GilmerFreePress.net

United States

United States of America News

National News

The Free Press WV


►  Tiffany Trump attends a law school lecture by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Hey, isn’t that . . . first-year law school student and first daughter Tiffany Trump, caught on C-SPAN cameras during a lecture to students by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Wednesday afternoon?

The jurist/pop culture icon was a guest speaker at Georgetown Law, and among the aspiring legal eagles in attendance was a woman who was instantly recognizable as the younger first daughter, who began classes last month. Trump, wearing a headband, looked attentive – at least more so than the guy to her left, who was maybe taking a snooze (something Ginsburg knows a bit about).

Kind of an interesting moment, because there’s zero love lost between Donald Trump and RBG. Ginsburg took the unusual step of publicly labeling Trump a “faker” in July, prompting a signature POTUS tweet: “Her mind is shot – resign!“


►  A 4-year-old was looking for candy, instead, she found a gun

When the 4-year-old slipped her hand into her grandmother’s purse, she was searching for something sweet, her father told the Tampa Bay Times.

Shane Zoller told the newspaper that his daughter, Yanelly, was looking for candy while visiting her grandparents last week in North Tampa, Florida. Instead, she found a handgun, then accidentally shot and killed herself, Zoller said.

“I was driving to pick her up with her bathing suit in my car to take her to the splash pads,“ Zoller told the Times. “When I pulled up, that’s when I saw all the police lights.“

Authorities confirmed that the child, called “Nelly,“ found a firearm at the home in Tampa on September 14 and shot herself.

Her grandparents, Michael and Christie Zoller, were both home at the time, authorities said. A Tampa police spokesman told The Washington Post on Thursday that it appears the shooting was accidental, but authorities are still investigating.

“She just wanted some damn candy,“ Shane Zoller told the Times on Wednesday, the day before his daughter’s funeral.

The Hillsborough County medical examiner’s office said Yanelly died of a gunshot wound to the chest, which perforated her lungs, aorta and esophagus. The manner of death was listed as an accident.

As The Post’s John Woodrow Cox reported last week, an average of 23 children were shot each day in 2015, according to a review of the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. That’s at least one bullet every 63 minutes.

That year, an estimated 8,400 children were struck, and 1,458 of them died - more than in any year since at least 2010. That death toll amounted to more than the entire number of U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan over the past 10 years.

According to Florida law, “a person who stores or leaves, on a premise under his or her control, a loaded firearm . . . and who knows or reasonably should know that a minor is likely to gain access to the firearm without the lawful permission of the minor’s parent or the person having charge of the minor, or without the supervision required by law, shall keep the firearm in a securely locked box or container or in a location which a reasonable person would believe to be secure or shall secure it with a trigger lock.“

One exception, the law states: “When the person is carrying the firearm on his or her body or within such close proximity thereto that he or she can retrieve and use it as easily and quickly as if he or she carried it on his or her body.“

Failing to secure a firearm “in the required manner” is a misdemeanor, if a minor gains access to it without permission.

Yanelly’s obituary said she enjoyed watching the cartoon “Shimmer and Shine” and bouncing on the couch, the Tampa Bay Times reported. She also loved spending time with her grandparents, her father said.

“She was extremely close to them and would get so excited when she got to stay at her nana’s house,“ Zoller told the Times. “She was attached to her nana’s hip.“

A Facebook page matching the grandmother’s name was filled with photos of the child, whom she called her “pop tart.“ A day after the shooting death, Christie Zoller wrote: “God please answer me why did you take her.“ Then: “Good night sweet Angel nana loves you more than words could ever say.“

By Thursday afternoon, the same day Nelly Zoller was to be buried at Sunset Memory Gardens in Thonotosassa, Florida, a GoFundMe page had raised more than $1,700 for her funeral costs, and a YouCaring campaign had raised about $400.

“So many broken hearts who are waiting to be told this is all one big nightmare,“ read a message on the YouCaring page. “The shock and disbelief is real. The death of a child turns the world upside down and leaves unanswered questions of why? The only answer that half way makes sense is Heaven needed another angel. Her star shines bright. Our beautiful angel was taken by a freak accident, one that is difficult to discuss.“

The message end with: “Please love your children . . . please let them know you love them and never go to bed without giving them their little kisses and there hugs because you never know when it’ll be the last time you’ll say good night.“


►  Puerto Rico faces weeks without electricity after Maria

The eye of Hurricane Maria was nearing the Turks and Caicos early Friday as Puerto Rico sought to recover from the storm’s devastation.

Two days after Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, flooding towns, crushing homes and killing at least two people, millions on the island faced the dispiriting prospect of weeks and perhaps months without electricity. The storm knocked out the entire grid across the U.S. territory of 3.4 million, leaving many without power.

The loss of power left residents hunting for gas canisters for cooking, collecting rainwater or steeling themselves mentally for the hardships to come in the tropical heat. Some contemplated leaving the island.

“You cannot live here without power,” said Hector Llanos, a 78-year-old retired New York police officer who planned to leave Saturday for the U.S. mainland to live there temporarily.

Like many Puerto Ricans, Llanos does not have a generator or gas stove. “The only thing I have is a flashlight,” he said, shaking his head. “This is never going to return to normal.”

Maria’s death toll across the Caribbean, meanwhile, climbed to at least 27. There were at least 15 deaths on Dominica and six on Puerto Rico. Other islands reporting deaths were Haiti, three; Guadeloupe, two; and Dominican Republic, one.

As of Friday morning, Maria was passing northeast of the Turks and Caicos with winds of 125 mph (205 kph). A hurricane warning remained in effect for those islands as well as the southeastern Bahamas. The storm is expected to veer into the open Atlantic and pose no threat to the U.S. mainland.

In Puerto Rico, the grid was in sorry shape long before Maria — and Hurricane Irma two weeks ago — struck.

The territory’s $73 billion debt crisis has left agencies like the state power company broke. It abandoned most basic maintenance in recent years, leaving the island subject to regular blackouts.

“We knew this was going to happen given the vulnerable infrastructure,” Governor Ricardo Rossello said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it would open an air bridge from the mainland on Friday, with three to four military planes flying to the island every day carrying water, food, generators and temporary shelters.

“There’s a humanitarian emergency here in Puerto Rico,” Rossello said. “This is an event without precedent.”

He said his administration was trying to open ports soon to receive shipments of food, water, generators, cots and other supplies.

The government has hired 56 small contractors to clear trees and put up new power lines and poles and will be sending tanker trucks to supply neighborhoods as they run out of water. The entire island has been declared a federal disaster zone.

Mike Hyland, senior vice president of engineering services for the American Public Power Association, a utility industry group that is sending repair crews into the Caribbean, refused to speculate on how long it would take to restore power in Puerto Rico.

“Let’s see what the facts tell us by the end of the weekend,” he said. But he acknowledged: “This is going to be a tall lift.”

Maribel Montilla already had two large barrels filled with water but worried about how long it would last for her, her daughter, her son-in-law and six grandchildren.

“You know what I think? We’re going to be without power for six months now,” she said.

Cellphone and internet service collapsed in much of Puerto Rico. The only radio station that remained on the air during the hurricane — WAPA 680 AM — was relaying messages to help connect friends and families.

Other concerns were more prosaic. Across the street, someone yelled at a neighbor, “Listen, do you have Netflix?!”

Jaime Rullan, a sports commentator, has a gas stove at home but tried not to think about the lack of air conditioning on an island where the heat index has surpassed 100 degrees (37 Celsius) in recent days.

“We’re used to the lights going out because of storms here in Puerto Rico, but this time, we’re worried,” he said. “We should prepare ourselves mentally to be at least a month without power.”

Deysi Rodriguez, a 46-year-old caretaker for elderly people, does not have a gas stove. And unlike others who have been lining up at the few fast-food restaurants that have reopened, Rodriguez is a diabetic and has to be more careful about what she eats.

Rodriguez said she might temporarily move to New Jersey if the situation gets worse.

Pedro Cartagena, a 57-year-old dock supervisor, said he planned to shower, eat and sleep at his company’s office. He plans to buy food at the few restaurants that are open and operating on generators.

“That’s going to drain my bank account,” he said, “but if I want to eat, that’s my only option.”

In an upscale neighborhood in San Juan, 69-year-old retiree Annie Mattei’s condominium has a generator. But she said maintenance will shut it off between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to save fuel.

“This has been devastating,” she said as her eyes welled with tears.

In the Dominican Republic, Maria knocked down trees and power lines. But Joel Santos, president of the country’s hotel association, said the hurricane did not damage the tourism infrastructure, even though it passed close to Punta Cana, the major resort area on the eastern tip of the island.

In hard-hit Dominica, where Maria laid waste to hundreds of homes and was blamed for at least 15 deaths, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit wept as he spoke to a reporter on the nearby island of Antigua.

“It is a miracle there were not hundreds of deaths,” he said. He added: “Dominica is going to need all the help the world has to offer.”


►  Public shaming likely but GOP wary of new laws after Equifax

Prospects are good for a public shaming in the Equifax data breach, but it’s unlikely Congress will institute sweeping new regulations after hackers accessed the personal information of an estimated 143 million Americans.

Since early this year, Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress have strived to curb government’s influence on businesses, arguing that regulations stifle economic growth. Lawmakers have repealed more than a dozen Obama-era rules and the House voted in June to roll back much of Dodd-Frank, the landmark banking law created after the 2008 economic crisis that was designed to prevent future meltdowns.

Several bills unveiled after Equifax are so far missing a key ingredient for success: Republican co-sponsors.

And most important, there is history. Despite numerous high-profile security breaches over the past decade at companies such as Target, Yahoo, Neiman Marcus and Home Depot, legislation that would toughen standards for storing customer data has failed to gain the necessary traction.

Jessica Rich, a vice president at Consumer Reports, said she has questioned over the years what event it would take for lawmakers to impose tougher data security regulations.

“I’m hoping this is the final wake-up call for Congress,” Rich said.

Consumer advocacy groups seek legislation that would enhance the standards for companies that store consumer data and require prompt notification to affected Americans when breaches do occur. They also seek tough civil penalties for those who break the law. But, so far, Congress has opted to let states handle the issue.

Business groups are also worried that federal regulation will stifle innovation.

“When it comes to security, attempts to regulate today will become outdated tomorrow,” said a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Senate and House Republicans say they are in fact-gathering mode before moving on any legislation. Separate hearings are scheduled the first week in October, with Equifax Chairman and CEO Richard Smith slated to testify — and likely to get a public thrashing from lawmakers.

Representative Greg Walden, the Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he’s not ruling out new regulations as a result of the data breach at the credit agency, “but first we’ve got to get the facts.”

Democrats will be watching closely.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., described the Equifax breach as a test, asking on the Senate floor will “we act quickly to protect American consumers, or are we going to cave in to firms like Equifax who have spent millions of dollars lobbying to Congress for weaker rules?”

Democrats have introduced several bills. One would require credit reporting companies to place a freeze on a consumer’s credit report without charge if that company is hacked. Currently, all 50 states have laws allowing consumers to place a security freeze on their credit report, but the freeze often comes with a fee.

Chi Chi Wu, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, said such freezes are the single most important step consumers can take to prevent new accounts from being opened in their name.

Democrats are also using the Equifax breach to reprise more longstanding concerns about the work of credit reporting companies like Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee and 30 Democratic co-sponsors are backing legislation that would protect prospective employees from being forced to disclose their credit history as part of a job application process.

Wu said credit checks are used as warning flags about potential employees.

“A lot of people have impaired credit, black marks on their credit report because something bad happened to them,” Wu said. “It was not because they were bad or irresponsible people. They were unlucky.”

Meanwhile, Representative Maxine Waters, D-Calif., is taking another crack at legislation designed to help consumers correct entries in their credit report.

Under her bill, creditors who send negative information to a reporting agency must also give a heads-up to the consumer. Credit reporting companies would also have to dedicate sufficient resources to handling consumers’ appeals. The appeals staff would have to meet minimum training and certification requirements.

Waters’ bill would also reduce the time that most adverse credit information may remain on reports. The time period would drop from seven to four years.

The bill reflects frequent consumer angst about the information on their credit report. Last year, Americans submitted about 54,000 complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about credit reporting issues. Three-quarters of those complaints alleged incorrect information in credit reports.

Even if the Equifax breach fails to bring about the passage of new legislation, it has scuttled one bill in the works. On the day of Equifax’s announcement, a House subcommittee examined legislation that would have decreased the potential consequences when consumer reporting agencies falsely malign someone. Such mistakes can haunt consumers for years.

The bill would have eliminated punitive damages for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., said the legislation was aimed at curbing frivolous lawsuits and would not have granted any immunity to Equifax for the data breach. “Nevertheless, given the unfounded attacks on me and the rampant misinformation circulating about this legislation, the Financial Services Committee has not scheduled further action on any bill at this time.”

Wu, who testified against Loudermilk’s bill, said she believes that legislation providing for the free credit freeze probably has the best chance of passage.

“I’m skeptical this particular Congress will be up for wholesale reform,” Wu said.


►  FACT CHECK: Kimmel’s take on health care harder to refute

Who’s right — Donald Trump and Senator Bill Cassidy, or late-night host Jimmy Kimmel?

None of them have really captured the complexity of the debate over who might lose insurance protections in the latest Republican health care bill. But of the three, the TV guy is the hardest to refute.

Trump insists in a tweet that the bill covers pre-existing conditions, a point also made by Cassidy, a sponsor of the legislation. But there’s a catch. It allows states to get a waiver from “Obamacare” requirements that insurers charge the same to people with health problems as they do to healthy people.

The potential result: unaffordable premiums for people in poor health.

Here’s a look at Trump’s assertion, the facts and the Kimmel-Cassidy feud:

TRUMP: “I would not sign Graham-Cassidy if it did not include coverage of pre-existing conditions. It does! A great Bill. Repeal & Replace.”

THE FACTS: Such coverage may be included but it’s far from assured.

The health care law enacted by President Barack Obama in 2010 offers two levels of protection for people with pre-existing conditions. The GOP bill would allow states to undermine one of them. That loophole could lead to policies priced out of reach.

To start with, “Obamacare” requires insurers to take all customers, regardless of health problems. On top of that, it prohibits insurers from charging more on account of medical conditions.

Under the GOP bill moving toward a Senate vote next week, insurers would still be required to accept people with pre-existing conditions. But here’s where the catch comes in:

States could seek waivers that allow insurers to charge people more on account of health problems. That would allow insurers to offer lower-premium plans to healthier customers.

And states could also get waivers that allow insurers to tailor benefits so that people with costly conditions are discouraged from signing up. For example: plans that don’t cover treatment for substance abuse problems.

“If I was a person with a pre-existing condition, I would say I don’t have any guarantee of getting health insurance if the bill passes,” said Gary Claxton of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, an expert on the private health insurance system.

“Insurers can charge people with pre-existing conditions much higher rates, making it essentially a denial,” added Claxton.

Dr. Michael Munger of Kansas City, Kansas, estimates that 4 in 10 of the patients in his family medicine practice have some sort of condition that could result in higher premiums.

“Individuals that I care for have had a previous cancer diagnosis, underlying diabetes complications, previous heart attacks and heart surgeries,” he said. “I am very worried about affordable coverage. We have had a lot of gains and this is certainly something I don’t want us to go backward on.”

Munger is president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, which is among the major doctors’ groups opposing the GOP legislation.

Supporters of the bill, named for its chief sponsors Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Louisiana’s Cassidy, point out that the legislative text says states seeking federal waivers must explain how they will “maintain access to adequate and affordable health insurance coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions.”

But Claxton says there’s nothing in the text to define what “adequate and affordable” means and, as he reads it, it’s unclear if the federal government would even have authority to deny a state waiver application. The bill also reduces federal money, adding to the pressures on states.

The health insurance industry is on record saying the bill would create problems by “pulling back on protections for pre-existing conditions,” according to a letter to lawmakers from the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans.

Cassidy is in a public battle with TV host Kimmel about whether the bill meets the “Jimmy Kimmel test.” That’s a phrase coined by the senator this year after Kimmel gave a heartfelt account of how his infant son got surgery to correct a birth defect, and declared that all American families should have access to high-level care.

Kimmel says the senator should stop using his name. “This new bill actually does pass the Jimmy Kimmel test, but a different Jimmy Kimmel test,” said Kimmel. “Your child with a pre-existing condition will get the care he needs if, and only if, his father is Jimmy Kimmel.”

Cassidy says Kimmel doesn’t understand the legislation.

Kimmel’s critique goes to the core of the issue. But it’s more nuanced than either he or Cassidy acknowledges, says insurance industry consultant and blogger Robert Laszewski. He points out that governors and legislatures would have to take action to weaken insurance protections guaranteed in federal law under Obama. Those state lawmakers would face pushback from consumers and medical groups, so it’s not a given that such protections would be lost.

Nonetheless, Laszewski says Republicans have created a problem for their legislation.

“I think they made a huge mistake by leaving a crack open,” said Laszewski. “And Jimmy Kimmel and the Democrats are going to try to drive a truck through it.”

MVP Impacts on Appalachian Trail Cited

A new report details the impacts a huge natural gas pipeline would have on the Appalachian Trail, and some of America’s most cherished forest lands.

Part of the “Too Wild to Drill“ report looks at where the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) runs along the Appalachian Trail near the Virginia-West Virginia border.

Laura Belleville, vice president for conservation and trail management at Appalachian Trail Conservancy, says the MVP would put a 125-foot-wide bare strip through what had been undisturbed woods – close to some of the most visited and beautiful sections of the trail.

“Angel’s Rest, Kelly Knob, Dragon’s Tooth,” she points out. “A large swath through what was an intact forested area, and that goes on for miles.“

Federal regulators look likely to give initial approval to the MVP this week, although the pipeline will face challenges in court and before state environmental agencies.

The energy companies behind the pipeline say it’s needed to bring Marcellus gas to eastern markets.

Belleville says it would cause erosion and forest fragmentation, as well as impacting views.

The Free Press WV


She says three million people visit the trail each year. But Belleville says the industrial scale pipeline project would break up and damage the now intact forest landscapes, degrading water and harming wildlife.

“When you remove acres and acres of intact forested area, you will get a lot of erosion coming off of very, very steep slope,” she states. “There are also some species that require large, intact areas of forest.“

One issue for pipeline opponents has been the vulnerable karst geology of the region. Limestone bedrock often is eroded away by water – making it subject to slips, sinkholes and cave-ins.

Belleville says the area is also seismically active – pointing to an earthquake in Giles County last week.

“It registered a 3.7 on the Richter scale,” she says. “What kind of impact could an earthquake have on a 42-inch pipeline going through karst habitat?“

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has withdrawn water pollution permits for the MVP. Belleville says the Appalachian Trail Conservancy hopes Virginia regulators will do likewise, although officials there have been more deferential.

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

National News

The Free Press WV

 

►  A stunned Puerto Rico seeks to rebuild after Hurricane Maria

Rescuers fanned out to reach stunned victims Thursday after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, knocking out electricity to the entire island and triggering landslides and floods.

The extent of the damage is unknown given that dozens of municipalities remained isolated and without communication after Maria hit the island Wednesday morning as a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds, the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in over 80 years.

Uprooted trees and widespread flooding blocked many highways and streets across the island of 3.4 million residents, creating a maze that forced drivers to go against traffic and past police cars that used loudspeakers to warn people they must respect a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew imposed by the governor to ensure everyone’s safety. People resorted to rafts and kayaks to get around because flooding made many roads remained impassable.

“This is going to be a historic event for Puerto Rico,” said Abner Gomez, the island’s emergency management director.

Donald Trump approved a federal disaster declaration for Puerto Rico.

Previously a Category 5 with 175 mph (281 kph) winds, Maria hit Puerto Rico as the third-strongest storm to make landfall in the U.S., based on its central pressure. It was even stronger than Hurricane Irma when that storm roared into the Florida Keys earlier this month.

In the capital of San Juan, towering eucalyptus trees fell nearly every other block over a main road dotted with popular bars, restaurants, and coffee shops, some of which were damaged. Outside a nearby apartment building, 40-year-old tourism company operator Adrian Pacheco recounted how he spent eight hours in a stairwell huddled with 100 other residents when the hurricane ripped the storm shutters off his building and decimated three balconies.

“I think people didn’t expect the storm to reach the point that it did,” he said. “Since Irma never really happened, they thought Maria would be the same.”

Hurricane Irma sideswiped Puerto Rico on September 6, leaving more than 1 million people without power but causing no deaths or widespread damage like it did on nearby islands. Maria, however, blew out windows at some hospitals and police stations, turned some streets into roaring rivers and destroyed hundreds of homes across Puerto Rico, including 80 percent of houses in a small fishing community near the San Juan Bay, which unleashed a storm surge of more than 4 feet.

“Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this,” Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told The Associated Press.

The slow slog back to normalcy was in evidence Thursday, however, as residents removed storm shutters and lines began forming at the few restaurants with generator power. The sound of chain saws and small bulldozers filled the post-storm silence that had spread across San Juan as firefighters removed trees and lifted toppled light posts.

Some neighbors pitched in to help clear the smaller branches, including Shawn Zimmerman, a 27-year-old student from Lewistown, Pennsylvania who moved to Puerto Rico nearly two years ago.

“The storm didn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s the devastation. I get goosebumps. It’s going to take us a long time.”

Maria has caused at least 19 deaths across the Caribbean, including more than 15 in the hard-hit island of Dominica and two in the French Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe.

Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit cried as he spoke to a reporter on the nearby island of Antigua.

“We have buried in excess of 15 people,” he said. “It is a miracle there were not hundreds of deaths.”

Puerto Rico’s governor told CNN one man died after being hit by flying debris. No further details were available, and officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Maria had briefly weakened to a Category 2 storm before re-strengthening to Category 3 status Thursday with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph). According to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, the storm was centered about 135 miles (215 kilometers) southeast of Grand Turk Island and moving northwest at 9 mph (15 kph). The eye of the storm is expected to approach the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas late Thursday and early Friday. A hurricane warning was in effect for those islands as well as the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to Puerto Plata.

The hurricane was still dumping rain overnight Wednesday in Puerto Rico, where crumbled red roof tiles lay scattered across many roads, and curious residents sidestepped and ducked under dozens of black power lines still swaying in heavy winds. But they posed no danger: Maria caused an island-wide power outage, with officials unable to say when electricity would return.

Puerto Rico’s electric grid was crumbling amid lack of maintenance and a dwindling staff even before the hurricanes knocked out power. Many now believe it will take weeks, if not months, to restore power.

Edwin Rosario, a 79-year-old retired government worker, said an economic crisis that has sparked an exodus of nearly half a million Puerto Ricans to the U.S. mainland will only make the island’s recovery harder.

“Only us old people are left,” he said as he scraped a street gutter in front of his house free of debris. “A lot of young people have already gone ... If we don’t unite, we’re not going to bounce back.”


►  Witnesses yell ‘he can’t hear you’ as cop shoots deaf man

Oklahoma City police officers who opened fire on a man in front of his home as he approached them holding a metal pipe didn’t hear witnesses yelling that he was deaf, a department official said Wednesday.

Magdiel Sanchez, 35, wasn’t obeying the officers’ commands before one shot him with a gun and the other with a Taser on Tuesday night, police Capt. Bo Mathews said at a news conference. He said witnesses were yelling “he can’t hear you” before the officers fired, but they didn’t hear them.

“In those situations, very volatile situations, you have a weapon out, you can get what they call tunnel vision, or you can really lock in to just the person that has the weapon that’d be the threat against you,” Mathews said. “I don’t know exactly what the officers were thinking at that point.”

Sanchez, who had no apparent criminal history, died at the scene. The officer who fired the gun, Sgt. Chris Barnes, has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Mathews said the officers were investigating a reported hit-and-run at around 8:15 p.m. Tuesday. He said a witness told Lt. Matthew Lindsey the address where the vehicle responsible for the hit-and-run had gone, and that Sanchez was on the porch when Lindsey arrived.

He said Sanchez was holding a metal pipe that was approximately two feet (0.6 meters) long and that had a leather loop on one end for wrapping around one’s wrist. Lindsey called for backup and Barnes arrived, at which point Sanchez left the porch and began to approach the officers, Mathews said.

Witnesses could hear the officers giving Sanchez commands, but the officers didn’t hear the witnesses yelling that Sanchez couldn’t hear them, Mathews said. When he was about 15 feet (4.5 meters) away from the officers, they opened fire — Lindsey with his Taser and Barnes with his gun, apparently simultaneously, Mathews said.

He said he didn’t know how many shots were fired, but that it was more than one.

When asked why Barnes used a gun instead of a Taser, Mathews said he didn’t know. He said it’s possible Barnes wasn’t equipped with a Taser. Neither officer had a body camera.

Sanchez’s father, who was driving the hit-and-run vehicle, confirmed after the shooting that his son was deaf, Mathews said. He said Sanchez wasn’t in the vehicle when his father struck something and drove off. It wasn’t a person that he struck.

A man who saw Oklahoma City police officers open fire on Sanchez says his neighbor was developmentally disabled and also didn’t speak.

Neighbor Julio Rayos told The Oklahoman on Wednesday that in addition to being deaf, Sanchez was developmentally disabled and didn’t speak, communicating mainly through hand movements. Rayos said he believes Sanchez became frustrated trying to tell the officers what was going on.

“The guy does movements,” Rayos told the newspaper. “He don’t speak, he don’t hear, mainly it is hand movements. That’s how he communicates. I believe he was frustrated trying to tell them what was going on.”

Jolie Guebara, who lives two houses from the shooting scene, told The Associated Press that she heard five or six gunshots before she looked outside and saw the police.

“He always had a stick that he would walk around with, because there’s a lot of stray dogs,” Guebara said.

Guebara said Sanchez, whose name she didn’t know, wrote notes to communicate with her and her husband when he would occasionally stop and visit if they were outside.

Police initially said Sanchez was carrying a stick, but Mathews described it Wednesday as a metal pipe.

Sanchez’s death is the latest in a string of controversial killings by Oklahoma police in recent years. In 2015, a white Tulsa County reserve deputy fatally shot an unarmed black man who was on the ground being subdued. He said he meant to shoot the suspect with a stun gun but mistakenly used his firearm instead. He was sentenced to four years in prison.

In May, a white former Tulsa police officer, Betty Shelby, was acquitted in the 2016 killing of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man who had his hands up when she fired. Much like in the Sanchez killing, another officer almost simultaneously fired a Taser at Crutcher when Shelby fired her gun. Unlike Sanchez’s killing, both Tulsa killings were captured on video.


►  Was it a crime? 10 patients at nursing home died after Irma

Ten elderly patients died after being kept inside a nursing home that turned into a sweatbox when Hurricane Irma knocked out its air conditioning for three days, even though just across the street was a fully functioning and cooled hospital.

From the perspective of Florida Governor Rick Scott and relatives of those at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, criminal charges are warranted. But under Florida law, a prosecution might be difficult. Two of three ex-state prosecutors contacted by The Associated Press had doubts as to whether Dr. Jack Michel, the home’s owner, or any of his employees will be charged.

All agreed that any criminal prosecutions will hinge on whether the nursing home staff made honest mistakes or were “culpably negligent.” Florida defines that as “consciously doing an act or following a course of conduct that the defendant must have known, or reasonably should have known, was likely to cause death or great bodily injury.”

Hollywood police and the state attorney’s office are investigating.

The home has said it used coolers, fans, ice and other methods to keep the patients comfortable — and that might be enough to avoid prosecution.

“There is a difference between negligence, which is what occurs when you are not giving a particular standard of care vs. culpable negligence,” said David Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor now in private practice. “So if they are doing everything humanly possible given the circumstances and this all still happened it may be negligent and provide the basis for a civil lawsuit, but not enough for criminal charges.”

Retired University of Florida law professor Bob Dekle, who prosecuted serial killer Ted Bundy as an assistant state attorney, said he doubted charges would be brought.

“I would rather be a defense attorney on this case than a prosecutor,” Dekle said. “There are some cases that are better tried in civil court than criminal and this might be one of them.”

Former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey disagreed.

“Given the magnitude of the tragedy and the apparent availability of a hospital 50 yards away, prosecutors are not going to accept that this was an unavoidable tragedy,” he said.

Gary Matzner, the nursing home’s attorney, said in a statement that Michel and the staff are cooperating with the investigation.

“The center and its employees and directors are devastated by this tragedy,” he said.

Irma reached Broward County on September 10. The home has said a felled tree took out a transformer that powered the air conditioner, but it maintained power otherwise. It said it reported the loss to Florida Power & Light and was promised repairs in the next two days, but the utility never arrived.

Scott’s office said that over those two days, home administrators Jorge Carballo and Natasha Anderson were in contact with the state about the failed air conditioner but never said the situation had become dangerous. The state said they were told to call 911 if needed.

On the afternoon of September 12, the home borrowed portable air coolers from Memorial Regional Hospital, the trauma center across the street. Later that night, home administrators said, a physician’s assistant checked the patients and none were overheated and the building temperature never exceeded 80 degrees. Under state law, the temperature was not supposed to exceed 81 degrees.

In the early hours of September 13, the deaths began. Three 911 calls were made before 6 a.m., causing Memorial staff to rush across the street to offer assistance. Doctors and nurses said they found the home’s staff working to cool the patients, although they and police have said the facility was very hot.

No temperature reading has been released as police have said that is part of the investigation.

Three people died on the home’s second floor and seven succumbed at the hospital, including a 93-year-old man who died Tuesday and a 94-year-old woman who died Wednesday. The state said four of the deceased had body temperatures between 107 (41.6 Celsius) and 109 (42.7 Celsius) degrees.

Dr. Randy Katz, the hospital’s emergency director, said last week it was impossible to say whether any of the dead would have survived if they had gotten to the hospital hours earlier.

The number of deaths and injuries could be a determining factor in whether to bring charges. Weinstein said prosecutors could argue that after the first patients became seriously ill, administrators should have known an evacuation was necessary. Dekle agreed the number could be key.

“The more dead victims there are in a homicide case, the less likely a jury is to find reasonable doubt,” Dekle said.


►  Nevertheless, they persist: Babies can copy adult tenacity

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Especially if a baby is watching.

Children around 15 months old can become more persistent in pursuing a goal if they’ve just seen an adult struggle at a task before succeeding, a new study says.

The results suggest there may be value in letting children see you sweat. “Showing children that hard work works might encourage them to work hard too,” researchers conclude in a report released Thursday by the journal Science.

The babies in the study didn’t simply imitate what the grown-ups did. They faced a different challenge, showing they had absorbed a general lesson about the value of sticking to a task.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted three experiments that included a total of 262 children ages 13 months to 18 months, with an average of 15 months.

The basic procedure was this: Two groups of children first watched a researcher remove a rubber frog from a clear plastic container, and also unhook a key chain from a carabiner, a metal ring with a hinged side.

For one group, the researcher succeeded only after 30 seconds of appearing to struggle to figure out how to do the task. For the other, success came easily, within just 10 seconds, and she demonstrated the answer three times in 30 seconds. In both cases she kept up a narration (“Look there’s something inside of there! I want to get it out! ... Does this work? No, how about this ...“)

After seeing the adult solve the challenges, the babies were shown that a felt-covered box could play music, and they were encouraged to turn the music on. The box had a large red button to press, but it was inactive. The question was how long the children would persist in pushing the button.

Across the three experiments, children consistently pressed the button more often if they’d seen the researcher struggle than if she had solved her tasks easily. In one experiment, for example, they pushed it an average of 23 times after seeing her struggle but only 12 times if the researcher had not displayed much effort. That smaller number is about what other babies did if they were just handed the cube in the first place, without seeing an adult fiddle with anything.

The effect was much stronger if the researcher had actively engaged the child while doing her own tasks by making eye contact, using the child’s name, and adopting the high-pitched, exaggerated-melody style of speech that adults typically use to hold a child’s attention.

Results show such young children “can learn the value of effort from just a couple of examples,” said study senior author Laura Schulz.

The study could not determine how long the effect lasts, nor does it show that parents could get the same result with their children. But “it can’t hurt to try in front of your child,” said Julia Leonard, another author.

Elizabeth Gunderson, an assistant professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia who did not participate in the work, called the results compelling. It is surprising that such young children picked up on the general idea of continued effort toward a goal, she said in an email.


►  Brigham Young University ends ban on caffeinated soda sales

Brigham Young University ended a six-decade ban Thursday on the sale of caffeinated soft drinks on campus, surprising students by posting a picture of a can of Coca-Cola on Twitter and just two words: “It’s happening.”

The move sparked social media celebrations from current and former students, with many recalling how they had hauled their own 2-liter bottles of caffeinated sodas in their backpacks to keep awake for long study sessions.

The Mormon church-owned university never banned having caffeinated drinks on campus, and many people remembered how faculty mini -fridges were the only place where the drinks could be found.

“I drank a lot of caffeinated beverages while I was here but none of them was purchased on campus,” said Christopher Jones, 34, a visiting BYU history professor and former student. “I never thought I would see the day so it’s exciting.”

Jones said he didn’t know whether to believe it when he saw the announcement on his phone so he walked to a student center and saw the first bottles being stocked in vending machines and refrigerators. He was one of the first people to buy one.

“Did I just buy the first-ever caffeinated Coke Zero Sugar sold in #BYU’s Wilkinson Student Center?” he tweeted. ’Yes, yes I did.”

Sales of highly caffeinated energy drinks are still banned.

The university decided in the mid-1950s that no caffeinated beverages would be sold on campus and didn’t budge on its policy — even when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 2012 clarified that church health practices do not prevent members from drinking caffeinated soft drinks.

The university said then that it was sticking to the policy because there was little demand for the drinks on campus. But the school of 33,000 students in Provo, Utah, said Thursday that increasing demand had prompted the change.

Caffeinated soft drinks will also be sold at sporting events that draw tens of thousands of fans.

The Utah-based Mormon religion directs its nearly 16 million worldwide members to avoid alcohol and hot beverages such as coffee and tea as part of an 1833 revelation from Mormon founder Joseph Smith.

Amber Whiteley said she used to get nasty looks when she brought Mountain Dew to campus when she was a BYU student nearly a decade ago.

“You youths will never understand the struggle we went through,” Whiteley wrote jokingly in a Facebook post.

In a phone interview, Whiteley said the change could impact views among Mormons about caffeine. She said some older Mormons in her Salt Lake City congregation still believe all caffeine is prohibited.

“Maybe this will be one more way to get the word out that it’s OK to have caffeine,” said Whiteley, a mother who is pursuing her doctorate in counselling psychology.


►  Unhappy hour: Truck with 40,000 pounds of vodka overturns

A tractor trailer full of vodka has overturned on a North Carolina highway and it may take until happy hour to clean up the mess.

Clayton police said on Twitter that the truck tipped on its side around 5:45 a.m. Thursday on U.S. Highway 70, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Raleigh. A witness helped the driver get out of the cab safely.

Police said the truck was carrying about 40,000 pounds of vodka.

Authorities say the load was so heavy, that when a tow truck tried to turn the truck right side up, the truck’s metal exterior bent. So instead, workers are taking the boxes of vodka off one at a time.

Clayton officials said the mess might not be cleaned up to open the road for several hours.

Kroger Announced Hunger Fight by Ending Grocery Waste

The Free Press WV

The Kroger Company, which donated nearly 1.3 million meals through West Virginia food banks last year, says its new national effort is aimed at helping end hunger and eliminating waste across the grocery company by 2025.

Chief Executive Rodney McMullen says more than 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. isn’t consumed and an estimated 72 billion pounds goes to landfills annually.

He says no food in their stores should be wasted no families in those communities going hungry.

The company has requested ideas to carry out its “Zero Hunger/Zero Waste” plan.

Federal data show 12 percent of households or 41 million Americans with “food insecurity” last year, with West Virginia above the national average.

Kroger lists stores in 30 states, with 41 in West Virginia.

National News

The Free Press WV


►  Immigrant hurricane victims turn to churches amid fear

Immigrants came from across Houston to a Baptist church gymnasium and stacked dollies with boxes of cereal, orange juice and household necessities like cleaning bleach.

For many of them, the church was the safest place to seek relief after Harvey devastated Houston and left thousands of immigrants fearful of turning to the government for help amid fears they would get deported. A similar response was seen in immigrant-heavy sections of Florida after Irma swamped the state.

“We have to come together as churches to help the undocumented,” Emmanuel Baptist Church pastor Raul Hidalgo said while mingling with victims and volunteers on the church gymnasium’s parquet floor.

Places of worship and private charities in Texas and Florida are playing a pivotal role in the recovery effort from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma because so many storm victims are immigrants in the country illegally — and therefore ineligible for federal disaster aid. They are doing charity giveaways like the one at Hidalgo’s church. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is hosting workshops for immigrants to explain FEMA eligibility and answer other questions.

Federal Emergency Management Agency rules allow people in the country illegally to apply for disaster aid on behalf of children under 18 years old with legal status, but many worry about the government sharing information with immigration authorities.

Cesia Lux, a 25-year-old Guatemalan, went to the church giveaway in the heavily Latino Houston Heights area for help, loading a family member’s pickup truck with diapers, canned beans and other goods after her house took on a foot of water. She is in the country illegally, but her husband, 2-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son are U.S. citizens.

Her husband applied for FEMA aid despite misgivings that it might lead immigration authorities to her.

“One never knows what they do with the information,” Lux said.

Houston has nearly 600,000 people in the country illegally, more than any U.S. metropolitan area except New York and Los Angeles, the Pew Research Center estimates. Florida has 850,000, more than any state except California and Texas.

Immigrants in Florida and Texas have been on edge after federal agents have stepped up enforcement efforts under Donald Trump, who has made immigration a top priority of his administration.

Texas adopted a tough law against cities that don’t cooperate with immigration authorities, fueling more fears even though a federal judge largely put it on hold August 30. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has praised Miami-Dade County for dropping its “sanctuary city” policy this year and honor requests from immigration authorities to hold people in jail. Florida saw conflict arise on immigration during the storm when the sheriff in a county between Tampa and Orlando had officers check IDs for anyone entering shelters. The Florida Immigrant Coalition complained immigrants were frightened to seek shelter there.

The Florida city of Immokalee — home to a large migrant worker population — was hit hard by the storm. FEMA has set up a registration site in the city, but many immigrants rent their homes there and aren’t planning to apply for government assistance. Churches in the city have been handing out food and water to immigrants struggling in Irma’s aftermath.

FEMA’s disaster aid application warns immigrant parents who apply for their children that information including addresses may be shared with immigration officers. It suggests consulting an attorney or other immigration expert with questions.

William Booher, FEMA’s public affairs director, said the agency won’t “proactively” share information with immigration enforcement agencies but will on request “if a significant law enforcement interest exists,” including national security cases.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which employs thousands of deportation officers, “generally would not request this information for immigration enforcement purposes, except in the case of a national security threat, public safety threat or other criminal investigation,” said spokeswoman Liz Johnson.

Senior officials in the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama said FEMA’s warning predated them. They said they never knew of information being passed to immigration authorities under their watch.

“In the Bush administration, when there was a disaster it was all hands on deck to try to help the humanitarian side,” said Julie Myers Wood, ICE director from 2006 to 2008. “It was not a focus to gather information for enforcement purposes.”

Craig Fugate, the FEMA director under Obama, said he referred people in the country illegally to Catholic Charities during an earlier stint as Florida’s top crisis response manager.

“People are so afraid of deportation or being arrested that they won’t get assistance they need just to survive,” he said.

Young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and were living in the country illegally faced a similar dilemma when applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program started by Obama that allows them to stay in the U.S. When Donald Trump announced last week that he was ending DACA, his administration said it doesn’t “proactively” share information on its 800,000 recipients with immigration enforcement officials unless they meet criteria that include posing a threat to public safety or national security.

Marta Rivera, 36, sat in a folding chair at Emmanuel Baptist Church and told an immigration advocate across the table that she avoided shelters after Harvey hit because she thought it might lead to getting deported. As she explained how Trump’s presidency has made her more anxious, her 10-year-old daughter began to sob.

“I feel like my life is here,” said Rivera, who came to the U.S. as a child. “If they send us to Mexico, I have nothing there. I don’t know anyone.”

After some coaxing, she said she would apply for FEMA aid on behalf of her three children who were born in the U.S.


►  Jimmy Kimmel: Senator ‘lied right to my face’ on health care

Jimmy Kimmel says U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy “lied right to my face” by going back on his word to ensure any health care overhaul passes a test named for him.

Kimmel says a health care bill co-sponsored by the Louisiana Republican fails the “Jimmy Kimmel test,” a phrase coined by Cassidy.

The late-night host announced in May that his baby son had surgery for a birth defect and argued that all American families should be able to get life-saving medical care. Cassidy told the host on his show that allowing insurers to cap the amount spent on an individual’s health care was unnecessary.

Kimmel said during his Tuesday monologue Cassidy’s most-recent proposal would leave the question of caps up to states.


►  Cross-border slaying: Can dead teen’s family sue U.S. agent?

A federal appeals court was set to hear arguments Wednesday over whether a federal border patrol agent can be sued in U.S. courts for shooting across the border and killing a Mexican teenager in 2010.

The case is again before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court in New Orleans. That court sided with agent Jesus Mesa in 2015 but was told to take another look at constitutional issues in the case by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mesa was on the Texas side of the Mexican border when he shot 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca in June 2010. Exactly what happened has been in dispute, including whether the teen was throwing rocks.

Among issues in the case are whether the teen, a Mexican on Mexican soil, could claim violation of rights to due process under the Fifth Amendment and the right of “the people to be secure in their person” under the Fourth Amendment. Attorneys have also argued over whether Mesa, as a federal agent, has immunity from lawsuits in the case.

Both sides in the Mesa case are expected to argue over how a June decision by the Supreme Court affects their case. That 6-2 ruling held that Muslim men detained in harsh conditions in a Brooklyn jail after the September 11 attacks can’t sue top U.S. law enforcement officials.

The death of Hernandez Guereca is one of two that have resulted in recent high-profile court cases. Parents of another teenager, killed in Nogales, Mexico, by a federal agent in a cross-border shooting have filed a pending civil rights lawsuit.

That case also has resulted in criminal charges. Prosecutors are pursuing second-degree murder charges against Agent Lonnie Swartz in the death of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, 16. Swartz was on the Arizona side of the border when he shot the teenager.

‘Strap In’ for Child Passenger Safety Week

The Free Press WV

The majority of forward-facing car seats aren’t being used properly, so advocates say, “Remember to strap in.“

Safe Kids Worldwide has launched a campaign called “Take Time to Tether” to get everyone to use the strap on the back of a forward-facing car seat that secures the top of the seat to an anchor.

Since 2001, every car seat has included the tether, but Lorrie Walker, the training manager at Safe Kids, says a study last year showed 64 percent of children were in seats that didn’t have the tether attached.

“There’s a hook on the end of this special strap that holds the top of the car seat behind the child’s head firmly against the vehicle seat so that the child doesn’t pitch forward when you stop suddenly or have a crash,“ she explains.

Walker says the good news is that education works. During research, Safe Kids found parents and caregivers who are told about the importance of the strap are very likely to use it.

The organization offers free lessons on how to properly install car seats and use the straps properly. To find a local site, go to safekids.org.

Walker says people often are shocked to learn how much that tether can help prevent serious injury. She adds that it reduces the distance a child’s head could travel when the driver slams on the brakes or is in an accident by four to six inches.

“And if you think of that in a small car, the child could hit the back of the driver’s seat, could hit the console, and could hit other passengers who are also riding in the vehicle,“ she warns.

The Take Time to Tether campaign coincides with Child Passenger Safety Week, which runs through Saturday.

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

Does Your Child’s Backpack Make the Grade?

The Free Press WV

Backpacks are one of the best ways to tote homework and school supplies; however, an overloaded or improperly worn one can be where your child’s pack receives a failing grade.

“The way a backpack is worn certainly affects your health, said Eric J. Radcliffe, M.D., program director of UHC Family Medicine Residency Program. “The height of the backpack should extend from approximately two inches below the shoulder blades to waist level or slightly above the waist. It is also recommended that individuals evenly distribute the weight of the backpack by wearing it on both shoulders.”

The Free Press WV


Carrying too much weight in a backpack or wearing it the wrong way can lead to pain and strain. Parents can take steps to help children load and wear backpacks the correct way, to avoid health problems later. About 55 percent of students carry a backpack that is heavier than the recommended guidelines of 10 percent of the student’s total body weight.

“At UHC Family Medicine we want to make sure families learn about the proper weight and how to appropriately choose, pack, lift, and carry backpacks,” said Dr. Radcliffe. “That is why UHC Family Medicine will be at the Meadowbrook Mall Food Court from noon to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, September 20 on National Backpack Awareness Day.”

In a study on the effect of backpack education on student behavior and health, nearly 8 out of 10 middle school students who changed how they loaded and wore their backpacks reported less pain and strain in their back, necks, and shoulders. UHC Family Medicine, along with the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), urges parents and caregivers to consider the following when selecting a backpack this school year:

  •  Load the heaviest items closest to the child’s back.

  •  Arrange books and materials so they won’t slide around in the backpack.

  •  Check what your child carries to school and brings home. Make sure the items are necessary for the day’s activities.

  •  If the backpack is too heavy or tightly packed, your child can hand carry a book or other item outside the pack.

  •  If the backpack is too heavy on a regular basis, consider using a book bag on wheels if your child’s school permits these.

  •  Distribute weight evenly by using both straps. Wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause a child to lean to one side, curving the spine and causing pain and discomfort.

  •  Select a backpack with well-padded shoulder straps. Shoulders and necks have many blood vessels and nerves that can cause pain and tingling in the neck, arms, and hands when too much pressure is applied.

  •  Adjust the shoulder straps so that the pack fits snugly on the child’s back. A pack that hangs loosely from the back can pull the child backward and strain muscles.

  •  Adjust the shoulder straps so that the pack fits snugly on the child’s back. A pack that hangs loosely from the back can pull the child backward and strain muscles.

  •  The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back. It should never rest more than four inches below the child’s waistline.

  •  School backpacks come in different sizes for different ages. Choose the right size pack for your child as well as with enough room for necessary school items.

  •  Just as your child will try on clothes and shoes, it is important to try on backpacks, too.

  •  A child who wears a backpack incorrectly or carries a backpack that is too heavy is at risk for discomfort, fatigue, muscle soreness, and musculoskeletal pain especially in the lower back.

  •  More than 2,000 backpack-related injuries are treated annually at hospital emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, and clinics.

“Don’t let your child become a part of these statistics,” said Dr. Radcliffe. “Make sure your child tells you if they are in pain or have discomfort from wearing their backpack, before a serious problem occurs.”

Beware Back-to-School Stories Celebrating Online Education

The Free Press WV

This year, there’s a certain type of “back-to-school” news story you’re bound to see in local newspapers.

The stories typically start with: “[Student A] goes to school in her pajamas, and [student B] often does her lessons with a pet dog or cat on her lap.” Instead of attending “typical schools,” these students get their education via a computer connected to the internet.

The internet-based schools have different names – cyber, virtual, online – but the gist of these stories is that “thousands of students head back to class without leaving their homes,” and it’s all good.

“It’s the first day of school for Sophia Riella, but the 8-year-old never had to change out of her pajamas. All she had to do was log on to her computer at her Northwest Reno home,” a Nevada news outlet gushes. The instruction, via computer, is really much more “personalized” than being in a classroom with a live teacher and other students, Sophia’s mom enthuses, and the curriculum is more “customized,” (despite the fact it’s created by a multinational education conglomerate headquartered in the United Kingdom).

These stories often spotlight the benefits to individual students, like an Arizona student whose flexible online school schedule allowed him to pursue a career as a professional dancer, or a California online school student operating a cooking blog and perfecting her yoga, or a Oklahoma student becoming the youngest member of the U.S. competitive kayaking team while attending an online school.

These stories rarely consider how well these online schools serve the needs of most students and families, however, especially whether they are the best use of precious tax dollars devoted to education.

In situations like the stories cited above, for example, parents must have time, flexibility, and resources to provide the guidance and support their children would normally receive at a traditional public school.

And startlingly absent is any objective evidence of the academic performance of these online schools. A 2012 study of the nation’s largest online school operation, K12 Inc., found its students “lag behind their counterparts on federal and state measures of math and reading proficiency.”

And rarely do reporters seem to even bother looking for “another side” to online schools’ “success” stories. If they did, the would be richly rewarded with reams of negative press.

An eight-month investigation by Education Week found, a Colorado cyber charter school with a 19 percent graduation rate; an Ohio cyber that inflated student attendance by nearly 500 percent; a Pennsylvania cyber founder who siphoned $8 million in public money (including $300,000 to buy himself an airplane); and a Hawaii cyber founder who hired her nephew as the athletic director—for a school with no sports teams.

There are exceptions to the one-sided reporting. A Pennsylvania reporter interviewed an assistant professor of education policy at the University of Alabama who explained that, “every time they do a study that looks purely at academics, the cyber charter schools underperform compared to the traditional public schools.” The reporter also cited a well-known national study from Stanford that found, “compared to similar students at traditional schools, cyber students were 72 days behind in reading, on average. They fell 180 days, or a full school year, behind in math. In Pennsylvania, cyber charters consistently perform worse than brick-and-mortar schools on state accountability measures.”

An Ohio journalist revealed that nine online schools in the state have been “ordered to refund money to the Ohio Department of Education for overstating their enrollment.” One virtual school isn’t opening this school year, “after being ordered to repay $4.2 million for students who weren’t logging on.” Another, the state’s largest online charter school, “is on the hook for $60 million, and has laid off hundreds of staff members.”

But these caution signs are invariably buried at the bottom of these articles, under all the hype about “innovation” and “customization.”

A likely source for the rash of online school puff pieces is the online education industry itself, which uses well-oiled public relations machinery to bombard time-strapped, under-resourced local reporters with glowing publicity. There are numerous examples of this PR at work in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, and Minnesota.

Cherry picking feel-good stories about individual students who have benefited from a particular circumstance is part of a reporter’s job. It’s all well and good that an online school can be a good fit for a student here and there. But to bury evidence that, on balance, these schools are not for the vast majority of families, and often provide loopholes for bad actors to make a buck off the public taxpayer, is a disservice to local communities.

~~  Jeff Bryant ~~

National News

The Free Press WV


►  Toys ‘R’ Us files for bankruptcy, but keeps stores open

Toys ‘R’ Us, the toy retailer struggling with $5 billion in debt and intense online competition, has filed for bankruptcy protection ahead of the key holiday shopping season — and says its stores will remain open for business as usual.

The company said the proceedings are a way for Toys ‘R’ Us to work with its creditors on restructuring the debt beleaguering it. And it emphasized that its stores worldwide will serve customers while it works with suppliers and sells merchandise.

Filing for bankruptcy protection “will provide us with greater financial flexibility to invest in our business ... and strengthen our competitive position in an increasingly challenging and rapidly changing retail marketplace worldwide,” Chairman and CEO Dave Brandon said.

The move comes as retailers head into the busiest shopping time of year. The company said it was “well-stocked as we prepare for the holiday season and are excited about all of our upcoming in-store events.”

Retailers of all kinds are struggling. The Toys ‘R’ Us bankruptcy filing joins a list of at least 18 others since the beginning of the year — including shoe chain Payless Shoe Source, children’s clothing chain Gymboree Corp. and the True Religion jean brand — as people shop less in stores and more online.

“Toys ‘R’ Us had little choice but to restructure and try to put itself on a firmer footing, said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. However, he added, “even if the debt issues are solved, Toys ‘R’ Us still faces massive structural challenges against which it must battle.”

Toys ‘R’ Us, a major force in toy retailing in the 1980s and early 1990s, started losing shoppers to discounters like Walmart and Target and then to Amazon. GlobalData Retail estimates that in 2016 about 13.7 percent of toy sales were made online, up from 6.5 percent five years ago.

And children are increasingly moving more toward mobile devices as playthings. “For many children, electronics have become a replacement or a substitute for traditional toys,” Saunders said.

Toys ‘R’ Us has struggled with debt since private-equity firms Bain Capital, KKR & Co. and Vornado Realty Trust took it private in a $6.6 billion leveraged buyout in 2005. The plan had been to take the company public, but that never happened because of its weak financial performance.

With such debt levels, Toys ‘R’ Us has not had the financial flexibility to invest in its business. Marc Rosenberg, a toy marketing executive, said Toys ‘R’ Us hasn’t been aggressive about building its online business, and let those sales migrate to rivals. And he says the company should have also thought of new ways to attract more customers in its stores, such as hosting birthday parties.

“Everyone is shopping online and using the store as a showcase,” he said.

Randy Watson of Fort Worth, Texas, used to pick up items at Toys ‘R’ Us for his kids. But now with his grandchildren, he uses the store to see what’s available and then shops elsewhere to get lower prices.

“We will go to Toys ‘R’ Us to check out the current toys, and while we are at the store, we will be looking up prices on the phone on Walmart.com and Amazon,” he said.

What he finds on the shelves might be a question. Jeffries analyst Stephanie Wissink said she expects that Toys ‘R’ Us suppliers, who were already shifting some of their orders to other stores amid talk there’d be a bankruptcy filing, will keep doing so. For most multinational toy suppliers, the Toys ‘R’ Us business roughly accounted for 10 percent of total sales, she said.

While toy sales overall have held up fairly well, they are shifting toward discounters and online companies. U.S. toy sales rose 6 percent last year on top of a 7 percent increase in the prior year, says NPD Group Inc., a market research firm. That was the biggest increase since 1999 and was fueled by several blockbuster movies.

But for the first half of 2017, sales rose 3 percent. That puts more pressure on the later part of the year, when most toy sales occur, for the industry to meet NPD’s estimate for a 4.5 percent annual increase. Lego is laying off 1,400 workers after saying profits and sales dropped in the first half. And the nation’s two largest toy makers, Mattel and Hasbro, reported disappointing second-quarter results.

Toys ‘R’ Us, based in Wayne, New Jersey, announced the filing late Monday. It said it was voluntarily seeking relief through the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond, and that its Canadian subsidiary would be seeking similar protection through a Canadian court in Ontario as it seeks to reorganize.

The company said separate operations outside the U.S. and Canada are not part of the filings and its online sales sites worldwide remain open for business during the court-supervised process.

“The company’s approximately 1,600 Toys ‘R’ Us and Babies ‘R’ Us stores around the world — the vast majority of which are profitable — are continuing to operate as usual,” the company statement said. “Customers can also continue to shop for the toy and baby products they are looking for online.”

Toys ‘R’ Us said it expects to continue honoring return policies, warranties and gift cards, and customer loyalty programs should stay the same.

The company has nearly 65,000 employees worldwide.


►  Thousands of Haitians find ‘Mexican dream’ near US border

Jose Luis Millan found a new crop of star employees at an upscale Tijuana car wash where customers cross the border from the U.S. to pay up to $950 to have their prized possessions steamed and scrubbed for hours. They’re never late, always hustle and come in on days off to learn new skills, traits that he says make them a model for their Mexican counterparts.

They are among several thousand Haitians who came to Mexico’s northwest corner hoping to cross the border before the U.S. abruptly closed its doors last year. The Mexican government has welcomed them, with a visa program that helps them fill the need for labor in Tijuana’s growing economy.

In a country whose population is 1 percent black, Tijuana’s Haitians stand out. They share tight living quarters, sending much of their meager wages to support family in Haiti. Haitians earn far less than they would in the United States but enough to forsake the risk of getting deported by heading north.

Two new Haitian restaurants downtown serve dishes with mangoes and mashed plantains. Dozens of Haitian children attend public schools. Factories that export to the U.S. recruit Haitians, who can also be found waiting tables and worshipping at congregations that added services in Creole.

“It’s the Mexican dream for many of them, a sense that they belong,” Millan said. “Mexico has given them opportunity. Mexico has opened up and let them achieve their dreams.”

Millan, who lived in the Los Angeles area for two decades until he was forced to leave last year for employing dozens of people illegally at his party planning company, sees parallels to Mexicans in the U.S. Their teamwork sets an example. Some customers ask for them.

Haitians, he says, “fight hard, fight strong, and they don’t stop.”

The Haitians took an accidental route from their impoverished Caribbean homeland to Tijuana, a city of about 2 million that borders San Diego and also has large pockets of Chinese and Korean immigrants.

Brazil and its neighbors took in the Haitians after that country’s 2010 earthquake. As construction jobs for the 2016 Summer Olympics ended and Brazil descended into political turmoil, they crossed 10 countries by plane, boat, bus and on foot to San Diego, where U.S. authorities let them in on humanitarian grounds.

Then President Barack Obama shifted course in September and started deporting Haitian arrivals. Many decided to call Mexico home.

After struggling as a schoolteacher in Haiti, Abelson Etienne moved to Brazil in 2014 to work at a factory that made cable for lighting products. He arrived in Tijuana in December after a harrowing journey with his wife who, despite the U.S. policy shift, was allowed in on humanitarian grounds, presumably because she was seven months’ pregnant.

Etienne, a 27-year-old who studied chemistry in college in Haiti, settled into a routine of six-day weeks and three double shifts, earning him 1,900 pesos (a little over $100), mostly for his wife in New York City and the infant son he hasn’t seen. On Sundays, he sleeps until the afternoon and goes to church.

“There’s so much work in Tijuana,” he said while a pot of fish stew with mangoes and tomatoes simmered on an electric burner in the two-room apartment that he rents with three other Haitians. “I’ve been treated very well in Mexico.”

The Mexican government is giving Haitians one-year, renewable visas that allow them to work but not bring family. Rodulfo Figueroa, the region’s top immigration official, says Mexico is practicing what it asks of the U.S. and other countries.

“We believe that there’s a humanitarian case to be made for these people to find better lives in Mexico,” said Figueroa, the National Migration Institute’s delegate in Baja California state, which includes Tijuana. “Our policy is to have the Haitian population do what they need to do to have status in Mexico.”

The new arrivals, currently numbering around 3,000, are manageable in a country of 122 million. Central Americans, who come illegally in much larger numbers, are typically deported, although Mexico is granting asylum more often.

Rodin St. Surin, 36, is among hundreds of Haitians who found work at Tijuana’s export-oriented factories. CCL Industries Inc., a Toronto-based company that makes Avery office products for retailers including Staples, Wal-Mart, Target and others, needed help after moving manufacturing from Meridian, Mississippi, last year.

The plant hired St. Surin and 15 other Haitians in May for its workforce of 1,700 during peak back-to-school season. They inspected and packaged binders at the back of a giant, spotless floor where machines also churn out labels, folders and markers around-the-clock.

“I’m very comfortable with these people,” said Mario Aguirre, the plant’s operations director and a 43-year industry veteran. “They have given us very good results. They don’t miss work, they always arrive on time. We’d like to see the same attitude in everyone.”

The factory offered 1,500 pesos (about $85) for a six-day week, with health coverage, paid vacation and a free shuttle to work. St. Surin, who left Brazil with hopes of joining a cousin in Miami, sends earnings to a caretaker for his three children in Haiti, whom he hopes to bring to Tijuana.

“Mexico could become my home,” he said outside a crowded, graffiti-covered building where a nun allows about 50 Haitians to live rent-free on a street shared by cars and stray dogs. They tap a neighbor’s hose for water to bathe, and cook meals on a campfire under a large canopy.

The Ambassadors of Jesus Church, which sits on a rugged dirt road lined by agave and used tires, housed up to 500 Haitians last year on floors strewn with mattresses, making it perhaps the largest religious or civic aid group. Its pastor, Jeccene Thimote, wants to build a “Little Haiti” of 100 houses nearby at the bottom of a canyon where the sound of peacocks and roosters and smell of pigs permeate the air. He built three houses before the city halted construction for lack of flood controls.

Thimote, 32, survives on two hours’ sleep, rising to pray at 5 a.m., serving as foreman for a crew of 10 Haitians building a house in one of Tijuana’s wealthiest neighborhoods, and working the night shift at RSI Home Products Inc., a California-based company that makes cabinetry for The Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Thimote, who was among 160 Haitians still living rent-free at the church this summer, sends his earnings to Haiti to settle family debts and support a 3-year-old daughter. He hoped to join a cousin in New York when he left Ecuador last year, but considers Mexico better than Haiti, saying, “There’s more poverty there than here.”

The church has adapted. Every Wednesday night, Haitians gather for a rousing sermon in Creole. Mexicans attend a Sunday service in Spanish. A Haitian and Mexican recently announced plans to marry at the church.


►  CIA acknowledges legendary spy who saved Hamid Karzai’s life – and honors him by name

Up until Monday, the CIA had never publicly released the full name of its legendary spy. Even former director George Tenet couldn’t completely identify him for his 2007 bestselling memoir, “At the Center of the Storm,“ which reveals only his first name and last initial: Greg V.

Within the halls of Langley and in the pages of prominent newspapers, Greg V. enjoyed his fair share of lore. When the U.S. military accidentally bombed the location of Hamid Karzai in December 2001, it was Greg V. who reportedly dove on top of the future Afghanistan president, saving his life.

But on Monday, on the 70th anniversary of the agency’s founding, the CIA let the world know that Greg V. is officially Greg Vogle, in a ceremony honoring him as the 83rd recipient of its Trailblazer award. Journalists, national security professionals, and foreign governments had long known Vogle’s name. The New York Times, in fact, was the first news organization to publicly reveal it in 2015, over the CIA’s objections, in a story about the agency’s personnel who oversee drone strikes. (Ironically, Vogle’s first appearance in the mainstream press was botched: The Times misspelled his last name as “Vogel.“)

Vogle, who lives in the Washington region and retired in 2016 as the head of the agency’s covert operations branch, follows a long history of CIA officers - some unsung, some senior managers - who have won the Trailblazer, the agency’s equivalent of a Hall of Fame award. The medal honors officers and teams of officers who “by their actions, example, innovation, or initiative have taken the CIA in important new directions and helped shape the agency’s history,“ according to the agency’s announcement.

Launched in 1997, the award has been given to current, former and deceased operatives. Recently, the agency’s museum unveiled a small exhibit that provides a history of the Trailblazer award. Some of the previous winners include some of the CIA’s most admired directors:

- General Walter Bedell “Beetle” Smith, who in the 1950s instituted Langley’s directorate system, dividing the work between analysts and operatives.

- Allen W. Dulles, director from 1953 to 1961, who spearheaded the building of the CIA’s sprawling headquarters in Northern Virginia, and established the standards for clandestine tradecraft and handling human asset handling.

- Richard Helms, the first career intelligence professional to become director, who recruited and supervised some of the CIA’s most important spies during the Cold War. Helms might be the only Trailblazer to have been convicted of a federal crime: In 1977, he pleaded no contest for failing to testify fully before Congress about the agency’s role to push out Chile’s leftist regime. But the plea was viewed like a badge of honor among CIA veterans who believe agency personnel shouldn’t be spilling agency secrets to anyone, including Congress. Happily, a group of CIA retirees paid his paid Helms’ $2,000 fine.

Other Trailblazers never became director, but achieved their own renown, such as: Tony Mendez, an expert forger and disguiser, who concocted a fake movie to help spirit six U.S. diplomats out of Iran in 1980 - a ruse dramatized in the 2012 Ben Affleck film, “Argo.“ Or, Robert Ames, a leading Arabist who cultivated as a source a top Palestinian intelligence officer. In 1983, Ames was killed in a truck bombing in Beirut, and was given the agency’s ultimate honor: a star on the agency’s white marble Memorial Wall.

But there are other, less well-known recipients who made their mark in equally important ways:

- Omego J.C. Ware, Jr., an African-American officer who grew up in Washington, and was picked in the 1970s to become the first director of the agency’s office of equal employment opportunity. Known as the “Jackie Robinson of Intelligence,“ Ware pushed the mostly-white CIA at the time to increase the hiring of minorities and women.

- Elizabeth Sudmeier, who joined the agency at its 1947 founding, and four years later, entered the clandestine service as one of the branch’s few women members. She specialized in the Middle East, and even recruited an agent with knowledge about Soviet fighter aircraft and other hardware. Sudmeier always planned to rendezvous at local coffeehouses, where the agency would supply her with volumes of technical equipment that she would get copied and return. In the 1960s, she was given an Intelligence Medal of Merit, but only after her colleagues protested over “whether it was appropriate for a female who was not listed as an operations officer” to win the award, according to the CIA. After she retired, she remained loyal to the CIA, frequently cancelling her subscription to the Washington Post whenever her former employer came under scrutiny she deemed unfair.

- Eloise R. Page, a Richmond, Virginia native, who began as a secretary to the OSS, the CIA’s precursor, and later transferred to the CIA, eventually becoming the agency’s first female station chief in 1978, assigned in Athens. She also became the third-highest ranking officer in the vaunted directorate of operations.

Vogle’s contributions have been written about extensively in CIA memoirs. In Tenet’s book, “Greg V.“ was the CIA contact in late 2001 for Hamid Karzai, then a tribal leader opposing the Taliban. On November 3, 2001 as Karzai’s tribe came under increasing attack, he called Vogle, asking for a helicopter extraction.

“Greg quickly contacted CIA headquarters and made the case that Karzai represented the only credible opposition leader identified in the south. His survival, Greg said, was critical to maintaining the momentum for the southern uprising,“ Tenet recalled.

Soon, Tenet said, the airlift got the greenlight.

Two weeks later, with Karzai in a new location, the Taliban found him again. This time, Karzai’s forces got skittish and ran away.

“Greg V. took command of the situation, sprinting from one defensive position to another, telling the Afghans that this was their chance to prove their worth and make history,“ Tenet wrote. “‘If necessary, die like men!‘ he shouted. Backbones stiffened; Karzai’s forces repulsed the Taliban attack.“

On December 5, Vogle, a former Marine, may have saved Karzai’s life. The Afghan leader was commanding his troops into Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold. As U.S. military air strikes were being ordered, one soldier apparently swapped out the batteries for his GPS device, forgetting that his machine would reset itself at its own location. It was a disastrous move: A circling B-52 dropped a 2,000-pound bomb on the soldier’s own position, killing three Americans and five Afghans.

“Karzai might have [died], too, if Greg V. hadn’t thrown himself on him, knocking him to the ground just as the bombs struck,“ Tenet wrote. “It turned out to be an eventful Wednesday. That same day, he was selected to be the interim prime minister of Afghanistan.“

But the story might have been inflated. Gary Schroen, a CIA officer sent into Afghanistan shortly after the September 11 attacks to pursue al-Qaida, wrote in his own 2005 memoir, “First In” that “Craig” was actually launched into Karzai from the bomb’s blast. The men were in a meeting, surrounded by a map and teacups, when “a tremendous wall of air and heat traveling at incredible speed smashed into and through the building, crumbling the walls and slamming [Vogle] into Karzai, tumbling the two like rag dolls across the room,“ Schroen wrote.

After it was over, Vogle, a career paramilitary officer, crawled to Karzai, lying twisted on the floor, and pulled him onto his back. He felt for Karzai’s body for any major wounds or broken bones, but only found small cuts and quickly forming bruises. Schroen wrote that Vogle “felt as though he had been hit by a truck; his entire body ached and tingled. . . .He did not know what happened except that something big had exploded close by.“

Vogle continued playing a major role as an envoy between Karzai and the American government, all under the cloak of anonymity. In 2010, the Wall Street Journal profiled Vogle, without using his name, calling him a “pivotal behind-the-scenes power broker in Kabul.“ Recently, the agency rolled back his cover, freeing itself to name Vogle. Now, the former undercover operative has his own bio on the web site of The Third Option Foundation, a non-profit that provides financial assistance to the families of fallen agency special operations officers.

In its announcement Monday of Vogle’s Trailblazer award, the CIA was deliberately vague and understated about the man’s accomplishments. It listed his numerous agency awards and included a statement from CIA Director Mike Pompeo calling him a “true agency hero.“ But there was no photograph released and no mention, for instance, of his attempt to save the life of Karzai. Or other acts of derring-do the former spy might have pulled off.

“Details of his many accomplishments,“ the press release said, “remain classified.“


►  Environmental, outdoor groups vow to fight national monument reductions

Environmental and outdoor recreation groups threatened Monday to sue if Donald Trump adopts Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s leaked proposal to alter nearly a dozen national monuments, while grazing, fishing and other groups welcomed the recommendations.

Zinke’s plan to reduce the size of at least four federally protected areas in the West, while altering management practices at another half-dozen, was obtained and published by The Washington Post on Sunday night. The White House is still reviewing the memorandum, which Zinke submitted in late August after conducting a four-month review of how presidents of both parties have applied the 1906 Antiquities Act since 1996.

The secretary urged Trump to shrink four large monuments on federal land – Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Nevada’s Gold Butte, and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou – as well as possibly two Pacific Ocean marine monuments, the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll. He proposed amending the proclamations for 10 monuments, largely to allow for commercial activities restricted in these areas, such as logging, grazing and mining.

Zinke endorsed allowing commercial fishing operators in three marine monuments – the two in the central Pacific Ocean, and one, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument, in the Atlantic.

Eric Reid, general manager of Seafreeze Shoreside in Narragansett, Rhode Island, said in a statement that the recommendations “make us hopeful that we can recover the areas we have fished sustainably for decades. We are grateful that the voices of fishermen and shore side businesses have finally been heard.“

But Mystic Aquarium senior research scientist Peter Auster, whose institution pushed for heightened protections for an area 130 miles off the southeast coast of Cape Cod, noted that federal catch data shows that landings of mackerel and butterfish – two of the main species targeted by local fisherman near the monument – have risen this year compared with 2016, when the monument was established.

Auster said that to allow trawlers, pots and pot gear in the monument, which spans 4,913 square miles, “will have significant effects on conservation of marine wildlife in the monument.“

Former Interior secretary Sally Jewell, who oversaw several of the monument designations Zinke is proposing to alter, said in an interview Monday that, “the protections that are written into the proclamations are in many cases what he’s tryingto undo, in his recommendations to Trump.

“It’s a monument in name only if all the activities that are identified by Secretary Zinke are allowed to occur,“ she added.

Grazing advocates also welcomed the idea of providing ranchers with more access on five different monuments, including not only Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Gold Butte but also the New Mexico monuments Rio Grande Del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.

Ethan Lane, who directs the Public Lands Council at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in an email that, “It sounds like the voices of western communities are finally being heard and the promise to preserve grazing inside monuments might finally be kept by the federal government. This action would be a win for any western community that depends on ranching to stay afloat.“

Utah politicians, who have lobbied Trump since he was elected to revisit several Antiquities Act designations, praised his administration’s push to scale back these areas. Utah Governor Gary Herbert, R, said Thursday that after having talked with Zinke about Grand Staircase-Escalante, which Bill Clinton established in 1996, “I think there’s the possibility of carving it up into smaller monuments, you know, two or three that actually protects the area that needs protection.“

Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch’s spokesman Matt Whitlock said his boss “is grateful for Secretary Zinke’s thorough, fair review that has given Utahns on all sides of the issue a voice in the protection of Utah lands.“

But a broad array of monument supporters, including environmental and outdoor recreation activists, pledged to fight any changes to existing protections in court.

“Trump, Zinke and Herbert are going to come out on the wrong side of history,“ said Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance Legal Director Steve Bloch.

University of Colorado law professor Mark Squillace, an expert in the Antiquities Act, said in an email that Zinke’s proposal raises a host of legal issues given that no president has considered making so many changes to previous designations.

“Decisions to protect certain objects (and not others) involve judgment call that courts have shown an inclination to respect,“ he said. “The significant legal issues aside, if we allow presidents to second guess the judgments of their predecessor there would no end to the mischief that would create.“

Although Zinke has proposed amending all 10 monuments’ proclamations to shift the way they are managed, the majority of the management plans for these monuments have not been finalized because they take between five and six years to complete.

Randi Spivak, public lands program director for the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, said any proclamation change “would be subject to challenge” and “any proposed management plan changes will need to formally go through the same legal and administrative processes again, subject to the same administrative appeal and litigation requirements.“

“This process will be very legally vulnerable because it will have to deal with all the scientific, environmental and social conclusions produced during the first round of management plan creation,“ she said. “This would be a massive hurdle for the administration.“


►  Mattis asks Pentagon’s No. 2 general, new deputy defense secretary to help determine the future of transgender military service

The Pentagon’s No. 2 general and new deputy defense secretary will take a leading role as the Defense Department scrutinizes whether to allow transgender service members to stay in the military, according to a new Pentagon memo.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis selected Air Force General Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to make evidence-based recommendations on the way forward, according to the memo released Monday.

This memo follows similar ones - released by the White House on August 25 and the Pentagon on August 28 – giving Mattis until February 21 to establish a plan for carrying out Donald Trump’s controversial ban on transgender personnel.

The president’s surprise announcement via Twitter came July 26, saying he would not allow “transgender individuals to serve in any capacity.“ A day later, the Pentagon’s top officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford, indicated the military will comply with Trump’s directive, but not before a new policy is finalized.

The Obama administration repealed a longtime ban on transgender military service in July 2016, saying there should be no barriers for qualified people who wish to serve. Trump and other critics have questioned whether such personnel are disruptive and cost money that should be spent elsewhere.

Mattis’s new memo - labeled “Military Service by Transgender Individuals - Interim Guidance” – reiterates that the Defense Department will not take any adverse action against transgender service members this year. Those diagnosed with gender dysphoria will be provided with treatment, and policies put in place by the Obama administration will remain in effect for the time being.

Moreover, transgender troops who are “otherwise qualified” also may to reenlist as the Pentagon sorts through its next policy, Mattis wrote.

“First and foremost,“ the memo says, “we will continue to treat every Service member with dignity and respect.“

The Pentagon will reestablish a “Central Coordination Cell” in the office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. That post is being filled on a temporary, acting basis by Anthony Kurta, who Trump has nominated to serve as the deputy undersecretary in the office. Trump’s nominee to head the office, Robert Wilkie, has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

In August, Mattis said the Defense Department’s soon-to-be arriving political appointees would play an important role in crafting its new transgender policy.

Shanahan was confirmed as the Pentagon’s deputy defense secretary in July. He previously spent more than three decades with Boeing, most recently as its senior vice president for supply chain and operations.

Selva has been the Pentagon’s vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since July 2015, and faced a second Senate confirmation hearing in July at which he was asked to address how the Pentagon is reviewing its transgender policy, and whether there would be any unintended consequences from Mattis’s prior decision to delay until 2018 the acceptance of transgender military recruits.

The general told lawmakers that he was an “advocate of every qualified person who can meet the physical standards to serve in our uniformed services to be able to do so,“ and that the decision to delay new accessions was focused on a disagreement about how mental health care and hormone therapy would help solve medical issues associated with gender dysphoria.


►  New health-care push reflects high stakes for GOP if they can’t replace Obamacare

A final GOP effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act burst into view this week in the Senate, where leaders began pressuring rank-and-file Republicans with the hope of voting on the package by the end of the month.

The renewed push comes nearly two months after the last effort to overhaul the law known as Obamacare failed in a dramatic, early-morning vote, dealing a substantial defeat to Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and prompting many to assume the effort was dead.

The latest proposal would give states control over billions in federal health-care spending, repeal its key mandates and enact deep cuts to Medicaid, the federally funded insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled. It would slash health-care spending more deeply and likely cover fewer people than the July bill that failed because of concerns over those details.

The appearance of a new measure reflected just how damaging Republicans viewed their inability to make good on a key campaign promise of the past seven years - to “repeal and replace” former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

But trying again brings its own perils. It remains far from certain that McConnell can marshal the 50 votes he needs to pass the measure. Already under fire from Trump for falling short in the earlier effort, McConnell’s standing with the president and other Republicans could suffer even more if he fails again.

Even Republicans who support the bill, including chief sponsors Bill Cassidy, R-La., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., acknowledged the uncertainty of the moment. And McConnell has not committed to bringing the bill to the floor.

“I just told Bill Cassidy he’s a grave robber,“ said Senator John Thune, R-S.D., one of McConnell’s top lieutenants. “This thing was six feet under, and I think he’s revived it to the point where there’s a lot of positive buzz and forward momentum. But it still comes down to, in the Senate, getting 50 votes.“

Still, the fresh flurry of activity marked the most serious attempt since the failed July vote to revive the seven-year Republican pledge to undo a law that has been vilified on the right. Among those joining the effort is Mike Pence, who has been making calls to Republican senators and governors in support of the bill, according to a senior administration official granted anonymity to describe the vice president’s private talks.

Part of the hurry results from the need to act before September 30, when procedural rules expire that allow the Senate to pass legislation related to taxes and spending with a simple majority - and without any Democratic votes.

For McConnell, the path forward is a politically perilous. His relationship with Trump has grown toxic since the July vote - prompting the president to approach leading Democrats to discuss a tax-code overhaul as well as a potential deal protecting undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children.

Another failure for McConnell could embolden Trump - and Democrats - to continue working with each other.

But if the embattled Senate leader can shepherd a health-care bill to passage, sending the effort to fulfill a core Republican promise over to the House of Representatives, he could set himself on a path to restoring his footing in other talks. Such an outcome could also help Republican senators facing reelection in 2018 who are coming under increasing attacks from insurgent conservative challengers over the failure to repeal Obamacare.

In addition to the political turmoil, the unexpected return to health-care legislation has put the nation’s insurance industry in a state of uncertainty. After concluding that the effort was all but dead in July, some Republicans senators reached out Democrats to shore up the insurance marketplaces created under the ACA.

Now, industry officials must once again prepare for the possibility of a fresh and dramatic overhaul.

Cassidy has stopped short of predicting that his bill will pass, telling reporters that it was his goal to write a bill that sets a marker for conservative health-care policy.

“We’re trying to set up good policy,“ Cassidy said Sunday on NBC’s Meet The Press. “Whether it’s done now or later, the good policy will still be there.“

With Democrats united firmly against it, Senate GOP leaders can afford to lose only two of 52 Republican votes, enabling to pass the bill with a tiebreaking vote from Pence. They lost three in the July vote: Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins, R-Maine.

None of those three committed to voting for the bill Monday, expressing reservations if not outright opposition.

“We need more information. I need to talk to the governor again,“ said McCain, whose home-state governor, Republican Doug Ducey, endorsed the bill Monday. Ducey had also endorsed the previous bill, so his current stance is not necessarily a clue as to what McCain will do.

McCain warned against rushing ahead. “We just need to have a regular process rather than, ‘Hey I’ve got an idea, let’s run this through the Senate and give them an up-or-down vote,‘“ he said.

Murkowski said she was trying to learn more about the proposal’s impact on Alaska and consulting with her governor. On her way to McConnell’s office Monday afternoon, she wouldn’t say whether she was leaning for or against it.

Collins, who is seen by many Republicans to be the strongest opponent of replacing the ACA, said Monday that she worries that millions could lose coverage under the plan.

Adding to the challenge for Republican leaders: Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Monday that he is a firm no at this point.

“I think this is a game,“ Paul said. “I think this is a game of Republicans taking money from Democratic states. What happens if Democrats take power back?“

The proposal slashes health-care spending more deeply and would likely cover fewer people than the July bill that failed precisely because of such concerns. Starting in 2021, the federal government would lump together all the money it spends on subsidies distributed through the ACA marketplaces and expanded Medicaid programs covering poor, childless adults living at up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

This approach would generally result in less money for states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA and more money for states that didn’t. That’s because the bill would redistribute the money allotted to the 30 states that opted to expand Medicaid under the ACA and spread it out among all 50 states.

Congress’ nonpartisan budget analyst said Monday it is working to provide a “preliminary assessment” of the bill by early next week but will not estimate how the measure would affect health insurance premiums or the number of people with medical coverage until later.

The notice from the Congressional Budget Office angered Democrats, who have warned that any attempt to vote on the GOP legislation poses a serious threat to ongoing negotiations on a plan to stabilize the current health care markets and strengthen subsidies for out of pocket expenses.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., dismissed the GOP plan as a way to hide a massive cut to Medicare and criticized GOP leaders for moving forward without a complete assessment of who would be covered and how much it would cost.

“It would be outrageous for our Republican colleagues to vote for this bill without knowing its effect on people,“ Schumer said. “That, whatever your ideology, would be nothing short of a disgrace.“

Democrats have virtually no way to stop the legislation from being approved if at least 50 Republicans unite. But Schumer vowed to use every procedural tool available to create roadblocks.

Schumer also warned Monday that the renewed GOP repeal push could upset talks between Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and the committee’s top Democrat, Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., to offer a different approach that could pass the Senate with votes from both parties.

Even if the bill passes the Senate, it faces an uncertain outlook in the House.

“It’s too early to tell whether all the Freedom Caucus guys will be supportive or not because we don’t know what amendments will get added to the Senate bill,“ said Representative Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. The bill could also meet resistance from Republican members from states that expanded Medicaid, given the sweeping changes it proposes.

Republicans are on a tight deadline to vote before September 30 if they hope to avoid being blocked by Senate Democrats. Senate budget rules allow some tax and spending measures to pass with 51 votes, instead of the 60 needed for most legislation - meaning the 52 Senate Republicans could pass a bill on their own. But those rules, which were written specifically to enable the health-care law, expire at the end of the fiscal year, and GOP leaders hope to write next year’s rules to focus on hoped-for changes to the tax code.

McConnell did not mention the health-care push when he opened Senate business Monday afternoon.

“We’re having a serious discussion, but it’s still preliminary,“ said Senator Sen John Cornyn, R-Texas, McConnell’s top deputy.

Asked how the process of securing votes was going, he replied: “That’s one of the things I’m not talking about.“

Website Offers Second Chance for Job Seekers

The Free Press WV

It can be hard to find a job, but imagine doing it with a criminal record.

An estimated 70 million people have records and they often struggle to find companies willing to hire them.

That’s why Richard Bronson started 70 Million Jobs, a website that works with employers who understand the applicants have records and are willing to give them a second chance.

Bronson himself used to work at the brokerage firm made famous in the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street,“ and served 22 months in federal prison for securities fraud.

He understands the powerful and far reaching effects of employment.

“I’ve seen firsthand when folks get jobs, families get reunited, and kids look up to parents, and wives look up to husbands,” he states. “And when families come together, communities come together. And when communities come together, the country is a much better place.“

Job seekers can go to 70millionjobs.com to apply.

After launching the site this year, the company announced it is partnering with the City of Los Angeles on a three-month pilot program.

Bronson says many of the employers on his website feel it’s their moral responsibility to provide second chances.

He adds the plan is to offer video resumes in the future, so that employers can get more accurate pictures of the applicants.

Bronson says traditional resumes for people who have spent a lot of time in prison are woefully sparse.

“And yet, if you were to meet this same person, you might discover that this person is incredibly thoughtful and bright, and personable and nice, and has a wonderful personality,” he states. “But you’d never, ever know that by just looking at their resume.“

Recidivism rates are especially high for those who are unemployed. Nearly 80 percent of people released from prison will be rearrested within five years, and about 90 percent of that group will be unemployed at the time of their arrest.

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

How We Are Failing the Founders

The Free Press WV

Opinion polls consistently show that we hold the institutions occupied by our elected officials in low regard.  The latest Gallup Poll shows Congress with just a 16 percent approval rating.  President Trump’s approval rating hovers at around 40 percent.

Gallup finds the U.S. Supreme Court fares better with 40 percent of Americans saying they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the institution, but 56 percent says they have only some or very little confidence.

We grouse and ask what our government leaders are doing wrong, and that’s fair. We need to hold our public officials accountable.  We are less willing to hold the mirror up to ourselves, but that would be a worthwhile exercise.

A new survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center finds that for all the complaining we do, many of us don’t know much at all about the targets of our discontent.  For example:

–More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) can’t name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.  About half do know that freedom of speech is included, but only 15 percent could identify freedom of religion and just 14 percent could identify freedom of the press (10 percent could name right of assembly and 3 percent knew right to petition.)

–Only 26 percent of those surveyed can name all three branches of government. One third could not name any of the three branches.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said the findings do not bode well for us.  “Protecting our rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don’t is worrisome.”

So often we hear the clatter of, “I know my rights,” but as it turns out, most Americans really don’t.

Chris Stirewalt, Fox News Political Editor, writes that after reviewing the poll, “you cease to wonder why things are so bad and begin to wonder why they are not already worse.”

We witness the animosity toward the so-called “elites,” but as Stirewalt concludes, “it’s easy to be an intellectual elite in a nation where not even half of the people know what kind of government they have… This should be cause for deepening alarm.”

If Senator Byrd were alive today, he might be shedding a tear for us.  After all, it was Byrd who so revered the Constitution that he always carried a dog-eared copy in his breast pocket and successfully convinced Congress to make September 17th Constitution Day.

(The day is being marked today this year because the 17th fell on a Sunday and one of the purposes of Constitution Day is to study the document in public schools.)

Byrd, writing in his autobiography said, “Only with a citizenry that understands its responsibilities in a republic such as ours can we ever expect to elect office-holders with the intelligence to represent the people well, the honesty to deal with people truthfully, and the determination to effectively promote the people’s interests and preserve their liberties, no matter what the personal political consequences.”

This is our charge, not only on Constitution Day, but every day.

Click Below for additional Articles...

Page 1 of 269 pages  1 2 3 >  Last »








The Gilmer Free Press

Copyright MMVIII-MMXVI The Gilmer Free Press. All Rights Reserved