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    An attacker threw a hand grenade at the U.S. Embassy in Montenegro's capital and then killed himself with another explosive device, the government here said Thursday. No one else apparently was hurt and there was no major damage. Police sealed off the area after the blasts around midnight (2300 GMT Wednesday). The U.S. State Department said embassy officials were working with police to identify the assailant and was working internally to confirm all staff are safe. Montenegro borders the Adriatic Sea in southeastern Europe and its capital is Podgorica. It joined NATO last year despite strong opposition from its traditional Slavic ally Russia. Several people, including two Russian secret service operatives, are on trial in Podgorica on charges that they wanted to overthrow Montenegro's government in 2016 because of its pro-Western policies. The U.S. established diplomatic ties with the tiny Balkan state in 2006 after it split from much larger Serbia. ___ Associated Press writers Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.
  • President Nicolas Maduro is doubling-down on plans to concentrate power by calling Wednesday for early congressional elections to coincide with a presidential vote in April that opponents hours earlier said they would boycott unless steps are taken to ease fears it's rigged. Pushing ahead a vote for the democratically elected National Assembly could spell a shake-up in the last branch of government still out of Maduro's control. The opposition's move edging to an outright boycott means Maduro is unlikely to face any major challenge in the April 22 race despite widespread anger over his handling of an economy marred by soaring inflation and shortages of food and life-saving medicine. The opposition's announcement came after several days of closed-door talks on whether to field a candidate or not. While hardliners were pushing for a boycott, some moderates left open a slim possibility of participating. 'The MUD says they're not going to the elections. So what are they preparing?' Maduro told supporters, referring to the coalition by its Spanish initials. 'A coup?' Reflecting those divisions, the opposition in a carefully worded statement said while it couldn't partake in a fraudulent election, it was challenging the government one last time to reverse course before a deadline in the coming days to register candidates. 'If conditions are met, we are willing to participate,' opposition leader Angel Oropeza said at a news conference, reading from the statement critical of the Maduro government for pressing ahead with 'a fraudulent and illegitimate simulation of a presidential election.' The election has drawn wide condemnation from the United States and other countries for breaking democratic norms, and it comes at a critical moment for Venezuela, once among the region's wealthiest nations but sliding deeper into an economic and political crisis. Thousands have fled across the border with neighboring Colombia and Brazil, prompting calls from regional leaders for Maduro to return to democratic rule. Up to 79 percent of Venezuelans said they've eaten less in the past 3 months because they weren't able to buy food, and 61 percent of them said they go to sleep hungry, according to the 2017 National Survey of Living Conditions released Wednesday and conducted by three of the country's most important universities. Maduro has a low approval rating, but he's managed to secure his likely re-election by driving the most popular politicians and political parties abroad or banning them from participating in politics. Among its demands, the opposition pressed the government to drop a ban on major candidates, reform the pro-Maduro National Electoral Council, and guarantee that Venezuelans living abroad have a chance to cast their ballot in the election. Opposition leader Enrique Marquez told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the coalition agreed that under the current electoral conditions they won't participate. 'We are not going to this election,' he said. Maduro said in Wednesday that the election will move ahead as planned 'with or without' the opposition. He also proposed moving up elections for the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Delcy Rodriguez, president of the pro-government national constituent assembly, received the proposal and said on Twitter that Maduro can count of the constituent assembly's commitment to 'strengthen the country's democracy.' It's unclear whether any opposition candidates will break ranks and square off against Maduro. A possible candidate is Henri Falcon, a former governor and one-time aide to the late President Hugo Chavez. Oropeza said the government continues to press ahead with an illegitimate process, but he remains among those holding out hope of the coalition's participation. 'If conditions are met, we are willing to participate,' he said. 'We challenge Maduro's government to be measured against the people in real elections.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron's government on Wednesday presented a bill to enforce tougher immigration rules, decried by human rights organizations as repressive toward asylum-seekers. The bill, presented at a Cabinet meeting, aims at accelerating the expulsion of people who don't qualify for asylum. It also wants to provide better conditions for those allowed to stay in the country, such as offering more French classes and job training. Interior minister Gerard Collomb said the plan is 'balanced' and 'aligned with European procedures.' 'If you don't control the migratory flux, you can't offer a destiny' for the nation's youth, he said on BFM TV. 'I don't want the European dream to transform tomorrow into a nightmare.' The plan will reduce the consideration period for an application for asylum to a maximum of six months, down from about one year including appeal. Human rights activists say the quicker process will make it more difficult for asylum-seekers to defend their rights. Collomb says it is more humane because applicants learn their fate before making roots in a country where some ultimately cannot remain. The plan would also allow authorities to hold migrants in France illegally in detention centers for up to 90 days instead of the current 45, in order to organize their deportation. Under the bill, people illegally crossing borders of the EU travel-free zone will be fined 3,750 euros ($4,600) Some organizations helping migrants, including the French Human Rights League, held street protests in Paris Wednesday to denounce 'governmental policies that infringe on migrants' freedoms.' Some public agents in charge of asylum procedures were on strike. The bill, which goes to parliament in April, 'is packaged to better expel,' said the president of Doctors of the World, Francoise Sivignon. 'What we contest is the spirit of the law,' she said on BFM TV. Cyrielle Taezin, an employee at the national court of asylum, said migrants won't have enough time to prepare their request. 'They have experienced trauma. They need psychological checks. They need time to express what they've gone through.' Alain Esmery, an activist with the Human Rights League, noted that Macron called last month for humanity and firmness toward migrants. 'The interior minister must be hard of hearing because he has heard 'firmness, firmness,'' Esmery said. Official figures show that more than 100,000 people applied for asylum in France in 2017, up 17 percent from the year before. The largest number of asylum requests came from people from Albania, Afghanistan, Haiti and Sudan. About 36 percent of applicants were granted refugee status. __ Nicolas Garriga contributed to this report.
  • A prominent Jewish-American foundation removed a video from YouTube which had sparked outrage in Poland and beyond on Wednesday with its provocative use of the historically inaccurate term 'Polish Holocaust' to protest a controversial new Polish law criminalizing some comments about the Holocaust. The private Ruderman Family Foundation also launched a campaign calling for the United States to sever its ties with Poland, an ally in NATO where the U.S. has recently deployed troops. The Boston-based foundation put out the video on Wednesday in reaction to the new Polish law, which criminalizes falsely attributing the Holocaust crimes of Nazi Germany to Poland. The measure has angered Israel, where it is seen as an attempt to whitewash the actions of Poles who killed Jews during World War II. The provocative use of the term 'Polish Holocaust' in the video was seen as hugely offensive to many in Poland. Many of Nazi Germany's death camps, like Auschwitz, were located in German-occupied Poland. Poles had no role in operating them but accounted for the largest number of victims, after Jews. Jonathan Ornstein, director of the Jewish Community Center in Krakow, told the AP that he explained to foundation president Jay Ruderman how troubling the video was and was assured that the video would be removed. Later in the evening the video was gone from YouTube. 'The term 'Polish Holocaust' is not accepted by any reasonable person whether Jewish, Polish, Israeli or German,' Ornstein had said earlier. 'Emotions are running high and harmful, inaccurate comments from various sides have been published, but this is indefensible,' Ornstein said. The Ruderman Family Foundation released a statement saying that 'after a hugely successful campaign that went viral internationally and among American Jews and Israelis who have signed the petition - the Foundation was contacted by the Polish Jewish community and because of their concerns for their safety, we decided to halt the campaign.' Michal Dworczyk, an aide to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, described the video as an affront to the thousands of Poles who risked their lives during the war to help Jews. Polish state television's all-news channel TVP Info reported it as the top story on its website, calling the video 'shocking.' Witold Jurasz, a journalist with the private Polsat broadcaster, called the video 'offensive and scandalous,' and said it 'spits in the face of every Pole' — even those who, like him, oppose Poland's Holocaust law. Poland's Holocaust law, which takes effect Feb. 28, has already triggered rising anti-Semitism in Poland. In reaction to criticism from Holocaust historians and others, the government said it will be reviewed by Poland's constitutional court. Deputy foreign minister Bartosz Cichocki said Tuesday that no criminal charges would be brought under the law until the court reviews it. ___ Monika Scislowska contributed to this report.
  • Greece's parliament voted early Thursday following a marathon 20-hour session to investigate 10 senior politicians, including two former prime ministers, over allegations they were involved in a pharmaceutical bribery scandal. The allegations follow a judicial investigation into bribes Swiss drugmaker Novartis allegedly paid to boost the sales and prices of its products in Greece. Officials in the government of left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras have described the alleged bribery scandal as the worst in modern Greek history. The politicians to be investigated include current central bank governor and former finance minister Yannis Stournaras and Dimitris Avramopoulos, a European commissioner and former health minister. A parliamentary committee will be set up to investigate each of the 10, in a process expected to last for at least one month. Under Greek law, parliament must first investigate allegations against lawmakers before they can be stripped of immunity and prosecuted by judicial authorities. Government and opposition parties all backed the investigation, either in support of the probe or to clear the names of their colleagues. Separate ballot boxes were set up for each of the 10 politicians during the secret vote. Prime Minister Tsipras promised that justice would be done. 'We will not cover up (the scandal),' he said during the debate. 'The Greek people must learn who turned pain and illness into a means of enrichment.' All of the politicians implicated angrily denied the allegations, accusing the government of engineering a politically motivated campaign against them. Novartis says it is cooperating with Greek authorities. 'I'm not here to provide answers regarding this despicable libel but to denounce these ridiculous allegations,' conservative former prime minister Antonis Samaras said. The claims against the politicians stem from testimonies made by protected, anonymous witnesses. Speaking during the debate, central bank governor Stournaras said secret witness testimonies implicating himself and his wife, who runs a communications and consultancy company specializing in the health sector, were lies, and called for the parliamentary investigative committee to be set up to look into all allegations. Allegations against the politicians include bribery, breach of duty, and possibly money laundering. But it was unclear what the scope of the investigation would be, given that the statute of limitations regarding politicians is linked to terms of government. Former caretaker prime minister Panagiotis Pikramenos, his voice at times breaking as he addressed the lawmakers, noted he had only been in office for 35 days at a time of political and economic turmoil in Greece. 'And today, after six years, I find myself before you to face a baseless accusation,' he said, describing the accusations against him as 'lies and unacceptable slander.' Conservative New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis accused the government of 'shamelessly and regularly interfering in the work of the judiciary' to undermine its political opponents. 'Who will invest in a country with such a toxic political environment?' he said during the debate late Wednesday. ___ AP journalist Derek Gatopoulos contributed to this report. Follow Becatoros at http://www.twitter.com/ElenaBec
  • About 50 girls have been missing since Boko Haram extremists attacked a village in northern Nigeria that has a girls' boarding school, provoking fears they may have kidnapped like those from the town of Chibok nearly four years ago. Authorities had no credible information that those missing from the village of Dapchi were taken by Boko Haram, said Abdullahi Bego, a spokesman for the governor in Yobe state. Some witnesses, however, recalled seeing girls being taken by the armed militants of the group that abducted 276 girls from the school in Chibok in April 2014. 'I share the anguish of all the parents and guardians of the girls that remain unaccounted for,' Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari tweeted Wednesday evening. 'I would like to assure them that we are doing all in our power to ensure the safe return of all the girls.' Armed Boko Haram fighters invaded Dapchi on Monday evening, forcing residents, including students of Government Girls Secondary school, to flee into the bushes. Police and the state ministry of education had initially denied claims that students were abducted. In a statement issued Wednesday, Bego said more than 50 of the 926 students were still missing. Earlier reports indicated about 90 were not in class Tuesday, suggesting some had returned within the past 24 hours. Student Aishatu Abdullahi was among those who escaped on foot and spent the night hiding in an abandoned house. 'They were shooting guns and everyone was confused. Then we started running all confused,' she told reporters. 'We saw some people pushing some of the students to enter their vehicles.' 'Many of us are traumatized,' she said, adding that the school had given students a one-week break after the ordeal. 'But, in all honesty, I am not willing to come back here because we are scared of what could happen to us in the future.' About 100 of the 276 girls abducted by Boko Haram from Chibok in 2014 are still believed to be with their captors. Some escaped, while others were released as part of negotiations.
  • Milan Fashion Week got underway Wednesday with a moment's pause to put focus on women who have come forward as victims of sexual misconduct. Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who accused Harvey Weinstein of groping her in 2015 and worked with investigators on a sting targeting the producer, walked the runway for Rocco Barocco. She told reporters afterward, 'Finally something positive. I am happy to be returning to my craft.' The Humans of Fashion Foundation non-governmental organization was also in Milan, where it plans to launch its global initiative connecting people in the fashion industry who have experienced sexual harassment or assault with a support network, including legal and emotional. Here are some highlights from the first full day of womenswear previews for next fall and winter, with a smattering of shows combining menswear with womenswear: ____ SURGICAL GUCCI Alessandro Michele fully covers his models from the top of elaborate headpieces to the tips of their bejeweled toes in a seeming effort to hide the person in order to reveal a character. And there was a full range of new characters in his show combing menswear and womenswear for the next cold weather season. The cast included a masked Inuit in a furry lined jacket, a Renaissance woman in a long velvet dress, Victorian characters in layers of pleats, a blue turbaned man in tan leisure suit, and Middle Eastern woman in beaded head covers and long, flowered robes. Backstage, the creative director said he wanted to explore 'the codes that constrain us.' 'All of this I robbed from others, in the sense that I imagined in the passe partout of the codes that ranged from the bourgeois to the thing that I put on in the morning to go to the bank, or all the suits that my father bought to go to work for Alitalia,' Michele said. Michele set the show in a mock operating room, complete with (unused) surgical tables and overhead lamps. The reference, he said, was to the surgical precision with which he approaches his craft. In a spookier surgical/Frankenstein reference, two models carried replicas of their own heads in their hands. So it was perhaps a warm, fuzzy moment when a man in a long black skirt and jacket covered with crystals, carried a pet dragon, of plastic. _____ MOD MOSCHINO While some fashion houses really do design airline uniforms, Jeremy Scott created a retro-futuristic array of looks for an alien starship crew. Models sporting Jackie Kennedy-style bobs strutted through Star Trek blue-lit gangways, wearing bright colors of the same assortment found in the non-edible box of sugar candies that came with the Moschino invitation. For the alien affect, some had blue-, or orange-, or green-colored skin — all very Deep Space Nine. The silhouette stuck to clean lines of 1960s women's suits or uniforms, with neat zippers down one side, or dark patent leather trim, or reverse pleats. Skirts were mini and worn with matching color pumps. Pants were long and trim, elongated even more by vertical stripes. Headwear included stewardess caps or berets. And the real accessories of the season were a series of detachable collars, including a black patent leather with a pointy collar and rounded back. Other Moschino touches: peace sign earrings, clear colored plastic belts with the brand name spelled out in hanging letters and Crazy Fruit candy backpacks and pyramid-shaped clutches. The collection closed with a series of evening dresses, including mermaid skirt in a shimmery purple contrasting with silk chiffon. ____ MONCLER GENIUS The elegance of down-filled winter wear came through in a Moncler collection put in the hands of eight diverse designers, from Valentino's Pier Paolo Piccioli to Francesco Ragazzi of his Palm Angels streetwear brand. The collection, dubbed Moncler Genius, was unveiled in a series of pavilions each draped in a silvery fabric cast with shimmering lights. Visitors, including super model Naomi Campbell, wandered between each designer's world. Piccioli created long graceful down couture gowns -- nominally the Moncler puffer coat -- that in their conical shape gave the impression of a forest, in stands of white, black and layered colors. The longer pieces, which sloped gracefully to the ground, were over-laid with vests or cropped jackets. Each finished in a snug-fitting hood. Simon Rocha's collection was shown against a mountain backdrop, with Geisha-sherpa models in traditional robes or Victorian-inspired layered black dresses walking deliberately through a snowy landscape. Kei Ninomiya created elegant evening dresses out of Moncler nylon that was alternatively appeared as big weaves or pretty florets, the black patina picking up just enough light to give a shimmer effect. The idea behind Genius is to offer new products continually to consumers with the aim of appealing to diverse consumers. The first collection, by Hiroshi Fujiwara's brand Fragment will be available in June. The looks include down-filled flannel shirts, sea blue and green Nordic-style sweaters and down parkas for the world traveler emblazoned with the cardinal compass points.
  • Hometown London stars Dua Lipa and Stormzy were both double winners Wednesday at the U.K. music industry's Brit Awards, where many guests wore white roses to symbolize the fight against sexual harassment and assault. Stormzy, who has helped propel the grime genre of rap into the commercial mainstream, was named best male British solo artist, and also won album of the year, for his debut 'Gang Signs and Prayer.' Taking the stage, he thanked God, his mother, his family his team and south London, where he grew up. Stormzy said the album was 'the hardest thing, I've never worked on something like this in my life.' 'I've never given my entire being, I didn't have anything left after... we made something I feel that is undeniable, that I can stand by today,' he said. Stormzy also energized a show that bordered on bland. In an electric closing performance, he put Britain's prime minister on the spot, singing 'Theresa May, where's the money for Grenfell' in reference to last year's deadly London tower block blaze. Lipa, whose self-titled debut was one of 2017's breakout albums, was named British female solo artist and British breakthrough artist. Lipa dedicated her solo artist trophy to all the female musicians who 'have allowed us to dream this big.' 'Here's to more women on these stages, more women winning awards and more women taking over the world,' said Lipa, who topped U.K. charts with her catchy breakup anthem 'No Rules.' Following up on gestures at the Golden Globes, Grammys and British film awards, guests at Britain's biggest music awards show were given flowers or white rose pins to wear in solidarity with the Time's Up movement. Calls for change have swept through the entertainment industry since women began coming forward to accuse Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein last year. The white rose symbol made an appearance at the Grammys last month. At the Globes and British Academy Film Awards women wore black to oppose sexual misconduct and bullying. Performers at the show at London's O2 Arena, hosted by comedian Jack Whitehall, included Justin Timberlake, Rita Ora, Sam Smith, Foo Fighters and Kendrick Lemar. International winners included Foo Fighters in the group category, female solo artist Lorde and male solo artist Kendrick Lamar. Soulful singer Rag'n'Bone Man took the trophy for best British single for 'Human.' Ubiquitous singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran won the global success award, which goes to the year's best-selling British artist. His album 'Divide' has sold more than 12 million copies around the world. In what felt like a symbolic handover between generations, Sheeran's prize was introduced by a video message from Elton John. He was given his trophy by Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, who called Sheeran 'a lovely young guy.' Ariana Grande had been due to perform, but was forced to pull out because of illness, organizers said. She had been due to make a surprise appearance in tribute to 22 people killed when a bomber blew himself up at a Grande concert in Manchester in May. Manchester-born Liam Gallagher stepped in instead, performing the Oasis classic 'Live Forever.' Once a slightly ramshackle and unpredictable event, the Brits has become a slick showcase for U.K. and international talent. This year's show did feature some pointed moments. As well as Stormzy's Grenfell shoutout, former Blur frontman Damon Albarn alluded to Brexit as he accepted the best British group prize with cartoon band Gorillaz. In an apparent reference to Britain's impending departure from the European Union, he urged Britons not to let the country become isolated, 'Considering our size we do incredible things in music, we've got a real spirit and a real soul, and don't let politics get in the way of all that (stuff), alright?' Albarn said. Most winners at the Brits are chosen by a ballot of music-industry members, with several selected by public vote, including video of the year, decided by public ballot during the show. For years that prize was invariably won by One Direction; this year it went to a member of that band, Harry Styles.
  • The Latest on the Brit Awards (all times local): 9:30 p.m. Liam Gallagher has performed at the Brit Awards in tribute to victims of last year's Manchester Arena bombing. Twenty-two people were killed when a bomber blew himself up as concertgoers were leaving an Ariana Grande show in the northwest England city on May 22. Grande had been due to perform at Wednesday's awards show in honor of the victims and survivors, but was forced to cancel on medical advice. Gallagher, who grew up in Manchester, stepped in to perform the Oasis classic 'Live Forever.' ___ 8:45 p.m. Grime artist Stormzy and singer-songwriter Dua Lipa have been named British solo artists of the year at the Brit Awards. Stormzy won the male artist prize for his distinctly London style of rap, and thanked his mother, his team, south London and God. Lipa, who topped U.K. charts with her song 'No Rules,' took the female prize and dedicated her trophy to all the female musicians who 'have allowed us to dream this big.' She said: 'Here's to more women on these stages, more women winning awards and more women taking over the world.' ___ 8 p.m. Dua Lipa says celebrity gestures can help put an end to sexual harassment and abuse. The singer wore a white rose on the red carpet at the Brit Awards as a sign of solidarity with campaigns against sexual misconduct. She said making the symbolic statement to 'millions and millions of people, not just in the U.K. but all over the world, it does make a difference, it does make a change because we are standing, we are protesting in our own way and this is how we're going to make a difference.' The 22-year-old singer is nominated in five categories at the music awards, including album of the year for her self-titled debut. Guests were given white rose pins to wear for the ceremony at London's O2 Arena. Some, including Lupa and Ed Sheeran, also wore the flowers themselves. ___ 2 p.m. Music stars will wear white roses on the Brit Awards red carpet to support campaigns against sexual harassment and assault. Guests at Britain's biggest music awards show will be given white rose pins to wear in solidarity with the 'Time's Up' movement. Calls for change have swept through the entertainment industry since women began coming forward to accuse Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein last year. There was a similar gesture at Sunday's British Academy Film Awards, where women wore black to oppose sexual misconduct and bullying. Rising star Dua Lipa, grime artist Stormzy and ubiquitous singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran are among nominees for Wednesday's awards at London's O2 Arena, hosted by comedian Jack Whitehall. All three are also set to perform, along with Justin Timberlake, Rita Ora and Foo Fighters.
  • Moody's ratings agency upgraded Greece's credit rating by two notches late Wednesday to B3, saying the country is set to return to market-based funding following the conclusion of its current bailout program in the summer. Despite the upgrade, which follows similar moves by ratings agencies Fitch and Standard and Poor's, Greece's credit rating remains well within junk, or non-investment grade, territory. Moody's, however, noted that the risk of another Greek default or restructuring on debt owed to private investors has 'materially declined.' The agency said Greece's ratings outlook remains positive, and a further upgrade could follow if the country's reform program leads to more positive than expected results, with sustained economic growth and a more rapid fall in the country's debt to GDP ratio. Greece has depended on international bailouts since 2010, when it racked up a large budget deficit and lost investor trust — and with it access to bond markets. In exchange for the rescue loans, successive governments implemented harsh austerity measures, slashing spending and incomes, hiking taxes and implementing sweeping market reforms. The country's third bailout, by its European Union partners, ends in August. After that the country will have to rely on bond sales to finance itself. Earlier Wednesday, Greece's powerful Communist Party vowed to step up protests against online auctions of homes with defaulted mortgages, putting more pressure on the government which has promised bailout creditors it will speed up the auction process. More than 2,000 protesters from the party's labor union took part in a rally in central Athens against the auctions which restarted Wednesday, following months of delays. Until now, protests against the auctions at court houses and the offices of notary publics have been led by smaller left-wing groups. European institutions participating in Greece's bailout are pressing Athens to ensure that auctions proceed. This week, due to the postponed auctions, creditors delayed paying out a rescue loan installment to the government worth 5.7 billion euros ($7.1 billion).
  • 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.