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Veterans On the March - Memorial Day Actions in DC

The Free Press WV

The United States is the most militarized and jingoistic nation on earth. Its foreign policy is guided by imperialist militarism, neoliberal capitalism and racial xenophobia. For more than sixteen years now, three presidential administrations have carried out a so-called “War on Terror” (GWOT), a perpetual state of war that is waged globally, under the depraved reasoning that “the world is a battlefield,” to quote investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. As demonstrated by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the GWOT is conducted through conventional warfare. More often, however, it is executed through covert or “dirty” wars, against groups and individuals in many other nations.

The U.S. has the financial and logistical capacity to wage these illegal wars. Its bloated military budget is larger than the next seven countries combined. It is by far the largest operator of military installations abroad, maintaining nearly 800 bases in around 70 countries. The ever-growing military-industrial complex, which President Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address, permeates every facet of our society – from an economy largely dependent on the war industry, to military recruiting in our public schools, to police militarization. This toxic culture of war is underscored on different national holidays, particularly Memorial Day.

Memorial Day – a day originating in 1868 (Decoration Day), on which the gravesites of the Civil War dead were decorated with flowers – has morphed into a day that conflates the memorialization of killed soldiers with the glorification of war. The perennial flag-waving, ultra-nationalist speeches, garish street parades and hyper-consumerism of Memorial Day do not honor these soldiers. What might, however, is working to prevent future war and nurture peace – honoring their memory by not sending more men and women into harm’s way and to kill and maim in wars based on lies. To have any chance at being effective, however, this work must include efforts aimed at increasing public awareness about the many causes and costs of war.

Long-time consumer advocate, lawyer, and author Ralph Nader affirms in the essay, “Strengthening Memorial Day,” honoring our war casualties should be about more than their loss. According to Nader, “waging strong peace initiatives is also a way to remember those human beings, soldiers and civilians, who never returned to their homes. “Never again” should be our tribute and promise to them.”

Referring to the post-9/11 invasions, in “Remember This on Memorial Day: They Didn’t Fall, They Were Pushed,” Ray McGovern, former Army officer and senior CIA analyst, tenders a hypophoric question: what constitutes a show of respect for the U.S. troops killed in these wars and for the family members on Memorial Day? To which McGovern responds, “Simple: Avoid euphemisms like “the fallen” and expose the lies about what a great idea it was to start those wars and then to “surge” tens of thousands of more troops into those fools’ errands.”

Bill Quigley, law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, writes in “Memorial Day: Praying for Peace While Waging Permanent War?” that “Memorial Day is, by federal law, a day of prayer for permanent peace.” This is a contradiction, though—based on the conduct of our government. Quigley asks: “is it possible to honestly pray for peace while our country is far and away number one in the world in waging war, military presence, military spending and the sale of weapons around the world?” He offers five suggestions for how we might alter this reality, the first two being, “learn the facts and face the truth that the US is the biggest war maker in the world” and “commit ourselves and organize others to a true revolution of values and confront the corporations and politicians who continue to push our nation into war and inflate the military budget with the hot air of permanent fear mongering.” Quigley emphasizes that, “Only when we work for the day when the US is no longer the world leader in war will we have the right to pray for peace on Memorial Day.”

In an article published in The Boston Globe (1976), the people’s historian Howard Zinn urged readers to rethink Memorial Day, who we honor that day, and our national priorities. Dr. Zinn wrote: “Memorial Day will be celebrated … by the usual betrayal of the dead, by the hypocritical patriotism of the politicians and contractors preparing for more wars, more graves to receive more flowers on future Memorial Days. The memory of the dead deserves a different dedication. To peace, to defiance of governments.”... “Memorial Day should be a day for putting flowers on graves and planting trees. Also, for destroying the weapons of death that endanger us more than they protect us, that waste our resources and threaten our children and grandchildren.”

Each Memorial Day, members of Veterans For Peace (VFP), an international nonprofit that works to abolish war and promote peace, participates in a wide range of nonviolent protest actions in cities and towns nationwide. This year is no different. A major VFP action will be held in Washington, DC, through a series of events termed “Veterans On the March! Stop Endless War, Build for Peace,” May 29 and 30, 2017. VFP’s military veterans, military family members and allies will converge in DC in solidarity to end war as instrument of national policy; build a culture of peace; expose the true costs of war; and, heal the wounds of war.

On Memorial Day, VFP and its friends will gather on this solemn and respectful occasion to deliver letters at the Vietnam Memorial Wall, intended as a commemoration of all combatants and civilians who died in Vietnam and all wars. VFP will mourn the tragic and preventable loss of life, and call for people to strive to abolish war, in the name of those who have died and for the sake of all those who live today. The “Letters at the Wall” remembrance is an activity of the Vietnam Full Disclosure Campaign, a national project of VFP. In her essay, “Preparing for the Next Memorial Day,” CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin shares the story of one of the veterans who partakes in the Project: “As Vietnam vet Dan Shea said when he reflected on the names etched and not etched on the Vietnam Memorial, including the missing names of the Vietnamese and all the victims of Agent Orange, including his own son: “Why Vietnam? Why Afghanistan? Why Iraq? Why any war? .…May the mighty roar of the victims of this violence silence the drums that beat for war.”

On Tuesday, May 30, VFP will host a mass rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where speakers will boldly and loudly call for an end to war, to the assault on our planet, and to the abuse and oppression of all people. Calls will also be made for people to stand for peace and justice, at home and abroad. Following the rally, participants will march to the White House to present a list of demands to the President stipulating that the systemic state violence which is preventing a just, peaceful and sustainable way of life for current and future generations must stop immediately. Planning for this rally/march started in response to VFP’s galvanizing statement about Trump’s Military Budget and the desire and responsibility of veterans, citizens and human beings to express strong resistance to Trump’s racist and antagonistic policies and commit to find a better way to peace.

In addition to these actions, VFP will once again fill a void in the National Memorial space by offering people an opportunity to bear witness on a touring memorial to all the costs of war on all sides. Not only do we lack a memorial to the American combat dead in Iraq and Afghanistan and other post-Vietnam wars, but we lack a monument to the many suicide deaths and families torn by the traumas of exposure to war. The Swords to Plowshares Memorial Belltower, a 24-foot tall tower covered with silver wind-blown ‘bricks’ made from recycled cans, provides an opportunity for tribute to these war victims. Initiated by VFP’s Eisenhower Chapter, the Belltower is dedicated to stopping the cycle of war and violence, healing the wounds of war that is caused on both sides of conflict, and providing a forum for all victims to start the healing process caused by wars.

Join VFP in Washington, DC on May 29 and 30 to stop hegemonic thinking, dismantle the military-industrial complex, and demand a transformation of national priorities from death and destruction to social uplift and peace. These shared goals can be achieved if enough people come together and engage in nonviolent social change for a better tomorrow.

Brian Trautman is a U.S. Army veteran, a national board member of Veterans For Peace, and a peace educator/activist.

In USA….

The Free Press WV

►  America’s 10 Drunkest Cities

While Utah is home to a few of the least boozy cities in the country, Wisconsin houses more than a few of the drunkest, according to 24/7 Wall St. The site lists the booziest cities in the US based on excessive drinking rates, the number of bars, and driving deaths involving alcohol. The top 10 drunkest cities, including seven in the Badger State:

  1. Green Bay, Wis.
  2. Eau Claire, Wis.
  3. Appleton, Wis.
  4. Madison, Wis.
  5. Fargo, ND-Minn.
  6. Oshkosh-Neenah, Wis.
  7. Missoula, Mont.
  8. Grand Forks, ND-Minn.
  9. Wausau, Wis.
  10. La Crosse-Onalaska, Wis.-Minn.

Click for the FULL LIST.

►  America’s 10 Least Boozy Cities

Don’t expect to find many rowdy parties in Provo-Orem, Utah. Despite its 10 bars, the area is the least boozy in the country, according to 24/7 Wall St., which ranked US cities based on excessive drinking rates in a 30-day period. The 10 least boozy cities, which fall in only a handful of states:

  1. Provo-Orem, Utah
  2. St. George, Utah
  3. Beckley, WV
  4. Jackson, Tenn.
  5. Charleston, WV
  6. Logan, Utah-Idaho
  7. Morristown, Tenn.
  8. Parkersburg-Vienna, W. Va
  9. Pine Bluff, Ark.
  10. Cleveland, Tenn.

Click for the FULL LIST.

►  Police: FedEx Worker Burgled Homes While on the Clock

A FedEx employee in the Bay Area is accused of burglarizing homes while he was supposed to be working, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Police say 57-year-old Kevin Baker ripped off three homes near Palo Alto between May 3 and May 17. Baker is a convicted felon with a bunch of theft-related infractions to his name. He’s been charged with first-degree burglary, and a FedEx spokesperson says the company is cooperating with authorities. According to the Mercury News, FedEx security personnel helped police in the apprehension of Baker.

►  Female Teacher, Aide Get Into Classroom Brawl

A brawl broke out in a middle school classroom in Georgia last week—not between students, but between a teacher and a staff member. Students say the two women were arguing about a male teacher for a few minutes before things got physical. “Everyone was screaming like stop, stop, stop,“ one Stone Mountain Middle School student tells CBS 46, which obtained video of the fight from a student’s cell phone; the women—one of whom was reportedly a teacher’s assistant, per CBS News—are seen punching and pulling hair. Parents are now speaking out about the May 19 incident, calling for the employees to be fired and criticizing the school for how it handled the aftermath.

Students say another adult ultimately broke up the fight, and then school officials entered the classrooms and went through students’ cell phones, forcing them to delete any recordings of the fight. “Nobody apologized,“ one student says. “I think they were trying to push it under the rug so nobody would know about it.“ Parents say no letter was sent home about the incident until CBS 46 started questioning the school district. The district says it isn’t aware of staff going through student phones and that the employees involved “have been removed from the learning environment.“ The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that they have also been charged with disorderly conduct.

►  Alaska Workers Make Grisly Find in Channel Debris

A human leg with a fishing boot still on was found in a debris pile that collected in the waters near Alaska’s capital city, reports the AP. Juneau Police Lt. David Campbell says the leg—from the knee down—was found by state game workers clearing out the debris pile Monday from Gastineau Channel near Sandy Beach. It had deteriorated to the point they couldn’t determine race or gender. “It was in very poor condition,“ Campbell tells Alaska Dispatch News. “It had quite a bit of water damage. It could have been out there a few months, or it may have been much longer.“

The limb has been sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage for possible identification. Police will search for other remains. Campbell wasn’t aware of any missing people in Juneau this year, but says bodies show up in Juneau every few years. The last was in 2016 when a hiker found human remains near Mendenhall Glacier. He says those were of a person reported missing in 2010.

►  U.S.-MED–Science Says-Opioid Treatment,1st Ld-Writethru

Remarks by a top U.S. health official have reignited a quarrel in the world of addiction and recovery: Does treating opioid addiction with medication save lives? Or does it trade one addiction for another?

Health Secretary Tom Price’s recent comments — one replying to a reporter’s question, the other in a newspaper op-ed — waver between two strongly held views.

Medication-assisted treatment, known as MAT, is backed by doctors. Yet it still has skeptics, especially among supporters of 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous, because it involves opioid-based medications.

Price appeared to side with that camp when he said during a recent visit to Charleston, West Virginia: “If we just simply substitute buprenorphine or methadone or some other opioid-type medication for the opioid addiction, then we haven’t moved the dial much.“

But in an opinion piece published last week in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, he twice mentioned his agency’s support for medication-assisted treatment. Here’s a closer look.


Because of how opioids act on the brain , people dependent on them get sick if they stop using. Withdrawal can feel like a bad flu with cramping, sweating, anxiety and sleeplessness. Cravings for the drug can be so intense that relapse is common.

Medication-assisted treatment helps by moving a patient from powerful painkillers or an illicit opioid like heroin to a regular dose of a legal opioid-based medication such as buprenorphine or methadone. The ideal dose is big enough to fend off withdrawal, but too small to produce a euphoric high. Patients can drive, rebuild relationships and get back to work.

“They’re not walking around high” and it gives them the chance to practice new ways of coping with family and psychological issues, said Dr. Joseph Garbely of Pennsylvania-based Caron Treatment Centers.

With counseling and education about addiction, patients can get back on track. They eventually can taper off medications, but some take them for years.


Researchers studying these treatments use drug screening to see whether patients are staying off illegal drugs. If someone uses heroin while in treatment, it shows up in their urine.

A 2014 review of 31 studies found methadone and buprenorphine keep people in treatment and off illicit drugs.

The review by the Cochrane Collaboration, an international group of scientists that evaluates research, found each drug worked better than a dummy medication. A side benefit worth noting: Methadone also helps prevent the spread of HIV by reducing needle sharing, a different research review by Cochrane found.

Methadone and buprenorphine can be abused and both can cause overdoses, particularly methadone. But researchers have found that methadone prevents more overdose deaths than it causes.

For most patients, medication combined with counseling is superior to other strategies, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.


“What’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another person,“ Price said during a May 9 visit to West Virginia.

When asked whether he and his team leaned toward medication or faith-based approaches to opioid addiction, his reply lined up with those who favor abstinence.

Abstinence-only philosophies “are not scientifically supported,“ according to the first surgeon general’s report on addiction, published in November.

Yet people who describe themselves as in recovery consistently say abstinence is important. All told, remission from opioid addiction can take years and multiple tries at treatment.

“The public needs to know that there are proven, effective treatments for opioid addiction,“ former U.S. General Vivek Murthy told The Associated Press. Murthy was fired by the Trump administration after he refused to resign.

Price also mentioned a non-opioid alternative — namely an injection of naltrexone called Vivitrol — as “exciting stuff.“ Vivitrol, a newer drug, can be used only with patients who have completely detoxed and has a limited track record compared to buprenorphine and methadone. Early studies have shown promise, but relapse is a danger after injections stop.

Health and Human Services spokeswoman Alleigh Marre told AP that Price’s comments don’t signal a policy change. Price “has argued that we should be open and supportive to the broadest range of options, from medication-assisted treatments - including methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone - to faith-based recovery programs,“ Marre said.

Not informing patients about the effectiveness of treating addiction with medication is like a doctor not telling a cancer patient about chemotherapy, said Dr. Mark Willenbring, a former director of treatment research at the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Scientifically, this is a settled matter.“

►  There Was a Reason She Couldn’t Recall Being Molested

“Why don’t I feel like I’ve been molested?“ It’s not a question a child should ever ask of herself, but it was one Katie Spencer found herself contemplating during her middle school years. Her father, Ray, was serving two life sentences for molesting her; her brother, Matt; and her step-brother. It all started with her, or, more specifically, Ray’s second wife, Shirley. In August 1984 she told Ray, then a Washington state police officer, that while he was out of town then-5-year-old Katie tried to put her hand under Shirley’s robe, saying, “I’m trying to touch your pee-pee,“ something she did with “daddy.“ Shirley was horrified, as was Ray upon hearing her story. He says he wondered if “daddy” was a reference to one of ex-wife DeAnne’s boyfriends. He went so far as to take his concerns to police—only to end up arrested himself, reports the Marshall Project and Esquire.

That was thanks in large part to Clark County Sheriff’s Office investigator Sharon Krause, who interviewed the children several times. The accusations were extreme: Matt, for instance, said he was raped by Ray and his fellow cops. It was only when Katie was 12 that she got up the courage to tell then-16-year-old Matt she just didn’t remember the abuse. “You don’t remember because it didn’t happen,“ she recalls him telling her. But this isn’t a story of a wrongly accused man’s children helping to set him free after 20 years in prison—clemency was granted by the governor in 2004 based on a rash of shortcomings in the evidence—but about how Katie and Matt slowly resurrected their relationship with Ray afterward, and then helped him win $9 million for his wrongful conviction. Read the full story HERE .

►  Minneapolis Cops Have Field Day With Accidentally Donated Weed

A suburban Minneapolis police department has good news for the person who donated dozens of plastic baggies of marijuana along with their kid’s old clothes: It’s safe and sound and ready to be picked up at the station, reports the AP. The Maplewood Police Department posted a photo on Facebook of the surprise donation to the Once Upon a Child store, but the Argus Leader reports that it couldn’t quite keep a straight face about it. The post:

  • “If you accidentally donated 111 grams of marijuana along with your clothing earlier to a local store please come to the PD so we can reunite you! We know you spent a lot of time dividing them into these perfectly measured baggies & must be missing them.“
  • And in its tweet on the subject: “Hey genius, Once Upon A Child thanks you for the clothing donation, but you forgot something in your pant pockets… sucks to be you…“

Perhaps unsurprisingly, no one has come forward yet.

►  Supreme Court Strikes Down 2 GOP-Drawn NC Districts

The Supreme Court struck down two North Carolina congressional districts Monday because race played too large a role in their creation, reports the AP. The justices ruled that Republicans who controlled the state legislature and governor’s office in 2011 placed too many African-Americans in the districts, weakening African-American voting strength elsewhere. Both districts have since been redrawn, but even so Republicans maintained a 10-3 edge in congressional seats in 2016. Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court, said the state did not offer compelling justification for its reliance on race in either district. The issue of race and redistricting one is a familiar one at the Supreme Court, and Kagan noted that one of the districts was “making its fifth(!) appearance before this court.“ The court unanimously affirmed a lower court ruling on District 1 in northeastern North Carolina.

Kagan wrote that the court will not “approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence.“ The justices split 5-3 on District 12 in the state’s southwest. The state argued that Republicans who controlled redistricting wanted to leave the district in Democratic hands, so surrounding districts would be safer for Republicans. “The evidence offered ... adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district’s reconfiguration,“ Kagan wrote. Justice Clarence Thomas joined the four liberal justices. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy dissented. “Partisan gerrymandering is always unsavory, but that is not the issue here,“ Alito wrote, per USA Today. “The issue is whether District 12 was drawn predominantly because of race. The record shows that it was not.“ Justice Neil Gorsuch did not take part.

►  Indy 500 Racer Robbed at Taco Bell Drive-Thru

Safe to say that race-car driver Scott Dixon had one of the most memorable days of his life on Sunday. Hours after he won the pole position for this weekend’s Indianapolis 500, he got robbed in a Taco Bell drive-thru, reports the Indianapolis Star. Police say that Dixon, wife Emma, and former Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti were robbed at gunpoint by two males on foot about 9:40pm while in the drive-thru lane. Police have since arrested two boys, ages 14 and 15. Earlier in the day, Dixon won the pole for the big race, which runs on Sunday. For the record, he was driving a Honda when robbed, per Fox 59.

In USA….

The Free Press WV

►  Find the Most Dangerous City in Any State

The most dangerous city in Illinois must be Chicago, right? Ditto with Detroit for Michigan and New York City for New York state? Not so much, at least in terms of per-capita violent crime. A new survey at 24/7 Wall St. crunches FBI crime data to find the most dangerous metropolitan area in every state. Here are the three already mentioned, plus a sampling of others:

  • Alaska: Anchorage, 1,039.5 violent crimes per 100,000 people
  • Arizona: Tucson, 421.4
  • California: Stockton-Lodi, 797.1
  • Florida: Tallahassee, 767.1
  • Hawaii: Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, 337.7
  • Idaho: Pocatello, 264.3
  • Illinois: Rockford, 818.8
  • Michigan: Saginaw, 604.5
  • New York: Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, 401.8
  • Texas: Odessa, 1,070.1

Click for the FULL LIST of states.

►  False Nuclear Emergency Warning Issued in New Jersey

Residents in two New Jersey counties were watching television Tuesday night only to suddenly be warned of an emergency at the nation’s second-largest nuclear generating facility. The warning, sent out via the state’s emergency broadcast system, was a false alarm, albeit one that was—in the words of the Daily Journal—“sobering, if not terrifying.“ According to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, the false emergency alert read: “A civil authority has issued a NUCLEAR POWER PLANT WARNING.“ It was sent to residents in Cumberland and Salem counties, WNBC reports.

Officials at PSEG Nuclear, which runs the Salem/Hope Creek nuclear complex, say there was no emergency at the facility. A spokesperson says state police were conducting a “worst case scenario” drill Tuesday night. It appears one of the messages for the drill was accidentally made public via the emergency broadcast system. The Office of Emergency Management, which issued the false alarm, apologized “for any inconvenience.“

►  Times Square Driver: I Tried to Get Help From Vet’s Center

A man accused of mowing down pedestrians in Times Square, killing a teenage Michigan tourist and injuring 22 others, says he had been trying to get psychiatric help. In a jailhouse interview on Saturday, Richard Rojas told the New York Post that he recently spoke to a mental health counselor at a local veteran’s center but they never got back to him. “I was trying to get help,“ Rojas told the newspaper from Rikers Island. “I wanted to fix my life. I wanted to get a job. Get a girlfriend.“ Rojas, who lived with his mother in the Bronx, drove his car Thursday through Times Square, then steered his car onto a sidewalk, plowing through tourists for three blocks before crashing into protective barriers.

After he was detained, the 26-year-old Navy veteran said he wanted to “kill them all” and that police should have shot him to stop him, a prosecutor said at his court appearance on Friday. They said Rojas also admitted to smoking marijuana laced with PCP sometime before the crash, the AP reports. Officials are awaiting toxicology reports. “I just want to apologize to all the victims’ families ... I want to apologize to my mom,“ Rojas told the Post. “The last thing I remember is driving in my car,“ Rojas recalled. “Then, I woke up in the precinct ... I was terrified.“

►  He Died at 30 at Pearl Harbor, and Is Finally Home

A Michigan sailor killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor has been buried with military honors in the family’s cemetery plot in Port Huron. More than 300 people attended Saturday’s funeral services for Fred M. Jones after his casket was escorted from a Detroit-area airport, reports. Karrer-Simpson Funeral Home said in a statement earlier this month that the Navy recently identified Jones’ remains. The 30-year-old machinist’s first mate was aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on December 7, 1941, reports the AP.

Helen Kellie Cosner said Saturday that the turnout for her grandfather’s services was “overwhelming.“ “I’ve always been so proud of my grandfather,“ Cosner said. “Throughout my life, I told anyone who would listen. I don’t have the words to tell you how happy this makes me. Truly, this is an honor. “

►  Tiny NY Community With Nazi Roots Hit With Big Change

An enclave of former summer bungalows, where Nazi sympathizers once marched near streets named for Adolf Hitler, is being forced to open ownership to people of non-German descent. The German American Settlement League, which once welcomed tens of thousands in the 1930s to pro-Nazi marches on eastern Long Island, has settled an anti-discrimination case brought by New York state and will change leadership and adhere to all state and federal housing laws. Many residents disputed their community discriminates, reports the AP. “There’s a mixed bag; it’s not like it was,“ says Fred Stern, a GASL board member and 40-year resident of the tiny community of 40 homes in Yaphank, who concedes it was once dominated by those of German descent. “If you went to every house and asked people’s nationality, it wouldn’t be any different than any other neighborhood.“

News accounts recall a groundswell of Nazism in the enclave in the years before World War II. Camp Siegfried, where the homes stand today, was sponsored by the German-American Bund to promote Hitler. Swastikas were commonplace, says a Hofstra University archivist. “Some of the photos I have seen are kind of amazing.“ New York AG Eric Schneiderman said a 2016 federal lawsuit brought by two former residents, who claimed GASL policies hindered their attempt to sell, called for an end to discriminatory practices. Despite that, Schneiderman found the league “continued to make new membership and property re-sale within the GASL community unreasonably difficult.“ Investigators found the league prohibited public ads of properties for sale. Stern concedes that much turnover through the years was by word of mouth because “everybody knew when a house would become available.“

►  Texas Bathroom Bill Could Expose Transgender Kids

Each morning, Joanna Smith’s 7-year-old son pulls on a T-shirt and shorts, boasts how fast he can tie his sneakers, and heads to school. An honor-roll student who loves science and spelling, he often stays after class to run on the playground with his large group of friends. But teachers may soon have to disrupt his routine by revealing a secret: This energetic boy was born a girl. Legislation headed for passage in the Texas Legislature this month could forbid him from using the boys’ bathroom and effectively divulge his transgender identity to classmates, the AP reports. The measure poses an excruciating dilemma for Texas schools that have quietly agreed at parents’ requests to keep secret the birth genders of some students.

A broad bill requiring transgender individuals to use the restroom of their birth-certificate gender passed the Senate but stalled in the House. Supporters revived it late Sunday, advancing a proposal applying only to the state’s public schools. The final details of the measure are still being worked out. A similar law in North Carolina was partially repealed this year after protests and boycotts. Comparable proposals have been offered in other legislatures, but none has been approved. Currently, each school and school district determines how to handle students whose birth genders are secret—a small portion of Texas’ thousands of transgender minors. Some districts have nondiscrimination policies that explicitly include gender identity. Others have no formal policy but still shield students on a case-by-case basis.

►  Dad Pens Thank-You Note to NYC in Wake of Deathly Crash

The father of Alyssa Elsman, the teen on vacation with her family who was killed in Times Square last week when a driver allegedly plowed into pedestrians in the crowded tourist spot, wrote a thank-you letter to the people of New York for helping him and his family in the wake of the tragedy. In an interview on CNN affiliate WWMT, Tom Elsman of Michigan said he was touched by the impromptu memorial set up for his daughter in Times Square, where one sign reads “New York Will Never Forget You Alyssa” among other handwritten messages, candles, and flowers. Tom placed his own framed letter directly on top, in which he wrote that there are “no words that can express our gratitude with the outpouring of love and support this city has shown us. Our medical staff, the NYPD and most of all YOU.”

He added that seeing the memorial helped his family cope with their loss, and he was moved by the kindness from “so many people from different countries, religions, creeds.” Elsman called New York’s police force the “greatest guys in the world” for taking special care of his family, telling WWMT officers even got the family pizza and brought them hats. He says 18-year-old Alyssa loved visiting New York (she posted a photo from a previous trip on Instagram last year), and he included a special message to her in his letter: “I have a hole in my heart that can never be filled. My world changed when you came into it and it is unexplainable with you leaving it. I love you kid. Just no words.“

WV Attorney General , Broad Coalition Reach $18.5M Settlement in Target Data Breach

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced an $18.5 million settlement between national retailer Target, 47 states and the District of Columbia to resolve allegations stemming from a massive data breach in 2013.

West Virginia will receive $200,044 from the record-breaking agreement, which instantly ranks as the nation’s largest multistate data breach settlement to date.

“Our office works to protect and defend consumers,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “This settlement is a victory for West Virginia consumers. It represents the diligent work of our office in holding corporations accountable for customers’ privacy.”

The Nov. 12, 2013, data breach affected more than 41 million customer payment card accounts and contact information for more than 60 million customers.

The states allege cyber attackers used stolen credentials to access Target’s server, which allowed the attackers to exploit weaknesses in the company’s system. The thieves installed malware and captured sensitive consumer data, including full names, telephone numbers, email and mailing addresses, payment card numbers, expiration dates, CVV1 codes and encrypted personal identification numbers.

The settlement additionally requires Target to develop, implement and maintain a comprehensive information security program. It mandates the hiring of an executive to implement the plan and an independent, qualified third-party to conduct a comprehensive security assessment.

The settlement further requires Target to maintain appropriate encryption of consumer data, segment its cardholder data environment from the rest of its network and undertake steps to control access to that network, including use of password rotation policies and two-factor authentication for certain accounts.

West Virginia participated in the Connecticut- and Illinois-led settlement with Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia.

In USA….

The Free Press WV

►  Most Loved and Hated Telecom Companies in U.S.

Believe it or not, Comcast is not the most hated telecommunications company in the country. The American Customer Satisfaction Index, out Tuesday, ranks America’s most loved and hated companies offering pay-TV, phone, and internet service, and though Comcast finds itself among the least loved companies, it’s not the most despised out there. The five companies that top the list, as well as the five that bring up the rear, with a score out of 100, per 24/7 Wall St.:


  1. Apple (phone): 81
  2. Microsoft/Nokia (phone): 80
  3. Samsung (phone): 80
  4. Vonage (phone): 80
  5. TracFone Wireless (phone): 77
  1. Mediacom (TV): 56
  2. Frontier Communications (internet): 56
  3. Windstream (internet): 57
  4. Xfinity/Comcast (TV): 58
  5. Mediacom (internet): 58

Click for the FULL LIST

►  Metal Shards Found in Hot Dogs Spur Recall

Just as everyone’s starting to stock up on provisions for Memorial Day weekend barbecues, a disturbing announcement, per Fortune: More than 210,000 pounds of hot dogs are being recalled by the company that makes Nathan’s and Curtis franks, after three complaints that said small metal shards were found inside some of the dogs. The USDA notice says the John Morrell and Co. recall includes 14-ounce packages of Nathan’s Skinless 8 Beef Franks (with a “use by” date of August 19, 2017), as well as 16-ounce packs of Curtis Beef Master Franks (June 15, 2017).

Another clue: “EST. 296” will appear on the side of the affected packages. Consumers should trash the tainted dogs or bring them back to the store for a refund.

►  New Jersey police allege gun company sold defective guns

New Jersey claims in a lawsuit that gun manufacturer Sig Sauer for $2.5 million sold defective handguns to state police.

The state attorney general’s office claimed breach of contract among other charges in the lawsuit, filed in April.

Sig Sauer, based in Newington, New Hampshire, sold 3,000 P229 handguns and various holsters to the New Jersey State Police. The guns arrived in September 2014.

State troopers testing the weapons found the guns jammed after failing to eject used shell casings, according to the suit.

The guns were found “unfit for police use because a trooper may be unable to fire more than one round of ammunition in a life-threatening situation,“ the lawsuit says.

New Jersey State Police tried to work with Sig Sauer to repair and replace the guns, according to the suit. It switched to a different gun model after more than a year had passed, citing concerns for trooper safety.

The state originally paid Sig Sauer $1.8 million for the guns. The New Jersey attorney general is seeking a full refund, plus $900,000 to cover the cost of the holsters.

A spokesman for the attorney general declined to comment on the suit.

Sig Sauer did not respond to requests for comment.

►  Justices make it easier for companies to defend patent cases

The Supreme Court is making it easier for companies to defend themselves against patent infringement lawsuits.

The justices ruled unanimously that such lawsuits can be filed only in states where defendants are incorporated. The issue is important to many companies that complained about patent owners choosing more favorable courts in other parts of the country to file lawsuits.

The case involved an appeal from TC Heartland, an Indiana-based food sweetener company sued by Kraft Foods in Delaware. Lower courts refused to transfer the case to Indiana.

But the Supreme Court’s ruling will have the biggest impact on federal courts in eastern Texas, where more than 40 percent of patent lawsuits are now filed. Local rules there favor quick trials and juries tend to be more sympathetic to plaintiffs.

The ruling will have a major effect on lawsuits from so-called patent trolls — companies that buy up patents and force businesses to pay license fees or face expensive litigation. Many of those cases now may have a tougher time getting to trial or result in jury verdicts that are less generous.

Companies including eBay, Kickstarter and online crafts site Etsy had urged the high court to restrict where such cases can be filed, saying they have been sued repeatedly in courts hundreds or thousands of miles away from corporate headquarters. Even Texas Attorney General Scott Keller led a coalition of 17 states calling for an end to so-called “forum shopping” in patent cases.

Groups representing inventors and patent owners said new restrictions would place burdens on patent holders and encourage infringing behavior and piracy.

Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas relied on a 1957 Supreme Court case that said patent cases can be brought only where the defendant company is incorporated. He said the federal appeals court in Washington that handles patent appeals was wrong to say that Congress had changed those rules.

The ruling is a “seismic decision” that will affect patent litigation around the country, said John O’Quinn, a Washington, D.C., lawyer specializing in patent law. He said it may lead to a surge in patent cases in Delaware, where many companies are incorporated due to favorable state law.

That shift will mean a dramatic decline in cases at the federal courthouse in Marshall, Texas, where hundreds of patent lawsuits are filed each year.

Justice Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the case, which was argued before his confirmation.

►  Plane Missing More Than a Month Found Buried in Snow

Authorities have discovered the wreckage of a small plane buried in snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California and the bodies of a couple missing for more than a month inside it. Sierra County sheriff’s officials say a snowmobiler found a piece of the plane’s tail near Yuba Pass, the AP reports. Searchers last Thursday located the separated cockpit buried in nearly 7 feet of snow, with Mark and Brenda Richard inside. The single-engine plane departed April 17 from the Truckee Tahoe Airport near the Nevada border. Relatives had reported the Santa Rosa couple missing after the plane didn’t land as planned at the Petaluma Municipal Airport north of San Francisco.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat says that at the time of the Richards’ late-afternoon takeoff on April 17, the mercury was hovering at around 40 degrees, with wind gusts measuring at more than 20mph. Sierra County Sheriff Tim Standley says it appears the plane hit a tree, then broke apart, and that centrifugal force hurled the cockpit and engine into powdery snow, which was then covered by harder, icier snow from subsequent storms. The search effort had been called off on April 23. “Our hearts go out” to the couple’s family and friends, Standley says, adding, “It’s a great tragedy.“ The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating, and autopsies on the couple are being conducted.

►  Frat Members Blamed for Trees Felled in National Forest

Fraternity members from the California State University’s Chico campus are facing federal criminal charges after they allegedly cut down dozens of trees in Lassen National Forest during a camping trip as part of a pledge-initiation ritual, CBS San Francisco reports. Per the Los Angeles Times, at least 32 trees were cut down at the Deer Creek Trailhead campground in late April, and members of Chico State’s Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, including President Evan Jossey, now face counts of vandalism, possessing firearms, and degrading US territory. The US Forest Service tells CBS the fraternity left the campsite in disarray, and it has publicized surveillance pics showing college-age students buying tools that may have been used to cut the trees down. The trees that were felled included Douglas firs, white firs, and cedars, a Lassen rep tells the Sacramento Bee.

Per the Times, camper Jon Elam told federal authorities he ran into 80 or so of the frat’s members at the campground, including Jossey and three others who identified themselves as part of a Chico State fraternity that would be taking part in an initiation ceremony; Elam says he heard gunfire and trees being felled that night. He told the feds he saw the downed trees the next day and left, returning almost a week later to find a huge mess at the campsite. Elam filed a police report on April 28. In a Facebook post, the fraternity denies the charges and says it has filed its own police report, apparently against Elam. Pi Kappa Alpha’s national organization says the Chico chapter has been suspended until the probe is done; a university rep says the frat has been suspended from campus, the Times reports.

►  Stale Fries Incite Drive-Thru Mace Fight at Wendy’s

A dispute over the freshness of Wendy’s fries leaves a 25-year-old Minnesota woman facing criminal charges. According to CBS Minnesota, Wendy’s employees claim that Eiram Chanel Amir Dixson became argumentative during a drive-thru transaction just after noon Thursday after the woman asked specifically for fresh French fries. Reports don’t specify the condition of the fries, or whether she even received them, but do make clear that an argument followed. Employees allege Dixson reached through the drive-thru window and, after an employee threw a soft drink at her, proceeded to spray them with Mace.

The restaurant manager was hit directly in the face while two more employees were also in the line of the spray, per the police report. All three employees provided similar accounts of the incident, according to ABC News 5. Dixson is being charged with felony use of tear gas to immobilize. If found guilty, she’ll face a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison and/or a $3,000 to $10,000 fine. Wendy’s drive-thrus see their share of action: last year, a worker was allegedly bit over a wrong order in Virginia, while a Florida man reportedly threw an alligator through a drive-thru window as a prank.

Huge Cuts to Food Stamps Part of Trump’s Budget Proposal

The Free Press WV

Donald Trump’s budget would drive millions of people off of food stamps, part of a new wave of spending cut proposals that already are getting panned by lawmakers in both parties on Capitol Hill.

Trump’s blueprint for the 2018 budget year comes out Tuesday. It includes a wave of cuts to benefit programs such as Medicaid, federal employee pensions, welfare benefits and farm subsidies.

All told, according to people familiar with the plan, Trump’s budget includes $1.7 trillion over 10 years in cuts from such so-called mandatory programs. That includes cuts to pensions for federal workers and higher contributions toward those pension benefits, as well as cuts to refundable tax credits paid to the working poor. People familiar with the plan were not authorized to discuss it by name and requested anonymity.

Cuts include a whopping $193 billion from food stamps over the coming decade — a cut of more than 25 percent — implemented by cutting back eligibility and imposing additional work requirements, according to talking points circulated by the White House. The program presently serves about 42 million people.

The food stamp cuts are several times larger than those attempted by House Republicans a few years back and comprise the bulk of a 10-year, $274 billion proposal that’s labeled as welfare reform.

The fleshed-out proposal follows up on an unpopular partial release in March that targeted the budgets of domestic agencies and foreign aid for cuts averaging 10 percent — and made lawmakers in both parties recoil.

The new cuts are unpopular as well.

“We think it’s wrongheaded,“ said Representaive Mike Conaway, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, when asked about looming cuts to farm programs. “Production agriculture is in the worst slump since the depression — 50 percent drop in the net income for producers. They need this safety net,“ said Conaway, R-Texas.

Trump’s budget plan promises to balance the federal ledger by the end of a 10-year window, even while exempting Social Security and Medicare retirement benefits from cuts. To achieve balance, the plan by White House budget director Mick Mulvaney relies on optimistic estimates of economic growth, and the surge in revenues that would result, while abandoning Trump’s promise of a “massive tax cut.“

Instead, the Trump tax plan promises an overhaul that would cut tax rates but rely on erasing tax breaks and economic growth to end up as “revenue neutral.“ It would create three tax brackets — 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent — instead of the current seven.

Trump is also targeting the Medicaid health program that provides care to the poor and disabled, and nursing home care to millions of older people who could not otherwise afford it.

The House had a bitter debate on health care before a razor-thin 217-213 passage in early May of a GOP health bill that included more than $800 billion in Medicaid cuts over the coming decade. Key Republicans are not interested in another round of cuts to the program.

“I would think that the health care bill is our best policy statement on Medicaid going forward,“ said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the program.

Details on Trump’s budget will not be publicly released until Tuesday, but Mulvaney has briefed Republicans about what’s coming and his staff has provided targeted leaks to the media.

A full budget submission by the administration to Congress is months overdue and follows the release two months ago of an outline for the discretionary portion of the budget, covering defense, education, foreign aid, housing and environmental programs, among others. Their budgets pass each year through annual appropriations bills.

An earlier blueprint from Trump proposed a $54 billion, 10 percent increase for the military above an existing cap on Pentagon spending, financed by an equal cut to nondefense programs. Those cuts rang alarm bells for many Republicans, who were particularly upset about proposals to eliminate community development block grants, slash medical research and eviscerate foreign aid.

Trump’s GOP allies rejected such cuts when wrapping up long-overdue legislation for the current budget year, which ends Sept. 30. There’s little sign they will have a change of heart now, especially with Trump’s administration in turmoil and his poll ratings at historic lows.

“The budget’s a starting point. We’ll go to work from there,“ said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Republicans controlling Congress have delayed action on their companion budget measure, waiting for Trump to go first. This year’s budget debate, Republicans hope, would grease the way for a major overhaul of the loophole-cluttered tax system. But House conservatives also want to embark on a round of cuts to benefit programs and are open to Trump’s suggestions for cuts to mandatory programs such as federal employee pensions.

Presidential budgets are mere suggestions, and the White House has discretion to assume higher economic growth rates of up to 3 percent or so under Trump’s agenda of tax changes, loosened regulations and infrastructure spending.

Tuesday’s budget will also include proposals such as paid leave for parents after the birth or adoption of a child, a $200 billion infrastructure plan that Trump officials claim could leverage, along with private investment, up to $1 trillion in construction projects, and funding for Trump’s oft-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The budget contains $1.6 billion for wall construction, along with $300 million for additional border patrol and immigration agents as part of a $2.6 billion hike for border security programs.

In USA….

The Free Press WV

►  Appeals court strikes down FAA drone registration rule

An appeals court on Friday struck down a Federal Aviation Administration rule that required owners of drones used for recreation to register their craft.

The ruling was a victory for hobbyists and a setback for the FAA, which cited safety concerns as it tried to tighten regulation of the fast-growing army of drone operators.

Some pilots of commercial airliners have reported close calls with drones flying near airports.

About 760,000 hobbyists have registered more than 1.6 million drones since 2015, and sales have skyrocketed. The FAA estimates that hobbyists will buy 2.3 million drones this year and 13 million by the end of 2020. Commercial operators from photographers to oil pipeline and cellphone tower owners were forecast to buy another 10 million through 2020.

The FAA decided in 2015 to require hobbyists to register their drones, or model aircraft. Violators could be sentenced to prison.

The registration requirement was challenged by John A. Taylor, a drone hobbyist in the Washington, D.C., area.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with Taylor, saying that a law passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in 2012 barred the FAA from imposing new regulations on model aircraft.

The three-judge panel said that safety was obviously important and making hobbyists register “may well help further that goal to some degree,“ but it was up to Congress to repeal the ban on FAA rules for model aircraft.

A spokesman for the FAA said the agency was reviewing the decision.

The ruling demonstrated the schism in the drone world. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, whose members include big commercial drone operators and manufacturers, expressed disappointment with the court’s ruling. The group’s president, Brian Wynne, said registration “helps create a culture of safety that deters careless and reckless behavior.“ He vowed to seek a legislative fix in Congress.

A lawyer for China’s DJI, the world’s biggest drone maker, said registration was reasonable and fostered “accountability and education to drone pilots.“ Brendan Schulman said he expected more discussion between industry and governments over the program.

Some model aircraft enthusiasts had complained that the registration requirement was too burdensome.

“On balance this is probably a good thing,“ said Vic Moss, a commercial photographer and drone operator in Colorado. “The FAA definitely overstepped their boundaries with the registration, and the fact that they called it an emergency action didn’t help them look good.“

Moss was worried, however, that the issue was so contentious that the FAA might successfully lobby Congress for clear authority to regulate hobbyists.

Registration cost $5 and had to be renewed every three years. It required owners to mark aircraft with an identification number and imposed civil and criminal penalties on those who did not comply.

Taylor also challenged FAA restrictions on where drones can operate in the Washington area. The court said that appeal was filed too late.

►  Is this the future of college: Online classes, but no degree

Connor Mitchell’s university classes take place online, he doesn’t have any exams and he studies in a different country every year.

Is he looking into the future or taking a gamble?

With college costs rising steadily and with more courses available online for free, some observers are beginning to question the need for a traditional college education that may include lectures on Greek philosophy but burden students with massive debt.

Education startups are offering alternatives — from boot camps, to one- or two-year tracks, to accredited degree programs — and their founders say these options will give students a more relevant education in today’s job market, and at a lower price.

But some experts caution against betting on a narrow, practical education geared toward a specific field that is in demand today but could leave them unprepared for the jobs of tomorrow. They also say most applicants still need a college degree from an established institution to get a good job.

Minerva, an accredited four-year university named after the Greek goddess of wisdom, wants to reinvent elite four-year liberal arts education by teaching critical thinking as opposed to “regurgitating information,“ founder Ben Nelson said.

“You cannot teach yourself how to think critically, you actually have to go through a structured process,“ said Nelson, an energetic, fast-talking 41-year-old, who previously served as president of the photo printing website Snapfish. “What is sad is that wisdom is wasted on the old. Wisdom should be the tool for the young.“

All of Minerva’s classes take place online. The interactive platform is designed to keeps student engaged and allow professors to call on them. Minerva students start school in San Francisco and then spend time in Berlin, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Taipei, Taiwan, and other global hubs, continuing to take online classes and completing hands-on assignments at local companies and organizations.

Cost is $29,000 per year for tuition plus room and board, compared with an average of $20,000 for an in-state public college and $63,000 at Harvard, with which Minerva says it wants to compete. This year, Minerva, boasted an acceptance rate of 1.9 percent, compared with 5.2 percent at Harvard. The nationwide average in 2014 was 66 percent, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

The first class launched in 2014, so it is too early to evaluate graduation and employment rates. Nelson said every single first-year student who chose to work last summer was placed in an internship. Currently, there are over 270 people enrolled at the school.

Mitchell, 21, who transferred to Minerva from the University of Southern California, says the online class experience was stressful at first, but he was impressed by the level of discussion and preparation for the classes. At USC, he said he studied “so much less.“ When asked to compare the two, he turned to a metaphor.

“At the USC steakhouse it was the sides, the things that I did outside of the classroom that were really valuable. The steak actually wasn’t prepared very well,“ Mitchell said. “At Minerva, the steak that I am paying for is cut perfectly.“

Not everybody is convinced.

Some question Minerva’s ability to teach science without labs or test tubes and believe that academic research requires the space and environment afforded by traditional universities.

Peter Cappelli, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who studies the U.S. labor market, believes that students may be taking a big risk by signing up for a still relatively unknown program.

“It’s not what you learn, it’s what you can persuade other people what you’ve learned,“ Cappelli said. “It’s hard to overcome that risk until the schools build up a brand on the market.“

But some innovators say a college degree may be obsolete.

MissionU, which began accepting its first applications last month, offers a one-year nondegree program in data analytics and business intelligence without an upfront tuition. As part of an income-sharing agreement, MissionU students will give back 15 percent of their salary for three years after graduation if they earn at least $50,000 per year. So far, the school received over 3,000 applications.

Students will be taking online courses taught by industry practitioners and completing real-life projects and assignments for various companies. Partner firms such as Spotify, Lyft, Warby Parker and others are advising MissionU on its curriculum and have agreed to consider its students for jobs without a college degree. The first group of students will be based in San Francisco. A high-school diploma will not be required for admission.

“Just because you can prepare well for a test doesn’t mean that you will necessarily thrive as a contributor to a great company,“ said MissionU founder Adam Braun.

Braun, 33, decided to create MissionU after seeing his wife struggle to pay off more than $100,000 in student debt.

“I came to the firm belief that our college system is fundamentally broken and it’s not working for the majority of young people who are going to college to build a better life and career,“ said Braun, who previously founded Pencils of Promise, a nonprofit that builds schools in the developing world.

Some employers agree that traditional university education may not be as relevant in today’s economy as it once was. Google has dropped college education from its hiring requirements, and a company official said in a 2013 interview with The New York Times that up to 14 percent of employees on some of their teams had never gone to college. The British office of Ernst & Young has also stopped requiring college diplomas.

But will other companies follow suit?

Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, is not so sure.

“You’ve got to have something that proves to the people that are going to hire that you can do the job,“ Carnevale said. “Given the fluidity of the job market, it’s strangers talking to strangers, so you got to have a piece of paper. It’s a signal, it’s a proof.“

In USA….

The Free Press WV

►  The 5 Most, Least Obese States

At least one in five Americans are considered obese, but some of them are clustered together geographically. And if you want to avoid a bulging waistline, you’d do well to steer clear of Paula Deen and the South and head West, notes 24/7 Wall St. in compiling its list of the pudgiest states. The worst states, with their obesity rates:

  1. Louisiana, 36.2%
  2. Alabama, 35.6%
  3. Mississippi, 35.6%
  4. West Virginia, 35.6%
  5. Kentucky, 34.6%

And the most svelte states, with their obesity rates:

  1. Colorado, 20.2%
  2. Hawaii, 22.7%
  3. Montana, 23.6%
  4. California, 24.2%
  5. Massachussetts, 24.3%

Find where your state ranks HERE .

►  Father, Son Allegedly Smuggled $17M of Sea Cucumbers to U.S.

Charges against a father-son partnership for allegedly smuggling more than $17 million worth of sea cucumbers to the US and exporting them to Asia sheds light on a growing and lucrative illegal cross-border trade, the AP reports. David Mayorquin and his father, Ramon Torres Mayorquin, are accused of a scheme to buy the illegally harvested animals from poachers in Mexico, pay for them under fake names, and underestimate their weight and value to inspectors at the border. They allegedly shipped the product to Asia, where they are delicacies in Chinese dishes, prized for medicinal value, and considered an aphrodisiac. Authorities say they sell for $300 to $500 a kilogram in Asia, helping explain the draw for poachers and smugglers.

The Free Press WV

Border inspectors have spotted smuggled Mexican sea cucumbers for years, but the charges against the Mayorquins are striking for the multi-ton shipments. David Mayorquin allegedly bought $13 million worth of sea cucumbers, knowing they were harvested without a permit or out of season, and they sold for $17.5 million. Investigators found emails that allegedly show the family communicating with others about the illegal purchases, Homeland Security Investigations said. The defendants also bribed Mexican officials, prosecutors say. One email listed in the indictment shows Marroquin being asked to contribute $32,000 for payoffs. Harvesting sea cucumbers is permitted in the US and many parts of the world, but with limited quantities and only during high season.

►  Final Victim of 1992 LA Riots Identified

After 25 years, the final unidentified body from the 1992 Los Angeles riots has a name, the Los Angeles Times reports. The body of 18-year-old Armando Ortiz Hernandez was found in a Pep Boys on May 2, 1992. According to the AP, authorities say he died of “inhalation of smoke, soot, carbon monoxide, and thermal burns.“ Hernandez’s body was so badly burned coroners only had some of his teeth and a partial print from one finger to try to figure out his identity.

Authorities continued to try to find a match for the print over the years, and finally an FBI squad that typically focuses on disaster victims found one. Hernandez, who until Friday was known only as John Doe No. 80, was identified thanks to a couple of minor arrests prior to his death. His only known relative, a sister living in Mexico, was notified. Hernandez was buried in a mass grave with other unclaimed bodies. Because the Pep Boys had been set on fire, his death was ruled a homicide. It remains one of the 23 unsolved homicides related to the riots, which left 53 people dead and more than 2,000 injured. The deadliest riots in US history started after a jury acquitted four white police officers accused of beating Rodney King, a black motorist.

►  Man Takes Hershey’s to Court for Under-Filled Candy Boxes

Hell hath no fury like a sweet tooth scorned. Consumerist reports a Missouri man disappointed with the amount of candy in his boxes of Reese’s Pieces and Whoppers is suing Hershey’s. According to KCUR, Robert Bratton bought a number of boxes of each candy at a grocery store in Columbia for $1 each. But he says he would have been less likely to spend that money if he knew how under-filled the boxes would be. Bratton’s lawsuit claims the boxes of Reese’s Pieces were under-filled by about 29% and the boxes of Whoppers by about 41%. His lawsuit argues shoppers are being misled.

But Hershey’s counters that customers are “well aware” of the concept of “slack fill,“ by which packages contain some empty space either due to settling or to protect their contents. Besides, the company argues, the total weight and number of candies is printed on each box. Finally, Hershey’s says the empty space shouldn’t be a surprise to customers as the boxes rattle when picked up. A judge denied Hershey’s motion to dismiss the case this week but also deferred on Bratton’s desire to turn it into a class-action suit, the Kansas City Business Journal reports. It remains to be seen how much slack fill is too much slack fill, legally speaking, when it comes to our favorite candies.

►  General Lee the last Confederate statue removed in New Orleans

They were among the city’s oldest landmarks, as cemented to the landscape of New Orleans as the Superdome and St. Louis Cathedral: a stone obelisk heralding white supremacy and three statues of Confederate stalwarts.

But after decades standing sentinel over this Southern city, the Confederate monuments are gone, amid a controversy that at times harked back to the divisiveness of the Civil War they commemorated.

The last of the monuments — a statue of General Robert E. Lee defiantly facing north with his arms crossed — was lifted by a crane from its pedestal late Friday. As air was seen between Lee’s statue and the pedestal below it, a cheer went up from the crowd who recorded history with their phones and shook hands with one another in congratulations. Many in the crowd had waited since morning.

“I never thought I would see this day!“ shouted Melanie Morel-Ensminger with joy. “But look! It’s happening.“

Lee’s was the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed under a 2015 City Council vote on a proposal by Mayor Mitch Landrieu. It caps a nearly two-year-long process that has been railed against by those who feel the monuments are a part of Southern heritage and honor the dead. But removal of the monuments has drawn praise from those who saw them as brutal reminders of slavery and symbols of the historic oppression of black people.

Landrieu called for the monuments’ removal in the lingering emotional aftermath of the 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church. The killer, Dylann Roof, was an avowed racist who brandished Confederate battle flags in photos, recharging the debate about whether Confederate emblems represent racism or an honorable heritage.

While Roof’s actions spurred a debate in many parts of the South about whether it was appropriate to fly the Confederate battle emblem — and many places have taken it down — the reaction in New Orleans seemed to go even further, knocking away at even weightier, heavier parts of history.

Landrieu drew blistering criticism from monument supporters and even some political allies. But in explaining his reasoning, the mayor has repeatedly said they do not represent the diversity and future of New Orleans.

“These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, ignoring the terror that it actually stood for,“ he said Friday.

“After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism, as much as burning a cross on someone’s lawn. They were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city,“ he added.

Of the four monuments, Lee’s was easily the most prominent: The bronze statue alone is close to 20 feet (6 meters) tall. It’s a bronze sculpture of Lee looking toward the northern horizon from atop a roughly 60-foot-tall (18 meter) column.

It’s not massive like the Superdome or alluring like Bourbon Street, but Lee in his uniform was a familiar landmark for tourists and commuters alike.

Lee’s removal was planned during the day and announced in advance. Earlier removals happened after nightfall, a precautionary measure because of security concerns for contractors and workers involved in the effort. Landrieu said the change was out of safety concerns because the statue was close to electrical wires and New Orleans’ famous streetcar lines.

The atmosphere Friday was almost festive as dozens of people, some with lawn chairs, came out to see what many called history in the making.

“If you can see history as it happens, it’s more meaningful,“ said Al Kennedy, who supported the removal. Speaking of the Confederate past, he said: “It’s my history, but it’s not my heritage.“

But others criticized the move.

“Mayor Landrieu and the City Council have stripped New Orleans of nationally recognized historic landmarks,“ said the Monumental Task Committee, an organization that maintains monuments and plaques across the city. “With the removal of four of our century-plus aged landmarks, at 299 years old, New Orleans now heads in to our Tricentennial more divided and less historic.“

The city turns 300 in 2018.

In 2015, the City Council voted 6-1 to remove the monuments after a succession of contentious public meetings. Contractors involved in the removal process have been threatened; statue supporters sued repeatedly to keep the statues up.

At last, a court decision cleared the way for the April removal of what is likely the most controversial of the monuments — seen as an overt tribute to white supremacy. Statues to the Confederacy’s only president Jefferson Davis and General P.G.T. Beauregard followed in quick succession until only Lee was left.

Attention now shifts to where the monuments will go and what will take their place.

The city announced an outline of its plans late Thursday. It said it has received offers from public and private institutions to take individual monuments, so it will solicit proposals on where they will go through an “open and transparent selection.“ Only nonprofits and government entities will be allowed to take part, and the city said the process will not include the Beauregard statue because of legal issues.

The city plans to leave the column at Lee’s Circle intact and will mount public art in its place.

►  Next stop for Trump is Israel, in pursuit of ‘ultimate deal’

Donald Trump has cast the elusive pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians as the “ultimate deal.” But he will step foot in Israel having offered few indications of how he plans to achieve what so many of his predecessors could not.

Trump has handed son-in-law Jared Kushner and longtime business lawyer Jason Greenblatt the assignment of charting the course toward a peace process. The White House-driven effort is a sharp shift from the practice of U.S. previous administrations that typically gave secretaries of state those reins.

Kushner and Greenblatt were to accompany Trump on his two-day visit, set to begin Monday and include separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Trump also planned to visit the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and the Western Wall, an important key Jewish holy site.

White House aides have played down expectations for significant progress on the peace process during Trump’s stop, casting it as more symbolic than substantive. Yet Trump may still need to engage in some delicate diplomacy following revelations that he disclosed highly classified intelligence Israel obtained about the Islamic State group with top Russian officials, without Israel’s permission.

Israel also has expressed concern about the $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia that Trump announced Saturday in Riyadh. Yuval Steinitz, a senior Cabinet minister and Netanyahu confidant, called Saudi Arabia “a hostile country” and said the deal was “definitely something that should trouble us.”

Trump’s first overseas trip as president comes as the dynamics between the United States and the region’s players are moving in unexpected directions.

While Israeli officials cheered Trump’s election, some are now wary of the tougher line he has taken on settlements: urging restraint but not calling for a full halt to construction. Trump has retreated from a campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, bending to the same diplomatic and security concerns as other presidents who have made similar promises.

Palestinians, who viewed Trump’s victory with some trepidation, are said to have been pleasantly surprised by Trump’s openness during a recent meeting with Abbas in Washington.

A senior official who was part of the Palestinian delegation said Trump is planning to try to relaunch peace talks, with a goal of reaching an agreement within a year. The Trump administration rejected a request from the Palestinians to push for an Israeli settlement freeze, but promised to sort out the issue during peace negotiations, according to the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the private meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Jibril Rajoub, a senior Palestinian official close to Abbas, said Trump was a “serious president” who “seeks to have a real deal, not just managing the conflict.”

David Friedman, the new U.S. ambassador to Israel, told the newspaper Israel Hayom that Trump’s goal at the start is simply “for the parties to meet with each other without preconditions and to begin a discussion that would hopefully lead to peace.”

On Sunday evening, Friedman attended a celebration of Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem 50 years ago, days after the White House declined to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the area. He joined a host of hardline Israeli leaders at the celebration and later joined Netanyahu at a bigger celebration in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. The area is home to sensitive religious sites, including the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray.

Israel considers the entire city to be its capital. The international community says the fate of east Jerusalem, claimed by the Palestinians, must be resolved through negotiations.

The last round of peace talks, led by then-President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, fell apart in 2014.

Greenblatt has quietly done much of the heavy work for the U.S. thus far. The low-profile Greenblatt, who spent about two decades as a lawyer at the Trump Organization before joining the White House, has traveled to the region twice since the inauguration and is in weekly contact with pivotal players from both sides.

Palestinian officials were struck by the fact that Greenblatt, an Orthodox Jew, took off his skullcap for their meetings. He also visited the Jalazoun refugee camp near Ramallah, home to Abbas’ West Bank headquarters, and a school at the camp, which sits opposite to the Israeli settlement of Beit El. Senior White House officials, including Friedman, have close ties with Beit El.

“That was good gesture by him,” said Mahmoud Mubarak, head of the local council in Jalazoun.

Aaron David Miller, a Middle East peace adviser to Democratic and Republican secretaries of state, said that despite Greenblatt’s positive reviews in the region, there are limits over how much influence he, or any American officials, can have over the process.

“The issue over many years has not been the mediator in the middle — it’s the guys sitting on the other sides of the mediators,” said Miller, now a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Israeli officials say they are largely in the dark about what ideas Trump might present for peace or what concessions he may demand. Hard-liners who dominate Netanyahu’s government grew particularly concerned when White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster voiced support last week for Palestinian “self-determination.” Officials are also on edge over U.S refusal to say that Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, is part of Israel.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the nationalist Jewish Home Party, lamented “a kind of change in the spirit” of Trump’s positions since he was elected in November. He urged Netanyahu to reject Palestinian statehood and insist that Jerusalem remain under Israeli sovereignty forever.

While Netanyahu in the past has expressed support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, he has been vague about this goal since Trump gained power.

Meanwhile, Palestinian activists are calling for a “Day of Rage” when Trump visits the West Bank on Tuesday. The demonstrations are meant to draw attention to a month-long hunger strike by hundreds of prisoners being held by Israel and to protest what many Palestinians say is unfair U.S. support for Israel.

Trump’s trip began in Saudi Arabia and takes him, after Israel, to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis, to Brussels for a NATO summit and to Sicily for a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven major industrial nations.

In USA….

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►  ‘Boneheaded Move’ Gets Deadliest Catch Star Arrested

Deadliest Catch star Sig Hansen is apologizing after what he calls a “boneheaded move” got him arrested in Seattle early Thursday. According to police, the 51-year-old spit on an Uber driver who refused to accept cash for a ride that had been canceled midway through; the driver asked Hansen to re-request the ride so payment could be made and explained he couldn’t take cash. The driver pulled over, allowing Hansen, his wife, daughter, and son-in-law to exit. Upon leaving the car, Hansen allegedly kicked his vehicle, leaving a dent. This all happened shortly after 2am.

The police report states “several droplets of apparently fresh-looking saliva” were observed on the rear of the driver’s headrest, and “the driver wiped what appeared to be fluid off the right side of his head as we spoke.“ Hansen, whom police found “obviously intoxicated” at his Shoreline home, per the Seattle Times, was booked into jail on suspicion of misdemeanor assault and property destruction around 4am. After posting a $2,000 bail, he issued a statement reading in part, “I am terribly sorry for my behavior and am very embarrassed by it.“

►  Weiner Cries in Court as He Pleads Guilty

Anthony Weiner has an unfortunate new title to go with “disgraced congressman.“ From now on, he’ll also be a registered sex offender. Weiner appeared in federal court on Friday and pleaded guilty to a charge of transmitting sexual material to a minor, reports the New York Daily News. “I have a sickness, but I do not have an excuse,“ Weiner said in confessing to sending sexual images to a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina. The AP reports that Weiner, 52, was crying in the courtroom.

The judge ordered Weiner to register as a sex offender, and it’s possible that he’ll spend some time in prison, too. As part of his plea deal, he agreed not to appeal any sentence between 21 and 27 months; he could be sentenced to no time at all or, on the maximum end, up to 10 years. Weiner will remain free until his sentencing hearing in September, reports USA Today.

►  Cincinnati Briefly Honors Man Who Killed Officer

The mayor of Cincinnati has tearfully apologized to city police after his office unwittingly approved a proclamation honoring a man who killed an officer in an ambush. Mayor John Cranley delivered his apology Thursday at the police union hall, saying the proclamation was stamped by a new staffer. He said he also called the officer’s widow to apologize, per the AP. “This was a huge mistake,“ said Cranley. “It’s not done intentionally. It’s human error, but the buck stops with me.“ The proclamation designated June 1, 2017, as “Tre Day” in honor of Trepierre Hummons. Investigators say Hummons was hoping for “suicide by cop” when he killed Officer Sonny Kim in June 2015 before being gunned down by another officer.

The mayor’s office received the request for the proclamation from Ronald Hummons for his son Tre’s birthday. It did not provide the son’s full name, Cranley said. It said a proclamation would recognize work done by a foundation, set up following his son’s death, to address mental illness. “I love our police department,“ Cranley said. “I would never do anything to hurt them.“ The proclamation has since been retracted. Cranley’s office receives proclamation requests from Cincinnati residents every week. Many are vetted by his press office and the mayor doesn’t see them all.

►  The Life of Lola, an American Slave

When Alex Tizon’s family moved to the US from the Philippines in 1964, they were seen as “model immigrants.“ It’s unclear whether their new neighbors would have felt that way had they known Tizon’s family was keeping a slave. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s final story—he died in March—was published Tuesday in the Atlantic and tells the story of Eudocia Tomas Pulido, known to the family as Lola. An 18-year-old Lola was given to Tizon’s mother as a gift by her father when she was a child in the Philippines. For the next 56 years, Lola would be a slave in the Tizon household. When the family moved to the US, they told friends and neighbors Lola was a relative from back home.

Lola cooked, cleaned, and cared for five children, working from morning to night. She wasn’t paid or even given her own room, often sleeping next to the laundry. Lola was constantly berated and often brought to tears by Tizon’s parents. They shamed Lola when she asked for money to send to her sick mother and refused to let her travel to the Philippines when her parents died. Tizon—with the help of John Wayne’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance—began to realize the truth about Lola’s relationship to his family when he was 11 or 12. “Having a slave gave me grave doubts about what kind of people we were, what kind of place we came from,“ he writes. Tizon tried to help Lola but became her owner in 1999 after the death of his mother. Read the full, complex story HERE .

►  Boy, 4, Fatally Shoots Self at Child Care Provider’s Home

Virginia authorities say a 4-year-old boy fatally shot himself at the home of his child care provider, which is also the home of a Stafford County sheriff’s deputy, the AP reports. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Tuesday that the child was pronounced dead Monday. The sheriff’s deputy wasn’t home, and the gun was not a service weapon. The statement also says an autopsy is being conducted and more details won’t be released until the Orange County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation is complete. The Stafford County Sheriff’s office says the deputy began working for the agency in December 2016 and is still in the academy.

►  New in New York: Drag Queen Story Hour

It takes a certain something to be a good storyteller: enthusiasm, timing, and a flair for the dramatic. Performers at a children’s story hour at a New York City library have all that and then some—they’re drag queens. About once a month since last fall, the Brooklyn Public Library has been presenting Drag Queen Story Hour, where performers with names such as Lil Miss Hot Mess and Ona Louise regale an audience of young children and their parents, the AP reports. There’s even a drag-queen version of “Wheels on the Bus” in which Lil Miss Hot Mess sings of hips that go “swish, swish, swish” and heels that go “higher, higher, higher.“ “Drag queens and children don’t usually get together, which I think is a shame and one of the benefits of a program like this,“ Lil Miss Hot Mess says.

“It’s great that it teaches them self-acceptance in a very general way,“ she adds of the program, which got its start in San Francisco. Something like this program “could be a really positive model for kids,“ especially since kids in the preschool age range are open to the idea of dressing up and fantasy, says Christia Spears Brown, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Kentucky. It “ultimately provides children with a really flexible model of gender,“ she says. “And that mental flexibility about gender will benefit all kids, regardless of how gender-typical they themselves are.“ The response has been largely positive, says Kat Savage, a children’s librarian with the Brooklyn Public Library. And for those who don’t approve? “We just tell people: ‘If it’s not for you, you don’t have to come,‘“ she says.

►  DNA Results Revealed as Netflix Revisits Nun’s Murder

The murder of a nun shook Baltimore in 1969. Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik disappeared in November of that year before her body turned up in a field in January with blunt force trauma to the head. The murder remains unsolved, though a seven-part Netflix documentary series out Friday points the finger at Rev. A. Joseph Maskell, a counselor and chaplain at a high school where Cesnik taught. Some say he killed the 26-year-old after students told her about sexual abuse they’d suffered at Maskell’s hands, reports the Baltimore Sun. Baltimore police have also explored this theory: On February 28, Maskell’s body was exhumed (he died in 2001) to see if his DNA matched a sample from the crime scene, per CNN. On Wednesday, police said it did not.

That doesn’t mean Maskell wasn’t involved, only that current forensic technology can’t provide a link, says a police Representative But Cesnik’s former students hope Netflix’s The Keepers will lead to tips, and ultimately a resolution. The series explores the power of the Catholic Church at the time, particularly over police, but centers on Jean Wehner, who claimed in 1994 that Maskell showed her Cesnik’s body before it was officially discovered. By that time, Maskell had resigned and fled to Ireland as abuse allegations against him mounted, per the Sun. He was never charged with abuse, though the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore eventually paid $472,000 to 16 victims. Before his death, Maskell denied the abuse and any involvement in Cesnik’s murder.

In USA….

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►  A White House official close to Trump is now a person of interest in Russia probe, people familiar with the case say

The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House adviser as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.

A senior White House adviser close to Trump is under scrutiny by investigators who are looking into the possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.

The intensity of the probe is expected to accelerate in the coming weeks, the people said.

►  He Won Fight to Leave Prison, Now Faces Deportation

Rene Lima-Marin may not be reunited with his family after all. The Colorado man freed from prison, rearrested, then ordered freed once again was handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement just before he was due to walk free Wednesday and could now be deported, reports the Denver Post. The ICE said Lima-Marin, who moved from Cuba to the US when he was around 2 years old, was taken into custody “pending his removal to Cuba.“ It later cited a federal immigration judge’s 2000 ruling that Lima-Marin be removed from the country. However, it isn’t clear if Cuba will accept Lima-Marin, who could end up spending six months in ICE custody before being allowed to return home under supervision, per the Post.

Lima-Marin’s father says his son received legal residency but never applied for US citizenship. At a vigil outside the Aurora ICE Processing Center on Wednesday, an organizer said Lima-Marin had been trying to clear up his immigration status before he was thrown back in prison in 2014. His lawyer, however, says his status is “absolutely legal” and “everyone is completely devastated,“ per the AP. An immigration lawyer in talks with Lima-Marin’s family is now urging Governor John Hickenlooper to grant a pardon. Earlier this year, the Colorado Legislature passed a motion urging Hickenlooper to do the same. In a statement, Hickenlooper says he hopes Lima-Marin will be reunited with his family soon, but he adds authorities are only following the law.

►  Ex-Admiral Who Chose ‘Karaoke Over Character’ Hears Fate

An ex-admiral in the US Navy who served his country for nearly four decades was “tempted by parties and prostitutes” and ultimately chose “karaoke over character,“ US prosecutors say, and he’s now been sentenced to 18 months behind bars for that choice. Reuters reports that 56-year-old Robert Gilbeau, the first active-duty admiral to be handed a conviction for a federal crime, had pleaded guilty in 2016 to lying when federal agents asked him if he’d received gifts from one “Fat Leonard”—aka Leonard Francis, a foreign defense contractor in Singapore. Per a Justice Department statement, prosecutors say Gilbeau, who had a relationship with Francis that spanned two decades, was showered with fine dining experiences, stays at high-end hotels, and cash, and that the two men often partied together at karaoke bars and clubs, all on Francis’ tab.

In exchange, prosecutors note, Gilbeau awarded Francis lucrative contracts for services such as waste removal from US ships. Gilbeau reportedly started trashing files and documents tying him to Francis when he found out Francis and others had been arrested in 2013. In a San Diego federal courtroom on Wednesday, US District Judge Janis Sammartino told Gilbeau, “You dishonored your shipmates, the Navy, and the United States of America.“ The Washington Post says Gilbeau offered a shaky, “To the Navy, I want to say I am sorry.“ Gilbeau’s attorney notes his client’s Bronze Star and Purple Heart to Reuters and says: “We respectfully disagree with the court’s sentencing decision.“ Gilbeau, now free on bond, will sign in at the Federal Bureau of Prisons on June 23. Francis, meanwhile, faces up to 25 years in prison on bribery and conspiracy charges.

►  Dylann Roof Laughs at Family in Jailhouse Videos

In nearly three hours of jailhouse video, South Carolina church shooter Dylann Roof is seen laughing at his family, asking about his cats, and becoming upset when his relatives suggest he should use his lawyers. Federal officials showed the videos to reporters in Charleston on Tuesday. The videos were part of hearings that determined the white supremacist was competent to stand trial for killing nine black church members, the AP reports. Many of Roof’s bizarre behaviors are evident in the videos, which are not being publicly released. He laughs at inappropriate times, shows no sign of remorse, and cries once when he insists he has syphilis even though he had been examined and did not have the disease.

In one exchange, Roof’s father cries after his son tells him: “I’m going to make this even worse,“ the Post and Courier reports. In another, when his mother argues he should keep his defense team instead of representing himself, he says lawyers “represent criminals and lie for them.“ CNN reports that in a transcript released earlier this week, the 23-year-old tells a psychologist that he won’t be executed because he will “be rescued by white nationalists after they took over the government.“ Another document states that Roof told an autism expert that autism was for “nerds and losers” and he was a sociopath.

►  Man Calls His Date ‘Threat to Civilized Society,‘ Sues Her

“I am fully aware of the weirdness of this situation,“ Brandon Vezmar tells KVUE. The 37-year-old from Austin, Texas, filed a complaint Thursday in Travis County small-claims court against a 35-year-old Round Rock woman for $17.31—the price of the 3D movie ticket he purchased for her on their first date, per the Austin American-Statesman. Vezmar wants his money back from the woman, whom he met via the Bumble dating app, after he says she repeatedly texted—“one of my biggest pet peeves”—during the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 showing they attended on May 6, despite his exhortations that she stop. Vezmar’s suit says his date opened up her phone between 10 and 20 times in 15 minutes to text, which he points out is a “direct violation” of the theater’s policy.

Vezmar says he asked her to stop texting then suggested she take it outside—which she did, never to return, even though she’d driven them to the theater. He later texted her to ask for his money back and says she declined to pay. The amount he’s seeking isn’t important, it’s the principle, the suit claims, “as Defendant’s behavior is a threat to civilized society.“ The unnamed woman says she didn’t even know about the suit until the American-Statesman contacted her, noting, “This is crazy.“ She says she only texted two or three times to a pal who was fighting with a boyfriend. In a statement to KVUE she explains she ditched Vezmar because he made her “extremely uncomfortable” and is filing a protective order against him because he’s been pestering her sister for the ticket money.

►  Confederate Monument No. 3 Down, but 4th Won’t Be So Easy

Workers in New Orleans took down a Confederate monument to General PGT Beauregard shortly after 3am Wednesday, the third of four such monuments to come down in the city as part of a removal process that has been anything but easy. “While we must honor our history, we will not allow the Confederacy to be put on a pedestal in the heart of New Orleans,“ Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a news release. The removal comes after the city has already taken down a statue of the Confederacy’s only president and a memorial to a white rebellion against a biracial Reconstruction-era government in the city. Beauregard commanded the attack at Fort Sumter, SC, that marked the outbreak of the Civil War. His statue sat at a traffic circle near the entrance to New Orleans City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art and had been there since 1915, reports the AP.

The last remaining statue is easily the most prominent: General Robert E. Lee standing, in uniform, arms crossed defiantly, looking toward the northern horizon from atop a roughly 60-foot-tall pedestal. It was unveiled in 1884. The city said Tuesday that due to “intimidation, threats, and violence, serious safety concerns remain” so it would not announce a timeline for Lee’s removal. The City Council voted 6-1 in 2015 to remove the monuments, and workers removing the first two generally wore bulletproof vests, helmets, and face coverings to shield their identities; work took place well after midnight to minimize attention. Workers at the Beauregard removal also covered their faces and wore helmets but the atmosphere appeared slightly more low-key, with work starting in the evening on Tuesday after sunset.

Group Aims to Find, Protect Older Forests in WV, Nation

A conservation group wants to designate an old-growth forest in every county in the United States that has forestland - and four in West Virginia already are on the list.

The Old Growth Forest Network says 95 percent of the nation’s original forestland has been removed or altered - and forests in West Virginia are no exception.

Vivian Stockman, vice-director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said it’s important to preserve the remaining forestland for future generations to enjoy - but also for its ecological benefits to the environment.

“Forests certainly have incredible value in terms of flood control, air purification, water purification,“ she said. “Types of services that full-grown forests can offer are valuable not just to our human soul, but to our economic bottom line.“

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The American Society of Foresters recognized the Gaudineer Scenic Area in 1983 for its “near-natural condition,“ and it’s been a Scenic Area since 1964.

Stockman noted that many West Virginia forests fell to development years ago, and those that remain continue to be fragmented by mountaintop-removal mining and fracking-related activity.

The four that are part of the old-growth network so far are Cathedral and Carnifex Ferry state parks, the Stonecliff area of the New River Gorge, and the Gaudineer Scenic Area in the Monongahela National Forest.

According to Joan Maloof, executive director of the Old Growth Forest Network, about three out of four counties nationwide have forests worth preserving. She said tall trees help identify an older forest, but tree age isn’t the only consideration.

“You will find some trees that are larger than you would find in a more recently logged forest, and they’re home for so many organisms: so much fungi, so many insects, so many reptiles and amphibians,“ she explained.

Maloof said volunteers are key to saving forests across the country and her group is looking for people who can help.

They also take nominations for areas to be considered for inclusion in the Old-Growth Forest Network, online at

~~  Chris Thomas ~~

Kroger Is Launching A Blue Apron Killer

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Kroger is diving into the fast-growing meal-kit business.

The supermarket chain is offering meal kits — or packages that contain recipes and accompanying ingredients — at a handful of stores and launching them nationwide over the next year, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said in a letter to shareholders.

The $1.5 billion meal-kit market is currently dominated by Blue Apron, a subscription service that now delivers more than 8 million meals a month — up from about 1 million meals per month two years ago. Blue Apron costs $20 for a meal that services two people.

But Kroger has two major advantages compared to Blue Apron.

First of all, Kroger’s boxes are cheaper, costing about $14 for a meal that feeds two people.

Kroger also goes a step further than Blue Apron by doing most of the food prep for customers. No chopping, slicing, dicing, grating, or other work is necessary — all the ingredients are ready to be cooked.

This means the meals can take a lot less time to make. Kroger says its meals take about 20 minutes to prepare “from kit to fork,“ whereas Blue Apron meals tend to require about 45 minutes of prep and cooking time.

Customers can select from a variety of different meals at Kroger stores where the kits are currently offered. Soon, they will be available nationwide. 

McMullen says meal kits are one of many “megatrends” that Kroger is hoping to tap into this year.

“Our culinary team has developed delicious meal kits that are available in pilot stores today, and we have plans to quickly make them available at scale over the course of the next year,“ he said. “Meal kits are one of many offerings designed to meet our customers’ changing definition of convenience.“

The meal-kit business is rapidly growing, and getting increasingly crowded along the way.

More than 100 companies now offer the kits, including Plated, HelloFresh, Sun Basket, and Amazon (in limited cities).  Supermarkets including Publix, Fresh Market, and Whole Foods are also testing the kits in some stores.

In USA….

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►  Officer Not Guilty in Shooting of Unarmed Tulsa Man

Protesters gathered on the streets of Tulsa Wednesday night after a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man whose car had stalled was acquitted of manslaughter. The jury took more than eight hours to deliver a not guilty verdict for Betty Shelby, who shot 40-year-old father of four Terence Crutcher on September 16, 2016, after he walked away from her with his hands up, NBC reports. Earlier this week, the 43-year-old officer testified that she feared for her life when Crutcher reached into his vehicle. “I did everything I could to stop this,“ she said. “Crutcher’s death is his fault.“ Her defense attorney said the fact PCP was found in Crutcher’s system backed up her decision to treat him as a threat.

Prosecutors argued that Crutcher was not aggressive toward police during the incident. Tiffany Crutcher, Crutcher’s twin sister, said after the verdict that her brother was murdered and “corrupt” police tried to cover it up, the Tulsa World reports. She also criticized Shelby and other officers at the scene for failing to provide medical care in the minutes after the shooting. Around 100 protesters dispersed peacefully after marching from the courthouse to a hotel where they thought Shelby was staying, the AP reports. “When is it going to stop—just officer-related shootings?“ asked Marq Lewis, organizer of civil rights group We The People Oklahoma. “When will the police change policy?“

►  Teen Who Had Sex With Young GF Faces Harsh Consequences

A Texas mom says her family is “going through hell” as they wait to see if a Harris County juvenile judge will label her 14-year-old son a sex offender. The seventh-grader’s attorney, Joseph Gutheinz, tells the Houston Chronicle his client is being charged with aggravated sexual assault after having sex with his 12-year-old girlfriend, who was in sixth grade at the time. Texas, where the age of consent is 17, has a “Romeo and Juliet” law, in which a legal defense is available for minors younger than 17 who have consensual sex—as long as the two parties are within three years of age of each other. However, the law doesn’t hold if one of the kids is younger than 14, even if the sex was consensual and even if, as the teen’s mom says, “he loved her.“ “They want to … put him on the [sex offender] registry with pedophiles and child molesters—really sick and dangerous people,“ she says.

And that’s the last thing we should be doing to kids caught in similar situations, Wisconsin Representative Joel Kleefisch says, per WSAU. His state is trying to pass a bill that would deem consensual sex between kids ages 15 to 18 a misdemeanor and not require them to register as sex offenders. But even that law wouldn’t help the Texas teen, and Gutheinz says “it just blows my mind” that his client could have sex with a 13-year-old just a few days younger and be in deep trouble, or be considered the victim if he had sex with an 18-year-old. “You would think the law would be more sympathetic as you go younger, because both parties are immature,“ he notes. Still, a Harris County Public Defender’s Office lawyer says most judges look carefully at the facts of such cases and “very rarely” make teens register as sex offenders.

►  Oil pipeline opponents try going after the money

Opposition to the Dakota Access oil pipeline has persuaded some banks to stop supporting projects that might harm the environment or tread on indigenous rights, but calling the divest movement a success might be a stretch.

It doesn’t appear to be hurting the ability of energy companies to get financing and it doesn’t seem to concern lenders broadly. Yet pipeline opponents see victory in the fact that they have made financial institutions more aware of indigenous rights — and they’re intent on keeping up the fight on projects such as Keystone XL even after failing to stop the Dakota Access line.

“We aren’t ignoring the fact we couldn’t stop that pipeline,“ said Vanessa Green, a campaign director with the DivestInvest initiative. “There’s a battle, and then there’s a war.“

The $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois will be fully operational by June 1, a half-year later than planned by Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners. The project was delayed by lawsuits from American Indian tribes who fear it threatens cultural sites and drinking water, and months of protests by tribal members and their supporters. Donald Trump pushed the project through shortly after taking office.

While the protests centered on a camp in North Dakota that at times housed thousands of people, opponents also picketed banks in major U.S. cities and urged banks in Europe and even Japan to take a stand against the pipeline.

Some did. Paris-based BNP Paribas USA, Netherlands-based ING and Norway-based DNB sold off their shares of a Dakota Access loan. Private investor Storebrand and Odin Fund Management, both in Norway, sold shares in companies linked to the project. Dutch bank ABN-AMRO stopped providing credit to a parent company of ETP.

Pipeline opponents also targeted cities with some success, including in Seattle, where leaders in February voted to cut ties with San Francisco-based banking giant Wells Fargo in part due to its role in funding Dakota Access.

In all, the DefundDAPL movement claims that divestments from that project total more than $80 million from individuals and $4.3 billion from cities.

But that didn’t stop ETP from completing the Dakota Access pipeline, and the company has a number of other projects underway across the U.S.

“We do not have a concern about our current or future financing options,“ ETP spokeswoman Vicki Granado said.

TransCanada Corp., which is planning the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline through the central Plains, wouldn’t say whether it has secured the necessary financing. But its first-quarter 2017 financial report indicates that finding funds overall hasn’t been a problem: The company raised $2.6 billion toward a $23 billion capital program.

As for Wells Fargo, which lists $2 trillion in assets, it calls the city divestitures “symbolic” and notes that other communities and tribes are still clients.

“Certainly, the protests have had some limited negative impact to the company’s reputation, which is a shame because it overshadows all of the tremendous work our team members and the company does to support those very same communities and local nonprofits across the country,“ spokesman Alan Elias said.

In the meantime, opponents of such projects continue to seek to broaden their efforts to educate people about the potential effects not only on the environment, but on Native Americans.

“There’s a whole widening narrative woven into what was once an environmental movement,“ said Green, with the DivestInvest initiative. “Now it’s much more integrated, with a social justice, indigenous rights focus.“

In March, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer in partnership with First Peoples Worldwide, an indigenous advocacy and funding group, convened an educational meeting in Washington for global investors with Dave Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, the tribe that started the opposition to Dakota Access.

“We’re just going to continue to build awareness for companies that have no regard for the environment, have no regard for people, and hopefully the companies, banks, lenders, financial institutions understand that if you want to be socially responsible, not to invest in companies like ETP,“ Archambault said in an interview.

Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said that while market forces ultimately determine industry practices, public opinion can be a factor.

“Market factors and public opinion worked together to substantially reduce the market share of coal,“ he said. “You have those two factors working together, that’s how change takes place.“

►  Lawmaker Ruffled by Duck Ramp Told to ‘Duck Off’

The president of a non-profit that helps animals in Washington, DC, calls it a lifesaving measure. Representative Mark Walker calls it a waste of government funds. Such is the debate raging over a simple duck ramp installed by government officials at the Capitol Reflecting Pool, which is drawing quite a bit of attention, despite its seemingly lighter nature. The New York Times reports two duck ramps were installed at the reflecting pool Monday to make it easier for ducklings that have made their home at the pool to get in and out. The president of City Wildlife—which worked with the Architect of the Capitol agency to design the ramps—explains the ducklings risk drowning from exhaustion or starving to death if they can’t hurdle a “high curb at the water’s edge.“

A video shows ducklings using the newly installed ramp to avoid the curb. But Walker, a Republican from North Carolina, is not amused. “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it must be government waste,“ he tweeted Monday, alongside a photo of one of the ramps. He didn’t find much support, though. “I for one am glad American tax dollars paid for you to get mad online about a duck ramp,“ replied comedian Patrick Monahan. Another user said the ramp “looks like a really cheap way to offset the ecosystem disruption of the concrete structure,“ while one simply told Walker to “duck off,“ per the Huffington Post. In related news, Mashable reports ducklings were rescued from the roof of the Library of Congress on Tuesday. Walker has yet to comment on that expense.

►  After Trump-Erdogan Meeting, DC Protests Turn Violent

Authorities say nine people were hurt and two arrested during an altercation Tuesday outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington, DC. Two of those hurt were seriously injured and taken to hospitals, reports the AP. Police say the altercation broke out about 4:30pm between two groups, but didn’t elaborate on the circumstances. “We are protesting (President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s) policies in Turkey, in Syria, and in Iraq,“ Flint Arthur of Baltimore told CNN. He said Erdogan supporters breached police lines to attack them. One of those arrested was charged with assaulting a police officer. (The CNN story includes this Facebook video of the violence.)

The altercation came the same day that Erdogan met with Trump at the White House. The State Department declined to comment. Before the violence broke out, Trump and Erdogan appeared together and promised stronger relations between the two nations, though the Guardian notes that their meeting came amid strained ties on two main fronts. Turkey is angry that the US is supporting Kurdish fighters fighting the Islamic State in Syria, and it accuses the US of harboring the mastermind of a failed coup in July.

►  Odd Development in Ohio Massacre Case

Ohio state authorities have charged the brother of one of the eight relatives slain in an unsolved massacre with tampering with evidence and vandalism over the destruction of a GPS tracking device they placed on his truck. The state attorney general’s office accused James Manley of destroying the device being used in the investigation of the slayings, the AP reports. The charges “are not uncommon when a witness destroys such a device used in a government investigation,“ the attorney general’s office said Tuesday. Manley is the brother of victim Dana Rhoden. Seven adults and one teenage boy from the Rhoden family were slain in April 2016. They were found shot at four homes near Piketon.

An agent with the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation placed the device on James Manley’s truck on April 22, according to his arrest warrant. A search warrant in the case indicated that investigators believe the truck was used in connection with an aggravated murder or by a person intending such a crime, but did not specify a connection to the Rhoden investigation. The suspect’s father, Leonard Manley, who also lost three grandchildren in the massacre, tells the Cincinnati Enquirer that his son and his eldest daughter were close and there is no way he could be involved in the killings. He says it seems investigators are “grasping at straws.“

►  Prisoner to Be Freed After ‘Conscience-Shocking’ Move

“Utterly unjust.“ That’s how a Colorado judge describes Rene Lima-Marin’s 98-year sentence for robbing two stores, a wrong he’s righted after nearly two decades. Lima-Marin was just 19 when he and a friend robbed two video stores in 1998, per CNN. No one was injured (Lima-Marin claimed the gun involved was unloaded), and the pair only moved store employees from one room to another, reports the Denver Post, but Lima-Marin was convicted of kidnapping, burglary, aggravated robbery, and use of a deadly weapon. His sentences for these crimes were to be served consecutively for a 98-year sentence and a possible parole date of October 2053. But because of a clerk’s error, documents showed they were to be served concurrently.

Based on those documents, a public defender advised Lima-Marin not to file an appeal, believing he would soon be eligible for parole. In 2008, Lima-Marin was indeed released, found a job, got married, and started a family. But when the error was realized in 2014, he was again thrown in prison. In a decision Tuesday, Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour Jr. said that move required the government to act with “conscience-shocking” indifference. “Requiring Lima-Marin to serve the rest of his prison sentence all these years later ... would perpetrate a manifest injustice,“ he added. Lima-Marin’s attorney says she expects her client to be released Wednesday or Thursday. Adds his wife: “I’m still a bit in shock. I can’t believe it’s over.“

►  U.S. Women in 30s Having More Babies Than Younger Moms

For the first time, women in their early 30s are having more babies than younger moms in the US, the AP reports. Health experts say the shift is due to more women waiting longer to have children and the ongoing drop in the teen birth rate. For more than three decades, women in their late 20s had the highest birth rates, but that changed last year, according to preliminary data released Wednesday by the CDC. The birth rate for women ages 30 to 34 was about 103 per 100,000; the rate for women ages 25 to 29 was 102 per 100,000.

It’s becoming more common to see older parents with kids in elementary or high school, says Bill Albert of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Meanwhile, more teens are growing up with fewer of their peers getting pregnant, he says. “We always talk about peer pressure as a negative, but it can be a force for good,“ Albert says. Among the report’s findings: the overall birth rate was down slightly in 2016, to 62 births per 100,000 women ages 15 to 44; the average age when women have their first child is about 28; and the teen birth rate continued to drop last year.

►  Death Row Inmate’s Last Words Were an Insult

When asked if he had any final words before his execution in Georgia early Wednesday, JW Ledford Jr. did. But those words weren’t an apology or a goodbye; rather, they were a taunt, ABC News reports. The 45-year-old, who murdered his 73-year-old neighbor in 1992, smiled as he tossed out a slightly paraphrased quote from Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach.“ He went on: “I am not the failure. You are the failure to communicate. You can kiss my white trash ###.“ His microphone was shut off at that point, though he began speaking again. He was dead by lethal injection shortly thereafter.

Ledford fatally stabbed his neighbor, Dr. Harry Johnston—the man who had actually delivered Ledford as a baby, the BBC reports—in his home before lifting money, guns, and a vehicle from the home and threatening Johnston’s wife and tying her up. He told police he had gone to the house to ask for a ride, and lashed out after Johnston accused him of stealing and hit him. His lawyers had asked for clemency, arguing that he had an intellectual disability, had gone through a difficult childhood, and struggled with substance abuse from an early age, but that request was denied Monday. Ledford’s execution was the first carried out in Georgia this year.

►  Simple Act of Littering Leads Police to Weapons Stash

Minneapolis police say they’ve uncovered a stash of weapons and possible bomb-making materials—all because a resident saw people littering. Police say a man spotted two occupants of a parked car throwing food wrappers on the ground in north Minneapolis around 5pm Thursday, per Minnesota Public Radio. When the witness attempted to get the car’s license plate number, the occupants exited the car and informed the man that they had guns, police say. The man then flagged down officers, who tried to diffuse the situation, but the men in the car raised suspicions when they claimed they couldn’t be away from their vehicle because they were awaiting a drone delivery, police say, per the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Citing fear for the safety of the passerby, officers say they then searched the men’s vehicle and found a hand grenade, handgun, assault rifles, magazines, and ammunition. Bomb squad personnel determined the ammunition—together with cellphones, computers, drone parts, and other electronic devices in the car—could have been used to build bombs, according to a criminal complaint. Abdullah Alrifahe, 27, is now charged with carrying a pistol in public without a permit. (The Star Tribune reports he was convicted of the same offense in December.) Jail records show an apparent relative, Majid Alrifahe, 26, also faces disorderly conduct, misdemeanor assault, and weapons charges stemming from Thursday’s incident.

►  SC Home’s Mystery Tenant Actually a Genius

There’s no ghost in the upstairs apartment of a home listed for sale on Zillow as coming with a tenant who’s never paid. Rather, the place is home to something far less sinister: a kindly grandfather who happens to be what the State calls an artistic genius. Before falling on hard times about a decade ago, Randall McKissick was a renowned artist with paintings on display in Paris and New York. But emerging technology, a divorce, an eviction, and a series of thefts left McKissick down on his luck. That’s when his childhood friend Mike Schumpert stepped in, offering McKissick an apartment in his home in Cayce, SC, per WIS. “He never mentioned money,“ says McKissick, 70. “I would like to pay him, but I don’t have any.“

Schumpert’s son says his “very charitable” dad, who recently broke his back in a car accident, and his mother, who is disabled, now need to sell the home. But “we want Randy to be able to stay there,“ he says. The family is also looking at finding another apartment for McKissick and his three cats, but there are financial challenges, the State reports. “In this age when people would sell out their mothers for a buck, here’s two friends in dire straights who are trying to help each other out,“ a local artist says. McKissick, who suffers from panic attacks, often finds it hard to leave the house but says he’ll move out if he must. Though he’s “lost the spark” for painting, “I just want to paint again,“ he says.

In USA….

The Free Press WV

►  10 States With the Biggest Drug Problems

The United States as a whole is battling an opioid epidemic, but certain states are harder hit by drugs than others. Colorado, for example, has the highest percentage of teenagers and adults who use illicit drugs, while West Virginia has the most overdose deaths per capita, reports WalletHub. The site ranked the 50 states and the District of Columbia on these factors and others, including drug arrests and opioid prescriptions, to find the states with the biggest drug problems. The top 10:

  1. District of Columbia
  2. Vermont
  3. Colorado
  4. Delaware
  5. Rhode Island
  6. Oregon
  7. Connecticut
  8. Arizona
  9. Massachusetts
  10. Michigan

Click for the FULL LIST.

►  Golden Gate Bridge Boosts Security After Insane Stunts

The Golden Gate Bridge is beefing up security to prevent others following in the slippery footsteps of two teenagers who climbed the bridge and performed death-defying stunts. In video posted on YouTube, the two 18-year-olds from Wisconsin climb suspension cables before doing backflips and somersaults on a walkway, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. They also dangled above traffic on the 746-foot-high bridge. Bridge manager Denis Mulligan says the teens could have killed themselves—or motorists—and they could face trespassing charges. “The Golden Gate Bridge is not an amusement park ride,“ he says.

One of the youths, Peter Teatime, tells the Los Angeles Times that he and a friend decided to climb the bridge “on a whim” at 3am one morning while visiting San Francisco last month on spring break. “ We weren’t doing anything wrong,“ he says, adding that he can offer bridge officials tips on improving security. Mulligan says bridge security was set up to stop terrorists, not “reckless behavior,“ KTVU reports. He says authorities have known about the stunt for a while, but didn’t address it until Tuesday to avoid inspiring copycats before new measures were in place. Climbing the bridge is a misdemeanor that can carry punishment of a year in jail or a $10,000 fine.

►  Chelsea Manning’s First Tweet Upon Release

Now that she’s a free woman, Chelsea Manning is letting the world know. “First steps of freedom!!“ she tweeted Wednesday upon her release from military prison, along with a photo of her feet. Manning also issued a statement picked up by NBC News, which read in part: “Whatever is ahead of me is far more important than the past. I’m figuring things out right now—which is exciting, awkward, fun, and all new for me.“ Meanwhile, Pulse Films announced at the Cannes Film Festival that it was making a documentary about the 29-year-old transgender soldier called XY Chelsea, reports the AP. Manning is expected to live in Maryland.

►  He Flipped a Switch and the Home Exploded. Siri Saved Him

A New Hampshire man who was injured in a house explosion is thanking Siri for saving his life. Christopher Beaucher says he was checking on his mother’s vacant cottage in Wilmot on May 01 when he saw something suspicious and went inside, per the AP. He tells WMUR-TV when he switched on a light, the house exploded into flames. “Part of it collapsed while I was in it during the initial explosion, so I couldn’t really tell where I was.“

Beaucher’s face and hands were badly burned. He managed to exit the home and get to his car, but says his injuries left him unable to dial. He says he somehow asked his iPhone’s voice-controlled virtual assistant Siri to call 911, believing he was going into shock. Beaucher is still undergoing treatment for his injuries but says he hopes to return to his job as a cook and tend to his farm. Authorities are still investigating the explosion. A GoFundMe campaign has raised $3,000 for Beaucher.

►  Cop Suffers Accidental OD in Fentanyl Drug Bust

A police officer in Ohio got a lesson the hard way on just how potent the opioid fentanyl can be. The East Liverpool department says officer Chris Green got some of the powder on his skin after a drug bust and suffered an accidental overdose, reports WFMJ. He ended up in the hospital but is OK after multiple doses of the overdose-reversal drug Narcan. Green had participated in the arrest of two men Friday night who were suspected of conducting a drug deal inside a car. When cops blocked their vehicle, police say the men began trying to dispose of the evidence, and white powder ended up all over the inside of their car.

Officers donned protective gear in collecting evidence from the scene, and accounts differ on how Green got some of the powder on his skin. The best guess is that some ended up on his shirt and he wiped it off with his bare hand, reports WKBN. “Just out of instinct, he tried to brush it off—not thinking,“ says a police captain. Fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin, and Green quickly began suffering the effects. Meanwhile, Justin Buckle, 25, and Cortez Collins, 24, face drug charges after their Friday night arrests.

►  Man in Vegas Dies in Police Custody After Neck Restraint

A man’s death while in police custody on the Las Vegas Strip is making headlines, in part because of an officer’s use of a neck restraint. Police say the incident began when the man approached two officers inside the Venetian hotel and casino about 1am Sunday, reports the AP. The officers say he was acting erratically, claiming that people were after him, and took off outside. They followed, spotted him trying to get into someone’s pickup, and used a stun gun on him, but the officers say the man continued to fight them. One officer then punched him multiple times and used “a department approved control technique called the lateral vascular neck restraint,“ per a police statement cited by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The man, who was unarmed and has not been identified, lost consciousness and was pronounced dead at a hospital about 1:40am.

The incident is drawing comparisons to the death of Eric Garner in New York City, who could be heard telling police “I can’t breathe” while in a chokehold. The department, however, says the restraint used is not a chokehold because, when deployed properly, it does not block a suspect’s airway. Instead, it restricts the flow of blood to a person’s brain by “compressing arteries in the neck,“ per the Washington Post, which digs into the semantics via the National Law Enforcement Training Center. In short, the restraint is meant to be a safer alternative to a chokehold, though the ACLU in Nevada isn’t making such distinctions. “The incident of a man dying in police custody today is one more reason why the use of chokehold practices must stop,“ says the group’s executive director. “Too many people have died as a result of this type of excessive force.“

►  After Virginia Mayor Slams Rally, ‘Bigots’ Go After Him

The mayor of Charlottesville says he has been targeted by bigots online after criticizing torch-carrying pro-Confederate protesters in the Virginia city as either “profoundly ignorant” or trying to instill fear in minorities. Mike Signer says the anti-Semitic abuse he’s receiving is a sign of the “juvenile mentality” of the “alt-right bigots” involved. “You’re seeing anti-Semitism in these crazy tweets I’m getting and you’re seeing a display of torches at night, which is reminiscent of the KKK,“ the mayor tells Reuters. “They’re sort of a last gasp of the bigotry that this country has systematically overcome.“

Signer tells ABC News that he thinks the Saturday night rally, which was led by white nationalist Richard Spencer and involved up to 150 people protesting plans to remove Confederate statues, was “horrific” in a city that values its diversity. Republican gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart, a prominent defender of the statues, hasn’t commented on the rally, which was denounced by the other four candidates for governor, including Republican state Senator Frank Wagner. “These actions are totally unacceptable. These people are racists,“ Wagner tells the Washington Post. “They don’t represent Virginia values. I condemn their actions and beliefs.“

►  PI Claims DNC Staffer’s Murder Is Connected to WikiLeaks

The family of a murdered DNC staffer is fighting back against a private investigator’s claims he was in contact with WikiLeaks prior to his death and may have been murdered in connection to his work at the DNC. Seth Rich, 27, was shot and killed last July during what police say appears to have been an attempted robbery. After Rich’s death, WikiLeaks offered a $20,000 reward for help in solving his murder, and Julian Assange appeared to imply Rich had been passing material on to them, BuzzFeed reports. Now, according to FOX 5, a PI named Rod Wheeler says there’s evidence on Rich’s laptop that shows he was in contact with WikiLeaks. Wheeler says the police were “told to stand down on this case” in a cover-up he believes stems from the DNC and DC mayor’s office.

But Rich’s family—who FOX 5 states hired Wheeler—says the PI, a Fox News contributor, is not authorized to speak for them, Fox News reports. A family spokesperson says Wheeler was hired by a “third party.“ Fox News states an unnamed federal investigator has backed up Wheeler’s claims, adding he’s read the emails between Rich and WikiLeaks and Rich forwarded more than 44,000 DNC emails to WikiLeaks. The family spokesperson says there’s “no facts” and “no evidence” to support these “unsubstantiated” claims. The family says any reports to the contrary are baseless conspiracy theories. Rich’s murder remains unsolved.

►  Bill Gates: I’d Give This Book to Every College Graduate

Bill Gates may be a college dropout himself, but he’s still hit up for advice quite a bit from college graduates. In a series of tweets spotted by Business Insider, Gates is offering that advice to all. Among other things, he writes that if he were a college freshman today, he would study artificial intelligence, energy, and the biosciences, all “promising fields where you can make a huge impact.“ Some other nuggets:

  • A regret: “I also have one big regret: When I left school, I knew little about the world’s worst inequities. Took me decades to learn.“
  • On happiness: “Like @WarrenBuffett I measure my happiness by whether people close to me are happy and love me, & by the difference I make for others.“
  • A gift: “If I could give each of you a graduation present, it would be this—the most inspiring book I’ve ever read.“ The book is Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature.

►  Chelsea Manning’s Freedom: ‘We Didn’t Think It Would Work’

Chelsea Manning was released from prison on Wednesday, thanks to former President Obama’s decision to commute the bulk of her 35-year sentence for leaking government secrets. If you were surprised by that decision, you’re not alone: As a story in Mother Jones explains, her legal team was, too. “We didn’t really think it would work,“ says Nancy Hollander, one of her lawyers. The team, however, felt it had no choice but to try, casting it quite literally as a matter of life or death. The push for commutation came after Manning, who has been in prison about six years, attempted suicide in July. “I was feeling that her life was in jeopardy and she wasn’t going to survive much longer,“ says another attorney, Chase Strangio of the ACLU. “The years of trauma that were building up was such that another year seemed difficult to imagine.“

The story runs through that trauma, detailing Manning’s ongoing fight to transition to a female while behind bars. She won the right for hormone therapy, along with a promise of sex-reassignment surgery (which she hasn’t had yet), but lost other battles such as the right to grow her hair long. A UN investigator, meanwhile, called her solitary confinement “cruel, inhuman, and degrading,“ and Manning went on a hunger strike. “I am living through a cycle of anxiety, anger, hopelessness, loss, and depression,“ she wrote Obama in her commutation plea. Much to everyone’s surprise, it worked. (A White House spokesman noted that she had apologized, unlike Edward Snowden.) When Manning is out, she’ll move to Maryland and is expected to be an activist for transgender rights. A crowdfunding campaign has raised more than $130,000 for her. (Read the FULL STORY.)

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