Most of the areas which are currently part of Ukraine were referred to as Malorossiya, or Little Russia, when they were part of the Russian Empire.

Zakharchenko said they are drawing up a constitution that would be put up to a popular vote.

“We believe that the Ukrainian state as it was cannot be restored,” Zakharchenko said in remarks carried by the Tass news agency. “We, representatives of the regions of the former Ukraine, excluding Crimea, proclaim the creation of a new state which is a successor to Ukraine.”

Although separatists in the east have some sympathizers in other Ukrainian regions, they have not attempted to capture territories there, nor do they have any political representation there.

France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia worked out an agreement in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, in 2015 which laid out a roadmap for ending the conflict between government troops and separatists. Under the deal, the rebels would return control of the territories they had captured to Kiev while Kiev would allow a local election there and grant wide autonomy to the region.

While the deal helped to reduce the intensity of fighting, none of the political components has been implemented.

Breaking several hours of silence that passed after the separatists’ announcement Tuesday, Boris Gryzlov, Russia’s envoy mediating the peace talks in Minsk, dismissed the idea as public discussion.

“This initiative does not fit with the Minsk process,” Gryzlov told Russian news agencies. “I see it merely as an invitation for discussion. This announcement does not have entail any legal consequences.”

Asked about the rebels’ announcement Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, told reporters Tuesday evening the Kremlin had no comment.

While the separatists are believed to be guided by the Kremlin, they have made statements in the past that clearly caught Moscow off guard.

Yevgen Marchuk, Ukraine’s envoy at the talks, said on the 112 television channel that the announcement, made one day before the next round of talks in Minsk, “could block the negotiations entirely.”

In Luhansk, rebel leaders denied that they were part of the deal. Local news website Luhansk Information Center quoted rebel representative Vladimir Degtyarenko as saying they had not been informed of the plans and have “great doubts about the expediency of such a step.”

Throughout the conflict, the rebel-controlled areas have been ruled by self-proclaimed authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk who call themselves the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. Separatist leaders in Luhansk, unlike their counterparts in Donetsk, have tended to stay away from directly expressing intentions to join Russia.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday accused Russia of directing the rebels’ hand in making the announcement and seeking to split Ukraine in pieces.

“You should understand that Zakharchenko and (rebel leader) Plotnitsky are not political actors,” he said, dismissing them as “puppets” whose only job is to voice “the messages they receive from Russia.”

Poroshenko said Ukraine is committed to the peace accords and pledged to restore control over eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

Kiev-based political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko speculated that the Kremlin had instigated the announcement, perhaps trying to scare the West with a possibility of Ukraine’s breakup.

“The Kremlin is no longer trying to push this malignant tumor back into the body of Ukraine,” Fesenko said, adding that it is too early to predict the fallout of Tuesday’s announcement because Zakharchenko is known for making outlandish claims.

The Associated Press has documented how Moscow has been propping up the separatists in Ukraine with funds, weapons and recruits. The Kremlin has firmly denied sending Russian troops to fight alongside the separatists despite the overwhelming evidence.


►  Venezuela opposition calls for escalation of street protests

Venezuelan opposition leaders called Monday for escalated street protests after more than 7 million people rejected a government plan to rewrite the constitution and consolidate power over the country, which has been stricken by shortages and inflation and riven by more than 100 days of clashes between protesters and police.

The opposition said 7,186,170 Venezuelans participated in a symbolic referendum rejecting President Nicolas Maduro’s plans for the July 30 election of an assembly that would remake the country’s political system. Maduro’s allies have called on the assembly to impose executive branch authority over the few remaining institutions outside the control of Venezuela’s socialist ruling party.

A coalition of some 20 opposition parties met Monday to call for a “zero hour” campaign of civil disobedience in the two weeks leading to the government vote. More than three months of opposition protests have left at least 93 people dead and 1,500 wounded. More than 500 protesters and government opponents have been jailed.

“Right now we have to escalate and deepen this street movement,“ National Assembly President Julio Borges told local radio station Exitos ahead of the opposition announcement, which was delayed more than two hours into the early afternoon as the opposition discussed its next steps behind closed doors.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos planned to discuss the crisis during a visit with President Raul Castro of Cuba, Venezuela’s closest regional ally, Colombia’s foreign minister said from Havana.

“It would be hard for two presidents to meet these days without discussing Venezuela, because of its importance and the concern the whole continent has about Venezuela,“ Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said. “The situation in Venezuela will be part of the conversation with President Castro, seeing how we can come to a solution, that dialogue is re-established, that there are paths to a deal.“

Colombia has dealt with rising tensions and a growing number of people crossing the border from Venezuela as the crisis in the oil-rich country has deepened.

David Smilde, a Tulane University expert on Venezuela, said Sunday’s result would likely rally the international community even more strongly against the July 30 vote.

“Overall, this vote, I think, makes it difficult for the government to just proceed as planned,“ Smilde said. “I think it’s going to embolden the international community to reject it.“

Sunday’s opposition vote was a strong but not overwhelming showing that fell short of the opposition’s 7.7 million-vote showing in 2015 legislative elections and the 7.5 million votes that brought Maduro to power in 2013. Opposition leaders said that was because they were able to set up only 2,000 polling places in a symbolic exercise the government labeled as illegitimate.

Still, some supporters said they were disappointed.

“I thought it was going to be more,“ said Mariela Arana, a 56-year-old school counselor. “But these 7 million people spoke and it was plenty.“

The vote on Sunday was marred by violence when a 61-year-old woman was killed and four people wounded by gunfire after government supporters on motorcycles swarmed an opposition polling site in a church in western Caracas.

The opposition released only turnout numbers Sunday night, not tallies of responses, although virtually all who voted were believed to have answered “yes” to the central rejection of the constitutional rewrite.

In smaller numbers in many parts of the capital, government supporters went to polling stations in a rehearsal for the July 30 vote.

Maduro and the military dominate most state institutions but the opposition controls the congress and holds three of 23 governorships. The country’s chief prosecutor has recently broken with the ruling party.

Opponents of Venezuela’s government blame it for turning one of the region’s most prosperous countries into an economic basket case with a shrinking economy, soaring inflation and widespread shortages. The government blames the crisis on an economic war waged by its opponents and outside backers.


►  Daimler to recall 3 million vehicles to ease diesel doubts

German automaker Daimler says it is voluntarily recalling 3 million diesel cars in Europe to improve their emissions performance.

The Stuttgart-based company, which makes Mercedes-Benz luxury cars, says it is taking the step to reassure drivers and strengthen confidence in diesel technology.

Diesels have been under a cloud since Daimler’s competitor Volkswagen admitted equipping vehicles with illegal software that meant they passed emissions tests, but then exceeded limits in everyday driving. There has been a push for diesel bans in some German cities because of concerns about levels of nitrogen oxide emitted by diesels.

The Daimler announcement comes hours after the regional government in the company’s home region of Baden-Wuerttemburg agreed to abandon proposals to restrict diesels if older diesels could be mechanically fixed to pollute less, the dpa news agency reported.

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said Tuesday that “the public debate about diesel engines is creating uncertainty — especially for our customers.”

The recall will cover nearly all vehicles made under the EU5 and EU6 emissions standards and start in the next few weeks. The company said it would cost 220 million euros ($254.21 million), but that customers wouldn’t pay anything.

Daimler said in May that German investigators had searched its offices in connection with investigations of Daimler employees because of suspicion of fraud and criminal advertising relating to the possible manipulation of exhaust controls in cars with diesel engines. The company has said it is cooperating with the investigation.


►  Italy considers emergency visas to ease migrant strain

With Italians showing increasing discontent over unabated migrant arrivals and European partners not responding to pleas to ease Italy’s burden, the country’s leaders are considering what many have dubbed the nuclear option: approving emergency visas for migrants that could allow them unrestricted travel in Europe.

Premier Paolo Gentiloni is under growing domestic pressure over the migrant crisis, with more than 85,000 migrants have arrived in Italy in the first half of this year, a 20 percent increase over last year. Asylum requests are up by 25 percent.

The emergency visa proposal was not on the agenda when foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday — but it was a hot topic on the sidelines.

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano denied media reports that 200,000 visas could be issued under the plan. But other Italian officials have acknowledged the plan is being considered, if only to gain negotiating leverage at the EU table.

“It is not a threat. It is an instrument of persuasion,” Italian Senator Luigi Manconi of the Democratic Party told private Sky TG24 this weekend. He confirmed that the idea was being studied by Interior Minister Marco Minniti.

A deputy in the foreign ministry, Mario Giro, acknowledged that Italy lacks leverage in Brussels.

“At the moment we don’t have a strong negotiating power, but we need to find allies,” he told Sky.

Gentiloni has already had to abandon one proposed legislative measure to tackle the migrant crisis. Amid a political backlash, he has withdrawn from the Senate consideration of a new citizenship law for migrant children until after the summer break.

Opponents of the law, which has passed in the lower house, have leveraged on the crisis — even though no migrants arriving in recent waves would be immediately eligible under the five-year legal residency requirement.

Meanwhile, mayors throughout Italy, particularly in the south, are revolting against the government’s attempts to relocate migrants to their midst. In one Sicilian town, Castel’Umberto, the mayor joined a protest that temporarily blocked 50 migrants from a hotel this weekend. He will join some 40 mayors from the area around Messina, which is expecting thousands of new arrivals, in a meeting with the local prefect later this week.

All of this has pushed Gentiloni’s hand.

Italy’s neighbors are worried that the proposed visas could allow migrants to continue their journey to other European countries.

Austria has repeated threats to close its borders, with Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka telling Bild Zeitung on Tuesday that it could have soldiers at the Brenner Pass border — one of the main routes connecting Italy with northern Europe — within 24 hours “if the number of illegal migrants toward Austria increases more.”

Austria’s foreign minister told reporters in Brussels that redistributing migrants was not the answer, rejecting the issuance of emergency visas by Italy as well as any European Union plan to relocate migrants to central and northern Europe.

“It cannot be that Italy and Greece get relief by allowing more people to travel north. If that is the case, more people will follow, traffickers will earn more and more people will drown in the sea. Nothing will be solved,” Sebastian Kurz told reporters in Brussels.


►  War-torn South Sudan at grave risk on climate change

“I’m addicted to cutting trees,” says Taban Ceasor.

His stained hands sift through jagged pieces of charcoal in his busy shop in South Sudan’s capital. But the 29-year-old logger says the number of trees needed to fuel his trade is falling sharply as the country’s forest cover disappears.

The world’s youngest nation is well into its fourth year of civil war. As South Sudan is ravaged by fighting and hunger, it also grapples with the devastating effects of climate change. Officials say the conflict is partly to blame.

South Sudan’s first-ever climate change conference in June highlighted a problem for much of sub-Saharan Africa: The impoverished nations face some of the world’s harshest impacts from global warming and are the least equipped to fight back.

The United States’ recent withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement hurts a huge potential source of assistance. The U.S. Embassy in South Sudan said it “does not currently support climate change efforts” in the country.

The United Nations says South Sudan is at grave risk at being left behind.

According to the Climate Change Vulnerability Index 2017 compiled by global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, South Sudan is ranked among the world’s five most vulnerable countries and is experiencing some of the most acute temperature changes.

“It’s rising 2.5 times quicker” than the global average, says Jean-Luc Stalon, senior deputy country director at the U.N. Development Program.

Both U.N. and government officials call it a partially man-made crisis. While up to 95 percent of South Sudan’s population is dependent on “climate-sensitive activities for their livelihoods” such as agriculture and forestry, the civil war is worsening the problem.

The rate of deforestation in South Sudan is alarming and if it continues, in 50 to 60 years there will be nothing left, says Arshad Khan, country manager for the U.N. Environment Program. The lack of trees is directly contributing to the rise in temperatures.

Tree-cutting is especially lucrative in South Sudan because there’s no central power grid to supply electricity. A reported 11 million people use charcoal for cooking, or almost the entire population.

“This makes me more money than any other business,” says Ceasor, the Juba vendor, who says he could barely survive before turning to tree-cutting.

Thirty-five percent of the country’s land was once covered with trees, and only 11 percent is now, according to the ministry of environment and agriculture.

“Desperate people are destroying the environment,” says Lutana Musa, South Sudan’s director for climate change.

Countries across Africa are struggling to cope with a warmer world. Although the continent produces less than 4 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, the UNDP says climate stresses and a limited capacity to adapt are increasing Africa’s vulnerability to climate change.

In South Sudan, the deforestation is compounded by an increase in illegal exports of wood and charcoal by foreign companies.

“People are taking advantage of the insecurity,” says Joseph Africano Bartel, South Sudan’s deputy environment minister. He says that due to the conflict there’s no supervision at the country’s borders, even though South Sudan has banned the export of charcoal.

South Sudan is rich in mahogany and teak, both of which are in high demand especially in Arab nations, Bartel says. He says South Sudanese tree-cutters are hired by companies primarily from Sudan, Libya and Lebanon that smuggle the coal and wood out through neighboring Uganda.

In an abandoned charcoal warehouse in Juba, 50 tons of coal sits stacked in bags. Arabic writing scribbled on the front of each sack reads: “Made in South Sudan.”

“I’ve seen bags that say ‘Destination Dubai’,” Charlie Oyul, a lead investigator with the environment ministry, told The Associated Press.

A few weeks ago, Oyul’s team impounded the warehouse and arrested the company’s owner and his assistant, who Oyul said were working for a Sudanese contractor. But Kamal Adam, a South Sudanese company official who is out on bail, says they sell charcoal only to locals.

The company is one of five illegal operations known to authorities in Juba and the surrounding area, and it’s the only one to be shut down. As much as South Sudan’s authorities try to stem the illegal exports of charcoal and wood, Oyul says he can’t keep up.

During a recent visit by The Associated Press to the impounded warehouse, roughly 10 trucks carrying piles of wood and charcoal were seen swiftly driving by.

At its climate change conference last month, South Sudan reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris climate agreement and criticized the U.S. withdrawal under Donald Trump.

“Trump thinks climate change isn’t a reality,” says Lutana, South Sudan’s climate change director. “He should know that his pulling out won’t stop people from continuing to work on it.”

Sitting alone at his empty desk in a dimly lit, run-down office at the environment ministry, Lutana says that although South Sudan has several proposed projects to fight climate change, he doesn’t expect action any time soon as the civil war continues.

The UNEP is working with South Sudan’s government to appeal for $9 million to set up an early warning system for the weather and train government officials on climate change. But donors are showing concern because of growing insecurity, and officials say the project won’t move forward without peace.

“Because of our situation, the environment just isn’t a priority,” Lutana says.

GCHS Land Judging Team Qualified for National Competition

The Gilmer County High School land judging team secured a 4th place finish at the State FFA Convention and has qualified to compete at the national land judging competition in Oklahoma City, OK in May 2018. 

The team has been working since early May perfecting their land judging skills. On May 11, the team went to a practice competition in Jane Lew where they placed second in home site evaluation and third in land judging with a combination score that put them in first place for the two contests. Individually, in home site, students placed third through sixth, which gave them a starting point to improve upon. 

The Free Press WV
Members of the GCHS land judging team are (L to R):
Jaccob Klapka, son of Jeanette Klapka and John Klapka; Evan Jedamski, son of Melissa and Bert Jedamski; Ashlee White, daughter of Tina and Nelson White; Zane Cogar, son of Sherry and Thomas Cogar; and Marshall Cottrill, son of Dendra Miller and Steve Cottrill; Mr. Nick Cox, GCHS Vo-Ag teacher.


At the regional contest held on June 15 in Flatwoods, the team won both land judging and home site contests.  In land judging, the team had individuals place first, third, fourth and seventh with a total score of 1062 of 1200 possible points. In the home site competition, individuals placed first, second, third and seventh for a total score of 1270 of 1344 possible points.  Winning both of these contests qualified the GCHS team for the state contest.

At the state level held on July 14 in Ripley, WV, the team placed fourth in the home site and land judging contests. With a score of 1016 of 1200 possible points in land judging, and a score of 1198 of 1344 possible points in home site, GCHS team took fourth place and qualified them to compete at the national competition. Ashlee White placed tenth individually in home site and Zane Cogar placed seventh individually in land judging at the state competition.

“I am extremely proud of the effort this team put forth,“ said GCHS teach Mr. Nick Cox.  “The students set high expectations for themselves, and have worked diligently to achieve their goals.  I knew from the first day that this team was special, and that they could qualify for national competition.  They are right where I wanted them to be in their preparation for regional and state competitions.  Now, the real work begins to prepare to compete against hundred of other teams from across the nation.“

Justice Company Debts Damage Governor’s Credibility

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When it comes to money, Jim Justice is a paradox.

He is incredibly wealthy. Forbes estimates his net worth at nearly $1.6 billion dollars. Justice is often generous with his money.  He saved the historic Greenbrier Resort from imminent closure, protecting hundreds of jobs.  Lord knows how much it cost to rebuild the Old White TPC for the PGA Tour event earlier this month.

Yet Justice can also be miserly. Stories abound of vendors and tax collectors who have had difficulty getting Justice companies to pay their bills.  National Public Radio reported last October, “His mining companies owe $15 million in six states, including property and mineral taxes, state coal severance and withholding taxes, federal income, excise and employment taxes, as well as mine safety penalties, according to county, state and federal records.”

Just last week, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that the state Tax Department has four liens against the Justice family owned Tams Management Inc. for nearly $1 million unpaid taxes, mostly coal severance taxes. MetroNews’ Brad McElhinny also reported on the story. 

The Justice family owns and operates dozens of companies.  They employ a lot of people and no doubt write huge checks to governments and vendors.  If I was Justice and I was questioned about taxes, my first response would be, “Do you want to hear how much I do pay?” That has to be a huge number.

We probably wouldn’t hear much about the bill and tax-paying habits of some of Justice’s companies were he not Governor. The court system is kept busy with disputes over debts, while private business owners often have issues with the state tax department or the IRS over tax liabilities.

However, Justice is a public figure now, so the additional scrutiny should be expected.  But more importantly, the still-new Governor’s credibility is damaged by the tax debts.  The political juxtaposition is too obvious to ignore: How can he ask West Virginians to pay additional taxes or criticize the Legislature for not putting more money toward drug treatment when his companies have outstanding tax liabilities?

That’s a trump card too easy for his critics to play.  Just last week Senate President Mitch Carmichael, who was in a tiff with the Governor over planned upgrades to eight Capitol bathrooms, said, “Pay your taxes–$4.5 million in taxes for drug treatment.”

Ask people who know Justice why he has a history of foot-dragging on his bills and they say the same thing; they don’t know, but naturally there is speculation.

Perhaps he has cash flow problems, especially given the difficulties in the coal industry and the expense of keeping the Greenbrier open and operating. Or maybe it’s just a way of doing business; hold back on payment and then settle for a lesser amount on the dollar.

Yes, since becoming Governor Justice has turned his companies’ operations over to others, but these payment issues will continue to be linked to him, especially if they are nonpayment of state taxes or fees.  They erode his ability to ask other West Virginians to do their fair share.

Normantown 4-H Club Visits Cabot Recycling Station

The Normantown Knights 4-H Club visited the Cabot Recycling Station, near Grantsville, on July 17th. Kim Solomon provided the group with a tour. The club learned that nearly everything they come in contact with is recyclable. The members were able to see how the different types of recyclables are sorted and processed. One of the highlights of the trip for the kids was seeing how aluminum cans are crushed and compacted into a small cube. The members all felt recycling was something they would like to begin doing as a group and as individuals.

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First Row: Kyle Norman, Hannah Beckner, Lindsey Cottrill. 
Second Row: Caleb Cottrill, Hailey Norman, Allison Wood. 
Third Row: Kim Solomon, Cabot Recycling Station Employee, Marshall Cottrill.


The kids were all surprised to learn that of all types of recyclables that are dropped off at that Station, cardboard boxes are the most common item. They also learned several other interesting facts, including thirty-six recycled pop bottles can make one square yard of carpet, and recycling one ton of old paper saves 7,000 gallons of water. The 4-H members were amazed with all of the information that they learned while visiting the Recycling Center. They are all hoping to make changes in their family life that will help with the recycling effort to save our world.

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The 4-H members see how cans are crushed and compacted into small cubes


Following the trip to the recycling center, the group held their July meeting at a local playground and then went to Gino’s Pizza for lunch. The kids all had a fun and educational trip and the club encourages other clubs, schools and organizations to schedule a tour of the Recycling Station. If you are in the Normantown (Stumptown, Shock, Rosedale, Normantown, Steer Creek) area and would like to join the Normantown Knights 4-H Club, please contact Julie Beckner at 304.354.9343 or contact your local county Extension Office to find a club available in your area.

Did You Know?

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TWO GOP SENATORS WON’T SUPPORT HEALTH BILL

Jerry Moran of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah say they will oppose the Republican health care bill, dealing a fatal blow to GOP leaders’ latest effort to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s legislation. The two senators have issued separate statements saying they can’t support the legislation, meaning Republicans cannot move ahead on the bill.


WHERE FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER MICHAEL FLYNN HIDES OUT

The man at the center of multiple probes into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election seeks sanctuary from the swirling eddy of news coverage in the beach town where he grew up surfing and skateboarding.


RELATIVES DEMAND ANSWERS IN FATAL MINNESOTA POLICE SHOOTING

An Australian meditation teacher and bride-to-be who had relocated to Minneapolis was shot dead by a police officer over the weekend after she apparently called authorities to report a possible assault near her home.


FLASH FLOODS KILL AT LEAST 9 IN ARIZONA

Authorities say nine members of an extended family killed at an Arizona swimming hole had no warning until the wall of water was upon them.


WHY OJ SIMPSON COULD GET PAROLE

The former football star and TV pitchman appears before state parole board members next week seeking his release after more than eight years for an ill-fated bid to retrieve sports memorabilia. Simpson will have history in his favor and a clean record behind bars.


VENEZUELA OPPOSITION CALLS STRIKE

They call for supporters to escalate street protests after more than 7 million people rejected a government plan to rewrite the constitution and consolidate its power over a country stricken by shortages and inflation and riven by more than 100 days of clashes between protesters and police.


BREXIT TALKS BEGIN IN EARNEST

Negotiations to extricate Britain from the European Union start with both sides still seemingly far apart on citizens’ rights after Brexit officially takes place in less than two years.


PRINCETON PROFESSOR DEFENDS CHINESE-AMERICAN RESEARCHER SENTENCED IN IRAN

A Chinese-American Princeton graduate student at sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for allegedly “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad is innocent of all charges against him, his professor says.


WHICH STATE IS THE LAST TO CREATE A PRESCRIPTION DRUG-MONITORING PROGRAM

Republican Gov. Eric Greitens surprised lawmakers by signing an executive order, part of the effort to combat doctor shopping and prescription opioid addiction. Skeptics quickly emerged on both sides of the debate.


WHY ROGER FEDERER TAKES NOTHING FOR GRANTED

The tennis legend clarifies to AP what he meant by this during the trophy presentation after his record-breaking eighth Wimbledon championship: “I hope this wasn’t my last match. And I hope I can come back next year and try to defend the title.“ Some wondered whether that meant Federer was considering retirement, but Federer, 35, says simply: “I can’t think too far ahead.“


A prominent European VC, Fred Destin, has said “I am truly sorry” after an accusation of inappropriate behavior towards a female founder

The founder, according to Bloomberg, said Destin had acted inappropriately during a party.


SoundCloud’s CEO Alex Ljung has said the company is “here to stay” in a blogpost intended to quash rumors of a shutdown

Musician Chance the Rapper also tweeted his support for SoundCloud over the weekend after a phone call with Ljuing.


Snapchat is looking for adtech startups to acquire, and has already held talks with AdRoll

They are mostly after firms that can help demonstrate the efficacy of their ads.


Samsung might have accidentally leaked the upcoming Note 8

Samsung’s official Twitter account for its Exonys chip division tweeted out an image of an unnamed phone which looks suspiciously like leaked mock-ups of the Note 8.


Apple is blocking VPN-based adblockers from its App Store, and only allowing adblocking services that plug into Safari

Third-party adblocker Adblock was barred from submitting an update to Apple because it blocks ads inside apps.


Essential, the new smartphone startup headed up by Android founder Andy Rubin, has lost its top marketer before the phone has even launched

Vice president of marketing Brian Wallace left to become CMO of Will.i.am’s i.am+ lifestyle brand.


Amazon is reportedly working on a rival to WhatsApp called Anytime

According to AFTV News, Amazon has been surveying its customers about a messaging app that lets you send GIFs, use filters, and is private and secure.


The venture firm partly responsible for ousting Uber CEO Travis Kalanick now wants to sell off some of its stake

Benchmark Capital was one of Uber’s first investors, but is now working with the board to offload some shares to Softbank or another buyer.


Major publishers are switching affections from Snapchat to Instagram, as the Facebook-owned platform makes it easier to reach a larger overseas audience and link to external sites

According to Digiday, part of the problem is that Snapchat keeps the overall messaging experience totally separate to the publisher experience.


A judge has sided with Google in its fight with the U.S. government over revealing how much the company pays women

Federal judge Steve Berlin ruled to limit the amount of information Google has to give to the Department of Labour about its employees.

ETC.

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  • The Word of the Summer Is ‘Collusion.‘  What You Need to Focus on Is ‘Conspiracy.‘  Robert Mueller knows that, too.  ESQUIRE


  • Never mind conspiracy and obstruction of justice.   Has Team Trump violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act?    Lawfare

  • Bungled collusion is still collusion.   The Washington Post


  • Paternalism and the law.  Prosecutors used to drop rape cases all the time because victims we afraid to testify. Then things changed.    Slate


  • Secret Service Denies Lawyer’s Claims About Trump Jr. Meeting:  They’re not shielding him on this. Jay Sekulow, one of Donald Trump’s personal lawyers, suggested Sunday that the Secret Service would have vetted attendees at a controversial campaign meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, a Russian lawyer, a Russian-American lobbyist and at least two others. But the Secret Service has responded that Trump Jr. wasn’t under their protection in June 2016, and therefore they wouldn’t have screened the meeting’s guests, eliminating that line of defense. Sekulow maintains that President Trump was unaware of the meeting.  Reuters


  • In China, Your Nurse Might Soon Be a Robot:    Maybe we all need some tender loving carebots. Having spent more than $3 billion on industrial robots in 2015 alone, China’s already the world’s largest producer. Now it’s looking to service-oriented robots, starting with the elderly care industry. With rapidly growing ranks of retirees — 25 percent of the world’s seniors — China’s nursing homes struggle with high labor costs and low profitability. Several dozen facilities are now testing robots that monitor residents’ health, help them stay in touch with family, and simply keep them company.    Quartz


  • CBO says Trump budget has unrealistic expectation of growth:    “The CBO says Trump’s budget office was relying on economic growth numbers that were way too optimistic. The White House said its budget would spur 3 percent economic growth, while the CBO estimated it would be closer to 1.8 percent. The CBO also said Trump’s budget office was using suspect math and didn’t give out enough information about the president’s tax plan, a key component to forecast economic growth.”  Vox

West Virginia News

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►  WV airports receive federal funds for terminal, runway repairs

Two West Virginia airports will receive federal funds to make terminal and runway repairs.

U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced more than $11.6 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation for Yeager Airport in Charleston and Tri-State Airport in Huntington.

“That’s for Taxiway A improvements, roof improvements, some lighting improvements on the taxiways,” said Yeager Airport Director Terry Sayre.

Sayre said they’re hoping to start those projects by this fall.

Both senators said the funding will help ensure the airports are able to continue serving West Virginia safely and efficiently.

“As West Virginia’s two largest airports, Yeager and Tri-State are essential to keeping our state connected to the rest of the country, promoting economic growth and facilitating travel to and from West Virginia,” Capito said in a statement.

Manchin said in a release, “As a pilot myself, I understand the importance of maintaining airport facilities and the important role both airports play in West Virginia’s economy.”

Yeager will receive more than $2.7 million. Tri-State will get about $8.9 million.

Sayre said the airport needs all the financial help they can get in order to rebuild the airport’s overrun area, which collapsed in 2015.

“For us, here at the airport we’re working diligently every day with our elected officials trying to get us some help with the FAA to get this interim fix on the 5-end so we can immediately improve safety here at the airport,” he said.


►  County clerks preparing for road bond vote

County clerks across the state are busy preparing for October’s road bond election.

There’s a lot for the clerks to do, Secretary of State Mac Warner said.

“As soon as the Governor made the announcement that he was calling for this election (October 7), they’ve gone to work,” Warner said. “There’s a schedule with an almost day-by-day account of what has to happen, and they are busy at it.”

Voters will be asked to allow the state to bond money from recent tax and fee increases to finance a few billion dollars in highway construction projects. Increases are already in effect for DMV fees and the wholesale component of the gasoline tax. The increase are expected to bring in about $130 million. The governor wants to use the money to produce more money in the bond mark.

The first weekend of October will here before you know it and county clerks will be busy, Warner said.

“There are issues such as counties having to change a precinct or polling location,” he said. “You can just imagine in a short amount of time like this, people have scheduled weddings and other things that may conflict with where a polling place may have been.”

Warner said the out of season election will expensive.

“We have polled the clerks, we have heard back from most of them, and it looks like it is going to be north of two million dollars,” Warner said. “The counties pay for that initially, but the Governor’s office reimburses them after the fact.”

At such a large cost, Warner said he wants to see all West Virginian’s making their voices heard at the poll.

“We want to hear from all West Virginians to see whether they want to pay for this additional burden to have better roads, it is a clear issue,” Warner said. “The Secretary of State’s Office takes no position in this one way or the other, but we do encourage people to get out and vote because we want the people of West Virginia, who will be paying for this, but who will also be benefiting from new roads, to have a voice whether they want to go this direction or not.”

Warner said those not available on election day will have the opportunity to vote early during an early voting period that will begin 10 days before October 7.

Nick Casey, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, recently commented on the election, agreeing with Justice that if it does not pass the state would be done.

“The results of the budget we got, which cut all sorts of different stuff and did not raise any extra revenue, has put squarely on the shoulders of West Virginia the success of these roads,” Casey said. “If these roads are not successful in boosting the economic activity that we wanted, we are going to be a couple hundred million dollars upside down.”

This will be a single issue election, with the road bond the sole issue on the ballot.


►  West Virginia AG’s office joins lawsuit against Mylan, other drug manufacturers

The West Virginia attorney general’s office has joined a multistate lawsuit alleging antitrust violations involving an antibiotic, an oral diabetes medication and six generic drug manufacturers.

The companies are accused of fixing prices, coordinating schemes through direct interactions with competitors and allocating markets among other assertions. Those sued were Heritage Pharmaceuticals Inc., Aurobindo Pharma USA Inc., Citron Pharma LLC, Mayne Pharma (USA) Inc., Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.

“Failure to comply with antitrust laws hurts consumers and drives up prices,” Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said. “The allegations raised in this lawsuit are troubling and will be pursued vigorously in court.”

The defendants allegedly violated the West Virginia Antitrust Act, which outlaws contracts or conspiracies for the purpose of fixing, controlling or maintaining market prices of any commodity or service.

The lawsuit followed an investigation into reasons behind price increases of certain generic pharmaceuticals. It allegedly uncovered evidence of a well-coordinated and long-running conspiracy to fix prices and allocate markets for doxycycline hyclate delayed release, an antibiotic, and glyburide, an oral diabetes medication

West Virginia seeks the reimbursement of civil penalties, costs and attorney fees among other monetary relief.

West Virginia filed its lawsuit with Arkansas, District of Columbia, Missouri and New Mexico. It stands as a companion case to allegations filed by other attorneys general led by Connecticut.

National News

The Free Press WV


►  2 more GOP senators oppose health bill, killing it for now

The latest GOP effort to repeal and replace “Obamacare” was fatally wounded in the Senate Monday night when two more Republican senators announced their opposition to the legislation strongly backed by President Donald Trump.

The announcements from Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas left the Republican Party’s long-promised efforts to get rid of President Barack Obama’s health care legislation reeling. Next steps, if any, were not immediately clear.

Lee and Moran both said they could not support Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s legislation in its current form. They joined GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky, both of whom announced their opposition right after McConnell released the bill last Thursday.

McConnell is now at least two votes short in the closely divided Senate and may have to go back to the drawing board or even begin to negotiate with Democrats, a prospect he’s threatened but resisted so far. Or he could abandon the health care effort, which has proven more difficult than many Republicans envisioned after campaigning on the issue for years, and move on to tax legislation, a bigger Trump priority to begin with.

McConnell’s bill “fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare’s rising costs. For the same reasons I could not support the previous version of this bill, I cannot support this one,” said Moran.

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

It was the second straight failure for McConnell, who had to cancel a vote on an earlier version of the bill last month when defeat became inevitable.

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

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

McConnell’s latest version aimed to satisfy both camps, by incorporating language by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas allowing insurers to sell skimpy plans alongside more robust ones, and by adding billions to treat opioid addiction and to defray consumer costs.

But his efforts did not achieve the intended result.

There was no immediate reaction from McConnell’s office. But Democrats could barely contain their glee.

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

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

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

There are at least a half-dozen or so others who are undecided, so it’s quite likely that more “no” votes will be announced in the hours and days ahead.

In a Senate divided 52-48 between Republicans and Democrats, McConnell could lose only two senators and still prevail on a procedural vote to open debate on the bill. He had hoped to hold that vote this week, but Sen. John McCain’s recovery following surgery in Arizona had already pushed back that timeframe.

Earlier this month, Moran faced tough questions from constituents at a town hall in tiny Palco, Kansas, about the impact of the GOP bill. About 150 people tried to squeeze into a community center room and many applauded his opposition to the initial health care bill. The session underscored the evolving position of many Americans to government-run health care, with loud approval for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

“I will choose country over party,” Moran told the town hall. “I will choose Kansans over party.”


►  ‘It’s raining needles’: Drug crisis creates pollution threat

They hide in weeds along hiking trails and in playground grass. They wash into rivers and float downstream to land on beaches. They pepper baseball dugouts, sidewalks and streets. Syringes left by drug users amid the heroin crisis are turning up everywhere.

In Portland, Maine, officials have collected more than 700 needles so far this year, putting them on track to handily exceed the nearly 900 gathered in all of 2016. In March alone, San Francisco collected more than 13,000 syringes, compared with only about 2,900 the same month in 2016.

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People, often children, risk getting stuck by discarded needles, raising the prospect they could contract blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis or HIV or be exposed to remnants of heroin or other drugs.

It’s unclear whether anyone has gotten sick, but the reports of children finding the needles can be sickening in their own right. One 6-year-old girl in California mistook a discarded syringe for a thermometer and put it in her mouth; she was unharmed.

“I just want more awareness that this is happening,” said Nancy Holmes, whose 11-year-old daughter stepped on a needle in Santa Cruz, California, while swimming. “You would hear stories about finding needles at the beach or being poked at the beach. But you think that it wouldn’t happen to you. Sure enough.”

They are a growing problem in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, two states that have seen many overdose deaths in recent years.

“We would certainly characterize this as a health hazard,” said Tim Soucy, health director in Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest city, which collected 570 needles in 2016, the first year it began tracking the problem. It has found 247 needles so far this year.

Needles turn up in places like parks, baseball diamonds, trails and beaches — isolated spots where drug users can gather and attract little attention, and often the same spots used by the public for recreation. The needles are tossed out of carelessness or the fear of being prosecuted for possessing them.

One child was poked by a needle left on the grounds of a Utah elementary school. Another youngster stepped on one while playing on a beach in New Hampshire.

Even if adults or children don’t get sick, they still must endure an unsettling battery of tests to make sure they didn’t catch anything. The girl who put a syringe in her mouth was not poked but had to be tested for hepatitis B and C, her mother said.

Some community advocates are trying to sweep up the pollution.

Rocky Morrison leads a cleanup effort along the Merrimack River, which winds through the old milling city of Lowell, and has recovered hundreds of needles in abandoned homeless camps that dot the banks, as well as in piles of debris that collect in floating booms he recently started setting.

He has a collection of several hundred needles in a fishbowl, a prop he uses to illustrate that the problem is real and that towns must do more to combat it.

“We started seeing it last year here and there. But now, it’s just raining needles everywhere we go,” said Morrison, a burly, tattooed construction worker whose Clean River Project has six boats working parts of the 117-mile (188-kilometer) river.

Among the oldest tracking programs is in Santa Cruz, California, where the community group Take Back Santa Cruz has reported finding more than 14,500 needles in the county over the past 4 1/2 years. It says it has gotten reports of 12 people getting stuck, half of them children.

“It’s become pretty commonplace to find them. We call it a rite of passage for a child to find their first needle,” said Gabrielle Korte, a member of the group’s needle team. “It’s very depressing. It’s infuriating. It’s just gross.”

Some experts say the problem will ease only when more users get treatment and more funding is directed to treatment programs.

Others are counting on needle exchange programs, now present in more than 30 states, or the creation of safe spaces to shoot up — already introduced in Canada and proposed by U.S. state and city officials from New York to Seattle.

Studies have found that needle exchange programs can reduce pollution, said Don Des Jarlais, a researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai hospital in New York.

But Morrison and Korte complain poor supervision at needle exchanges will simply put more syringes in the hands of people who may not dispose of them properly.

After complaints of discarded needles, Santa Cruz County took over its exchange from a nonprofit in 2013 and implemented changes. It did away with mobile exchanges and stopped allowing drug users to get needles without turning in an equal number of used ones, said Jason Hoppin, a spokesman for Santa Cruz County.

Along the Merrimack, nearly three dozen riverfront towns are debating how to stem the flow of needles. Two regional planning commissions are drafting a request for proposals for a cleanup plan. They hope to have it ready by the end of July.

“We are all trying to get a grip on the problem,” said Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini. “The stuff comes from somewhere. If we can work together to stop it at the source, I am all for it.”


►  Federal court’s agenda has topics that draw Trump’s ire

The nation’s largest federal court circuit has clashed repeatedly with Donald Trump over the past six months, and the agenda for its annual meeting is not shying away from topics that have stoked the president’s ire.

Immigration, fake news and meddling in the U.S. election are among the subjects to be discussed or touched on at the four-day conference of the 9th Circuit courts in San Francisco starting Monday.

Judges in the circuit have blocked both of Trump’s bans on travelers from a group of mostly Muslim countries and halted his attempt to strip funding from so-called sanctuary cities.

Trump has fired back, referring to a judge who blocked his first travel ban as a “so-called judge” and calling the ruling that upheld the decision disgraceful. Republicans have accused the 9th Circuit appeals court of a liberal slant and renewed efforts to break it up – a move Trump supports.

The 9th Circuit’s spokesman, David Madden, acknowledged that someone could see a connection between the conference agenda and the administration, but he said there was no intention to link the two.

At least some of the topics were timely even before the election, and they all reflect issues that could come before judges in the circuit, which includes the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and district and bankruptcy courts in California and eight other western states, Madden said.

“We live in interesting times and the court cannot choose which cases are brought before it,“ he said.

A panel on Monday will discuss cases that set aside the convictions of men who resisted an executive order that led to the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The panelists include 9th Circuit appeals court Judge Mary Schroeder and retired U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, each of whom ruled in a case challenging such a conviction.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s order allowing the U.S. government to hold roughly 110,000 Japanese-Americans in camps on the grounds of national security turned 75 this year. It has drawn comparisons to Trump’s travel ban, which detractors say discriminates against Muslims.

Another panel at the conference will discuss programs designed to keep people out of federal prison. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has directed federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible against the vast majority of suspects, which will likely send more people to prison and for much longer terms.

Also Monday, the newest Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, will speak to new U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony at the conference. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy – the 9th Circuit’s liaison on the U.S. Supreme Court – was scheduled to give the talk, but cancelled after his wife fractured her hip.

On Tuesday, a panel will discuss voter fraud, voter suppression and “foreign interference in U.S. elections.“ Another panel will tackle fake news.

“Maybe the appearance is that there’s some kind of resistance coming from the court,“ said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond School of Law who follows the 9th Circuit. “On the other hand, some of these issues are very topical and timely and in the district and appellate courts of the 9th Circuit.“

The conference will also feature awards, tributes and panels about more innocuous subjects.

In addition to ruling against Trump’s executive orders, 9th Circuit judges have taken more direct swipes at the president.

Ninth Circuit appeals court Judge Stephen Reinhardt in a May opinion said a Trump administration order to deport a man was “inhumane.“

“Trump has claimed that his immigration policies would target the ‘bad hombres,‘“ Reinhardt said. “The government’s decision to remove Magana Ortiz shows that even the ‘good hombres’ are not safe.“

Ninth Circuit appeals court Judge Alex Kozinski joined four fellow conservative judges in an opinion in March that did not mention Trump by name, but said “personal attacks” on judges who blocked the administration’s first travel ban were “out of all bounds of civic and persuasive discourse.“

Kozinski said Thursday he saw nothing unusual or political about the program for the court circuit’s meeting.


►  Needles all over: What to do if you find syringes in public

Syringes left by drug users are increasingly turning up in public places, and authorities offer this advice if you or your children should encounter any:

___

DON’T PICK THEM UP

You could get exposed to drugs or disease, or unwittingly dispose of them improperly.

___

CALL SOMEONE TO PICK THEM UP

Check with your local information hotline or health department, which can take care of it or direct you to people who can. Don’t call 911 unless directed, or unless there is imminent danger or an emergency.

___

IF YOU DO IT YOURSELF

You’re not advised to pick them up, but if you do, minimize any hand contact. Use sturdy gloves, disposable tongs, a shovel or dustpan, and put them in a puncture-proof container.

___

IF YOU GET POKED

Don’t panic. Don’t suck the wound. Go to your doctor, an emergency room or an urgent care clinic for further guidance, as well as possible medical tests and immunizations.

___

WHAT TO TELL YOUR KIDS

Show them what a syringe looks like and use age-appropriate language to describe why they should stay away from it. Tell them that if they see any to get an adult, who should follow the steps described above.


►  Afghan girls robotics team competes after visa obstacles

A robotics team of six girls from Afghanistan is taking part in an international competition in Washington, after clearing visa obstacles that prompted intervention from Donald Trump.

The team’s ball-sorting robot played in its first game on Monday morning.

The team is competing against teams from more than 150 countries in the FIRST Global Challenge. It’s a robotics competition designed to encourage youths to pursue careers in math and science.

Like other robots in the competition, the girls’ robot can recognize blue and orange and sort balls into correct locations.

The team was twice rejected for U.S. visas. They arrived in Washington from their hometown of Herat, Afghanistan, early Saturday after Trump’s last-minute intervention to sidestep the visa system.


►  Weed killer turns neighbor against neighbor in farm country

A longtime Arkansas soybean farmer, Mike Wallace thought of his neighbors as a community and always was willing to lend a hand if they faced any hardships with their crops.

“Mike would do anything for any farmer,” his wife, Karen, said. “If there was a farmer who got sick in harvest time or planting time or whatever, he would say, ‘What can I do to help? Here’s my equipment. Here’s my guys. Let’s go do it.’”

But across much of farm country, a dispute over a common weed killer is turning neighbor against neighbor. The furor surrounding the herbicide known as dicamba has quickly become the biggest controversy of its kind in U.S. agriculture, and it is even suspected as a factor in Wallace’s death in October, when he was allegedly shot by a worker from a nearby farm where the chemical had been sprayed.

Concern about the herbicide drifting onto unprotected crops, especially soybeans, has spawned lawsuits and prompted Arkansas and Missouri to impose temporary bans on dicamba. Losses blamed on accidental chemical damage could climb into the tens of millions of dollars, if not higher, and may have a ripple effect on other products that rely on soybeans, including chicken.

The number of complaints “far exceeds anything we’ve ever seen,” Arkansas Plant Board Director Terry Walker recently told lawmakers.

Dicamba has been around for decades, but problems arose over the past couple of years as farmers began to use it on soybean and cotton fields where they planted new seeds engineered to be resistant to the herbicide. Because it can easily evaporate after being applied, the chemical sometimes settles onto neighboring fields. Some farmers illegally sprayed dicamba before federal regulators approved versions that were designed to be less volatile.

The chemical “has made good neighbors look like bad neighbors,” said Reed Storey, an Arkansas farmer who says about half of his soybean crop has shown damage from drifting dicamba.

As the herbicide was put into broader use, complaints began pouring in from farmers in Arkansas and other states. Crops near many dicamba-treated soybean fields turned up with leaves that were cupped and crinkled. The Plant Board has received more than 630 complaints about dicamba so far this year, many more than the 250 or so total complaints normally received in a full year. Complaints have also been registered in Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee.

The issue illustrates the struggle to control agricultural pests as they gradually mutate to render the chemicals used against them less effective. And while some farmers fear damage from their neighbors’ dicamba, others are worried that their fields will be defenseless against weeds without it.

The drifting herbicide has been particularly damaging for soybeans. A group of farmers in Arkansas filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against BASF and Monsanto, which make dicamba.

The chemical has hurt other crops too, including vegetables and peanuts. As the damage piles up, dicamba has also made it more difficult for one company, Ozark Mountain Poultry, to find non-genetically modified soybeans to use as feed for chickens because more farmers are relying on seeds engineered by Monsanto to resist the herbicide. Non-modified soybeans are needed to market chicken as non-GMO.

Dicamba’s makers insist the problem is not with the herbicide but how some farmers apply it. They say the states should focus on other restrictions, such as limiting spraying to daytime hours.

“It is premature at this point to conclude that it is a fault of the product,” Dan Westberg of BASF told lawmakers this month.

Farmers say the herbicide is desperately needed to kill pigweed, which can grow and spread seeds rapidly, threatening a soybean farmer’s yield.

“We cannot lose this technology,” Perry Galloway, an Arkansas farmer who has used dicamba and dicamba-tolerant soybean seeds. “We’ve come too far at this point to just throw it away.”

It’s not clear what states will do about the herbicide after this year. Missouri lifted its sale-and-use ban for three dicamba herbicides after approving new labels and restrictions for its use. The ban on other dicamba products will be in effect until December 1. Arkansas’ ban expires in November. Governor Asa Hutchinson has said a task force needs to study the issue further.

“This debate will continue into future planting seasons, and Arkansas needs a long-term solution,” he wrote in a letter last month to state agriculture officials.

Wallace’s relatives said they are glad the herbicide will be banned for the time being in Arkansas. For them, too much damage has already been done.

Farm worker Allan Curtis Jones, 27, is accused of shooting Wallace, 55, in a confrontation over dicamba, which Wallace believed had drifted from the farm where Jones worked to damage his soybean crop.

Jones told authorities that Wallace called him to talk about the spraying. Jones brought his cousin with him as a witness because he believed Wallace wanted to fight, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported in October.

When the two men met, Jones told police, Wallace grabbed him by the arm. Jones said he pulled a handgun from his pocket and fired “until the gun was empty,” Mississippi County Sheriff Dale Cook told the paper. He is set to go on trial this fall.

Wallace “did not want to hurt his neighbor, and he could not understand why people would spray things that would hurt others,” said Kerin Hawkins, his sister, who has also seen crops damaged by dicamba. “He could not understand because you were supposed to be a good neighbor.”


►  Construction of new Outer Banks bridge attracts sightseers

Construction of a North Carolina bridge to replace the one that links isolated Hatteras Island to the mainland is attracting sightseers even though it’s not quite halfway finished.

Dare County commissioner Danny Couch tells The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Virginia, that people enjoy crossing the old Bonner Bridge, stopping on the sandy roadside and taking photos of the new structure.

Island resident and Dare County commissioner Danny Couch tells The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Virginia, that people enjoy crossing the current Bonner Bridge, stopping on the sandy roadside and taking photos.

“It’s going to be one of the single biggest attractions down here just to cross it,” Couch said. “It’s absolutely fascinating.”

The $250 million span across the Oregon Inlet along North Carolina’s Outer Banks will be 2.8 miles long. It’s scheduled to open in late 2018.

Engineers ran the design through more than 100,000 computer simulations of the 45 worst storms to strike the Outer Banks in the past 160 years, the newspaper reported. They even accounted for a big barge slamming into its supports as happened to the current bridge in 1990.

No other bridge in North Carolina is quite like the Bonner Bridge replacement, said Pablo Hernandez, the bridge’s engineer.

“It is a civil engineer’s dream to work on a project like this,” Hernandez said. “The people here depend on Highway 12.”

Both residents and tourists have waited years for the new bridge, which was delayed by legal wrangling and budget concerns. When the original Bonner Bridge was built in 1963, it had an expected life span of 30 years.

State transportation officials and environmental groups reached an agreement in June 2015 that allowed for construction of the new bridge. The environmental groups had wanted a 17-mile route around the wildlife refuge to connect the village of Rodanthe and other communities on Hatteras Island. State officials said it would have cost more than $1 billion.

Here’s the new bridge by the numbers:

— The high-rise portion will cover more than a half mile, with seven spans 300 feet wide. That will make travel safer for boats.

— The new bridge will be nearly 20 feet higher and a half-mile longer than the current one.

— Underwater foundations are made up of as many as 30 individual concrete pilings imbedded in the soil below as deep as 100 feet and set at an angle for extra strength. The current bridge pilings go into the soil 30 feet to 50 feet.

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