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Bombshell book alleges a Vatican gay subculture, hypocrisy

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 11:30
VATICAN CITY - A gay French writer has lifted the lid on what he calls one of the world’s largest gay communities, the Vatican, estimating that most of its prelates are homosexually inclined and attributing much of the current crisis in the Catholic Church to an internecine war among them. In the explosive book, “In the Closet of the Vatican,” author Frederic Martel describes a gay subculture at the Vatican and calls out the hypocrisy of Catholic bishops and cardinals who in public denounce homosexuality but in private lead double lives. Aside from the subject matter, the book is astonishing for the access Martel had to the inner sanctum of the Holy See. Martel writes that he spent four years researching it in 30 countries, including weeks at a time living inside the Vatican walls. He says the doors were opened by a key Vatican gatekeeper and friend of Pope Francis who was the subject of the pontiff’s famous remark about gay priests, “Who am I to judge?” Martel says he conducted nearly 1,500 in-person interviews with 41 cardinals, 52 bishops or monsignors, and 45 Vatican and foreign ambassadors, many of whom are quoted at length and in on-the-record interviews that he says were recorded. Martel said he was assisted by 80 researchers, translators, fixers and local journalists, as well as a team of 15 lawyers. The 555-page book is being published simultaneously in eight languages in 20 countries, many bearing the title “Sodom.” The Vatican didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Martel appears to want to bolster Francis’ efforts at reforming the Vatican by discrediting his biggest critics and removing the secrecy and scandal that surrounds homosexuality in the church. Church doctrine holds that gays are to be treated with respect and dignity, but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” “Francis knows that he has to move on the church’s stance, and that he will only be able to do this at the cost of a ruthless battle against all those who use sexual morality and homophobia to conceal their own hypocrisies and double lives,” Martel writes. But the book’s Feb. 21 publication date coincides with the start of Francis’ summit of church leaders on preventing the sexual abuse of minors, a crisis that is undermining his papacy. The book isn’t about abuse, but the timing of its release could fuel the narrative, embraced by conservatives and rejected by the gay community, that the abuse scandal has been caused by homosexuals in the priesthood. Martel is quick to separate the two issues. But he echoes the analysis of the late abuse researcher and psychotherapist A.W. Richard Sipe that the hidden sex lives of priests has created a culture of secrecy that allowed the abuse of minors to flourish. According to that argument, since many prelates in positions of authority have their own hidden sexual skeletons, they have no interest in denouncing the criminal pedophiles in their midst lest their own secrets be revealed. The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of “Building a Bridge” about how the Catholic Church should reach out more to the LGBT community, said that based on the excerpts he had read, Martel’s book “makes a convincing case that in the Vatican many priests bishops and even cardinals are gay, and that some of them are sexually active.” But Martin added that the book’s sarcastic tone belies its fatal flaw. “His extensive research is buried under so much gossip and innuendo that it makes it difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction.” “There are many gay priests, bishops and cardinals in ministry today in the church,” Martin said. “But most of them are, like their straight counterparts, remaining faithful to a life of chastity and celibacy.” In the course of his research, Martel said he came to several conclusions about the reality of the Holy See that he calls the “rules,” chief among them that the more obviously gay the priest, bishop or cardinal, the more vehement his anti-gay rhetoric. Martel says his aim is not to “out” living prelates, though he makes some strong insinuations about those who are “in the parish,” a euphemism he learns is code for gay clergy. Martin said Martel “traffics in some of the worst gay stereotypes” by using sarcastic and derogatory terms, such as when he writes of Francis’ plight: “Francis is said to be ‘among the wolves.’ It’s not quite true: he’s among the queens.” Martel moves from one scandal to another - from the current one over ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington to the priest-friendly gay migrant prostitute scene near Rome’s train station. He traces the reasons behind Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation and the coverup of the Mexican founder of the Legion of Christ, the pedophile Rev. Marcial Maciel. In each, Martel parses the scandal through the lens of the gay-friendly or homophobic prelates he says were involved. Equal parts investigative journalism and salacious gossip, Martel paints a picture of an institution almost at war with itself, rife with rumour and with leaders struggling to rationalize their own sexual appetites and orientations with official church teachings that require chastity and its unofficial tradition of hostility toward gays. “Never, perhaps, have the appearances of an institution been so deceptive,” Martel writes. “Equally deceptive are the pronouncements about celibacy and the vows of chastity that conceal a completely different reality.” Martel is not a household name in France, but is known in the French LGBT community as an advocate for gay rights. Those familiar with his work view it as rigorous, notably his 90-minute weekly show on public radio station France Culture called “Soft Power.” Recent episodes include investigations into global digital investment and the U.S.-China trade war. As a French government adviser in the 1990s, he played a prominent role in legislation allowing civil unions, which not only allowed gay couples to formalize their relationships and share assets, but also proved hugely popular among heterosexual French couples increasingly skeptical of marriage. His nonfiction books include a treatise on homosexuality in France over the past 50 years called “The Pink and the Black” (a sendup of Stendhal’s classic “The Red and the Black”), as well as an investigation of the internet industry and a study of culture in the United States. Martel attributes the high percentage of gays in the clergy to the fact that up until the homosexual liberation of the 1970s, gay Catholic men had few options. “So these pariahs became initiates and made a strength of a weakness,” he writes. That analysis helps explain the dramatic fall in vocations in recent decades, as gay Catholic men now have other options, not least to live their lives openly, even in marriage. ___ Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed. Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press

Amazon decision a win for Democrats’ rising left wing

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 11:28
WASHINGTON - What is happening to the Democrats? Captivated by a handful of liberal superstars, they are venturing where the party has long feared to tread: Steep taxes on the rich. Abolishing an immigration enforcement agency. Proposing “economic transformation” to combat climate change. Gleefully waving goodbye to a big business - and its jobs. On Thursday, newly-elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez led a chorus of cheers as Amazon announced it was abandoning plans to build a sought-after headquarters in New York City. Activists berated the online giant for a $3 billion package of tax breaks she said the city could better invest in hiring teachers or fixing the subway. This is not the Democratic Party of yesteryear. Or even last year. “The Amazon New York fight is an illustration of how power is moving to the left,” said Ben Wikler, of the liberal group MoveOn. “One of the world’s most powerful organizations doesn’t want to pick a fight with progressive activists.” As the liberal flank celebrates its sudden ascendance in the party, energized by the new House freshmen pushing the party toward bold policy solutions, others wonder if the Democrats are veering so far left they’re about to fall off a cliff. Matt Bennett, vice-president of Third Way, a centre-left think-tank , says, the leftward drift “could be trouble” if Democrats aren’t offering a vision of the country that speaks to ordinary voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election. “Bashing Amazon will get you cheers in precincts in the left and online, but that seems bananas to most people who think it would be good to work at a job that pays well,” Bennett said. “The risk is that the eventual nominee goes too far during this primary process and becomes hard to support for a lot of people who might be interested in getting rid of (President Donald) Trump.” It’s a valid debate ahead of a presidential primary season with an unusually robust roster of contenders trying to wrest the White House from Trump. The race comes at a time of shifting party loyalties and eroding confidence in traditional corridors of power, a dynamic that has recast the policy prescriptions of both parties. The big questions for 2020: Will Democrats move beyond the centre-left policies that have dominated the party since Bill Clinton’s presidency? And if so, will they find the electorate is repelled, as Republicans claim, or will they discover that a country long described as “centre-right” is receptive to a return to liberalism? Democratic pollster John Anzalone said the leftward lurch that’s playing out in the Amazon fight wouldn’t necessarily hurt the party heading into 2020 and could resonate with voters. “When you’re doing corporate giveaways, whether for a big company or a sports team, it’s not as cut-and-dry as most people think,” Anzalone said. “The fact is there tends to be a belief that these big corporations have a lot of money and use their power to get deals they don’t need.” As if to highlight the churn within the party, the 2020 class was mixed in their reactions. A spokesman for former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg didn’t respond to a request for comment. Howard Schultz, another business-minded former Democrat who’s now weighing an independent bid for president, also declined to comment. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who have long railed against the influence of corporations, weighed in, as did New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. “The people of New York and America are increasingly concerned about the power of large multinational corporations and the billions in corporate welfare they receive,” Sanders said in a statement. “Our job is to end the race to the bottom where taxpayers in one city or state are forced to bid against each other for desperately needed jobs. This is what the rigged economy is all about.” Warren tweeted: “One of the wealthiest companies on the planet – just walked away from billions in taxpayer bribes, all because some elected officials in New York aren’t sucking up to them enough. How long will we allow giant corporations to hold our democracy hostage?” And Gillibrand said, “Walking away so quickly shows that Amazon was interested in the taxpayer assistance and not being a good neighbour in Queens hiring the greatest workers in the world.” As liberal activists across the country welcomed Amazon’s decision as a fresh demonstration of the increasing power of the Democratic Party’s far-left wing, Republicans highlighted the same thing, using the situation to cast the modern-day Democratic Party as extreme. Following Trump’s lead, they pepper their speeches with claims that Democrats are veering toward socialism. “Now, thousands of #New Yorkers will be deprived of good paying jobs at #amazon because of socialists like @AOC – and unfortunately the promise of a #greenjob won’t pay the bills,” former Trump aide Sean Spicer said on Twitter. In New York, Democratic Sen. Todd Kaminsky of Long Island issued a formal “invitation” to the company to relocate to Nassau County. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, a member of Republican leadership, said, “It is so interesting to watch this very hard left turn that the Democrat party has taken. To me, this is just so extreme. It’s way out of the mainstream.” On Capitol Hill, it’s hard not to compare the arrival of Ocasio-Cortez and the emerging Democratic divide to the tea party class of 2010 that took control of the House and pushed the Republican agenda rightward, ultimately helping give rise to the politics of Trump. It’s not just Ocasio-Cortez. She and House colleagues - Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts - jointly announced their opposition to the bipartisan border security deal. They want to cut the Department of Homeland Security’s budget over the administration’s deportation policies, including those that separated families at the border. The four lawmakers were urged on by activists outside the Capitol, protesting what’s seen as ICE’s unnecessarily harsh deportations and raids against immigrants here illegally. Omar, who is Muslim-American, pushed the party further into conflict this week with comments about Israel that were widely seen as anti-Semitic. She apologized. But the questions she and others are raising about the longstanding U.S. ally reflect a growing unease among some Democrats with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the Democratic Party’s diversity in the House is its strength, as evidenced by the way her caucus held unified against Trump’s demand for money from Congress to build the wall on the border with Mexico. “Welcome to the Democratic Party,” Pelosi said Thursday. “We are not a monolith, never have been. And who would want to lead a party that would be described that way?” While some high-profile newcomers are capturing media attention, the House majority was also won with new lawmakers who are more measured in their approach to governing even as they battle Trump. All but 19 Democrats approved the bipartisan border package late Thursday. But other Democrats marvel at how quickly the party has shifted even since the 2016 election. This week, when the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, announced an upcoming vote on the Green New Deal climate change plan as a way to force Democrats into an awkward vote, the Democrats responded, “Bring it on.” They say Americans want answers on climate change, and Republicans have none. Ocasio-Cortez, who stunned Washington when she knocked off an incumbent party leader during a primary last year, recently suggested a 70 per cent marginal tax rate on top earners. “Anything is possible,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Thursday, “today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbours defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world.” ___ Associated Press writer David Klepper in Albany, New York, contributed to this report. Lisa Mascaro And Steve Peoples, The Associated Press

100 days after Paradise burned, the stories of the victims

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 11:11
On that frantic morning, TK Huff was calm. The 71-year-old amputee sat in his wheelchair, pointing a garden hose at what quickly became the deadliest wildfire in California history. Nobody knew at the time, early on Nov. 8, how bad it would be. When his family called at 7:15 a.m., Huff said he would leave. But he never made it out. All around, fires were breaking out, and men and women - most of them elderly, many of them disabled - were doomed: Flames soon overtook 74-year-old Richard Brown’s beloved log cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills. On the edge of neighbouring Paradise, a blaze prompted the Feather Canyon Retirement Community to evacuate its residents - all except 88-year-old Julian Binstock, overlooked in the chaos. It was just the start of a day that was almost unfathomable. An entire town was burned off the map of California. Nearly 14,000 homes were incinerated. All told, 85 people would perish. The oldest was 99; of the 73 bodies that have been identified, 59 were 65 or older. One hundred days later - with the aid of public records showing the locations of victims’ deaths, CalFire mapping of the fire’s progression and dozens of interviews - their stories can be told. How they lived, how they died. And how a fire that started at 6:30 a.m. in the tiny town of Pulga would become the nation’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire in more than century. ___ The flames spread through the back of Concow, where Huff lived. This was no ordinary fire, with fronts marching steadily forward. Wind gusts of at least 50 mph blew hot embers a mile or more, creating multiple fires at once and igniting areas the size of football fields every few seconds, said CalFire spokesman Scott McLean. Huff and his wife, Margaret, who died in August, knew the risk of wildfires. Their house, high on a wooded ridge, burned down in 2008. But this was the house where three generations gathered for Easter egg hunts, for Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, and pretty much every weekend of the year. With no internet or cell reception, the focus was always on family. So they rebuilt. Huff was stoic and strong, a farm labourer who worked in the fields his whole life; he lost a leg in a potato harvesting accident in 2001 but didn’t let his disability hold him back, said his daughter-in-law Pearl Lankford, whose own house in Paradise burned down along with the homes of eight family members. When the fire arrived, just after sunrise, Huff’s instinct was to save his house. “We told him, ‘You need to evacuate now,'” said his granddaughter Jordan Huff, 22, who lived in Paradise. “He was putting out the flames in his backyard in his wheelchair,” she said. “There was no distress in his voice.” Soon after the family’s call at 7:15 that morning, the house phone went dead. A CalFire simulation shows that by 9 a.m., flames had overtaken Green Forest Lane, where Huff lived. His remains were found in the ashes of his house. The only thing still standing was his wheelchair, near the back fence with the garden hose. By then a separate fire about a mile away had destroyed the log cabin built by Richard Brown, the unofficial mayor of Concow, a Vietnam veteran whose mom and stepdad had a winery in Paradise - which is how he came to name his daughter, Chardonnay Telly. She recalled her dad as relentlessly upbeat, a man who loved to tinker with old cars that inevitably broke down in the middle of nowhere. His remains would later be found under one of those vehicles, on his beloved patch of land. About the same time, more than two miles to the west, on the eastern edge of Paradise, the Feather Canyon Retirement Community was hastily evacuating its more than 100 residents. In the chaos, they somehow overlooked Julian Binstock, 88 - something that rarely happened in a life that took him from Brooklyn to Harvard University to the entertainment business, where he would become a vice-president of Warner Communications. At the retirement community, where he had moved with his wife Elisabetta a decade ago, he was known for his sense of humour. Each year, he won the award for “Funniest Resident”; he kept up his reputation by asking his children for jokes to try out on his neighbours, said his daughter, Christina Lamb, of Southborough, Massachusetts. By 9 a.m., the community was gone, and so was Binstock. Lamb, her two siblings and children would spend a frantic week looking for him in evacuation centres and hospitals, but he had died in his residence. She doesn’t fault the retirement centre. “It’s the fire’s fault,” she said. ___ By 10 a.m., the fire surged across a canyon and into the town of Paradise, population 27,000. It had torched 20 square miles and sparked a separate fire miles away on the other side of town. On the eastern edge of Paradise, 93-year-old Dorothy Lee Herrera had already left a frantic voicemail for her son, Arthur Lee: “There’s a fire, we’ve got to get out!” But by the time he called back, there was no answer. She and her husband, Lou Herrera, 86, died in the house where they’d lived for a quarter century, amid the ashes of trees that provided fruit for Dorothy’s delicious pies. North of the Herrera home, the fire roared through the Ridgewood Mobile Home Park, a tidy community for people 55 and older near the Ponderosa Elementary School, killing Teresa Ammons, 82, Helen Pace, 84, and Dorothy Mack, an 87-year-old retired clerk for the California Department of Corrections who loved Paradise. To her it was a more affordable Grass Valley, the Northern California town where she’s grown up. Ernie Foss, a 63-year-old musician, also left the expensive San Francisco Bay Area for the cheaper Paradise. His body and that of his dog, Bernice, were found outside his home, near his wheelchair and minivan, according to his children. The body of his caretaker and stepson, Andrew Burt, was found a quarter-mile away on Edgewood Lane, outside a vehicle at an intersection where four others died in their cars, trying to flee. Burt was 36 and among the younger victims of the fire. He moved to Paradise with his mother, Linda, and her husband, Foss, about a decade ago and stayed on as a caregiver after his mother died in 2012. His brother, James Burt, said he can’t imagine how dire the situation must have been for Andrew to leave Ernie Foss behind. “The general consensus was that Andy would not have abandoned Ernie,” he said, “but if Ernie had passed or told Andy to save himself, he would have.” By the time the fire reached Burt and Foss, it was 10:45 a.m. Minutes later, the inferno consumed David Marbury, 66. A private man who loved horses, Marbury grew up in Vallejo, California, and headed for the Navy after high school. He eventually retired from the commuter rail Bay Area Rapid Transit and moved to Paradise - “just a good person all around,” said his niece, Sadia Quint. ___ By 11 a.m., the centre of Paradise was being overtaken by flames. More than a half-dozen fires to the east of town had merged to form a 32 square-mile inferno, a wall of fire and smoke roughly the size of Manhattan. As the blaze raced west, it reached the homes of John Digby and Victoria Taft - 2.5 miles apart - almost simultaneously. Both had spoken to their adult children that morning for the last time. Victoria Taft’s parting words with her 22-year-old daughter, Christina, were tense. A neighbour had come knocking around 8:30 a.m. A fire was coming - they should evacuate. Mother and daughter argued about what to do. Taft refused to leave. If the threat was real, authorities would order an evacuation, she told her daughter. By 10 a.m. Christina could see the morning sky blackening from smoke. She packed the car and left, joining what had become a bumper-to-bumper exodus. Victoria Taft’s remains were recovered from the ruins of her living room. In the aftermath, Christina set out to memorialize her mother and in the process discovered a woman she hardly knew existed - a free spirited, fun-loving Southern California beauty who acted in television, movies and commercials, partied with rock stars in the ’70s and ’80s and travelled the world before motherhood became her focus. Taft, 66, was losing her eyesight from glaucoma and suffered from memory loss. When Christina asked about her youth, Taft didn’t remember the details. But among the items Christina frantically grabbed that morning were boxes of documents from a closet, only later discovering the contents: her mom’s old resumes, head shots, casting lists. The decision to leave her mother behind will forever haunt her. “I didn’t do enough to get my mom out,” she said. “I feel like I accidentally killed her by not helping her.” Across town, John Digby talked by phone with his son Roman in Owatonna, Minnesota. The son wanted his father to see a doctor about his sore throat. Digby - a 78-year-old Air Force veteran and retired postal carrier - didn’t mention anything about a fire. Two hours later, the fire reached Digby at his home in Space 3 at the Pine Springs Mobile Home Park. A neighbour later told Roman Digby that he tried to get his father to leave, but his father said no. A quarter-hour after the fire reached Digby and Taft, it came for Andrew Downer - who also had a chance to leave, but chose not to. Downer, 54, had lost his right leg to diabetes and infection from surgery, and he used a wheelchair. His caregiver Cindy MacDonald was thinking about running over to fix him breakfast, but then she got a call warning of fire. She offered to pick Downer up, but he declined. The dogs didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to leave the place to looters. Downer, described by friends as loud and fun and generous, died in the house he had filled with collections of marbles, crystals and antiques - and condiments. ___ Nearly three weeks later, 80-year-old Larry R. Smith was taken off life support at a Northern California medical centre - the 85th and final victim of the Camp Fire. “Uncle Ronnie” - born to a Dust Bowl family of eight children that had come to California to pick crops - loved to host gatherings of the clan on the rambling property he purchased in Paradise about three decades ago. Recently, he had started showing signs of dementia but he was independent and reluctant to leave the first house he ever purchased. Smith had tried to save his treasured truck, a 1993 Dodge Ram that he rarely drove but plastered with contradictory political bumper stickers. Rescuers found Smith barefoot and badly burned. He died on Nov. 25. Jocelyn Gecker And Janie Har, The Associated Press

Statistics Canada says adults living with parents are employed and single

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 11:03
OTTAWA - A Statistics Canada report is digging deeper into what kind of adults live with their parents, and the agency finds they’re often employed and single. Almost two million Canadians aged 25 to 64 lived with at least one parent in 2017, more than double than in 1995. Close to three-quarters of them have never left home. Seventy per cent are single but they’re not just melting into the couch. Almost three-quarters have some form of employment. The report released Friday also notes that South Asian and Chinese Canadians were more likely to live at home. The agency says further analysis could reveal what motivates Canadians to live with their parents at a time when more are doing so than ever before. The Canadian Press

Trump declares national emergency to build border wall

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 10:39
WASHINGTON - Battling with one branch of government and opening a new confrontation with another, President Donald Trump announced Friday he was declaring a national emergency to fulfil his pledge to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Bypassing Congress, which approved far less money for his proposed wall than he had sought, Trump said he would use executive action to siphon billions of dollars from federal military construction and counterdrug efforts for the wall, aides said. The move is already drawing bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill and expected to face rounds of legal challenges. Trump made the announcement from the Rose Garden, as he claimed illegal immigration was “an invasion of our country.” Trump’s move followed a rare show of bipartisanship when lawmakers voted Thursday to fund large swaths of the government and avoid a repeat of this winter’s debilitating five-week government shutdown. The money in the bill for border barriers, about $1.4 billion, is far below the $5.7 billion Trump insisted he needed and would finance just a quarter of the more than 200 miles (322 kilometres) he wanted this year. To bridge the gap, Trump announced that he will be spending roughly $8 billion on border barriers - combining the money approved by Congress with funding he plans to repurpose through executive actions, including the national emergency. The money is expected to come from funds targeted for military construction and counterdrug efforts, but aides could not immediately specify which military projects would be affected. Despite widespread opposition in Congress to proclaiming an emergency, including by some Republicans, Trump was responding to pressure to act unilaterally to soothe his conservative base and avoid appearing like he’s lost his wall battle. Word that Trump would declare the emergency prompted condemnations from Democrats and threats of lawsuits from states and others who might lose federal money or said Trump was abusing his authority. In a sing-songy tone of voice, Trump described how the decision will be challenged and work its way through the courts, including up to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said, “Sadly, we’ll be sued and sadly it will go through a process and happily we’ll win, I think.” In an unusual joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called it an “unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist” and said it “does great violence to our Constitution and makes America less safe, stealing from urgently needed defence funds for the security of our military and our nation. “ “The President’s actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution,” they said. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the Courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.” Democratic state attorneys general said they’d consider legal action to block Trump. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello told the president on Twitter “we’ll see you in court” if he made the declaration. Even if his emergency declaration withstands challenge, Trump is still billions of dollars short of his overall funding needed to build the wall as he promised in 2016. After two years of effort, Trump has not added any new border mileage; all of the construction so far has gone to replacing and repairing existing structures. Ground is expected to be broken in South Texas soon on the first new mileage. The White House said Trump would not try to redirect federal disaster aid to the wall, a proposal they had considered but rejected over fears of a political blowback. — Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Padmananda Rama, Andrew Taylor, Deb Riechmann, Colleen Long, Lolita Baldor and Matthew Daly contributed. Alan Fram, Catherine Lucey And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Amazon’s exit could scare off tech companies from New York

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 10:36
NEW YORK - Amazon jilted New York City on Valentine’s Day, scrapping plans to build a massive headquarters campus in Queens amid fierce opposition from politicians angry about nearly $3 billion in tax breaks and the company’s anti-union stance. With millions of jobs and a bustling economy, New York can withstand the blow, but experts say the decision by the e-commerce giant to walk away and take with it 25,000 promised jobs could scare off other companies considering moving to or expanding in the city, which wants to be seen as the Silicon Valley of the East Coast. “One of the real risks here is the message we send to companies that want to come to New York and expand to New York,” said Julie Samuels, the executive director of industry group Tech: NYC. “We’re really playing with fire right now.” In November, Amazon selected New York City and Crystal City, Virginia, as the winners of a secretive, yearlong process in which more than 230 North American cities bid to become the home of the Seattle-based company’s second headquarters. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo heralded the city’s selection at the time as the biggest boon yet to its burgeoning tech economy and underscored that the deal would generate billions of dollars for improving transit, schools and housing. Opposition came swiftly though, as details started to emerge. Critics complained about public subsidies that were offered to Amazon and chafed at some of the conditions of the deal, such as the company’s demand for access to a helipad. Some pleaded for the deal to be renegotiated or scrapped altogether. “We knew this was going south from the moment it was announced,” said Thomas Stringer, a site selection adviser for big companies. “If this was done right, all the elected officials would have been out there touting how great it was. When you didn’t see that happen, you knew something was wrong.” Stringer, a managing director of the consulting firm BDO USA LLP, said city and state officials need to rethink the secrecy with which they approached the negotiations. Community leaders and potential critics were kept in the dark, only to be blindsided when details became public. “It’s time to hit the reset button and say, ‘What did we do wrong?'” Stringer said. “This is fumbling at the 1-yard line.” Amazon said in a statement Thursday that its commitment to New York City required “positive, collaborative relationships” with state and local officials and that a number of them had “made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward.” Not that Amazon is blameless, experts say. Joe Parilla, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, said the company’s high-profile bidding process may have stoked the backlash. Companies usually search for new locations quietly, in part to avoid the kind of opposition Amazon received. “They had this huge competition, and the media covered it really aggressively, and a bunch of cities responded,” Parilla said. “What did you expect? It gave the opposition a much bigger platform.” Richard Florida, an urban studies professor and critic of Amazon’s initial search process, said the company should have expected to feel the heat when it selected New York, a city known for its neighbourhood activism. “At the end of the day, this is going to hurt Amazon,” said Florida, head of the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute. “This is going to embolden people who don’t like corporate welfare across the country.” Other tech companies have been keeping New York City’s tech economy churning without making much of a fuss. Google is spending $2.4 billion to build up its Manhattan campus. Cloud-computing company Salesforce has plastered its name on Verizon’s former headquarters in midtown, and music streaming service Spotify is gobbling up space at the World Trade Center complex. Despite higher costs, New York City remains attractive to tech companies because of its vast, diverse talent pool, world-class educational and cultural institutions and access to other industries, such as Wall Street capital and Madison Avenue ad dollars. No other metropolitan area in the U.S. has as many computer-related jobs as New York City, which has 225,600, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Washington, Boston, Atlanta and Dallas each have a greater concentration of their workers in tech. In the New York area, the average computer-related job pays roughly $104,000 a year, about $15,000 above the national average. Still, that’s about $20,000 less than in San Francisco. Even after cancelling its headquarters project, Amazon still has 5,000 employees in New York City, not counting Whole Foods. “New York has actually done a really great job of growing and supporting its tech ecosystem, and I’m confident that will continue,” Samuels said. “Today we took a step back, but I would not put the nail in the coffin of tech in New York City.” ___ Follow Sisak at www.twitter.com/mikesisak and Boak at www.twitter.com/joshboak. ___ Boak reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Bernard Condon in New York and Chris Rugaber in Washington contributed to this report. Michael R. Sisak And Josh Boak, The Associated Press

Amazon decision a win for Democrats’ rising left wing

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 10:33
WASHINGTON - What is happening to the Democrats? Captivated by a handful of liberal superstars, they are venturing where the party has long feared to tread: Steep taxes on the rich. Abolishing an immigration enforcement agency. Proposing “economic transformation” to combat climate change. Gleefully waving goodbye to a big business - and its jobs. On Thursday, newly-elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez led a chorus of cheers as Amazon announced it was abandoning plans to build a sought-after headquarters in New York City. Activists berated the online giant for a $3 billion package of tax breaks she said the city could better invest in hiring teachers or fixing the subway. This is not the Democratic Party of yesteryear. Or even last year. “The Amazon New York fight is an illustration of how power is moving to the left,” said Ben Wikler, of the liberal group MoveOn. “One of the world’s most powerful organizations doesn’t want to pick a fight with progressive activists.” As the liberal flank celebrates its sudden ascendance in the party, energized by the new House freshmen pushing the party toward bold policy solutions, others wonder if the Democrats are veering so far left they’re about to fall off a cliff. It’s a valid question ahead of a presidential primary season with an unusually robust roster of contenders trying to wrest the White House from President Donald Trump. The race comes at a time of shifting party loyalties and eroding confidence in traditional corridors of power, a dynamic that has recast the policy prescriptions of both parties. The big questions for 2020: Will Democrats move beyond the centre-left policies that have dominated the party since Bill Clinton’s presidency? And if so, will they find the electorate is repelled, as Republicans claim, or will they discover that a country long described as “centre-right” is receptive to a return to liberalism? Democratic pollster John Anzalone said the leftward lurch that’s playing out in the Amazon fight wouldn’t necessarily hurt the party heading into 2020 and could resonate with voters. “When you’re doing corporate giveaways, whether for a big company or a sports team, it’s not as cut-and-dry as most people think,” Anzalone said. “The fact is there tends to be a belief that these big corporations have a lot of money and use their power to get deals they don’t need.” As if to highlight the churn within the party, the 2020 class was mixed in their reactions. A spokesman for former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg didn’t respond to a request for comment. Howard Schultz, another business-minded former Democrat who’s now weighing an independent bid for president, also declined to comment. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who have long railed against the influence of corporations, weighed in, as did New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. “The people of New York and America are increasingly concerned about the power of large multinational corporations and the billions in corporate welfare they receive,” Sanders said in a statement. “Our job is to end the race to the bottom where taxpayers in one city or state are forced to bid against each other for desperately needed jobs. This is what the rigged economy is all about.” Warren tweeted: “One of the wealthiest companies on the planet – just walked away from billions in taxpayer bribes, all because some elected officials in New York aren’t sucking up to them enough. How long will we allow giant corporations to hold our democracy hostage?” And Gillibrand said, “Walking away so quickly shows that Amazon was interested in the taxpayer assistance and not being a good neighbour in Queens hiring the greatest workers in the world.” As liberal activists across the country welcomed Amazon’s decision as a fresh demonstration of the increasing power of the Democratic Party’s far-left wing, Republicans highlighted the same thing, using the situation to cast the modern-day Democratic Party as extreme. Following Trump’s lead, they pepper their speeches with claims that Democrats are veering toward socialism. “Now, thousands of #New Yorkers will be deprived of good paying jobs at #amazon because of socialists like @AOC – and unfortunately the promise of a #greenjob won’t pay the bills,” former Trump aide Sean Spicer said on Twitter. On Capitol Hill, it’s hard not to compare the arrival of Ocasio-Cortez and the emerging Democratic divide to the tea party class of 2010 that took control of the House and pushed the Republican agenda rightward, ultimately helping give rise to the politics of Trump. It’s not just Ocasio-Cortez. She and House colleagues - Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts - jointly announced their opposition to the bipartisan border security deal. They want to cut the Department of Homeland Security’s budget over the administration’s deportation policies, including those that separated families at the border. The four lawmakers were urged on by activists outside the Capitol, protesting what’s seen as ICE’s unnecessarily harsh deportations and raids against immigrants here illegally. Omar, who is Muslim-American, pushed the party further into conflict this week with comments about Israel that were widely seen as anti-Semitic. She apologized. But the questions she and others are raising about the longstanding U.S. ally reflect a growing unease among some Democrats with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the Democratic Party’s diversity in the House is its strength, as evidenced by the way her caucus held unified against Trump’s demand for money from Congress to build the wall on the border with Mexico. “Welcome to the Democratic Party,” Pelosi said Thursday. “We are not a monolith, never have been. And who would want to lead a party that would be described that way?” While some high-profile newcomers are capturing media attention, the House majority was also won with new lawmakers who are more measured in their approach to governing even as they battle Trump. All but 19 Democrats approved the bipartisan border package late Thursday. But other Democrats marvel at how quickly the party has shifted even since the 2016 election. This week, when the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, announced an upcoming vote on the Green New Deal climate change plan as a way to force Democrats into an awkward vote, the Democrats responded, “Bring it on.” They say Americans want answers on climate change, and Republicans have none. Ocasio-Cortez, who stunned Washington when she knocked off an incumbent party leader during a primary last year, recently suggested a 70 per cent marginal tax rate on top earners. “Anything is possible,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Thursday, “today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbours defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world.” Lisa Mascaro And Steve Peoples, The Associated Press

Trump’s national emergency: from shutdown frying pan to constitutional fire

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 10:18
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump is finally ending America's shutdown standoff, but diving headlong - virtually in the same breath - into a national emergency that’s widely expected to trigger a fresh constitutional crisis. Even as he approves a funding bill to avoid a second government shutdown just weeks after the last one, Trump is declaring an emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border in order to secure billions of dollars for his promised barrier against illegal immigrants. “We’re going to confront the national security crisis at our southern border…. I’m going to be signing a national emergency,” he told a news conference at the White House, suggesting that some of the emergencies invoked by his predecessors didn’t measure up to the one he believes he is dealing with. “It’s been signed before for far less important things, in some cases - we’re talking about an invasion of our country of drugs, human traffickers, all kinds of drugs and gangs.” Critics have long pointed out that most of the drugs that enter the U.S. do so at official points of entry. Trump, however, said he doesn’t buy it. “It’s a lie,” he insisted. “It’s a con game.” The legislative compromise reached Thursday by Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill provides just $1.4 billion for border security, well short of the $5.7 billion the president was demanding for a border barrier. So he's following through on a threat to make an emergency out of what the White House calls a “national security and humanitarian crisis” at the southern border, bypassing the legislative branch to make up the balance with disaster funding from the Department of Defense, which doesn’t require approval from Congress. The move - which gives the president access to some $8 billion in funding - has vociferious opponents on both sides of the congressional aisle who consider it an abuse of executive power. It also exposes prominent Republicans - including Trump himself - to cries of hypocrisy, considering the outrage they showed at former president Barack Obama's frequent use of executive action. Elizabeth Goitein, a co-director of the national security program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, called Trump’s move a “grotesque abuse of power.”  “Emergency powers are for emergencies, not for circumventing the will of Congress on questions of policy,” Goitein said in a statement that also called for changes to the National Emergencies Act in order to prevent future attempts to end-run the democratic process.   That law, which gives the president broad power when it comes to emergencies, is sure to be tested in court against what Goitein called “copious evidence” that Trump is simply trying to steer around Congress. “Regardless of the outcome, Congress should learn its lesson: gifting presidents with limitless discretion and hoping they won't abuse it is taking dangerous risks with our democracy.” The Canadian Press

Liberals give BlackBerry $40M to support self-driving car development

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 10:16
OTTAWA - BlackBerry is getting $40 million in federal funding to help it develop technologies for self-driving cars. The company is putting $300 million of its own money into the initiative, expected to create 800 jobs over the next decade at BlackBerry’s campus in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata, as well as support 300 existing jobs there. The one-time smartphone leader is now working on advanced software for autonomous vehicles and will use federal money for software development and skills training for workers. BlackBerry says its QNX software is already in tens of millions of cars, guiding systems related to driver assistance, hands-free features and entertainment consoles. During an event this morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the money is a sign the government has the backs of Canadian tech companies who want to lead in a new economy. Trudeau says his government will support companies both large and small looking to take risks in a growing and transforming global economy. The Canadian Press

Father of girl found dead after Amber Alert issued to face charges: police

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 10:15
A father who allegedly killed his 11-year-old daughter while the two were supposed to be celebrating the girl’s birthday is in police custody and will soon be facing charges in her death, officers west of Toronto said Friday. Peel regional police Const. Danny Marttini said Roopesh Rajkumar was en route back to Brampton, Ont., the city where his daughter Riya was found dead late Thursday. He was arrested by provincial police some 130 kilometres away, near Orillia, Ont. Riya was briefly the subject of an Amber Alert on Thursday night, hours after her mother went to police to report that 41-year-old Rajkumar, her former boyfriend, was allegedly making comments indicating his intention to harm both himself and their child, Marttini said. “She came in already fully concerned saying, ‘this is what he’s saying to me, I’m concerned for the well-being of my daughter, I need some help,'” Marttini said. “Obviously our investigators took action right away.” The girl did not live with her father on a full-time basis, police said, but had been dropped off at a gas station in nearby Mississauga, Ont., at about 3 p.m. so her father could take her out for her birthday. Riya was found dead at her father’s home shortly after the Amber Alert was issued at around 11:30 p.m., Marttini said. OPP Staff Sgt. Carolle Dionne said a motorist driving on Highway 11 in Oro-Medonte, Ont., shortly before midnight noticed Rajkumar’s vehicle, which had been described in the Amber Alert broadcasted to cellphones across the province. “As a result of the Amber Alert, they observed the vehicle and gave us the coordinates,” she said. “Thankfully … we were able to apprehend this man.” Marttini said it’s too early to know what charges the father will be facing, but indicated he will officially be accused in Riya’s death. “There’s obviously the potential for first-degree (murder), second-degree or manslaughter,” Marttini said. “That conversation has to happen between our homicide bureau and the Crown attorney … That is the spectrum of charges we’re looking at.” The area around Rajkumar’s Brampton home was cordoned off by police Friday morning and officers were seen moving around the area. Several people stopped by the scene to leave flowers and pay their respects. Emmanuel Okafor, who lives nearby, paused near the home, clasped his hands and said a silent prayer. “I pray to God the family lives through this,” he said. “No family should ever go through this … It breaks my heart.” Okafor said he followed the situation closely after the Amber Alert was issued. “It’s senseless,” he said. “We were really hoping last night she would be found alive, not knowing this morning we’d have this tragic news.” Christopher Willis, who also lives nearby, said the neighbourhood was stunned by the news. “It’s shocking to know this could happen close to home,” he said, adding the story has particular resonance for him as the father of a three-year-old girl. “It just seems impossible.” Jennifer Fuller, who has a daughter around the same age as Riya, laid flowers a snowbank near the home.  “It’s sickening and it’s sad,” she said. Grief and shock were also setting in at Meadowvale Village Public School in Mississauga, Ont., where Riya was a Grade 5 student. The school issued a statement expressing shock at the girl’s “tragic” death, announcing flags would be lowered to half-mast, and outlining supports available to students struggling to cope with the news. “Riya was a well-liked student, and her death is deeply felt by everyone at the school,” Principal Stacy Service said in the letter. “Even students who did not personally know Riya will also be affected.” Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie called Riya’s death “senseless,” and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown called the alleged killing a “horrific act.” Both Peel and provincial police said they continued to deal Friday with another form of fallout from the Amber Alert - people calling to complain about the late-night alerts or repeat broadcasts that were issued after Rajkumar was in custody. Dionne lamented that some people valued their own convenience over the safety of a child, a sentiment echoed by Marttini. “We’re talking about a child that was missing,” Marttini said. “I feel for everyone, but given the circumstances, I think it did lead to the arrest of the individual. I think that’s what we have to focus on.” The Amber Alert that helped lead to Rajkumar’s arrest is a special bulletin issued when a child under 18 is abducted and believed to be in imminent danger. In order to meet the criteria for the alert, police must also have a description of either a suspect or a suspect vehicle. Shawn Jeffords and Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Wilson-Raybould’s cabinet move due to departure from team: Trudeau

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 10:11
OTTAWA - Jody Wilson-Raybould would still be justice minister if it wasn’t for the resignation of former Treasury Board president Scott Brison, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday, downplaying suggestions she was moved for not giving into political arm-twisting. Trudeau said Brison’s decision to leave politics resulted in having to “move things around” on the team, including shuffling Wilson-Raybould into the veterans affairs portfolio. “One of the seniors members of our team stepped down and we had to move things around on the team,” Trudeau said. “If Scott Brison had not stepped down from cabinet, Jody Wilson-Raybould would still be minister of justice and attorney general.” Trudeau was also asked directly if the decision to move Wilson-Raybould out of justice had anything to do with SNC-Lavalin. “Any time, one makes a decision to shift members of cabinet, there are always a wide range of factors that go into making that decision,” he said. Last week, the Globe and Mail reported that Wilson-Raybould felt pressured to instruct the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement with Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin rather than pursue a criminal trial on charges of bribery and fraud linked to the company’s efforts to secure business in Libya. Wilson-Raybould proceeded to quit the cabinet on Tuesday. Trudeau didn’t say what reasons she gave for her resignation. He only said Friday he accepted her decision, even if he didn’t totally understand it. The prime minister faced repeated questions about the brewing controversy during a morning event in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata, leading him to say his government was simply doing its job by discussing the issues and ramifications about the SNC-Lavalin case. The prime minister said there were “obviously” many discussions unfolding around the company, including questions asked of him by two different Quebec premiers, representatives of the company, MPs and a range of individuals. During a conversation in the fall, Trudeau said Wilson-Raybould asked if he would be directing her to take a particular decision, stressing that he replied, “No.” Trudeau said Friday he told Wilson-Raybould any decision on SNC-Lavalin was hers alone. “It was her decision to make and I expected her to make it,” he said. “I had full confidence in her role as attorney general to make the decision.” Trudeau also slammed anonymous Liberals who made unflattering remarks about Wilson-Raybould by suggesting she was difficult to work with and didn’t seem to be a team player. For her part, Wilson-Raybould has cited solicitor-client privilege when asked to speak publicly on the matter. In a statement issued at the time of her resignation, she said she had sought legal counsel from former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell. “I am aware that many Canadians wish for me to speak on matters that have been in the media over the last week,” she said. “I am in the process of obtaining advice on the topics that I am legally permitted to discuss in this matter.” The Canadian Press

Trump says he’s declaring emergency to build border wall

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 10:09
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump announced Friday that he will declare a national emergency to fulfil his pledge to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump said he will use executive powers to bypass Congress, which approved far less money for his proposed wall than he had sought. He plans to siphon billions of dollars from federal military construction and counterdrug efforts for the wall. The move is already drawing bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill and expected to face rounds of legal challenges. “I am going to be signing a national emergency,” Trump said from the Rose Garden, as he claimed illegal immigration marked “an invasion of our country.” In a rare show of bipartisanship, lawmakers voted Thursday to fund large swaths of the government and avoid a repeat of this winter’s debilitating five-week government shutdown. The money in the bill for border barriers, about $1.4 billion, is far below the $5.7 billion Trump insisted he needed and would finance just a quarter of the 200-plus miles (322 kilometres) he wanted this year. To bridge the gap, Trump announced that he will be spending roughly $8 billion on border barriers - combining the money approved by Congress with funding he plans to repurpose through executive actions, including the national emergency. The money is expected to come from funds targeted for military construction and counterdrug efforts, but aides could not immediately specify which military projects would be affected. Despite widespread opposition in Congress to proclaiming an emergency, including by some Republicans, Trump was responding to pressure to act unilaterally to soothe his conservative base and avoid appearing like he’s lost his wall battle. Word that Trump would declare the emergency prompted condemnations from Democrats and threats of lawsuits from states and others who might lose federal money or said Trump was abusing his authority. In an unusual joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said such a declaration would be “a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract” from Trump’s failure to force Mexico to pay for the wall, as he’s promised for years. “Congress will defend our constitutional authorities,” they said. They declined to say whether that meant lawsuits or votes on resolutions to prevent Trump from unilaterally shifting money to wall-building, with aides saying they’d wait to see what he does. Democratic state attorneys general said they’d consider legal action to block Trump. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello told the president on Twitter “we’ll see you in court” if he makes the declaration. Even if his emergency declaration withstands challenge, Trump is still billions of dollars short of his overall funding needed to build the wall as he promised in 2016. After two years of effort, Trump has not added any new border mileage; all of the construction so far has gone to replacing and repairing existing structures. Ground is expected to be broken in South Texas soon on the first new mileage. The White House said Trump wouldn’t try to redirect federal disaster aid to the wall, a proposal they had considered but rejected over fears of a political blowback. Alan Fram, Catherine Lucey And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Trump says he’s declare emergency to build border wall

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 10:04
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump announced Friday that he will declare a national emergency to fulfil his pledge to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump said he will use executive powers to bypass Congress, which approved far less money for his proposed wall than he had sought. He plans to siphon billions of dollars from federal military construction and counterdrug efforts for the wall. The move is already drawing bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill and expected to face rounds of legal challenges. “I am going to be signing a national emergency,” Trump said from the Rose Garden, as he claimed illegal immigration marked “an invasion of our country.” In a rare show of bipartisanship, lawmakers voted Thursday to fund large swaths of the government and avoid a repeat of this winter’s debilitating five-week government shutdown. The money in the bill for border barriers, about $1.4 billion, is far below the $5.7 billion Trump insisted he needed and would finance just a quarter of the 200-plus miles (322 kilometres) he wanted this year. To bridge the gap, Trump announced that he will be spending roughly $8 billion on border barriers - combining the money approved by Congress with funding he plans to repurpose through executive actions, including the national emergency. The money is expected to come from funds targeted for military construction and counterdrug efforts, but aides could not immediately specify which military projects would be affected. Despite widespread opposition in Congress to proclaiming an emergency, including by some Republicans, Trump was responding to pressure to act unilaterally to soothe his conservative base and avoid appearing like he’s lost his wall battle. Word that Trump would declare the emergency prompted condemnations from Democrats and threats of lawsuits from states and others who might lose federal money or said Trump was abusing his authority. In an unusual joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said such a declaration would be “a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract” from Trump’s failure to force Mexico to pay for the wall, as he’s promised for years. “Congress will defend our constitutional authorities,” they said. They declined to say whether that meant lawsuits or votes on resolutions to prevent Trump from unilaterally shifting money to wall-building, with aides saying they’d wait to see what he does. Democratic state attorneys general said they’d consider legal action to block Trump. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello told the president on Twitter “we’ll see you in court” if he makes the declaration. Even if his emergency declaration withstands challenge, Trump is still billions of dollars short of his overall funding needed to build the wall as he promised in 2016. After two years of effort, Trump has not added any new border mileage; all of the construction so far has gone to replacing and repairing existing structures. Ground is expected to be broken in South Texas soon on the first new mileage. The White House said Trump would not try to redirect federal disaster aid to the wall, a proposal they had considered but rejected over fears of a political blowback. Alan Fram, Catherine Lucey And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Ottawa advises against all travel to Haiti as Canadians remain trapped amid unrest

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 09:58
MONTREAL - The federal government has issued a new advisory for Haiti, saying Canadians should avoid all travel to the Caribbean country as it works to get out citizens trapped there. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa Friday the government is deeply concerned about what’s going on in Haiti. “Many Canadians have family members and friends in Haiti that they are of course worried about, and our hearts go out to them,” Trudeau said. Global Affairs said it upgraded its advisory for Haiti late Thursday due to ongoing civil unrest throughout the country. The notice warns that the “security situation could further deteriorate quickly” and that people should “consider leaving by commercial means while they are available.” More than 100 Canadians have been unable to leave Haiti since protesters blocked major highways across the country in an effort to pressure President Jovenel Moise to resign. Protesters are angry over skyrocketing inflation and the government’s failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multi-billion Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to Haiti. “We’re also obviously preoccupied with a number of Canadians who are in Haiti right now who are looking to come home to Canada in this crisis situation,” Trudeau said. “We are working with them, Global Affairs Canada and all our diplomatic corps is very much engaged in this.” Ottawa-based physician Emilio Bazile and three members of his group from the Maritimes are among the Canadians stuck in Haiti following the violent protests that have claimed several lives over the past week. He said Thursday that food is running low for him and his 10-member medical team, who travelled to southern Haiti to provide care to locals. A team of 26 aid workers with a missionary group from Quebec is also among the scores of trapped Canadians. Air Transat says 111 Quebecers were stuck in a hotel, unable to reach the Port-au-Prince airport because of the protests. Global Affairs Canada said it is providing consular advice to tour operators and has people on the ground in Haiti to provide assistance to Canadian citizens. The Canadian Press

Trump’s national emergency: from shutdown frying pan to constitutional fire

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 09:52
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump is finally ending America's shutdown standoff, but diving headlong into what's expected to trigger a fresh constitutional crisis - virtually in the same breath. Trump is declaring a national emergency in order to secure billions of dollars for his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall, even as he signs a funding bill to keep the U.S. government open. The compromise by Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill the president is agreeing to falls well short of the $5.7 billion he has demanded for a border barrier. So he's making good on a threat to declare an emergency at the southern border in order to bypass the legislative branch and make up the balance with disaster funding from the Department of Defense, which doesn’t require approval from Congress. The move has opponents on both sides of the congressional aisle who consider it an abuse of executive power. It also exposes prominent Republicans - including Trump himself - to cries of hypocrisy, considering the outrage they showed at former president Barack Obama's frequent use of executive action. The Canadian Press

Canadian rinks look to defend world junior curling titles at home

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 09:47
LIVERPOOL, N.S. - The Scotties Tournament of Hearts isn’t the only big curling event in Nova Scotia for the next week. The Queens Place Emera Centre in Liverpool, N.S., will be hosting the world junior championships, while the national women’s championship takes place at the same time in Sydney, N.S. Canada is looking to defend gold in both the women’s and men’s divisions at the world juniors. Alberta skip Selena Sturmay looks to guide Canada to the podium for the sixth consecutive year. The Edmonton-based rink also features third Abby Marks, second Kate Goodhelpsen and lead Paige Papley. Alternate Karlee Burgess helped Kaitlyn Jones’s Nova Scotia rink win wold junior gold last year in Aberdeen, Scotland. B.C.’s Tyler Tardi, meanwhile, is back to represent Canada for the third year in a row after capturing the world junior men’s title last season. Canada is aiming for a 20th world junior men’s crown. Tardi has a new lineup that includes his longtime teammate Sterling Middleton at third, and a new front end of second Matt Hall, who relocated this season from Ontario, and lead Alex Horvath. Tardi opens play in the first draw on Saturday night against Andrew Stopera of the United States, who won silver in 2017 and finished fourth in 2018. The Canadian women open Sunday morning against Scotland’s Lisa Davie. Top contenders on the women’s side include South Korea’s Min Ji Kim, who won gold in the third leg of the Curling World Cup earlier this month in Sweden, as well as Norway’s Maia Ramsfjell, who lost the 2018 world junior bronze-medal game to China. On the men’s side, 2018 silver medallist Ross Whyte of Scotland returns. The top four teams in each 10-team division advance to the playoffs. The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan Roughriders re-sign all-star kicker Brett Lauther

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 09:47
REGINA - The Saskatchewan Roughriders have re-signed all-star kicker Brett Lauther to a one-year extension, keeping him with the club through 2020. The native of Truro, N.S., was named a West Division all-star last year after nailing 54 of 60 field-goal attempts for a 90 per-cent success rate, the second-best mark in Roughriders history. Lauther, 28, was named the Riders’ most outstanding special-teams player and top Canadian last year. Lauther broke into the league with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2013, but didn’t get another shot in the regular season until last year.   BEHAR COMING BACK TO OTTAWA Former Carleton University star receiver Nate Behar is returning to Ottawa after signing a one-year deal with the Redblacks. Behar had 27 receptions for 257 yards and a touchdown last year for the Edmonton Eskimos, who drafted him fifth overall in 2017. The 24-year-old returns to Ottawa after a university career that saw him catch for 2,577 yards and 21 touchdowns in 30 games for the Ravens, twice earning all-Canadian honours. The Redblacks also re-signed American receiver Dominque Rhymes to a one-year deal. The 25-year-old Miami native has spent the past two seasons in Ottawa. Last season, Ryhmes caught 22 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown. He has 522 receiving yards in 19 career games in the CFL for Ottawa.   The Canadian Press

Chicago police, Fox dispute reports about Smollett attack

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 09:38
Chicago police say local media reports that allege the attack against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was a hoax are unconfirmed. The reports surfaced late Thursday as detectives were questioning two “persons of interest” who were captured on surveillance cameras in the area of downtown Chicago where Smollett said he was attacked last month. The two men aren’t considered suspects but may have been in the area when Smollett says he was attacked, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said earlier Thursday. Smollett said two masked men shouted racial and homophobic slurs before attacking him and putting a rope around his neck early on Jan. 29. Guglielmi said Thursday night that Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson contacted at least one Chicago news outlet to say investigators have no evidence to support their reporting. The spokesman added that Johnson said the “supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate.” Producers of the television drama also disputed media reports that Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, was being written off the show, calling the idea “patently ridiculous.” “(Smollett) remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him,” 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said in a statement late Thursday. Smollett, who is black and openly gay, told ABC News in an interview that aired Thursday morning that he believes the people of interest were the ones who attacked him. “I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them,” he told the network. “Never did.” No arrests have been made in the case. Police said they have not found surveillance video that shows the attack, but that the investigation is ongoing . Smollett also told Robin Roberts of ABC News that people who question his narrative of the attack were “ridiculous” to think he would lie. Smollett has said he was attacked while out getting food at a Subway restaurant. “I’ve heard that it was a date gone bad, which I also resent that narrative,” he said. “I’m not gonna go out and get a tuna sandwich and a salad to meet somebody. That’s ridiculous. And it’s offensive.” The singer and actor said the attackers yelled “this is MAGA country,” referencing President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Smollett said earlier reports from some outlets that his attackers were wearing “MAGA” hats were inaccurate. “I didn’t need to add anything like that,” he said. “I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.” Smollett said he didn’t want to call police at first, but that his friend and creative director, Frank Gatson, called on his behalf. Smollett said he didn’t remove a rope from around his neck before police arrived “because I wanted them to see.” He also said he didn’t initially want to give police his cellphone because the device contained private content and phone numbers. Smollett later gave detectives heavily redacted phone records that police have said are insufficient for a criminal investigation . ___ See AP’s complete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case: https://www.apnews.com/JussieSmollett Don Babwin, The Associated Press

21 Savage ‘wasn’t hiding’ being British, feared deportation

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 09:37
ATLANTA - The Atlanta-based rapper 21 Savage says he didn’t talk about his British citizenship before because he didn’t want to get deported. The Grammy-nominated artist, whose given name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was interviewed by ABC’s “Good Morning America” for a Friday broadcast. He was arrested Feb. 3 in what U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said was a targeted operation. He was released from immigration custody Wednesday on a $100,000 bond. Now 26, he says he had no idea what a visa was when his mother brought him to the U.S. at 7 years old. That visa expired in 2006. He says he “wasn’t hiding it,” but “didn’t want to get deported,” so he “wasn’t going to just come out and say ‘Hey by the way, I wasn’t born here.'” The Associated Press

A few feel-good moments to remember from NY Fashion Week

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 09:37
NEW YORK - Fashion Week has ended in New York, leaving a trail of sequins and feathers, worn-out stilettos and blisters and traffic jams. But sometimes, fashion feels good: there were some moments of genuine, happy emotion. Here are a few feel-good moments of the week: __ BARRY IN THE HOUSE No, Michael Kors didn’t make that orange bedazzled “Copa” jacket that Barry Manilow wore to perform at the designer’s show. We’re not sure who did, but it was fabulous. Manilow, a surprise guest at Kors’ ’70s runway bash, belted his hit “Copacabana” from a glitzy stage set up near the catwalk as Bella Hadid danced beside him and rock muse Patti Hansen (married to Keith Richards) hopped up for a quick kiss after walking for Kors, an old friend. Backstage after the show, Kors said he had met Manilow at a concert a year ago and invited him on board. The pop king had never been to a fashion show before, Kors said, calling Manilow the “cherry on the cake.” -Leanne Italie AGE IS JUST A … WELL, YOU KNOW The grand finale of designer Naeem Khan’s runway show featured three models, all over age 60, walking the runway in silver sequined gowns. Karen Bjornson, Alva Chinn and Pat Cleveland were known for working with Halston in the 1970s and were part of a group known as the Halstonettes. Khan was an apprentice under Halston earlier in his career. But it wasn’t the age of these models that was impressive, it was their attitude. These three had such confidence, pizazz and style that audience members were standing, applauding and whooping with joy. These models brought down the house. -Jill Dobson THE ORIGINAL SUPERMODEL RETURNS And then there was famed ’90s supermodel Christy Turlington - heck, she’s one of the women they coined the phrase for - stunning the fashion world by turning up to walk the Marc Jacobs runway in a voluminous black feathered gown and matching fascinator, closing out New York Fashion Week with an emotional bang. Taking to Instagram later, Turlington explained that she had turned 50 earlier in the year and “have arrived at a place where ‘why the … not’ is the answer that comes up when I ask myself questions.” And she said she has “a 15-year-old daughter who I desperately want to see and hear me, and this is a medium that ‘speaks’ to her.” Her appearance came as Jacobs put on one of his best shows in years, filling the runway with high drama and fairytale whimsy. -Jocelyn Noveck THIS ONE’S FOR MOM In a week that focuses on appearance, it was refreshing to see a moment of pure tenderness. Brandon Maxwell dedicated his show to his mother, Pam Woolley, who’s been battling breast cancer, and to other strong women everywhere. At the end, the designer escorted her down the runway for a final bow, kissing the side of her head as she wiped away tears. Maxwell called the show “the physical manifestation of, I think, the strength that I saw her display over the past few months.” -Ragan Clark LAUGHTER ON THE RUNWAY The Badgley Mischka show featured sleek, fitted dresses with stretch, in sequined metallic, black and green. But the end of the show was a vision in red, when all the models stormed the runway at once, in short dresses made of various fabrics, including lace, velvet and feathers - all in the same shade of crimson. Usually models remain stone faced when strutting the runway, but this finale had models smiling and clapping and clearly enjoying the hoots and applause from the enthusiastic crowd. -Brooke Lefferts ___ This story has corrected spelling of Mischka. The Associated Press

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