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Trump Suggests Contest to Award ‘FAKE NEWS TROPHY’

The Free Press WV

President Trump is back in the White House after spending the Thanksgiving holiday at Mar-a-Lago, and he’s back on the media attack, on Monday morning suggesting—“seemingly tongue-in-cheek,“ per Politico—that the media go head-to-head in an unusual contest: “We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and not including Fox, is the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite President (me),“ he tweeted. “They are all bad. Winner to receive the FAKE NEWS TROPHY!“ He also commented on a tweet about Joe Scarborough’s MSNBC show Morning Joe running a pre-taped segment Friday without making clear it wasn’t live, tweeting, “the good news is that their ratings are terrible, nobody cares!“

Scarborough took notice, tweeting, “You care. Oh, how you care so much” and “Still watching I see. You remain our most obsessed viewer.“ Scarborough has since deleted those two tweets and replaced it with this one: “I’m taking my Trump tweets down. Too 2017 for me.“ The president wasn’t silent on the subject of CNN over the holiday, either, on Saturday taking another swing at the network. He tweeted, “@FoxNews is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!“

Guns and Black Friday

The Free Press WV

For decades, the term “Black Friday” has conjured up distinct images: Turkey-stuffed consumers awake at insanely early hours of the morning, bursting into big-box stores to fight over flat screen TVs.

But in a muzzle flash, it seems, a new image may be replacing that stereotype. It involves a trigger and, possibly, a scope.

On Friday, the FBI received 203,086 requests for instant gun background checks, according to USA Today – nearly a 10 percent increase from the year before and a new record for background checks in a single day.

That’s not an anomaly. According to the FBI, the previous two records for background checks were also set on the day after the federal holiday in which Americans give thanks for the year’s blessings.

The FBI didn’t provide any analysis behind the spike, but the biggest shopping day of the year may come at a moment of worry for people who fear someone from the government may knock on their door someday and confiscate their guns.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed the FBI and ATF to look at potential problems in the National Instant Criminal Background Check system (NICS).

Sessions wants the agencies to fix problems with how the military and other federal entities report convictions that could keep someone from having a gun.

The database “is critically important to protecting the American public from firearms related violence,“ Sessions wrote in his memo. “It is, however, only as reliable and robust as the information that federal, state, local and tribal government entities make available to it.“

The directive comes after the U.S. Air Force conceded it had never submitted the domestic-abuse conviction of Devin P. Kelley to the NICS database. Kelley purchased a Ruger AR-556 rifle with a 30-round magazine and used it to mow down a church full of parishioners in Sutherland Springs, Texas, earlier this month. It was the largest mass shooting in Texas history.

And a month before that, a man using a “bump stock” to make his rifles fire at a much faster rate killed 58 people and injured hundreds more in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas sheriff said Stephen Paddock fired more than 1,100 rounds, according to the Associated Press. Investigators found 4,000 unused rounds in his hotel suite.

Gun-safety advocates routinely push for greater restrictions on gun purchases after such shootings.

“As my colleagues go to sleep tonight, they need to think about whether the political support of the gun industry is worth the blood that flows endlessly onto the floors of American churches, elementary schools, movie theaters, and city streets,“ Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said after the Texas shooting.

And gun-rights advocates routinely take equally strong stances on the other side of the issue.

After the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting that left six educators and 20 children dead, the National Rifle Association described then-President Barack Obama’s gun-violence reduction proposals as an effort to ban millions of guns.

“The main goal of the gun banners in Congress is not to make schools safer, but to ban your guns and abolish every last sacred right you have under the Second Amendment . . . until they reduce your freedom to ashes,“ the NRA said in an alert.

But consumers with strong opinions on guns don’t have to wait for the debate to play out. They can just take their wallets to gun stores – and routinely after mass shootings, they do.

As The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz and Peter Finn reported, the U.S. experienced “a record run on military-style assault weapons” in 2013, especially in the months after the Newtown shootings.

But this year, one mass shooting was different. Even the NRA said there should be additional regulations on devices like Paddock’s bump stocks. Investigators should “identify any additional measures that should be taken to prevent firearms from being obtained by prohibited persons” the association’s memo says.

Meanwhile, it appears the FBI will have to figure out how to deal with the onslaught of background checks.

According to USA Today, the agency has “struggled to keep pace with the volume of firearm transactions and still properly maintain the databases of criminal and mental health records necessary to determine whether buyers are eligible to purchase guns.“

Last year, when it processed some 27.5 million background checks, it had bring in personnel from other units.

This Computer Game Comes Thanks To 2 Supreme Court Justices

The Free Press WV

The Supreme Court’s first female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, has helped teach millions of students civics through computer games created by an organization she founded. Now, with a push from the Supreme Court’s first Hispanic justice, Sonia Sotomayor, the group has translated one of its games into Spanish.

The group iCivics, which O’Connor founded in 2009 after her retirement from the Supreme Court, now has 19 computer games that were played by 5 million students last year. Sotomayor, who grew up speaking Spanish at home, joined the organization’s board in 2015. One of her first initiatives has been to try to make iCivics games more accessible to students learning English and others struggling with reading, she has said.

O’Connor and Sotomayor never served together on the high court, but they have found a common calling in advocating for civics education in schools.

“For me, civic education is the key to inspiring kids to want to become and stay involved in making a difference,” Sotomayor said at an event in September at Washington’s Newseum.

Games created by iCivics teach students concepts from how the nation’s court system works and how laws are made to how presidential campaigns work and what it’s like to be on a jury. Sotomayor has predicted iCivics “will change America” and may be O’Connor’s “longest-lasting legacy.”

The game iCivics has updated in Spanish and is called “Do I Have a Right?” In it, players run a law firm. They listen to potential clients’ stories, decide if their constitutional rights have been violated and, if so, match the clients with lawyers who can help. The game was first released in 2011 and iCivics says it has been played nearly 9 million times.

The Spanish language update is aimed at the almost 10 percent of public school students, about 4.6 million students, who are classified as English-language learners. The majority of them come from homes where Spanish is spoken.

On a recent Thursday morning, students in Phoebe Sherman’s 11th grade U.S. history class at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Washington were some of the first to play the updated game. The students, almost all of them immigrants from Central America who are in a class of English-language learners, spent time answering the question “What is a right?” and coming up with examples before playing the game in pairs.

Some pairs chose to play in English while others chose Spanish. Some groups switched back and forth while playing. Aside from the Spanish translation, the game’s new version also includes other updates for students struggling with English: a glossary that explains legal and other terms and an optional voiceover in the English game.

Zayra Granados, 17, who moved to the United States from El Salvador four years ago, was playing the game in Spanish. She read a question about whether a newspaper could be required by law to publish only happy news or if it had a right to publish a story about homelessness. The newspaper could publish the story about homelessness, she concluded.

“People have to know what is happening in their country,” she said.

By the end of the period, she and her partner had just eked out a winning record, with their law firm winning eight cases and losing seven. She was happy about the wins.

“I want to learn about laws and stuff so I can know my rights,” she said.

iCivics’ executive director, Louise Dube, says her organization hopes to make all of its games available with modifications for English-language learners, though they don’t yet have a timetable. Making changes to the current game cost $400,000 and they’ll have to raise money to make more games available, she said.

O’Connor, who is now 87, said in a statement that her goal is to reach every student in America through iCivics.

“To do that, we need to be able to address the needs of all learners, including those who struggle with reading,” she said. “I am delighted with the new game.”

The 10 Drunkest States— and Their Drunkest Cities

The Free Press WV

An estimated 18% of US adults drink to excess, but those rates vary quite a bit between states and cities—from rates of less than 10% to more than 25%. The areas with populations that don’t drink as heavily tend to have lower median incomes and lower education levels. In general, the South has the lowest excessive drinking rates, while the Midwest has the highest. To determine “the drunkest city in every state,“ 24/7 Wall St. looked at CDC data to determine the metropolitan area in each state with the highest levels of heavy drinking and binge drinking. Below are the 10 states with the highest percentage of adults binge or heavy drinking, plus their drunkest cities:

  1. North Dakota: 24.7% statewide; 25.2% in Fargo
  2. Wisconsin: 24.5% statewide; 26.5% in Green Bay
  3. Alaska: 22.1% statewide; 22.7% in Fairbanks
  4. Montana: 21.8% statewide; 24.3% in Missoula
  5. Illinois: 21.2% statewide; 21.5% in Bloomington
  6. Minnesota: 21.1% statewide; 23.6% in Mankato-North Mankato
  7. Hawaii: 20.5% statewide; 21.8% in Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina
  8. Iowa: 21% statewide; 23.1% in Iowa City
  9. Nebraska: 20.4% statewide; 22.7% in Lincoln
  10. Michigan: 20% statewide; 21.9% in Lansing-East Lansing

Click for the complete list.

Native People and Allies Pledge to Stop Keystone XL

The Free Press WV

I’m in Lower Brule, South Dakota, where elected tribal officials, spiritual leaders, Native grassroots organizations, youth groups, and traditional women’s societies have gathered with non-Native farmers, ranchers and others affected by the Keystone XL pipeline. That project to carry tar sands from shale fields in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico threatens our water, our livelihoods and our sacred sites.

We were together Monday when we heard the news Nebraska’s Public Services Commission gave approval to an alternative route for the pipeline.

Yes, we were sad, and angry. But within minutes, we went from being sad to being strategic. That decision opens a new terrain to continue the fight to prevent the building of KXL, and it can be stopped if we build on the strong relationships between Native leadership and non-Native farmers and ranchers. We can leverage the power of organized prayer in a values-led campaign that puts Mother Earth above profit-hungry fossil fuel corporations.


What We Learned in Standing Rock

Many of us are veterans of Standing Rock. We learned so much during those long, cold months at the Oceti Sakowin camp, in our struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

We won at Standing Rock, even though the oil is now flowing. Because over 400 tribes came together to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for their sovereign, moral and inherent right to protect the Missouri River and Mother Earth.

Native peoples have a unique role to play in building a movement that defends the planet, and in creating a future where we all can live in healthy communities.


Joining Our Struggle

What began as a struggle to protect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water supply and sacred sites grew into an international movement to protect the water for the 17 million people who live, work and play along the shores of the Missouri. Along the way, we were joined by by thousands more from all around the world.

As we believe, we’re all related, and that all we do in life, and nature has an impact on every one of us.

So the mood at our gathering today is that in the present, we can act on the wisdom and knowledge of our ancestors, and protect future generations from destruction if we work strategically. We must lead with love for humanity, for community and for Mother Earth.

We must plan and organize, not just politically, but also with the prayers that will give us the strength and courage to do what we need to do to stop this pipeline. Tribal leadership and Native communities are the keys to winning this struggle.


TransCanada Knows

The truth is that TransCanada, the pipeline’s builders, aren’t happy. Nebraska allowed their project to proceed, but they didn’t get what they wanted. A new route means TransCanada has to decide if the costs of proceeding are worth it.

TransCanada’s investors must face questions of the viability of building a pipeline that has been fought for years as oil prices have dropped. Quarterly earnings come out December 9, and their shareholders meet on December 15. According to the New York Times, they still haven’t decided whether they will proceed with building the pipeline.

The price of oil is still low. And the movement we started at Standing Rock succeeded in the divestment of $5 billion from the Dakota Access Pipeline. City governments, union pensions and individuals were convinced by the power of the Oceti Sakowin Camp that it was immoral to have their money fund that pipeline. We can do the same with Keystone XL, and TransCanada’s investors know it.


What We See

So what we see here in Lower Brule is that all up and down the new proposed route, there are possibilities to challenge the building of Keystone XL.

Sadly, we’re also gathered near where 210,000 gallons are leaking from the Keystone 1 pipeline. TransCanada has proven that they’re not prepared to deal with this kind of calamity, nor can they protect the precious aquifer and wells that are critical for ranching, irrigating crops and drinking water.

The movement to stop Keystone XL has momentum, because it is grounded in the Indigenous practices of living in harmony with nature. Ourstrategy and tactics are rooted in the inherent responsibility of indigenous communities to do whatever is necessary to protect the land, water and air from destruction.  


Our Power Has Grown

Response to this week’s KXL permit decision comes out of years of united resistance between Native and non-Native landowners. Our power has grown since Standing Rock. People now understand that if we build unity, if we build a movement with compassion for Mother Earth and concern for Humankind, we can win the hearts and minds of a broad cross section of people in this country.

And if we beat Keystone XL, we can disrupt the pro-fossil fuel campaign coming from the White House. We will signal an unmistakable challenge to all those running for office in states where American Indians are concentrated that the Native vote is the swing vote, which will be mobilized all the way from prayer camps to the voting booth.

There’s a very keen awareness that this fight is important not only for those who live along the pipeline, but also for how our country can become less dependent on fossil fuels, and we can move towards the protection of our planet.


A Family Reunion

So here in Lower Brule, we’re holding a family reunion: veterans of the first successful KXL fight, the Standing Rock family, with newcomers, Natives with non-Natives. Strategizing, sharing stories and renewing our shared commitment to protecting the sacred from desecration by fossil fuels has made us even stronger.

But the coming battles are going to be new, not like the ones in the past, and will demand all our strength. The traditional indigenous practice is that you must respond to adversity with courage, humility, compassion and love of community as we always have.

The NO KXL movement is being built from a spiritual starting point that’s rooted in the traditional Lakota, Dakota culture and origin stories, in the grassroots and in sovereign treaty rights that have been so often ignored. 


Wherever You Are

Together with our allies like 350.org, Greenpeace, and Rainforest Action Network, we “Promise to Protect the Sacred.” So if the need arises, if we have exhausted all local avenues, when we need assistance, people from all over the world will be called to come to Nebraska and South Dakota to physically stop the building of this pipeline.

Wherever you are, please take a moment to remember think about how you can be a part of this historic movement to stop Keystone XL.

Native peoples have a legal, moral, spiritual and inherent right to be caretakers of the planet. The sacred teachings of our cultures reflect the resilience that has brought us this far, by prioritizing kinship, reciprocity and community building. It’s about preserving relationships and living in balance, with all things – natural, human and animal.

~~  Judith LeBlanc ~~

Judge Declares Texas Abortion Law Unconstitutional

The Free Press WV

A lawyer for abortion providers in Texas is hailing a “complete victory” after a federal judge in Austin struck down a law restricting the most common form of second-trimester abortion yesterday. The ban on so-called “dilation and evacuation” abortions was approved by the Texas Legislature in May as part of a bigger bill known as Senate Bill 8, and it would require doctors to find an alternate method of terminating a fetus before extracting it from the womb. The D&E procedure requires dismemberment of the fetus, and anti-abortion activists and lawmakers have claimed it causes pain, Politico reports. However, D&E is considered the safest method for terminating the fetus in the second trimester.

In his judgment, Judge Lee Yeakel said the law is “facially unconstitutional” and would force doctors to act against their best medical judgment, the New York Times reports. Yeakel wrote: “The court is unaware of any other medical context that requires a doctor—in contravention of the doctor’s medical judgment and the best interest of the patient—to conduct a medical procedure that delivers no benefit to the woman.“ An hour after Yeakel’s decision came down, the Texas attorney general’s office announced that it would be filing an appeal.

Bush Sr. Is First to Reach Presidential Milestone

The Free Press WV

George HW Bush set a presidential record Saturday by simply waking up and going about his day. Per ABC News, Bush Sr. turned 93 and 166 days over the weekend, making him the longest living US president in the country’s history. The previous record holder, Gerald Ford, lived to be 93 and 165 days before his death in 2006.

Time reports that the milestone was first reported on Twitter by a high school student who writes a daily political newsletter. Gabe Fleisher tweeted a list of the longest living presidents, which includes Jimmy Carter, who at 93 and 56 days, isn’t too far behind Bush Sr.

Wall Street’s Watchdog Is Pursuing Fewer Cases Since Trump Took Office

The Free Press WV

In 2013, Mary Jo White, a former federal prosecutor, announced that the Securities and Exchange Commission would be adopting a strategy once championed by Rudolph W. Giuliani in New York: “Broken windows,“ the idea that addressing relatively small issues like vandalized panes of glass can deter larger misdeeds down the road.

So over the next few years, the SEC pursued dozens of cases for small, technical transgressions with the goal of scaring off bigger infractions.

“Minor violations that are overlooked or ignored can feed bigger ones, and, perhaps more importantly, can foster a culture where laws are increasingly treated as toothless guidelines,“ White said at the time.

Now, data shows that during the first months of the Trump administration, the agency may be scaling back those efforts.

SEC penalties fell 15.5 percent to $3.5 billion this fiscal year compared to 2016, according to data compiled by Georgetown University law professor Urska Velikonja. The SEC filed 62 enforcement actions against public companies and their subsidiaries in fiscal 2017, a 33 percent decline from the previous year, according to another study released earlier this month by the New York University Pollack Center for Law & Business and Cornerstone Research.

The reports may reflect little more than a temporary pause as leadership transitioned from White to Jay Clayton, a former Wall Street lawyer, who took over in May. The decline also coincides with a slowdown in government hiring; the agency’s enforcement division may have 100 open positions among investigators and supervisors by September, agency officials have said.

But regulatory experts worry the drop suggests a change in the relationship between regulators and the business community in the Trump administration.

“Sagging numbers signal a chilling retreat from enforcement, which was already milquetoast following the financial crash,“ said Bart Naylor, a financial policy advocate for the civic group Public Citizen. “By the Enforcement division’s own accounting, they are receiving reports of suspicious activity many orders of magnitude greater than what results in a sanction. Wall Street has never been an Eagle Scout alumni association, but failure by the Clayton SEC to elevate enforcement and hold individuals to severe penalties will only attract more scams.“

During the Obama administration, the agency, still struggling to answer criticism that it had not done enough to hold Wall Street responsible for the financial crisis, went after high-dollar corporate fines. Some found the results lacking. White had said the agency, for example, would force more companies to admit wrongdoing as part of their settlements with the agency. But only about 2 percent of 2,063 cases filed between 2014 through 2017 involved such admissions, according to research by David Rosenfeld, a professor at the Northern Illinois University College of Law.

Meanwhile, Clayton has indicated that he will take the agency in a different direction. For example, he has said he would prefer to avoid penalizing corporations over wrongdoing due to a single individual. In those cases, he has argued, company shareholders are forced to pay for the misdeeds rather than the employee. “Companies are more complicated because you can have a relatively junior person in terms of the hierarchy who is a bad actor, who you’re getting rid of. And I have a hard time making shareholders pay substantially for that type of activity,“ he told the House Financial Services Committee last month.

At a conference last month, Steven Peikin, co-director of the SEC’s enforcement division, indicated that the agency is also not enthusiastic about the SEC’s previous effort to force companies to acknowledge wrongdoing. “When I heard about the admissions policy, it didn’t really knock me down,“ he said.

Instead, Clayton has said the agency will focus on corporate wrongdoing that affects small, personal investors. It recently launched a task force to go after crimes against so-called retail investors.

“There are too many frauds for the SEC to prosecute, so the SEC has to choose,“ said Velikonja, the Georgetown University law professor. “Clayton appears to be choosing to go after small players who steal a lot of money from few people, and to go easier on big players who put many people at risk of losing small amounts of money, but large in the aggregate. It’s that choice that’s debatable, in particular since other law enforcement agencies also go after Ponzi schemes, but fewer go after large firms.

Agency officials have said that doesn’t mean the SEC will shy away from tough cases. In a recent report, the agency called 2017 a “successful and impactful year” for its enforcement division, noting that it had returned more than $1 billion to harmed investors.

“I want to address one question that we have received a lot,“ Stephanie Avakian, co-director of the SEC enforcement division, said in a recent speech. “That is, whether our enhanced retail focus means that we are allocating fewer resources to financial fraud and policing Wall Street. The answer to that question is simple: No. The premise that there is a trade-off between Wall Street and Main Street enforcement is a false one.“

Reading Trump

The Free Press WV

Writing about politics for a living means I must think about President Trump more often than is healthy to think about any person who does not live in my own household.

The man is inescapable. As Andrew Sullivan put it at New York shortly after the inauguration, Trump is always “barging into [my] consciousness.“ Like George Orwell’s Big Brother, “His face bears down on you on every flickering screen. He begins to permeate your psyche and soul; he dominates every news cycle and issues pronouncements — each one shocking and destabilizing — round the clock.“

So sometime in 2016, trying to create some mental distance from Trump for the sake of my own sanity, I stopped watching and listening to him almost entirely. Sure, there are occasional exceptions — if, for example, I’m tasked with covering a speech in real time, or if a bit of Trump happens to appear in some late-night TV clip I watch — but for the most part I avoid all video and audio recordings of the president.

Instead, I read him.

Transcripts are available so quickly and easily online these days that this is ever more feasible. And in the process of making this switch, I’ve found its benefits go well beyond clearing my mind of Trumpian clutter. Perhaps most notably, it makes it possible for me to fairly recognize when Trump gets something right.

Readers of my work here at The Week and elsewhere will know that, as a Christian and a libertarian alike, I rarely find common ground with this administration. And I confess — whether as a result of something unique about Trump, or my own lack of charity, or simply this incessant familiarity breeding an instinctive hostility — my default at this point is to assume I will disagree with whatever Trump says. When I watch Trump’s words coming out of Trump’s mouth, I often struggle to assess their policy content independent of the president’s personal manner and history of ethically gross behavior.

Reading him helps to level my mental playing field, to evaluate what he says dispassionately and on its own merits rather than those of its source. For instance, as messy as Trump’s messaging on NATO burden-sharing tends to be, I’ve argued that he is right to raise the question of rethinking how the United States relates to this alliance. Reading his speeches on the subject helped me see the value in what he said.

Lest this seem like an exercise in giving Trump more benefit of the doubt than he is due, let me now add that reading Trump is also worthwhile for those whose default reaction to him is the opposite of my own. You see, Trump is in a narrow sense an excellent salesman. He is something of a one-trick pony in this regard — his sales shtick does not work on every audience, not by a long shot — but when he’s talking to his people he has this down to a science.

But here’s the thing: It’s a package deal. I’ve found when talking to older relatives who reflexively like Trump that the fastest way to get them to seriously assess whether something the president said is good and sensible is to help them hear the words without Trump himself being involved. Because reading the president (particularly if you watch him regularly) can result in hearing his words in his voice in your head, I do this by reading aloud for them a Trump statement, ideally at least one paragraph long.

As it turns out, encountering a Trump comment divorced from Trump’s salesmanship changes the experience enormously. Gone is the staccato rhythm of speech, the pregnant pauses, the evocative gestures, the crude imitations of people he doesn’t like. Instead, I read Trump’s words out loud with normal inflection and all the enthusiasm of an 11th-grader tasked with reading the part of Brutus for the class. Granted, my sample size is small, but so far I’ve found this practice is universally successful at negating Trump’s personal appeal and forcing my listener to examine what he says as they would if they heard it from anyone else.

Consider, for example, what may be Trump’s single most famous sentence, a 285-word run-on monstrosity:

Look, having nuclear — my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, okay, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart — you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, okay, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world — it’s true! — but when you’re a conservative Republican they try — oh, do they do a number — that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune — you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged — but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me — it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right — who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners — now it used to be three, now it’s four — but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years — but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us. [President Trump]

Watching and hearing Trump say this, if you’re a Trump supporter, may not raise any red flags. But try reading it out loud in a normal voice, making sure not to include pauses for the nonexistent sentence breaks in the middle, and any persuasive power goes out the window. It’s just the rambling of a sleep-deprived man who should have given up boasting of his college career half a century ago. It includes no articulate policy statement about the subject at hand, which is ostensibly the Iran nuclear deal.

The third advantage I’ve found in reading Trump is it has encouraged me to do the same thing with other politicians and public figures. I especially suggest this method when evaluating women, as it helps us sidestep petty considerations about voice and manner that too often distract from the real questions of women’s competence in and contribution to the public square. I am no supporter of Hillary Clinton, for example, but I never want to see her lose elections because of something as inconsequential as her voice.

~~  Bonnie Kristian ~~

Americans Are Feeling Richer These Days, But They Won’t Necessarily Be Spending More On Gifts

The Free Press WV

Will shoppers really spend more this holiday season than they did last year? It depends on who you ask.

By most measures, Americans are feeling good about the economy. A monthly gauge of consumer confidence is at a 17-year high. The unemployment rate is at a 17-year-low. The stock market continues to hit all-time peaks, while gas remains relatively cheap.

That optimism is expected to help boost holiday shopping sales by as much as 4 percent this year, according to data from the National Retail Federation. The trade group projects Americans to spend a record $682 billion this year.

But there are signs that the optimism may be limited to high-income Americans. Data show that lower-income households are likely to pull back on holiday spending this year and, in many cases, that their economic outlook isn’t as rosy as it was earlier this year. Wages have remained largely stagnant, particularly in lower-paying jobs, and many are on edge over news reports suggesting changing tax policies will disproportionately hurt lower- and middle-income families, according to Doug Hermanson, an economist for the consultancy Kantar Retail. Proposed government cuts to food stamps and other supplemental programs also are expected to burden lower-income families.

“We’re starting to see a widening bifurcation,“ Hermanson said. “When you look at where the big spending is coming from – home improvements, for example – it’s very wealth-driven. Spending plans are largely unchanged overall, and that’s particularly the case among middle- and low-income households.“

Families with household incomes of less than $60,000 are likely to cut spending on gifts by 8 percent this year, according to PwC. That’s in stark contrast to wealthier households, where shoppers plan to boost spending on gifts by 3 percent, to $822 per person.

Any growth in holiday spending, the professional services firm said, will be “driven mainly by high-income consumers who’ve seen income gains; most other consumers, while optimistic, are coping with stagnant wages.“

“Households are spending a greater share of their take-home pay while saving less,“ the PwC report said. “Absent wage growth, consumer optimism alone may not bolster holiday spending. Eventually households need to make more money or they will have to rein in spending.“

And even if wealthier Americans are willing to spend, that may not translate to higher sales for many retailers, said Natalie Kotlyar, head of the retail practice at professional services firm BDO. Amazon.com and Walmart are widely expected to be the big winners of the holiday season, analysts said, while many others – department stores and big-box chains among them – are in for more of a mixed bag. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)

Target last week warned that holiday sales may not be as robust as the company had originally hoped. Toymakers such as Hasbro and Jakks Pacific have already warned that holiday sales may be disappointing following Toys R Us’ decision to file for bankruptcy protection in September. And if the past two years are any guide, it could be a rocky quarter for such companies as Macy’s, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, J.C. Penney and Sears, all of which reported declining sales during the last three months of 2016.

“Even if people are feeling richer these days, there is a conservative confidence about the economy,“ said Kotlyar said. “Consumers are still on a budget.“

Clue in Mail Bomb Sent to Obama: Cat Hair Under Label

The Free Press WV

A 46-year-old Texas woman faces a host of charges after she allegedly mailed explosives to then-President Barack Obama, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and former Social Security Administration Commissioner Carolyn Colvin. Julia Poff of Sealy had been repeatedly denied Social Security benefits and was also upset with the handling of a child support case dating back to when Abbott was Texas attorney general, an investigator testified at a Nov. 16 detention hearing, per KPRC. The packages mailed in October 2016 to Obama and Colvin were flagged by screening systems, but Abbott opened his. It contained black powder and pyrotechnic powder inside a cigarette pack, but “failed to explode because he did not open it as designed,“ court documents read, per NPR and the Houston Chronicle. The documents note an explosion could’ve caused “severe burns and death.“

  Among the evidence against Poff: cat hair. Authorities say hair beneath a label on the package sent to Obama was “microscopically consistent” with hair from Poff’s cat, report NPR and CNN. But it was an “obliterated” shipping label from an eBay order sent to Poff, found on Abbott’s package, that led authorities to Poff’s home, where they say they found latex gloves and fireworks among other evidence. The investigator testified that Poff worked at a fireworks stand for years. Another alleged clue: Abbott’s package contained a salad dressing bottle cap, and witnesses told authorities Poff bought that brand of dressing for her anniversary dinner. Poff is charged with mailing injurious articles, transportation of explosives with intent to kill, and more, and has been denied bail. A trial is set for January.

Smooth Sailing So Far On $7.5M Makeover Of Pilgrim Ship

The Free Press WV

If you’re a fan of the Mayflower II, here’s something that will float your boat.

A year after craftsmen embarked on an ambitious effort to restore the rotting replica of the ship that carried the Pilgrims to the New World in 1620, the work “is going really great,” project manager Whit Perry says.

Britain built the vessel and sailed it to the U.S. as a gift of friendship in 1957. Usually it’s moored in Plymouth Harbor, where more than 25 million visitors have boarded it over the past six decades. But over the years, the elements, aquatic organisms and insects took their toll.

It’s now in dry dock at the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard at Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport, getting a $7.5 million makeover in time for 2020 festivities marking the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim landing.

The Associated Press caught up with Perry, director of maritime preservation and operations at Plimoth Plantation , for a progress report.

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AP: You’re 12 months into a 2½-year project involving major structural repairs to America’s most beloved boat. Any unpleasant surprises?

Perry: Not really. I couldn’t be more pleased with the progress we’re making right now. We’ve had some major milestones since we began on Nov. 3, 2016. We have more than 100 new frames and floor timbers inside in the hold. Now we’re actually going to start the planking process on the outside of the ship, which is very exciting.

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AP: So nothing’s bugging you? This time last year, on top of water damage and dry rot, you had beetles chewing through the bottom of the boat.

Perry: Ah, yes, the wharf borer beetle. No, that’s been a minor issue. We did find evidence of (Teredo worms). This is a mollusk that can grow up to three feet long and eats through wood. On the bottom of the keel, there’s something called a “worm shoe” — a 4-inch-thick piece of wood that runs the whole length of the ship. It lets the worms have a field day but not get into the main structure of the boat. That’s where we found evidence of worms. The ship itself is OK.

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AP: The shipyard’s live webcam is pretty cool, but it’s hard to tell how many people are involved and what they’re doing. Can you tell us what we can’t see?

Perry: There are 20 people working on the Mayflower II at any one time. They’re working regular shifts, but we’re paying a little overtime so they don’t feel like they have to put down their tools if they’re in the middle of something. There are small teams working all over the ship. As we take things apart, we’re fixing anything with a question mark now, while we have the chance.

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AP: Sea water actually preserves a wooden ship like this one. What happens when it’s on dry land for so long? Is that bad for a boat?

Perry: It can be. We’re very proactive in spraying the boat with salt water and an antifungal agent. As we put the ship back together, we try to keep the humidity up with misters so it doesn’t dry out too much. We also have to leave a little play on the new planking beneath the waterline so it doesn’t buckle when the ship returns to the water and the wood starts to swell. It’s not an exact science.

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AP: In 2020, the eyes of the world will be on Plymouth. Sounds like you’re confident the ship will be ready?

Perry: It’s all going really great. We’re on budget and we’re on schedule. The ship will leave Mystic Seaport by late spring or early summer of 2019. And I’ve got to say, sailing the Mayflower II back to Plymouth is going to be quite a spectacle. Seeing the ship back under sail is going to be a beautiful sight.

Trump Credits Troops, and Himself, For Military Advances

The Free Press WV

Donald Trump thanked U.S. troops for their service assuring them “we’re really winning” against America’s foes as he celebrated Thanksgiving at his private club in Florida and provided lunch for Coast Guard men and women on duty for the holiday.

Using the occasion to pat himself on the back, Trump told deployed military members via a video conference that they’ve achieved more progress in Afghanistan and against the Islamic State group under his watch than had been made in years of the previous administration.

“Everybody’s talking about the progress you’ve made in the last few months since I opened it up,” he told the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, whose members are conducting operations in Kandahar, Afghanistan. “We’re being talked about again as an armed forces — we’re really winning.”

Speaking from a gilded room at his Mar-a-Lago club, Trump said: “We’re not fighting anymore to just walk around, we’re fighting to win, and you people are really, you’ve turned it around over the last three to four months like nobody’s seen, and they are talking about it, so thank you very much.”

Turning to the 74th Expeditionary Fighters Squadron based at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, Trump suggested the Obama administration hadn’t allowed soldiers on the ground to do their jobs.

“They say we’ve made more progress against ISIS than they did in years of the previous administration,” he said. “And that’s because I’m letting you do your job.”

Throughout the day — at events and on Twitter — Trump boasted about the economy’s performance since he took office, pointing to recent stock market gains and the unemployment rate, along with his efforts to scale back regulations and boost military spending.

“So you’re fighting for something real, you’re fighting for something good,” he told the service members

Trump and his wife, Melania, also made a trip to a nearby Coast Guard station in Riviera Beach, Florida, where they delivered a lunch of turkey sandwiches, giant muffins, heaping baskets of fruit, chips and cookies to men and women on duty for the holidays.

During his remarks, Trump, singled out the service for its hurricane relief efforts during Harvey and the other storms that battered the country earlier this year.

“There’s no brand that went up more than the Coast Guard,” Trump told them “What a job you’ve done.”

Trump praised the superiority of U.S. military equipment, too, yet said he tries to make sure that equipment the U.S. sells abroad — even to allies — is not quite as good as that kept at home.

“I always say, make ours a little bit better,” Trump said. “Keep about 10 percent in the bag.” He added: “You never know about an ally. An ally can turn.”

Among the equipment admired by Trump is the F-35 stealth fighter jet, which he recalled asking “Air Force guys” about once.

“In a fight, you know a fight like I watch on the movies ... how good is it?” he recalled asking. “They said, ‘Well, it wins every time because the enemy cannot see it, even if it’s right next to it,’” Trump recounted, prompting laughs.

The F-35, plagued by development problems and cost overruns, is in fact not invisible to people nearby. Its stealth technology is designed to evade detection by radar and other sensors.

At the earlier video conference, Trump cleared the room of press after about 10 minutes so he could have “very confidential, personal conversations” with those on the line. Borrowing a line from his “Apprentice” days, he told the reporters “You’re fired,” then wished them a happy Thanksgiving, too.

On the Trumps’ own Thanksgiving menu for family and friends at Mar-a-Lago: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, red snapper, Florida stone crab, baked goods, local produce and cheeses, and a selection of cakes and pies for dessert.

VA Study Shows Parasite From Vietnam May Be Killing Veterans

The Free Press WV

A half a century after serving in Vietnam, hundreds of veterans have a new reason to believe they may be dying from a silent bullet — test results show some men may have been infected by a slow-killing parasite while fighting in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

The Department of Veterans Affairs this spring commissioned a small pilot study to look into the link between liver flukes ingested through raw or undercooked fish and a rare bile duct cancer. It can take decades for symptoms to appear. By then, patients are often in tremendous pain, with just a few months to live.

Of the 50 blood samples submitted, more than 20 percent came back positive or bordering positive for liver fluke antibodies, said Sung-Tae Hong, the tropical medicine specialist who carried out the tests at Seoul National University in South Korea.

“It was surprising,” he said, stressing the preliminary results could include false positives and that the research is ongoing.

Northport VA Medical Center spokesman Christopher Goodman confirmed the New York facility collected the samples and sent them to the lab. He would not comment on the findings, but said everyone who tested positive was notified.

Gerry Wiggins, who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, has already lost friends to the disease. He was among those who got the call.

“I was in a state of shock,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be me.”

The 69-year-old, who lives in Port Jefferson Station, New York, didn’t have any symptoms when he agreed to take part in the study, but hoped his participation could help save lives. He immediately scheduled further tests, discovering he had two cysts on his bile duct, which had the potential to develop into the cancer, known as cholangiocarcinoma. They have since been removed and — for now — he’s doing well.

Though rarely found in Americans, the parasites infect an estimated 25 million people worldwide.

Endemic in the rivers of Vietnam, the worms can easily be wiped out with a handful of pills early on, but left untreated they can live for decades without making their hosts sick. Over time, swelling and inflammation of the bile duct can lead to cancer. Jaundice, itchy skin, weight loss and other symptoms appear only when the disease is in its final stages.

The VA study, along with a call by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York for broader research into liver flukes and cancer-stricken veterans, began after The Associated Press raised the issue in a story last year. The reporting found that about 700 veterans with cholangiocarcinoma have been seen by the VA in the past 15 years. Less than half of them submitted claims for service-related benefits, mostly because they were not aware of a possible connection to Vietnam. The VA rejected 80 percent of the requests, but decisions often appeared to be haphazard or contradictory, depending on what desks they landed on, the AP found.

The numbers of claims submitted reached 60 in 2017, up from 41 last year. Nearly three out of four of those cases were also denied, even though the government posted a warning on its website this year saying veterans who ate raw or undercooked freshwater fish while in Vietnam might be at risk. It stopped short of urging them to get ultrasounds or other tests, saying there was currently no evidence the vets had higher infection rates than the general population.

“We are taking this seriously,” said Curt Cashour, a spokesman with the Department of Veterans Affairs. “But until further research, a recommendation cannot be made either way.”

Veteran Mike Baughman, 65, who was featured in the previous AP article, said his claim was granted early this year after being denied three times. He said the approval came right after his doctor wrote a letter saying his bile duct cancer was “more likely than not” caused by liver flukes from the uncooked fish he and his unit in Vietnam ate when they ran out of rations in the jungle. He now gets about $3,100 a month and says he’s relieved to know his wife will continue to receive benefits after he dies. But he remains angry that other veterans’ last days are consumed by fighting the same government they went to war for as young men.

“In the best of all worlds, if you came down with cholangiocarcinoma, just like Agent Orange, you automatically were in,” he said, referring to benefits granted to veterans exposed to the toxic defoliant sprayed in Vietnam. “You didn’t have to go fighting.”

Baughman, who is thin and weak, recently plucked out “Country Roads” on a bass during a jam session at his cabin in West Virginia. He wishes the VA would do more to raise awareness about liver flukes and to encourage Vietnam veterans to get an ultrasound that can detect inflammation.

“Personally, I got what I needed, but if you look at the bigger picture with all these other veterans, they don’t know what necessarily to do,” he said. “None of them have even heard of it before. A lot of them give me that blank stare like, ‘You’ve got what?’”

SCOTUS Will Consider Free Speech For Antiabortion Pregnancy Centers

The Free Press WV

Here’s a question that spins both ways. Can liberal states target antiabortion counselors? Can conservative states target doctors who provide abortions?

Early next year, the Supreme Court will hear a high-profile lawsuit from dozens of “crisis pregnancy centers” that are suing the state of California over a law requiring them to publicly post or notify patients of the availability of low-cost or free abortions.

These centers say that California is violating their free-speech protections, while the state says it’s simply ensuring that basic health information is provided to women. At its heart, this case is about the speech of health professionals and the ability of the government to regulate it.

“Can the government compel people to speak a message they don’t agree with and then punish them if they don’t?“ is how Denise Harle, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, framed it.

The ADF represents more than 100 pregnancy centers petitioning the high court to reverse a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in favor of California. The appeals court said that California has a right to regulate professional speech. And furthermore, the court noted, the law doesn’t require centers to advocate for abortions - only to say that they’re available.

Under the 2015 law, licensed health centers in California must either post or hand out a notice that says: “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care and abortion for eligible women.“ The notice must also include the telephone number for the local county social services office.

This straightforward notice is perfectly within the bounds of what a state can require health providers to display, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said. The state says the wording is short, neutral and factual, neither advocating nor discouraging a woman from getting an abortion. And its defenders note that medical facilities are required to post all sorts of information, such as where parents can get a car seat installed.

“Trust is built on facts and knowledge, and it’s critical in making informed, healthy decisions,“ Becerra said during a phone interview Tuesday. “So how do you trust anyone trying to give you information if they’re not giving you all the facts?“

To Becerra’s point, when California legislators passed the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act, they had in mind pregnancy centers across the state that counsel women against getting abortions. These centers often confuse, misinform and intimidate women about their options, preventing them from making fully informed decisions, supporters of the FACT Act said.

Licensed health centers must post the notice about the availability of low-cost abortions, contraception and prenatal care, and those that are unlicensed must acknowledge they are unlicensed.

“Here we have centers not even licensed and out there professing to dole out very crucial information and advice about a woman’s health,“ Becerra said. “So, at minimum a woman should know whether a facility is licensed.“

The law applies to all licensed health facilities, yet the pregnancy centers say it’s designed to target them because it exempts other types of facilities, such as those with Medicaid patients or health centers that have a relationship with the state. Pregnancy centers say it puts them in the awkward position of displaying the availability of a procedure - abortion - that they exist to advise women against. If they don’t comply, they are fined.

“They are singling out people with a viewpoint, saying, ‘We are going to compel you speak something you don’t agree with,‘ “ Harle said.

The Supreme Court hasn’t publicly announced a date for oral arguments, but they probably will take place in February or March.

It’s a particularly interesting case because it raises questions about what doctors and counselors can be required by states to tell their patients. Both Republican-led and Democrat-led states have passed laws to this end.

Under an Illinois law that went into effect in January, providers must offer a “standard of care,“ which includes telling patients of their medical option to get an abortion. Until it was struck by a court in 2014, a North Carolina law required doctors to perform an ultrasound and describe the image of the fetus to the woman before providing her with an abortion.

Both sides say their aim is simply to provide women with all the available information as they make such an important decision. But we’ll soon have a better idea of what the Supreme Court thinks about this sticky question.

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