Opioid dependence leads to 3,000% rise in medical services

In one of the first looks at privately insured patients with opioid problems, researchers paint a grim picture: Medical services for people with opioid dependence diagnoses skyrocketed more than 3,000 percent between 2007 and 2014.

The study considers a huge cohort of people who have either job-based insurance or buy coverage on their own. Its findings illustrate that the opioid problem is “in the general mainstream,” said Robin Gelburd, president of Fair Health, a nonprofit databank corporation focused on health care cost transparency and insurance information. “Is the health system preparing for this tsunami of services?” she said.
The researchers used de-identified claims data from insurers representing 150 million patients, looking for diagnosis codes related to opioid dependency and abuse, adverse effects of heroin use, and problems caused by the misuse or abuse of other types of opiates. While heroin is a street drug, other opiates are often prescription medications.
They found that much of the increase in opioid dependence occurred since 2011, a period marked by increased attention to the problem and a growing drumbeat by advocates calling on doctors to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions.
Younger patients — 19 to 35 — were most likely to be diagnosed as opioid dependent compared to other age groups. Dependence is defined by symptoms such as increased tolerance, withdrawal or unsuccessful attempts to quit.
Those younger patients were also more likely than older ones to overdose on heroin. The reverse was true, however, for overdoses related to other types of opioids. People in their mid-40s to mid-50s were more likely to suffer this consequence.
The primary diagnosis of opioid dependency kicks off a number of medical services, including office visits, lab tests and other related treatments. The report found that the number of such services rendered to patients with a dependency diagnosis went from about 217,000 in 2007 to about 7 million in 2014.
The scope of the increase found by Fair Health stunned even those already familiar with the problem.
“A 3,000 percent increase is enormous,” said Andrew Kolodny, senior scientist at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. He did not work on the study.
Such a sharp rise over a short period of time is a classic definition of an epidemic, he said, and one that points out that much more effort is needed to prevent future cases and treat people who already have addiction problems.
Still, experts caution that research based solely on claims data, while common, is a good way to track the use of health services, but may not paint a complete picture. The accuracy of claims codes — which are used for billing — may be poor, for example. In this case, increased attention to the opioid problem may have also resulted in an increased use of the code. Some research studies also pair claims data with medical record information — the doctors’ notes — to provide additional information. This study did not.
Other findings from the report include:
  • Across all age groups, men were more likely than women to be diagnosed with dependency. That gap narrowed among patients in their 40s and 50s, with women representing 45 percent of those diagnosed.
  • Women were more likely than men to experience an overdose.
  • The ratio of opioid dependence to other substance abuse problems varied by state. Rhode Island had the highest while Maine and Montana the lowest.
  • Kolodny is among those who say the increase in addiction is directly tied to the run-up in opioids prescribed by doctors in the past decade. Some of those who develop dependency problems are the patients who get the prescriptions. But many also obtain the drugs illicitly, from a friend, family member or dealer.
    Younger people, said Kolodny, may start with prescription medications, but then turn to street drugs like heroin because they have “a harder time maintaining their opioid supply by visiting doctors.”
    Older patients, he said, are less likely to turn to street drugs because they have an easier time getting refills from their doctors.
    Data from IMS Health, which tracks prescription drug sales, shows the number of prescriptions for opioid-based drugs have ticked down, falling 11.8 percent from 2012 to 2015. That decline, however, followed a huge increase: The number of opioid prescriptions more than doubled between 2000 and 2012, when more than 282 million prescriptions were written.
    “In the past couple of years, we’ve seen policymakers realize that overprescribing is fueling the crisis,” said Kolodny. “Before that, the focus of federal policymakers was almost exclusively on trying to stop non-medical use” of opioids.
  • In 2014, federal health officials reclassified certain drugs containing the opioid hydrocodone, including Vicodin, making refills harder to get.
    In mid-July, President Barack Obama signed theComprehensive Addition and Recovery Act of 2016, which aims to make prevention and treatment more widely available.
    Supporters say the legislation will help but criticized lawmakers for not including more funding.
    Other efforts to combat the rise in opioid abuse have involved states.
    Most have begun prescription monitoring programs, which aim to identify and track people who are “doctor shopping,” in order to get multiple prescriptions for narcotics. Pharmacists or physicians can check those databases to see if a particular patient already has a prescription for narcotics before dispensing another.
    In 2001, only 16 states had laws allowing such programs. By 2012, 41 states were operating one, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
  • “There’s some evidence that those are helpful in reducing prescribing,” said Allan Coukell, senior director for health programs at Pew.
    He added that more effort is needed to provide treatment options for people seeking help.
    “The reality is, even in states that have done that, demand is far in excess of what they can provide.”
    The new data from Fair Health, he said, shows the scope of the problem.
    “What this tells you is this is not limited to a problem of the poor and unemployed,” he said. “This is a problem that is cutting right across society.”

F-35 fighters combat ready, Air Force says

(CNN)The U.S. Air Force says the most expensive weapons system in its history is ready for combat.

The service said Tuesday that its version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35A Lightning, has reached IOC (Initial Operating Capability), meaning that it is developed enough and has passed the proper tests to be flown on combat missions.
“I am proud to announce this powerful new weapons system has achieved initial combat capability,” Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, said. “The F-35A will be the most dominant aircraft in our inventory because it can go where our legacy aircraft cannot and provide the capabilities our commanders need on the modern battlefield.”
Carlisle touted the squadron’s performance during testing, including its ability to conduct basic close air support, suppress/destroy enemy air defenses and deploy and conduct operational missions using program of record weapons and missions systems.
“The declaration of initial operational capability marks an important milestone as the Air Force will operate the largest F-35 fleet in the world with more than 1,700 aircraft,” the F-35 program’s executive officer, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, said in a statement.
“The F-35 will form the backbone of air combat superiority for decades and enable warfighters to see adversaries first and take decisive action,” he said.
The designation marks a major milestone for the $400 billion program.
The single-engine F-35 fighter jet is touted as the future of military aviation; a lethal and versatile aircraft for three military branches that combines stealth capabilities, supersonic speed, extreme agility and state-of-the-art sensor fusion technology, according to Lockheed Martin, the plane’s primary contractor.
But the Joint Strike Fighter program has drawn sharp criticism after numerous hardware malfunctions and software glitches delayed the aircraft for more than three years and caused its budget to swell some $200 billion over initial estimates.
“Any progress that helps our warfighters maintain air dominance is a good thing, and this marks an important milestone for the Air Force and for our air combat capabilities,” Rep. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, told CNN.
“However, the F-35 development process has also been rife with delays and cost overruns, wasting billions of taxpayer dollars,” said Duckworth, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who has worked to bring more oversight to the F-35 acquisition process.
In 2014, the entire fleet of F-35s was grounded following an engine fire during testing, and the program has experienced persistent software problems that have slowed mission testing and resulted in schedule delays.
There were also setbacks at key milestones, including the start of the flight test program, delivery of the first production-ready aircraft and testing of critical missions systems, according to the Government Accountability Office.
In April, the GAO documented risks to the F-35′s Autonomic Logistics Information System, which Department of Defense officials have described as the “brains” of the fifth-generation fighter. The report warned that a failure “could take the entire fleet offline,” in part, due to the lack of a backup system.
And a cloud of skepticism still hangs over the program, even with Tuesday’s announcement.
“This is nothing but a public relations stunt,” said Dan Grazier, a fellow of the Project On Government Oversight, a government watchdog group.
“The Air Force said their first F-35s would be combat ready in August 2016, so they are going to say they are today,” he said. “If they didn’t make this declaration now, the Air Force and the JSF program would be embarrassed at the very least and cause serious questions about future funding.”
To maintain and operate the Joint Strike Fighter program over the course of its lifetime, the Pentagon will invest nearly $1 trillion, according to the GAO.
Despite a controversial history that has spanned more than 15 years, the Air Force’s certification that its variant of the F-35 is ready for combat marks the most significant sign, to date, that the next-generation aircraft is finally close to realizing its potential on the battlefield, according to Lockheed Martin.
“With the F-35A, the Air Force now has a fighter combining next-generation radar-evading stealth, supersonic speed, fighter agility and advanced logistical support with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history,” Jeff Babione, the general manager of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program, said in a statement to CNN.
“It will provide airmen unprecedented lethality and survivability, a capability they will use to defend America and our allies for decades to come,” he said.
Originally conceived in 2001 to upgrade the U.S. military’s aging tactical fleet, the single-seat F-35 has slightly different forms and capabilities to meet the needs of each military branch.
The Marine Corps declared the first squadron of its F-35B variant ready for combat in July 2015 with the intention of upgrading and resolving the software issues that still plagued the aircraft at the time before its first planned deployment in 2017.
While the Air Force has had to wait more than a year longer than the Marines to reach the “combat ready” milestone, the significance of reaching this point in the development process is amplified due to the number of planes it has requested.
The Air Force plans to buy 1,763 of the 2,443 total F-35s ordered by the Pentagon.
And the service’s confidence in its version of the aircraft, despite pending tests and software upgrades, is evidence that the program has gotten back on track in recent years, according to Pentagon officials.
“The roads leading to IOC for both services were not easy and these accomplishments are tangible testaments to the positive change happening in the F-35 program,” Bogdon said.
Officials have also pointed to the progress made by the Marines’ F-35 variant since it was declared combat ready as another sign that the program’s major problems are in the past.
It’s “ready to go right now,” said Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the head of Marine aviation, when asked last week if the F-35 could be deployed for combat missions if needed, adding that the aircraft could even fly missions against ISIS in Iraq and Syria if called upon.
“If we think we need to do that, we will,” Davis said. “We’re ready to do that.”
Last week, the Air Force’s F-35 variant completed its first successful air-to-air “kill” test, destroying a flying drone with a missile launched from the aircraft’s wing.
“It’s been said you don’t really have a fighter until you can actually hit a target … this successful test demonstrates the combat capability the F-35 will bring to the U.S. military and our allies,” said U.S. Air Force test pilot, Maj. Raven LeClair.
“This test represents the culmination of many years of careful planning by combined government and contractor teams, he said. We want to ensure operators will receive the combat capability they need to execute their mission and return home safely — we cannot compromise or falter in delivering this capability.”
The F-35 also made its international debut in July at the Farnborough airshow in the United Kingdom.
It is intended for use by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps and 10 foreign countries.
The Navy plans to declare its version of the F-35 ready for combat in 2018.
Hillary Clinton makes a campaign stop with former president Bill Clinton in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, on Friday. Photograph: Aaron P Bernstein/Reuters

Clinton campaign says data program accessed in cyber-attack on Democrats

A data program used by the campaign of the Democratic presidential candidate,Hillary Clinton, was “accessed” as a part of hack on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that intelligence officials believe was carried out by Russia’s intelligence services, Clinton’s campaign said on Friday. 

The news came as a new Reuters-Ipsos poll, released after Clinton’s acceptance of the Democratic nomination for president at the party’s convention in Philadelphia, put her six points ahead of her Republican rival, Donald Trump.

Hacks against the Democratic party, revealed in the past week, have been blamed on Russian intelligence services. The Clinton campaign has accused the Trump campaign of involvement.

Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said that despite the breach of the campaign network, “no evidence” had been found to suggest that the “internal systems have been compromised”. Reuters, citing people familiar with the matter, first reported that the Clinton computer network had been hacked.

In a statement, Merrill said: “An analytics data program maintained by the DNC, and used by our campaign and a number of other entities, was accessed as part of the DNC hack.

“Our campaign computer system has been under review by outside cyber security experts. To date, they have found no evidence that our internal systems have been compromised.”

The FBI said it “takes seriously any allegations of intrusions” and is “aware of media reporting on cyber intrusions involving multiple political entities, and is working to determine the accuracy, nature and scope of these matters”.

The Trump campaign has denied claims of involvement in the hacks. On Friday, senior communications adviser Jason Miller said in a statement: “This seems to be a problem wherever Hillary Clinton goes. Hopefully this time there wasn’t classified or top secret information that puts American lives at risk.”

Russian hackers, designated Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear by cybersecurity analysts, broke into the Democratic National Committee at the beginning of last year and are believed to be the source of anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks’ release of 20,000 emails last week, though the group has denied this.

Last Sunday, that leak led to the resignation of the DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, on the eve of the Democratic national convention in Philadelphia.

The emails revealed exchanges between party officials discussing ways to undermine Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, and were seized upon by Sanders supporters who had long called for Wasserman Schultz’s resignation, charging the DNC with tipping the scales in Clinton’s favor.

The breach of the DNC is believed by security researchers in private industry and the US government to have been the work of Russian intelligence services.

This week the fundraising network of the the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) was also breached, an act Reuters said US intelligence officials had attributed to Russians as well.

The US Department of Justice’s national security division is investigating whether hacking attacks on Democratic political organizations threatened US security, sources familiar with the matter said.

The involvement of the justice department’s national security division was a sign that the Obama administration has concluded that the hacking was state-sponsored, individuals with knowledge of the investigation said.

Earlier, the Clinton campaign, based in Brooklyn, referred to a comment from earlier this week by campaign senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan, criticizing Trump and calling the hacking “a national security issue”.

Clinton’s campaign has said that the Russians hacked the DNC emails and released them to sow discord in the party and, ultimately, help Trump. The Trump campaign has denied this. Trump himself said a controversial call on Wednesday for Russia to find and release 30,000 “missing” emails from Clinton’s time as secretary of state was “sarcastic”.

Amongst the fallout from the scandal and the Democratic convention, the Reuters-Ipsos poll released on Friday showed nearly 41% of likely voters favoring Clinton, 35% favoring Trump, and 25% picking “other”. The poll had a credibility interval of four percentage points.

On Friday, the Department of Justice had no comment about the reported hack of the Clinton campaign. It was not immediately clear what if any information on the campaign’s computer system hackers might have been able to access.

In the DCCC breach, hackers gained access to the entire network, people familiar with the matter told Reuters, detailing the extent of the breach for the first time. Access to the full network would have given access to everything from emails to strategy memos and opposition research prepared to support Democratic candidates in campaigns for the House.

The hack of the DCCC, which is based in Washington, was reported first by Reuters on Thursday, ahead of Clinton’s convention speech in Philadelphia. Russian officials could not be immediately reached for comment. The DCCC said in a statement early on Friday that it has hired the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike to investigate.

“We have taken and are continuing to take steps to enhance the security of our network,” the DCCC said. “We are cooperating with federal law enforcement with respect to their ongoing investigation.”

Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Photograph: Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook could face extra $5bn tax bill after US investigation

Facebook could be liable to pay between $3 to $5bn in extra US tax after an extensive investigation by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) into the way the tech company transferred assets to Ireland.

The tax agency has been exploring whether Facebook deliberately deployed complex financial processes designed to minimize the amount of US tax it paid.

The IRS issued the firm with a “statutory notice of deficiency” on 27 July, the company said in its quarterly financial filing, noting that it could have a “material adverse impact” on its finances. Facebook broke out the possible loss in its earnings report, as a minimum of $3bn and maximum of $5bn. It would also be liable for interest lost, though any additional penalties are not known.

On Friday, a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement: “Facebook complies with all applicable rules and regulations in the countries where we operate.”

The IRS began investigating Facebook in 2013 over assets it had transferred in 2010 to its base in Dublin. Ireland is known for its corporation-friendly tax structures; it has a corporate tax rate of 12.5%, compared to the US rate of 35% and 21% in the UK.

The case became public on 6 July when the IRS filed a lawsuit in San Francisco, suing Facebook over access to records related to the transfer. Its 2013 investigation described the valuation of the assets as “problematic”, implying it had undervalued the assets to pay less US tax.

The IRS has stated that Facebook has failed to attend seven appointments at the IRS office in San Jose, 19 miles from Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park.

On Wednesday, Facebook announced record quarterly earnings with $6.24bn in advertising sales powered by the popularity of mobile and video.

McDonald’s has announced its second-quarter earnings. Photograph: Alan Diaz/AP

McDonald’s revenue sinks as uncertainty eats into consumers’ appetites

Even an all-day breakfast can’t fix everything. McDonald’s announced its second-quarter earnings on Tuesday, reporting that its revenue dropped by 4% to $6.26bn as the burger giant’s turnaround efforts stumbled both at home and abroad in the face of growing uncertainty among consumer.

McDonald’s announced the fourth consecutive quarter of positive same-store sales across all of McDonald’s business segments but investors were disappointed that growth appeared to be slowing.

British-born chief executive Steve Easterbrook said global uncertainty had dampened consumers’ appetites. The latest quarter included the run up to the UK’s exit from the European Union, known as Brexit, and an increasingly hostile election campaign in the US.

“There is a broader level of uncertainty in consumer’s minds at the moment both trying to gauge their financial security going forward whether through elections or through global events people are certainly mindful of an unsettled world,” said Easterbrook. Uncertainly causes people to hold back on spending, he added.

For the quarter ending on 30 June, same-store sales for US stores opened for at least 13 months were up by just 1.8%. Analysts expected growth of 3.4%. Global sales rose by 3.1%, below the 3.6% expected by the analysts.

“Our second-quarter performance, which marks our fourth consecutive quarter of positive comparable sales across all business segments, provides a clear indication that customers are responding to the steps we’re taking to deliver the menu and value options they want at the convenience of McDonald’s,” Easterbrook said on Tuesday.

Easterbrook noted that the company was making “steady progress” in its transformation as it entered the 15th month of its turnaround plan, which was unveiled in May of last year.

Parts of that plan, the All Day Breakfast and McPick 2, which allows customers to select two items from its McPick menu for $5, continued to contribute to sales growth, the company said.

McDonald’s has doubled down on its All Day Breakfast strategy. Come autumn, its All Day Breakfast menu will include three new breakfast items: biscuits, McMuffins and McGriddles.

McDonald’s is also refreshing its partnerships and promotions offers to engage customer, said Easterbrook. A good example of that, he said, is the company’s partnership with mobile game phenomena Pokémon Go in Japan. As part of the promotion, McDonald’s 3,000 restaurants in Japan will be turned into Pokémon gyms – where players can train their virtual pets.

The fastfood company was the first corporate partner to sign up with Pokémon Go. “Clearly, we are a preferred partner,” said Easterbrook. “It’s been a fun program, it’s been great for the business.”

As part of its turnaround plan, McDonald’s is also planning to relocate its global headquarters from suburban Chicago to the city’s downtown area. The move was announced last month and is expected to be completed by spring 2018.

McDonald’s is also in the process of selling about 3,500 of its 36,000 restaurants. By 2018, about 90% of McDonald’s restaurants should be franchised, Easterbrook announced last year.

“I will not shy away from the urgent need to reset this business,” he said when he took over in January 2015.

These efforts to restructure McDonald’s do not come without costs. The second quarter’s operating income included about $230m in charges related to company’s relocation and refranchising plans.

Some have raised concerns that in its effort to become a leaner and more profitable company, McDonald’s might seek to eliminate some jobs and replace its workers with machines. The debate about whether robots could replace fast-food workers has become even more heated amid a years-long push by workers to increase the US minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Speaking at this year’s shareholder meeting in May, Easterbrook said that McDonald’s “will always have an important human element” and that any automation would just be another way for the company to focus on its customer service and “better dining area experience.

“I don’t see it as being a risk to job elimination,” he said at the time. “It might change the nature of the jobs in our restaurants.”

On Tuesday, Easterbrook noted that the company continues to look to technology to make visiting McDonald’s a “smoother, more enjoyable and easier experience”. Technology has been especially helpful in streamlining McDonald’s drive-through operations, he said.

“Once you get your accuracy right, then the whole drive through lane just operates far smoother,” Easterbrook explained. To improve its drive-through operations, McDonald’s has simplified its menu boards and even changed font size on the order receipts. The company will continue to let technology “do some of the heavy lifting” in improving of its processes “whether it’s voice recognition in the drive through speakers all the way to ordering ahead via the internet or the app”.

McDonald’s shares were down 5% after the announcement.

A Bernie Sanders supporter sits in silence at DNC media center after walking out of convention in protest of Hillary Clinton’s official nomination. Photograph: Charles Mostoller/Reuters

Bernie Sanders supporters stage sit-in to protest Clinton nomination at DNC

Scores of disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporters stormed the media center at the Democratic national convention on Tuesday night after Hillary Clinton officially clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, staging a short-lived sit-in as law enforcement officials and hundreds of members of the press looked on.

The protest began a few minutes after Sanders called on the convention to nominate Clinton by acclamation, with dissatisfied supporters of the runner-up candidate leaving Wells Fargo Arena in droves. The exits of the arena are less than 100 feet from the entry to the media tents, and the protesters entered the filing center before law enforcement could block entry to the tents.

Many of the protesters had taken a symbolic vow of silence ahead of the action, symbolizing what they felt was the Democratic National Committee’s conspiracy of “silencing” pro-Sanders supporters. After a few minutes of yes-no questions, protester Christopher VanderStouwe said “dozens” of social media groups had planned the protest over the previous days, in the hopes that Sanders-supporting delegates would be able to air their grievances with the DNC.

“We have, like, messengers that are supposed to be being interviewed and the rest of us are silenced,” VanderStouwe said, but “some people decided to speak on their own anyway.”

It was several minutes after the initial entrance of protesters until the pounding of state troopers could be heard outside stalls reserved for members of the press, by which time protesters had taken up shop in the B Tent, the central tent home to foreign press, USA Today, the Huffington Post and other outlets covering the convention.

Multiple uniformed state patrol officers declined repeated requests for comments regarding whether there had been a plan in place for such a protest. Jeffrey Rabinovitch, a lieutenant with the Philadelphia police department, said “the plan is in progress”.

Speaking with the Guardian, Philadelphia police captain Deborah Francis downplayed the protesters’ presence.

“They’re in the media tent – you guys are happy these guys are here,” Francis said. “They are a peaceful group, just exercising their first amendment rights peacefully. If y’all would stop taking pictures, they’d go away.”

Police lined up in front of the entrance to the media center, apparently to prevent more Sanders supporters from entering, but an officer said delegates who were part of the sit-in were free to leave through a side exit.

 Pennsylvania state troopers stand guard in the DNC media center after Bernie Sanders supporters walked out in protest. Photograph: Charles Mostoller/Reuters
Pennsylvania state troopers stand guard in the DNC media center after Bernie Sanders supporters walked out in protest. Photograph: Charles Mostoller/Reuters

There was disagreement regarding the size of the group: a Philadelphia police department source who declined to have his rank or name published said he estimated the protesters to number between 100 and 150 people, while Pujarinu Datta, a delegate from Columbus, Ohio, said there were “probably about 200” delegates taking part in the action. Datta claimed “at least half” of the more than 1,300 Sanders delegates had wanted to take part, but said many had been “shut out” of the media center after the sit-in had begun.

VanderStouwe, who voted for Sanders in the Idaho caucus and was slow to break his vow of silence, shrugged when asked whether he would cast a vote for Clinton in the general election and flipped his hands back and forth when asked whether he thought that Sanders ever had a chance at winning the nomination. A lecturer in linguistics, the first audible answer from VanderStouwe came when asked if he would consider voting for Donald Trump: “No.”

“The purpose of this was to show how we’ve been silenced, and to get he media coverage that the DNC refuses to give us,” VanderStouwe said. “When the platform when through, when the rules went through, there was no ability for anyone to make motions, there was no – they just sort of rushed right through it and didn’t let anyone do anything else. So it became really evident very quickly that Bernie supporters would not have a voice at the convention.”

When told that Sanders has so far spoken twice at the convention, including in the final endorsement of Clinton that resulted in the vote by acclamation, VanderStouwe implied that the movement had grown bigger than Sanders himself.

“We’re also a revolution, and we’re not only guided by a single individual. He’s largely been [a vessel] for many of us,” VanderStouwe said. “There is a varying level of excitement for him that may or may not remain. Some people are angry, some people are less angry, some people feel like he was forced into it. And so there’s a lot of uncertainty with it, because nobody knows exactly what his motives were” for endorsing Clinton.


Munich shooting: 9 victims, gunman dead, police say

(CNN)At least nine people were killed and at least 16 were injured Friday in a shooting rampage at a busy shopping district in Munich, Germany, police said.

Police searched for attackers, thinking there might be three, and found a man who had killed himself on a side street near Olympia shopping mall, police Chief Hubertus Andrae said.
Based on surveillance video and witness statements, police concluded he was the sole gunman, Andrae said.
The unidentified attacker was an 18-year-old German-Iranian who had lived in Munich for at least two years.
The man was not known to police and his motives are unclear, authorities said. No group has claimed responsibility.
Many children were among the casualties.
The shooting comes as recent terrorist attacks have put Europe on high alert.
This week, a teenager who said he was inspired by ISIS stabbed passengers on a German trainbefore police shot him dead. Eight days earlier, 84 people were killed when a man drove a large truck through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France.

Children unable to run away

The gunman in Munich started shooting at a McDonald’s across from the Olympia mall around 5:50 p.m. (11:50 a.m. ET), Andrae said.
A witness who wanted to be identified only by her first name, Lauretta, told CNN her son was in the bathroom with a shooter at the restaurant.
“That’s where he loaded his weapon,” she said. “I hear like an alarm and boom, boom, boom … and he’s still killing the children. The children were sitting to eat. They can’t run.”
Lauretta said she heard the gunman say, “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic. “I know this because I’m Muslim. I hear this and I only cry.”
Huseyin Bayri, a witness of the shooting, said he heard the attacker screaming out that he will kill “foreigners.”
“I heard a scream at first: ‘You shitty [bleep] foreigners. I am German. You will get it.’”
The gunman moved across the street to the mall, which is adjacent to the site of the 1972 Olympics. Located in a middle-class neighborhood in northern Munich, the shopping mall is the city’s biggest and a popular destination for shoppers on Friday nights, German lawmaker Charles Huber told CNN.
Lynn Stein, who said she works at the Jack Wolfskin store in the mall, said she heard several shots.
“People were very confused, and they were running and they were screaming,” she said. She saw someone lying on the floor of a store who appeared to be either dead or injured. “There’s a woman over them, crying.”

Profane exchange with a witness

Many citizens posted photos and video of the panic and the shooting on social media. Two videos showed a profanity-filled verbal exchange, between a man on the top level of parking garage and man on a balcony, that ended with gunfire.
The exchange, recorded on two different camera phones, captured an intense conversation that ends in gunfire. The man who appears to be a shooter said insulting things about Turks, did not espouse jihadist ideology and spoke with a German accent.
Police, thinking up to three gunmen might be on the loose, launched a manhunt, putting the city on virtual lockdown.
Police urged residents to stay in their homes. Citizens took to social media to offer help, with one woman tweeting: “Who is stranded in Sendling and shelter needs, PM me and come over”
Shoppers and people on the street stampeded. Thamina Stoll told CNN she was with her grandmother, who lives about three minutes away from the mall, and saw crowds sprinting down the sidewalk.
“There were like 50 people running towards our house to seek shelter, and there was a helicopter circling above us for about 20 minutes and sirens,” she said. “And there’s still people walking on the streets. They’re confused, and nobody knows what’s really going on.”
At 8:30 p.m., police found a man who took his own life and decided he was the lone gunman, Andrae said.
The investigation will not yield quick answers, he said.
“We have to investigate everything via third person as we cannot question the perpetrator now,” he said.

Merkel meeting with security officials

Germany increased security throughout the nation.
Enhanced police patrols were deployed to the Austria-German border, a spokesperson for the Austrian Ministry of Interior told CNN. Special forces from Bavaria and surrounding federal states were brought in to Munich as reinforcements during the search.
Chancellor Angela Merkel called a security council meeting for Saturday. German Federal President Joachim Gauck was “dismayed and shocked” by the shooting, his office said in a statement.
Foreign leaders expressed sympathy for the victims.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman expressed sympathies for Germany, as the state news agency, IRNA reported that the suspected shooter was Iranian-German.
“There is no other way to combat terrorism except through widespread and relentless anti-terrorism campaign,” said the ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi, according to IRNA.
President Barack Obama condemned the attack, as did U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. In a statement, Kerry said, “We are in close contact with German officials and stand ready to provide any and all assistance requested by our close friend and ally Germany in this time of crisis.”
The U.S. military began a count of all its personnel — some 62,000 — and their dependents throughout Europe to confirm their safety.

Hillary Clinton selects Tim Kaine as her running mate

(CNN)Hillary Clinton has chosen Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine to be her running mate, turning to a steady and seasoned hand in government to fill out the Democratic ticket, she announced Friday.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others. -H,” she tweeted.
I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others. -H pic.twitter.com/lTVyfztE5Z

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) July 23, 2016
Minutes later, Kaine tweeted: “Just got off the phone with Hillary. I’m honored to be her running mate. Can’t wait to hit the trail tomorrow in Miami!”
Just got off the phone with Hillary. I’m honored to be her running mate. Can’t wait to hit the trail tomorrow in Miami!

— Senator Tim Kaine (@timkaine) July 23, 2016
She will introduce her new partner at a campaign rally Saturday in Miami, a recognition of Florida’s pivotal importance in the fall. It’s also a chance for Kaine, a fluent Spanish speaker, to introduce Clinton to Latino voters, a critical slice of the electorate in her quest to defeat Donald Trump.
Clinton is hoping to seize the spotlight from Republicans after their convention in Cleveland. The site of Kaine’s first joint appearance with Clinton is Florida International University, where the student body is more than half Hispanic.
Hillary Clinton poised to reveal VP pick
The announcement came on the heels of an attack in Munich, Germany, that dominated the afternoon news cycle. The Clinton campaign deliberated over how to avoid a split-screen scenario that could be perceived as insensitive, but in the end, proceeded with its plan to make the unveil on Friday.
Clinton’s decision to choose Kaine began when John Podesta brought the candidate two-dozen binders to her home in Chappaqua, New York, in April, according to a campaign aide. Last week, Clinton and Kaine spent 90 minutes together, followed by another meeting on Saturday that brought together the two families, including Clinton’s husband, daughter and son-in-law, as well as Kaine’s wife.
Ultimately, Clinton was swayed by her personal comfort with Kaine, as well as the belief that the senator is fully prepared to do the job. On Friday, Clinton called Kaine around 7:30 p.m., then spoke with President Barack Obama.
It may be an anti-establishment year, but Clinton’s running mate is an insider: A senator and former governor from the critical battleground of Virginia and a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Kaine, 58, has long been seen as a seasoned and safe choice for Clinton, who could help shore up support among white working-class voters.
Her selection ended a long search that was conducted almost entirely in secret, a stark contrast to Trump’s vice presidential search. It reflected a strategic choice by Clinton: To go with a running mate who amplifies her argument that experience in government — not sizzle — is the best path to keeping the White House in Democratic hands.
Kaine’s midwestern roots also run strong: Born in Minnesota, Kaine is the son of a welder who was raised in Kansas and graduated from the University of Missouri. He went to Harvard law school, but before graduating served a year as a missionary in Honduras.
Clinton camp was ready to pounce on Trump’s VP rollout
It was an experience that cemented his Catholic faith and strengthened his fluency in Spanish. Kaine was the first member to give an entire speech on the Senate floor in Spanish. It was during a debate in support of the bipartisan “Gang of 8″ immigration reform package.
The audition
At a joint campaign appearance last week in Virginia, which served as a final audition, Clinton stood side-by-side Kaine and beamed as he spoke of her virtues in Spanish.
“Estamos listos para Hillary,” he declared.
The Clinton campaign selected Kaine over a roster of at least three other senators and two Cabinet secretaries to Obama. Advisers to Clinton see Kaine as a stable force on the bottom of the ticket, foregoing the allure of a pick that could provide more star power in favor of one they are hoping will be void of drama.
“We all know we need a bridge builder, not a trash talker,” Kaine said last week as he introduced Clinton at the Virginia rally.
His resume is far more fulsome than when he was vetted as a potential running mate for Obama in 2008.
With nearly three years of experience in the Senate under his belt, Kaine has beefed up his foreign policy credentials. He serves on both the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, emerging as a leading proponent of pushing the administration to consult with Congress before engaging in military action.
Kaine is well known inside the Democratic Party, serving as its national chairman during the first years of the Obama administration. He jumped onto the Clinton campaign early — the second time around — announcing his support in 2014, a year before her announcement.
Centrist roots
His bipartisan roots, the Clinton campaign believes, could resonate with voters seeking an alternative to Trump.
At Harvard, he met Anne Holton, the daughter of former Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton, a Republican. Kaine and Holton married and settled in Richmond where both practiced law and sewed the seeds of Kaine’s political future.
After 10 years working as a civil rights lawyer and lecturer at the University of Richmond’s law school, Kaine mounted a successful campaign for city council from Richmond’s Northside. His political rise continued to the mayor’s office and a successful bid for lieutenant governor before being elected governor in 2005.
His governorship was a study in practical decision-making and political maneuvering — qualities valued by the Clinton organization. He pushed through measures like an indoor smoking ban — popular with voters, but controversial in a state with a once robust tobacco industry. Virginia was the first state in the south to enact a ban of this nature.
Kaine also earned high marks for his stewardship of the state after the Virginia Tech Massacre, at the time the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. In the wake of the Tech massacre, Kaine became a leading voice on reforming gun control laws, an issue Clinton has highlighted throughout her campaign.
Early during his time as governor, Kaine took one his biggest political risks: offering a hearty endorsement to then-Sen. Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential bid.
At the time Obama was the underdog to Hillary Clinton and Kaine was the first sitting governor to endorse his campaign. Obama returned the favor by naming Kaine one of his national co-chairs and after securing the Democratic nomination, he put Kaine on a short list as a potential running mate.
Kaine was vetted by the Obama team, but in the end Obama chose Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware — someone with a deeper foreign policy resume, an issue at the time that was considered a weak spot for Obama.
While Kaine is perceived as far more of political moderate, particularly with today’s liberal strain coursing through the party, he is often a reliable liberal vote in the Senate.
Despite his Catholic faith, he is a staunch supporter of abortion rights. He is a defender of the Affordable Care Act and announced his support for same sex marriage in 2013. On guns he has an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA). By comparison, until the Sandy Hook Massacre of 2012, his counterpart Warner had an “A” rating from the NRA.
While geography of a running mate seldom matters in recent presidential elections, the Clinton campaign believes he can certainly help secure Virginia’s 13 electoral votes. The state twice voted for Obama after a generation of solidly voting for Republicans in presidential elections.
CNN’s Brianna Keilar contributed to this report.


The weight of the badge, prayer and one man’s mission

Baton Rouge, Louisiana (CNN)Chaplain Bob Ossler wrapped his arms tightly around Baton Rouge residents. They clutched three wooden crosses that hung above a makeshift memorial of flowers and hand-written notes for the officers killed in an ambush over the weekend.

“I didn’t know their names, but I know what they did for a living,” Ossler said. “I know that they wanted to go home to their wives and children, too.”
He gently touched the crosses after their prayer. Ossler has carried them thousands of miles throughout the decades. They’ve been symbols of hope in the darkest times — from Ground Zero after 9/11, to Hurricane Katrina, to Arizona where 19 firefighters were killed.
Last weekend, they were in Dallas. Today, they’re in Baton Rouge.
Ossler, a police chaplain from New Jersey, is on a mission to comfort the inconsolable. And in Baton Rouge, there are many who are seeking answers.
The death of Alton Sterling made a community rise up in anger — another black man had died at the hands of police. A day later, Philando Castile was killed in Minnesota, deepening the wounds. Then, five officers were killed in Dallas, bringing the country to a solemn pause.
“We are heartbroken for these officers,” said Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed, a Baton Rouge activist. “Where are we headed?”
Two weeks later, three officers were gunned down.

‘We’ve got their back.’

For those in the tight-knit police community, it is a harrowing time. They worry that they’re all seen as villains, targeted by those seeking justice on their own in the worst possible way.
“These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better,” 32-year-old Montrell Jackson wrote in a Facebook post on July 8.
Jackson offered a promise, as a cop: “I got you.”
He was killed nine days later.
Before tragedy struck Baton Rouge, Ossler was at memorial services for the Dallas officers. He listened, read scripture and lent his shoulder to those who wept.
On Sunday morning, he went to church in Fort Worth, Texas, seeking prayer to lift him up. Then, he heard about Louisiana. It was happening again, and so soon.
Hours later, Ossler was in Baton Rouge. He was in a store at the checkout register when he spotted several officers and asked if he could pray with them. They went outside and bowed their heads.
“I said, ‘Guys, keep your eyes open,’ because they are warriors, they have to be alert,” Ossler said.
As the officers choked back tears during the prayer, Ossler could feel their fear.
“I could see they were struggling,” he said.
The reality of this moment is tragic — not just because of the shooting, but because this scene has played out more times than Osser can count.
“They didn’t say ‘Oh there’s a guy with a gun, Let’s let someone else take the call,” Ossler said of the officers killed in Baton Rouge. “They came. And for that, they died.”
Almost an hour north of Baton Rouge on Monday night, officers proudly donning their uniforms gathered for a vigil. Family members wore T-shirts with phrases like “I support the blue” and “My daddy’s life matters.”
They lit candles, played Taps and proudly sang “God Bless America.” Flags at half-staff waved peacefully in the background.
Brian Martin, who put together the vigil, left law enforcement after serving for 12 years. He’s now a teacher. Monday night, he said, was to show officers that there are many people “for them, not against them.”
“We do love them,” Martin said. “We’re going to pray for them. And we’ve got their back.”

Are you there God? It’s me, America.


Every time Ossler brings a cross to a new city, he often has a flashback. He can’t help but remember the heartbreak he felt at Ground Zero, where he used his pathology degree to help identify remains.
“It’s a painful memory. It’s changed my life severely,” he tells CNN as he looks at the makeshift memorial for the Baton Rouge officers. “It took a piece of my heart.”
So he tries to pay it forward.
“These people work hard every day and they need the love, they do. They don’t go out and say, ‘Here I am. I am a hero, come help me, come talk to me,’” Ossler said, referring to officers around the country. “They do their job. They don’t get paid great — sometimes it’s thankless.”
But that’s not what officers want people to know. Despite the divisive rhetoric rippling throughout the nation right now, Ossler said the cops he has spoken to want to tell America one thing: They’ve got its back.
But many people in Baton Rouge don’t feel that support. The relationship between the city’s black community and its police force has been a tense one.
“The African American community is tired,” Abdullah Muflahi, the food market owner who witnessed Sterling’s death, told CNN. “[The police] come into our homes. They disrespect us… We’re tired of being treated like this.”
Ossler knows many people are struggling with questions that are seemingly impossible to answer.
Why would God do such a thing?
He admits that even he has shaken his fist in the air many times to that very question. All he knows is what he can do. As Ossler searches for those healing words, he stops speaking and his gaze drifting to a woman who walked up to the memorial.
He walks over, wraps his arms around her and bows his head for a moment. She lets out a sigh of relief and walks away.

Donald Trump claims GOP mantle

Cleveland (CNN)Donald Trump claimed the mantle Tuesday as the Republican presidential nominee, capping a stunning rise to power for his insurgent campaign as a boisterous showing by his family and friends revived his convention after a rocky start.

Chris Christie, shaking off the disappointment of being passed over as Trump’s running mate, performed a show trial of Hillary Clinton, whipping the crowd into frenzied chants of “Lock her Up! Lock her up!”
Trump’s son, Donald Jr., marked himself as a rising political star, sketching a portrait of his father as a champion of the working man who could unleash America’s potential. His half-sister Tiffany offered a more tender view of her father.
The coordinated attacks against Clinton and glimpses of the New York real estate magnate’s family life delighted a raucous crowd after a plagiarism controversy over a speech from Trump’s wife, Melania, sidetracked the convention’s opening night Monday.
In the highlight of the night, Christie turned Quicken Loans Arena into a courtroom as he branded Hillary Clinton a liar who coddled tyrants, terrorists and American enemies.
Christie, one of Trump’s closest allies and a former federal prosecutor, said that Clinton’s policies while secretary of state had helped an al Qaeda-affiliated terror group abduct 300 young schoolgirls in Nigeria and accused her of abetting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, enabling Iran and Cuba’s Castro brothers along with lying to Americans about her private email server.
“Is she guilty or not guilty?” Christie asked after every charge he laid before the crowd.


The delegates responded with a resounding: “Guilty!”
“We don’t disqualify Hillary Clinton to be the president of the United States,” Christie said. “The facts of her life and career disqualify her.”
Clinton’s campaign quickly responded to Christie’s speech.
“If you think Chris Christie can lecture anyone on ethics, we have a bridge to sell you,” the campaign said on her Twitter account, a reference to the 2013 George Washington Bridge line closure scandal that badly damaged Christie’s own political brand.
In another powerful moment, Trump’s son Donald Jr., who earlier choked up after casting New York’s nominating votes that put his father over the top in the delegate count, vowed that his father would restore American potential.
Trump Jr. said that his father ensured that his children learned from blue collar workers “with a doctorate in common sense.”
In a speech in which he showed himself to be sometimes more fluent in the language of conservatism than his father, he vowed that Trump would unleash the “greatness” of hardworking American people and wouldn’t use “the highest office in the land as a path to personal enrichment.”
“That President can only be my mentor, my best friend, my father, Donald Trump,” his son said.
Donald Jr.’s half sister Tiffany, 22, who has just graduated college and rarely appears on the campaign trail lifted the lid on her father’s personable side, calling him friendly, considerate, funny and real.
“My Dad is a natural born encourager, the last person ever to tell you to lower your sights,” Tiffany Trump said.
The focus of the night was supposed to be on the economy, but it was Clinton who was in the spotlight.
Michael Mukasey, a former attorney general under George W. Bush, said Clinton lied about her motivations in setting up a private email server while secretary of state and said that disqualified her from being President.
“Hillary Clinton is asking the people of this country and the people of the United States to make her the first President in history to take the oath of office after already having violated it,” he said.
The message, Mukasey said, the convention should send to her should be “loud, clear and short: No way, Hillary. No way on earth.”

‘Third Obama term’

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who had previously offered a lukewarm endorsement of Trump, said he looked forward to sitting behind him in the House chamber when the GOP nominee delivers the State of the Union address. He said, unlike the GOP, Democrats have settled on a tired nominee for 2016.
“They are offering you a third Obama term, brought to you by another Clinton,” Ryan said.
Chris Cox, a National Rifle Association lobbyist, said that Clinton would stack the Supreme Court with justices who opposed the Second Amendment. “A Hillary Clinton Supreme Court means your right to own a firearm is gone,” Cox told delegates.
The Clinton campaign says the former secretary of state has no plans to abolish the right to own a gun, but has called for universal background checks and stricter control of firearms.
For his part, Trump basked in the success of officially becoming the Republican Party’s nominee after the roll call vote of state delegates Tuesday and said he is proud to be the party’s choice to battle Clinton in November.
“Together, we have achieved historic results, with the largest vote total in the history of the Republican Party,” he told delegates at the Republican National Convention in a live video from Trump Tower. “This is a movement, but we have to go all the way.”

Fallout from Melania Trump speech

Trump’s appearance came as his campaign sought to turn around a rocky start to the convention, following a plagiarism scandal that erupted around his wife Melania’s convention address on Monday night. He did not mention the controversy over passages lifted from First Lady Michelle Obama’s convention speech in 2008, simply saying he and his wife had a great time Monday in Cleveland.
The theme of Tuesday evening was “Make America Work Again,” but was dominated by the attacks on Clinton’s credibility. Two of Trump’s children, Tiffany and Donald Jr., also sought to put a more human face on their father as he tries to broaden his appeal.
But the fallout over Melania Trump’s address, which featured unattributed excepts from a speech by First Lady Michelle Obama, mounted on Tuesday as critics used it to question the campaign’s competence and readiness for power and the campaign swatted away the controversy as “absurd.”
Donald Trump, who briefly introduced Melania on Monday after emerging onto the stage through a cloud of smoke and blue light, was furious about the embarrassment, two sources told CNN. The campaign, however, signaled that no one would be fired or disciplined over the episode.
Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort accused the Clinton campaign of jumping on the controversy to attack Melania Trump because she was a threat to the former secretary of state’s presidential candidacy.
But senior Clinton campaign communications advisor Karen Finney hit back, saying : “You can’t blame everything on us. Some of the mistakes that are made are made by the Trump campaign.”
Clinton did not weigh into the controversy but did slam the first night of the Republican convention as similar to the “Wizard of Oz.”
“Lots of sound and fury, even a fog machine, but when you pulled back the curtain, it was just Donald Trump with nothing to offer the American people,” Clinton said in Las Vegas.
It remained unclear, however, whether the firestorm over the Melania Trump speech will have a lasting impact on voters, especially since her speech was an often touching tribute to her husband and her adoptive United States.
The Trump campaign has been the most unconventional political operation in many decades, and political reversals that would have hobbled any other candidacy have repeatedly blown over with little apparent affect.
Top Republicans sought to put the controversy to rest.
“Whatever happened with the writing was unfortunate,” Republican Sen. John Barrasso told CNN’s Carol Costello on Tuesday. “I don’t want all the unity of this convention to be overshadowed by that.”
Sen. Marco Rubio told CNN’s Jake Tapper he understood “why it’s a big deal in terms of the internal, inside baseball of political coverage.”
“But I think for the vast majority of Americans, it doesn’t really matter one way or the other,” Rubio said.

Baton Rouge police: Three arrested in plot to harm officers

(CNN)Baton Rouge police Chief Carl Dabadie on Tuesday said officers have arrested three people they believe were planning to kill police in the Louisiana city.

The threat emerged after the shooting death of Alton Sterling last week by Baton Rouge police, which has prompted weeklong protests by people concerned about police use of deadly force.
The “credible threat” was why law officers were quick to take aggressive action when they believed protesters were becoming unruly, Debadie and other top law enforcement officers told reporters.
“We can’t take anything for granted any more,” said East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux. “What you saw in the (law enforcement) response is because of the very real and viable threats against law enforcement. Look what happened in Dallas. A very peaceful protest and then some crazy madman.”
Police said they learned of the plot when an officer responded to a burglary at Cash America Pawn early Saturday morning and arrested Antonio Thomas in the store, Debadie said.
Police said Thomas, 17, had one handgun and one airsoft BB gun, and told investigators he and three others stole firearms and were also seeking bullets to shoot police officers, the chief said.
One of the three suspects was released from jail Wednesday. He said he wasn’t involved in any such plan, CNN affiliate WBRZ reported. Trashone Coats said he was approached on the street by youths who tried to sell him guns, and was caught with the weapons when the police arrived and they ran off.
“I was looking at the guns. That’s how my fingerprints got on the guns,” Coats told WBRZ.
During the investigation Coats was charged with Illegal possession of a stolen firearm after detectives recovered two handguns that he allegedly bought illegally on the street.
“I want them to know that my intentions were never to kill no police officer,” Coats told WBRZ.
Surveillance video showed people using a ladder to climb to the roof to break into the pawn shop, police said.
Thomas was accused of burglary and theft of a firearm and booked into parish prison.
Since Saturday, detectives have arrested two other suspects in the case, including a 13-year-old boy. A fourth suspect possibly remains at large, police said.
Malik Bridgewater, 20, was arrested on Sunday at his home and was charged with burglary and theft of a firearm. Detectives recovered three of the stolen handguns with Bridgewater.
The 13-year-old boy was arrested Monday and charged with burglary and firearm theft, police said.
Eight handguns were stolen from the pawnshop, six of which have been recovered, Debadie said.
“Our officers have been working around the clock to get these firearms off the streets of Baton Rouge,” he said.
It was unclear Wednesday whether any of the suspects had retained attorneys. The office of the public defender said it had not been contacted.

Trump’s VP search enters frenzied phase

(CNN)Donald Trump’s vice presidential search turned into a head-spinning melodrama Wednesday as candidates vying for the spot hopped on planes and phones to perform frenzied, last-minute try-outs.

For much of the day, Indiana was the unlikely center of the political world — all thanks to a flat tire.
Trump’s plane hit something when it landed Tuesday night, resulting in a popped tire, according to a source familiar with the process. That kept Trump in the state longer than he expected after campaigning with Gov. Mike Pence, setting off a last-minute scramble of high-profile travelers to the Hoosier State as the clock ticked down on his VP decision.
Concerned Trump was unsure and torn about his choice and maybe leaning in a direction they didn’t like, his children — Eric, Don Jr. and Ivanka — hopped on a plane early in the morning to reach him. Trump and his children wound up having breakfast with Pence at the governor’s mansion.
The plane malfunction set off a domino effect with others: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich flew to Indianapolis to meet with Trump on a private jet provided by Fox News host Sean Hannity, two sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN. He was later seen leaving a hotel in the same motorcade as Trump’s children.
Trump spoke to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over the phone for a conversation that included talk about the vice presidency.
And Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions arrived in Indianapolis to meet with Trump to serve as another adviser as the presumptive GOP nominee makes his final decision on a running mate.
Earlier in the day, a Trump spokesperson said the meetings were held in Indiana to allow Trump more time with Pence.
The process of choosing a vice presidential partner is a crucial one that often provides early insight into how a nominee might approach the presidency. Most presumptive nominees operate their vice presidential search under intense secrecy with potential candidates sneaking to cloak-and-dagger meetings to avoid the press and maintain the element of surprise ahead of the final announcement. But not Trump, whose search has been remarkably public over the past week.
Trump’s search is entering its final phase. Paul Manafort, his campaign chairman, told CNN Wednesday evening that Trump will make his announcement Friday in New York.
Trump later tweeted: “I will be making the announcement of my Vice Presidential pick on Friday at 11am in Manhattan. Details to follow.”

Intrigue in Indianapolis

The presumptive nominee has not yet made a final decision. But he said in an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier that he was trimming his short-list.
“I’m narrowing it down. I mean I’m at three, potentially four. But in my own mind, I probably am thinking about two,” he said.
Trump has spend the past several days publicly giving potential running mates a trial run on the campaign trail. And the feverish endgame of his search suggests a penchant for intrigue, an unpredictable streak and — above all — a desire to make a splash as the comings and goings Wednesday triggered a media circus.
The lobby of the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis suddenly became the epicenter of the 2016 campaign — with reporters and passersby straining for a sighting of Trump or any of his possible running mates, speculation running rife about the former reality star’s intentions.
Next door, at The Capital Grille, local politicians and lobbyists buzzed about what the future held in store for homeboy Pence, who rocketed up the list of possible vice presidential nominees after spending significant face time with Trump in the last few days.
Donald Trump Jr. summed up the whirlwind developments with a tweet: “Amazing trip to Indiana today. Fast but very productive.”

Fluid situation

With Trump’s mind not yet made up, the intrigue focused attention on exactly what kind of qualities the GOP presumptive nominee is looking for in a running mate.
One of the biggest questions is whether he will opt for someone with a reputation as a partisan scrapper who could defend him in the media and lambast Democrat Hillary Clinton, or if he will choose someone viewed as a safer political partner who could bring more sobriety to his volatile campaign.
One source said Trump wants a “fighter” and Christie — the tough talking former prosecutor — fits the bill.
“I’m getting attacked from all sides,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday. Though he was not in Indianapolis on Wednesday, Christie, one of the first major politicians to back Trump before he captured the nomination, is still very much under consideration, multiple sources told CNN.
“Trump’s gut is Christie,” one source said. The New Jersey governor spent the day in back-to-back meetings in Washington as he leads Trump’s transition team.
Trump spoke of his kinship with Christie, with whom several sources said he talks every day.
“I tell you, Chris Christie is somebody I’ve liked a long time; he’s a total professional. He’s a good guy, by the way, a lot of people don’t understand that,” he said on Fox News.
But on Wednesday, Trump told Fox: “I just want to pick up somebody that’s solid, who’s smart. I’m not looking for an attack dog. Frankly, I’m looking for somebody that really understands what we’re talking about.”
And if Trump wants someone more conventional, he could turn to Pence. The Indiana governor has credibility with social conservatives who are among the most suspicious of Republican Party constituencies towards Trump.
Trump and Pence met privately before a fundraiser in Indianapolis on Tuesday evening, and then Pence got a try-out at a rally in nearby Westfield. The Trumps and Pences dined together at the Capital Grille in Indianapolis, staying past midnight.
A source close to Pence told CNN’s MJ Lee that when asked about the vice presidential race it “sure feels like Pence.” But noting the sheer unpredictability of dealing with the man making the decision, they emphasized: “This is Trump we are talking about.”
When CNN asked how the breakfast with Pence went on Wednesday, Trump gave a thumbs-up. An adviser said the encounter was “cordial” but added that the billionaire had yet to finalize his decision on a running mate.
At Tuesday’s rally, Pence slammed Clinton, saying that “to paraphrase the director of the FBI, I think it would be ‘extremely careless’ to elect Hillary Clinton as president.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Pence said he was “humbled to be a part” of the process.
“Trump’s giving it very careful consideration,” he told reporters in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “I’m just honored to be on that list.”
Even potential rival Gingrich offered extensive praise for the Indiana governor on Wednesday night.
“A lot of people who are a little jittery about Donald Trump would feel reassured talking with Pence,” Gingrich told Fox News. “My strength is totally different: I’m an outsider.”

Choice not yet made

A Trump adviser, however, disputed conventional wisdom that Pence could steady or moderate the voluble Republican presumptive nominee on the stump. In fact, this person said, having him as a more temperate running mate could prompt Trump to become even more unconventional.
“Mike is not going to go and defend Trump the way he needs it — the way a Newt or a Christie would, or even the way a Sessions has,” the adviser said.
Some donors are pressuring Trump to pick Gingrich as his vice president.
A source close to Sheldon Adelson told CNN that the casino magnate spoke to Trump and said that “he liked Newt.”
Marking the unpredictability of the state of affairs, Trump was still making calls to people in recent days.
Trump even reached out again to Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state under former President George W. Bush, after a donor encouraged him to make the call over the weekend. Rice, though, doesn’t want the job, according to a separate source familiar with the process.
At a fundraiser in the Hamptons last weekend, The New York Times reported: “When an attendee suggested Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, Mr. Trump said they had irreconcilable differences over the Iraq War.”
Jacqueline Silva de Oliveira with her twins, Lucas and Laura.

One Zika twin has microcephaly; the other doesn’t. But why?

Santos, Brazil (CNN)Jacqueline Silva de Oliveira sits on the edge of her bed, holding her 6-month-old son, Lucas. He squirms in her arms before he finally screams out, hungry and demanding milk.

His twin sister, Laura, barely notices, just a slight nod and a twitch of her eyes. Half his size, she is quiet, asleep on the other end of the bed, as she often is. When she wakes, even her cries seem to struggle from her throat. She can’t breastfeed. She can barely hold up her small head. She has microcephaly.
“We try to live in the moment with her,” de Oliveira says of Laura. “Because we worry, what if she needs a wheelchair? How will she move around in this house? It’s really complicated to think about the future.”
It was only three months after she gave birth that de Oliveira found out that she’d had that Zika virus while pregnant. Her husband had Zika before her, with strong symptoms, and eventually she developed a rash.
“I thought it was allergies,” she said. “And it only lasted a day, so I didn’t even get tested or anything.” She went to the doctor, thinking she had the dengue fever common in that area, and the doctor recommended that she go to the hospital. But it was very far away. “I didn’t go because I was already feeling really bad,” she said.
In this tiny house in the suburbs of Santos, Brazil, they’re one family that could possibly help answer questions around the horror of Zika: What is its connection to the debilitating birth defect microcephaly?
Lucas and Laura are one of six sets of twins in Brazil whom researchers are studying to see why one has microcephaly and the other does not. The answer may lie in the babies’ respective genes: One twin is able to resist the virus while the other is more susceptible to it.
At that start, de Oliveira was reticent but soon decided she wanted to help. “No one asks God for a special-needs child. But, on the other hand, I feel privileged to know that if the protective gene is discovered, it will be able to free other children of this disease, this brain malformation.”
The vast majority of people infected by Zika, about 80%, will never show symptoms. But its connection to microcephaly is most troubling to scientists, making pregnant women the focus of research and prevention campaigns.
Only after advising that pregnant women avoid travel to Brazil did the World Health Organization gave its OK to the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Geneticist Mayana Zatz of the University of Sao Paulo is studying de Oliveira’s twins and thinks one twin’s genes make it more vulnerable to the virus, rather than one being better able to resist it. The hope is that they can detect this genetic difference and provide some relief for the now-harrowing experience of pregnancy in Brazil.
“If we can pinpoint what are the variants, what are the genes involved, we could have a genetic test that could test on others that are pregnant to say if they are at risk,” Zatz said.
Peggy Honein, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s co-lead on the Birth Defects Task Force for the Zika response, says that studying twins would allow the researchers to isolate environmental factors from genetic conditions as the driving link between Zika and microcephaly.
“Certainly, it is consistent that not every woman infected with Zika will lead to a newborn with microcephaly,” Honein said.
What is most crucial now, says Honein, is pinpointing the absolute risk of a fetus developing microcephaly and the period of greatest risk of exposure during pregnancy.
As the virus moves into the Northern Hemisphere summer, the CDC says the number of pregnant women infected with Zika in the continental United States has risen to 265 cases as of June 16.
It’s unclear how many of those infections will lead to pregnancy complications.
A recent study in Rio de Janeiro found that nearly 30% of pregnant women infected with Zika had ultrasounds showing abnormalities. But Honein points out that in another study, just 1% of babies born to Zika-infected mothers showed complications. She says the true risk probably lies in between.
In late June, the National Institutes of Health announced that it would be monitoring about 10,000 pregnant women in Puerto Rico, Brazil, Colombia and other countries as part of a large-scale study to better understand the effects of Zika on pregnancy and newborns.
There is no crystal ball in the fight against Zika, Honein said. The research is still catching up with the true scope of the virus.
“Zika virus poses a unique challenge in terms of the critical need to protect pregnant women,” she said.
In Sao Paulo, Zatz says that with every mother she visits as part of her study, the more desperate she is to find answers.
“The research that we are doing takes time. It’s not something you can do quickly,” she said. “We know there is a lot of pressure, but this is the best we can do.”

Chasing ‘El Chapo’: Prison breaks, hideaways and life on the lam

(CNN)The notorious cartel boss hid in a laundry cart the first time he broke out of prison — or so the story goes.

The next time, he slipped out through an underground tunnel and rode a motorcycle to freedom.
The brazen escapes, and the stories that swirled about them afterward, cemented Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera’s place as a mythical figure in Mexico’s criminal underworld.
His nickname means “Shorty,” but there’s no shortage of tall tales about the Sinaloa cartel kingpin.
Behind them lies a staggering truth: Guzman, authorities say, built the largest illegal drug organization in the world.
Jim Dinkins spent the bulk of his career trying to stop him. And the former head of investigations for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says one thing comes to mind when he hears El Chapo’s name: “Evil genius.”
“He rose up out of the streets,” Dinkins said, “to become one of the most powerful people in the world.”
Now Guzman is behind bars again — held in a Juarez, Mexico, prison as his attorneys fight efforts to extradite him to the United States.
And the story of how he got there is anything but simple.

An empire is born

Guzman got to know the drug business at an early age.
His hometown of Badiraguato, Sinaloa, is inside Mexico’s Golden Triangle, the heart of the country’s drug trade.
For decades, families in the area worked the fields, cultivating marijuana and poppies used to produce heroin, according to Anabel Hernandez, an investigative journalist who covers Mexican cartels.
“His father used to do it,” she said. “His grandfather used to do it.”
And by the time Guzman was 7 years old, he’d left school to do it, too, Hernandez said.
He started out working for Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo’s notorious Guadalajara cartel. That group eventually splintered into several factions; one of them was Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel.
The drug empire became Mexico’s most powerful. And there was another thing that distinguished it — and its leader.
“He was a killer,” Dinkins says.
Guzman surrounded himself with ruthless guards and enforcers, reigning over a multibillion-dollar global drug empire that supplied much of the marijuana, cocaine and heroin peddled on the streets of the United States.
In indictments filed in federal courts across the United States, prosecutors accuse the organization of using assassins and hit squads to maintain its control.
Chicago named him “Public Enemy No. 1″ in 2013, calling him the city’s “new Al Capone.”
“While Chicago is 1,500 miles from Mexico, the Sinaloa drug cartel is so deeply embedded in the city that local and federal law enforcement are forced to operate as if they are on the border,” Jack Riley, who heads the Drug Enforcement Administration’s office in the city, said at the time.
In Mexico, analysts say, the strength of Guzman’s enterprise helped unleash an ongoing drug war that has left tens of thousands of his countrymen dead.
A particularly high-profile killing made El Chapo Guzman a household name, and landed him in jail: the 1993 slaying of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo.
Authorities said the beloved church official was slain by Guzman’s enemies, who thought they were taking aim at the drug lord.
As outrage mounted over the cardinal’s death, Guzman was arrested in Guatemala. Authorities extradited him to Mexico, where he was quickly convicted of criminal association and bribery and sentenced to 20 years behind bars.
At the time, he denied any connection to drugs.
“I am a farmer,” he told reporters.

Escape spurs lengthy manhunt

During his time in Mexico’s Puente Grande prison, Guzman lived like a king, with catered food and frequent visits from women, Hernandez said.
“This prison became a resort for ‘El Chapo’ Guzman,” Hernandez told CNN.
But despite the reportedly cushy conditions, by 2001 Guzman was ready for a change of scenery.
That year, with 12 years left in his sentence, officials say Guzman escaped from the prison in a laundry cart.
Hernandez tells a different version of the story.
“Two very high-level officials of the government opened the door and said, ‘Sir, you can leave now,’” the investigative journalist says.
During the drug lord’s nearly 13 years on the lam, rumors swirled about his whereabouts.
From time to time, investigators suggested they were hot on his trail. But even as Mexico stepped up its pressure on cartels, he remained an elusive target. Many in the country suggested that his whereabouts were an open secret — and that the government must have been deliberately steering clear of capturing him.
In 2009, the archbishop of Mexico’s Durango state told reporters that Guzman lived near the mountain town of Guanacevi.
“Everyone knows it,” he said, “except the authorities.”
Days later, investigators found the bodies of two slain army lieutenants in Durango’s mountains, accompanied by a note: “Neither the government nor priests can handle El Chapo.”
A year later, when asked by reporters again about Guzman’s whereabouts, the archbishop said, “He is omnipresent. … He is everywhere.”

Robin Hood ‘mystique’

Guzman’s legend grew even more while he was on the run.
Stories proliferated of him helping the poor, or taking everyone’s cell phones at a restaurant while he ate and then footing their bills for the inconvenience.
“I heard that story a million times around Mexico. I believe it may have happened once in Sinaloa — maybe. I’m not really sure,” says Malcolm Beith, author of “The Last Narco: Inside the Hunt for El Chapo, the World’s Most Wanted Drug Lord.”
“These stories, they circulate around. Suddenly he’s the man about town. He’s an amazing man of the people, and God — he paid the bill, too. That’s very old school mafia. It’s straight out of the mob movies.”
That image was good for Guzman, even if the tales weren’t true, Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis at Stratfor, told CNN in 2013.
“He wants to try to foster that whole mystique,” Stewart said.
The idea that Guzman was some sort of Robin Hood character helped him hide out from authorities and evade arrest, Stewart said.
“I think there’s a false narrative that says El Chapo is kind of this benevolent businessman,” he said.
But benevolent or not, experts say it’s hard to dispute Guzman’s business savvy.
He ran the cartel like a CEO, bringing it so much financial success that in 2009 he landed on a billionaires list in Forbes magazine, along with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.
Inclusion on the business magazine’s list wasn’t the only mention Guzman got.
The drug lord also started cropping up in narcocorridos, popular Mexican songs that often glorify drug trafficking, telling tales of armored cars, shootings and police chases.
And it wasn’t long before the idolization spread north of the border.
In 2012, American rapper Gucci Mane devoted a song to Guzman:
All I wanna be is El Chapo
Fully automatic slice your auto
All I wanna be is El Chapo
Three billion dollars in pesos
All I wanna be is El Chapo
And when I meet him I’ma tell him bravo

Tunneling out

Even as his notoriety grew, Guzman himself kept a low profile.
People said they’d spotted him in locations across Mexico, in Guatemala and even in Europe. Authorities called him the world’s most wanted drug lord, but every time they tried to nab him, Guzman found a way to slip out of sight.
That changed in 2014, when a triumphant Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto trumpeted Guzman’s capture at a hotel in the Pacific beach town of Mazatlan as a sign that his government’s security strategy was working.
The following year, speeches from the Mexican leader struck a decidedly different chord.
Guzman had broken out of a maximum-security prison again, authorities announced. This time, he used a mile-long tunnel for his getaway.
Security cameras in the Altiplano prison recorded Guzman stepping into a shower area — but never stepping out.
Later that day, authorities announced that Guzman was missing. He escaped through a hole in his cell that led to a lighted and ventilated tunnel.
It took nearly six months for investigators to find him again.
They closed in on Guzman at a hideaway in the coastal city of Los Mochis.
In a stranger-than-fiction twist, authorities said the drug lord’s desire to tell his story on the big screen — and to flirt with a famed soap opera actress who’d played a crime boss on television — led to his capture.
Text messages arranging a secret meeting between Guzman, Mexican actress Kate del Castilloand American actor Sean Penn were key clues that tipped off investigators.

‘This is a race’

Jose Refugio, Guzman’s lawyer, said he plans to mount a vigorous defense.
“It is not a lost cause,” he told CNN. “If it were a lost cause, I wouldn’t be defending him.”
Asked what his client does for a living, Refugio points to Guzman’s 1993 statement calling himself a farmer.
If he’s extradited, U.S. officials tell CNN that Guzman will head to Brooklyn, New York, to stand trial on federal charges. An updated indictment filed in Brooklyn last month says Guzman and another cartel leader face charges of conspiring to import hundreds of thousands of pounds of cocaine into the U.S. between 1999 and 2014.
Guzman also faces federal charges in five other U.S. states, including a murder charge in Texas. Asked for his response to the U.S. charges, Refugio says he hasn’t discussed the details of most of the cases with his client.
“His legal processes in Mexico have been fraught with illegal evidence,” the lawyer says. “I can tell you about the charges he faces in Texas, where they have five witnesses, four of which don’t even know him. … I don’t have any evidence. I don’t know what he did, how he behaved on the outside. I can’t talk about him on the outside. All I see from a legal viewpoint are those discrepancies.”
Those who’ve followed Guzman’s case for years say there’s no telling what will happen next.
“This is a race,” said Alejandro Hope, a Mexican security analyst. “Either the Mexican government sends him to the U.S. within a couple years, or he’ll recreate the conditions that allow him to escape, and may try again.”
Derek Maltz, who once led the Drug Enforcement Administration’s special operations division, said there’s no doubt.
“Of course he can escape again, because it’s Chapo, Harry Houdini,” Maltz said. “Nothing would surprise me with this guy.”

Jason Day to miss Rio Olympics over Zika virus scare

(CNN)He’s the best golfer on the planet — but Jason Day won’t be winning Olympic gold anytime soon.

The world. No. 1 withdrew from Rio 2016 Tuesday after citing fears over contracting the Zika virus.
His move comes after four-time major winner Rory McIlroy pulled out this month for similar reasons, while several other of the sport’s big names have also said they won’t travel to South America.
While the symptoms of the virus — which include a rash, headaches and joint pain — aren’t severe, Zika has been linked to microcephaly in newborn babies and some cases of the muscle-weakening disease Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults.
“The reason for my decision is my concerns about the possible transmission of the Zika virus and the potential risks that it might present to my wife’s future pregnancies and to future members of our family,” Day said in a statement published on his Twitter account.
“I have always placed my family in front of everything else in my life. Medical experts have confirmed that while perhaps slight, a decision to compete in Rio absolutely comes with health risks to me and my family. My wife Ellie and I have been blessed with two wonderful and healthy children and our plans is to have more.
“While it has always been a major goal to compete in the Olympics on behalf of my country, playing golf cannot take precedent over the safety of our family. I will not place them at risk.”
The Australian, who won his first major at the 2015 PGA Championship, is the latest no-show for golf’s long-awaited returned to the Olympics, having last featured in 1904.
Three-time major winner Vijay Singh and and Australia’s Marc Leishman both cited Zika, as did former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell — whose wife is pregnant, and who declined the chance to replace McIlroy in Ireland’s team.
Ireland has also lost Shane Lowry, ranked 25 in the world, after he confirmed he would not be traveling to Brazil on Tuesday.
Lowry, who tied for second at the U.S. Open, also cited fears over the Zika virus for his withdrawal.
Leading South African players Louis Oosthuizen — the 2010 British Open winner — world No. 12 Branden Grace and 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel have also decided not to compete.
With former Masters winner Adam Scott also out, Australia would not have an eligible player inside the top 75 if the team was selected on this week’s rankings.
Former world No. 1 Tiger Woods has questioned the quality of the field that will take part on Rio de Janeiro’s new course in August.
The qualifying format — four players per country from the world’s top 15, plus two players per country outside that — also devalues the competition, according to the American.
“I know they have to try to have four guys from each country participate, but I just wish they would have had more quality of a field similar to what we face in major championships or the World Golf Championships or the Players,” said the 40-year-old, who is still recovering from back surgery and will not take part in Brazil.
“I think the Olympics deserve that.”

Hospital attack sparks new security concerns in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro (CNN)Rio de Janeiro’s largest public hospital and one of the five designated to treat tourists during the upcoming Summer Olympic Games was attacked by armed gunmen during the weekend, leaving one person dead and two injured.

The attack deals another blow to a city struggling to show it’s ready to host the games.
The raid took place early Sunday morning at the Souza Aguiar hospital. According to local authorities, the group was trying to free an alleged drug kingpin known as “Fat Family,” who had been taken to the hospital a week ago following a shootout with police and was under police surveillance.
According to state news agency Agencia Brasil, more than 20 men broke into the hospital carrying assault rifles and hand grenades and wearing masks to cover their faces.
Ana Paula dos Santos was in the hospital visiting her grandmother on the same floor when the raid took place.
“I heard a loud explosion and saw gangsters and police officers running through the hallways,” Dos Santos told CNN Monday. “I heard a lot of gunshots.”
According to dos Santos, there were two police officers outside the suspect’s room before the raid occurred.
The gang succeeded in freeing the kingpin, Agencia Brasil reported.
Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes called the incident “scary and unacceptable” and said he wanted to meet with state officials.
In addition to being selected as one of the main emergency facilities for tourists visiting during the Olympic Games, the Souza Aguiar hospital is also the closest unit to Maracana Stadium, the city’s football arena that will host the Rio 2016 opening ceremony on August 5th.
The attack also came after Rio de Janeiro state governor Francisco Dornelles issued an executive order last week declaring a state of emergency and requesting additional funding to fulfill fiscal obligations during the games, including paying overtime for military police officer and completing a subway line.

Jaguar shot dead after escape during Olympic torch event

(CNN)A jaguar that was part of an Olympic torch relay event on Monday was shot and killed after the cat escaped its handlers, the Brazilian army said in a statement.

After Juma broke free from her confinement, a team of military members and veterinarians worked to recapture the jaguar.
Despite being shot with a tranquilizer dart, the animal lunged at a soldier and, in an attempt to protect the soldier and the rest of the treatment team, the animal was killed with one pistol shot.
The torch relay stopped at the Jungle Warfare Instruction Center Zoo in Manaus on Monday morning.
Photos of the event show the animal in a collar and held by heavy chains lying on the ground. Nearby a man kneels holding the Olympic torch.

‘We made a mistake’

The Rio 2016 organizing committee expressed regrets.
“We made a mistake when we allowed the Olympic torch, a symbol of peace and union of different people, to be exhibited next to a chained wild animal,” the committee said in a statement.
“This scene contradicts our beliefs and values. We are very saddened by what happened after the torch relay and guarantee we will not witness any other situation like this one during the Rio 2016 Games.”
Jaguars are considered a near-threatened species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. It is the largest cat in the Americas.

Obama goes on tirade against Trump over ‘dangerous’ Muslim ban, ‘radical Islam’

Washington (CNN)President Barack Obama lit into Donald Trump Tuesday, turning the tables to make the impassioned case that Trump is the one who’s un-American.

Obama’s extraordinary denunciation of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee was about far more than a personal intervention on behalf of Hillary Clinton in the ugly general election campaign.
The commander in chief’s fury, which seethed out of him in a stunning soliloquy on live television, amounted to a moment of historic significance: a president castigating one of the two people who could succeed him as beyond the constitutional and political norms of the nation itself.
Obama’s remarks, motivated by his disgust over Trump’s response to the worst terror attack since 9/11, were also deeply ironic, given that Trump has hounded him for years with insinuations that he’s not a real American.
The real estate mogul had returned to that theme on Monday, hinting that in some way the President was complicit or approved of Islamic terror attacks, saying on Fox News, “There is something going on.”
Trump has based his attacks on conspiracy theories that Obama was born outside the country or a closeted Muslim. Obama’s charge, in contrast, was based on his perception that the billionaire Republican’s views are so extreme that he threatens the fabric of America itself.
And Obama sought to shame Republican leaders, many of whom were left squirming by Trump’s views. Though they differ with many of his views — House Speaker Paul Ryan again on Tuesday rejected the GOP presumptive nominee’s stance on Muslims — they are trapped by his millions of primary voters, who made it clear to the party leadership that the billionaire businessman should be heeded.
“That’s not the America we want,” he said. “It doesn’t reflect our democratic ideals. It will make us less safe.”
Obama also drew an implicit analogy between Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim travel and the most “shameful” moments in American history when the government had mistreated its people, adding that then Constitution prohibited religious tests.
“If we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it a lot easier to radicalize people here and around the world, but we would have betrayed the very things we are trying to protect,” Obama warned.

Trump responds

Trump responded to the President during his Thursday night rally in Greensboro, North Carolina, saying Obama “was more angry at me than he was at the shooter.”
“The level of anger, that’s the kind of anger that he should have for the shooter and these killers that shouldn’t be here,” Trump added, blasting Obama as a “lousy president” who had done a “terrible job.”
Obama has pilloried Trump before. But Tuesday’s remarks displayed a deeper intensity and anger, reflecting his apparent belief that America had reached a dangerous moment given Trump;s new status as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
“I think the key for President Obama — is he is talking to the world,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “Donald Trump isn’t just a candidate who a few months back was talking about banning Muslims from the United States. He has got a lot of momentum.”
He continued, “President Obama wanted to make clear that the United States government, the federal government says no to what Donald Trump is suggesting, that it is hateful bigotry.”
He concluded, “There was ire in his eyes and sarcasm in the way he went after Trump.”
Obama told his aides on Monday that he wanted to deliver a speech rebutting the Republican nominee’s comments after stewing over them, a senior administration official told CNN’s Dana Bash.
The result was the kind of public venting that Obama, one of the world’s most self-contained politicians, rarely indulges in publicly — though this side of his character is familiar to those who have witnessed the much more impassioned rhetoric he adopts in private.
In some ways, it recalled the angry tirade against American politics that Obama delivered after the Newtown massacre of defenseless schoolchildren in 2012 and the subsequent rant he delivered about politicians that he implied were too cowardly to embrace his crusade for gun control.
He hammered Trump over his “dangerous” mindset and “loose talk and sloppiness” about who exactly America was fighting, implying that Trump’s remarks were actually driving Muslims who might be prone to radicalization into the arms of ISIS.
And he doubled down to repudiate Republican campaigns that he was abetting terrorism by refusing to use the words “radical Islamic terrorism.”
“What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change?” Obama asked during remarks at the Treasury Department. “Would it make ISIL less committed to try and kill Americans?” he continued, using a different acronym for ISIS.
“Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above,” he said. “Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away.”
Speaking after Obama’s remarks, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the President had grown frustrated at hearing “political talking points” being wielded in place of a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy.
But while the President’s remarks likely cheered many of his supporters, the tone of his comments — which included a call for gun control — contained little reassurance for Americans scared about a new wave of homegrown terror on U.S. soil.
And while Obama mounted a stern defense of his administration’s battle to eradicate ISIS in its self-declared caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, his remarks will not assuage critics who argue he was late to the fight and is still not doing enough.
Mike Rogers, former head of the House Intelligence Committee, faulted Obama for treading the same kind of political terrain as Trump with his angry remarks.
“This was the chance for the President to try to bring us together. I think he is so focused on this presidential campaign he let himself go,” Rogers, now a CNN commentator, said on “The Lead” with Jake Tapper. “I just don’t think it looked presidential.”
Obama’s intervention also seemed motivated by a desire to help Clinton.
The former secretary of state lit into Trump herself on Tuesday, warning that Trump was temperamentally unfit to serve in the Oval Office.
She also made the case that his obsession with the words “radical Islam” was a smokescreen for his own lack of knowledge.
“Is Donald Trump suggesting that there are magic words that once uttered will stop terrorists from coming after us?” Clinton said in Pittsburgh. “What I will not do is demonize and declare war on an entire religion.”
The Republican Party did lash out at Obama, however, with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus hitting out at the administration’s record on fighting terrorism and faulting Clinton and Obama for pushing for gun control in the wake of the tragedy in Florida.
“Let’s not forget: President Obama’s hasty and politically driven withdrawal from Iraq, which Hillary Clinton supported, created the vacuum that enabled the rise of this terrorist group,” Priebus said in a statement.
“Their failure to secure Libya after their military intervention gave ISIS a beachhead on another continent. Democrats want to talk about anything else because they have lost the national security debate.”

Alligator drags away toddler into water at Disney hotel, police say

Lake Buena Vista, Florida (CNN)A search is on to find a 2-year-old boy who was attacked by an alligator and dragged away at a Disney hotel near Orlando, authorities said.

The incident happened while the family relaxed at a sandy area near the Seven Seas Lagoon on the property.
The child was “wading just in the water along the lake’s edge at the time that the alligator attacked,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said.
After the alligator grabbed the child, the father hopped into the water and tried to wrestle his son back from its mouth, but was unsuccessful, Demings said.
“Based upon my 35 years of law enforcement experience, we know we have some challenges ahead at this time,” he said. “We’re not leaving until we recover the child.”
Demings said there is no record of similar incidents in this particular area.
The family of four — parents and two children — is on vacation from Nebraska, Demings said. They arrived Sunday.
“Everyone here at the Walt Disney Resort is devastated by this tragic accident,” a Disney spokeswoman told reporters.
Demings said no reports of nuisance alligators have come in the region recently. The alligator is between 4 and 7 feet long.

The search

Authorities have searched for the child for about four hours and do not plan to stop until he is found or recovered.
A handful of people witnessed the incident and supplied police with information. CNN staff on the scene spotted at least 10 emergency vehicles, and the beach has been cordoned off.
The Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife is conducting a parallel investigation and is participating in the search. It has deployed an alligator trapper, officer Chad Weber said.
“We’re putting every effort into locating the child and trapping this alligator,” he said. “We’ll be here with them until there’s a resolution.”
A witness told CNN a movie was being screened on the beach that evening.
A helicopter with a search light scoured the lagoon as a handful of Disney employees ushered people away from the sidewalks overlooking the beach.

She gave the Kardashians a taste of Cuba

Jessi Calzado-Esponda
Jessi Calzado-Esponda

Jessi Calzado-Esponda just launched her travel agency and she’s already catering to celebrity clients like the Kardashians.

Calzado-Esponda and her fiance opened Cuba Inspires in May, in response to the U.S. restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba. While the country isn’t completely open to tourism, access to Cuba is worlds better than it was several years ago.

A Cuban-American, Calzado-Esponda wants to immerse her clients in Cuba’s music, culture, food and communities.

“To me, Cuba Inpires is a social enterprise,” Calzado-Esponda, 27, said. “I want to take students, nonprofits, athletes, celebrities, choir groups and host them in Cuba. I want their trip to be a cultural experience.”

To that end, she already landed her first major client — Candis Cayne — a transgender actress and activist who appears with Caitlyn Jenner on the reality show “I am Cait.”

Jessi Calzado-Esponda with Candis Cayne in Cuba.
Jessi Calzado-Esponda with Candis Cayne in Cuba.

“We took Candis there as an ambassador for the LGBT community,” said Calzado-Esponda. “It was historic because Candis was the first U.S. citizen to participate in an activist panel in Cuba.”

Next came the Kardashians.

The Kardashian clan, including Kim and Kanye, were in Cuba last month. Calzado-Esponda said her agency was asked to set up “a cool cultural experience” during their trip by one of the producers of “I am Cait.”

Kim Kardashian in Cuba last month.
Kim Kardashian in Cuba last month.

She organized an evening of live music and dance lessons for the group. “I wasn’t there myself but I heard they had a great time,” she said.

Calzado-Esponda is especially keen to take an American choir group to Cuba. Music and dance anchored her during a turbulent childhood.

She was born in Havana, Cuba. When she was 7, she was accidentally separated from her family and placed in a makeshift raft headed for America.

“It was my aunt who was leaving. I went with my grandmother in the middle of the night to say goodbye to her,” she said. “There was a lot of commotion and confusion. The next thing I knew, my grandmother and I were also put into the raft.”

Jessi Calzado-Esponda [middle] as a child with her family in Cuba.
Jessi Calzado-Esponda [middle] as a child with her family in Cuba.

The group of refugees was rescued at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard. She spent six months at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay before being relocated to Tampa with her grandmother.

“We lived in women’s shelters for a long time,” she said.

It was at one of the shelters that a teacher noticed her love of music and gave her a guitar. That ultimately helped her earn a high school scholarship.

Jessi with her family in Cuba.
Jessi with her family in Cuba.

She moved to Washington D.C. after graduating from high school and in 2009 landed an internship with Florida Representative Kathy Castor.

“I basically kept calling her office and harassed them until I got an interview,” she said.

It gave her a better understanding of Cuba-related issues, and she eventually landed a job working for Congress. She left the job to fully focus on her startup.

While so much had happened to her in the intervening years, Calzado-Esponda never reconnected with her family in Cuba.

“I accepted my new reality in America,” she said. “Both my parents were in Cuba. So I was afraid of being sent back.”

She become a U.S. citizen in 2008, and in 2012, she finally went to Cuba, arriving the day after her mother’s funeral.

“I met my family again for the first time at her funeral,” she said.

Despite the adversity she’s experienced, Calzado-Esponda is proud of her Cuban heritage.

“I saw what President Obama did to bridge our two world and I want to do my part,” said Calzado-Esponda, who’s currently in business school. “I want to show people how I fell in love with Cuba.”




Romney tears into GOP for not criticizing Trump

Park City, Utah (CNN)Mitt Romney on Saturday torched Donald Trump and the Republicans who failed to stop his climb to the party’s presidential nomination, saying the current fortunes of the GOP are “breaking my heart.”

Romney’s condemnation, made here at the Stein Eriksen Lodge before hundreds of his donors and business partners, highlighted the ill will between the last two GOP nominees for president.
The former Massachusetts governor harshly criticized Republican candidates such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, as well as super PACs such as Jeb Bush’s well-funded Right to Rise group, for not stopping Trump in the primary. The two candidates largely avoided attacking Trump for much of their campaigns. He made the comments before many of the individuals who had helped fund those very candidates.
“Ted Cruz was basically praising Donald Trump through the whole process until the very end,” Romney told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who was hosting the discussion. As for Kasich, “he was in well after the time there was no possible pathway to becoming the nominee.”
Romney’s broadsides were warmly received by many of his allies, earning a 21-second round of applause when he wondered aloud about the future of the GOP.
“I find this so troubling, and I know a lot of folks are saying, ‘Mitt just get off your high horse on this and get behind the guy.’ But these things are personal. I love this country. I love the founders. I love what this country is built upon and its values and seeing this is breaking my heart,” Romney said. The 2012 nominee was visibly emotional and appeared to tear up when making the remarks.
Yet Romney still preached tolerance. He declined to criticize previous speakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who pitched Trump to the well-heeled crowd this weekend, and said he would not try and sway the GOP elites assembled here to abandon their nominee. And he recognized as legitimate the notion that some Republicans may choose to back Trump solely to prevent Hillary Clinton from appointing Supreme Court nominees, calling it a “darn good reason.”
The day before, Romney had told Blitzer in an interview that he worried about the moral fraying of society should Trump become the nominee: “I don’t want to see trickle-down racism,” he said.
And before the crowd here on Saturday, Romney used another former president as an example of how society is shaped by his example.
“Bill Clinton’s dalliances in the White House affected the sexual inclinations and practices of a generation, and probably beyond,” he said.
But Romney was also challenged by some questioners who were trying to whip up support for Trump. Romney has pledged to never support Trump, and many of his fund-raisers feel similarly.
“We’ve got to get behind him,” one man implored the crowd. “These are the cards we’ve been dealt.”
Romney was also pressed as to why he accepted the endorsement of Trump during his 2012 presidential run given Trump’s zest for “birtherism,” or the idea that President Barack Obama was not born into the United States and is thus ineligible to be president. Romney said he saw Trump’s comments as “nutty” but not disqualifying.
Now, the pair are using one another as political foils, with Trump blasting his GOP predecessor. On Saturday in Tampa, Florida, he called Romney someone who “let us down” and writing on Twitter that Romney “choked like a dog.”
The former Massachusetts governor brushed off the attacks.
“I have dogs. I don’t know dogs choking,” Romney said to laughs. “That’s an insult that somehow doesn’t work.”
Romney did, though, express some regret over his failed 2012 campaign, saying that he, like Bush, had failed to connect his economic vision with average, middle-class voters. But for now, Romney said he was trying to remain focused on the future, though he has now ruled out serving in the next White House.
“Had there been a President Bush or a President (Marco) Rubio or a President (Scott) Walker, I might’ve been happy to be a part of their administration,” Romney said.

Prince Harry goes to Washington

Britain’s Prince Harry,U.S.first lady Michelle Obama and Dr.Jill Biden,wife of the vice president,listen to Marine Sgt.Roderic Liggens perform on the drums at the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir,Virginia,on,Wedensday,October 28.

The prince,Obama and Biden laugh as they listen to a music presen tation by  wounded warriors at the center on October 28.

Washington (CNN)“All right ladies … Prince Harry is here! Don’t look like you don’t notice!”

That’s how an enthusiastic First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off the blushing bearded royal’s whirlwind trip to the United States Wednesday, which included an informal meeting with President Barack Obama and a trip to the British Embassy.

Harry traveled Washington to promote the 2016 Invictus Games, an international sporting competition for wounded servicemen set to take place in Florida next year.

“I guess I should apologize in advance for all the gold medals that America will win in Orlando,” the first lady teased, addressing a crowd of veterans and their families gathered in the sports hall of Fort Belvoir.

The prince, who served in Afghanistan, toured the Virginia base alongside the first lady and Jill Biden. While there he observed programs that aim to help with recovery, including art and music therapy, before watching a wheelchair basketball game.

Harry, 31, told the service members there that his deployments deeply impacted him.

“I’m in no doubt that my two deployments to Afghanistan changed the direction of my life. There is very little that can truly prepare you for the reality of war,” the prince said. “The experiences can be stark and long-lasting. “

Harry said that he realized he had a responsibility to help veterans “lead healthy and dignified lives after service” while he was traveling home from his first deployment Afghanistan with three critically injured British soldiers. He started the international Invictus Games last year in London after a visit to the American Warrior Games in Colorado sparked the idea.

“I saw the power that sport could play in the recovery of both mind and body — I thought that surely everyone whether connected to the armed forces or not would be inspired by their achievements,” he said.

Later in the afternoon Obama praised Harry’s work with veterans and thanked him for his service in Afghanistan, using the moment to highlight “the incredible bond” shared between the U.S. and U.K.

Harry’s trip to Washington Wednesday was decidedly less exciting than his 2013 visit, when dozens of female staffers gathered in the U.S. Capitol’s Russell Rotunda, defying Capitol police while screaming and attempting to take photos of the royal bachelor.


Orbiting bacteria: Space Station may need some tidying up

(CNN)The next time NASA picks an astronaut to live in the International Space Station, it might want to send Mr. Clean. That’s because scientists using a kind of high-tech white glove test found something in the space dust there.

The astronauts are not alone, it turns out. They share tight quarters with some previously undetected, opportunistic bacterial pathogens.

See what it's like to live on Mars

They don’t call this bacteria “opportunistic” for nothing, said KasthuriVenkateswaran who worked on the research at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-authored the paper in the latest issue of the journal Microbiome.

This bacteria, by its very nature, is “looking for an opportunity to become pathogenic,” Venkateswaran said. Meaning these little pests are mostly innocuous on Earth, but under the extreme environment of space, it could behave differently. The DNA test researchers used to identify them could not determine whether the bacteria could hurt astronaut health, since it is based on a genetic analysis, but microgravity can change bacterial behavior, earlier studies showed.

Currently, astronauts spend six months on the space station, but as NASA eyes a much longer mission to Mars — a journey that could take two years — the agency will want to make sure its astronauts won’t be exposed to anything that could harm them.

Out of an abundance of caution, it is worth monitoring more carefully, researchers said. Exactly how did the bacteria Corynebacterium (a bacteria that could cause respiratory infection) andPropionibacterium (bacteria that could cause acne) end up in the space station?

“Humans are great fermenters,” Venkateswaran said. In other words, bacteria hitched a ride to see the galaxy on the astronauts’ themselves. It’s not that astronauts are bad bathers. It’s that naturally we humans play host to tens of billions of mostly harmless bacteria

An earlier study found that when you enter a room, you add 37 million bacteria to the air for each hour you are there. Venkateswaran believes the bacteria became a freeloader on the payload. Cargo is cleaned, but apparently it may not be scrubbed enough.

See an orbit of Earth from space

Venkateswaran said these bacteria are not a new space station tenant. What’s changed is the method used to find them. “This is the DNA age,” Venkateswaran said. His team won the bid to use the latest DNA technology to “predict what is going on, rather than doing this using 100-year-old technology.” In other words, they didn’t want to bring a Progressive Era-weapon to a space age bacteria fight.

The team compared dust samples collected in an air filter and vacuum from the space station to cleanrooms based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Earth. The bacteria were found in a much greater numbers on the station.

There are differences between the two environments other than their location. Cleanrooms circulate fresh air. The space station must recirculate the same air. While there are only six people at a time in the space station, they don’t leave for months, as compared to the 50 or so people who typically use the cleanrooms and go in and out.

This astronaut would probably stay in space if she could

Using the latest DNA sequencing technology on these samples gave Venkateswaran’s team a much more detailed sense of what was up there and now with this study, NASA has an established baseline for being able to monitor exactly how clean the space station is and the cleanliness of other spacecraft on future missions.

Developing a better biosensor for space may also one day have an Earthly application. Venkateswaran said it could lead to developing a better biosensor for commercial airlines, which might lead to better monitored, or maybe even healthier, air.


Kevin McCarthy drops out of House speaker race

Washington (CNN)House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the race to succeed SpeakerJohn Boehner on Thursday, a shocking move that throws the House into chaos.

“I think I shocked some of you, huh?” McCarthy told reporters following the decision.

Boehner is poised to resign at the end of the month. There is no clear successor who can overcome the deep divisions in the party and win the post. An influential group of conservatives endorsed a long-shot candidate, Rep. Daniel Webster, on Wednesday, placing McCarthy’s ability to win the House floor vote later this month in doubt.

“If we’re going to unite and be strong, we need a new face to do that,” McCarthy said, adding that he did not want to win the race on the House floor with only enough votes to squeak by.

A source close to McCarthy told CNN the decision to drop out came down to “numbers, pure and simple,” adding that “he had the votes to win the conference vote, but there just wasn’t a path to 218″ — the number of votes needed to lock down the speakership on the House floor.

The uncertain future of House GOP leadership comes less than a month before Congress must take action to raise the debt ceiling to keep the U.S. from defaulting on its debt obligations — a critical vote conservatives have in the past sought to stall in order to pull concessions from Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid was quick to call on Republicans to “bring a clean debt ceiling increase to the floors of the House and Senate immediately” to avoid a credit downgrade. “Republican chaos is likely to get worse before it gets better but the economic livelihood of the American people should not be threatened as a result of Republicans’ inability to govern,” Reid said in a statement.

McCarthy’s candidacy ran into trouble last week after he suggested that the House’s committee on Benghazi was an attempt to hurt Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.

Asked if that affected his decision, McCarthy acknowledged: “Well, that wasn’t helpful.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, described McCarthy’s move as “courageous,” saying this is “exciting” for the party because there is now a “wide open” race for speaker.

“Because of his verbal blunder last week there were some of us that were very apprehensive and this going to create great unity among Republicans,” Rohrabacher said.

Meanwhile, not one to miss an opportunity, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested he was partly responsible for McCarthy’s failed bid, days after he suggested McCarthy wasn’t tough enough for the job.

“They’re giving me a lot of credit for that because I said you really need someone very, very, tough and very smart. Ya know smart goes with tough, I know tough people that aren’t smart that’s the worst. We need smart, we need tough, we need the whole package,” Trump said at a campaign stop Thursday in Las Vegas.

Who’s next?

The announcement immediately set off a round of speculation about who could win the job. Perennial candidates floated included Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy — both of whom ruled it out explicitly. Several House Republicans said Georgia Rep. Lynn Westmoreland was considering it, and others suggested Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“I would consider it,” Walden said when asked by CNN about members floating his name for speaker. But he said he’s not actively campaigning and noted that some are pushing the idea of an interim speaker. Several candidates have suggested a senior or retiring member should serve as speaker for the next 14 months and pledge to not run again. Rohrabacher suggested Texas Rep. Joe Barton or Kentucky Rep. Hal Rogers.

Boehner said in a statement he will remain in his post until a new speaker is elected, though he has yet to announce the date for the new vote.

“I’m confident we will elect a new speaker in the coming weeks. Our conference will work together to ensure we have the strongest team possible as we continue to focus on the American people’s priorities,” he said in a written statement.

Boehner also canceled a scheduled appearance Thursday night on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” an NBC spokeswoman said.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores twice dodged reporters’ questions about whether he would rule out his own run, but also spoke against the idea of a caretaker.

“An interim will not give us the opportunity to cast that big bold vision that we need. Interims are caretakers, caretakers tend to do safe things,” Flores said. “The electorate put us here in November of 2014 to take big steps, and we need to find the leader that will help us take those big steps. … The other thing that happens with interim is you have people trying to run for the permanent position, and so you have all the distractions we’ve gone through the last two weeks. We don’t need that.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who late last week jumped into the speaker’s race, called an impromptu news conference less than an hour after Republicans began pouring out of the GOP conference meeting. The Utah Republican said he was also “absolutely stunned, surprised and shocked.”

Chaffetz said he would continue to campaign for the top House post and said “we need to find somebody that our whole body can unite behind and do what were elected to do.”

“I do believe it is time for a fresh start. That was the whole genesis for my campaign, but we need to have a lot more family discussion,” he said. “I think we have a lot of internal fracturing that’s happening. And we need to figure out a way to unite the party.”

Westmoreland joked said he is thinking about it, joking that, “I’d like to talk to my wife first.”

Asked why he thought he could get 218 votes he said, “I don’t know that I can, but all I can say is I’m willing to try.”

Ryan, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and someone who had been viewed as a contender for the job, immediately said he is not interested.

“While I am grateful for the encouragement I’ve received, I will not be a candidate. I continue to believe I can best serve the country and this conference as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee,” Ryan said in a statement.

With conservatives again floating his name, Gowdy said he will not run for speaker. Asked if he would reconsider and join the race if his GOP colleagues urged him to get in, he replied, “No.”

Immediate reaction


Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican and member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus that opposed McCarthy’s bid, said the decision creates a “brand new race for speaker.”

“I am not the one,” McCarthy told the stunned Republicans in the meeting, according to Huelskamp.

Huelskamp also took shots at McCarthy, saying the majority leader was campaigning for the top post until “three hours ago” and said the lack of “advance notice” was characteristic of the “stunts” that have defined Boehner’s leadership as speaker — including his surprise resignation the day after Pope Francis addressed a joint meeting of Congress.

And just as McCarthy got a brief heads up moments before that announcement, McCarthy also gave Boehner notice shortly before Thursday’s conference meeting, a Boehner aide told CNN.

Members had no indication the move was coming. “Totally stunned,” Rep. Peter King, R-New York, said on CNN.

Westmoreland met with McCarthy in his office this afternoon and said he didn’t expect him to endorse anyone.

“What Kevin has done is extremely selfless, and I think he’s done a brave and courageous thing,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas. “He was close to being right there and he chose to unite the conference rather than waging battles. “

Reminder of late 1990s chaos


Speaking on CNN, Rep. Walter Jones said the current unrest reminds him of the late 1990s. Newt Gingrich stepped down as speaker and Rep. Bob Livingston was selected to take over but quickly removed himself from consideration after it was revealed he had an extramarital affair.

Jones wrote an open letter Tuesday stating any leadership candidate should quit their campaigns “if there are any misdeeds he has committed since joining Congress that will embarrass himself, the Republican Conference, and the House of Representatives if they become public.”

Jones told CNN that he was looking out for the institution and not pointing fingers at anyone in particular.

“I think when a person has been a member of the Congress — which is a very sacred duty, quite frankly, in my opinion — and they are elevated to become a leader of a party — could be either party, Republican or Democrat — that those in leadership must be above reproach,” Jones said.

“And all I was doing, not trying to single anybody out, but was to say in this makeup of office — the majority office and the speakers office — all the members should be made to say I have nothing in my background that could be of embarrassment to the Republican conference, the House of Representatives or the American people,” he added. “That’s all this was about.”


Joe Biden won’t run for president

(CNN)Vice President Joe Biden ended months of intense speculation about his political future on Wednesday with a sudden announcement that he wouldn’t seek the presidency, abandoning a dream he’s harbored for decades and putting Hillary Clinton in a stronger position to capture the Democratic nomination.

With his wife, Jill, and President Barack Obama at his side in the White House Rose Garden, Biden said the window for a successful campaign “has closed,” noting his family’s grief following the death of his son, Beau.

Still, Biden, who a spokesman said made his decision Tuesday night, positioned himself as a defender of the Obama legacy, implicitly suggesting that he still views himself as the best possible successor to the President.

In tone, the remarks sounded like the kind of speech defending staunch Democratic values that he might have given had he reached the opposite conclusion.

The vice president sent a pointed warning to the Democratic front-runner in his remarks, again apparently rebuking her for her comment in last week’s CNN Democratic debate that Republicans were her enemies.

“I believe that we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart, and I think we can,” said Biden, who, though a crafty partisan, often worked across the aisle during nearly four decades in the Senate.

“It’s mean-spirited, it’s petty, and it’s gone on for much too long. I don’t believe, like some do, that it’s naive to talk to Republicans. I don’t think we should look at Republicans as our enemies. They are our opposition. They’re not our enemies.”

He added: “For the sake of the country, we have to work together.”

‘I will not be silent’

“While I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent,” he said in a speech that highlighted Democratic themes on income inequality along with a call for a national movement to cure cancer. “I intend to speak out clearly and forcefully, to influence as much as I can where we stand as a party and where we need to go as a nation.”

The question of whether Biden, 72, would enter the race has consumed Democrats for months, but in recent days, the vice president’s long period of deliberation had begun to frustrate some in the party — and there was rising pressure for him to declare his intentions.

PHOTOS: Joe Biden’s political life

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The prospect of a run seemed to decline further after Clinton’s commanding performance at the first Democratic presidential debate on October 13. Her poised demeanor and deft handling of tough questions left many analysts convinced that Clinton effectively froze Biden out of the race.

Two looming political events may have affected the timing of Biden’s announcement. On Thursday, Clinton appears before a Republican-led committee on Capitol Hill probing the deaths of four Americans in attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, when she was secretary of state. The vice president may not have wanted his decision to be seen as a judgment on her performance if it was made public after the hearing. Democrats are also gathering this weekend at an important party dinner in Iowa — a must stop for presidential candidates seeking the nomination and a Biden no-show would likely have severely hampered his chances in the state.

Implicit in Biden’s remarks was a realization that Clinton’s position and organizational muscle in early voting states are just too strong for him to mount a credible challenge at such a late stage — just three-and-a-half months before first votes are cast.

The vice president’s running room has been further curtailed by the unexpected strength of progressive champion Bernie Sanders who is running a close race to Clinton, in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire.

By starting a campaign so late, Biden would have faced significant obstacles in raising the millions of dollars needed to give him a chance to win, and in setting up grassroots political organizations to wage the nomination fight across the nation.

Clinton, however, had only praise for Biden, describing him in a Tweet as “a good friend and a great man. Today and always, inspired by his optimism and commitment to change the world for the better,” she wrote. “She signed the Tweet “–H” signifying that she, and not a campaign aide, composed the message.

Sanders said in a statement that Biden had made a decision that he feels “is best for himself, his family and the country. I thank the vice president for a lifetime of public service and for all that he has done for our nation.”

Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Clinton ally, said that Biden’s move would further solidify the former secretary of state’s control of the Democratic race.

“You can see from the polling numbers that have come out this week how that has certainly reassured and solidified her support among Democrats across the country,” she said. “I think this will push her even further in that direction.”

Democratic Senate Minority leader Harry Reid told CNN that Biden would have been a good candidate “but he made the right decision.”

And Republican front-runner Donald Trump combined a comment on Biden with a swipe at Clinton.

“I think Joe Biden made correct decision for him & his family. Personally, I would rather run against Hillary because her record is so bad,” Trump wrote.

A CNN/ORC poll last week showed that Clinton held a 16 percentage point lead — 45% to Sanders’ 29% — with Biden in the race and drawing 18% support. But with Biden removed from the list of candidates, Clinton’s lead jumped to 56% to Sanders’ 33%.

Though Clinton had publicly said she was giving Biden all the space and time he needed, there were signs her campaign was preparing to run against the vice president.

She has staked out several positions in recent weeks — notably coming out against the Trans Pacific Partnership Trade deal that is backed by the Obama administration but opposed by many Democrats in a way that seemed to further narrow Biden’s options.

Biden’s move means that barring unexpected developments, his long political career, which includes nearly 40 years in the Senate and two terms as vice president, will end along with the Obama administration on January 20, 2017.

No genuine route to the nomination


With Biden bowing out, the Democratic nomination now comes down to a straight fight between Clinton and Sanders, assuming low-polling candidates such as former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley do not catch fire.

And his decision it spares Obama the awkward prospect of watching his vice president and former secretary of state battle to succeed him.

Biden’s political career spans 40 years and is bookended by tragedy. Soon after he won his Delaware Senate seat in 1972, his wife and infant daughter died in a car crash. Then in May 2015, his son Beau, an Iraq war veteran and his family’s hope to forge a political dynasty, died.

Though devastated by the loss, Biden’s consideration of a White House campaign may have been motivated by his dying son’s plea that he make a third run at the presidency.

He went through a highly public period of mourning and testing of the political waters, pouring out his heart on Stephen Colbert’s late night show, and emotionally admitting at public events that he simply did not know if his family had the emotional endurance for a race.

Previous campaigns

Biden’s previous two campaigns, in 1988 and 2008, barely caused a stir and foundered to a large extent because of his own indiscipline, a trait that earned him a reputation as gaffe-prone and which, allied with a garrulous temperament, led some to believe he was not of presidential caliber. Still, he was chosen for the No. 2 spot by Obama for his long experience in foreign policy and his deep knowledge of the Senate.

Biden’s career will now be remembered largely for his vice presidency, in which he was in the room for all major decisions and was at Obama’s side through dramas including the killing of Osama bin Laden and the passage of health care reform. He masterminded the implementation of the $800 billion stimulus plan which Democrats credit for staving off a second Great Depression and brokered a deal in 2012 to avert the so-called fiscal cliff.

But his most lasting contribution may be the way Biden lived his life. Every time fate dealt him a blow — including serious health issues when he had a brain aneurysm in 1988 — he got back up, refusing to be beaten. And with a dash of Irish blarney and his love for political combat, he maintained relationships across the political aisle that now seem like a throwback to a long-gone age of civility.

His political approach is tactile, and personal, interwoven with parables of working-class life, hewn from his upbringing in the gritty Pennsylvania city of Scranton and of family life in his adoptive state of Delaware.

But after spending the better part of 40 years being talked about as a potential president, Biden will likely not be able to look back on his decision to forgo a final 2016 run, without a tinge of regret that he fell just short of the highest prize.


The Obama administration’s Syria strategy lacks direction.


On Sunday(Oct. 11), President Barack Obama told Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” that despite Russia’s armed intervention in Syria, he was going to stay the course. However, it is unclear what that course is, or why Obama believes it will lead to success.


There is little to cheer about in Syria. The United States has met none of its strategic objectives. The Islamic State group still controls as much territory as it did a year ago, if not more. A half-billion dollar U.S. Defense Department investment in training opposition fighters produced “four or five” who are probably either dead or fighting with the enemy. Air and drone strikes seem infrequent, routine and ineffective. And Syrian strongman President Bashar Assad, whom Obama demanded be removed from power over four years ago, is still in Damascus. With Moscow’s support, he is likely to remain there.

Part of the problem is the general aimlessness in the U.S. approach to Syria. The White House has consistently called for a negotiated transfer of power in Damascus to a coalition successor government, but it is unclear who would be part of it, what it would look like and, most importantly, how it would take power.

These questions are being sorted out on the battlefield. The opposition comprises a variety of political, ethnic and national groups, not always with complementary objectives. The largest complicating factor from the U.S. point of view is the Islamic State group, probably the strongest of the anti-Assad groups, but also a recognized terrorist organization that the U.S. and its coalition partners are actively fighting in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. In addition, the Islamic State group fights the U.S-backed rebel groups. This puts Washington in a difficult three-way war, simultaneously opposing the Assad regime and the Islamic State, while supporting the insurgency being opposed by both.

U.S. involvement in the civil war has been ad hoc and undirected from the beginning. Obama called for the removal of Assad in 2011, but had no plan or concept for how this regime change could be brought about. Rebels were in the field, but the administration engaged in endless debate over whether or not to arm and train them, and what types of arms they could be trusted with. Coalition military action in Syria started in September 2014, as an extension of the Operation Inherent Resolve attacks against the Islamic State group begun in Iraq the previous summer. But there was no integrated strategy linking anti-Islamic State group action, support for the rebel groups and political action to remove Assad from power.

The international dimension was complicated by factors such as the Assad regime’s support from Iran and Russia, countries the White House was seeking to mollify in pursuit of a nuclear weapons deal with Tehran. So U.S. strategy in Syria has been framed as an anti-Islamic State group effort, putting a fig leaf over the inconvenient truth that Washington is supporting an armed insurgency against a Russian ally.

The White House finally announced a comprehensive strategy against the Islamic State group in the fall of 2014, featuring “nine lines of effort,” including denying safe haven in Syria, building partner capacity, enhancing intelligence collection, disrupting finances, stopping the flow of foreign fighters and humanitarian support. But the long-awaited strategy soon started changing, reflecting shifting facts on the ground and apparent disarray in the administration.

Smoke billows from the Syrian rebel-held area of Douma, east of the capital Damascus, following a reported air strike by government forces on Sept. 16, 2015.

Smoke billows from the Syrian rebel-held area of Douma, east of the capital Damascus, following a reported airstrike by government forces on Sept. 16.

By July 2015, the “nine lines” had been grouped into “four pillars”: air strikes, support for rebels on the ground, counter-terrorism efforts and humanitarian assistance. None of the pillars are holding much weight. Air strikes are probably the most effective, though they have not driven the Islamic State group out of its safe havens or led to dramatic battlefield victories. Counterterrorism measures, such as interdicting finances and intelligence coordination, have not had a measurable impact. Last week National Counterterrorism Center Director Nick Rasmussen told Congress that the Islamic State group had surpassed al-Qaida as the leading jihadist group, and “today there are more threats originating in more places,” including inside the United States.

Also last week the administration announced an “operational pause” in the lackluster train-and-equip program. Deputy special anti-Islamic State group envoy Brett McGurk claimed the administration was “not halting the program,” but “adapting it,” without saying what that meant. And the humanitarian assistance pillar has taken the form of attempting to mitigate the refugee crisis spilling out into Europe and the United States by resettling the displaced people. This is already creating political disruptions in the host states and is no replacement for creating enough stability in Syria for the refugees to return home, assuming they want to.

Russia’s intervention adds another layer of complexity to the strategic setting, though the White House is attempting studiously to ignore its implications. Russia’s objective is to maintain the Assad regime in power, which places it in direct opposition to the U.S. goal of a managed regime change. Moscow is moving forcefully to establish stability, striking anti-regime rebels of every stripe. In this respect Russia faces a less nuanced conflict. It is possible that Moscow is entering into another Afghanistan-like quagmire and has taken on more than it can sustain. But regardless, in the near term it places the United States in a more direct confrontation with Russia and complicates an already disjointed American strategy.

Staying the course, then, really means Obama simply continuing to muddle through the crisis.


U.S. Fed officials divide over timing of first rate hike

 U.S. Federal Reserve officials seem to divide over the appropriate timing for the first interest rate hike in almost nine years.

Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo said on Tuesday that it would not be appropriate to raise interest rates in 2015. The comments are going against opinions of other Fed officials, including chair Janet Yellen and vice chair Stanley Fischer, who expected the first interest rate hike would be initiated later this year.

“Given where I think the economy would go, I wouldn’t expect it would be appropriate to raise rates,” Tarullo said in an interview with broadcaster CNBC when asked if rates should be raised this year.

Tarullo was not the only Fed official supporting the postponement of interest rate hikes. Another Fed governor Lael Brainard said on Monday that she would take a waiting stance in deciding whether to raise interest rates, in view of the sluggish wage growth, persistently low inflation and possible downside risks from abroad.

“We should not take the continued strength of domestic demand growth for granted. Although the outlook for domestic demand is good, global forces are weighing on net exports and inflation, and the risks from abroad appear tilted to the downside,” said Brainard at the 57th National Association for Business Economics Annual Meeting on Monday.

During the past few months, the financial tightening that has already taken place has been comparable in its effect to the equivalent of a couple of rate increases, she said.

However, Yellen and Fischer supported the interest rate hike this year, saying that most FMOC (Federal Open Market Committee) participants, themselves included, anticipated an interest rate hike later this year, as long as the economy grows as expected.

During the IMF/World Bank annual meeting in Peru last week, Fischer said that what matters for overall financial conditions is expectations for the entire trajectory of short-term interest rates rather than the exact timing for the first interest rate hike, which Yellen also stressed in her speech at the end of September.

The U.S. economy is approaching full employment, with unemployment rate dropping to 5.1 percent in September, while the inflation has been persistently below the Fed target of 2 percent.

The central bank last month opted to delay an interest rate hike considering the low inflation environment as well as the turbulent global economic and financial market development.

Employees at company working with Clinton email server expressed concerns








7 photos: Hillary Clinton email controversy

Washington (CNN)Employees at the company that maintained Hillary Clinton’s private email server expressed concern among themselves about the way the former secretary of state’s team directed them to manage data backups after the FBI started looking into the arrangements, according to emails obtained by a senator.

In a letter obtained by CNN, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, asks Datto, Inc, the makers of Clinton’s server back-up system, for information on how her emails were preserved and protected. The FBI has also sought information from the company, according to sources.

Johnson indicates that a “Clinton family company,” Clinton Executive Service Corp., paid for the back-up services, operated through a device called the Datto SIRIS S2000, and that the purchase was made by Platte River Networks when the server was moved from her private residence to a New Jersey-based data center in 2013.

In the letter, Johnson quotes from emails sent by and to employees at Platte River Networks, which indicate there was discussion about how the duration of data backups could be reduced, apparently at the direction of the Clinton Executive Service Corp.

Clinton on emails: ‘It is a drip-drip-drip’

Then this past August, a Platte River Networks employee wrote to a coworker that he was, “Starting to think this whole thing really is covering up some shaddy (sic) s**t.”

“I just think if we have it in writing that they told us to cut the backups, and that we can go public with our statement saying we have backups since day one, then we were told to trim to 30days (sic), it would make us look a WHOLE LOT better,” the unnamed employee continued.

The email was sent shortly after news emerged that the FBI was looking into the security of the server, and several months after it was revealed that Clinton exclusively used the private account to conduct State Department business.

The employee indicates in the email that Clinton’s team asked them to change the back-up duration between October and February, presumably of 2014/2015, though that isn’t explicitly stated in the portion of the email included in Johnson’s letter.

Clinton’s email controversy explained

In a statement Wednesday morning, the Clinton campaign accused Johnson of “ripping a page from the House Benghazi Committee’s playbook and mounting his own, taxpayer-funded sham of an investigation with the sole purpose of attacking Hillary Clinton politically.”

“The Justice Department’s independent review is led by nonpolitical, career professionals, and Ron Johnson has no business interfering with it for his own partisan ends,” campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said in the statement.

The committee did not share any of the emails with CNN, but excerpts and descriptions from them are printed in Johnson’s letter.

Emails sent between Datto and Platte River Networks during that time indicate there was confusion about where the backed-up data would be stored, and for a while it was backed-up to an off-site Datto server, apparently against the wishes of Clinton staff.

When Platte River Networks became aware of the off-site syncing issue, they contacted Datto and discussed how they could retrieve that data for storage on-site, according to Johnson’s letter.

“Despite these communications, it is unclear whether or not this course of action was followed,” Johnson said. “Additionally,questions still remain as to whether Datto actually transferred the data from its off-site datacenter to the on-site server, what data was backed up and whether Datto wiped the data after it was transferred.”

Johnson wrote to Datto seeking more information about their dealings with Platte River Networks and Clinton Executive Service Corp.

Johnson also asked the company to say whether Datto is authorized to store classified information, and whether any employees at the company have security clearances that would allow them to view classified information.

A timeline of Clinton’s email saga


U.S. ignores calls on independent probe into Afghan hospital attack


Protestors hold up their hands painted red as Commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan John Campbell testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., the United States, Oct. 6, 2015. Campbell acknowledged on Tuesday a U.S. airstrike “mistakenly” struck a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan on Saturday that killed 22 civilians. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) — The U.S. State Department on Wednesday said the country is capable of investigations on its bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan.

“The Secretary (Ashton Carter) prefers the Defense Department to investigate this. The Secretary has the utmost trust and confidence in the Defense Department’s ongoing investigation,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a daily press briefing.

A Doctors Without Borders’ (MSF) hospital was bombed in a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on Oct. 3. At least 22 people including 12 MSF staff were killed.

The attack shocked the international community and angered aid groups worldwide. It was the highest casualties the MSF had ever suffered in its war zones working history.

The MSF called the bombing a war crime and wanted an independent international committee to investigate the attack.

Kirby insisted that the Pentagon is capable of a “thorough and transparent inquiry” of the incident and there is no need for any outside body to conduct the investigations.

U.S. President Barack Obama apologized to MSF International President Joanne Liu by telephone on Wednesday, four days after the bombing.

Obama assured Liu that the U.S. would provide “a transparent, thorough and objective accounting of the facts and circumstances of the incident.”

Investigations by the U.S., NATO and the Afghan government are underway.


Backgrounder: Major airstrikes “mistakenly” hit civilians and local police by U.S., NATO

Obama calls Doctors Without Borders to apologize for U.S. airstrike “mistake”

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) — U.S. President Barack Obama has called Doctors Without Borders to apologize to it for the U.S. mistaken bombing of the organization-run hospital in Afghanistan, White House said Wednesday.

Obama’s apology came four days after at least 22 people, including 12 staff with Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), were killed in the U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Saturday. The attack shocked the international community and angered aid groups worldwide.   Full story

U.S. military commander admits Afghan hospital “mistakenly struck” by airstrike

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 (Xinhua) — Commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan John Campbell acknowledged Tuesday a U.S. airstrike “mistakenly” struck a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Saturday that killed 22 civilians.

“A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility,” said Campbell at a congressional hearing here amid protests from Doctors Without Borders, an aid agency which runs the hospital hit by the U.S. airstrike.   Full story

Arkansas couple died trying to shield daughter from twister

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Melissa and Michael Mooneyhan met as teenagers who attended different high schools. The two quickly fell in love and were married in 2004, even before they graduated.

 More than a decade later, the pair died shielding their young daughter from a tornado as the twister chewed up the family’s mobile home in Nashville, Arkansas.

The trailer “was just picked up and flipped over,” said Howard County Coroner John Gray, who said the home looked “like it had exploded.” He said it was “a miracle that little girl survived.”

“That poor little girl is never going to know them,” he added. “But she’s young enough that she’ll never remember what happened.”

The girl, who is about 18 months old, was taken to the hospital and later released to relatives.

Polly McCammack, who also lives in Nashville, is Melissa’s third cousin. A week ago, she said, the close-knit family lost their grandmother who “practically raised” Melissa and her siblings.

“The family has been hit hard. They’re strong, but it’s almost like to the point you’re afraid to breathe,” McCammack said.

Michael Mooneyhan worked in the deli department of the local Wal-Mart. Melissa was a stay-at-home mom doting on their daughter.

“That baby was definitely their life. They considered her their greatest blessing. You couldn’t find two parents who loved a child more,” McCammack said. “She’s going to grow up knowing family and knowing love.”

Family members went to the site of the destroyed home looking for mementos, toys and anything else they could salvage for the child, McCammack said.

The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado with a preliminary EF2 rating and winds estimated at 125 mph touched down in Nashville, a city of 4,500 people about 125 miles southwest of Little Rock.

During Sunday’s first tornado warning, the county’s tornado sirens sounded for so long that the battery was drained, Howard County Emergency Management Coordinator Sonny Raulerson said.

When a second warning was issued for about 16 miles south of Nashville, the sirens could not be activated, Raulerson said.

In neighboring Texas, a tornado pummeled the small city of Van, damaging or destroying 50 to 100 homes and killing two people, according to Chuck Allen, fire marshal and emergency management coordinator for Van Zandt County.

For much of the day, eight people were unaccounted for in Van, population 2,600, about 70 miles southeast of Dallas.

Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Jean Dark said late Monday night that everyone on the missing list had been accounted for. However, she said that just to be safe, cadaver dogs were checking the area.

Officials confirmed that the tornado was an EF3, with winds from 135 mph to 140 mph, Allen said.

Rescuers went door to door amid the widespread damage, which included trees uprooted and numerous homes and buildings flattened or ripped apart.

At least 42 people were injured, according to two East Texas hospitals. Four patients were in critical condition.

James Crawford and his wife, Thelma, rode out the storm in their mobile home in the area with some of Van’s worst damage.

They were in bed and did not have time to run, she said. All she could do was roll over and give her husband a bear hug while they held on.

Thelma Crawford said she believes the home lifted off the ground a bit, then came back down.

“We’re like family in that neighborhood,” she said. “When one of them gets hurt, I hurt.”

In some cases, the fronts of homes were sheared off, revealing living room furniture tossed in a jumble. Houses were spray painted with an X to indicate they had been searched by emergency workers.

Kimberli Shane held a muddy hand to her forehead as she watched friends and neighbors salvage furniture from the home she rented.

“All I could really hear was the house pulling apart,” she said. “And my son saying, ‘Oh, no, it’s right over us.’”

Preliminary reports indicate 20 to 25 tornadoes formed Sunday in South Dakota, Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas, according to meteorologist Greg Carbin of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

“This is certainly not an atypical system for spring where you’ve got the remnants of winter but the onset of summer,” Carbin said.

The same storm system dumped 11 inches of rain in some places and caused widespread flooding. Firefighters in Corsicana, Texas, 60 miles southwest of Van, recovered the body of a driver who had ventured into the floodwaters after his vehicle stalled in a swollen creek.

The heavy rain caused a huge sinkhole to open up in Granbury, some 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth. The 40-foot-wide sinkhole swallowed the parking lot of a supermarket and damaged water and sewer lines beneath, WFAA-TV reported.

Army says no decision made in Bergdahl investigation

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Berghdal is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Army and received by Reuters on May 31, 2014. REUTERS/U.S. Army/Handout via Reuters

The U.S. Army on Tuesday denied that a decision had been made to bring desertion charges against Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was released last year in a controversial prisoner swap after disappearing from his base in Afghanistan in 2009.

NBC News said earlier on Tuesday that Bergdahl would be charged with desertion, citing senior defense officials.

Major General Ronald Lewis, the Army’s head of public affairs, said that report, and another from Fox News, were “patently false.”

“To be clear there have been no actions or decisions on the Sergeant Bergdahl investigation,” Lewis said in a statement.

“The investigation is still with the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command (General Mark Milley) who will determine appropriate action – which ranges from no further action to convening a court-martial,” he added.

The Pentagon’s press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, told a news conference that no decision had been made in the case and said Milley was under no pressure to make a decision on any timeline.

Top defense officials are sensitive about exercising any undue influence on officers responsible for cases in the military legal system.

Bergdahl, who spent five years in captivity after leaving his post, was released in May in an exchange with the Taliban for five inmates from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay,Cuba. The deal was blasted by some Republicans, and some of his fellow soldiers called him a deserter.

General Milley received the findings of Army investigators late last month, is reviewing them and has not publicly indicated whether charges will be filed, said Jim Hinnant, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Milley is expected to make a decision soon on whether the findings merit a court-martial or some form of administrative punishment. The general also could decide no action against Bergdahl is warranted.

“There is no timeline to make that decision and General Milley is not being put under pressure to make a decision either way,” Kirby told reporters.

Bergdahl’s attorney, New Haven, Connecticut-based Eugene Fidell, declined to comment on the media reports.

If officials conclude that Bergdahl broke U.S. military law, they could force him to forfeit hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay accumulated during his captivity and give up future benefits.

Bergdahl is stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where he is working as a clerk.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Alexander; Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio, Texas; Editing by Doina ChiacuBill Trott and Jonathan Oatis)

Global shares wilt, dollar nervous before Fed outcome; Apple outperforms

A cameraman films a stock quotation board at the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo December 15, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

Asian stock markets followed Wall Street into the red on Wednesday, while the dollar was on edge following speculation the Federal Reserve could take a dovish turn in its post-meeting statement later in the session.

Apple Inc (AAPL.O) provided some relief after the bell as record sales of its iPhone line helped it beat expectations, sending its stock up more than 5 percent, helping to lift U.S. stock futures ESc1 by 0.3 percent.

But earnings from other majors generally disappointed, with multinationals from DuPont <DD.N > to Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) complaining that a strong U.S. dollar was hurting profits.

That left a soggy feel to Asian trade and Australia’s main index .AXJO eased 0.2 percent while the Nikkei .N225 dropped 0.1 percent.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was off a slim 0.1 percent.

On Wall Street, the Dow .DJI ended with losses of 1.65 percent, while the S&P 500 .SPX fell 1.34 percent and the Nasdaq .IXIC 1.89 percent.

Nine of the 10 primary S&P 500 sectors fell, with tech .SPLRCT off 3.3 percent in its biggest one-day drop since November 2011. Shares in Microsoft slid more than 10 percent, while Caterpillar (CAT.N) shed 7 percent.

The latest U.S. economic news was mixed with durable goods orders surprisingly soft, but notable strength was seen in housing and consumer sentiment.

Soft business investment and corporate earnings stoked talk the Fed would have to acknowledge the more difficult environment in its policy statement at 1400 GMT.

Further fuelling such expectations, Singapore’s central bank unexpectedly eased policy ahead of its scheduled review, joining a growing list of central banks that took steps to counter disinflation and slowing growth.

So far, the U.S. central bank has stuck by plans to raise interest rates around the middle of 2015, but markets have relentlessly pushed out the timing to year-end and are plotting a much lower trajectory for future hikes.

Fed funds <0#FF:> imply a rate of only 45 basis points by December, compared to the current effective funds rate of 12 basis points.

“The market now thinks a rate hike around June is unlikely. So if the Fed does not change its tone, the market will take it as a bit more hawkish than expected,” said Tomoaki Shishido, fixed income analyst at Nomura Securities.

Just the risk of a dovish turn was enough to force speculators to cut back on crowded short positions in the euro, lifting the common currency to $1.1333 EUR= and away from Monday’s 11-year low of $1.1098.

The dollar dipped to 118.09 yen JPY= and retreated against a basket of major currencies to 94.089 .DXY, off an 11-year high of 95.481 hit on Friday.

In commodity markets, oil prices were pressured by news U.S. oil stockpiles surged by nearly 13 million barrels last week. [API/S]

Brent crude oil LCOc1 dipped to $49.02 a barrel while U.S. crude oil futures CLc1 slipped to $45.50.

(Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Eric Meijer)



Apple iPhone sales trample expectations as profit sets global record

 Apple Inc (AAPL.O) quarterly results smashed Wall Street expectations with record sales of big-screen iPhones in the holiday shopping season and a 70 percent rise in China sales, powering the company to the largest profit in corporate history.

The company sold 74.5 million iPhones in its fiscal first quarter ended Dec. 27, while many analysts had expected fewer than 70 million. Revenue rose to $74.6 billion from $57.6 billion a year earlier.

Profit of $18 billion was the biggest ever reported by a public company, worldwide, according to S&P analyst Howard Silverblatt. Apple’s cash pile is now $178 billion, enough to buy IBM (IBM.N) or the equivalent to $556 for every American.

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said the Cupertino, California-based company would release its next product, the Apple Watch, in April.

Shares rose about 5 percent to $114.90 in after-hours trade.

Daniel Morgan, senior portfolio manager at Apple-shareholder Synovus Trust Company in Atlanta, Georgia, said that the report was a good sign in a quarter where big tech companies such as IBM and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) have disappointed.

Apple Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri told Reuters in an interview that the company did not sell more iPhones in China than the United States, despite some earlier predictions by research analysts.

But the big-screen iPhone 6 and 6 plus drove revenues in China were up 70 percent in the quarter from a year earlier. The company’s success in the competitive Chinese market can be attributed to its partnership with China Mobile Ltd (0941.HK), the largest global mobile carrier, and the appeal of the larger screen size of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

Maestri said he does not expect Apple to struggle because of China’s slipping economic growth. “We haven’t seen a slowdown,” he added.

Maestri also said the company doubled iPhone sales in Singapore and Brazil.

Apple will reach 40 company stores in greater China by mid-2016, Maestri told analysts on a conference call.

Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, also lauded a 14 percent rise in unit sales of Apple Macintosh computers and sales of older iPhone models.

Apple was well positioned for the current quarter in China, she added, which will include the Chinese New Year holiday and reflect Apple’s attempts to sell through new channels.

Apple reported net profit of $18.02 billion, or $3.06 per diluted share, compared with $13.07 billion, or $2.07 per share, a year earlier. That topped expectations of $2.60 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Analysts had expected revenue of $67.69 billion.

Maestri said that Apple faced “a clear headwind” from the strong dollar but that it had included the challenge in its forecasts. Apple predicted revenue of $52 billion to $55 billion in its fiscal second quarter, compared with Wall Street’s average target of $53.79 billion.

Cook said that the company’s new mobile payment service, Apple Pay, which lets customer buy products from select merchants with their phones, was in its “first inning” and the company would consider adding new features as it looked at expanding outside the United States.

(Reporting by Christina Farr in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru and Caroline Valetkevitch in New York; Editing by Peter HendersonTed Kerrand Lisa Shumaker)

Shots fired near Vice President Biden’s Delaware residence

Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden smile onstage while speaking about community college education during a visit to Pellissippi State College in Knoxville, Tennessee January 9, 2015.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

(Reuters) – Gun shots rang out from a passing vehicle near U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s residence in Delaware on Saturday night, but the vice president and his wife were not at home, the U.S. Secret Service said on Sunday.

The shots were fired on a public road several hundred yards from the house, outside a security perimeter, at about 8:25 p.m. EST. Secret Service personnel at the residence heard the reports and saw the vehicle speeding away.

Biden and his wife, Jill, were in Delaware when the shooting occurred but were out for the evening, the Secret Service said. The home, near Wilmington, is not visible from the road, and it was not clear whether the gunfire was random or aimed in the direction of the residence.

The incident occurred as the Secret Service tries to recover from a series of security lapses, including an incident in September when a knife-carrying man jumped the White House fence and ran into the president’s official residence.

Biden, 72, who served as a U.S. senator from Delaware for more than three decades, has residences in New Castle County and in Washington, D.C.

The Bidens, and President Barack Obama, were briefed about the incident on Saturday night.

Officials declined to discuss the Bidens’ location on Sunday for security reasons.

Authorities said they would search the area to determine whether the Biden home or other nearby residences were hit by bullets.

About half an hour after the shooting, local police arrested an individual in a vehicle that attempted to pass an officer who was securing the area. The individual is not currently tied to the incident but the Secret Service said the person would be questioned about the shooting.

The Secret Service is charged with protecting the president and vice president. The agency announced last week it would remove four senior officials from their jobs and retire a fifth, as part of a shake-up intended to address problems in the organization.

(Reporting by David MorganBill Trott and David Bailey; Editing by David Goodman and Nick Zieminski)


Oil prices dip on gloomy Chinese, European outlook

A man fills up his car at a petrol station in Rome January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Max Rossi

(Reuters) – Oil prices fell in early Asian trade on Monday, with markets expecting gloomy Chinese economic data to be published this week.

Chinese new home prices fell an average 4.3 percent year-on-year in 68 of the 70 major cities monitored. That was an appetizer to Tuesday’s report on gross domestic product which is expected to show China’s annual growth slowed to 7.2 percent in the last quarter, meaning full-year growth would undershoot Beijing’s 7.5-percent target and would be the weakest in 24 years.

In Europe, the main event of the week will be Thursday’s meeting of the European Central Bank (ECB), which is considered almost certain to see the launch of a government bond-buying campaign, pointing to further euro falls against the dollar as well as to downward pressure on oil prices.

“Commodity markets to be driven by currency markets and expectations of ECB quantitative easing this week,” ANZ bank said in a note on Monday.

Benchmark Brent crude futures were trading at $49.75 per barrel at 0225 GMT, down 42 cents since their last settlement. U.S. crude was trading down 37 cents at $48.32 a barrel.

Oil prices have dropped by more than half since last June as production around the world has soared while demand slows. Although the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that a reversal in trend was possible this year, it added that prices may fall further before the market begins to rise again.

Analysts said that prices would likely rise away from levels below $50 per barrel, but many noted that the longer-term outlook was for oil prices to remain at lower levels than in recent years.

“We do not subscribe to the theory of US$20/bbl (barrel) oil. The price may go down to the US$30/bbl level for a short while, but it will bounce back,” research firm Facts Global Energy (FGE) said in its January note to clients.

“We will be in the US$60-80/bbl price range till end of the decade,” it added.

U.S. markets will be shut on Monday for a public holiday.

(Editing by Joseph Radford)


Obama tax proposals run into Republican criticism

The U.S. Capitol building is seen through a snow covered trellis at the start of the 114th Congress on the Capitol grounds in Washington January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

President Barack Obama’s new tax plan ran into rapid criticism from the Republicans on Sunday, underscoring the challenges facing any attempt to overhaul the U.S. tax code.

With the start of a new Congress this month under Republican control, lawmakers have been discussing tax reform. However, with Congress deeply divided on fiscal policy, Obama’s latest tax plan is likely to hit strong opposition.

Unable to compromise over taxes and spending, Washington has not thoroughly revamped the code in 28 years, although it is commonly acknowledged that the tax code is riddled with loopholes and does not raise enough revenue to pay the country’s bills.

The U.S. economy is growing again and last year added jobs at the fastest clip since 1999. While the government still borrows to meet its budget, the deficit has declined sharply.

Ahead of Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, senior administration officials said on Saturday the Democrat president will call for new taxes on the wealthy and on Wall Street banks, both Republican constituencies.

Obama proposes raising the top tax on capital gains to 28 percent from 23.8 percent, while also shutting down a loophole that lets the heirs of large estates avoid paying the full capital gains tax on assets they inherit.

He also proposes imposing a fee on the liabilities of the nation’s largest roughly 100 financial firms.

“The president needs to stop listening to his liberal allies who want to raise taxes at all costs and start working with Congress to fix our broken tax code,” said Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, the Senate’s top tax law writer.

Obama’s proposals would slap tax hikes on “small businesses, savers, and investors,” Hatch said in a statement.

Congressional Republicans are circulating plans to cut taxes on businesses by, for instance, repealing a tax on medical device manufacturers that was imposed under Obama. Another Republican plan would cut the overall tax rate on businesses.

Obama will also propose a handful of tax measures to help middle-class families with costs for college and child care, as well as new retirement savings options.

“The president’s tax proposals focus right where we need to - creating opportunity for middle class families,” said Sander Levin, the top Democratic tax writer in the House of Representatives, in a statement.

Under Obama, taxes have already been raised on the wealthy and the economy has recovered from the 2008 financial crisis.

Effective in 2013, there was an increase to 20 percent from 15 percent in the capital gains tax for high-earners. Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act imposed an additional 3.8 percent tax on investment income for households making $250,000 and up.

The ACA law also added a 0.9 percent tax on ordinary income for high earners. In addition, the top tax bracket for ordinary wage income went up to 39.6 percent, from 35 percent, for individuals making $400,000 and couples earning $450,000.

Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz called Obama’s new plan “a non-starter.”

“Are you going to actually grow the economy and jobs, are entrepreneurs going to be better off, are small businessmen going to be better off, with more taxes and more government? No!” he told CNN’s “State of the Union” show.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan and Bill Trott; Editing by Frances Kerry and Clelia Oziel)


Ukrainian troops retake most of Donetsk airport from rebels

An aerial footage shot by a drone shows a multi-storey control tower of the Sergey Prokofiev International Airport damaged by shelling during fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces, in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, seen in this still image taken from a January 15, 2015 handout video by Army. REUTERS-Army.SOS-Handout via Reuters

(Reuters) – Ukrainian troops recaptured almost all the territory of Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine they had lost to separatists in recent weeks, as thousands gathered in Kiev for a state-sponsored peace march on Sunday.

The offensive brought fighting close to the industrial city of Donetsk, centre of a pro-Russian rebellion, while shelling intensified in other parts of the region known as “Donbass”.

With attempts to restart peace talks stalled, pro-Russian rebels have stepped up attacks in the past week and casualties have mounted, including 13 civilians killed in an attack on a passenger bus, which Kiev blamed on the separatists.

Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said the army’s operation had returned battle lines near the airport to the previous status quo and thus not violated the 12-point peace plan agreed with Russia and separatist leaders last September in Minsk.

“We succeeded in almost completely cleansing the territory of the airport, which belongs to the territory of Ukrainian forces as marked by military separation lines,” he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was concerned by what he called an escalation by Ukrainian forces that did not contribute to peace efforts.

He later said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had rejected a peace plan contained in a letter Russian President Vladimir Putin sent him on Thursday.

“In recent days, Russia has consistently undertaken efforts as an intermediary in regulating the conflict,” Peskov said, according to the ITAR TASS news agency.

It said Putin’s letter included a concrete plan for both sides to withdraw heavy artillery.

Russian television channel NTV published the letter on Sunday evening. In it, Putin proposed “urgent measures for the cessation of mutual shelling, and also the rapid withdrawal by the sides in the conflict of means of destruction with a calibre higher than 100 mm”.

A Poroshenko spokesman said the Ukrainian president would not comment on the letter this evening.


Elsewhere in the region, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said two brothers aged 7 and 16 had been killed and their 8-year-old sister injured when a shell struck a house in the government-controlled town of Vuhlehirsk, 60 km (40 miles) from Donetsk.

Spokesman Vyacheslav Abroskin said the shelling had come from the direction of Yenakiieve, controlled by the rebels.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko addressed several thousand people in Kiev late Sunday at a peace march in memory of those killed on the passenger bus.

“We will not give away one scrap of Ukrainian land. We will get back the Donbass … and show that a very important aspect of our victory is our unity,” he said.

Rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko blamed the shelling around Donetsk on the Ukrainian army. “We’re talking about Kiev trying to unleash war again,” Interfax quoted him as saying.

A ceasefire agreed in Minsk in early September has been regularly violated since the start by both sides, and fighting has flared up again since plans for peace talks last week were abandoned.


In Donetsk, a coal-and-steel city with a pre-war population of almost a million, residents reported a sharp upturn in fighting.

“It was impossible to sleep – explosions, the walls were shaking. It seemed like they were firing from near the building … The DNR (rebel) army were firing from our district,” 53-year-old advertising executive Alla said by telephone.

Forty-year-old plumber Andrey Tkachenko, who lives in the southern part of Donetsk, said the shelling had become noticeably worse in the past 24 hours.

“By now we can tell from the sound what’s flying. We’re used to the GRAD missiles, but now something heavier is firing all night and all day,” he said.

The World Health Organisation says more than 4,800 people have been killed in the conflict.

Despite what Kiev and the West says is incontrovertible proof, Russia denies its troops are involved or that it is funnelling military equipment to the separatists.

With its runways pitted and cratered, Donetsk airport has long since ceased to function.

But its control tower and extensive outbuildings, battered by shelling and gunfire, have taken on symbolic value, with government soldiers and separatists hunting each other, often at close range, in a deadly cat-and-mouse game among the ruins.

(Additional reporting by Jason Bush and Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Tom Heneghan)

Oil prices hit fresh five-and-a-half-year lows; Brent below $56

An man refuels a vehicle next to a pricing quotation board at a petrol station in Tokyo December 17, 2014. REUTERS/Issei Kato

(Reuters) – U.S. crude and Brent futures dropped to fresh 5-1/2-year lows on Monday as worries about a surplus of global supplies amid weak demand continued to drag on oil markets.

OPEC’s decision in November to maintain output had earlier accelerated oil’s losses, while record-high Russian production and the highest Iraqi exports since 1980 added to the concerns about oversupply. The two oil benchmarks, Brent and West Texas Intermediate, have now lost more than half of their value from peaks hit in mid-2014.

U.S. crude CLc1 slid as low as $51.40 a barrel on Monday, its lowest since May 2009, and at 0535 GMT was at $51.60 a barrel, still down $1.09.

February Brent crude LCOc1 dropped as low as $55.36 a barrel, also its lowest since May 2009, before edging back to $55.51, down 91 cents.

Lacklustre economic data from the United States on Friday fuelled worries about the state of the global economy and the strength of oil demand.

“Oil demand is unlikely be robust this year when we look at the state of economies in China, Japan and Europe,” said Yusuke Seta, a commodity sales manager at Newedge Japan.

A weak euro may also have contributed to further oil losses as it reduces the purchasing power of euro holders for dollar-denominated oil.

“Theoretically speaking, a weaker euro puts downward pressure on Brent, although quantitative easing in the euro zone could possibly put more liquidity in the region, which may subsequently flow into Brent,” Seta said.

Ample supply and slowing demand could push Brent into a $50-$55 range, possibly during the first quarter of 2015, said a crude oil trader who declined to be named due to company policy, with WTI about $4 lower.

Conflicts in Libya has reduced the OPEC producer’s crude output to around 380,000 barrels a day, state-run National Oil Corp (NOC) has said.

Fighting was reported near the country’s biggest oil export port Es Sider in the east even as a week-long fire at the port’s storage tanks was extinguished on Friday.

(Editing by Tom Hogue)


Hundreds of police turn backs on NYC mayor at slain officer’s funeral

Law enforcement officers stand, with some turning their backs, as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks on a monitor outside the funeral for NYPD officer Wenjian Liu in the Brooklyn borough of New York January 4, 2015.  REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

(Reuters) – New York City police turned out in their thousands on Sunday for the funeral of the second of two officers murdered last month, but in a sign of persistent tensions with Mayor Bill de Blasio, hundreds turned their backs when he delivered his eulogy.

Politicians, police leaders and other mourners joined family members inside a Brooklyn funeral home to honor Wenjian Liu, who was killed in an ambush that led to accusations the mayor had contributed to an anti-police climate.

Outside, the throng of officers gathered to pay their respects to Liu stretched for nearly a mile along an avenue in the borough’s Bensonhurst neighborhood. When de Blasio began his speech, hundreds of them turned their backs to screens showing his image, despite earlier entreaties by City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to mourners to show restraint.

The back-turning gesture has become symbolic of the anger many officers feel for de Blasio over what they see as his failure to support them during a wave of anti-police protests.

De Blasio used the eulogy to call for reconciliation and after a wrenching year for the city.

“New York has been from its earliest days a most tolerant of cities … but there have always been times when that harmony has been challenged,” de Blasio said at Liu’s funeral, one of the largest in NYPD history.

“Let us rededicate ourselves to those great New York traditions of mutual understanding and living in harmony.”

Liu, 32, and Rafael Ramos, 40, were ambushed and fatally shot on Dec. 20 by a killer who said he wanted to avenge the deaths of two unarmed black men this summer in encounters with white officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.

Those deaths, and decisions by grand juries in November and December to return no charges against the police officers involved, triggered weeks of protests around the country against police treatment of African Americans and other minorities.

The crowd that turned out to honor Liu, believed to be the New York Police Department’s first Chinese-American officer killed in the line of duty, appeared nearly equal to the estimated 25,000 who came to Ramos’ funeral.

Liu’s wife paid a tearful tribute to the officer as a devoted husband and son. “Wenjian is my hero,” said Pei Xia Chen. “We can always count on him.”

Later, as pall bearers carried the casket draped in the NYPD flag to the hearse, helicopters flew at low altitude over mourners in a maneuver known as a “missing man formation,” an NYPD tradition.


To be sure, a majority of the officers outside the funeral home faced toward de Blasio when he spoke, especially in the front ranks. But further down the avenue, hundreds were seen turning away, much like at last week’s services for Ramos.

After the ceremony, Patrick Lynch, the head of the largest police union, said officers were going through a difficult, emotional time.

“They feel that City Hall has turned their back on them and they have a right to have their opinion heard and they did it respectfully in the street, not inside the church,” said Lynch.

The union leader had said immediately after the ambush on Liu and Ramos that the mayor had contributed to the political climate that led to their deaths.

De Blasio offered qualified support for protesters after the grand jury decision not to charge the officer involved in the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York. The mayor said he had talked to his bi-racial son, Dante, about being wary in dealing with police.

Relations between the police and de Blasio had begun to fray before that. During his 2013 campaign for office, the mayor criticized some NYPD tactics, including a “stop-and-frisk” policy that critics said was used to harass African-Americans and other minority groups.

Many of the tens of thousands of mourners crowded along the sidewalk outside Sunday’s services were Asian.

Caiyao Chen, 32, who emigrated from China in 2000, said he didn’t know the slain officer but he said he was particularly saddened because Liu was his parents’ only son.

“In Chinese tradition, the son carries the blood of the family,” he said. “The family is broken now.”

(Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Larry King, Eric Walsh and Frances Kerry)


Putin blames ‘external factors’ for Russia’s economic crisis


MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed his nation Thursday amid the worst economic crisis of his 15-year reign. He blamed “external factors” for the current woes and said recovery is two years away “at most.”

Putin faced his public amid a plunging oil price, sanctions from the West over his actions in Ukraine and a ruble currency that has lost more than half of its value in recent months. As the news conference took place — it was expected to last up to four hours — the ruble added about 1% against the dollar.

“Our economy will overcome the current situation. How much time will be needed for that? Under the most unfavorable circumstances I think it will take about two years,” Putin said.

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released Thursday found that about 80% of Russians still support the president despite slipping confidence in the economy.

Ahead of the speech, Russian tycoon Vladimir Yevtushenkov was released from house arrest in a move that echoed his freeing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.


Senate passes $1.1 trillion spending bill


WASHINGTON — The Senate on Saturday approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill and sent it to President Obama for his signature.

The 56-40 vote on the long-term funding bill was the main item left on Congress’ year-end agenda. The measure provides money for nearly the entire government through the Sept. 30 end of the current budget year.

The sole exception is the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded only until Feb. 27. Republicans intend to try then to force the president to roll back a new immigration policy that removes the threat of deportation from millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.

Some Senate Democrats and Republicans opposed the measure because of provisions that would ease Wall Street regulations and campaign finance laws. Obama has said he supports the bill.

On Friday, conservative Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, blocked efforts to prevent a weekend session in the Senate. Cruz and other conservatives have complained about Obama’s immigration executive order and want to use the spending bill to defund efforts to implement it.

In an exchange on the Senate floor Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Democratic Majority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois blamed the delay on Cruz.

Durbin asked whether Cruz was also the senator who shut down the government last year in protest over the Affordable Care Act.

“The very same man,” Reid replied. “Now he’s hung up not only on the Affordable Care Act, but the president’s action to give 5 million people relief in this country so that they can come out of the shadows and make our country a more productive place.”

Cruz, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, said Reid was “going to an embarrassing length to tie up the floor to obstruct debate and a vote on this issue because he knows amnesty is unpopular with the American people, and he doesn’t want the Democrats on the record as supporting it.”

The Saturday session began at noon, and senators spent much of the day considering a slew of nominees for judicial and administration posts.

The compromise bill had faced opposition from Democratic liberals upset about the repeal of a banking regulation and Republican conservatives unhappy that it failed to challenge Obama’s immigration moves.

The Senate — which convened in a rare weekend session — passed a temporary spending bill earlier Saturday, funding the government through Wednesday and giving legislators more time to consider the $1.1 trillion measure.

The House narrowly approved the funding bill by a 219-206 vote Thursday, hours before government funding was set to run out.


Three Social Security mistakes you should avoid


Social Security plays an important role in Americans’ retirement plans. For the most part, Social Security offers a fairly straightforward proposition: Money is taken out of your paycheck while you work, then when you retire, you file and collect benefits.

Still, there are three key mistakes to avoid if you want to make the most out of the federal program. They are: Signing up when you’re below full retirement age and still working, expecting more than what the program will actually deliver, and worrying too much over whether your benefits will be taxed.


Collecting early while still working: Collecting Social Security while below your full retirement age (somewhere between ages 65 and 67, depending on when you were born) permanently reduces your benefit. On top of that, there is a penalty of $1 from your Social Security check for every $2 of earnings you have above $15,480 in 2014 if you are below your full retirement age for the full year.

If you work while collecting benefits under full retirement age, Social Security will eventually adjust for the money it withheld due to that penalty. Still, that cash comes later — after you retire or reach full retirement age. That delay in payment (combined with the lowered benefit levels from collecting early) largely defeats the purpose of signing up for benefits early in the first place.

Expecting more than the program will actually deliver: Social Security expects the average monthly benefit to a retiree will be $1,328 in January 2015. It also calculates that the maximum benefit to a person retiring at full retirement age in 2015 will be $2,663 per month. Your own benefit depends on your earnings record and the age at which you start collecting, but on average it will likely be about 40% of your pre-retirement income.

If you expect to retire to a modest lifestyle in a low-cost part of the country, that might be enough. If you want more out of life, you need a sufficient nest egg to make up the difference. That takes planning. Investing takes time, typically measured in decades, to build a decent sized portfolio. The sooner you realize what Social Security will provide and prepare accordingly, the easier it will be to build a plan to cover what it won’t.

Worrying too much about taxes on benefits: It’s true that if your income is high enough, up to 85% of your Social Security benefits might be subject to income tax. Still, having a higher income means more money in your pocket to support your retirement lifestyle. Taxes are certainly a drag on your ability to spend, but you’re still better off with a higher total income after taxes than having a smaller income just to avoid taxes on part of it.


Your Social Security benefit can play an important part in your retirement plan. If you avoid these three mistakes and treat Social Security as the supplemental income it was designed to be, you can improve your chances of having the retirement you’re hoping for.

The Motley Fool is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news, analysis and commentary designed to help people take control of their financial lives. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

Decline of America’s white population speeds up: study

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 — The white population in the United States has decreased from 79.6 percent in 1980 to 61.9 percent in 2014, according to a new study from the University of New Hampshire.

The percentage of Latino Americans has risen from 6.4 percent to 17.3 percent over the same time period, while both the African American and Asian American populations have gone up, the study finds.

The number of non-Hispanic whites who died in 2014 outpaced the number of white births in 17 U.S. states, representing the largest number of states to experience a natural decrease in the white population in American history, the study shows.

Researchers at UNH’s Carsey School of Public Policy point to an aging white populace, and a decline in births slowed by the economic recession and by fewer women of childbearing age.

“Natural decrease is the ultimate demographic consequence of population aging, low fertility, and a diminishing proportion of the childbearing-age population,” researchers Rogelio Saenz and Kenneth Johnson wrote. “The rapid rise in the number of U.S. states experiencing white natural decrease reflects the demographic changes underway.”

Nationally, the number of whites born in 2014 is only slightly higher, 2.15 million, than the number of whites who died, 2.06 million. A decade ago, white births outpaced deaths by nearly 400,000 each year. The ratio of white births to deaths fell 79 percent between 1999 and 2014.

Members of the baby boom generation, a generation with a greater percentage of whites than younger generations, are beginning to reach retirement age, and mortality rates are rising. Today, the median age of a white American is 43, four years higher than it was in 2000. The number of white Americans over the age of 65 has jumped from 15 percent to 18 percent of the overall white population.

By contrast, the average American Latino is just 28 years old. Latino birth rates exceeded death rates in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the researchers find.

Nationally, the number of white Americans is expected to begin declining in absolute numbers between 2030 and 2040, according to projections from the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2050, whites are expected to make up less than half the U.S. population.

Whites experienced natural declines mostly in northeastern, eastern and southern states, according to data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rapidly aging white population and fast-growing younger minority groups are speeding demographic changes across the country, hastening a political divide likely to have long-term ramifications, a TheHill news daily report commented.

And there is little chance that the decreases will reverse since researchers routinely find that once a natural decrease begins, it is unlikely to reverse itself, said the report, citing more states are likely to join the list of white natural decrease in future years based on the UNH’s study.

The growing ranks of aging baby boomers will weigh heavily on the nation’s healthcare costs, as older residents tend to use more health services. The tug and pull between an aging population that is mostly white and a growing, younger population that is more diverse is likely to set off years of political fights over spending priorities across the country.

Those fights are already underway, as Republicans and Democrats pull increasing shares of votes from more defined demographic groups, said the report.

Therapy dogs help soothe Thanksgiving airport anxiety in U.S.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 — As the United States is experiencing nationwide traffic rush during the Thanksgiving holiday, many airports provide therapy dogs to cheer up passengers.

During the holiday starting Thursday, up to 2.8 million people were expected to travel by air per day, making airports among the most crowded places in the country, according to Airlines for America.

To help soothe travelers’ anxiety, airports in cities including Chicago, Miami, and San Jose have deployed therapy dogs walking around terminals with their owners.

Henry James, a five-year-old Golden Retriever, was among the 13 certified airport therapy dogs “working” at San Jose International Airport, which has had therapy dogs since 2001.

James strolled the airport once in a week, interacting with crowds and easing their traveling stress.

In a Michigan airport, the four-legged furry companions wagged their tails to travelers they met.

“Our therapy dogs are here for all passengers, ” said Tara Hernandez, marketing and communication director at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Michigan.

“It’s amazing to see faces light up when a dog comes around, ” said Hernandez.


Trump rewrote political playbook in successful White House bid

Donald Trump’s successful campaign for the White House broke every tradition and upended the political establishment with the same bluster, hyperbole and media mastery that made him one of the world’s best-known businessmen.

Trump told supporters at a rally early on Wednesday he had received a call from his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton congratulating him on his victory.

From his grand Trump Tower escalator entrance into the Republican presidential race on June 16, 2015, Trump managed to be simultaneously charismatic and combative, elitist and populist, lewd and pious as he drilled into a lode of polarity and anti-Washington anger among American voters.

It was his first run for public office and Trump, a real-estate developer, reality television star and self-confessed owner of a big ego, called it a movement, not a campaign. He drew large, enthusiastic crowds to rallies where people cheered him for “just saying what everybody’s thinking.” Critics labeled him misogynistic, ill-informed, uncouth, unpresidential, a racist, a hypocrite, a demagogue and a sexual predator, all accusations he denied.

It took Trump, 70, little more than 10 months to vanquish 16 other Republican candidates and win the party’s nomination, becoming the first major party nominee without government experience since General Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. He drew a record number of votes in primary contests but in so doing created a rift in the Republican Party.

Then Trump squared off against Clinton, 69, in a race marked by controversies that included upheaval in his staff, charges he had groped women and unheeded demands that he release his tax records. He said that as president he would investigate Clinton for her use of email while secretary of state. He vowed to send her to jail.

His campaign took a scandalous turn in October with the release of a 2005 video in which Trump, unaware he was being recorded, told a television entertainment reporter that he liked to kiss women without invitation and that, because he was rich and famous, he could grab them by the genitals with impunity.

Trump dismissed the remarks as “locker room talk” and denied the subsequent accusations from more than 10 women who said he had groped them or made unwanted sexual advances.


Throughout his campaign – and especially in his Republican convention speech in July – Trump described a dark America that had been knocked to its knees by China, Mexico, Russia and Islamic State. The American dream was dead, he said, smothered by malevolent business interests and corrupt politicians, and he said he alone could revive it.

Trump said he would make America great again through the force of his personality, negotiating skill and business acumen. He offered vague plans to win economic concessions from China, to build a wall on the southern U.S. border to keep out undocumented immigrants and to make Mexico pay for it. He vowed to repeal Obamacare while being the “greatest jobs president that God ever created” and has proposed refusing entry to the United States of people from war-torn Middle Eastern nations, a modified version of an earlier proposed ban on Muslims.

Trump promoted himself as the ultimate success story. He dated beautiful women, married three of them, had his own television show and erected skyscrapers that bore his name in big gold letters. Everything in his life was the greatest, the hugest, the classiest, the most successful, he said, even though critics assailed his experiences with bankruptcies, the failures of his Atlantic City, New Jersey, casinos and what they viewed as the misplaced pride he showed when presented with evidence he avoided paying taxes.

Trump had flirted with presidential runs in the past and some initially saw his campaign as a vanity project meant to indulge his ego and burnish his brand. It was expected to be short-lived but as the election season progressed, he became the Republican front-runner, winning state nominating contests despite an unconventional campaign that relied on large-scale rallies and mostly ignored grass-roots work.

His hired advisers came to realize there was only so much they could do to rein in Trump. His inner circle was dominated by his three oldest children – Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka, along with Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner.


The rise of Trump, once a registered Democrat, threatened to blow up the Republican Party. Its establishment challenged his commitment to their tenets and organized against him. Prominent Republicans – including former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and congressional leaders – shunned him or offered lukewarm support.

Trump used Twitter as a weapon, firing off insults and mockery at those who offended him, including “Crooked Hillary” and Republican rivals “Little Marco” Rubio, Jeb “Low Energy” Bush and “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz.

Another target was the family of a Muslim U.S. Army captain who died fighting in Iraq after the soldier’s father had spoken against Trump at the Democratic National Convention. Trump sniped back for days despite his advisers urging him to move on.

As of late October, The New York Times had counted 282 people and things he had insulted on Twitter since declaring his candidacy.

The Trump candidacy was brimming with contradictions. The candidate who vowed to bring back jobs to the United States had his clothing line and campaign hats manufactured in foreign countries. The man who decried the corrupting power of money in politics boasted of having bought influence himself.

Undocumented workers had been used on his building projects but as a candidate Trump vowed to ship illegal immigrants out of the country. He said no one respected women more than he did but even before the groping accusations emerged, he was branded a misogynist for making fun of the appearance of rival candidate Carly Fiorina and an apparent reference to the menstrual cycle of Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.


Trump’s campaign trail demeanor seemed to draw from his experiences as host of “The Apprentice,” a reality TV show where he barked a crowd-pleasing “You’re fired!” at contestants who fell short in competitions.

His speeches were often unscripted and featured boasts on everything from his money to his IQ. He peppered them with dubiously sourced declarations, misperceptions and false statements.

He suggested that gun rights activists could act to stop Clinton from nominating liberal U.S. Supreme Court justices, a remark the Clinton campaign called dangerous.

Trump boasted of a fortune he put at $10 billion, although in September Forbes magazine estimated it at $3.7 billion, making him the 156th richest American.

Trump regularly made comments that would have doomed a more conventional candidate, such as when he said his supporters were so loyal that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue in New York and not lose a single vote.

In May he would draw accusations of racism for questioning the impartiality of a judge – born in the United States to Mexican immigrants – who was hearing a lawsuit against him.

No other candidate referred to the size of his genitals during a debate. He was flattered when Russian President Vladimir Putin called him a “brilliant and talented leader.” Trump mocked Senator John McCain, the Republicans’ presidential candidate in 2008, for having been captured during the Vietnam War and said he wanted to punch a protester in the face at a Trump rally.


Trump was born to money on June 14, 1946, in the New York City borough of Queens, the fourth of five children of Fred Trump, who would become one of the city’s biggest developers and landlords, and his wife. It was Fred Trump who taught Donald the value of self-promotion and a killer instinct.

By his own admission, Trump was not an easy child and in the eighth grade his parents sent him to the New York Military Academy in hopes of instilling needed discipline. Through student and medical deferments during the Vietnam War, Trump would never serve in the U.S. military but said the school gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Trump went to work for his father’s company, which focused on the outer New York City boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island and owned an estimated 15,000 apartments. In 1973 the Trumps were charged with racial bias in their rental practices before reaching a settlement with the U.S. government.

With a $1 million loan from his father, Trump eventually went into business himself in Manhattan, where he became a regular at some of the city’s most exclusive clubs and developed a reputation as a ladies’ man.


He soon made his mark with a series of real estate and development deals, including redoing an old hotel at New York’s Grand Central Terminal. In 1983 he opened his flagship, 58-story Trump Tower, which serves as both his primary residence and Trump Organization headquarters.

More projects around the world would follow, including golf courses, the Mar-a-Lago private resort in Florida, New York’s venerable Plaza Hotel and casinos.

Trump’s projects had mixed success. The flops included the real estate-oriented Trump University, Trump Mortgage, Trump Airlines and Trump Vodka but it was his experience with four casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, that took the golden luster off his empire.

Timothy O’Brien, author of “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” wrote that in the 1990s Trump was out of money and twice had to go to his siblings for loans. A former employee said the Trump Organization would have shut down if the family had not come through but Trump disputed that in his 1997 book “Trump: The Art of the Comeback.”

While he never filed for personal bankruptcy, the downturn in the gaming industry sent parts of Trump’s corporate empire to bankruptcy court in 1991, 1992, 2004 and 2009. In the 2009 bankruptcy, the unsecured creditors received less than a penny on the dollar for their claim. Trump resigned as chairman four days before the filing.