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Canada’s Brown and De Grasse finish 1-2 in 200 metres at Shanghai meet

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 09:52
SHANGHAI - Canada’s Aaron Brown finished just ahead of teammate Andre De Grasse to win the men’s 200 metres at the Shanghai Diamond League on Saturday. Brown, from Toronto, was first in 20.07 seconds while De Grasse, from Markham, Ont., was second in 20.21. South Africa’s Clarence Munyai finished third in 20.37 seconds. It was Brown’s first career Diamond League victory. “It was a rock-solid field today and I am pleased with the performance,” Brown said. “I felt in Doha (earlier this month) I ran a great curve then gave it all away on the straight. It was nice to win, build some momentum and gain some more respect from the guys (in the 200). I’ve just got to keep that going.” It was the second individual 200-metre race for De Grasse since he strained his hamstring at the national championships last summer. He had a time of 20.20 seconds last April at the Grenada Invitational. “It has taken me a while to recover fully from my injuries,” De Grasse said. “I am happy with my achievement today.” De Grasse won silver in the men’s 200 metres at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He also earned bronze in the 100 metres and was a part of Canada’s third-place 4×100 men’s relay team. Also Saturday, Genevieve Lalonde of Moncton, N.B., broke her own Canadian record in the 3,000 steeplechase. Lalonde finished seventh in 9:29.82, trimming 0.17 seconds from her previous mark set in 2017. Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya took top spot in 9:04.53. Earlier, Olympic champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica made it four straight victories in the 110-meter hurdles. McLeod couldn’t hold back the tears after finishing in 13.12 seconds. The 25-year-old had tweeted that he was “numb” after learning of his aunt’s death 24 hours before the race. After a strong start, McLeod established an early lead and, despite being put under pressure in the middle section by China’s Wenjun Xie, kept his cool over the last three hurdles to win. McLeod won at Shanghai in 2016 before going on to take gold at the Rio Games. Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba timed 47.27 in the 400 hurdles to leave American Rai Benjamin second in 47.80. Benjamin emerged onto the straight with a lead but laboured over the penultimate barrier that allowed Samba to move up alongside him and then pull away. American Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 100 in 11.03 despite running with a broken wrist. Blessing Okagbare finished second in 11.07 with Olympic champion Elaine Thompson third in 11.14. Fred Kerley charged out of the blocks and held onto a huge lead in the 400 to finish in 44.81. Michael Cherry never looked to threaten Kerley’s brilliant run and clocked 45.48 while Nathan Strother made it a 1-2-3 for the United States. In an absorbing 100 metres, Noah Lyles picked up remarkably in the last 40 metres to win with a personal best and world-leading 9.86. Christian Coleman, who started off impressively and looked as if he would go all the way after 50 metres, got the same time but lost on a photo decision. Yomif Kejelcha clocked the year’s fastest time in the 5,000 when he won in 13:04.16. ahead of fellow Ethiopian Selemon Barega in 13:04.71. American Chase Ealey recorded an upset in the shot put on her debut at the Diamond League when she beat local favourite Gong Lijiao with a 19.58-metre throw in the second round. --- With files from The Associated Press. The Associated Press

Matthew McConaughey receives original high school diploma

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 09:41
LONGVIEW, Texas - Actor Matthew McConaughey has finally received his high school diploma, more than 30 years after graduating. McConaughey was given his original diploma Friday night when he returned to his Texas alma mater to address the class of 2019. A Longview High School spokeswoman told the Longview News-Journal that graduates normally receive diploma holders during commencement ceremonies and that the actual diplomas must be picked up later. She said McConaughey never got his. The 49-year-old graduated from Longview in 1988. He responded to receiving his diploma with one word: “proof.” McConaughey lives in Austin. He won an Oscar for his performance in “Dallas Buyers Club.” He told the new graduates that he’d succeeded because he followed his heart, and that they should guard and follow theirs. The Associated Press

Canada’s parole officers say correctional system has reached breaking point

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 09:10
OTTAWA - Canada’s parole officers say the country’s corrections system is at a breaking point due to workloads that are “insurmountable” - a situation they say poses real risks to public safety. A recent survey of parole officers by the Union of Safety and Justice Employees suggested more than two-thirds of parole workers are worried they’re not able to properly protect the public because they do not have time to adequately assess, supervise and prepare offenders for release. The union, which represents the officers, says this means many offenders are left to fall through the cracks - offenders who, in some cases, may re-offend and harm the public or themselves. “What we’re saying is that we are at a critical point here. We have parole officers throughout our survey who are genuinely concerned about public safety,” said David Neufeld, a national vice-president of the union. “Almost 70 per cent of our members who responded to the survey are saying that they’re worried that they’re not able to sufficiently protect the public because of their current workloads. Things can get missed. Information can get missed.” The survey results were included in a report issued this week by the Union of Safety and Justice Employees, offering a detailed breakdown of the concerns being raised by the 1,600 parole officers in Canada’s corrections system. About half of Canada’s federal parole officers work inside penitentiaries and correctional institutions. The rest work with inmates in the community after they are released. They are responsible for developing correctional plans for each inmate, which is how decisions are made about what levels of security inmates need and what kinds of rehabilitation programs will help them. Decisions made by parole officers determine when and how inmates are released, as well, and into what transitional facilities. Last fall, a federal auditor general’s report found that the Correctional Service of Canada didn’t have enough spots in halfway houses for prisoners who were ready to begin reintegrating. The report said parole officers often didn’t get key information about inmates’ health as they prepared release plans, and officers dealing with parolees often couldn’t meet offenders as often as they should have. That report echoes findings by authorities at other levels. Ontario’s auditor general, for instance, reported in 2014 that officers doing similar work at the provincial level often couldn’t supervise high-risk offenders adequately and weren’t equipped to deal with offenders’ mental-health problems. A follow-up assessment two years later found little to no progress had been made on several important recommendations. The federal officers say high caseloads and chronic understaffing have led to “insurmountable challenges to managing offender risk.” “Many worry these unmanageable workloads mean key pieces of information could be missed in the monitoring of an offender, which in turn, could impact the safety of the community where the offender is released,” the report states. Lines from officers who provided comments for the survey paint a picture of employees suffering anxiety, depression and burnout. “I’m so busy trying to keep my head above water that the chances I’m missing something is inevitable,” says an unnamed parole officer quoted in the report. Neufeld says the problems stem from funding cuts under the former Conservative government, which led to a reduction in staff and increased caseloads for many officers. Since then, new approaches introduced by the Trudeau government to deal with the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Canada’s penal system have only added to officer caseloads, Neufeld said. In addition, policy changes aimed at reducing the use of solitary confinement in prisons have not led to a corresponding increase in staff or resources to deal with growing numbers of inmates with mental health and addictions issues, according to the union. But Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s spokesman Scott Bardsley said significant investments have been made in the correctional system, totalling almost $700 million. Much of this money has been attached to policy changes involving expanded mental-health care in prisons and more healing and rehabilitative care for Indigenous inmates.  The union report says an increased emphasis on moving inmates toward release has added to the concern about risks to public safety, Neufeld says. “With the change in government there was a renewed focus on reintegration … and we’ve been very successful in increasing the number of inmates being released back into our communities, but the resourcing has not been improved or increased in the community,” he said. “What we’ve seen is that parole officers struggle greatly with the amount of work that is on their hands in trying to monitor these offenders very closely and ensuring we’re having the quality contact that is required to really understand how well is that offender really doing on the street and how safe is it for them to come back to our communities.” The union is calling for more staff and more resources to ensure inmates are being properly assessed for risk. In January, Goodale held a roundtable in Ottawa with community and institutional parole officers from across the country where the workers were able to outline their concerns.   Bardsley said money to hire additional parole officers and other staff is attached to the Liberals’ corrections legislation, Bill C-83, which is before the Senate. “We know there is more work to do, and we look forward to doing it in partnership with parole officers,” Bardsley said in a statement, adding a dig at the former Conservative government for “penny-pinching” in areas of public safety.   Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Koepka tries to extend his lead in PGA Championship

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 08:56
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. - Brooks Koepka has turned a public golf course into his private domain at the PGA Championship. Along with setting the 36-hole scoring record in major championships, Koepka has opened a seven-shot lead over Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott going into the third round at Bethpage Black. He has made only two bogeys all week. Koepka has been alone in the lead since his 12-foot birdie putt on his 12th hole of the opening round. Among those playing early Saturday in the third round was Rory McIlroy, who had to rally to make the cut. McIlroy made eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. Koepka was in the final group with Spieth, who hasn’t been in the last group at any tournament since the final round of the British Open last summer. ___ More AP golf: https://apnews.com/apf-Golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports Doug Ferguson, The Associated Press

Once again, Iraq caught up in tensions between US and Iran

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 08:29
BAGHDAD - When U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down with Iraqi officials in Baghdad last week as tensions mounted between America and Iran, he delivered a nuanced message: If you’re not going to stand with us, stand aside. The message, relayed to The Associated Press by two Iraqi government officials, underscores Iraq’s delicate position: Its government is allied with both sides of an increasingly contentious confrontation. As tensions escalate, there are concerns that Baghdad could once again get caught in the middle, just as it is on the path to recovery. The country hosts more than 5,000 U.S. troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those U.S. forces to leave. “The big question is how Iraqi leaders will deal with (their) national interests in a country where loyalty to external powers is widespread at the expense of their own nation,” Iraqi political analyst Watheq al-Hashimi said. “If the state cannot put these (Iranian-backed militias) under control, Iraq will become an arena for an Iranian-American armed conflict.” Despite the escalation of rhetoric by both sides, President Donald Trump has said he doesn’t want a war with Iran and has even said he is open to dialogue. But tension remains high, in part given the region’s fraught history. For Iraq to be a theatre for proxy wars is not new. The Shiite-majority country lies on the fault line between Shiite Iran and the mostly Sunni Arab world, led by powerhouse Saudi Arabia, and has long been a battlefield in which the Saudi-Iran rivalry for regional supremacy played out. During America’s eight-year military presence that began with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, U.S. troops and Iranian-backed militiamen fought pitched battles around the country, and scores of U.S. troops were killed or wounded by the militia forces armed with sophisticated Iranian-made weapons. American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011 but returned in 2014 at the invitation of Iraq to help battle the Islamic State group after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country, including Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. A U.S.-led coalition provided crucial air support as Iraqi forces regrouped and drove IS out in a costly three-year campaign. Iranian-backed militias fought alongside U.S.-backed Iraqi troops against IS, gaining outsized influence and power. Now, amid an escalating conflict between the U.S. and Iran, Iraq is once again vulnerable to becoming caught up in the power play. An attack targeting U.S. interests in Iraq would be detrimental to the country’s recent efforts at recovering and reclaiming its status in the Arab world. Earlier this year, Trump provoked outrage in Baghdad when he said he wanted U.S. troops to stay in Iraq so they can “watch Iran,” suggesting a changing mission for American troops there. On May 8, Pompeo made a lightning, previously unannounced trip to the Iraqi capital following the abrupt cancellation of a visit to Germany, and as the United States had been picking up intelligence that Iran is threatening American interests in the Middle East. The two Iraqi officials said Pompeo relayed intelligence information the U.S. had received about a threat to U.S. forces in Iraq - but kept it vague. They said he did not specify the nature of the threat. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to divulge confidential information, said Pompeo told the Iraqis that America did not expect them to side with the U.S. in any confrontation with Iran, but that they should not side against America. In other words, stand aside. A few days later, as U.S.-Iranian tensions continued to rise, the State Department ordered all non-essential, non-emergency government staff to leave the country. U.S. officials said Pompeo told the Iraqis the U.S. had an “inherent right to self-defence” and would use it if U.S. personnel, facilities or interests are attacked by Iran or its proxies in Iraq or anywhere else. The three officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss the private meetings in Baghdad and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Pompeo was not contemplating any pre-emptive strikes on Iran or the use of Iraqi territory to stage military operations against Iran. Pompeo’s message, the officials said, was that the U.S. wants to avoid conflict but would respond or defend itself if necessary. The secretary told reporters on the flight that his meetings with Iraq’s president and prime minister were intended to demonstrate U.S. support for “a sovereign, independent” Iraq, free from the influence of neighbouring Iran. Pompeo also said he wanted to underscore Iraq’s need to protect Americans in their country. A general at Iraq’s Defence Ministry said Iraq was taking precautionary security measures in light of the information about threats against U.S. interests, although those measures have not reached the highest levels. “Iraqi forces are worried that American forces could be targeted by factions loyal to Iran,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. He added that any attack on U.S. troops could come as retaliation if the United States were to carry out a military operation against Iran. The heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. come a year after Trump pulled America out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers and as the White House ordered an aircraft carrier and bombers into the region over a still-unexplained threat from Iran. On Saturday, Iraqi officials said ExxonMobil employees began evacuating an oil field in the southern Iraqi province of Basra while the island nation of Bahrain ordered all it citizens in Iraq and Iran to leave immediately. On Sunday, the United Arab Emirates alleged that four oil tankers off its eastern coast were targeted by sabotage. On Tuesday, Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi rebels said they launched seven drones to target Saudi Arabia. The drones stuck pumping stations along the kingdom’s crucial East-West Pipeline, causing minor damage, Saudi officials say. On the streets of Baghdad, some shrugged off the rising tensions while others worried their country could be sucked into another war. Aqil Rubaei said he was worried that his country, which has been at war since a year before he was born, will be the place where the U.S. and Iran will settle their accounts. The 38-year-old was born in 1981, a year after Iran and Iraq began their eight-year war and was 9 years old when Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait leading to a destructive war that forced Iraq out of Kuwait and 13 years of crippling sanctions. In 2003, the U.S. invaded and removed Saddam, leading to the rise of extremist groups that culminated in 2014 with the Islamic State group capturing large parts of Iraq and Syria and declaring a so-called caliphate. The war that followed left entire Iraqi cities and towns destroyed until Iraq declared victory in 2017. “Iraqi people are fed up with war,” said Rubaei inside his cosmetics shop in Baghdad’s Karrada neighbourhood. “We don’t want Iraq to become an arena for an Iranian-American war.” ___ Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report. Qassim Abdul-Zahra And Bassem Mroue, The Associated Press

A newly restored ‘The Shining’ debuts in Cannes

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 07:45
CANNES, France - Thirty-nine years later, Jack is still not a dull boy. In a new pristine, 4K restoration, Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday evening. It was the second year straight that a Kubrick movie landed on the Croisette, following last year when Christopher Nolan brought %href_on(file: Jake Coyle, The Associated Press

Biden rejecting Democrats anger in call for national unity

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 07:28
PHILADELPHIA - Taking his bipartisan message to pivotal Pennsylvania, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is pledging to bridge the deep divide in the country under President Donald Trump and reject the anger that he says is motivating some in his party. “If the American people want a president to add to our division, to lead with a clenched fist, closed hand and a hard heart, to demonize the opponents and spew hatred - they don’t need me. They already have a president who does just that,” Biden says in excerpts of the speech he plans to give later Saturday in Philadelphia. “I am running to offer our country - Democrats, Republicans and independents - a different path,” the former vice-president says in remarks released by his campaign. The 76-year-old native of working-class Scranton, Pennsylvania, has climbed to the front of the crowded primary field, in part by highlighting his ability to compete with Trump in potentially make-or-break states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Some liberals don’t like Biden’s centrist approach and focus on unity, while others see him as the candidate best positioned to deny Trump a second term. Three weeks into his 2020 run , Biden is offering a distinctly softer approach than some of his rivals. “Some say Democrats don’t want to hear about unity. That they are angry - and the angrier you are - the better,” Biden says in his speech. “That’s what they are saying to have to do to win the Democratic nomination. Well, I don’t believe it. I believe Democrats want to unify this nation. That’s what we’ve always been about. Unity. Saturday’s address is the longtime Delaware senator’s first public appearance in Pennsylvania since announcing his campaign headquarters would be in Philadelphia. Strategists in both parties believe the election may come down to Pennsylvania and a few Midwestern states where Trump had narrow victories in 2016. Steve Peoples, The Associated Press

US warns airliners flying in Persian Gulf amid Iran tensions

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 07:04
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - U.S. diplomats warned Saturday that commercial airliners flying over the wider Persian Gulf faced a risk of being “misidentified” amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The warning relayed by U.S. diplomatic posts from the Federal Aviation Administration underlined the risks the current tensions pose to a region crucial to global air travel. It came as Lloyd’s of London warned of increasing risks to maritime shipping in the region. Meanwhile, oil giant ExxonMobil began evacuating staff from Basra, Iraq, where the U.S. Consulate has been closed for months following a rocket attack America blamed on Shiite militias backed by Iran, local authorities said. The island nation of Bahrain also ordered its citizens out of Iraq and Iran over regional tensions. Concerns about a possible conflict have flared since the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran that has seen America order nonessential diplomatic staff out of Iraq. President Donald Trump since has sought to soften his tone. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also stressed Saturday that Iran is “not seeking war,” comments seemingly contradicted by the head of the Revolutionary Guard, who declared an ongoing “intelligence war” between the nations. Regional tensions remain high. Authorities allege that a sabotage operation targeted four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for a drone attack on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline. Saudi Arabia directly blamed Iran for the drone assault, and a local newspaper linked to the Al Saud royal family called on Thursday for America to launch “surgical strikes” on Tehran. This all takes root in Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions. Iran just announced it would begin backing away from terms of the deal, setting a 60-day deadline for Europe to come up with new terms or it would begin enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels. Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build atomic bombs. The order relayed Saturday by U.S. diplomats in Kuwait and the UAE came from an FAA Notice to Airmen published late Thursday in the U.S. It said that all commercial aircraft flying over the waters of Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman needed to be aware of “heightened military activities and increased political tension.” This presents “an increasing inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or misidentification,” the warning said. It also said aircraft could experience interference with its navigation instruments and communications jamming “with little to no warning.” The Persian Gulf has become a major gateway for East-West travel in the aviation industry. Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates, home to Emirates, is the world’s busiest for international travel, while long-haul carriers Etihad and Qatar Airways also operate in the region. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways all said they were aware of the notice and their operations were unaffected. Oman Air did not respond to a request for comment Saturday about the warning. The warning appeared rooted in what happened 30 years ago after Operation Praying Mantis, a daylong naval battle in the Persian Gulf between American forces and Iran during the country’s long 1980s war with Iraq. On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes chased Iranian speedboats that allegedly opened fire on a helicopter into Iranian territorial waters, then mistook an Iran Air heading to Dubai for an Iranian F-14. The Vincennes fired two missiles at the airplane, killing all aboard the flight. Speaking in China, where he finished a tour of Asian nations who rely on Mideast oil, Zarif told the state-run IRNA news agency that war is not what Iran wants. “In fact, as the supreme leader said, there will be no war since we are not seeking war and nobody in the region is suffering from a hallucination to think that he is able to confront Iran,” Zarif said. Zarif added that while Trump has said that he too is not seeking war, “some that have sat around him” are pushing for such a conflict. That appeared to be a dig at national security adviser John Bolton, who for years has promoted the idea of overthrowing Iran’s government. Separately, the head of the Revolutionary Guard reportedly said the U.S. and Iran already were in a “full-fledged intelligence war.” The semi-official Fars news agency also quoted Gen. Hossein Salami using 9-11 as a metaphor for America’s political system, describing it “like the World Trade Building that collapses with a sudden hit.” Meanwhile, Lloyd’s Market Association Joint War Committee added the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the United Arab Emirates on Friday to its list of areas posing higher risk to insurers. It also expanded its list to include the Saudi coast as a risk area. The USS Abraham Lincoln and its carrier strike group have yet to reach the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded at sea passes. A Revolutionary Guard deputy has warned that any armed conflict would affect the global energy market. Iran long has threatened to be able to shut off the strait. Benchmark Brent crude now stands around $72 a barrel. In Iraq, Exxon Mobil has begun evacuating staff from Basra amid the tensions with Iran, two Iraqi officials told The Associated Press. Exxon Mobil works in Basra at its West Qurna I oil field, which had been shut off for years from Western oil firms over sanctions levied on Iraq during dictator Saddam Hussein’s time in power. The U.S. Consulate in Basra has been closed since September after American officials blamed Iran-aligned Shiite militias for a rocket attack on the post, which is inside Basra’s airport compound. Basra as a whole has been shaken by violent protests in recent months over entrenched corruption and poor public services, which earlier saw Iran’s Consulate there overrun and set ablaze. Exxon Mobil, based in Irving, Texas, said it declined to discuss “operational staffing.” Iraq is OPEC’s second-largest Arab producer, pumping some 4.5 million barrels of crude oil a day. ___ Associated Press writers Qassem Abdul-Zahra and Bassem Mroue in Baghdad and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report. ___ Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap Jon Gambrell, The Associated Press

2020 hopeful Biden set to outline vision for uniting America

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 06:14
NEW YORK - Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is set to outline his vision for unifying the country in a high-profile speech in Philadelphia, the city where his campaign has its headquarters. Biden’s campaign says the speech will focus on his “vision for unifying America with respected leadership on the world stage - and dignified leadership at home.” The 76-year-old former vice-president has leapt to the front of the crowded Democratic primary, in part by highlighting his ability to compete with President Donald Trump in pivotal states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Steve Peoples, The Associated Press

Once again, Iraq caught up in tensions between US and Iran

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 04:56
BAGHDAD - When U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down with Iraqi officials in Baghdad last week as tensions mounted between America and Iran, he delivered a nuanced message: If you’re not going to stand with us, stand aside. The message, relayed to The Associated Press by two Iraqi government officials, underscores Iraq’s delicate position: Its government is allied with both sides of an increasingly contentious confrontation. As tensions escalate, there are concerns that Baghdad could once again get caught in the middle, just as it is on the path to recovery. The country hosts more than 5,000 U.S. troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those U.S. forces to leave. “The big question is how Iraqi leaders will deal with (their) national interests in a country where loyalty to external powers is widespread at the expense of their own nation,” Iraqi political analyst Watheq al-Hashimi said. “If the state cannot put these (Iranian-backed militias) under control, Iraq will become an arena for an Iranian-American armed conflict.” Despite the escalation of rhetoric by both sides, President Donald Trump has said he doesn’t want a war with Iran and has even said he is open to dialogue. But tension remains high, in part given the region’s fraught history. For Iraq to be a theatre for proxy wars is not new. The Shiite-majority country lies on the fault line between Shiite Iran and the mostly Sunni Arab world, led by powerhouse Saudi Arabia, and has long been a battlefield in which the Saudi-Iran rivalry for regional supremacy played out. During America’s eight-year military presence that began with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, U.S. troops and Iranian-backed militiamen fought pitched battles around the country, and scores of U.S. troops were killed or wounded by the militia forces armed with sophisticated Iranian-made weapons. American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011 but returned in 2014 at the invitation of Iraq to help battle the Islamic State group after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country, including Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. A U.S.-led coalition provided crucial air support as Iraqi forces regrouped and drove IS out in a costly three-year campaign. Iranian-backed militias fought alongside U.S.-backed Iraqi troops against IS, gaining outsized influence and power. Now, amid an escalating conflict between the U.S. and Iran, Iraq is once again vulnerable to becoming caught up in the power play. An attack targeting U.S. interests in Iraq would be detrimental to the country’s recent efforts at recovering and reclaiming its status in the Arab world. Earlier this year, Trump provoked outrage in Baghdad when he said he wanted U.S. troops to stay in Iraq so they can “watch Iran,” suggesting a changing mission for American troops there. On May 8, Pompeo made a lightning, previously unannounced trip to the Iraqi capital following the abrupt cancellation of a visit to Germany, and as the United States had been picking up intelligence that Iran is threatening American interests in the Middle East. The two Iraqi officials said Pompeo relayed intelligence information the U.S. had received about a threat to U.S. forces in Iraq - but kept it vague. They said he did not specify the nature of the threat. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to divulge confidential information, said Pompeo told the Iraqis that America did not expect them to side with the U.S. in any confrontation with Iran, but that they should not side against America. In other words, stand aside. A few days later, as U.S.-Iranian tensions continued to rise, the State Department ordered all non-essential, non-emergency government staff to leave the country. U.S. officials said Pompeo told the Iraqis the U.S. had an “inherent right to self-defence” and would use it if U.S. personnel, facilities or interests are attacked by Iran or its proxies in Iraq or anywhere else. The three officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss the private meetings in Baghdad and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Pompeo was not contemplating any pre-emptive strikes on Iran or the use of Iraqi territory to stage military operations against Iran. Pompeo’s message, the officials said, was that the U.S. wants to avoid conflict but would respond or defend itself if necessary. The secretary told reporters on the flight that his meetings with Iraq’s president and prime minister were intended to demonstrate U.S. support for “a sovereign, independent” Iraq, free from the influence of neighbouring Iran. Pompeo also said he wanted to underscore Iraq’s need to protect Americans in their country. A general at Iraq’s Defence Ministry said Iraq was taking precautionary security measures in light of the information about threats against U.S. interests, although those measures have not reached the highest levels. “Iraqi forces are worried that American forces could be targeted by factions loyal to Iran,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. He added that any attack on U.S. troops could come as retaliation if the United States were to carry out a military operation against Iran. The heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. come a year after Trump pulled America out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers and as the White House ordered an aircraft carrier and bombers into the region over a still-unexplained threat from Iran. On Sunday, the United Arab Emirates alleged that four oil tankers off its eastern coast were targeted by sabotage. On Tuesday, Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi rebels said they launched seven drones to target Saudi Arabia. The drones stuck pumping stations along the kingdom’s crucial East-West Pipeline, causing minor damage, Saudi officials say. On the streets of Baghdad, some shrugged off the rising tensions while others worried their country could be sucked into another war. Aqil Rubaei said he was worried that his country, which has been at war since a year before he was born, will be the place where the U.S. and Iran will settle their accounts. The 38-year-old was born in 1981, a year after Iran and Iraq began their eight-year war and was 9 years old when Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait leading to a destructive war that forced Iraq out of Kuwait and 13 years of crippling sanctions. In 2003, the U.S. invaded and removed Saddam, leading to the rise of extremist groups that culminated in 2014 with the Islamic State group capturing large parts of Iraq and Syria and declaring a so-called caliphate. The war that followed left entire Iraqi cities and towns destroyed until Iraq declared victory in 2017. “Iraqi people are fed up with war,” said Rubaei inside his cosmetics shop in Baghdad’s Karrada neighbourhood. “We don’t want Iraq to become an arena for an Iranian-American war.” ___ Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report. Qassim Abdul-Zahra And Bassem Mroue, The Associated Press

Weak legal case could still benefit Trump in Congress clash

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 04:21
WASHINGTON - For all President Donald Trump’s talk of winning, his lawyers are using a legal argument that many scholars say is a pretty sure loser to try to defy congressional attempts to investigate him. Yet Trump’s lawyers may end up delaying the probes with their argument, and that could be a win in itself. In courts in New York and Washington, Trump is attempting to beat back subpoenas by Congress to get financial records from accountants and banks Trump and his family do business with. His argument is that congressional Democrats are out to get him and that they have no “legitimate legislative purpose” in seeking his personal records. Congressional investigations are legitimate only if there is legislation that might result from them, the lawsuits say in identical terms. “There is no possible legislation at the end of this tunnel,” both suits claim. So far a federal judge in Washington has seemed unimpressed with Trump’s attempt to prevent Mazars USA, an accountant for the president and Trump Organization, from turning over subpoenaed records to Congress. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta held a hearing in the case Tuesday and could rule anytime on Trump’s request. Separately, a hearing is set for Wednesday in federal court in New York in a lawsuit Trump, his business and family have filed against Deutsche Bank and Capital One to prevent them from complying with subpoenas from the House Financial Services and intelligence panels for banking and financial records. The court argument is part of a broader White House strategy to resist all congressional oversight following special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. “Congressional investigations are intended to obtain information to aid in evaluating potential legislation, not to harass political opponents,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a letter to House members Wednesday . On Friday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he won’t comply with a congressional subpoena for six years of Trump’s tax returns. He cited the absence of a “legitimate legislative purpose” as his reason. The White House approach finds little support among scholars who say Congress’ authority to investigate is broad and that in the past century the Supreme Court has never found a problem with a congressional investigation for lack of legislative purpose. A 2017 report from Congress’ policy research arm found that “courts today generally will presume that there is a legislative purpose for an investigation.” Charles Tiefer, who served as a lawyer for Congress for 15 years, said lawyers have given up on making the kind of argument Trump’s lawyers are making. Tiefer, now a University of Baltimore School of Law professor, described the argument as “one of those medieval notions that are not taken very seriously now.” But even if judges in both cases rule against Trump, he won’t go down without a fight that might take months or even years of appeals to resolve. Ohio State law professor Peter M. Shane, who studies the separation of powers, described it as Trump’s lawyers “trying to run out the clock until the election.” “Why should this misleading argument be any different from any other misleading argument?” Shane said, adding: “The reason they’re not making stronger arguments is because stronger arguments aren’t available to them.” Other legal fights over Congress’ attempts to obtain unredacted copies of Mueller’s report and have administration officials testify also could get hung up in the courts long enough to spill over into the next presidential administration, whether it’s Trump’s second term or his successor’s first. Past impasses between Congress and the executive branch that led to lawsuits that lasted for years. Trump’s defenders say his legal arguments are genuine and should be taken seriously. They chastise Congress for what they see as politically motivated investigations. Hans von Spakovsky of the conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank likened the actions of House Democrats to hearings held by the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s that targeted people suspected of being Communists. He pointed out that the Supreme Court has recognized limits on Congress’ investigative power. The high court held in a 1957 case that Congress “doesn’t have the constitutional power to expose for the sake of exposure,” von Spakovsky said. The case, Watkins v. U.S., was a criminal appeal in which the justices threw out a conviction against labour organizer John Watkins for refusing identify Communist Party members to lawmakers. Elaine Kamarck, a scholar at the liberal Brookings Institution who worked in the Clinton White House, said the House subpoenas of Trump’s banks and accountants are a world away from the McCarthy era’s hunt for Communists. Congress “is seeking information from a private party about the president of the United States and the possibility of some form of conflict of interest, to say it mildly, or corruption,” Kamarck said. Jessica Gresko And Mark Sherman, The Associated Press

2020 hopeful Biden set to outline vision for uniting America

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 04:20
NEW YORK - Former Vice-President Joe Biden is outlining his vision for unifying America in a high-profile speech set in his native Pennsylvania. The Democratic presidential contender faces voters in Philadelphia on Saturday. Biden formally launched his White House bid three weeks ago in Pennsylvania, but the weekend address marks his first public appearance in his home state since announcing Philadelphia would host his campaign headquarters. Biden’s campaign says the speech will focus on his “vision for unifying America with respected leadership on the world stage - and dignified leadership at home.” The 76-year-old has leapt to the front of the crowded Democratic primary, in part by highlighting his ability to compete with President Donald Trump across battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Steve Peoples, The Associated Press

Political pitfalls: Iran tests ‘America First’ pledge

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 04:19
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump won the White House pledging to wind down the nation’s many foreign entanglements and put “America First.” But as his administration in recent days has sent mixed signals on the prospects of a military conflict with Iran, Trump’s campaign trail promise is being put to the test. With the 2020 election approaching, the political pitfalls ahead for the first-term Republican president could be serious. While Trump enjoys overwhelming support from his party, there is little appetite among his loyalists for a new military conflict in the Middle East. Many are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now, but a string of recent moves has sparked concerns that the administration was beating the drums toward war. Among the possible precursors to military conflict: new sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier to the region and public warnings of unspecified intelligence that Iran might strike at American interests. Asked this week if the U.S. was going to war with Iran, Trump said simply: “I hope not.” Aware of the potential backlash from within his party, the president is trying to play down the possibility of hostilities. He held the door open for negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and malign activities in the region amid reports that he was pushing back against his more hawkish advisers’ preference for a military solution. Prominent Trump supporters offered a pointed warning on Friday about the prospect of a new war, which they view as a direct violation of his “America First” pledge. “It would be a disaster for him and for the country getting into another military engagement in the Middle East,” said Corey Stewart, who led Trump’s 2016 campaign in Virginia. “It does concern me that the president has (national security adviser John) Bolton and a lot of these neocons advising him. That’s clearly not what he ran on and what most Americans want.” Foreign policy threatens to be a significant political liability for Trump heading into his 2020 reelection campaign. Overall, 63 per cent of Americans said they disapproved of his job handling foreign policy, according to a January poll conducted by Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Like other issues, the partisan divide was overwhelming: 76 per cent of Republicans approved, while just 8 per cent of Democrats said the same. Yet the Republican Party under Trump’s leadership has shifted away from wanting the United States to play an aggressive role in world affairs. Foreign policy hawks in the GOP who have long embraced a muscular foreign policy have been marginalized in recent years, dismissed as “globalists.” By contrast, Democrats are now far more likely than Republicans to say the U.S. should play a more active role in solving the world’s problems. In the AP poll, 43 per cent of Democrats said they thought the U.S. should be more active abroad, compared to just 13 per cent of Republicans. Trump on Friday sought to blame the media for the sense of mounting unease over Iran. “They put out so many false messages that Iran is totally confused,” he told a crowd of real estate agents in Washington, complaining about media coverage of his administration’s recent moves. “I don’t know, that might be a good thing.” People close to the president acknowledge that an armed conflict in the region is a real possibility. Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., a Trump confidant, signalled support for a military solution if needed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon - so long as the United States wouldn’t take the lead role in a prospective war. “Whatever needs to be done to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power needs to happen,” Falwell said in an interview. “I’m not saying the United States needs to do it. Somebody is going to need to do it.” He added: “The way that it balances out, it might be Saudi Arabia and Israel that go to war with Iran.” J.D. Gordon, director of national security for Trump’s first campaign, described Iran as “a delicate balance” for the president, who is surrounded by advisers who “generally agree with his worldview.” “Preventing an aggressive state sponsor of terrorism from acquiring nuclear weapons through primarily economic and diplomatic pressure isn’t as simple as many people would like us to believe,” Gordon said. While military conflict would likely be unpopular among Republican voters, the politics on Iran are nuanced. For years, Republicans railed against the multination pact struck under former President Barack Obama to remove economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for the country’s pledge to abandon its nuclear program. Trump last year withdrew from the deal, thrilling Israel and anti-Obama conservatives at home while troubling European allies who insisted it was working. Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the hawkish Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said Iran takes a paramount position in Trump’s worldview, with the president believing the country poses a particularly destructive threat. “I think one should never discount the political calculation, which is that he knows a significant part of his base, including tens of millions of evangelical Christians, agree with him,” Dubowitz said. The passionate opposition to the Iran deal among Trump’s core supporters affords him some room to manoeuvr amid the military buildup, even if “America First” conservatives oppose an outright war. “I haven’t met anybody who thinks we shouldn’t take an incredibly hard line against Iran,” said Mark Meckler, an early leader in the tea party movement. At the same time, he said, “Nobody believes there’s going to be a war.” “What Trump promised in regards to our foreign policy is ‘America First,'” Meckler continued. “He’s doing that.” ___ Peoples reported from New York. ___ Follow Miller and Peoples on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ZekeJMiller and https://twitter.com/sppeoples Zeke Miller And Steve Peoples, The Associated Press

Official: Bomb blast in western Afghanistan kills 2

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 04:19
KABUL - An Afghan official says that a bomb blast in the western province of Herat has killed at least two people, including a child. Gelani Farhad, a spokesman for the province’s governor, says that 14 people were wounded in Saturday morning’s attack in the Obe area, including the district administrative chief. Farhad said that a remotely controlled bomb went off when the district chief’s vehicle was passing by the area’s main market. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Taliban insurgents are active in the province and regularly target Afghan officials and security forces. The Associated Press

Once again, Iraq caught up in tensions between US and Iran

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 04:18
BAGHDAD - When U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down with Iraqi officials in Baghdad last week as tensions mounted between America and Iran, he delivered a nuanced message: If you’re not going to stand with us, stand aside. The message, relayed to The Associated Press by two Iraqi government officials, underscores Iraq’s delicate position: Its government is allied with both sides of an increasingly contentious confrontation. As tensions escalate, there are concerns that Baghdad could once again get caught in the middle, just as it is on the path to recovery. The country hosts more than 5,000 U.S. troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those U.S. forces to leave. “The big question is how Iraqi leaders will deal with (their) national interests in a country where loyalty to external powers is widespread at the expense of their own nation,” Iraqi political analyst Watheq al-Hashimi said. “If the state cannot put these (Iranian-backed militias) under control, Iraq will become an arena for an Iranian-American armed conflict.” Despite the escalation of rhetoric by both sides, President Donald Trump has said he doesn’t want a war with Iran and has even said he is open to dialogue. But tension remains high, in part given the region’s fraught history. For Iraq to be a theatre for proxy wars is not new. The Shiite-majority country lies on the fault line between Shiite Iran and the mostly Sunni Arab world, led by powerhouse Saudi Arabia, and has long been a battlefield in which the Saudi-Iran rivalry for regional supremacy played out. During America’s eight-year military presence that began with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, U.S. troops and Iranian-backed militiamen fought pitched battles around the country, and scores of U.S. troops were killed or wounded by the militia forces armed with sophisticated Iranian-made weapons. American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011 but returned in 2014 at the invitation of Iraq to help battle the Islamic State group after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country, including Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. A U.S.-led coalition provided crucial air support as Iraqi forces regrouped and drove IS out in a costly three-year campaign. Iranian-backed militias fought alongside U.S.-backed Iraqi troops against IS, gaining outsized influence and power. Now, amid an escalating conflict between the U.S. and Iran, Iraq is once again vulnerable to becoming caught up in the power play. An attack targeting U.S. interests in Iraq would be detrimental to the country’s recent efforts at recovering and reclaiming its status in the Arab world. Earlier this year, Trump provoked outrage in Baghdad when he said he wanted U.S. troops to stay in Iraq so they can “watch Iran,” suggesting a changing mission for American troops there. On May 8, Pompeo made a lightning, previously unannounced trip to the Iraqi capital following the abrupt cancellation of a visit to Germany, and as the United States had been picking up intelligence that Iran is threatening American interests in the Middle East. The two Iraqi officials said Pompeo relayed intelligence information the U.S. had received about a threat to U.S. forces in Iraq - but kept it vague. They said he did not specify the nature of the threat. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to divulge confidential information, said Pompeo told the Iraqis that America did not expect them to side with the U.S. in any confrontation with Iran, but that they should not side against America. In other words, stand aside. A few days later, as U.S.-Iranian tensions continued to rise, the State Department ordered all non-essential, non-emergency government staff to leave the country. U.S. officials said Pompeo told the Iraqis the U.S. had an “inherent right to self-defence” and would use it if U.S. personnel, facilities or interests are attacked by Iran or its proxies in Iraq or anywhere else. The three officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss the private meetings in Baghdad and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Pompeo was not contemplating any pre-emptive strikes on Iran or the use of Iraqi territory to stage military operations against Iran. Pompeo’s message, the officials said, was that the U.S. wants to avoid conflict but would respond or defend itself if necessary. The secretary told reporters on the flight that his meetings with Iraq’s president and prime minister were intended to demonstrate U.S. support for “a sovereign, independent” Iraq, free from the influence of neighbouring Iran. Pompeo also said he wanted to underscore Iraq’s need to protect Americans in their country. A general at Iraq’s Defence Ministry said Iraq was taking precautionary security measures in light of the information about threats against U.S. interests, although those measures have not reached the highest levels. “Iraqi forces are worried that American forces could be targeted by factions loyal to Iran,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. He added that any attack on U.S. troops could come as retaliation if the United States were to carry out a military operation against Iran. The heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. come a year after Trump pulled America out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers and as the White House ordered an aircraft carrier and bombers into the region over a still-unexplained threat from Iran. On Sunday, the United Arab Emirates alleged that four oil tankers off its eastern coast were targeted by sabotage. On Tuesday, Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi rebels said they launched seven drones to target Saudi Arabia. The drones stuck pumping stations along the kingdom’s crucial East-West Pipeline, causing minor damage, Saudi officials say. On the streets of Baghdad, some shrugged off the rising tensions while others worried their country could be sucked into another war. Aqil Rubaei said he was worried that his country, which has been at war since a year before he was born, will be the place where the U.S. and Iran will settle their accounts. The 38-year-old was born in 1981, a year after Iran and Iraq began their eight-year war and was 9 years old when Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait leading to a destructive war that forced Iraq out of Kuwait and 13 years of crippling sanctions. In 2003, the U.S. invaded and removed Saddam, leading to the rise of extremist groups that culminated in 2014 with the Islamic State group capturing large parts of Iraq and Syria and declaring a so-called caliphate. The war that followed left entire Iraqi cities and towns destroyed until Iraq declared victory in 2017. “Iraqi people are fed up with war,” said Rubaei inside his cosmetics shop in Baghdad’s Karrada neighbourhood. “We don’t want Iraq to become an arena for an Iranian-American war.” ___ Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report. Qassim Abdul-Zahra And Bassem Mroue, The Associated Press

Libyan officials: Militants kill 3 troops at LNA checkpoint

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 04:17
BENGHAZI, Libya - Libyan officials say Islamic State militants have killed at least three troops in an attack on a checkpoint in a desert town. A statement by the self-styled Libyan National Army said the militants captured four soldiers in the attack at the town of Zallah Saturday, but troops were able to free three of them. The Islamic State group claimed the attack. The extremist group expanded its reach in Libya after the country was plunged into chaos following the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed Moammar Gadhafi. Zallah is about 750 kilometres (466 miles) southeast of the capital, Tripoli, where Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter’s LNA forces are currently fighting to take control of the city from militias affiliated with a weak U.N.-supported government. The Associated Press

Report shocks, angers some of Ohio State doc’s 177 victims

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 04:17
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Victims of a now-dead Ohio State team doctor are reacting with shock, grief and anger at investigative findings that validated a heinous pattern of sexual abuse that many of them say they experienced as young men and then worked to forget for decades. Their reactions follow the university’s release of a report Friday that found Dr. Richard Strauss groped, ogled or otherwise sexually mistreated at least 177 male students from at least 16 sports. Former nursing student, Brian Garrett, said he worked for a short time at an off-campus clinic Strauss opened after he was ousted at Ohio State in the late 1990s. But Garrett quit after witnessing abuse by Strauss and then experiencing it himself. The investigation, he said, left him angrier than before. “We knew that it was systemic and it had been reported,” Garrett said Friday. “It’s even more widespread than we knew.” Garrett thinks the abuse carried out by Strauss across more than a dozen sports and at numerous locations even surpasses that of Larry Nassar, of Michigan State University, who was accused of molesting at least 250 women and girls and is serving what amounts to a life sentence “We did not get to put him on trial. The police did not get to investigate. That’s why it’s worse than the MSU case,” Garrett said. “He took the easy way out.” Strauss killed himself in 2005 nearly a decade after he was allowed to retire with honours. He was 67. No one has publicly defended Strauss, though family members have said they were shocked by the allegations. Ohio State President Michael Drake said there was a “consistent institutional failure” at the school, the nation’s third-largest university. He apologized and commended victims for their courage. Investigators found that Strauss’ abuse went on from 1979 to 1997 and took place at various locations across campus, including examining rooms, locker rooms, showers and saunas, according to investigators. Strauss, among other things, contrived to get young men to strip naked and groped them sexually. The report concluded that scores of Ohio State personnel knew of complaints and concerns about Strauss’ conduct as early as 1979 but failed for years to investigate or take meaningful action. The Associated Press

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