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State and Regional News

    A Republican-led congressional committee is demanding records related to premium-class flights taken by Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt. House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy issued a letter to Pruitt this week seeking an accounting of all flights taken by the EPA administrator over the last year and whether the ticket was coach, business or first class. Pruitt defended his use of premium-class airfare in media interviews earlier this month, saying security concerns were raised after unpleasant interactions with other passengers. The South Carolina Republican's letter sent Tuesday specifically cites the evolving explanations of EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox, who initially told reporters that Pruitt had a 'blanket waiver' to fly first class before then saying separate waiver had been granted by ethics officials for each flight. Federal employees are typically supposed to fly coach, and travel rules such bar blanket waivers. 'We will respond to Chairman Gowdy through the proper channel,' Wilcox said Wednesday. Pruitt, the former GOP attorney general of Oklahoma, has been under increasing scrutiny for his jet setting since his appointment by President Donald Trump last year. Records show Pruitt's airfare is often several times more expensive than that of aides booked on the same flights. Gowdy's letter says the requested records are to be provided to his committee by March 6. 'Federal regulations require government travelers to obtain approval or authorization from their agency to use accommodations other than coach-class when traveling on official business,' Gowdy wrote. 'Clearly, federal regulations prohibit a blanket waiver to fly first class except to accommodate disabilities or special needs.' Pruitt said earlier this month he had some 'incidents' on flights that necessitated his need for first-class seats. EPA has refused requests from The Associated Press to provide details of those incidents. 'We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment,' Pruitt said in an interview with a New Hampshire newspaper. 'We've reached the point where there's not much civility in the marketplace and it's created, you know, it's created some issues and the (security) detail, the level of protection is determined by the level of threat.' Pruitt is the first EPA administrator to have a 24-hour security detail, even inside the agency's secured headquarters in Washington. He has also taken other security precautions, including the addition of a $25,000 soundproof 'privacy booth' inside his office to prevent eavesdropping on his phone calls and spending $3,000 to have his office swept for hidden listening devices. Pruitt has denied he played any role in purchasing the premium-class tickets, saying his chief of staff and EPA security had made those decisions. Federal regulations allow government travelers to fly business class or first class when no cheaper options are 'reasonably available' or if there are exceptional security circumstances. However, past federal audits have found that those rules have been routinely violated by high-ranking government officials under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Pruitt's frequent government-funded travel, which records show has often included weekend layovers in his home state of Oklahoma, is already under review by EPA's internal watchdog. The use of luxury air travel by members of Trump's Cabinet has been attracting attention for months. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign in September following media reports he spent at least $400,000 in taxpayer funds on private jets for himself and his staff. A report recently released by the inspector general at the Department of Veterans Affairs found that Secretary David Shulkin and his staff made 'false representations' to justify his wife accompanying him at taxpayer expense on an 11-day European trip that mixed business and sightseeing. ___ Follow AP environmental writer Michael Biesecker at http://Twitter.com/mbieseck
  • The winning numbers in Wednesday evening's drawing of the 'Lotto America' game were: 14-16-23-25-33, Star Ball: 9, ASB: 3 (fourteen, sixteen, twenty-three, twenty-five, thirty-three; Star Ball: nine; ASB: three) Estimated jackpot: $21.41 million
  • DaQuan Jeffries scored 19 points, Junior Etou added 17 and Tulsa defeated Central Florida 70-61 Wednesday night holding onto fourth place in the American Athletic Conference and running its win streak to five games. The teams came into Wednesday night one game apart in the battle for fourth place that saw 10 ties and 10 lead changes. Etou and Jeffries took over, scoring all 13 points in a 13-8 run midway through the second half when Tulsa (17-10, 10-5) took control. Etou opened the run with a layup to tie at 42-42, Jeffries followed with a monster dunk and a free throw, he and Etou each added 3-pointers and Etou finished with a layup and a 53-50 lead and the Golden Hurricane never trailed again. B.J Taylor, limited to 11 games because of injury, scored a season-high 26 points for UCF, and became the 19th member of the school's 1,000-point scoring club. Dayon Griffin added 12 points for the Knights (17-10, 8-7). UCF had a three-game win streak end.
  • The winning numbers in Wednesday evening's drawing of the 'Powerball' game were: 07-15-31-34-36, Powerball: 8, Power Play: 3 (seven, fifteen, thirty-one, thirty-four, thirty-six; Powerball: eight; Power Play: three) Estimated jackpot: $246 million ¶ ___ ¶ Online: ¶ Multi-State Lottery Association: http://www.powerball.com/
  • These Oklahoma lotteries were drawn Wednesday: 07-15-22-30-31 (seven, fifteen, twenty-two, thirty, thirty-one) 14-16-23-25-33, Star Ball: 9, ASB: 3 (fourteen, sixteen, twenty-three, twenty-five, thirty-three; Star Ball: nine; ASB: three) Estimated jackpot: $21.41 million Estimated jackpot: $204 million 8-4-0 (eight, four, zero) KD-KS-AS-7C-6S (KD, KS, AS, 7C, 6S) 07-15-31-34-36, Powerball: 8, Power Play: 3 (seven, fifteen, thirty-one, thirty-four, thirty-six; Powerball: eight; Power Play: three) Estimated jackpot: $246 million
  • The winning numbers in Wednesday evening's drawing of the Oklahoma Lottery's 'Poker Pick' game were: KD-KS-AS-7C-6S (KD, KS, AS, 7C, 6S)
  • The winning numbers in Wednesday evening's drawing of the Oklahoma Lottery's 'Pick 3' game were: 8-4-0 (eight, four, zero)
  • The winning numbers in Wednesday evening's drawing of the Oklahoma Lottery's 'Cash 5' game were: 07-15-22-30-31 (seven, fifteen, twenty-two, thirty, thirty-one)
  • Kylee Kopatich scored 19 points with five 3-pointers, Tyler Johnson scored 11 points before fouling out with 1:53 remaining and Kansas won just its third Big 12 game of the season with a 66-59 upset of No. 25 Oklahoma State on Wednesday night. Kaylee Jensen made two free throws for Oklahoma State at 2:38 to tie it at 59 and both teams went scoreless until Kopatich hit an open 3-pointer from the top of the key with 42 seconds remaining. After an OSU miss, Austin Richardson hit two at the stripe for a five-point lead. Christalah Lyons added 15 points and Austin Richardson 13 for Kansas (12-15, 3-13). The Jayhawks went on a 12-2 run over the final four minutes of the first half to take a 32-31 lead. Loryn Goodwin led Oklahoma State (18-9, 9-7) with 21 points and Jensen had 18 points and 11 rebounds. The Cowgirls have lost three in a row.
  • Oklahoma State rewarded fans who braved the snow and ice with a memorable experience. Kendall Smith scored 21 points to help the Cowboys stun No. 6 Texas Tech 79-71 on Wednesday night. Many students who were part of the crowd of 7,092 rushed the court after the game, though it was tame by Oklahoma State's standards. 'We didn't expect many people here, then once the game starts, it starts filling up,' Oklahoma State guard Lindy Waters said. 'The students were rowdy as usual. It gives us the energy to keep playing.' The end of the game wasn't even the most exciting moment of the night. A text circulated during the game that school would be out Thursday due to the weather. The crowd went crazy, and when the text was shown on the big screen, the players knew, too. 'We were like, 'For sure, let's get this win so we can chill tomorrow,'' Smith said. Waters scored a career-high 18 points and Jeffrey Carroll had 14 points to help the Cowboys (16-12, 6-9 Big 12) boost their NCAA Tournament chances. The Cowboys already had four wins against teams that were ranked in the Top 20 at the time they played — Florida State, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kansas. 'I have no idea how important it is,' Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said. 'I know it doesn't hurt to beat the No. 6 team in the country. That's all I know.' Oklahoma State shot 52.2 percent overall and 11 of 22 from 3-point range against a Texas Tech team that ranks in the Top 10 nationally in field goal percentage defense and scoring defense. Zhaire Smith scored 18 points, and Jarrett Culver added 15 for Tech (22-6, 10-5), which needed a win to tie Kansas for the Big 12 lead. The Red Raiders lost their second straight after reeling off seven straight wins. Tech guard Keenan Evans, the Big 12's No. 2 scorer, finished with two points on 1-for-7 shooting. He missed the second half of Tech's loss to Baylor last Saturday with a toe injury. He started against Oklahoma State and played 25 minutes. 'I know it definitely wasn't 100 (percent), we know that,' Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. 'A lot of respect for Keenan for trying. He's done everything he could since the Baylor game to put himself in position. I thought he showed a lot of courage and heart even trying to play tonight.' Smith scored 16 points in the first half to help Texas Tech take a 35-34 lead at the break. Oklahoma State shot 57 percent in the first half but committed 11 turnovers. Oklahoma State opened the second half with a 9-2 run to take a 43-37 lead and force Texas Tech to call timeout. It didn't help. Back-to-back 3s by Waters and Carroll put the Cowboys up 49-37 just four minutes into the second half. A 3-pointer by Tavarius Shine made it 59-43. In all, Oklahoma State made its first nine field goals in the second half. Tech scored eight straight to make it a game, and that helped put the Red Raiders in position to make a run late. A pair of free throws by Zhaire Smith cut Oklahoma State's lead to 70-66 with just over 2 minutes remaining, but the Cowboys held on at the free throw line. 'We didn't play well tonight, but you've got to give Oklahoma State credit,' Beard said. 'They were the reason we didn't play well tonight. They had four guys in double figures, they outrebounded us, got to the free throw line more and played better than us.' BIG PICTURE Texas Tech: The Red Raiders hurt their chances of dethroning Kansas for the Big 12 title by losing on the road against an Oklahoma State team that hasn't been impressive at home. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys continue to rise to the occasion in big games for first-year coach Mike Boynton. The Cowboys lost momentum late in the first half but didn't buckle. They were the aggressors to start the second half, and they cut down their turnovers to give themselves more chances to score. STAT LINES Waters made all six of his shots from the floor, including four 3-pointers, and made 2 of 3 free throws. He also went without a turnover and had two steals. QUOTABLE Beard on playing Kansas next: 'Is that our next game? Kansas? That's not going to be easy, either.' UP NEXT Texas Tech: Hosts Kansas on Saturday. Oklahoma State: At Texas on Saturday. ___ Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP ___ More AP college basketball at www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
  • It’s just what the GOP said we’d hear from a CEO after being handed a big tax break. But when Charles Scharf announced plans last month to spend his company’s tax savings on higher wages and technology, investors began selling. The Bank of New York Mellon CEO said he had a responsibility to “share the benefit” with workers and build the “company of the future.” But investors want to share in the tax bounty as well — through higher dividends and buybacks. By the end of the day, the bank’s stock was down 4.4 percent. The biggest tax rewrite in three decades was sold by its Republican backers as a way to help American workers, and there have been plenty of announcements about bonuses and plans to buy equipment and make other capital investments to improve productivity and raise wages. But much more money has been earmarked for dividends and buybacks. Retailer Lowe’s has authorized $7.1 billion in buybacks, triple the level planned before the tax overhaul. Radio giant Sirius XM has increased its program by a fifth to $12 billion. And Wednesday Cisco announced the biggest number of all — a $25 billion increase to its repurchase program. Buybacks, in which companies purchase their own shares and retire them, are popular with investors because fewer shares outstanding lifts earnings per share, the most watched barometer of corporate success.
  • Hearing from parents and students who lost friends and family members in last week’s school shooting in Florida, President Donald Trump said it was time for the nation to work together to better safeguard schools, as he advocated stronger security including the possibility of allowing teachers and administrators to carry concealed weapons during the school day. “It’s very difficult, it’s very complex, but we’ll find a solution,” the President said as he wrapped the over hour long listening session, which featured tears from parents and students. “I’m never going to see my kid again, I want you all to know that,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was among those killed last week in Florida. “My beautiful daughter, I’m never going to see again,” Pollack added, flanked by his two sons. Andrew Pollack, father of Meadow Pollack: 'My daughter has no voice. She was murdered last week. She was taken from us. Shot nine times on the third floor.' Watch full video here: https://t.co/PTvTbB8sUn #ParklandStudentsSpeak pic.twitter.com/Qkp9WYVZcm — CSPAN (@cspan) February 21, 2018 The over hour long session was respectful on all sides, as parents and students pleaded with the President to do something to end school shootings. “I was actually in the second classroom that was shot at,” said Jonathan Blank, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. “In my mind, as a kid, nothing that horrible should ever have to happen to you,” Blank added. Echoing some of the calls for action by other Douglas students, Sam Zeif used his time before the President to make a tearful plea for change on powerful weapons like the AR-15. 'I lost a best friend. … I don't understand why I can can still go in a store and buy a weapon of war.' Sam Zeif was on the second floor of the Parkland, Florida, school where 17 people died after a mass shooting. https://t.co/ozoMFp0dU5 https://t.co/xsKZjl5Zna — CNN International (@cnni) February 21, 2018 “I don’t understand why I could still go into a store and buy a weapon of war,” Zeif said, fighting back tears. “I don’t know how I’m ever going to step foot in that place again,” Zeif said of his school. As for the President, he listened quietly as students and parents told their stories and made their requests – Mr. Trump said he’s still developing his plan to deal with school shootings, but seemed to outline a series of ideas that he backs: + Stronger school security, by hardening entrance points to schools. + Allowing teachers and administrators to carry a firearm in a school. + Stronger background checks on guns sales, though Mr. Trump has yet to define exactly what that would entail. + Raising the age to purchase a powerful weapon like an AR-15. + Doing more to provide mental health treatment to people – like the Florida shooter – who have been identified to authorities. “If you have a teacher – who was adept at firearms – you could very well end the attack very quickly,” the President said of the idea of concealed carry in schools, as he compared it to airline pilots being allowed to carry a gun in the aftermath of the Nine Eleven attacks. President Trump responds to the emotional stories of students and parents: “We don’t want others to go through the kind of pain that you've gone through” https://t.co/GtcRURoZo4 pic.twitter.com/JliJbQkJgr — CNN International (@cnni) February 21, 2018 “If these cowards knew that the school was well guarded,” the President said, “I don’t think they would go into the school in the first place.” “Thank you for pouring out your hearts, because the world is watching,” the President said as he wrapped up the White House event. “We’re going to come up with a solution.”
  • Evangelist Billy Grahamat his North Carolina home. Graham, who preached Christianity to millions around the world, was also a confidant of U.S. presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush.Here are some quotes from the man who became known as “America’s Pastor.”   Source: Brainy Quotes
  • The world's best-known evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham, has died. He was 99. From the gangly 16-year-old baseball-loving teen who found Christ at a tent revival, Graham went on to become an international media darling, a preacher to a dozen presidents and the voice of solace in times of national heartbreak. He was America's pastor.           Graham retired to his mountain home at Montreat, N.C., in 2005 after nearly six decades on the road calling people to Christ at 417 all-out preaching and musical events from Miami to Moscow. His final New York City crusade in 2005 was sponsored by 1,400 regional churches from 82 denominations.          Presidents called on Graham in their dark hours, and uncounted millions say he showed them the light. He took his Bible to the ends of the Earth in preaching tours he called 'crusades.' Even now, anywhere a satellite, radio, TV, video or podcast can reach, his sonorous voice is probably still calling someone to Christ.          Though Graham's shoes could likely never be filled, his son, Franklin, has taken over in some aspects—leading The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and becoming a confidant of President Donald Trump, including speaking at his inauguration.          But Franklin's message has swayed from his father's, leaving a mixed legacy for the Graham name. Franklin has mocked both Islam and LGBT rights. He uses his following on social media to raise funds for 'persecuted Christians,' boycotts businesses that use gay couples in advertisements and blasts the separation of church and state as as the godless successor to Cold War communism.          But his father's words for years offered peace and perspective. On the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance following the 9/11 attacks, Billy Graham spoke of the 'mystery of iniquity and evil,' of 'the lesson of our need for each other' and, ultimately, of hope.          'He was so real, he made Christianity come true.' observed Susan Harding, an anthropologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz. 'He was homespun, historical and newsworthy all at once. He could span the times from Christ to today, from the globe to you, all in one sentence.'          Grant Wacker, a Duke University professor of Christian history, says Graham represented, 'what most decent churchgoing people thought and ought to think.'          His reputation was untouched by sex or financial scandals. When anti-Semitic comments came to light as transcripts of conversations with Richard Nixon surfaced, Graham was promptly and deeply apologetic.          He never built a megachurch, set up a relief agency, launched a political lobby or ran for office. Yet he redefined American Protestant life by popularizing Christianity's core message — Christ died for your sins — downplaying denominational details and proclaiming the joys found in faith.          Graham was, however, drawn to power. Eventually, he met, prayed with, comforted and joked with 12 U.S. presidents, and Graham learned to walk a tightrope.          He found a fine balance that allowed him to become America's pastor, Democrat or Republican. North or South. When President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky came to light, Graham called for forgiveness. Clinton told Peter Boyer of The New Yorker, 'He took sin seriously. But he took redemption seriously. And it was incredibly powerful the way he did it.'          Former president George W. Bush has said it was a conversation with Graham that turned him from his drinking ways when he was young.          'I've never called him on a specific issue but his influence is bigger than a specific issue, as far as I'm concerned. He warms your soul,' Bush told an ABC 20/20 special on the preacher and politics.          Graham emphasized the joy to be found in belief, in contrast to evangelists such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson who routinely issued glowering condemnations of politicians or blamed natural disasters on modern culture. However, Graham did take an uncharacteristically political stand before the 2012 presidential election. He authorized full page ads in major newspapers in October urging people to vote for politicians who opposed same-sex marriage on 'biblical principles.'          He brought to the microphone a 'corny but effective humor,' Wacker says, which made him a convivial talk-show guest. Graham logged more than 50 radio or television interviews with Larry King alone. YouTube has a tape of Woody Allen interviewing the evangelist, who draws almost as many laughs as the caustic, agnostic comedian.          The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association he founded, now led by his son, Franklin, used every communications innovation possible to carry the Gospel to any willing heart on Earth. More than 214 million people in 195 cities and territories heard God's call in Graham's voice and witnessed him deliver the Gospel in person or by satellite links. His projects included founding             Christianity Today magazine in 1956 and writing more than 30 books.          High among his numerous honors: The Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Billy and Ruth in 1996, the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to him in 1983, and the Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion in 1982. He even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.          'Fundamentalists saw him as excessively liberal, and liberals saw him as too literalist in talking about sin and salvation. His wonderful balance between them is critical to his legacy,' says John Wilson, editor of             Books & Culture, a sister publication of             Christianity Today magazine            .  Graham's last decades were slowed by illness and injury. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1989, felled by broken bones, bouts of hydrocephalous and rounds of pneumonia.          Age, illness and bone-breaking falls had left him struggling to deliver 20-minute sermons.   Graham's last crusade, in June 2005 in New York City, drew 242,000 people to Flushing Meadows; 8,786 made a new commitment to Christ and thousands more renewed or rejoiced in their faith.          Then he retired to his Montreat, N.C., mountaintop log cabin home (where his five children grew up mostly without their traveling father) to spend his days with his beloved wife, Ruth. They shared Bible study, devotions and an endless recycling of the movie musicals she loved to watch. Those were bittersweet days, with Ruth bedridden and Billy relying on a walker. Their frequent prayer was, 'Help me, Lord.'          At her funeral in June 2007, Graham called Ruth the finest Christian he ever knew. Graham lived through the explosion of religious diversity in America, the rise of the human potential movement and the trend to personalized spirituality. He also lived to see many tire of lonely seeking or a high-minded hopscotch from church to church, religion to religion.          Yet he remained steadfast in his response. In 1996, when he and Ruth were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, he once more shared his faith in God with some of the most powerful men on Earth:          'As Ruth and I receive this award, we know that some day we will lay it at the feet of the one we seek to serve.
  • The Rev. Billy Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, has died. Spokesman Mark DeMoss says Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday morning. He was 99. Graham reached more than 200 million through his appearances and millions more through his pioneering use of television and radio. Unlike many traditional evangelists, he abandoned narrow fundamentalism to engage broader society.