And now Mylan is reducing it’s workforce, “reducing redundancy” “by less than 10%“. I guess that somebody has to go to help offset Heather Bresch’s $16.5 million raise (between 2007 and 2015. I’m sure that she’s worth every penny.
~ more ways to blame failure.
~ more excuses to purchase software.
~ more reasons for ‘needing’ hardware funds.
~ the WV education failure will continue, educrats in Charleston will be able to sing their we ‘need more’ song….
Yes it can be said that Joe Manchin is still involved with the West Virginia school system. Roundabout way, but still.
His wife, Gayle, is still on that WVBOE board.
Her term expired a year ago, but Gov. Tomblin has not named a replacement so she likely is still collecting on that $70k annual salary?
That’s a nice perk, while budgets are being slashed across the state.
NEW ROOF vs. PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT
As a community volunteer how should I feel?
All are glad for the kiddies playground equipment, absolutely.
But why do I keep thinking we volunteers have been had? Yes, violated even?
School tax dollars being miss-spent?
Extra burden on all who helped raise the needed money? Can we say as a community that the state appointed superintendent has scammed us?
We certainly are glad for playground equipment, but the way tax dollars have been spent, is a real insult to our Gilmer community. This superintendent needs to GO, sooner than later.
What a disgraceful situation we have been placed in. Thank you Charleston state board of education.
The state board of education says: We are from the government and we are here to help you. Ship Devano out and show us. Do you have the necessary backbone or is Joe calling the game still?
By intervention is killing our community on 11.27.2016
let’s hope you are correct for the sake of our country. Let’s hope he changes the pattern when the country was left in real bad shape when every republican president let the office. History can speak for itself. Hasn’t Trump been backing out of all his fake promises during campaign season? Again, the time will tell….
Funny you should bring this up when Trump won….never would have seen this otherwise.
Trump is all for trimming the Dem-fat and draining this swamp, and now you ask if he will do anything.
Did Obama or Clinton do anything to alleviate the situation? NO.
So, don’t question the man that you were sure would lose, just because you can’t stand that fact.
The only thing an A school got Gilmer County was to be closed, consolidated, good Teachers run off, kids traveled another half an hour down the mountain and no investment in the community that supported it. All this done by State puppets.
By And They Wonder Why Kids Don't Try on 11.25.2016
Same crew that came in with City Construction to button up the new school roof right? Scuttlebutt says that leaked too. How they got in Gilmer to begin with? All the talk about tailgate parties with contractors and Gabe D sounds like political favors & kickbacks. More than one knows how that goes when it comes to state contracts.
G “the boss” Devono says his Mentor S Collins is not his boss, C Daniel Assistant Superintendent is not his boss, M Martirano State Superintendent is not his boss and the State Board of Education is not his boss. According to him, he has no boss. HE is a legend in his own mind who throws around the name of a certain Gilmer philanthropist like every other jerk who wants to play big shot.
Of course it is true. Check with an honest member of your local Board .
Better ask how he wound up paying the same company owner to do that roof work on GES who was the same one he advertised in your local paper to contact about the bid specs and was paid as a consultant.
While you’re at it, you might check to see what he’s up to with your closed buildings and how he disrespects non-profit community groups.
Points for reading and mathematics to contribute to a school’s A-F letter grade came from online smarter balance testing, and results for those two parts were assigned with use of a centralized computer program. Right?
What is not clear is how many points for a school’s letter grade came from self-grading at local levels.
Self-grading never works. WV must adopt an objective school grading procedure with no room for local tinkering. If it fails to do it letter grades will continue to be a hoax.
It would be good advice for boards of education to insist on receiving all documentation to look for changes made in schools and central offices to try to get extra points to add up for overall letter grades.
After the initial grades were assigned school systems were given an opportunity to appeal with revised information for the purpose of trying to get more points.
At the same time there was an embargo to keep local school boards from getting any information until the final grades came out.
50 years ago our teachers would tell us they were grading a test on a ‘curve’.
That was so those who happened to get the most correct answers got their ‘A’, the teacher, the school, the system looked good and was protected.
Nothing has changed. Except the ‘curve’ has morphed into a ‘snake’ to protect the bureaucrats in their ivory palaces.
By from a 'curve' to a 'snake', Mingo can see it. on 11.21.2016
If we rely on gazette reporting then “eighty-three percent of elementary and middle schools’ A-F grades are based on students’ scores, and their growth in those scores, on the math and English Smarter Balanced tests. The Smarter Balanced measures represent about 73 percent of high schools’ grades.“
“Other factors, like attendance, make up the remaining part of the A-F scoring rubric.“
Sometimes it seems if the WVDE reports more to the media than the counties impacted by their decisions. Local Board members in several districts say they were not included in the information pathway but read it in the papers like the rest of us.
Citizens working hard to raise funds for playground equipment for the new Gilmer Elementary School….... while at the same time Gabriel Devano has reportedly spent in excess of $100,000.00 having a new roof installed on the old Glenville Elementary School….. which the WV State Board of Education has officially CLOSED under intervention.
Something is rotten and stinks here. Rumors have it the bidding and awarding of the roofing contract was a backroom deal?
► 3 hurt in Wetzel County gas well pad fire; Investigation continues
An investigation into the cause of a reported “flash fire” at a natural gas well pad in Wetzel County that injured three people continued Sunday.
The “flash fire” was reported before 5 p.m. Friday at Stone Energy Corporation’s Howell Pad on Turkey Run Road off Route 20 near New Martinsville.
It was contained within an hour and did not spread beyond its starting point on the well pad, according to officials.
Those hurt were reportedly a mechanic and two natural gas well operators who’d been doing maintenance work at the time.
The conditions of the workers were not available on Sunday morning.
Stone Energy is based in Lafayette, Louisiana.
► Court Upholds Dismissal of Lawsuit Filed by Sheriff’s Widow
The state Supreme Court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the widow of Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum over burial expenses.
The court ruled Friday it found no error in a Mingo County Circuit Court decision that no contract existed between Rosie Crum and the lawsuit’s defendants.
She filed the 2015 lawsuit claiming that two Mingo County commissioners and a former commissioner assured her that they would take care of her husband’s funeral and burial costs. It claimed a funeral home arranged for an elaborate funeral without her permission and held her responsible for the costs.
Eugene Crum was fatally shot as he ate lunch in his parked vehicle in Williamson in April 2013.
Suspect Tennis Maynard was found mentally incompetent to stand trial.
► Crash in Rock Cave sends 5 to hospital
Five people were hurt after a crash involving two vehicles in Rock Cave, Sunday afternoon.
According to the Banks District VFD, it happened in front of the Rock Cave IGA, just before 4:00 p.m.
A Subaru Forester and a Ford Expedition somehow collided into eachother, Five people were taken to a local hospital, but are expected to be okay.
Route 4 was shut down for several hours as crews cleared the scene.
The Upshur County Sheriff’s Department and State Police is investigating.
► Constellium says new tank contract shows its expertise
The Constellium aluminum plant in Jackson County already supplies metal for Boeing and Airbus. Workers proudly say more than 20 percent of the aluminum on any plane is made there.
Now Constellium can add tanks to its list.
The plant has been awarded a contract to produce KEIKOR 2139 plates for the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center — which, because the military loves acronyms, goes by TARDECEMBER
TARDEC, located in Michigan, is the Army’s research and development center for advanced military automotive technology.
The plates made by Constellium are to be used for armor applique on side armor and underbelly protection for ground combat vehicles. TARDEC refers to the end product as a Combat Vehicle Prototype, its next generation prototype fighting vehicle.
“What they’re trying to do is develop the next generation of fighting vehicles,” said Buddy Stemple, chief executive officer of Constellium in Ravenswood. “They selected our material to do this development.”
Constellium says landing the contract demonstrates the company’s leadership in innovative and high-quality aluminum products. The contract also demonstrates the expertise of Constellium in the defense market and confirms its growing position as a leading partner for aluminum armored vehicle solutions, company leaders said.
“Thanks to a tireless focus on research and innovation, and a strong investment program over the past five years, we have developed the broadest global offering of specialized aluminium alloys for armor applications,” stated David Meacham, vice president of sales transportation, industry and defense at Constellium’s corporate headquarters.
TARDEC praised Constellium for being both innovative and efficient.
“What’s more, once we selected the material, we were able to work with Constellium closely to begin the alloy processing quickly, and they were able to cut the originally-quoted delivery time by more than half,” stated Erik Polsen, TARDEC’s chief engineer for Combat Vehicle Prototype survivability.
No upgrades to the plant are necessary, and it’s unclear if any other type of expansion will occur.
“Being a prototype vehicle, we cannot anticipate on production and jobs,” Constellium said in a statement released by Hill+Knowlton Strategies, its corporate advisor.
Not all aluminum is alike, and what’s made for TARDEC will be specially suited to its needs.
“It just has a special set of characteristics that you control with alloying elements and the manufacturing process,” Stemple said. “That allows us to meet the requirements of the military.”
Constellium started the process of landing the contract a couple of years ago. Stemple said there’s a significant amount of testing required.
“We’ll take it out and shoot it,” he said. “If it’s going to be for a tank, we might shoot it with a tank.”
Stemple said Constellium’s workers are proud that their products are used in a practical way to help America’s military.
“Our stuff is protecting our soldiers,” he said. “We take great pride in that.”
► New WV campaign finance reports released
Spending in the West Virginia governor’s race now exceeds $7.5 million, according to the latest campaign finance reports released through the Secretary of State’s office.
Republican Bill Cole, the state Senate President, has spent $2,557,341. Democrat Jim Justice, owner of The Greenbrier resort, has spent $4,361,913. The total spending includes what was spent in the primaries.
New figures were released Friday by the Secretary of State’s office.
Both gubernatorial candidates have actually spent more than they’ve raised.
Justice stands out in that regard. He has raised $1,469,733. He has loaned his campaign $3,274,403, according to the reports on file with the Secretary of State.
Cole has loaned his campaign $500,000, according to his reports.
Charlotte Pritt, the Mountain Party candidate, has raised $9,477 and spent $5,176.
The state Attorney General’s race also has resulted in heavy spending: $3,562,197 so far this cycle.
In that race, too, candidates have spent more than they’ve raised. The total amount of contributions stands at $2,835,076.
The challenger, state Delegate Doug Reynolds, has spent $2,514,893. Of that, Reynolds’ campaign has reported $1,055,440.85 in spending within the past month.
His campaign has received $1,662,699. He is also one of his own biggest donors: $708,493 so far. Reynolds has loaned his own campaign $751,000. Plus, he made several in-kind contributions for advertising and food and beverages adding up to $662,218.
Incumbent Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has spent $1,038,663. Morrisey’s campaign has received $1,170,076 in contributions.
Morrisey’s campaign has reported $710,068 in the past month, its busiest period of this election cycle.
Morrisey’s campaign is receiving lots of outside help from the Republican Attorney Generals Association, which is operating as Mountaineers are Always Free PAC. That group had spent $2,605,037 on the race as of October 3. There was not yet a more recent report.
Other statewide races report lesser degrees of spending.
State Treasurer has had $271,120 in spending, including the primaries. Incumbent Democrat John Perdue has spent $201,293. Republican challenger Ann Urling has spent $65,173.
State Auditor has had $257,956 total, including the primaries. Republican J.B. McCuskey has spent $166,356. Democrat Mary Roebuck Claytor has spent $18,517.
Agriculture Commissioner: $135,522 in spending. Republican Kent Leonhardt has spent $107,790. Incumbent Democrat Walt Helmick has spent $26,192.
Secretary of State: $183,304 in spending. Republican challenger Mac Warner has spent $97,535. Incumbent Democrat Natalie Tennant has spent $53,990.
The total 2016 election cycle in West Virginia has resulted in $19,504,242 in contributions and $21,210,536 in spending, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
State Insurance Commissioner Mike Riley says approximately 14 percent of the state residents who are part of the West Virginia health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act will see the largest sticker shock in the next plan year.
Sign-up starts Tuesday under the exchange which includes Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and CareSource.
Eighty-five percent of the approximately 25,000 state residents who get their health insurance under the exchange receive a government subsidy but those who don’t will see a 32 percent increase in monthly premiums, according to information released last week by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
The number of claims is driving the increase in the exchange, Riley said.
“More claims are coming than premiums being received. Certainly this is a new demographic of folks in the past that did not have insurance coverage. As their coming in and obtaining this coverage they are using it,” Riley said.
Highmark told MetroNews “Talkline” Host Hoppy Kercheval last week its ACA population is sicker.
“The exchange members are 85 percent more likely to have had a cancer diagnosis in the last year, 88 percent more likely to have coronary artery disease, 69 percent more likely to have hypertension, 80 percent more likely to have COPD and 110 percent more likely to have chronic kidney disease,” the company said.
The claims follow the state’s demographics, Riley said.
“We’re not necessarily the healthiest state or youngest state in the world,” he said. “This new population appears to have more claims and more needs out there.”
Riley doesn’t see the rates coming down any time soon because he doesn’t anticipate any other companies besides Highmark and CareSource being part of the exchange.
“We’re at a position where we have to stabilize the market. Until rates became adequate there’s not going to be a whole lot of people interested in jumping in,” Riley said.
Highmark offers the exchange in all 55 counties. CareSource was in 10 counties in 2016 and will have 32 counties in 2017. Riley is hopeful CareSource will be in all 55 counties in the 2018 plan year.
Open enrollment on the exchange at healthcare.gov begins Tuesday and continues through January. 31, 2017. December 15 is the deadline to enroll or make changes to plans for coverage to start on January. 01.
► Official: FBI knew for weeks about newly discovered emails
FBI investigators in the Anthony Weiner sexting probe knew for weeks about the existence of newly discovered emails potentially related to the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, a law enforcement official said Sunday.
In his letter that roiled the White House race, FBI Director James Comey said he was briefed last Thursday about that development. He told Congress on Friday that the bureau had found emails in an unrelated case that might be relevant to the Clinton inquiry.
The emails were found on a device that belonged to Weiner, the estranged husband of close Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
A second law enforcement official also said the FBI was aware for a period of time about the emails before Comey was briefed, but wasn’t more specific.
The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The timing of Comey’s letter just 11 days before Election Day drew criticism from Democrats and some Republicans who cast it as unprecedented and potentially tipping the scales in the presidential race in favor of Republican Donald Trump.
Energized by the news, the GOP presidential nominee has rallied his supporters, calling the latest developments worse than Watergate and arguing that his candidacy has the momentum in the final days of the race.
“We never thought we were going to say ‘thank you’ to Anthony Weiner,“ Trump said in Nevada.
Trump also highlighted reports that the Justice Department had discouraged the FBI from alerting Congress to the unexpected discovery of the emails, and said the department is trying “so hard” to protect Clinton.
Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of State has dogged her campaign since early last year. In July, Comey recommended against criminal prosecution after a months-long investigation, but rebuked Clinton and her aides for being careless with classified material.
Justice Department officials who were advised of the FBI’s intention to notify Congress about the discovery expressed concern that the action would be inconsistent with department protocols designed to avoid the appearance of interference in an election.
In an apparent departure from the wishes of top Justice Department leaders, Comey acted independently when he sent several members of Congress a letter about the emails on Friday, according to the official, who was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The move creates the potential for a divide between the Justice Department and Comey, who has served in government under both Democratic and Republican presidents.
It was not immediately clear what the emails were about or what significance, if any, they carried to the email investigation. Nor was it clear when agents would complete the process of reviewing the recovered emails, and Comey made no guarantees that would happen before Election Day.
The newly discovered emails were on a device seized during a sexting investigation of disgraced former New York Democratic Rep. Weiner.
A person familiar with the investigation, who lacked authority to discuss the matter publicly and insisted on anonymity, said the device that appears to be at the center of the new review was a computer that belonged only to Weiner and was not one he shared with Abedin.
As a result, it was not a device searched for work-related emails at the time of the initial investigation. The person said it is “news to (Abedin)“ that her emails would be on a computer belonging to her husband.
Abedin told lawyers in June in a deposition that, like millions of internet users who don’t manage their inboxes, she never deleted old emails on her devices, either at work with Clinton or at home with Weiner.
“I didn’t have a practice of managing my mailbox other than leaving what was in there sitting in there,“ Abedin said. “I didn’t go into my emails and delete State.gov emails. They just lived on my computer. That was my practice for all my email accounts. I didn’t have a particular form of organizing them. I had a few folders, but they were not deleted. They all stayed in whatever device I was using at the time or whatever desktop I was on at the time.“
In February 2013, Abedin signed a routine State Department document under penalty of perjury in which she promised to “turn over all classified or administratively controlled documents and materials” before she left her government job, and promised that she was not retaining copies, “including any diaries, memorandums of conversation or other documents of a personal nature.“
Abedin and Weiner separated this year after Weiner was caught in 2011, 2013 and again this year sending numerous woman sexually explicit text messages and photographs of himself undressed. Federal authorities in New York and North Carolina are investigating online communications between Weiner and a 15-year-old girl.
► Money pours in for anti-pipeline protest, but will it last?
The crowdsourcing goal was modest: $5,000, enough to help a few dozen people camping in North Dakota to protest the nearby construction of the four-state Dakota Access oil pipeline. The fund has since topped a staggering $1 million.
The fund is among several cash streams that have provided at least $3 million to help with legal costs, food and other supplies to those opposing the nearly 1,200-mile pipeline. It may also give protesters the ability to prolong their months-long encampments that have attracted thousands of supporters, as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe pursues the fight in court.
And as the number of protest-related arrests increased this week, so did contributions — the funds raked in more than $200,000 between Thursday and Friday alone.
But demonstrators are quick to note that the amount of money raised and what they have left isn’t the same.
“It still feels unreal sometimes because it is such an astronomical figure to me,“ said Ho Waste Wakiya Wicasa, the protester who set up the GoFundMe account that has raised more than $1 million mostly for operating expenses at the camp, which took root in April.
“The money goes as quickly as it comes, but without it having been as much as it is, we certainly wouldn’t have been able to be as productive as we have been in the fight,“ he said.
For months now, opponents of the $3.8 billion pipeline — which is slated to move oil from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois — have been camping near the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers. They worry the project will disrupt cultural artifacts and hurt drinking water sources on the Standing Rock Sioux’s nearby reservation and farther downstream because the pipeline will cross the Missouri River.
The Texas-based company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, insists the project is safe. The tribe is fighting the pipeline’s permitting process in federal court.
Since the number of protesters soared in August in North Dakota, donations started rolling in more frequently and more than 400 people have been arrested — including more than 140 on Thursday when officers evicted protesters camping on private land recently acquired by Energy Transfer Partners.
But running a camp — and readying it for North Dakota’s brutal winter — isn’t cheap. The account Wicasa set up has only about $100,000 left as of Friday night, according to LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a tribal historian and preservation employee. She provided family land for use in the original camp, Sacred Stone, in April and still houses demonstrators.
The money has been used for grocery store trips every two days that cost about $2,000 each, 20 yurts purchased for $160,000, and around $7,000 for bail money. It has also paid for a storage area, composting toilets, tiny houses, tepees, a medical area and generators powered by solar panels and wind.
A bookkeeper and an accountant now keep track of the crowd-sourced money.
“I got people to take care of,“ Brave Bull Allard said. “I got to provide homes for people and blankets, thermal wear, socks, hats and gloves, and food. Right now, we are feeding 670 people.“
One online legal defense fund has raised more than $655,000 for “the legal defense of warriors protecting land, water and human rights.“
Meanwhile, much of the money the tribe is using for the legal fight is from at least $1.3 million in direct donations, tribal chairman Dave Archambault recently told The Associated Press. He declined to say how much tribal officials have spent so far, saying that could give their opponents an advantage in the legal case.
Energy Transfer Partners also has declined to provide an estimate of its legal expenses. The tribe is pursuing appeals after losing in lower courts.
The Standing Rock Sioux didn’t solicit money, Archambault said, but asked other tribes for letters of support or formal resolutions. He said it was only after other tribes, including the Red Lake Nation and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Minnesota, inquired about financial contributions that leaders decided to accept money for legal costs. And as the protests continued, the tribe decided to also use part of the money for waste-management services for protesters, he said.
“I know the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is not alone; we have overwhelming support,“ Archambault said, adding that his tribe would in return help other tribes “in their fight against corporations.“
Among the donors to online fundraisers is southern New Hampshire resident Carol DiPirro. She gave $30, motivated in part because of a fight her community waged against a natural gas pipeline.
“They are saying the same thing: This is our water supply. You run a pipeline through it and it leaks, you are poisoning us. That’s exactly what I spent two years of my life saying,“ DiPirro said. “This really, really struck a chord with me.“
► Charles Manson’s ‘Right-Hand Man’ Denied Parole
California parole officials recommended Thursday that Charles “Tex” Watson, the self-described right-hand man of murderous cult leader Charles Manson, should remain in prison 47 years after he helped plan and carry out the slayings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six other people, the AP reports. Watson’s 17th parole hearing was held at Mule Creek State Prison, near Sacramento. He can seek parole again in five years. Watson, 70, is serving a life sentence for the murders of Tate and four others at her Beverly Hills home on August 9, 1969. The next night, he helped kill grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary. “These were some of the most horrific crimes in California history, and we believe he continues to exhibit a lack of remorse and remains a public safety risk,“ Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement after the decision.
Watson was initially sentenced to death, but the sentence was later commuted to life when the California Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that the death penalty was unconstitutional. Tate’s sister, Debra Tate—the last surviving member of her immediate family—urged the panel of parole commissioners to reject freedom for the man she called “the most active, the most prolific killer in the Manson family.“ “He’s a sociopath, and sociopaths are incapable having insight or empathy for anything. It’s all about him. He didn’t have it then, and he doesn’t have it now,“ she said after the hearing. She said Watson still blames the murders on his drug use and lack of a clear goal in life rather than accepting full responsibility. Says the nephew of one of the people killed at Tate’s house: “With crimes of this magnitude, I felt profound sorrow for what the victims suffered, for the family members and representatives who spoke in the room ... and for what Charles Watson brought upon himself.“
► Bundy Acquittals Greeted With Applause, Disgust
Seven defendants in the Oregon wildlife refuge standoff trial were acquitted Thursday, including brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, in what the New York Times calls a “surprise” development and a huge “blow” to federal prosecutors. “I knew that what my husband was doing was right, but I was nervous because the judge was controlling the narrative,“ Ryan Bundy’s wife told the Times in a phone interview. “But they saw the truth. I am just so grateful they saw it.“ Also surrounding the bombshell announcement:
ABC News recaps the case and answers some important questions, including a look back at how the occupation started and ended, what exactly went down in court (including Ammon Bundy’s attorney getting stun-gunned), and what’s now at stake.
Lane Crothers at the New York Daily News notes there are two things about the verdict that “should scare all Americans.“ The first, per Crothers, is that it was a “clear case of jury nullification,“ in which the jurors were swayed by their own opinions rather than the letter of the law. The second? Well, Crothers says it’s tied to Donald Trump, as well as to “a resurgence of the violence that was once endemic across the American West.“
The Oregonian points out how the verdict has “[deepened] divides” among the locals. While almost everyone seemed shocked by the verdict, which way their moods veered differed. One local businesswoman and rancher lauded the “great news” and noted “we need to continue getting back in control and not having 40% of our county under public employment.“ But another resident’s take? “It’s absolutely devastating. It’s awful. We’re just disgusted with the verdict.“
Comparisons have been drawn between what happened to the Malheur Seven on the wildlife reserve and what’s currently going on with the Native-America Lakota protests to the Dakota Access Pipeline—including the very different federal response to both. NPR examines how the Bundy brouhaha has actually united Native Americans to save their land.
Shaun King spells out for the Daily News what really led to Thursday’s jury decision in “America 2016”: white privilege.
► J&J Baby Powder Suit: a $70M Payout
For more than 40 years, Deborah Giannecchini used Johnson & Johnson baby powder and other talcum powder products—and on Thursday, a St. Louis jury awarded more than $70 million in damages on her claim, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The 63-year-old Californian said those J&J products contributed to her developing ovarian cancer. The jury voted against J&J 10-2—one of the dissenters actually didn’t think the award was enough—with an award of $575,000 in medical damages, $2 million in compensatory damages, $2.5 million in compensatory damages against Imerys Talc (the producer of the talcum powder), and $65 million in punitive damages against J&J. About half of the punitive damages will go to the Missouri Crime Victims’ Compensation Program, per Jim Onder of Onder Law, which has handled all three cases with awarded damages so far.
Memos from inside J&J show the company knew for decades about research tying the use of talc powder to ovarian cancer, Onder says—though CNBC says “much” of that research has been “weak.“ Giannecchini, however, had no clue of possible risks. “There isn’t a way to describe how you feel ... when you’re told you probably won’t make it beyond the next year,“ she says of receiving her stage 4 cancer diagnosis in 2012. Per her lawyers, Giannecchini has about an 80% chance of dying within the next two years, Bloomberg reports. Not that Onder expects J&J to cede to the nearly 2,000 state and federal complaints against it; instead, he believes the company will take a “scorched-earth legal policy” and not settle “until they absolutely have to.“ In a statement, a J&J rep says the company will appeal because it’s “guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder.“
► With Her Love on Death Row, Woman Goes Back to School
“I cried so much my nose was bleeding.“ Yancy Escobar Balderas, 29, was in the courtroom—as she had been every day during the two-month trial—when her now-husband Juan Balderas was sentenced to death for a murder she says he didn’t commit. This month—two years after she watched her man get hauled off to death row—Balderas earned her paralegal certificate at the University of Houston. Balderas tells Fusion she’s becoming a lawyer to help Juan and others like him. “After sitting through this trial, seeing the injustices in Juan’s case, I want to do something where I can make a change in the system, in people’s lives.“
Juan was arrested in 2005 and charged with the gang-related killing of a 16-year-old. His trial was delayed until 2014—during which time he remained behind bars—and his lawyer barely met with him or did any investigating into his case. His lawyer had been reprimanded in the past and had a load of death penalty cases that experts say he couldn’t possibly have handled properly. Balderas wants to make sure that doesn’t happen to anyone else. “There’s someone waiting to die,“ she says. “We could save their lives.” Balderas just got her first gig as a paralegal intern for a lawyer who works with death row inmates. “Her attention to detail is just incredible,“ her boss says. “She’s going to be very successful at this.” Balderas likely hopes he’s right—she’s currently planning an appeal for Juan, who she’s stuck by through 11 years of separation. Read the full story HERE .
► Supreme Court Will Hear Transgender Bathroom Case
Eight justices or no, the Supreme Court will tackle another major social issue after it announced Friday it will hear the case of a transgender teen who wants to use the men’s restroom at his Virginia high school, the AP reports. In the Washington Post, 17-year-old Gavin Grimm says he used the men’s room at his school for months after coming out as transgender until the school board got wind of it and held two “humiliating and painful” public meetings “to discuss my genitals and restroom usage.“ After the Gloucester County school board banned Grimm from using the men’s room, Grimm won a court case to allow him to use the restroom that matches his gender identity, USA Today reports.
But the Supreme Court put the lower court’s decision on hold last summer and will hear the case next year, likely reaching a decision by June. The justices’ decision to hear the case means Grimm won’t be able to use the men’s room during his senior year of high school, but he says he’s willing to sacrifice if it means helping transgender students around the country. “I hope the justices of the Supreme Court can see me and the rest of the transgender community for who we are—just people—and rule accordingly,“ he says in the Post. “The Supreme Court’s ultimate decision in this case will have a profound impact on transgender youth across the country,” the Human Rights Campaign’s legal director tells USA Today.
► Highest-Ranking Soldier Yet Commits Suicide
The Army said Friday it has determined that suicide was the cause of death of a two-star general who was found dead in his home on a military base in Alabama, the AP reports. Maj. Gen. John Rossi was found dead July 31 at Redstone Arsenal, two days before he was to assume command of Army Space and Missile Defense Command. He is the first Army general to commit suicide on active duty since record-keeping began in 2000, according to the Army; USA Today reports that he is “the highest-ranking soldier ever to have taken his own life.“ Military suicides soared earlier this decade; they typically have affected lower-ranking military members. Rossi, a West Point academy graduate and an air defense artillery officer by training, had just moved onto Redstone Arsenal and was scheduled to be promoted to lieutenant general when he took command of Space and Missile Defense Command.
A written statement by the Army on Friday made no mention of what might have prompted Rossi to take his own life. He had actually spoken in March at a conference on preventing military suicides. The Rossi family issued a statement through the Army expressing thanks for wide support and urging those who may need suicide-prevention help to seek it immediately. “To the Army, he was Maj. Gen. Rossi,“ it said. “To us, he was John—husband, dad.“ “We ask for the time and space to grieve in private, and for the Army to continue to better understand suicide, and to help and treat those in need,“ the family statement added. “To all the other families out there, to the man or woman who may be facing challenging times, please seek assistance immediately. Compassionate and confidential assistance is available.“
► Official: Plane in Chicago had ‘uncontained engine failure’
Pilots were forced to abort a takeoff and evacuate passengers from a burning American Airlines flight Friday on a runway at Chicago O’Hare International Airport after the airliner experienced what a federal official said was a rare and serious type of engine failure.
American Airlines Flight 383 to Miami experienced an “uncontained engine failure,“ in which engine parts break off and are spewed outside the engine, the official said. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the incident and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The danger of such a failure is that engine pieces effectively become shrapnel and can cause extensive damage to the aircraft.
Flames and heavy black smoke poured from the side of the Boeing 767 jet as it sat on the runway after the aborted takeoff. Officials said the incident left 21 people injured. Footage from the scene showed passengers coming down emergency slides and hurrying across grass next to the runway as emergency vehicles surrounded the plane. The right wing was drooping toward the ground and appeared to have partially melted.
Passenger Sarah Ahmed told WLS-TV the plane was speeding down the runway when she heard an explosion and saw flames and black smoke. She said everyone on the right side of the aircraft jumped from their seats and moved to the left side.
“People are yelling, ‘Open the door! Open the door!‘ Everyone’s screaming and jumping on top of each other to open the door,“ Ahmed said. “Within that time, I think it was seven seconds, there was now smoke in the plane and the fire is right up against the windows, and it’s melting the windows.“
The pilots reported an engine-related mechanical issue and aborted the takeoff, according to American Airlines spokeswoman Leslie Scott.
The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that the plane made an emergency stop around 2:35 p.m. after experiencing a problem during takeoff. An earlier FAA statement said the plane had blown a tire, but officials later deleted that information from the statement.
Chicago Deputy Fire Commissioner Timothy Sampey said 20 passengers suffered minor injuries as they used the emergency chutes to evacuate. American, which had earlier said eight people were injured, later confirmed the 20 figure and added that one flight attendant was also injured.
Buses were sent to pick up the passengers and bring them back to the terminal, Scott said. The passengers were to be placed on another flight to Miami Friday evening.
The National Transportation Safety Board will conduct an investigation into the incident, with investigators expected to arrive on the scene Friday evening, spokesman Keith Holloway said.
Uncontained engine failures are unusual thanks to improvements in designs and the metallurgy. There are many possible causes, including overheating, runway debris or large birds that get sucked into the engine or parts that break when they wear out but aren’t replaced during maintenance checks.
Tom Walsh, an airline pilot who also works as a security consultant, said that engines that break apart can be especially serious if the parts end up cutting fuel lines or damaging other vital components of the aircraft.
But he said even such catastrophic failures don’t necessarily doom a plane — even if a pilot runs out of runway and must take off.
“Planes are meant to fly with one engine,“ said Walsh, who has also flown Boeing 767s. “We are trained so that we can lose the engine at the worst possible time ... and then still successfully take off and land.“
One of the best-known incidents of uncontained engine failure occurred in 1989, when 111 people were killed when a United Air Lines DC-10 crashed while making an emergency landing at Sioux City, Iowa. There were 185 survivors.
Such engine failures are taken “very seriously” in the aviation industry, said John Cox, a former airline pilot and aviation safety consultant. It’s mandatory that airlines report the failures to the NTSB, he said.
“It’s something everyone in aviation safety tracks very carefully,“ said Cox, president of Safety Operating Systems.
Engines are especially vulnerable to overheating that can cause parts to fail during takeoffs when they are already operating at very high temperatures, said John Goglia, a former National Transportation Safety Board member and expert on aircraft maintenance.
The giant blades inside the engines are revolving at about 13,000 rpm, he said. When one comes loose, it’s like firing a bullet, he said.
The aircraft involved in Friday’s incident was built in 2003 and is among American’s youngest planes of that model. According to data from FlightGlobal, an aviation news and industry data company, at the start of this year the plane had flown more than 47,000 hours and made more than 7,500 cycles — each takeoff and landing is one cycle. American is flying 767 aircraft that have more than 100,000 hours and 18,000 cycles.
► Man Stops for Food in Middle of Police Chase
A night on the lam can really work up an appetite. The AP reports a hungry Arizona man stopped at In-N-Out in the middle of a police chase Wednesday night. Officers tried to pull over 35-year-old Joshua Adkins around 10:30pm for an outstanding warrant, but police say he refused to stop, according to the
Arizona Republic. A police helicopter followed Adkins as he drove through Phoenix and two suburbs.
KSAZ reports it even watched as Adkins went through an In-N-Out drive-thru and appeared to order food. Police say Adkins eventually got out of his vehicle and ran into a backyard. He was arrested after allegedly trying and failing to get into a home’s backdoor. Adkins was booked into jail on suspicion of unlawful flight from law enforcement, domestic violence, and unlawful imprisonment.
► DNA Find Upends JonBenet Case
After just short of 20 years, the murder of JonBenet Ramsey is as much of a mystery of ever—especially in light of a new examination of DNA evidence. The Boulder
Daily Camera reports that outside experts have concluded that DNA found on the murdered girl’s long johns comes from at least three people: JonBenet, the unknown male whose DNA was cited as a reason to exonerate her parents in 2008, and at least one other person whose DNA has not been detected before. The forensic experts also concluded that the unknown male DNA profile identified from small quantities of DNA found on JonBenet’s long johns and underwear may in fact be a composite of several DNA profiles.
The independent experts say all of the unknown DNA may be the result of “inconsequential contact with other people,“ reports the Camera. The findings cast about on Boulder prosecutor Mary Lacy’s decision to clear JonBenet’s parents of suspicion on 2008 based on DNA evidence that she said confirmed the theory that an intruder murdered the girl. With the exoneration, “I was trying to prevent a horrible travesty of justice,“ Lacy tell
ABC. “I was scared to death that despite the fact that there was no evidence, no psychopathy, and no motive, the case was a train going down the track and the Ramseys were tied to that track.“ Comparison to the DNA profile now in doubt was used to exonerate dozens of other potential suspects.
► Group of Clowns Allegedly Stab Skateboarder
Yes, menacing clowns are apparently still hanging around, and now they’re getting stabby. A man tells police he was stabbed by a group of men dressed as clowns shortly before 9pm Friday near San Diego State University,
KGTV reports. The man was riding a skateboard when he got into an argument with someone across the street. He says he was skateboarding away when four clowns attacked him. According to the
Los Angeles Times, the man took himself to the hospital with knife wounds to his cheek, shoulder, and abdomen. None of the wounds were life-threatening, and the man declined to give any further details about the clowns or what happened to him. Police are continuing to investigate.
The Guide to Sleeping in Airports has published the results of its annual survey of the best airports in the world, rated by travelers on factors including comfort, food, services available, cleanliness, customer service, things to do, and of course, the security experience. The top five:
Changi International Airport (Singapore): It features five gardens, a fish spa, massage chairs, video gaming stations, a free movie theater, a ton of restaurants and stores, and even a multi-story slide.
Incheon International Airport (Seoul, South Korea): It also has gardens and a movie theater, as well as a cultural center, ice rink, free showers, and reclining lounge chairs.
Haneda International Airport (Tokyo, Japan): It may not sound as exciting as Nos. 1 and 2, but Haneda Airport is extremely clean and efficient, with excellent customer service.
Taoyuan International Airport (Taipei, Taiwan): The website says this may be “the world’s most creative airport,“ with different themes at every gate, most of which include a corresponding activity for travelers to pass the time.
Munich International Airport (Germany): Here you can enjoy free morning coffee, free WiFi, a brewery, and even more exotic pleasures: a mini-golf course, an ice rink, a seasonal Christkindl market, and even surfing.
The United Nations General Assembly voted Russia off the UN Human Rights Council on Friday, a stunning rebuke to the country which is increasingly being accused of war crimes over its actions in Syria. The 193-member General Assembly elected 14 members to the 47-nation council, the UN’s main body charged with promoting and protecting human rights. Russia, which received 112 votes, lost its regional seat to Hungary, with 144 votes, and Croatia with 114 votes. Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin played down the importance of the loss, saying Croatia and Hungary were too small to be “exposed to the winds of international diplomacy,“ the AP reports.
The US, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, China, Brazil, Rwanda, Hungary, Cuba, South Africa, Japan, Tunisia, and the UK. also won seats on the council. Guatemala was the only country running for a seat beside Russia to not be elected. Human rights groups had called for countries to reject the candidacies of Russia and Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s election, however, was a foregone conclusion since it was running unopposed for its regional seat. “Next year, UN member states should make sure that all regional groups have real competition so no one is guaranteed victory,“ a Human Rights Watch spokesman said.
► World’s Rarest Pasta Is Made by Only 3 Women
There’s a kind of pasta in the world that is so hard to find and so difficult to make that you’re going to have to travel to the tiny hamlet of Nuoro on the Italian island of Sardinia to get a taste. That’s because su filindeu, which translates to “the threads of God” or “God’s yarns,“ is only made by three living women, descendants of a long line of women who for 300 years have passed down the family recipe, reports the
BBC. One of them, Paola Abraini, is 62 and wakes at 7am every day to make the pasta. The recipe isn’t secret, it’s hard—so hard that no one else seems able to make it: Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver
gave up after trying for two hours this summer; engineers from pasta giant Barilla couldn’t get a machine to replicate it.
Su filindeu consists of only three ingredients: durum what semolina, water, and salt. “Elasticity is fundamental,“ explains the
Slow Food Foundation, and this is achieved by patting the dough with salted or plain water. “The exact moment when this should be done cannot be exactly defined, it is a sensation that only who is kneading can recognize,“ it explains. Sections of the dough are then stretched, using the fingers, eight times into angel-hair-like strands and layered on a flat basket called a fundu. The pasta is then sun-dried, and ultimately looks like “tree bark,“ explain the Pasta Grannies in a
video. It’s only prepared one way: cooked in mutton stock with pecorino cheese added. “I love it more each day,“ Abraini says of the pasta.
► England’s Oldest Hotel Has Been Destroyed
England’s oldest hotel, which survived bombings during WWII, was destroyed by a massive fire that started early Friday and burned for more than 24 hours, the
BBC reports. The Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter opened 247 years ago in 1769. According to the
Guardian, its first two floors date back to medieval times. And it’s said to have been the first use of the term “hotel"—a French word that came to replace “inn"—in England. “It’s an absolutely beautiful hotel, such a massive loss to the community,” an employee at a nearby pub tells the
Independent. The BBC reports there is “an overwhelming sense of sadness in the city.“
The fire started above an art gallery in an area that was being renovated. It then spread to a tavern, cafe, and finally the Royal Clarence. Hotel guests had to be evacuated in the middle of the night. “There was a lot of fiery ash falling down,“ one guest says. “The building was totally in flames.“ No one was hurt in the fire, but the Royal Clarence was left partially collapsed and completely destroyed. A ruptured gas main fueled the blaze, and as many as 150 firefighters were battling the flames at one point. Firefighters used up water main supplies and had to turn to water from the river to put the fire out. The cause of the fire is unknown, but officials don’t suspect arson or anything nefarious.
► Syrian airstrikes on Aleppo amid intense clashes
Syrian government forces launched a counteroffensive Saturday under the cover of airstrikes in an attempt to regain control of areas they had lost to insurgents the day before in the northern city of Aleppo, activists and state media said.
Meanwhile, insurgents launched a fresh offensive on the city, a day after embarking on a broad ground attack aimed at breaking a weeks-long government siege on the eastern rebel-held neighborhoods of Syria’s largest city.
The insurgents were able to capture much of the western neighborhood of Assad where much of Saturday’s fighting was concentrated, according to the Syrian army and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Observatory said the new offensive by Syrian troops and their allies went under the cover of Russian and Syrian airstrikes but government forces did not succeed in regaining control of areas they lost. The group said the fighting and airstrikes are mostly on Aleppo’s western and southern edges.
The Syrian army command said troops and their allies are pounding insurgent positions with artillery shells and rockets adding that “all kinds of weapons” are being used in the fighting in the Assad neighborhood.
The Aleppo Media Center, an activist collective, reported airstrikes and artillery shelling of areas near Aleppo. The AMC and another activist collective, the Local Coordination Committees, said rebels entered the village of Minian west of Aleppo Saturday afternoon after intense fighting with government forces.
Later Saturday, the rebels said they launched an attack on the Zahraa neighborhood in western Aleppo to try and capture it from government forces. The attack began with a massive explosion that struck government positions on the front line, said Yasser al-Yousef of the Nour el-Din el-Zinki group, a main faction in Aleppo.
A reporter inside the city for the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV channel confirmed that the rebels have attacked the Zahraa neighborhood. As he spoke from the roof of a building, sounds of heavy exchange of gunfire could be heard in the background.
The Syrian army said troops were repelling the attack on Zahraa. It said the offensive began when the insurgents detonated a vehicle and shelled the area.
The Observatory said the fighting was continuing intensely after sunset, saying that government forces detonated explosives and bombs they planted earlier in the area in an attempt to repel the offensive on Zahraa.
Syrian state media said rebels shelled government-held western neighborhoods of Aleppo on Saturday morning wounding at least 10 people, including a young girl.
Rebel shelling of Aleppo on Friday killed 15 and wounded more than 100.
On Friday, insurgents including members of Fatah al-Sham and the ultraconservative Ajnad al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham militias took advantage of cloudy and rainy weather to attack government positions. On Saturday the weather was better, according to residents.
“There are ongoing clashes,“ said opposition activist Baraa al-Halaby by telephone from besieged east Aleppo, adding that the fighting is far from them but explosions could be clearly heard in the city.
The Observatory said that since Friday some 30 troops and members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group were killed in the Aleppo fighting.
East Aleppo has been subjected to a ferocious campaign of aerial attacks by Russian and Syrian government warplanes, and hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks, according to opposition activists and trapped residents.
The new offensive by insurgents is the second attempt to break the government’s siege of Aleppo’s opposition-held eastern districts, where the U.N. estimates 275,000 people are trapped.
U.N. Special Envoy Staffan De Mistura has estimated 8,000 of them are rebel fighters, and no more than 900 of them affiliated with Fatah al-Sham. Syrian and Russian officials have said that no cease fire is possible as long as Fatah al-Sham remains allied and intertwined with other rebel forces.
Aleppo is the current focal point of the war. President Bashar Assad has said he is determined to retake the country’s largest city and former commercial capital.
► Shiite militias join the battle as Iraqis push toward Mosul
State-sanctioned Shiite militias joined Iraq’s Mosul offensive on Saturday with a pre-dawn assault to the west, where they hope to complete the encirclement of the Islamic State-held city and sever supply lines from neighboring Syria.
Other Iraqi forces aided by U.S.-led airstrikes and heavy artillery meanwhile drove IS from the town of Shura, south of Mosul, where the militants had rounded up civilians to be used as human shields.
The twin thrusts come nearly two weeks into the offensive to retake Iraq’s second largest city, but most of the fighting is still taking place in towns and villages far from its outskirts, and the entire operation is expected to take weeks, if not months.
The involvement of the Iranian-backed Shiite militias has raised concerns that the battle for Mosul, a Sunni-majority city, could aggravate sectarian tensions. Rights groups have accused the militias of abuses against civilians in other Sunni areas retaken from IS, accusations the militia leaders deny.
The umbrella group for the militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Units, says they will not enter Mosul itself and will instead focus on retaking Tal Afar, a town to the west that had a Shiite majority before it fell to IS in 2014.
Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for the group, told reporters in Baghdad that the militias had retaken 10 villages since the start of the pre-dawn operation. But there was likely still some fighting underway, and he said forces were removing explosive booby-traps left by IS to slow their advance.
Jaafar al-Husseini, a spokesman for the Hezbollah Brigades, said his group and the other militias had advanced 4 miles (7 kilometers) toward Tal Afar and used anti-tank missiles to destroy three suicide car bombs that were heading toward them.
He said the U.S.-led coalition, which is providing airstrikes and ground support to the Iraqi military and Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga, is not playing any role in the Shiite militias’ advance. He said Iranian advisers and Iraqi aircraft were helping them.
Many of the militias were originally formed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to battle American forces and Sunni insurgents. They were mobilized again and endorsed by the state when IS swept through northern and central Iraq in 2014.
Iraqi troops approaching Mosul from the south advanced into Shura after a wave of U.S.-led airstrikes and artillery shelling against militant positions inside the town. Commanders said most of the IS fighters withdrew earlier this week with civilians, but that U.S. airstrikes had disrupted the forced march, allowing some civilians to escape.
“After all this shelling, I don’t think we will face much resistance,“ Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Najim al-Jabouri said as the advance got underway. “This is easy, because there are no civilians left,“ he added.
But hours later, a few families who had hunkered down during the fighting emerged. The government has urged people to remain in their homes, fearing a mass exodus from Mosul, which is still home to more than 1 million people.
By the afternoon, Brig. Gen. Firas Bashar said his forces were clearing explosives and searching for IS fighters in Shura. The sound of artillery still echoed in the distance.
In Baghdad, meanwhile, an IS suicide bomber targeting an aid station for Shiite pilgrims killed at least seven people and wounded more than 20, police and hospital officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief reporters.
The Sunni extremist group often target Iraq’s Shiite majority, which it views as apostates deserving of death.
The Mosul offensive involves more than 25,000 soldiers, Federal Police, Kurdish fighters, Sunni tribesmen and the Shiite militias.
Iraqi forces moving toward the city from several directions have made uneven progress since the offensive began October 17. They are 4 miles (6 kilometers) from the edge of Mosul on the eastern front, where Iraq’s special forces are leading the charge. But progress has been slower in the south, with Iraqi forces still 20 miles (35 kilometers) from the city.
The U.N. human rights office said Friday that IS has rounded up tens of thousands of civilians in and around Mosul to use as human shields, and has massacred more than 200 Iraqis in recent days, mainly former members of the security forces.
The militants have carried out mass killings of perceived opponents in the past and boasted about them in grisly photos and videos circulated online. The group is now believed to be cracking down on anyone who could rise up against it, focusing on men with military training or past links to the security forces.
► Syria rebels keep up offensive on western Aleppo
Syrian insurgents on Sunday kept up their shelling of government-controlled areas of Aleppo, killing at least seven people, including three children, state TV reported, and pushing their way with car bombs and tanks into new territory in the western part of the city. The Syrian government claimed the opposition fighters used toxic gas.
The attacks raised the death toll in the three-day old offensive to at least 41 civilians, including 16 children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group that has a network of activists in rebel and government controlled areas in Syria. The Observatory said hundreds of mortars were lobbed.
United Nations Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said he was “appalled and shocked by the high number of rockets indiscriminately launched” on civilian suburbs of government-held Aleppo.
“Those who argue that this is meant to relieve the siege of eastern Aleppo should be reminded that nothing justifies the use of disproportionate and indiscriminate weapons, including heavy ones, on civilian areas and it could amount to war crimes,“ De Mistura said.
Sunday’s shelling came on the third day of the insurgent offensive that aims to breach a government siege on Aleppo’s rebel-held eastern districts, apparently aiming to push out government troops from frontline areas.
A tight siege has been in place since July, trapping nearly 275,000 civilians in eastern rebel-held Aleppo. The dividing lines between government-held and rebel-controlled Aleppo are often streets lined with deserted buildings or extended plastic sheets to mark rival turfs.
Imad al-Khal, a 63-year old resident of western Aleppo, said there was fierce shelling over the past three days. “We are hearing now strong shelling by military jets and the artillery,“ he said.
A state TV presenter, Shadi Halwi, said in a video post on his Facebook page that for the first time in government-held Aleppo, “the sound of clashes is strong, very loud.“
Russia and the Syrian government have halted their airstrikes on the eastern rebel-held part of Aleppo since last week to allow for evacuation of wounded and civilians. But no evacuation took place and efforts to allow medical and food supplies into the besieged area also faltered. Meanwhile, pro-government troops kept up a ground offensive against rebel-held areas.
Ibrahim al-Haj, a member of the first responders team the Syrian Civil Defense that operates in rebel-held Aleppo, said airstrikes Sunday on districts near the front line caused material damage. He also said government artillery shelling killed three people and wounded seven Sunday.
A day earlier, artillery shelling killed a member of the civil defense team, also known as White Helmets, al-Haj said. Ibrahim Hussein, 34 and father of three, was killed when shrapnel hit his head as he was rescuing others following shelling in al-Sukkari neighborhood, al-Haj said.
The cycle of violence in the contested city has only escalated after U.S.-Russia efforts failed to secure an internationally monitored cease-fire.
“The civilians of both sides of Aleppo have suffered enough due to futile but lethal attempts of subduing the city of Aleppo,“ De Mistura said. “They now need and deserve a stable ceasefire covering this ancient city of Syria.“
Opposition fighters advanced Sunday into the frontline neighborhood of al-Hamadaniyeh.
Videos posted by the al-Qaida-linked Fatah al-Sham group showed insurgents advancing into the neighborhood in tanks and other military vehicles. The group’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, appeared in pictures discussing battlefield details with field commanders over a map.
The opposition fighters have relied on a number of car bombs to breach the defenses of their enemy.
In a statement late Saturday, the insurgent alliance warned residents of frontline government-held areas to stay indoors or use shelters, declaring them a military zone.
On Sunday, a Syrian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the government was reinforcing its positions in and around the city to repel rebel advances.
The Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman said about 1,000 government artillery troops arrived in Aleppo from central Syria Saturday to take part in the counteroffensive. He estimated between 2,000 and 2,500 insurgent fighters were taking part in the offensive.
Abdurrahman said several civilians were reportedly suffering from breathing difficulties following an insurgent attack in al-Hamadaniyeh on Sunday. But Abdurrahman couldn’t not confirm or deny if these were toxin gases.
A rebel spokesman dismissed government accusations they used gas. Idriss Raad, a member of Faylaq al-Sham rebel group, said the opposition doesn’t possess such weapons and would not attack areas with its own supporters. “The rebel would not target his people,“ he said in an exchange of messages.
The Syrian state news agency SANA said 48 people were treated for breathing difficulties. State TV showed residents and medics wearing masks rushing people into a hospital. At one point, a resident yells at the camera: “We don’t any more truce. We want it to be settled militarily, no more truces.“
The claim could not be independently verified. Opposition fighters and the government have exchanged accusations of using chemical attacks on their respective areas.
An international team has determined that the Syrian government carried out a chemical attack in 2015, the third to be blamed on the government. An August report also blamed Islamic State militants of another chemical attack in 2015. IS is not part of the insurgent offensive on western Aleppo.
► DNA sought from weapons cache found near Serb leader’s home
Serbia’s prime minister said Sunday an investigation will determine whether a large cache of weapons found near his family house outside Belgrade was linked to a possible plan to attack him.
Aleksandar Vucic said a DNA analysis would show whether a trunk containing an anti-tank rocket launcher, hand grenades and sniper ammunition was left in a forest by “accident” or if it signifies something more sinister. He said that if no DNA samples are recovered, the weapons could be part of a hit job planned by professionals.
“This was not an assassination attempt,“ Vucic told reporters. “Nobody touched me.“
Police said Vucic and his family members were evacuated from the house when the cache was discovered on Saturday.
On Sunday, police sealed off the forested area on the outskirts of Belgrade, as forensic teams checked for fingerprints or any other clues.
President Tomislav Nikolic described the situation as “very serious,“ saying Serbia’s security officials “owe some answers” regarding the safety of the premier and other state officials.
Vucic said the location where the weapons were discovered on a leafy hill above the house is “ideal” for launching an assassination attempt, but added that the trunk may have nothing to do with a planned attack.
The anti-tank rocket launcher “can aim from 200 meters and if somebody knows the terrain, there is no missing,“ Vucic said. “I think someone left it there by accident, but that is even a bigger problem because lots of children could have been hurt” if the cache had exploded, he added.
Serbia is packed with illegal arms that are left over from the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Many people just dump the weapons that they kept in their homes, fearing reprisals if authorities discover them.
Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said the initial investigation results revealed that the rocket launcher was used in fighting in Croatia, while two hand grenades came from Bosnia.
A sniper shot killed Serbia’s first democratically elected prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, in March 2003 in front of government headquarters in central Belgrade. More than a dozen nationalist paramilitary members and criminals have been convicted and sentenced in connection with the assassination.
Vucic, a former ultranationalist turned pro-European Union reformer, was Djindjic’s strong political opponent at the time.
► Powerful quake spares lives, but strikes at Italy’s identity
The third powerful earthquake to hit Italy in two months spared human life Sunday but struck at the nation’s identity, destroying a Benedictine cathedral, a medieval tower and other beloved landmarks that had survived the earlier jolts across a mountainous region of small historic towns.
Lost or severely damaged in the shaking were ancient Roman walls, Gothic and Baroque churches and centuries-old paintings crushed beneath tons of brick, sandstone and marble.
Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said the nation’s “soul is disturbed” by the series of quakes, starting with the deadly August 24 event that killed nearly 300 people, two back-to-back temblors on October 26, and the biggest of them all, a 6.6-magnitude quake that shook people out of bed Sunday morning. It was the strongest quake to hit Italy in 36 years.
There were no reports of fatalities — a fact attributed to the evacuation of sensitive areas and fragile city centers. Some 3,600 people had been moved to shelters, hotels and other temporary accommodations after last week’s quakes. Many who stayed behind were sleeping in campers or other vehicles, out of harm’s way.
Renzi vowed to rebuild houses, churches and business, saying, “a piece of Italian identity is at stake at this moment.“
“Feeling the earth collapse beneath your feet is not a metaphorical expression but is what happened this morning, and half of Italy felt this,“ Renzi said.
The quake struck another painful blow to the rich artistic heritage of villages that dot the Apennine Mountains.
The worst damage was reported in Norcia, a town in Umbria closest to the epicenter. Two churches were destroyed — the 14th century Basilica of St. Benedict, built on the traditional birthplace of St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictine monastic order; and the Cathedral of St. Mary Argentea, known for its 15th century frescoes. Only the cracked facades were still standing, with most of the structures disintegrating into piles of rubble and dust.
Television images showed nuns rushing into the main piazza as the bell tower appeared on the verge of collapse. Later, nuns and monks knelt in prayer in the main piazza. A firefighter appealed to a priest to help keep residents calm in an effort to prevent them from looking for loved ones.
When the quake stuck, nuns from the Saint Mary of Peace monastery in Norcia were praying and singing hymns. The shaking caused their building to collapse and badly damaged their sleeping quarters. Later, firefighters escorted them back inside to retrieve holy books. Then an aftershock hit.
“But we had courage, because we were in our house and the Lord protects us,“ one nun told The Associated Press.
Large sections of Norcia’s ancient Roman city walls — which suffered damage and cracks in the previous quakes — crumbled, along with towers.
Amatrice, the town that bore the brunt of destruction on August 24, sustained blows to treasures that had withstood the quakes of the past weeks.
The community’s medieval bell tower stood tall amid the rubble after the August quake, becoming a symbol of hope and resilience for the stricken population. During a visit to the quake zone earlier this month, the pope prayed alone amid the rubble, the brick tower still standing in the background. But the latest shaking partially collapsed it. The 15th century Church of Sant’Agostino also fell down.
“The monster is still there,“ Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told Sky TG24.
The quake was felt as far north as Salzburg, Austria, and all the way down the Italian peninsula to the Puglia region, the heel of the boot. In Rome, some 150 kilometers (95 miles) away, people rushed into the streets in pajamas.
The basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, a site of Christian worship in Rome since the 4th century, had to be closed for inspections after sustaining cracks and damage to some molding. There were also cracks in the cupola of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza church in Rome, a baroque masterpiece by Francesco Borromini, an architectural giant of the 17th century.
The quake forced the temporary closure of some of Rome’s most important tourist sites, including the presidential palace, so authorities could check for damage.
The crowds in St. Peter’s Square interrupted Pope Francis with applause when he mentioned the quake during his weekly Sunday blessing.
“I’m praying for the injured and the families who have suffered the most damage, as well as for rescue and first aid workers,“ he said.
ANSA reported that the quake damaged the church of St. Joseph in Jesi, a town encircled by medieval walls southwest of the coastal city of Ancona. The roof caved in partially and cracks appeared near the altar.
In Tolentino, there was visible damage to the Cathedral of San Catervo and the Basilica of St. Nicolas, which contains artwork and architectural elements dating from the 14th to the 17th centuries.
With a preliminary magnitude of 6.6, it was the strongest earthquake since a 6.9 temblor near Naples killed some 3,000 people on November 23, 1980.
Some 20 people suffered mostly minor injuries. Authorities responded with helicopters to help the injured and monitor collapses, as many roads were blocked by landslides.
The Salaria highway, one of the main highways in the region, was closed at certain points. Some local rail lines in Umbria and Le Marche were also closed as a precaution.
Seismologists said the shaking came from a series of faults in the Apennines, and they could not rule out more, possibly stronger quakes in the near future.
“It is normal for the Apennines,“ said the president of Italy’s National Institute for Geophysics and Vulcanology, Carlo Doglioni. He cited a similar sequence of three events within a period of months in 1703 in the region.
Natural law dictates that after such an event there will be more quakes, “which means we can expect some 5 magnitude quakes and many of magnitude 4,“ Doglioni said.
Already on Sunday, more than 200 other seismic events were recorded by the institute, including 15 temblors between magnitude 4 and 5.
► EU-Canada sign long-delayed trade pact
The European Union and Canada signed Sunday a landmark trade pact, ending days of drama after a small Belgian region refused to endorse the agreement and deeply embarrassed the EU.
As protesters gathered outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, put an end to the suspense by signing the Comprehensive Economic and Trade agreement.
“This accord is the product of long discussions. Frank discussions, but which have always taken place in respect, among partners that share common values,“ Trudeau told reporters afterward.
The EU needed unanimity among all its 28 members and Belgium needed the backing of all its regions to approve the pact known as CETA. Trudeau had been due to sign it on Thursday, but was forced to cancel his flight when Belgium couldn’t sign on because of opposition from the Wallonia region.
Smaller than the U.S. state of New Jersey, Wallonia defied hopes for a deal between more than 500 million EU citizens and 35 million Canadians for weeks. Politicians there argued that CETA would undermine labor, environment and consumer standards and allow multinationals to crush local companies.
After several rounds of talks late into the night last week Belgium formally gave its endorsement on Saturday morning. Even Trudeau’s plane appeared to have conspired to hold up the signing ceremony as it turned back to Ottawa overnight with mechanical problems.
But Trudeau, who made it to EU headquarters only two hours late, said he welcomed the challenge posed by Wallonia.
“The fact that throughout people are asking tough questions of a deal that will have a significant impact on our economies, and giving us the opportunity to demonstrate that that impact will be positive, is a good thing,“ he said.
Juncker lauded the agreement as “the best and most progressive that we have ever signed.“ He added that “we are grateful to Canada for being as patient as it has been.“
But, Juncker said wagging his finger, “Belgium should reflect on the way it functions when it comes to international relations.“
On the other side of EU headquarters, a rowdy group of around 250 anti-CETA protesters gathered to block the front entrance as riot police watched. Red paint was smeared on the building. Some demonstrators had actually entered the foyer. Police took away 16 people, but didn’t break up the protest, spokeswoman Ilse Van de Keere said.
The EU says CETA will remove more than 99 percent of tariffs and boost trade with Canada by 12 billion euros ($13.2 billion) a year, creating economic growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. It insists the deal won’t prevent governments from moving to protect environmental and social standards if they believe action is needed, despite concerns in Wallonia and elsewhere that big companies would have free rein.
“We are setting international standards which will have to be followed by others with whom we are in negotiations as far as free trade is concerned,“ Juncker said.
Work on the agreement was launched in 2009 and the text was actually finalized two years ago but sat in limbo awaiting endorsement.
The delay has raised troubling questions about the EU’s ability to seal big trade agreements. Work on a similar pact with the U.S. dubbed TTIP has barely advanced this year and little progress is likely before a new U.S. president takes office in Januaryuary.
“There is no realism in concluding TTIP right now,“ EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said Sunday, noting the U.S. election campaign.
None of it bodes well for the trade talks that Britain will need to have with its 27 EU partners once it leaves the bloc.
West Virginia Ranks 37th on National Science Assessment
West Virginia students who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science exam in 2015 showed improvement according to data released today by the National Center for Educational Statistics. Both fourth- and eighth-grade students in West Virginia ranked 37th out of the 47 jurisdictions who participated.
Overall average scale scores increased for both fourth- and eighth-grade test takers, with fourth-grade scores increasing from 148 in 2009 to 151 in 2015 and eighth-grade scores increased from 145 in 2009 to 150 in 2015. The percent of students at or above proficient increased from 28.08% to 31.35% in grade four and 22.10% to 26.61% in grade eight. West Virginia’s scores followed the national trend which also showed improvement.
“I am pleased to see our students are moving in the right direction,” said State Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Michael Martirano. “In order to ensure our students are prepared for the 21st century world of work, we must focus on the development of critical thinking skills in the areas of math and science which the jobs of the future are going to require.”
NAEP, often referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card,” is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what students in the United States know and can do in various subject areas. The 2015 science assessment was given between January and March, with more than 115,000 fourth-graders and nearly 111,000 eighth-graders participating nationally, representing both public and private schools.
Nationally, nearly all racial/ethnic groups made gains, and the White-Black and White-Hispanic achievement gaps have narrowed in grades four and eight since 2009. Additionally, there was no statistically significant difference in average scores between boys and girls.
NAEP is a congressionally authorized project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Full results for the nation and states are available online at www.nationsreportcard.gov.
A VISION FOR THE FUTURE AT ROCK CREEK DEVELOPMENT PARK
A column by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin
For the past 30 years, I have looked at thousands of acres of flat land at the Hobet mine site in Boone and Lincoln counties and thought about the enormous possibilities those acres could bring about for West Virginia - if we ever had the opportunity. Today, opportunity is exactly what we have.
Since first announcing my vision for developing this site for economic growth nearly one year ago, this effort has simply been known as, “the Hobet project.“ This week, as we move even closer to this dream becoming a reality, we announced its new and official name: Rock Creek Development Park.
We also announced Rock Creek’s first tenant, the West Virginia National Guard. Beginning immediately, the Guard is expanding operations to the site. Through vehicle maintenance work and expanded training for Guard members, we’ll be bringing jobs and activity to Rock Creek. In addition, our state’s agriculture industry stands to see a boost, with a Guard project that includes apple trees and greenhouses - and has the long-term potential for production operations that employ West Virginians.
Through a truly successful public-private approach, we have worked with local landowners who are donating land that will result in more than 12,000 developable acres for Rock Creek. With the Guard activities located on property adjacent to plots of land identified for development, we have such immense opportunity at our fingertips - opportunity nearly the size of the city of Huntington - to build up a region of our state hit hard by the downturn in the coal industry.
To realize its full potential, and thanks to a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, we have contracted with expert consultants for a long-term strategic plan for Rock Creek. These consultants are analyzing demographics and market trends to identify the best investment opportunities for the park, while also mapping out plans for infrastructure and design.
With a new name, a first tenant and strategic planning underway, Rock Creek is poised to become a hub for industrial, commercial and residential development. I have been working closely with local officials in Boone, Lincoln, Mingo, Logan and Kanawha counties. We believe, together, in the future of Southern West Virginia. And we are committed to seeing Rock Creek succeed.
For decades, our coal miners, workers and their families have kept our state strong. Now, it’s our turn to help them.
How FBI Director Comey Ignored His Boss and Broke DOJ Rules to Announce Clinton Email Investigation
FBI director James Comey was told by top Justice Department officials not to make any public statement about renewing the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, because it violated DOJ policy on commenting on ongoing investigations, various national news outlets reported Saturday.
“Director Comey understood our position. He heard it from Justice leadership,” the Washington Post’s source said. “It was conveyed to the FBI, and Comey made an independent decision to alert the Hill. He is operating independently of the Justice Department. And he knows it.”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch told Comey not to break DOJ policy—laid out in federal prosecutor guidelines—of not commenting on open investigations or making any statement potentially influencing election outcomes, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported, also citing DOJ sources.
“Lynch expressed her preference that Comey follow the department’s longstanding practice of not commenting on ongoing investigations, and not taking any action that could influence the outcome of an election,“ Mayer wrote. “The F.B.I. director is an employee of the Justice Department, and is covered by its policies.“
Comey, a Republican appointed three years ago by President Obama, sent a letter Friday to Republican House Committee chairmen saying that a computer taken from disgraced former New York City Congressman Anthony Weiner, in an investigation into alleged sexual contact with a minor, contained emails between then-Secretary of State Clinton and Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, a longtime top Clinton aide who has since separated from Weiner.
The FBI director would not disclose what was in the Clinton-Abedin emails on the computer, prompting some observers to wonder if they were duplicates of the thousands that have been examined by the FBI to see if Clinton mishandled classified information as Secretary of State. In July, Comey said Clinton had been careless in using a private server, but there was no basis for recommending a prosecution. The finding enraged House Republicans and GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Comey sent a letter to the FBI explaining his actions on Friday, saying he felt compelled to add to the public record surrounding the email inquiry. He seems to think he is taking the high moral ground and not throwing the FBI into the middle of one of the most volatile presidential campaigns in memory with less than two weeks to go to Election Day.
“Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed,” Comey wrote. “I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record. At the same time, however, given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression. In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season,” he wrote, adding, “there is significant risk of being misunderstood.”
Clinton responded Friday by abruptly holding a press conference and demanding the FBI disclose what was in the emails. As she was doing that, an immediate chorus of criticism arose from former DOJ officials who are steeped in the department’s public disclosure policies.
The former director of the DOJ’s public affairs office, Matthew Miller, issued a stunning 12-part series of tweets that slammed Comey violating DOJ policy:
“I wrote a piece in July on why Comey’s public comments about Clinton were such an inappropriate abuse of power. He flagrantly violated DOJ rules with his press conference. Then went on to break new ground discussing details of the case to Congress… Followed by quickly releasing FBI 302’s, something they rarely do, and which I doubt they will do for future high-profile cases… Each time, he either violated or seriously stretched DOJ rule & precedent. Press conference was the original sin, & it begat the rest… But today’s disclosure might be worst abuse yet. DOJ goes out of its way to avoid publicly discussing investigations close to election… Not just public discussion either. Often won’t send subpoenas or take other steps that might leak until after an election is over… Why? Because voters have no way to interpret FBI/DOJ activity in a neutral way. Who is the target of an investigation? What conduct?… This might be totally benign & not even involve Clinton. But no way for press or voters to know that. Easy for opponent to make hay over… Which takes us back to the original rule: you don’t comment on ongoing investigations. Then multiply that times ten close to an election… For whatever reason (& there are many theories), Comey continues to ignore that. But only for Clinton… FBI is undoubtedly investigating links between the Russian hack, Manafort, & the Trump campaign. But aren’t commenting on it. Good! … They shouldn’t be commenting on investigations! But that should apply to all. Instead Clinton consistently treated differently/worse.“
The impact of Comey’s intentional interference in the presidential campaign is hard to gauge. Polling analyst Nate Silver, at fivethirtyeight.com, tweeted Comey’s statement—even before anyone knows whether there is anything substantially damaging or not—and was prompting “betting markets” to shave one percentage point off Clinton’s lead in the polls.
It is too soon to know the impact this may have—it could just prompt Democrats to work harder than ever to turn out their base after such an obvious act of political sabotage. But the impact may be felt more on U.S. Senate elections, where Democrats are in much closer races with Republicans, according to polls, and Clinton’s coattails were expected to help Democrats retake the Senate majority.
What will happen next in this developing story is anybody’s guess. There has never been a similar precedent in a modern presidential election when the FBI director, acting unilaterally, disobeys his boss—the U.S. Attorney General—and injects the agency and an unrelated investigation into smearing a presidential candidate on the eve of an election.
► State Reviewing Water Authority’s Purchasing Card Statements
State investigators are reviewing the West Virginia Water Development Authority’s use of a state-issued purchasing card as part of an investigation into spending practices at the authority.
The authority turned over its monthly purchasing card statements to the Legislature’s Commission on Special Investigations last week after investigators had requested them.
The state has also requested a receipt for a $300 purchase at Best Buy in 2012 and federal tax forms for three temporary workers.
Investigators are currently reviewing spending and hiring practices at the water authority, which issues bonds that fund water and sewer projects across the state.
The water authority has hired temporary workers and provided them with various perks including paid holidays and the use of state-owned vehicles.
► West Virginia AG told to release hospital merger documents
A judge has ordered West Virginia’s attorney general to release 89 documents about the merger of two hospitals in Huntington.
Media reports say Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office has four days to appeal the ruling that he release about one-quarter of the documents he has withheld from public view relating to his investigation into the hospital merger.
In his order Friday, Kanawha County Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman wrote the public has a right to know about the “hotly-contested merger” of Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center.
Morrisey has fought for more than a year to shield the documents from the public.
Kaufman’s ruling follows his behind-closed-doors review of 349 documents that Morrisey has refused to release.
► Vehicle Crash Ends After Police Pursuit in Upshur County
Three people were injured in a single vehicle crash in Upshur County early Saturday morning.
The crash happened just after 3:30 a.m., on Alexander Road in the Etna community.
Fire crews from Selbyville and Banks District Volunteer Fire Departments found a 2000 Volkswagen Jetta, which was being pursued by law enforcement, off the road and over an embankment. The vehicle also struck a tree.
Two were taken by ambulance to a hospital, and one was flown by helicopter to a trauma center.
The names of the occupants in the vehicle and their conditions haven’t been released at this time.
The crash is being investigated by the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department.
Another accuser says she decided to come forward because of Donald Trump’s remarks about woman—but she’s accusing Clarence Thomas, not Trump, of groping her. Alaska lawyer Moira Smith says she was a 23-year-old Truman Foundation scholar in Washington when the Supreme Court justice touched her inappropriately at a dinner party in 1999, the Washington Post reports. “I was setting the place to his right when he reached out, sort of cupped his hand around my butt and pulled me pretty close to him,“ Smith tells the National Law Journal. “He said, ‘Where are you sitting?‘ and gave me a squeeze. I said, ‘I’m sitting down at the garden table.‘ He said, ‘I think you should sit next to me,‘ giving me squeezes.“
Smith—whose former roommates tell the Journal they remember her talking about the incident—says she felt powerless to do anything at the time but is coming forward now because “sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault continue to be pervasive,“ the New York Times reports. Anita Hill’s accusation of sexual harassment almost cost Thomas his Supreme Court confirmation, which was 25 years ago this week, the Post notes. His supporters described Smith’s accusations as a politically motivated attack. Through a spokeswoman, Thomas told the Journal: “This claim is preposterous and it never happened.“
► Oregon Occupiers Found Not Guilty in 41-Day Standoff
The leaders of an armed group who seized a national wildlife refuge in rural Oregon were acquitted Thursday in their 41-day standoff, the AP reports. A jury found brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy not guilty of possessing a firearm in a federal facility and conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Five co-defendants were tried on one or both of the charges. The brothers are part of a Nevada ranching family embroiled in a lengthy fight over the use of public range, and their occupation drew an international spotlight to a uniquely American West dispute: federal restrictions on ranching, mining and logging to protect the environment.
At trial, the case was seemingly open-and-shut. There was no dispute the group seized the refuge, established armed patrols and vetted those who visited. On technical grounds, the defendants said they never discussed stopping individual workers from accessing their offices but merely wanted the land and the buildings. On emotional grounds, Ammon Bundy and other defendants argued that the takeover was an act of civil disobedience against an out-of-control federal government that has crippled the rural West. Federal prosecutors took two weeks to present their case, finishing with a display of more than 30 guns seized after the standoff. An FBI agent testified that 16,636 live rounds and nearly 1,700 spent casings were found.
► Police Fire Pepper Spray, Bean Bags at Pipeline Protesters
Officers in riot gear fired bean bags and pepper spray at protesters Thursday as they tried to clear them from a camp on private land in the path of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, the AP reports. A North Dakota State Emergency Services spokesperson said officers were responding to “aggressive” tactics by protesters, including some throwing rocks at officers and threatening them. More than 20 protesters were arrested, and at least one was injured. The confrontation marked a major escalation of a protest that has raged for months. Opponents of the pipeline moved in over the weekend to establish a camp on private land where the developer was working to complete the 1,200-mile pipeline. The route of the pipeline skirts the Standing Rock Reservation and the tribe says it could endanger water supplies and disturb cultural sites.
Police and soldiers driving trucks, military Humvees, and buses began the operation to clear the camp at midday and formed a horseshoe-like loop once they reached the camp, where about 200 protesters were awaiting them—some defiant and other praying. The operation to push out the protesters began a day after they had refused to leave voluntarily. Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said in a statement that the protesters’ actions “forced law enforcement to respond.“ But Robert Eder, a 64-year-old Vietnam War veteran from the Standing Rock Reservation, said protesters would return. “If they take everybody to jail, there will be twice as many tomorrow, and every day that passes more will come,“ he said.
► Jury hands ex-Penn State assistant $7M in defamation case
A jury awarded a former Penn State assistant football coach $7.3 million in damages Thursday, finding the university defamed him after it became public that his testimony helped prosecutors charge Jerry Sandusky with child molestation.
Jurors deliberated for about four hours in Mike McQueary’s defamation and misrepresentation lawsuit.
Judge Thomas Gavin still must decide McQueary’s whistleblower claim that he was treated unfairly as the school suspended him from coaching duties, placed him on paid administrative leave, barred him from team facilities and then did not renew his contract shortly after he testified at Sandusky’s 2012 trial.
McQueary remained stoic as the verdict was read, and he and his lawyers made no comment as they left the courthouse.
A Penn State spokesman said the university would not comment on the case and the jury’s verdict until a final decision is rendered on all counts.
McQueary had been seeking more than $4 million in lost wages and other damages, saying he was defamed by a statement the school president released the day Sandusky was charged, retaliated against for helping with the Sandusky investigation and misled by school administrators.
Jurors awarded him $1.15 million on the defamation claim and $1.15 million on the misrepresentation allegation that two administrators lied to him when they said they took his report of Sandusky seriously and would respond appropriately. They also awarded $5 million in punitive damages.
Sandusky, a former defensive coach at Penn State, was convicted of sexual abuse of 10 boys and is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence. He maintains his innocence.
Strokoff called McQueary’s treatment by the university outrageous.
“He should not have been the scapegoat,“ he said earlier during closing arguments.
Penn State attorney Nancy Conrad emphasized in her arguments that McQueary had said he was damaged by public criticism that he did not to go to police or child welfare authorities when he saw Sandusky sexually abusing a boy in a team shower in 2001. Instead he reported it the next day to then-head coach Joe Paterno.
“Mr. McQueary was not damaged by any action of the university,“ Conrad said. “Mr. McQueary, as he testified and as he recognized, if he was harmed, was harmed by national media and public opinion.“
McQueary testified he has not been able to find work, either in coaching or elsewhere, but Conrad blamed that on an inadequate network of contacts and the lack of a national reputation.
McQueary was not allowed to coach in the school’s first game after Paterno was fired, a home loss to Nebraska.
“That sends a very clear signal to those in your network that the university doesn’t want you to be supported,“ Strokoff said. “‘Stay away, you’re a nonperson.‘“
Penn State has argued it put McQueary on leave out of safety concerns, as threats were fielded by the university.
Strokoff said there was no evidence of multiple death threats against his client.
Conrad insisted the university did take steps to inform McQueary about the actions they were taking, which included telling Sandusky to stop bringing children into team facilities and meeting with Sandusky and an official from the children’s welfare charity he founded.
“No one told Mr. McQueary, ‘You cannot go to the police,‘“ Conrad said.
The defamation claim involved a statement issued by then-Penn State President Graham Spanier expressing support for the two administrators when they were charged with perjury for allegedly lying about what McQueary told them in the weeks after the 2001 incident.
A state appeals court earlier this year dismissed the perjury charges against the administrators, former Athletic Director Tim Curley and former Vice President Gary Schultz. But Curley, Schultz and Spanier still await trial in Harrisburg on charges of failure to properly report suspected child abuse and endangering the welfare of children.
Strokoff said Spanier’s statement could have led people to conclude McQueary was a liar.
► Woman Hits Police Car While Taking ‘Topless Selfie’
A Texas A&M student was arrested Wednesday after she allegedly crashed into a police car while taking a “topless selfie” for her boyfriend, KAGS reports. According to the Eagle, the cruiser was parked in the street with its emergency lights flashing when it was rear-ended by an SUV. Police say that as the officer approached the SUV, he saw 20-year-old freshman Miranda Rader trying to put her shirt back on while wearing an unhooked bra. She allegedly had an open bottle of wine in the center console. Police say Rader admitted she was taking a Snapchat photo for her boyfriend when she crashed into the cruiser. She was charged with DUI and ticketed for being a minor in possession.
► Bachelor Partiers Pick Up Girl (Dog) and Her Puppies
A group of men from Michigan has returned from a bachelor party in Tennessee with a stray dog and her litter of puppies in tow. Groom-to-be Mitchel Craddock and his friends were on a five-day trip at a cabin in the woods when a stray dog approached their front door, MLive reports. The dog they named Annie wolfed down food and water the men gave her. “We were cooking bacon with the door open. The next thing you know, there’s this dog sitting right at the front door. She wouldn’t come inside, but she sat right there,“ said Craddock. Eventually the men noticed that Annie was producing milk, Craddock said. They found her seven puppies in a den down the road from the cabin.
The puppies appeared to be 5- to 6-weeks old and were very healthy, Craddock said. “Once we got the puppies out of the hole, we knew we couldn’t just leave them, so we started figuring out where they would go,“ he said. Craddock, who already owned a chocolate Labrador retriever, said he didn’t intend to keep any of the puppies for his new household. However, his bride-to-be insisted they keep one. Each of the men took one of the puppies, whom they named Brimmie, Rosie, Daisy, Knox, Gunner, Bear, and Finn. Craddock’s grandparents took the mother as well as a puppy.
► Rapper Gets 6 Months for Kicking Female Fan at Concert
A Louisiana rapper was sentenced to six months in jail Wednesday for kicking a female fan during a concert last year in Florida, WFLA reports. A video of the incident went viral. Kevin Gates admitted he kicked the woman—19-year-old Miranda Dixon—but claimed she left him no choice. Gates, attempting to use the Stand Your Ground defense, said Dixon kept grabbing his legs while he was on stage and ignored him when he told her to stop. According to Complex, Gates said he needed to use “necessary force” to protect himself.
Dixon admitted to pulling on Gates’ pants because she was “trying to get his attention for my friend.“ Her friend told the court she wanted Gates to notice her “because he is a famous rapper.“ Dixon said she only grabbed Gates twice before he kicked her, Fox 13 reports. She testified that she blacked out after being kicked and that her stomach hurt for a month. But Gates’ attorney said Gates’ foot didn’t even make contact with Dixon, who he said is lying in order to get money in a separate civil suit. A jury—all white women, Complex notes—found Gates guilty of battery. Prosecutors were only asking for two months in jail, but the judge tripled Gates’ punishment.
► It’s Easier Than You Think to Accidentally Steal a Car
Accidents happen. Like, sometimes you steal a car without even meaning to. Surveillance video taken Tuesday night in Portland, Ore., shows a woman unlocking Erin Hatzi’s red Subaru in Hatzi’s driveway and driving off, the Guardian reports. Hatzi tells KGW it didn’t seem like a normal car theft as the thief sat in the car in the driveway for a few minutes before driving away. Regardless, Hatzi notified police and her insurance. On Wednesday, Hatzi’s Subaru was back in front of her house with a note and $30 cash inside. “I more than apologize for the shock and upset this must have caused you,“ reads the note, which Hatzi posted on Facebook. “So, so sorry for this mistake.“
The note-writer says she told her friend to pick up her car—also a red Subaru—Tuesday night. The next morning, the note-writer discovered her friend had chosen the wrong Subaru; hers was parked a block away from Hatzi’s home. The note-writer even left her name and phone number for Hatzi. The $30 was for gas. “It’s insane,” Hatzi tells KGW. “It’s like a bad sitcom that nobody would ever buy the story because it’s stupid and it makes no sense.“ Apparently, keys for older Subarus can be interchangeable, and that’s what allowed Hatzi’s car to have what she calls “a little adventure,“ the Oregonian reports.
► Artist Gets Strangers’ Secrets Inked, Takes Them to His Grave
Andrew Henderson knew he didn’t have long to live due to his lymphoblastic lymphoma, which doctors told him was incurable. And so he held a “living funeral” last weekend, per the CBC, and the “Taking It to the Grave” event was a testament to the “ebullient performance-art lover,“ as the Toronto Star puts it. What made the pre-death memorial service for the Manitoba native especially unique: Henderson listened to complete strangers spill their deepest secrets, then had those secrets tattooed onto his body in the form of specially designated symbols. Henderson died Wednesday at the age of 28, just a few days after he was inked up with everyone’s revelations. Per the Star, the show was to include a giant champagne bottle for Henderson to sit in, as well as a manicure bar and “cuddle spaces” so that visitors could “rest in peace.“
But the draw of the combination macabre/motivational happening was the ability to whisper one’s secrets to Henderson, who then had a Toronto tattoo artist translate those secrets to symbols on his skin. A friend says Henderson had been studying up on death rituals and says she was glad to be able to help him use his performance art to prepare for the end of his life. “I’ve never personally seen someone engage with their own mortality in this way,“ Henderson’s production manager adds. And all of those secrets (Henderson had planned to allow up to 100 of them on his body) now that he’s gone? “I’m going to die, and my body’s going to rot, and that’s where those secrets will lie,“ he told the Metro earlier this month.
► Duterte: God Threatened to Crash My Plane
When God calls, it’s probably wise to answer—and for Rodrigo Duterte, that means to stop swearing like a sailor. Per the BBC, the Philippines president says he was flying home to Davao from Japan when something happened to make him reconsider his infamous potty mouth. “I heard a voice telling me to stop swearing or the plane will crash in midair, and so I promised to stop,“ he told reporters at the airport, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports.
“I will bring this plane down now,“ he says the voice warned, per the Wall Street Journal, noting that he plans to keep his word, as “a promise to God is a promise to the Filipino people.“ He noted, however, there may be caveats to this vow when he’s talking about the US or the EU, in which his cussing would “depend on timing,“ the BBC notes. Per the Journal, he joked with the reporters that if they applauded “too much” about his decision, he might change his mind.
► UK Needs Re-Do of Brexit Vote: Tony Blair
Britons may have acted a little hastily in voting for the Brexit, says Tony Blair, and they should get another crack at it. “The bizarre thing about this referendum is that we took a decision but we still don’t know the precise terms,“ the former prime minister told BBC Radio: “If it becomes clear that this is either a deal that doesn’t make it worth our while leaving, or a deal that is so serious in its implications that people may decide they don’t want to go, there’s got to be some way, either through parliament, through an election, possibly through a referendum, in which people express their view.“ Fifty-two percent of voters supported the June vote to leave the European Union, Business Insider reports. Current British PM Teresa May has promised to initiate the formal process of withdrawal by March 2017.
► Syrian rebels launch Aleppo offensive to break siege
Syrian rebels launched a broad offensive for Aleppo Friday as the Russian, Syrian, and Iranian foreign ministers vowed to intensify their fight against terrorism in the country.
The battlefield allies met in Moscow as the Syrian government is looking to cement its authority over the divided northern city and the contested suburbs of the capital, Damascus.
Fighting for Aleppo appeared to have calmed by the afternoon after rebels assaulted the city’s government-controlled western side with three vehicle bombs and at least 150 rockets in the morning. The Syrian military said the rockets were Russian-made Grad missiles.
At least 15 civilians were killed in the volley, according to pro-government TV stations. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group also said that 15 civilians were killed, and over 100 injured.
A reporter inside the city for the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV channel had reported attacks on “all sides” of the city, “from the furthest points north to the furthest south.“
Sounds of heavy gunfire, mortar fire, and explosions were heard in the background of his broadcast, as dark smoke was seen rising above the city on the overcast morning. Presumed government or Russian jets were also heard flying overhead.
An afternoon broadcast from the city on Lebanon-based Al-Manar TV depicted a quieter scene, though sporadic gunfire and missile attacks were heard in the background.
Rebels said they seized a factory and pushed into government-held neighborhoods in southwestern Aleppo, but the Syrian military said through SANA that it had repelled the offensive from all fronts, with support from allied militias.
“The Syrian army and its allies are in control on the ground and armed groups were not able to change the map,“ the military statement said. “Fighting is still ongoing but the intensity has dropped.“
This is the second attempt by rebels to break the government’s siege of Aleppo’s opposition-held eastern districts, where the U.N. estimates 275,000 people are trapped. U.N. Special Envoy Staffan De Mistura has estimated 8,000 of them are rebel fighters, and no more than 900 of them affiliated with the al-Qaida-linked Fatah al-Sham Front.
The area has been subjected to a ferocious campaign of aerial attacks by Russian and Syrian government warplanes, and hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks, according to opposition activists and trapped residents.
Rebels opened a corridor to the east for the month of August after pro-government forces first applied a blockade in July, but they were not able to hold it as the government and its Russian ally pounded the gap with artillery and airstrikes. Pro-government forces reapplied the siege in early September.
The setback caused the rebels to pursue a different tack, and they are trying to draw government forces into street fighting in the densely-inhabited western part of the city, according to rebel spokesman Ammar Sakkar. They are hoping this will dissuade the government and Russian air force from using heavy weapons and aerial munitions.
“We want to force the regime into street battles, in addition to opening several fronts,“ said Fastaqim spokesman Ammar Sakkar. “It may go beyond lifting the siege to liberating the whole city.“
Friday’s attack began with rebels detonating three vehicle-borne explosives against government positions to the city’s southwest and attacking with hundreds of rockets, the Observatory said. It said at least one of the vehicles was driven by a suicide bomber for Fatah al-Sham, which also announced the offensive.
Fatah al-Sham claimed credit for two car bombs, saying in a statement that a “martyrdom-seeking fighter” drove a tank laden with explosives and parked it, before it was detonated and the fighter “returned to his brothers.“
The Islamic Front rebel coalition also announced on Twitter that the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham group targeted a military airport to the east of the city with Grad rockets and destroyed a government position to the west of the city.
Sakkar, said “all the revolutionary factions, without exception, are participating in the battle.“ He said hundreds of fighters were participating in the attack, adding that the total number of participants was “much higher.“
“What the rebels did today, it was very much a technical thing to try to tell the regime ... we can get more weapons and get to Aleppo,“ said Bassam Barabandi, political adviser to the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee, in an interview in Washington.
The Syrian army depends on battlefield assistance from Lebanese and Iraqi militias, as well as Russian air power and Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard forces.
The Russian military says it has asked President Vladimir Putin to allow the resumption of airstrikes in Syria on the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo due to the fresh rebel offensive there.
Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi said the opposition fighters took advantage of a 10-day moratorium on military flights over the city to attempt to break the siege of the eastern rebel-held part of the city. He says all attacks have been repelled, but 43 civilians have been killed and 96 wounded in the rebel shelling.
Putin rejected the military’s request for the resumption of airstrikes on the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo. The president’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Putin considers it “inadvisable to resume airstrikes on Aleppo,“ and wants to have humanitarian corridors out of Aleppo’s rebel-held districts stay open both for rebels and civilians to leave the city.
The Syrian government has labeled the country’s armed opposition “terrorists.“ Syria has sunk ever deeper into a costly civil war since security forces cracked down brutally on popular demonstrations in 2011.
Near the capital Damascus, meanwhile, the Syrian army captured an army missile base that was held by rebels, as well as a castle. Syrian troops have been on the offensive near Damascus for weeks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a news conference with his Syrian and Iranian counterparts the intensified fight would come in parallel with efforts to improve humanitarian aid access.
But U.N. official Jan Egeland said Thursday it was the Syrian government that had denied humanitarian access to eastern Aleppo as part of a monthly U.N. plan to access 25 besieged and remote areas in Syria.
Western nations accuse Russia of deliberately attacking a U.N.-backed aid convoy in September in rebel-held territory, killing over a dozen humanitarian workers and destroying hundreds of tons of cargo.
Aleppo is the focal point of the war. President Bashar Assad has said he is determined to retake the country’s largest city and former commercial capital.
► Migrants board last buses from destroyed French camp
More than 100 migrants stranded in northern France after the evacuation of a notorious makeshift camp were transferred on Friday to reception centers around the country.
The director of the Pas-de-Calais region’s program for young migrants said many of the people sent off on three buses had arrived at the now-torched camp known as “the jungle” only this week.
However, some children and teenagers who had resided at the makeshift camp before the mass evacuation that started Monday also were thought to be among the group.
A bus to the southern city of Toulouse left the port city of Calais with 48 adults, while two others carrying 70 minors headed to Rouen and another point in Brittany, in western France.
Migrants from troubled corners of the world have long used Calais as a stepping stone to Britain, hopping trucks headed across the English Channel. But their numbers swelled 18 months ago as more people fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East made their way here.
Efforts to remove them from Calais ended with the decision to close the unofficial camp, which held about 10,000 people and this summer and more than 6,000 at the beginning of the week.
“The message that we are trying to transmit is that it’s really not worth coming to Calais,“ Serge Szarzynski, the social cohesion director for Pas-de-Calais. “The passage to England in any case is very difficult for the migrants, very dangerous.“
“There is an idea that is going around that people are better taken care of in Calais concerning asylum requests. This is false,“ Szarzynski added.
Huge fires set by some departing migrants that engulfed large sectors of the camp brought the operation to an early halt on its third day Wednesday.
In the chaos and confusion, some migrants were left behind or refused to board the hundreds of buses that were arranged to take people to reception centers where they could apply for asylum.
Heated containers inside the camp housing 1,500 unaccompanied minors were filled up by Wednesday night.
However, state officials sent out several buses Thursday and the three more on Friday to pick up migrants who had spent one night sleeping rough and then Thursday night inside a small school in the camp.
Authorities are razing the sprawling camp, and bulldozers dismantled the school on Friday.
“We Love You” read a banner atop the makeshift school, before it tumbled into ruins.
As migrants left Calais, they continued arriving in Paris, as they have done since last year.
Prefect Jean-Francois Carenco tamped down reports that many of the estimated 2,000 people currently camped in northern Paris had arrived from Calais. Border police have registered no movement from the north to the French capital, a statement said.
Since June 2015, Paris’ Ile de France region has provided shelter for 19,083 migrants, it said.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the latest group would be given shelter in the coming days.