In West Virginia….

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►  Alan Larrick appointed West Virginia lottery director

Justice announced in a news release Sunday that he has appointed Alan Larrick as director of the West Virginia Lottery.

Larrick has been an attorney in Beckley for 38 years. He has a law degree from West Virginia University.

►  Man’s body pulled from Kanawha River at Point Pleasant

A fire official in Point Pleasant says a body has been pulled from the Kanawha River.

Fire Chief Jeremy Bryant tells media outlets the man’s body was discovered in the river at Point Pleasant on Saturday night.

The identity of the victim wasn’t immediately released.

West Virginia state police are investigating.

►  Man drowns in hotel pool in West Virginia

Charleston police say a man has drowned in a hotel swimming pool.

Media outlets report police and fire crews responded to a call at the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Charleston on Friday night.

Lt. Steve Cooper says the victim’s name wasn’t immediately released. The man was from Colorado.

Cooper says foul play isn’t suspected. The drowning remains under investigation.

►  Weston business owners concerned about potential 1 percent sales tax

Several Weston business owners are worried about the possible implementation of a 1 percent city sales tax and what impact it would have.

Rebecca Jordan-Gleason, operations manager at Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, does not live in city limits, but believes the tax would affect day-to-day operations at TALA.

“We do a lot of our purchasing within the city limits, and of course we attract a lot of customers who will also be paying this 1 percent,” Jordan-Gleason said.

She said she’s worried that an added tax would drive up prices.

“Everything that we buy that’s out there, that we use to actually put together our facility every year, is going to be taxed an additional 1 percent,” she said. “Then when our people come, they give 1 percent as well. It seems to me it’s double dipping.”

With the challenges that many small businesses already face, Jordan-Gleason said “no one can afford all the rising prices that are here now.”

“In the meeting, we discussed insurances going up, having other sales tax, employees’ fees. And with everything that is on top of us right now, this 1 percent could break a lot of small businesses in our small town,” Jordan-Gleason said.

The ordinance was proposed to help the city fund capital improvement projects, street pavings, city parks and beautification. Though Jordan-Gleason is against the 1 percent sales tax, she does believe those are projects that need to happen.

“The items that they were looking at accomplishing are absolutely necessary,” she said. “I just don’t think on a town that’s getting smaller every year, imposing another tax and charging more money to the town is going to do that. We need to look at other options, and we looked at several different ways that other area committees and county commission folk can actually help us help ourselves.”

Ted Garrett, owner of Swisher Feed, raised concerns about having a price disadvantage with competitors because of the proposed fee.

Larry Bennett, owner of Bennett Supply and Furniture Center, said he’s worried about not being able to sell real estate he owns in the city because potential new businesses wouldn’t want to be subjected to the sales tax.

Enzo Cardelli, owner of Roshell’s Antiques & Collectibles, said Weston’s businesses already have a tough time competing with those outside the city.

“I try to do the best that I can, but people are looking to save more and more,” Cardelli said. “People want to go to the mall to save 25 cents, and they don’t want to pay the local people.”

After council voted to table the first reading of the ordinance at a special meeting Thursday, business owners expressed relief.

“The councilmen voted for what the people in their actual areas are wanting and needing, which is fantastic,” Jordan-Gleason said. “That’s what they’re there for, and I really appreciate that they’re doing their jobs. Hopefully, without that first reading, we can have a meeting on February 6 and get it all out in the open.”    ~~  Brittany Murray ~~

►  Vigil held for victims of Mineral Wells double shooting

A vigil was held Saturday evening to remember the two victims of a fatal shooting in Mineral Wells.

Brandy and Shawn Hardman were killed after they responded to the Mineral Wells home of a friend who was involved in a domestic dispute with her estranged husband last Tuesday. They now leave behind 3 children.

Shelly Anne Simmons, Shawn’s cousin, helped organize the vigil.

“I thought the kids needed something more than just a funeral service,“ she said.

The cold rain did not stop dozens of people from heading out to City Park to pay their respects. Tears were shed, hugs exchanged, and gratitude was expressed.

“I think they’ll be remembered for their loving, caring ways and for being the best parents that they could be because they were very good parents to those children,“ Simmons said.

As the community continues to mourn, many are thinking of the 3 children who are now without parents.

“"I wanted to make sure they knew that the community supported them and everybody loves them,“ Simmons said.

Did You Know?

The Free Press WV

Nintendo is due to release a new console on March 03 in North America

It’s called the Nintendo Switch and it’ll be priced at $299.

Amazon is planning to create 100,000 jobs in the U.S. over the next 18 months

Most of them are likely to be highly skilled tech positions, based on Amazon’s total number of job listings, analyzed by Baird Equity Research’s Colin Sebastian.

Apple is preparing for a major push into original video content

The move could set it on a collision course with the likes of Netflix and Amazon.

New Tesla owners will now pay a “small fee” for Supercharger access

Tesla’s Supercharger network provides high-speed charging that restores 170 miles of range in 30 minutes.

Two of Skype’s cofounders raised $17.2 million for their robot delivery business

The company is called Starship Technologies.

Facebook filed a patent application for self-balancing robots

The robots, which are just an idea at this stage, would use a third wheel to help them stay upright.

Nintendo is planning to start charging people to play games online

Rivals like Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation already charge.

Snapchat is making its app less confusing as it prepares to IPO

Many adults have struggled to get to grips with how the photo and video sharing app works.

Consumer Reports just changed its mind and now recommends the new MacBook Pro

The review site previously said the previously said the laptop had an inconsistent battery life but it says this has now been fixed.

Samsung’s leader was grilled by investigators for over 22 hours in the South Korean corruption scandal

The scandal could topple South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

In USA….

The Free Press WV

►  These Are the Year’s 5 Most Stressful Jobs

Looking for a low-stress job? We don’t recommend any of the 10 careers ranked by as the most stressful of the year. The website looks at factors including work environment, travel required, physical demands, risk, and even how often a person must be in the public eye to come up with its list. The top five most stressful:

  1. Enlisted Military Personnel
  2. Firefighter
  3. Airline Pilot
  4. Police Officer
  5. Event Coordinator

Click for the complete list, including the median income and “stress score” for each job.

►  ‘Great Port-a-Potty Cover-Up’ at Trump Inauguration

It’s the great port-a-potty cover-up for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration. Workers preparing for the inauguration January 20 have taped over the name of the company—“Don’s Johns”—that has long supplied portable restrooms for major outdoor events in the nation’s capital. Virginia-based Don’s Johns calls itself the Washington area’s top provider of portable toilet rentals. But the name apparently strikes too close to home for inaugural organizers. Workers have placed blue tape over the company name on dozens of portable restrooms installed near the Capitol for the inauguration, the AP reports.

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The company’s name is clearly visible upon close inspection, but is blocked for a wide-angle view by a TV or still camera. The inauguration will take place on the west side of the Capitol facing the National Mall. Portable toilets set up on the east side, near Senate office buildings, do not have taped-over logos. Don’s Johns says on its website that it has provided portable toilets for many large events in Washington, including the 2009 inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama. The company’s logos were visible during that event. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies and the Presidential Inaugural Committee had no immediate comment Friday.

►  New U.S. Coin Features a Big First

The Free Press WV

The US Mint has unveiled a commemorative $100 gold coin that features an image of Liberty as a black woman, the AP reports. The 2017 American Liberty 225th Anniversary Gold Coin shows the woman’s head in profile with a crown of stars. It features the year of the mint’s founding, 1792, as well as 2017. The mint says the other side of the coin will depict an eagle in flight. The coin will be released on April 6. The mint says it’s the first in a series of 24-karat gold that will also depict Liberty in designs representing Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Indian-Americans. The mint says the goal of the coins is to reflect the “the cultural and ethnic diversity of the United States.“ Reuters notes it’s the first time a US coin has featured Lady Liberty depicted as a black woman.

►  The Weird Story of a Cup That Led Cops to Robbery Suspect

A paper coffee cup that should have been in a home’s recycling bin was instead in its trash basket—and that seemingly minor point ended up unraveling a bank robbery case in Woodstock, Vt. Valley News has the complicated story, which began on January 4, 2016, when a man handed a bank teller at People’s United a threatening note and left with around $3,000 in cash. An hour and a half later, Gail Dougherty, who lives near the bank, found the aforementioned coffee cup. Before moving it to its appropriate place in the recycling bin, she removed the lid to check if there was liquid in the cup—and found a piece of paper reading, “THIS IS A ROBBERY GIVE ME THE MONEY QUIETLY AND NO ONE WILL GET HURT.“ She called police and told them that she hadn’t been home at the time of the robbery, but her house was being cleaned at the time.

When Dougherty got back home from talking to police, she found black gloves and a ski mask sitting out on a table—clothing that did belong to the family, but that neither she nor her husband had taken out. Police said it was similar to clothing worn by the bank robber. The same day, she also discovered that money and jewelry were missing from the home. She told police she suspected the cleaning lady, 43-year-old Heather Wheeler, who had been cleaning her home for about 16 years, and Wheeler’s boyfriend, “Adam,“ who often came along with Wheeler to cleanings. Now 28-year-old Adam Kniffin has been arrested on charges related to the bank robbery and the thefts from Dougherty’s home. Woodstock police say Kniffin or an accomplice apparently wrote and then discarded a “practice note,“ which Dougherty found. Police may still seek charges against Wheeler.

►  Newborn Taken From Mother in 1998 Found Alive in SC

An incredible story out of Florida—and, now, South Carolina. Kamiyah Mobley, taken from her mother’s Jacksonville hospital room when she was just 8 hours old in 1998, has been found alive and healthy in Walterboro, SC. The Times-Union reports her current identity is being withheld, but it’s been revealed she was living with Gloria Williams, 51, who has been charged with kidnapping and interference with custody. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office tweets that a recent tip from @MissingKids got the ball rolling again. They found a woman with the same birth date in Walterboro, and DNA tests clinched it. “We believe the victim may have known she was a kidnapping victim,“ the JSO tweeted, though News4Jax reports Kamiyah grew up believing Williams to be her birth mother.

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The case garnered 2,500 tips over the years, was featured on America’s Most Wanted, and had a $250,000 reward attached to it. But there were challenges from the start: No picture had yet been taken of the newborn, so the best police had to go on was a composite sketch. On July 10, 1998, a woman believed by the family to be a nurse told Shanara Mobley that her newborn needed to be checked for a fever and removed the child from the room. Surveillance video proved to be too grainy to lead to a clear identification of the suspect. Times-Union reporter Tessa Duvall tweets that Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams says he does not believe Williams was on the initial suspects list. First Coast News reports Shanara Mobley sued what was then University Medical Center and got a $1.5 million settlement.

►  DOJ: Chicago PD Rife With Racial Bias, Excessive Force

What USA Today describes as a “scathing report” about Chicago police was released Friday by the Justice Department, with findings of rampant racial bias (including a finding of “reasonable cause” that excessive force was used against minorities), shoddy training, and the mishandling of cops accused of misconduct, per the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the “lawful, responsive, and transparent” policing every American is entitled to was sorely lacking in Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel used the word “sobering” to describe the report’s findings, which coincided with an agreement from the DOJ and city of Chicago to get policing back on the right track. The investigation into the city’s police force began in December 2015, after 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was gunned down by a white cop.

Among the findings in the 164-page report were instances of cops shooting at individuals who weren’t deemed threatening and using stun guns when people simply didn’t follow verbal instructions. The city’s police academy also came under fire for graduating candidates who mostly didn’t seem to know how “to properly [articulate] the legal standard for use of force.“ The report also comes under the shadow of an incoming attorney general (Jeff Sessions, if he’s confirmed) who isn’t a fan of the type of consent decree the city is working on with the DOJ to ensure reforms are carried out. The report says the Chicago PD now has an important task to carry out: Prove to violence-ridden communities “that their police force cares about them and has not abandoned them, regardless of where they live or the color of their skin.“

►  ‘Pillowcase Rapist’ Locked Back Up Over ‘Distorted Thinking’

A notorious California serial rapist who muffled victims’ screams with a pillowcase had his freedom revoked after his therapists said they were concerned about his fantasies and didn’t think he had come to terms with his “distorted thinking,“ the AP reports. Christopher Hubbart, who was dubbed the “Pillowcase Rapist” for sexually assaulting dozens of women between 1971 and 1982, was recommitted to Coalinga State Hospital for at least a year, Los Angeles prosecutors said Friday. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Richard Loftus Jr. sided in his opinion Thursday with treatment supervisors who said it was not safe for Hubbart to be free and that he needed more inpatient therapy after violating terms of his release by failing five lie detector tests about his “thoughts and fantasies.“

Treatment supervisor Alan Stillman felt Hubbart was being deceptive with therapists and the polygraph examiner, including one effort to thwart an accurate exam with heavy breathing and other measures, the judge said. “Ultimately, (Stillman) concluded (Hubbart) was ‘not coming to grips with his distorted thinking,‘“ Loftus wrote after a two-day hearing this week. Hubbart, 65, who has acknowledged raping at least 40 women, has been in and out of prisons and state psychiatric hospitals since his first rape conviction in 1972. Hubbart’s lockup follows years of uproar and legal wrangling over a judge’s order in 2013 to release him from the state psychiatric hospital where he had been committed in 2000 as a sexually dangerous person after serving his prison sentence. Since July 2014 he had been living in Lake Los Angeles, an unincorporated area in the high desert of the Antelope Valley, about 40 miles north of downtown LA.

►  Protesters Shut Down Milo, Shkreli Speeches

Speeches by far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos and former pharma exec Martin Shkreli were canceled Friday night after heated protestsat the University of California, Davis. Police put up barricades as protesters shouting “shut it down” grew increasingly rowdy in the hours leading up to the talks. The UC Davis College Republicans, who sponsored the event, chose to cancel about a half-hour before the event began, the AP reports. Yiannopoulos, who writes for Breitbart News and is permanently banned from Twitter after leading a harassment campaign against Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones, said the event was canceled after “violence from left-wing protesters.“ But campus police said there was no violence or property destruction, and no arrests were made.

UC Davis Interim Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter, who had staunchly defended allowing the event, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the protests and cancellation. “Our community is founded on principles of respect for all views, even those that we personally find repellent,“ Hexter said after the cancellation. “A university is at its best when it listens to and critically engages opposing views, especially ones that many of us find upsetting or even offensive. Yiannopoulos has been on a college speaking tour and has drawn similar reaction at other universities. Shkreli, who stepped down as the head of Turing Pharmaceuticals last year after he was charged with securities fraud, was recently suspended from Twitter for harassing a journalist.

►  Commander Ordered to Step Down Mid-Inauguration

Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz says he wouldn’t leave a mission in the middle of a battle, so he doesn’t understand why he is being asked to step down in the middle of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Schwartz, head of the DC National Guard, has been ordered to step down 12:01pm on January 20, the minute Trump is sworn in, despite the fact that he will be in the middle of commanding thousands of troops from DC and around the country at the time, the Army Times reports. Schwartz, as a presidential appointee, submitted the customary letter of resignation, and military sources tell the Washington Post that the Trump team decided to accept it despite the timing. A transition source, however, says Trump’s team wanted continuity and it was the Army that wanted to replace Schwartz mid-ceremony.

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Schwartz, who was appointed by George W. Bush in 2008, tells the Post that the order to step down came from the Pentagon and he finds the “timing extremely unusual.“ “My troops will be on the street,“ he says. “I’ll see them off, but I won’t be able to welcome them back to the armory.“ The 65-year-old began his military career in the DC National Guard more than 40 years ago, and he says he plans to work up until the final minute and then retire from the Army. “I’m a soldier,“ Schwartz says. “I’m a presidential appointee. Therefore, the president has the power to remove me.“

►  Wisconsin Charges Man With Murder of Saudi Student

After more than two months, a man has been charged in a killing that shook the University of Wisconsin-Stout community. Cullen Osborn, a 27-year-old from Minneapolis, has been charged with felony murder and battery in the beating death of Saudi student Hussain Saeed Alnahdi, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reports. The 24-year-old Alnahdi died October 31, the day after police found him unconscious and bleeding outside a pizza restaurant in Menomonie around 2am. Witnesses said he had been beaten during an altercation with a tall white man. The death led to increased police patrols amid fears it could have been a hate crime.

Police, however, said during the investigation that they do not believe this was a hate crime, and a criminal complaint unveiled late Thursday states that Osburn insisted the incident had nothing to do with anybody’s race, NBC reports. Witnesses gave police varying accounts of the confrontation between the men, though more than one said that Osborn was behaving aggressively and appeared to have started an argument with Alnahdi. “I hope this arrest brings some measure of peace and comfort to Hussain’s family in Saudi Arabia,“ UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer said in a statement Friday. After Alnahdi’s death, the community offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to his assailant.

In The World….

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►  Facebook introduces measures to tackle fake news in Germany

Facebook says it’s introducing measures to tackle the spread of fake news in Germany, months before the country holds a national election.

The social network said Sunday the investigative media group Correctiv will be its first outside fact-checker in Germany and it’s working to bring aboard other media organizations. It said updates to make it easier to report fake news will be introduced shortly in Germany.

Facebook last month launched plans to focus on the “worst of the worst” offenders and partner with outside fact-checkers and news organizations, including The Associated Press, to sort out true news reports from made-up stories.

Germany is expected to hold a national election in September.

Facebook has also faced criticism in Germany for what critics call an insufficient response to hate speech.

►  Pope meets Palestinian leader; Vatican calls Jerusalem holy

The Vatican stressed the sacred nature of Jerusalem on Saturday as the Palestinian leader warned that prospects for peace could suffer if the incoming Trump administration goes ahead with plans to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The developments came as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Pope Francis and inaugurated the Palestinian embassy to the Holy See.

Abbas said he had only heard through news reports of the proposal by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to move the embassy to Jerusalem.

The Palestinians strongly oppose the embassy move, saying it would kill any hopes for negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and rile the region by undercutting Muslim and Christian claims to the holy city.

“We hope that this news is not true, because it is not encouraging and will disrupt and hinder the peace process,” he said. He urged Trump to open a dialogue with both Israelis and Palestinians.

Trump hasn’t yet laid out a clear Mideast policy, but has signaled he will be more sympathetic to Israel’s hard-line right than previous administrations.

In Paris on Sunday, the French government is hosting a Mideast peace conference attended by dozens of foreign ministers to show Trump’s administration that most of the world wants a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians and is fed up with decades of conflict.

The Vatican has long sought an internationally guaranteed status for Jerusalem that safeguards its sacred character. In its communique after the Abbas meeting, the Holy See didn’t refer to Jerusalem by name but said during the talks “emphasis was placed on the importance of safeguarding the sanctity of the holy places for believers of all three of the Abrahamic religions.”

During the meeting, Abbas presented Francis with gifts recalling Christianity’s birthplace in the Holy Land, including a stone from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and documentation about the ongoing restoration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

After the papal meeting, Abbas formally inaugurated the new Palestinian embassy across the street from one of the main gates of Vatican City. He pulled back a curtain revealing a plaque and extended the Palestinian flag from a flagpole outside a window.

The embassy, located in the same building as the embassies of Peru, Ecuador and Burkina Faso, comes after recent accords in which the Vatican formally recognized the “State of Palestine.”

“This embassy is a place of pride for us and we hope all of the countries of the world will recognize the state of Palestine, because this recognition will bring us closer to the peace process,” he said.

Abbas had initially accepted an invitation to be in Paris on Sunday, but French officials say that visit has been postponed.

►  Cuba sees explosion in internet access as ties with U.S. grow

Two days before Christmas, Luis Gonzalez received a little Chinese modem from Cuba’s state-owned telecommunications company.

The 55-year-old theater producer connected the device to his phone and his laptop computer, which instantly lit up with a service unimaginable in the Cuba of just a few years ago – relatively fast home internet.

“It’s really easy to sit and find whatever you need,“ Gonzalez said as he sat in his living room updating his Facebook account, listening to Uruguayan radio online and checking an arriving tourist’s landing time for a neighbor who rents rooms in their building in historic Old Havana. “Most Cubans aren’t used to this convenience.“

Home internet came to Cuba last month in a limited pilot program that’s part of the most dramatic change in daily life here since the declaration of detente with the United States on December 17, 2014.

While Cuba remains one of the world’s least internet-connected societies, ordinary citizens’ access to the internet has exploded over the last two years. Since the summer of 2015, the Cuban government has opened 240 public Wi-Fi spots in parks and on street corners across the country. Cubans were previously restricted to decrepit state internet clubs and hotels that charged $6-$8 for an hour of slow internet.

In a country with an average monthly salary of around $25, the price of an hour online has dropped to $1.50, still steep but now well within the range of many Cubans with private income or financial help from relatives abroad.

The government estimates that 100,000 Cubans connect to the internet daily. A new feature of urban life in Cuba is the sight of people sitting at all hours on street corners or park benches, their faces illuminated by the screen of smartphones connected by applications such as Facebook Messenger to relatives in Miami, Ecuador or other outposts of the Cuban diaspora. Connections are made mostly through access cards sold by the state monopoly and often resold on street corners for higher prices.

The spread of connectivity has remotely reunited families separated for years, even decades. It’s fueled the spread of Airbnb and other booking services that have funneled millions in business to private bed-and-breakfasts owners. And it’s exposed Cubans to a faster flow of news and cultural developments from the outside world – supplementing the widespread availability of media spread on memory drivers.

Cuban ingenuity has spread internet far beyond those public places: thousands of people grab the public signals through commercially available repeaters, imported illegally into Cuba and often sold for about $100 – double the original price. Mounted on rooftops, the repeaters grab the public signals and create a form of home internet increasingly available in private rentals for tourists and cafes and restaurants for Cubans and visitors alike.

On the official front, Google and Cuba’s state-run telecoms monopoly Etecsa struck a deal last month to store Google content like YouTube video on servers inside Cuba, giving people on the island faster, smoother access.

While the explosion of internet in Cuba has taken place alongside the process of normalization started by Obama in 2014, it’s unclear how much better relations have speeded up Cuba’s move online.

Obama said in announcing detente that he welcomed “Cuba’s decision to provide more access to the Internet for its citizens,“ but neither Obama’s team nor Cuban officials have detailed whether that decision was directly linked to negotiations to restore diplomatic ties and began negotiations.

What is clear is that Cuba began to dramatically increase access about six months later when the government began opening Wi-Fi spots around the country. For many Cubans, the start of home internet in December is potentially even more significant, breaking a longstanding barrier against private internet access in a country whose communist government remains deeply wary about information technology undermining its near-total control of media, political life and most of the economy.

The pace of change in Cuba often depends on the state of relations with its giant neighbor to the north: both tensions with the United States and leaps forward like Obama’s visit to Havana last year have prompted crackdowns by hardliners worried about the government losing control. While President-elect Donald Trump’s administration has promised to take a harder line on Cuba, both opponents of President Raul Castro’s government and those advocating closer relations favor more access to information for ordinary Cubans.

The home internet test program selected some 2,000 residents of Old Havana to receive free connections for two months before a planned expansion and the start of billing for the service. Gonzalez said he would be able to receive 30 hours of his 128 kilobyte-per-second connection for $15, with the price increasing for faster connections, with 30 hours of a 2 megabyte-per-second connection available for $115.

That’s far slower and wildly more expensive than internet in most of the rest of the world. In the Dominican Republic, for example, a full month of relatively slow 2 megabyte-per-second internet, a speed most people would consider reasonable for applications such as streaming video, costs a little more than $20.

Cuba depended on slow, expensive satellite internet until 2013, when it opened a fiber-optic cable to Venezuela that connected the island to the global online infrastructure.

Cuba says that its still-high internet prices are a result of costs imposed by the U.S. trade embargo on the island. Independent observers blame the costs on political decisions to limit access, and on the cash-strapped socialist government’s widespread use of its monopoly power to extract as much money as possible for goods and services considered luxuries. Many young people hope that the spread of access in recent years is the start of Cuba seeing internet more as a necessity and a right, like the free education and health care guaranteed by Cuba’s socialist system.

“In my dreams, I’d like for the internet to be seen like arts and culture, and, as such, to be free for the whole population, just like access to education has been for the last 50 years,“ said David Vasquez, the 27-year-old director of the online magazine Cachivache Media. “It’s very hard to know what the future will bring.“

►  ‘We waited for decades’: Polish govt welcomes U.S. troops

Polish leaders welcomed U.S. troops to their country Saturday, with the defense minister expressing gratitude for their arrival and calling it the fulfillment of a dream Poles have had for decades.

The ceremony in the western Polish town of Zagan comes some 23 years after the last Soviet troops left Poland. It marks a new historic moment – the first time Western forces are being deployed on a continuous basis to NATO’s eastern flank. The move has infuriated Moscow.

“We have waited for you for a very long time,“ Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz told the troops as snow fell. “We waited for decades, sometimes feeling we had been left alone, sometimes almost losing hope, sometimes feeling that we were the only one who protected civilization from aggression that came from the east.“

The American deployment includes an armored brigade of 3,500 American troops from Fort Carson, Colorado. It comes in reactions to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and its backing of separatist insurgents in Ukraine’s east.

Those actions have frightened many in Poland, the Baltic states and other countries in Eastern Europe that were once under Moscow’s control.

The Polish government organized several other events across the country, including in downtown Warsaw, to welcome the Americans.

“This is an important day for Poland, for Europe, for our common defense,“ Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said.

The troops are due to fan out across seven countries from Estonia to Bulgaria for exercises. A headquarters unit will be stationed in Germany. After nine months they will be replaced by another unit.

NATO will also deploy four multinational battalions to its eastern flank later this year, one each to Poland and the three Baltic states. The U.S. will also lead one of those battalions.

The Kremlin has denounced all these deployments, saying it considers them a threat to its own security and interests.

►  IS launches new assault on besieged eastern city in Syria

Islamic State militants launched their biggest assault in a year on government-held areas of the contested city of Deir el-Zour Saturday, attacking from several fronts and triggering intense fighting in the eastern region bordering Iraq, the Syrian government and opposition activists said.

Syrian state TV said three people were killed and nine were wounded in IS rocket attacks on several neighborhoods of the city.

Intense fighting broke out between Syrian troops and the extremist group’s fighters both inside the city and around the vicinity of a nearby military airport controlled by government forces. The militants had launched their multi-pronged attack starting from the area of Baghaliyeh near the northwestern tip of the city. Deir el-Zour carries strategic significance for IS as it links the group’s Iraq territory to its de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria.

Loud explosions that shook the city were reported. Activists said Syrian warplanes were taking part in the battles.

The Deir Ezzor 24 news network reported ongoing clashes since the morning near Deir el-Zour military airport and other fronts in the city and said Syrian warplanes targeted Baghaliyeh and Ayash areas and the vicinity of an army base known as Brigade 137 west of the city.

The extremist group, which controls most of Deir el-Zour province, has kept the provincial capital under siege since 2014. Government forces have withstood the encirclement thanks to air-dropped humanitarian assistance and weapons and ammunition flown into the airport. Remaining residents have reported malnourishment and starvation amid severe shortages of food, water and fuel.

IS has tried to capture the government-held neighborhoods of Deir el-Zour and the city’s suburbs over the past months without much success.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday’s offensive was the most intense since mid-January 2016, when the group killed dozens of people, most of them pro-government militiamen, in wide-scale attacks on the city that saw the group make significant advances. Most of those casualties took place in Baghaliyeh and the killings – many people were shot dead or beheaded – were some of the worst carried out by the extremist group.

The Observatory said the group has recently brought in reinforcements, including large amounts of ammunition and fuel, in preparation for the battle. It said at least 32 people were killed in Saturday’s fighting, including 12 soldiers and allied militiamen and 20 IS fighters.

The Islamic State group, which in 2014 seized large parts of Iraq and Syria and established a so-called Islamic “caliphate” straddling both sides of the border, is under intense pressure in both countries where it has lost significant territory in recent months.

Meanwhile in northern Syria, opposition activists reported a series of government airstrikes on Idlib province over the past 24 hours, including an attack that killed at least 11, mostly civilians, in Maaret Misrin.

In Damascus, the government maintained its offensive to uproot rebels in control of a nearby valley that provides the capital with the majority of its water supply, further threatening a fragile cease-fire that appeared to be fraying.

State-run news agency SANA reported later Saturday that “terrorists” had assassinated Ahmad al-Ghadban, who was appointed by the government to coordinate with rebels in the opposition-held Barada Valley to stop the fighting and allow maintenance workers to fix the water facility there.

For days negotiations have stalled and failed to restore the water flow to the capital – restricted since December 22 – and to end the government offensive to uproot the rebels in the valley. The U.N. says the capital has suffered a water shortage that has affected nearly 5.5 million residents. The fighting has trapped nearly 100,000 residents of the opposition-held valley.

The cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey, who support opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, went into effect on December 30. It excludes extremist groups such as the Islamic State group.

►  Iraq makes swift territorial gains against IS in Mosul

Iraqi forces have won a string of swift territorial gains in Mosul in the fight against the Islamic State group after months of slow progress, with a senior officer on Saturday laying claim to a cluster of buildings inside Mosul University and another edge of a bridge.

Iraqi forces now control the eastern sides of three of the city’s five bridges that span the Tigris River connecting Mosul’s east to west. Warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition bombed the city’s bridges late last year in an effort to isolate IS fighters in the city’s east by disrupting resupply routes.

At Mosul University, senior commanders said Iraqi forces had secured more than half of the campus Saturday amid stiff resistance, but clashes were ongoing into the afternoon. Iraqi forces entered the university from the southeast Friday morning and by nightfall had secured a handful of buildings, Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil and Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi said on a tour of the university Saturday.

“We watched all the IS fighters gather in that building, so we blew it up,“ said special forces Sgt. Maj. Haytham Ghani pointing to one of the blackened technical college buildings where charred desks could be seen inside. “You can still see some of their corpses.“

Thick clouds of black smoke rose from the middle of the sprawling complex Saturday morning. By afternoon, clashes had intensified with volleys of sniper and mortar fire targeting the advancing Iraqi forces. Convoys of Iraqi Humvees snaked through the campus, pausing for artillery and airstrikes to clear snipers perched within classrooms, dormitories and behind the trees that line the campus streets.

IS fighters overran Mosul in the summer of 2014, announcing from there their self-styled “caliphate” after taking a large swath of Iraq and Syria in a lightning surge. Access to the city’s central bank, a large taxable civilian population and nearby oilfields quickly made IS the world’s wealthiest terrorist group.

Yet even as a punishing campaign of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes has pushed the militants underground, IS leaders continued to use Mosul as a key logistical hub for planning meetings. If recaptured by the Iraqi forces, IS territory in Iraq that once stretched across a third of the country would be reduced to small pockets in the north and west that troops will likely be able to mop up relatively quickly.

The massive operation to retake Mosul from IS was launched in October. Since then Iraqi forces have slowly clawed back more than a third of the city. IS maintains has tight control of the city’s western half where Iraqi forces will likely encounter another wave of heavy IS resistance. The west of the city is home to some of Mosul’s densest neighborhoods and an estimated 700,000 civilians.

As Iraqi forces have closed in on the Tigris that roughly divides Mosul into eastern and western halves, their pace has quickened. IS defenses in the city’s east appear to be thinning and unlike in the surrounding neighborhoods, Iraqi officers said they believe Mosul University and recently retaken government buildings are largely empty of civilians — allowing them to use air cover more liberally.

Iraqi soldiers at Mosul University said while they were still coming under heavy small arms fire, IS resistance was significantly less than they faced during the first weeks of the Mosul operation.

“We were targeted with only four car bombs where before (IS) would send 20 in one day,“ special forces Lt. Zain al-Abadeen said. “And they aren’t armored like before, they’re just using civilian cars.“

Medics operating a small field hospital in eastern Mosul said civilian casualties have dropped significantly over the past three days as Iraqi forces moved into government complexes like the university rather than dense civilian neighborhoods.

Also Saturday, IS launched its biggest assault in a year on government-held areas of the contested Syrian city of Deir el-Zour in an attempt to maintain a grip on the eastern stretch of the neighboring country where the group’s de facto capital of Raqqa lies.

►  IOM: Only 4 survivors from migrant shipwreck off Libya

A migrant ship carrying around 100 people capsized in the frigid waters off Libya on Saturday and only four survivors had been rescued after hours of searching, aid groups said.

Eight bodies were recovered but poor conditions were hampering the search taking place 30 miles off Libya’s coast, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported.

Flavio di Giacomo, Rome spokesman for the International Organization of Migration, said four people had been rescued out of an estimated 110 aboard. He said more details would become available after the four are brought to shore.

The vast majority of migrant ships set off from Libya’s lawless coasts, where smugglers operate with impunity charging desperate migrants hundreds of dollars apiece to make the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

Last year saw a record high number – 181,000 people – heading to Italy by sea, the EU rescue operation Frontex reported. West Africans, most of them hailing from Nigeria, accounted for most of the migrants in 2016, with a 10-fold increase in their numbers since 2010, Frontex reported.

►  Agatha Christie helped in uncovering Iraq’s ancient Nimrud

Her diligence and face cream cleaned Nimrud’s most famous ivory. She captured the archaeological dig in Iraq on celluloid and Kodak film, developing the prints in water painstakingly filtered from the nearby Tigris River.

And every day, after she balanced the books and arranged for the next day’s meals, Agatha Christie sat down to write.

The British mystery writer’s second husband, Max Mallowan, was an archaeologist — respected in his field, but with nowhere near the renown of his older wife. But Christie set aside her career for months each year to accompany Mallowan into the field.

Mallowan built his career on digs in the 1950s in Nimrud, the remains of the ancient Assyrian city that survived 3,000 years only to be blown into rubble by Islamic State group conquerors last year. And Christie, then in her 60s, was there to document his work, in photo and film.

Every winter, according to her grandson Mathew Prichard, “they disappeared into Iraq or Syria and returned in May or June. To her it was just as important as writing. Her role, and she was quite old-fashioned about this ... Her role in the 1950s was to go on these digs with her husband and help him with the photography and dealings with the local labor force,“ he said.

Famed for her detective characters Mrs. Marple and Hercule Poirot, Christie had a longtime fascination with archaeology that showed up in novels set in the Mideast, including “Death on the Nile” and “Murder in Mesopotamia.“

Christie’s non-fiction book “Come Tell Me How You Live,“ about a series of digs in Syria in the 1940s, is testament to her love for adventure, travel and the ancient sites of civilization.

“Inshallah, I shall go there again, and the things that I love shall not have perished from this earth,“ she wrote in conclusion in 1944.

But seven decades later, one of her favorite places — Nimrud — is in danger as never before.

Islamic State fighters took over the site near the city of Mosul in 2014, and in 2015 smashed the winged bulls guarding the entrance and blew up the Northwest Palace where Mallowan made his most significant discoveries. The site, though liberated last month from the extremists, is reduced to rubble, largely unguarded and vulnerable to looters.

Among Mallowan’s finds were a series of ivories, including one of a woman’s face dubbed the Mona Lisa of Nimrud, which was extracted with great difficulty from a muddy well.

“She spent hours drying it and cleaning it off, with her face cream,“ said Georgina Herrmann, a British archaeologist who worked there with Mallowan.

Other ivories were discovered smashed, and Christie delighted in assembling them, Herrmann said.

“Agatha was a passionate solver of jigsaw puzzles and crossword puzzles. She laid all these pieces out — there must have been hundreds of them — and put them together.“

Christie and Mallowan would be dismayed to learn what has become of the site, according to Prichard, who recalled his grandfather teaching him the basics of cuneiform writing as a boy.

“To say they would have thought it was a tragedy is an understatement,“ he said. “If my grandparents could somehow be alive again and see the newspapers for a week, they would not have recognized the places where they had been and lived and worked.“

Mexico Will Pay For It

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G-OpEd™: Passion, Not Position

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My service for the state I love has never been about a position; it’s always been about passion.

While I’ve been blown away by the calls, texts, emails, social media posts, and favorite candy sent (you can keep those goodies coming folks), the positive momentum we have created in the travel and tourism industry in West Virginia during the last two and a half years has never been just about me.

In fact, no one person can do this alone—not a commissioner, not a governor. And if you loved her or hated her, Hillary was right: It does take a village. It takes people with passion all working together outside of politics to move this state to her rightful place as a premier destination.

Tourism professionals at the highest level in the world know it is more than just solid marketing. True success must be a combination of smart investments in the right markets with the right research to back up those investments combined with the most important element in a successful project—measurement of your progress.

It’s easy to pat yourself on the back when your team comes up with a beautiful ad or commercial.  It’s far and away something different if you can show that ad brought people to West Virginia to spend money which you can track directly to a destination.

People presume that being Commissioner of Tourism is all about having fun. While I did experience a lot of joy in that position, it was the hardest job I ever had. I did not spend days on the slopes or kayaking. If you do it right, you are behind a desk, on the phone, in your car or in the editing bay working to sell those experiences.

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As you’ve heard me say many times—tourism isn’t about fun—it’s about business: A $4.9 billion business in the Mountain State. Make no mistake, every day I thought about that investment and the 46,000 jobs the industry supports. Our team worked late nights, weekends and holidays because peoples’ jobs are on the line. It was an awesome opportunity and one that I am forever grateful.

I’ve been so fortunate to serve the state with like-minded people who never watched the clock, who ate lunch at their desks to finish a column or to pitch an international reporter in a different time zone. They pushed me to be better and to work harder than I’ve ever worked.

It was a dream and one that will continue tomorrow.

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As I said, this is about passion, not about a position. Because it’s about passion, I can—we all can—do just as much as a citizen as one can as the Commissioner of Tourism to promote all that is great about this place we call home.

Amy Shuler Goodwin has been the Communications Director to two Governors, a Congressman, a Mayor and a state director for a Presidential Candidate. She was most recently the West Virginia Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Commissioner of Tourism. A former anchor and reporter, Shuler Goodwin lives in Charleston with her husband, former United States Attorney Booth Goodwin , their two boys, Joe and Sam and their very large lab, Gus.


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  • Obama to End Visa-Free Residency for Cubans:  It’s no small feat. In its final days, the Obama administration is rescinding the “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy in place since 1995 that allowed any Cuban who could reach U.S. soil to remain in the country. The Castro regime has long sought the shift, which will be controversial among Cuban-Americans. Incoming President Donald Trump, who has been critical of Obama for renewing diplomatic ties with Cuba, can undo the order - though it would be politically difficult for him to establish a more liberal immigration policy.  THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • U.S. Regulator Accuses Fiat Chrysler of Emissions Cheating:  It’s a pileup. The same week Volkswagen agreed to pay $4.3 billion in criminal penalties on similar charges, the EPA alleged that Fiat Chrysler used illegal software that let 104,000 diesel vehicles pass emissions tests. The company vehemently denied the accusation, complaining that the EPA believes all carmakers “belong to a class of criminals.“ The agency says it’s still investigating the intention of the software, and is asking the company for evidence that their actions weren’t illegal. If found guilty, Fiat could be liable for a $4.6 billion fine.  THE NEW YORK TIMES

  • Questions after the Sessions’ sessions. Has the Attorney General-nominee answered all of the questions that swirl around him and race?  Slate

  • Can he enforce secular laws if he believes in religious tests?  Daily Beast

  • What will his confirmation mean for voter fraud prosecutions?  Vox

  • Where does he stand on online gambling?  Reason

In West Virginia….

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►  Justice appoints transportation, administration secretaries

West Virginia Governor-elect Jim Justice has announced his appointments to lead the state’s administration and transportation departments.

Tom Smith will serve as secretary of the Department of Transportation and also commissioner of the Division of Highways. Smith most recently served as a senior transportation advisor for the Appalachian Regional Commission in Washington.

Also on Saturday, Justice named John Myers as secretary of the Department of Administration. Myers is the acting director of the West Virginia Lottery and he also worked as manager of corporate administration for Toyota manufacturing in Buffalo, West Virginia.

Justice made two cabinet appointments on Friday. He chose Austin Caperton to head the Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Senator Joe Manchin’s wife, Gayle Manchin, to head the Department of Education and the Arts.

►  Man suffers fatal injuries at Tyler County well pad site

A Lewis County man died from injuries suffered Thursday at a natural gas drilling site in Tyler County, authorities said.

Hunter Osborne, 19, of Jane Lew, an employee of U.S. Well Services, suffered fatal injuries when he was pinned between a truck and what deputies call a stationary object.

Osborne died at a Morgantown hospital, according to reports.

►  WVEA president questions which way testing could go for high school students after Smarter Balanced

February 10 is the deadline for comments on a proposed policy change that would replace Smarter Balanced testing for high schools students in West Virginia with end-of-course exams in certain subjects like English language arts and math.

As of now, those end-of-course exams have not been developed.

Overall, “We like going away from the Smarter Balanced tests,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.

“The tests should be designed for something that would chart a student’s growth. It shouldn’t be used to determine whether the school is doing well, or the grade that the school should get or anything like that.”

Currently, the results of the Smarter Balanced tests are factors in grades through the West Virginia A-F School Accountability System. The first school report cards were issued in November.

After reviewing the proposed policy change, Lee said on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline” he had many questions.

“It doesn’t say what percentage of the test will count toward the student’s grade — if it’s a high stakes test, like, if you don’t pass the test, you don’t pass the class. It doesn’t give us the details on who’s going to come up with the test. It doesn’t give details on who’s going to grade the test, if that’s going to brought back in a timely manner,” Lee said.

“There’s just too many things that really have to be worked out before we can come back and say, ‘This is a good idea. This is a bad idea.‘”

The Smarter Balanced tests, which are aligned with Common Core standards, have been criticized mostly because, while the results do affect school scores, they are not factors in individual student grades or graduations.

In the previous school year, data those with the state Department of Education received showed many students rushed through the standardized tests which are given in grades 3-11 annually.

Other criticisms have included the amount of school time required to take the tests and the information available in results reported back to school administrators and teachers.

“The teachers are the experts on public education. Listen to their voices,” Lee said. “Ask the teachers what direction that they want to go, ask the teachers how can we make this a better system, ask the teachers what type of testing should we do, how much testing should we do?”

As proposed, end-of-course exams could start being implemented in high schools as soon as the 2017-2018 school year and fully replace the Smarter Balanced tests by the following school year.

The state Department of Education is also seeking proposals on possible alternative assessments for students in lower grades.

Whatever happens, Lee said future stability is what West Virginia’s schools need the most. “We can’t keep jumping around on standards, jumping around on curriculum,” he said.

The full policy is posted with links for public comments at the state Department of Education’s website.

The comment period is scheduled to close at 4 p.m. on February 10, 2017.

In USA….

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►  Bush Twins Have a Message for Sasha, Malia

It’s been eight years since Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hager offered President Obama’s daughters tips on life in the White House and taught them to slide down the solarium’s banister. Since then, Sasha and Malia Obama have endured “unbelievable pressure” and seen their parents “reduced to headlines,“ yet they’ve grown “from girls to impressive young women with grace and ease,“ George W. Bush’s daughters write in an open letter in Time. The next chapter as former First Children will bring new challenges and there are “no guidelines,“ they add, but there is “much to look forward to.“

“You won’t have the weight of the world on your young shoulders anymore. Explore your passions. Learn who you are. Make mistakes—you are allowed to,“ the twins say. Loyal friends are important, too, including favorite White House staffers who “put their lives on hold for us.“ Most importantly, “take all that you have seen, the people you have met, the lessons you have learned, and let that help guide you in making positive change,“ the twins write. “You will be writing the story of your lives, beyond the shadow of your famous parents,“ who “will be rooting for you,“ they say. “And so will we.“

►  Boots Accidentally Leave Behind a Disturbing Pattern

Leaving a trail of swastikas in their wake is generally not a goal of consumers, which is why a California company is pulling a version of its “military combat boots” from stores. In a post viewed more than 3 million times, a Reddit user described receiving his Polar Fox boots from Conal International Trading Inc., only to discover that they left a trail of swastikas in his footprints thanks to some oddly shaped tread, something “I didn’t get to see when ordering my new work boots,“ the man wrote, per the Raleigh News & Observer.

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Users commented that the boots “weren’t the reich size” and were “good for marching into Poland” but not much else. A German magazine also observed that, strangely, Polar Fox was the name given to a German operation to take a Soviet town during World War II. In a statement, Conal International calls the design “an obvious mistake made by our manufacturers in China” and says the boots will be removed from shelves. They have already been scrubbed from Amazon, per the Los Angeles Times.

►  Motorist Kills Man Beating Wounded Arizona Trooper

A suspect is dead and an Arizona state trooper is recovering in the hospital after what authorities say was a rare case of a passerby using deadly force to assist an officer. Authorities say that when the passing motorist arrived at the scene of a vehicle rollover at a rural section of Interstate 10 early Thursday, he found the suspect beating trooper Edward Andersson, who had already been shot, CNN reports. The motorist asked the officer if he needed help, authorities say. When the trooper said yes, the man, who was with his wife, went back to his vehicle for his gun, told the suspect to stop, and then fatally shot the suspect after he refused to comply. Another motorist used the trooper’s radio to call authorities.

Police say Andersson, a 27-year veteran of the force, was investigating a separate report of shots fired at the scene when he found the vehicle that had rolled over, reports the Arizona Republic. The trooper was setting down flares when he was ambushed by the suspect, whose shots injured the trooper’s gun hand. The suspect was pounding Andersson’s head on the pavement when the motorist arrived, authorities say. “My trooper would not be alive without his assistance,“ Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead says, per the AP. Andersson is being treated for gunshot wounds in the chest and shoulder. Investigators say a woman apparently ejected from the vehicle during the rollover was found dead at the scene.

►  Man Butts Heads With DMV, Gets the Last Laugh

“If they were going to inconvenience me then I was going to inconvenience them,“ says Nick Stafford of employees at his local DMV, which received 298,745 unrolled pennies weighing 1,548 pounds on Wednesday. Stafford’s payment came after months of butting heads with DMV workers. The Cedar Bluff, Va., man says he attempted to call the Lebanon DMV in September with a “30-second question”—an inquiry about registering a new car—but reached a call center in Richmond and was put on hold for more than an hour. He then got a number for the Lebanon DMV through a Freedom of Information Act request, but was told it wasn’t for public use, per the Bristol Herald Courier. Employees eventually answered his question, but wouldn’t give up the numbers to nine other local DMVs, Stafford says—so he sued for them.

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The suits were dismissed Tuesday, but Stafford did end up getting those numbers, which he posted online. And as a further inconvenience, Stafford opted to pay $2,987.45 in sales tax for two cars with pennies—five wheelbarrows full of them. He bought the wheelbarrows for $400 and paid 11 people $10 per hour to break open rolls of pennies over four hours, meaning the scheme cost him $840. DMV workers spent 12 hours counting his pennies, which jammed a coin-counting machine, reports BuzzFeed. Considering such an enormous task, they were surprisingly “respectful and accommodating,“ Stafford says on his website. “Moral of the story, NEVER, ever, tell a slightly rebellious, yet knowledgeable and well informed tax paying citizen… he is not ‘allowed’ to call a phone number that HE is already paying for.“

►  U.S. Will Pay $2.2B to Marines Sickened by Toxic Water

The Obama administration has agreed to provide disability benefits totaling more than $2 billion to veterans who were exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Beginning in March, the cash payouts from the Department of Veterans Affairs may supplement VA health care already being provided to eligible veterans stationed at the Marine base for at least 30 days cumulative between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, the AP reports. Veterans will have to submit evidence of their diagnosis and service information. The VA estimates that as many as 900,000 service members were potentially exposed to the tainted water, and that the taxpayer cost will be $2.2 billion over five years.

The new rule covers active duty, Reserve, and National Guard members who developed one of eight diseases: adult leukemia, aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and Parkinson’s disease. “This is good news,“ says retired Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, whose daughter Janey was born in 1976 while he was stationed at Lejeune. Janey died from leukemia at age 9. Ensminger now heads a veterans group, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, which advocates for those seeking disability compensation. “This has been a hard, long slog,“ says Ensminger, who believes the government must go further in covering additional diseases. “This is not the end of the issue.“

►  Obama Is Ending Cubans’ Special Immigration Privileges

President Obama is ending a longstanding immigration policy that allows any Cuban who makes it to US soil to stay and become a legal resident, the AP reports. The repeal of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy is effective immediately, according a senior administration official. The decision follows months of negotiations focused in part on getting Cuba to agree to take back people who had arrived in the US. The official said the Cubans gave no assurances about treatment of those sent back to the country, but said political asylum remains an option for those concerned about persecution if they return. Ending a policy that has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to come to the US without a visa aligns with Donald Trump’s commitment to tough immigration policies.

The “wet foot, dry foot” policy was put in place in 1995 by President Bill Clinton as a revision of a more liberal immigration policy. The US was reluctant to send people back to the communist island then run by Fidel Castro, and the Cuban government also generally refused to accept repatriated citizens. The Cuban government has in the past complained bitterly about the special immigration privileges, saying they encourage Cubans to risk dangerous escape trips and drain the country of professionals. The official said that in recent years, most people fleeing the island have done so for economic reasons or to take advantage of the benefits they know they can receive if they make it to the US.

►  Woman Found Living With Sister’s Decomposing Body

A 74-year-old Massachusetts woman may have been living with the decomposing body of her sister for up to 18 months, possibly without even realizing her sister was dead, the Brookline TAB reports. According to the Boston Globe, Lynda Waldman lived alone with her 67-year-old sister, Hope Wheaton, in the $1.2 million house in Brookline. Authorities say a cousin came to the house in December to help take out the trash and found Wheaton’s body under the kitchen table. Waldman appeared unaware her sister was dead and had to be informed by police, CBS Boston reports. Waldman says her sister would fall and be unable to get up. She said she would nurse Wheaton back to health with Fudgsicles and water, but Wheaton failed to get better after a fall in July 2015.

While police are waiting on the results of an autopsy, they don’t suspect foul play in Wheaton’s death. And while it’s unclear why Waldman didn’t call authorities at any point, there’s no “evidence of wrongdoing.“ Officials describe a house that was falling apart and filled with clutter to the point of hoarding. The front of the house was boarded up, and some neighbors were unaware anyone even lived there. One neighbor says the sisters were “recluses” who never left the house; another says neighbors joked the house was haunted.

►  1-Year-Old Son of Corrections Officer Shot, Killed by Sister

Tragedy in California, where the 1-year-old son of a state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officer was accidentally shot and killed by his sister. Police responding to a 911 call Wednesday night in Chowchilla found the boy with a bullet wound to the head; he died en route to a local hospital. The children’s mother, Erica Bautisa, who has been a corrections officer for 16 years, was home at the time. Police say the gun the girl got a hold of was registered to Bautisa and was not her duty weapon. Charges could be levied: “Any time a child gets a hold of firearm, and there’s some sort of a negligent discharge, it’s a criminal matter,“ an officer tells ABC 30.

In The World….

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►  A Moving Selfie Turned Into ‘Fake News’ on Facebook: Suit

The concept of “fake news” has infused itself into the regular news cycle, and now a well-known Syrian refugee says he’s embroiled in it—and he’s suing Facebook as a result, the Guardian reports. Anas Modamani made headlines in September 2015 when he took a selfie with German Chancellor Angela Merkel when she visited a refugee camp in Berlin (another photographer also took a photo of him taking the selfie). While at first the pics were circulated as poignant symbols of the refugee situation in Germany, they quickly became appropriated on social media, using the 19-year-old’s face to accompany “news” stories accusing him of taking part in terrorist or otherwise criminal activity, including IDing him as one of the perpetrators of the March bombings in Brussels and linking him to the Christmas market attack in Berlin.

His lawyer notes that every time there’s a refugee issue, his client is “wheeled out as an icon, as Merkel’s model refugee,“ and “smeared” as a criminal. When fake claims about Modamani’s ties to the Brussels attacks started going around, he tells the BBC that friends told him to just lie low and ignore them, which he did. But the Berlin attack bubbled his likeness back to the surface, and he said he got “fed up,“ spurring him to file an injunction against a European Facebook subsidiary from publishing any “slanderous image” portraying him as a terrorist or criminal. Facebook says an injunction isn’t needed, because it disabled a “specific piece of content” Modamani had asked it to take down, but his lawyer says other pictures are still floating around. “Facebook is doing a very poor job with fake news, but it is especially doing a poor job with illegal fake news,“ Modamani says.

►  One of World’s Deadliest Nations Has Rare Murder-Free Day

El Salvador, one of the world’s deadliest countries, has recorded a rare day without a single homicide. National Civil Police commissioner Howard Cotto said at a news conference Thursday that no murders were reported the previous day in the gang-plagued Central American nation. The last time the country went a full day without any killings was January 22, 2015, according to records kept by the AP. It also happened once in 2013 and on two days the year before that.

The nation of about 6 million people averaged 14.4 murders a day last year. Killings peaked at 104 per 100,000 residents in 2015, the highest rate for any nation not in open war that year. The rate in the US, by comparison, was 3.9; in Canada, it was 1.5. Homicides in El Salvador fell by about 20% in 2016, but it was still one of the most violent countries, with 81.2 murders per 100,000 residents. Warring gangs known as “maras” are involved in drug trafficking, organized crime, and extortion rackets in the country.

►  Refugees Will Lose Fingers After Christmas Eve Flight to Canada

A bisexual man who feared for his life in Ghana will lose his fingers and a toe after walking hours through snow and freezing weather on Christmas Eve toward what he hoped would be refuge in Canada, the Canadian Press reports. According to CBC, 24-year-old Seidu Mohammed arrived in the US in 2015 but was denied asylum and detained for a year. Upon his release and facing deportation, Mohammed and another Ghanaian man headed for North Dakota and the Canadian border. They walked for up to 10 hours through waist-deep snow and below-zero temperatures. They lost their hats and mittens, and their arms and feet froze, but they somehow made it into Canada. After multiple tries, they flagged down a trucker who called 911.

The two men have been hospitalized since. CTV News reports both will have their fingers amputated due to severe frostbite, but Mohammed will also lose a toe and possibly his hands and arms. Mohammed can’t sleep from the pain and doesn’t know what he’s going to do. But he also knows he made the right choice. “The journey was worth it,“ he tells CBC. “To go back, I lose my life.“ The men have applied for refugee status in Canada, and Mohammed hopes to stay and work. The odds he’s allowed to do so aren’t good. An agreement between Canada and the US states that refugees can only apply for asylum in the first country they enter—in Mohammed’s case, the US.

►  Iraqi Forces Battle for Mosul University

Iraqi forces have secured less than a quarter of Mosul University as they face stiff resistance from ISIS fighters in the battle for control of the city, according to senior Iraqi commanders overseeing the advance. Convoys of Iraqi Humvees snaked through the sprawling university compound in eastern Mosul, pausing for artillery and airstrikes to clear snipers perched within classrooms, dormitories, and behind the trees that line the campus streets,.the AP reports. Iraqi forces entered the university from the southeast Friday morning and by nightfall had secured a handful of buildings, Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil and Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi said on a tour of the university Saturday.

Unlike in the surrounding neighborhoods, Iraqi officers said they believe the university grounds are largely empty of civilians and so they’ve been able to use air cover more liberally. Thick clouds of black smoke rose over the sprawling complex Saturday morning. By afternoon, clashes had intensified with volleys of sniper and mortar fire targeting the advancing Iraqi forces. Iraqi soldiers said their initial advance faced less resistance than they faced during the first weeks of the Mosul operation. “We were targeted with only four car bombs where before (IS) would send 20 in one day,“ special forces Lt. Zain al-Abadeen said. “And they aren’t armored like before, they’re just using civilian cars.“

Twitter God

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Gayle Manchin picked for Education and the Arts post

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Gayle Manchin, the wife of Sen. Joe Manchin, has been appointed West Virginia’s Secretary of Education and the Arts, according to an announcement by Governor-elect Jim Justice’s transition team.

Gayle Manchin previously served on the state West Virginia Board of Education from 2007 to 2015, serving as president starting in 2013.

She was West Virginia’s first lady when Joe Manchin was governor from 2005 to 2010.

“I am honored to serve the people of West Virginia in this new role and help Governor-elect Justice move our state forward,” Gayle Manchin stated. “West Virginia’s history and culture must be preserved and promoted, and I am looking forward to this opportunity to help our state. I want to enhance the quality of life for all of our citizens in this new role.”

She’ll succeed Kay Goodwin, who is retiring.

Much of Gayle Manchin’s educational and employment background lines up with education and the arts.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in language arts and education and a master’s degree in reading from West Virginia University. She also holds a second master’s in educational technology leadership from Salem International University. She has taught at Fairmont State University and in Marion County public schools. She also led Fairmont State’s first Community Service Learning Program.

As West Virginia’s first lady, Manchin served as a commissioner on the West Virginia Commission for National and Community Service, the chairwoman of the Governor’s Healthy Lifestyles Coalition and the West Virginia Citizen’s Council on Children and Families, and as co-chairwoman on the Governor’s 21st Century Jobs Cabinet and the Intellectual Infrastructure of Vision Shared.

Gayle Manchin previously worked at the Office of Secretary of Education and the Arts, where she put in place the West Virginia Partnerships to Assure Student Success initiative (WV PASS).

“Gayle Manchin has a real passion for our state and making sure our kids get a fair shot at success,” Justice stated in the announcement. “I know she will help shine a spotlight on West Virginia’s rich history and culture in her new role. She will help my administration share the beauty and spirit of West Virginia with the world, and work to improve the lives of our people.”

Gayle Manchin received some negative attention within the past year when she was the subject of a USA Today story following up on the cost of EpiPens, a product with a near-monopoly for Mylan Pharmaceuticals, which is run by Manchin’s daughter, Heather Bresch.

USA Today wrote, “After Gayle Manchin took over the National Association of State Boards of Education in 2012, she spearheaded an unprecedented effort that encouraged states to require schools to purchase medical devices that fight life-threatening allergic reactions.”

The secretary for Education and the Arts oversees six agencies, including the Division of Culture and History, West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the Center for Professional Development, the West Virginia Library Commission, the Division of Rehabilitation Services and Volunteer WV.

~~  Brad McElhinny ~~

CommunityConcernstrade;: Slide at Gilmer County Elementary School

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  • Inspector General to Review Pre-Election DOJ, FBI Actions:    Comey’s in the crosshairs again. An independent government watchdog will take a look at how FBI Director James Comey handled Hillary Clinton’s email case and whether there were improper leaks. Clinton’s team has blamed Comey’s public revival of the case in late October for her loss to Donald Trump. Asked yesterday if the FBI was also investigating possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Comey said, “I would never comment on investigations.“ Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said members of Congress and the public requested the review.  THE GUARDIAN

  • A West Virginia drug dealer, whose heroin was so potent it led to 26 overdoses in a single day, was sentenced earlier this week to 20 years in prison.  The Washington Post

  • Scientists Find Aggression ‘Switch’ in Mice:    You can pack a lot of rage into a tiny, furry body. Yale researchers have discovered a “kill switch” in mice that turns the normally shy critters into ultra-aggressive hunters. When scientists used lasers to activate specific neurons in the amygdala - the same part of the brain responsible for fear - lab mice reacted instantly with “very efficient” hunting behavior, attacking prey and even inanimate objects. The findings may offer clues to how animals evolved as predators, while raising questions about the neural connection between fear and aggression.    SCIENCE

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