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National News

    Officials in Houston and surrounding communities say so far there have been no severe consequences as Tropical Depression Imelda deluged parts of Southeast Texas with rain. Glenn LaMont, deputy emergency management coordinator in Brazoria County, south of Houston along the Gulf Coast, said he has seen no reports of flooded homes or people stranded despite heavy rainfall. But he cautioned: 'It's too early to breathe a sigh of relief.' By late Thursday afternoon, most of the heaviest showers had moved to the east of Houston, into Beaumont, Texas, and southwestern Louisiana. But the storm's remnants spawned several weak tornadoes in the Baytown area, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Houston, damaging trees, barns and sheds and causing minor damage to some homes and vehicles. Forecasters said the Houston area could still face some heavy rainfall on Thursday. Parts of East Texas could get up to 10 inches (254 millimeters) of rain through Thursday morning as the remnants of Imelda continue moving north and away from Houston, according to the National Weather Service. Coastal counties, including Brazoria, Matagorda and Galveston, got the most rainfall since Imelda formed on Tuesday. Some parts of the Houston area had received nearly 8 inches (203 millimeters) of rain, while the city of Galveston, which had street flooding, had received nearly 9 inches (229 millimeters), according to preliminary rainfall totals released Wednesday afternoon by the National Weather Service. Sargent, a town of about 2,700 residents in Matagorda County, had received nearly 20 inches (508 millimeters) of rain since Tuesday. Karen Romero, who lives with her husband in Sargent, said this was the most rain she has had in her neighborhood in her nine years living there. 'The rain (Tuesday) night was just massive sheets of rain and lightning storms,' said Romero, 57. She said her home, located along a creek, was not in danger of flooding as it sits on stilts, like many others nearby. In the Houston area, the rainfall flooded some roadways, stranding drivers, and caused several creeks and bayous to rise to high levels. Many schools in the Houston and Galveston area canceled classes Wednesday. However, the Houston school district, the state's largest, remained open. At least one school district — Galveston — said it was also canceling classes on Thursday. The National Hurricane Center said Imelda, which made landfall near Freeport, Texas, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (64 kph), had weakened to a tropical depression and was located about 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of Houston. But the National Weather Service said flash flood watches remained in effect through Thursday for Southeast Texas and southwestern Louisiana. Imelda is the first named storm to impact the Houston area since Hurricane Harvey, according to the National Weather Service. Harvey dumped nearly 50 inches (130 centimeters) of rain on parts of the flood-prone city in August 2017, flooding more than 150,000 homes in the Houston area and causing an estimated $125 billion in damage in Texas. The National Hurricane Center said Wednesday that Hurricane Humberto in the Atlantic Ocean is posing a stronger threat to Bermuda. The Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph (193 kph) was about 195 miles (314 kilometers) from Bermuda on Wednesday afternoon. Tropical Storm Jerry became the 10th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, though it remained far from land Wednesday. Meteorologists also said newly formed Tropical Storm Lorena in the Pacific Ocean could produce heavy rains and flooding in Mexico by Thursday. ___ Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70
  • Visitors descending on the remote Nevada desert for 'Storm Area 51' are from Earth, not outer space. No one knows what to expect, but the two tiny towns of Rachel and Hiko near the once-secret military research site are preparing for an influx of people over the next few days. 'It's happening. We already have people from all over the world,' Little A'Le'Inn proprietor Connie West said Wednesday from her bustling cafe and motel, where volunteers have arrived from Poland, Scotland, Australia, Florida, Idaho and Oklahoma. Neighbors, elected officials and event organizers said the craze sparked by an internet joke inviting people to 'see them aliens' might become a cultural marker, a monumental dud or something in between. Area 51's secrecy has long fueled fascination about extraterrestrial life, UFOs and conspiracy theories, giving rise to the events this week and prompting military warnings not to approach the protected site. 'This phenomenon is really a perfect blend of interest in aliens and the supernatural, government conspiracies, and the desire to know what we don't know,' said Michael Ian Borer, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, sociologist who researches pop culture and paranormal activity. The result, Borer said, was 'hope and fear' for events that include the 'Area 51 Basecamp,' featuring music, speakers and movies, and two festivals competing for the name 'Alienstock' starting Thursday. Some neighbors and officials in two counties near Area 51 are nervous. The area of scenic mountains and rugged desert is home to a combined 50,000 people and compares in size with New England. Elected officials signed emergency declarations after millions of people responded to the Facebook post this summer. 'We are preparing for the worst,' said Joerg Arnu, a Rachel resident who could see from his home a makeshift stage and cluster of portable toilets in a dusty area recently scraped of brush surrounding West's little motel and cafe. Arnu said he installed outdoor floodlights, fencing and 'No Trespassing' signs on his 30-acre property. He's also organized a radio-equipped night watch of neighbors, fearing there won't be enough water, food, trash bins or toilets for visitors. 'Those that know what to expect camping in the desert are going to have a good time,' Arnu said. 'Those who are looking for a big party are going to be disappointed.' He predicts people showing up in the desert in shorts and flip-flops. 'That doesn't protect you against critters, snakes and scorpions,' Arnu said. 'It will get cold at night. They're not going to find what they're looking for, and they are going to get angry.' Officials expect cellular service to be overwhelmed. The nearest gas station is 45 miles (72 kilometers) away. Campers could encounter overnight temperatures as low as 41 degrees (5 degrees Celsius). 'We really didn't ask for this,' said Varlin Higbee, a Lincoln County commissioner who voted to allocate $250,000 in scarce funds to handle anticipated crowds. 'We have planned and staged enough to handle 30,000 to 40,000 people,' Higbee said. 'We don't know how many will come for sure.' Though the creator of the Facebook event later called it a hoax, the overwhelming response sent local, state and military officials scrambling. Promoters began scouting sites. A beer company produced alien-themed cans. A Nevada brothel offered discounts to 'E.T. enthusiasts.' The Federal Aviation Administration closed nearby air space this week. 'People desire to be part of something, to be ahead of the curve,' said Borer, the sociologist. 'Area 51 is a place where normal, ordinary citizens can't go. When you tell people they can't do something, they just want to do it more.' George Harris, owner of the Alien Research Center souvenir store in Hiko, welcomed the attention and planned a cultural program focused on extraterrestrial lore Friday and Saturday. The 'Area 51 Basecamp' promises up to 60 food trucks and vendors, trash and electric service, and a robust security and medical staff. Harris said he was prepared for up to 15,000 people and expected they would appreciate taking selfies with a replica of Area 51's back gate without having to travel several miles to the real thing. 'It's exactly the same,' Harris said. 'We just want people to be safe. As long as they don't go on the desert floor and destroy the ecosystem, everyone will have a good time.' West, the motel owner, is planning an 'Alienstock' Thursday through Sunday in Rachel, a town of about 50 residents a more than two-hour drive north of Las Vegas on a normally lonely road dubbed the Extraterrestrial Highway. She plans 20 musical acts, plus food vendors and souvenir sellers. West said she refunded some camping reservations after Matty Roberts, who created the Facebook post, broke ties with her event. Roberts, 20, of Bakersfield, California, is supporting an 'Alienstock' festival scheduled for Thursday at an outdoor venue in downtown Las Vegas. Roberts' attorneys told West to stop using the 'Alienstock' name, but she refused, saying, 'I'll just worry about the legalities later.' The U.S. Air Force has issued stern warnings for people not to approach the gates of the Nevada Test and Training Range, where Area 51 is located. Area 51 tested aircraft ranging from the U-2 in the 1950s to the B-2 stealth bomber in the 1980s. The government spent decades refusing to acknowledge the site even existed, before releasing documents confirming it in 2013. Its secrecy still fuels speculation that it's where the government studies aliens. County lawmakers in Nye County, home to a conspicuously green establishment called the Area 51 Alien Center, are discouraging Earthlings from trying to find extraterrestrials there. 'We're taking precautions and checking the back roads,' Sheriff Sharon Wehrly said. Her deputies last week arrested two Dutch tourists attracted by 'Storm Area 51.' The men pleaded guilty to trespassing at a secure U.S. site nowhere near Area 51 and promised to pay thousands in fines. Arnu said the military added razor wire to barbed cattle fencing on the Area 51 boundary near his home, installed more cameras and battery-powered lighting, and erected an imposing spike barrier just inside a gate. He noted a new sign telling trespassers they'll be arrested and fined $1,000. Hundreds of law enforcement officers and medics will be on hand, along with the Nevada National Guard.
  • In eliminating California's authority to set its own emission standards for cars and trucks, the Trump administration would take away leverage the state needs to convince the world's largest automakers to make more environmentally friendly vehicles. But one California lawmaker is already working on a way to preserve at least some of the state's environmental muscle: rebates for electric cars. California residents who buy or lease a zero-emission vehicle can get up to $7,000 from the state. A bill by Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting would mean people could only get that money if they buy a car from a company that has agreed to follow California's emission standards. The proposal comes as the Trump administration on Wednesday announced it was revoking California's authority to set its own auto emission standards — authority it has had for decades under a waiver from the federal Clean Air Act. California has 35 million registered vehicles, giving it outsized influence with the auto industry. That heft was on display in July, when Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced four automakers — Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen — agreed to follow California's standards, bypassing the Trump administration, which had been working on new rules. California officials have been negotiating with other automakers to follow suit, but those talks stalled Wednesday when Trump announced, via Twitter, that he was revoking California's authority to set its own emission standards. But Ting's proposal, first reported by CalMatters, shows California has other ways it could entice automakers to follow its environmental lead. David Vogel, a professor emeritus of business ethics at the Haas School of Business of the University of California-Berkeley, noted California could accomplish its goals through various tax changes, which the federal government could not stop. 'Even if the Trump administration would win on this, California could use taxes to accomplish much of the same goals,' Vogel said. 'The federal government would have less of an ability to challenge, because states can pretty much tax who they want.' The California Legislature adjourned for the year last week. But before they left, they amended Assembly Bill 40 to include the new language so they could debate it when they return to work in January. State officials could use the tactic to aid negotiations with Toyota and General Motors, two manufacturers that make electric cars but have so far not agreed to California's emission standards. It's unclear how effective the law would be as California's Clean Vehicle Rebate Project has a waiting list. A Toyota spokesman declined to comment. Ting, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment. But he is scheduled to speak with reporters about the issue on Thursday. Asked about the proposal on Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would make an announcement by Friday, but he did not elaborate. In a tweet, Trump said his action to revoke California's authority to set its own emission standards would result in less expensive, safer cars. He also predicted Americans would purchase more new cars, which would result in cleaner air as older models are taken off the roads. 'Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business,' Trump tweeted. U.S. automakers contend that without year-over-year increases in fuel efficiency that align with global market realities their vehicles could be less competitive, potentially resulting in job losses. However, most of the industry favors increases in standards that are less than the Obama-era requirements, saying their consumers are gravitating to SUVs and trucks rather than buying more efficient cars. Top California officials and environmental groups pledged legal action on Wednesday to stop the rollback, potentially tying up the issue for years in federal courts. The U.S. transportation sector is the nation's biggest single source of greenhouse gasses. Trump's claim that his proposal would result in a cleaner environment is contrary to his own administration's estimate that by freezing economy standards, U.S. fuel consumption would increase by about 500,000 barrels per day, a 2% to 3% increase. Environmental groups predict even more fuel consumed, resulting in higher pollution. The administration argues that lower-cost vehicles would allow more people to buy new ones that are safer, cutting roadway deaths by 12,700 lives through the 2029 model year. But The Associated Press reported last year that internal EPA emails show senior career officials privately questioned the administration's calculations, saying the proposed freeze would actually modestly increase highway fatalities, by about 17 deaths annually.
  • President Donald Trump's nominee to run the Labor Department faces a Senate confirmation hearing, even as Democrats argue that they haven't had enough time to scour his record of legal work for corporate interests. Although Trump tweeted in mid-July that Eugene Scalia was his pick , the committee didn't officially receive the nomination until Sept. 11, the week before Thursday's hearing. The Republican GOP-led Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee panel has set a vote on the nomination early next week. A Democratic aide who wasn't authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity said Democratic lawmakers see the compressed timeframe as not allowing senators to properly investigate Scalia's history as an attorney for dozens of clients. But a Republican aide, who also requested anonymity for the same reason, said all of Scalia's required paperwork, which would include his financial disclosure and ethics agreements, has been available for committee members to review since late August. Trump's nomination of Scalia is opposed by the AFL-CIO, which has described him as a union-busting lawyer who has eroded labor rights and consumer protections. But business groups are squarely behind Scalia, viewing him as a reliable opponent of regulatory overreach and red tape. If Scalia is confirmed by the Senate, he'll be the seventh former lobbyist to hold a Cabinet-level post in the Trump administration. Scalia, 56, served for a year as the Labor Department's top lawyer, its solicitor, during the George W. Bush administration. But most of his career has been spent as a partner in the Washington office of the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher firm, where he has run up a string of victories in court cases on behalf of business interests challenging labor and financial regulations. On his financial disclosure form filed with the Office of Government Ethics, Scalia listed 49 clients who paid him $5,000 or more for legal services, including e-cigarette giant Juul Labs, Facebook, Ford, Walmart and Bank of America. Disclosure records show Scalia was registered in 2010 and 2011 to lobby for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Scalia is likely to be questioned about changes the Labor Department is making to an Obama-era rule on overtime pay. The Obama regulations were scheduled to take effect in 2016 but were put on hold by a federal lawsuit. A revised proposal issued in March raised the annual pay threshold at which workers would be exempt from overtime to $35,308 from the current $23,660, expanding overtime pay to roughly 1 million workers. The Obama plan set the threshold at more than $47,000 and would have affected an estimated 4.2 million people. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, expressed concern Wednesday over Scalia's record on protecting government whistleblowers . Grassley said on a call with reporters that while serving as Labor's top lawyer Scalia argued not all disclosures made to Congress are protected under federal whistleblower laws and that the separation of powers doctrine prevents whistleblowers from disclosing certain information to Congress. Trump's previous labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, resigned in July. He'd come under renewed criticism for his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead last month in his cell at a federal jail in Manhattan after a July arrest on sex trafficking charges. Deputy Labor Secretary Pat Pizzella has been serving as acting secretary until Scalia is confirmed.
  • A Delta flight full of passengers from Atlanta plunged nearly 30,000 feet. >> Read more trending news  Passengers described panic as they grabbed for oxygen masks onboard a Delta flight, WSB-TV reported. Pictures show the masks hanging from the ceiling during a fast descent. Flight Aware shows how Flight 2353 to Fort Lauderdale diverted to Tampa instead. According to the website, the plane descended from 39,000 feet to 10,000 feet in fewer than seven minutes. 'Air masks, the oxygen masks dropped from the top of the plane. Chaos sort of ensued amongst the passengers,' passenger Harris Dewoskin said. Dewoskin snapped pictures during what he described as a panic onboard. 'One of the flight attendants, I believe, grabbed the intercom and was just repeatedly over the intercom stating, ‘Do not panic. Do not panic,’ but obviously it’s a hectic moment, so the passengers around me, a lot of people were kind of hyperventilating, breathing really hard,” Dewoskin said. Another passenger said he was so scared by what was happening, he told his family he loved them and hugged his son. 'Life is fragile, like, there was a scary 60 to 90 seconds where we really didn’t know what was going on. At 15,000 feet in the air, it's a scary moment for sure,” Dewoskin said. The plane was sitting Wednesday night at Tampa International Airport, where mechanics were working to figure out what went wrong. Some passengers booked other flights with other airlines to get to Fort Lauderdale. Officials with Delta Air Lines apologized to everyone on the plane and said the plane diverted to Tampa 'out of an abundance of caution.
  • Prosecutors will detail Thursday accusations of child rape and human trafficking against the leader of Mexican megachurch La Luz del Mundo. Naason Joaquin Garcia, who is considered the church's apostle, and two co-defendants were arrested in June on suspicion of sexually abusing three girls and a woman in Los Angeles County. All three have pleaded not guilty in Los Angeles Superior Court, and a fourth defendant remains at large. Garcia is being held without bail after a historically high $50 million bail was set earlier in the case. His attorneys have raised concerns about potential evidence manipulation, as well as a theory of conspiracy, saying that a complaining witness has tried to frame their client. The victims were allegedly told they would be going against God if they didn't acquiesce to Garcia and his sexual demands. Garcia heads up the international evangelical megachurch, which boasts 5 million followers — dozens of whom have attended his court proceedings. Prosecutors have sought to keep Garcia behind bars as he awaits trial, saying he poses a threat to 'hundreds of girls' if he gets released. Prosecutors have also said they were concerned Garcia's followers could raise money for his bail, even when it was $50 million. While the attorney general's office says there could be additional victims and charges, only three counts of child pornography have been added since Garcia's arrest. In June, Judge Teresa Sullivan said prosecutors must offer more evidence of the allegations. It was unclear if Sullivan would oversee Thursday's hearing, in which the judge will decide if there is enough evidence to go to trial. Investigators said in July they were still going through thousands of photos and videos. They said some they had already reviewed allegedly contained sexual images of persons believed to be minors, as well as sexual assaults in video footage. The attorney general's office declined to provide additional information Wednesday ahead of the hearing. Allen Sawyer, one of Garcia's lawyers, says prosecutors have not disclosed their discovery. They have promised to turn over evidence, he said, 'and it hasn't materialized.' He said that failure could lead to a judge setting bail for his client. Sawyer said his independent investigation has taken him to Mexico.
  • Prosecutors will have a recording of a 20-year-old's call to an emergency dispatcher and his online posts when they try to convince a judge that he should be put on trial for opening fire in a synagogue on the last day of Passover, killing one woman and injuring three people, including the rabbi and an 8-year-old girl. A preliminary hearing for John T. Earnest begins Thursday in state court and is expected to last up to two days. Earnest has pleaded not guilty to murder, attempted murder and arson tied to a mosque fire. The murder charge, classified as a hate crime, would make him eligible for the death penalty if convicted, but prosecutors have not said what punishment they will seek. The San Diego college student called 911 as he sped away from Chabad of Poway on April 27, saying, 'I just shot up a synagogue,' according to an affidavit filed in a separate case against him in federal court. He told the dispatcher that he thought he killed some people and that he did it 'because Jewish people are destroying the white race.' Earnest told the dispatcher where he was, that he would surrender to authorities and leave his semi-automatic rifle in the car. Police arrested him without a struggle. The nursing student and gifted pianist had tried weeks earlier to burn down a nearby mosque in Escondido, where seven people on a spiritual retreat were sleeping, according to the affidavit. They awoke to flames licking at the door and managed to extinguish the fire, which charred a wall. Outside the mosque, the suspect had scrawled the name of the man accused of carrying out shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that killed 51 people. In online postings, Earnest said he was inspired by the New Zealand attack and the one last fall on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and boasted about how 'easy' it is to burn down or shoot up a mosque, synagogue, immigration center, or 'traitorous' politicians, according to court documents. Authorities said Earnest frequented dark corners of the web that often post extremist, racist and violent views. In one posting, he said, 'As an individual, I can only kill so many Jews.' Details in search warrants that were unsealed in July give the clearest indication yet that Earnest was inspired by the New Zealand attacks. On March 19, four days after that massacre, Earnest sent a text message to a person, whose name was redacted from the documents, complaining none of the links to the livestream video of the massacre were working and saying of the suspect's online screeds, 'I've only read a little but so far he's spot on with everything.' Earnest soon opened an Amazon account and used the online retailer to make purchases for his attack on the synagogue, according to court documents. He bought an ammunition holder worn across the chest, a military-style duffel bag, a 'GoPro' camera, a tactical helmet and other items. The day before the shooting, he bought a Smith & Wesson AR-15 rifle from a San Diego gun shop, according to federal charges. Officials have said he bought the gun legally under federal law. Earnest walked into the synagogue shortly before 11:30 a.m. and shot several rounds before appearing to struggle to reload the gun, officials said. An off-duty Border Patrol agent grabbed the handgun of a parishioner and fired at least four rounds as Earnest ran out the door.
  • Bernie Sanders is still leading a revolution. But his ideas no longer feel quite so revolutionary. The Vermont senator acknowledges that many of his top proposals, which were dismissed as radical four years ago, have been adopted by much of the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential primary field: 'Medicare for All,' tuition-free college, spending trillions to combat climate change and a national $15 per hour minimum wage. But he's out to prove that his second presidential campaign is still about fresh energy and ideas even if its refrains now sound familiar. 'Not only can I lead it, I think I am the person to lead it,' Sanders said in an interview at a plumbers and pipefitters union hall in Las Vegas, when asked if he could helm a revolution when so many of his presidential rivals agree with him. 'What we need to do is to look at somebody who four years ago had the courage to break new ground in this country,' he added. 'We're continuing to break new ground today.' But there are signs that may not be enough. The campaign is restructuring its staff in key early voting states as the 78-year-old Sanders faces crosscurrents that weren't in play four years ago. No longer the sole progressive alternative to an overwhelming favorite in Hillary Clinton, Sanders is one of several candidates making explicit appeals to the party's left wing. This time, his rivals have taken him seriously from the start, a sign of his name recognition but also a status that subjects Sanders to more scrutiny and criticism than at this stage of the 2016 campaign. And some of Sanders' younger competitors are calling for generational change — an issue that could resonate because of questions raised about the readiness for the presidency of another senior candidate, 76-year-old former Vice President Joe Biden. Not all Democrats have embraced Sanders' core principles. Kamala Harris is a co-sponsor of his Medicare for All legislation, but the California senator now says she doesn't favor its call to scrap all private health insurance. Biden, the primary's early front-runner, has repeatedly hammered Sanders over the plan's costs. Few candidates line up more closely with Sanders than Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. While they don't agree on everything, Warren is such a fan of Medicare for All that she's repeatedly declared, 'I'm with Bernie,' when it comes to health care. Because they agree on so much, Warren is becoming a growing threat to Sanders. She packed tens of thousands of supporters into New York's Washington Square Park on Monday, harkening back to Sanders' success in attracting massive 2016 crowds. On the same day, she picked up an endorsement from the progressive Working Families Party, which backed Sanders' first campaign. A national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday found Warren leading Sanders among Democratic primary voters 25% to 14%. Biden still came out on top at 31%. Sanders is in second behind Biden in other national and early state surveys. Sanders is working to fortify his campaign, recently parting ways with his political director in Iowa, which holds the nation's first caucus, and replacing his state director in New Hampshire, a state critical to Sanders' efforts given his landslide primary victory there in 2016. 'They have some challenges,' Brian Fallon, who was chief spokesman for Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, said of Sanders' team. 'In a binary race, there were a lot of people who united around an alternative to Clinton. There continue to be true blue Bernie supporters and that probably gives him the most stubborn floor of support of any candidate, but those numbers are smaller. The non-establishment vote is spread around.' Sanders rejected the notion that the primary may eventually force liberal Democrats to choose between him and Warren, saying, 'I think that Sen. Warren, who is a friend of mine, is running her campaign. We are running our campaign.' Warren has similarly praised her longtime friendship with Sanders rather than answer questions about whether a showdown is coming. Still, there are questions about how long the holding pattern can last. On Sunday, Sanders will travel to Oklahoma, where he'll attend a Comanche Nation Fair Powwow. While he's not expected to directly talk about Warren, the trip will take Sanders to her native state a month after she apologized to Native Americans over her past claim to tribal heritage. Sanders has also gotten more aggressive with Biden lately, ticking through a list of the former vice president's unpopular votes while he was in the Senate — including supporting the Wall Street bank bailout. With just over four months before primary voting begins, Sanders said he doesn't believe anyone in so crowded a field will carry states with 50% of the vote. 'So the question is, who is going to get the 30, 35, 40% of the vote that you need to carry the states?' he said. 'I think that because of our strong grassroots movement we are in a strong position to do that.' Sanders' advisers, meanwhile, argue that his appeal now goes beyond political insurgency, noting that he campaigned hard for Clinton after the 2016 primary and that he has begun working more closely with state parties this cycle, trying to build support through traditional channels. Fallon also noted that Sanders has been ahead of many of his rivals on things like joining striking McDonald's workers in Iowa — giving him revolutionary political cred that rises above policy overlap with other candidates. 'With the Bernie crowd, that's the space to say, 'Don't settle for imitators,'' Fallon said. A lot of Sanders' central message remains the same, though, and still appeals to voters. 'I think I've heard a lot of what he's said already,' said Alejandro Hernandez Jr., a 23-year-old federal employee who saw Sanders at a recent Latino issues forum in Las Vegas. 'But just to see his actual energy and presence, the way he commands the room and really the elegance with which he speaks, it's truly impressive.
  • Lady Liberty, constructed in this case of paper-mâché, stands about 7-feet-tall or so in the corner of the office of Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. It overlooks Massachusetts Avenue from floor-to-ceiling windows. It wasn't a gift. It was meant to shame him. Protesters left it outside the agency's headquarters last month after Cuccinelli reinterpreted the inscription at the Statue of Liberty's base to align it with policy changes aimed at restricting legal immigration. Cuccinelli brought it upstairs, took a selfie, and tweeted it. 'It's our newest office decoration!' he wrote. Like his boss, Cuccinelli has a knack for Twitter trolling. He's also experienced at talking-head television — another skill that pays dividends with President Donald Trump. And he's now emerging as the public face of the president's hard-line immigration policies. 'The most important thing is that communication was part of the charge I got from the president,' he said in an interview with The Associated Press. 'So, we just charge ahead. It's probably the top policy of interest to the American people and it's not going to change any time soon,' he said. The Department of Homeland Security under Trump is making massive changes to U.S. immigration policy. It is denying asylum claims by rendering ineligible anyone who came to the U.S.-Mexico border through a third country, tightening immigration benefits, and moving toward a merit-based system. The changes are thrilling Trump's base and enraging opponents who say the U.S. is abandoning its humanitarian mission. Cuccinelli took over USCIS, a part of Homeland Security, a few months ago, following a White House-orchestrated staff shake up at the department that also felled then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. He replaced L. Francis Cissna, who changed the motto of USCIS to delete 'nation of immigrants.' The agency manages green cards, benefits, naturalization, visas and asylum. But the various Homeland Security immigration agencies tend to blend these days with the ever-changing leaders promoting Trump's overall immigration agenda. They all appeared together this week in Laredo, Texas, to tour tent courts where hundreds of migrants forced to wait in Mexico pleaded their asylum cases. Cuccinelli took the lead in talking to media. He frequently comments on Twitter and TV about immigration subjects outside his agency. U.S. Customs and Border Protection acting head Mark Morgan, another frequent TV commenter, joked that no one knows the difference among them. 'Which is a major problem in one sense, but it also gives us the opportunity to just address the issue and not have to create these buckets,' he said. But Cuccinelli's impact has been felt at his agency. There are reports of staff reassignments, asylum officers in tears over policy changes, and friction over increasing restrictions. Michael Knowles, an asylum officer and spokesman for the union, AFGE National CIS Council 119, said morale among asylum officers is very low. He said Cuccinelli has scolded them for approving too many initial screenings. 'And it seemed like every administration — whether left, right or center — has supported our country's asylum and refugee programs, because giving safe haven to the oppressed was always seen as the patriotic, American thing to do,' he said. 'Until now.' Despite the criticism, nearly 34,000 new U.S. citizens will be naturalized this week in more than 300 special ceremonies in celebration of Constitution Week. During 2018's budget year, the agency naturalized than 756,000 people, a five-year high in new oaths of citizenship. Cuccinelli is proud of those figures. He talked in-depth about the challenges with asylum case backlogs. He says he does not view USCIS as an immigrant benefits agency, but rather a vetting agency. 'That doesn't mean we don't offer benefits, but it does mean that our first obligation is to uphold the standards, including security standards,' he said. The 51-year-old was born in Edison, New Jersey, a descendant of Italian immigrants who came through Ellis Island. He has said his relatives were required to speak English well enough to work and prove they would not be a burden to the system. He also has said it's not possible to compare immigrants coming today with those years ago, in part because there was no 'welfare state' then. Cuccinelli has long held views on immigration that he says align closely with Trump's. And, so far, he has the president's enthusiastic support. 'He's fantastic,' Trump told the morning show 'Fox & Friends.' ''He's tough as you get and smart and he's doing much of the legal work.' Cuccinelli's name had been tossed around for months for an immigration-related position, but there were always concerns about his ability to be confirmed. A former Virginia attorney general, he ran for governor in 2013 but lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe. He has in the past advocated for denying citizenship to American-born children of parents living in the U.S. illegally. 'Mr. Cuccinelli is an anti-immigrant fringe figure. Besides being a right-wing commentator, Cuccinelli is completely unqualified ... and likely wants to decimate the agency,' said the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. But it wasn't just immigration views that generated unease among senators . As the former head of the Senate Conservatives Fund, Cuccinelli was highly critical of Senate GOP leadership, once advocating for the removal of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his entire leadership team. Serving in an acting capacity does not require Senate confirmation. Acting directors have become common at Homeland Security, a sprawling, 240,000-person department that also handles election security and natural disasters. 'Of course, it would always be better,' Cuccinelli said of Senate confirmation. 'But the most important thing is getting the job done.' For Cuccinelli, that meant getting regulation changes finalized that could deny green cards to immigrants who use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance. Critics have argued that many immigrants won't seek the benefits they need because they fear the consequences. It was that change that prompted the arrival of the paper-mâché Statue of Liberty. In a television interview, Cuccinelli had been pressed about whether the new rules contradicted the inscription at the base of the statue, written by poet Emma Lazarus , welcoming 'huddled masses' of immigrants to American shores. He said Lazarus was referring to 'people coming from Europe' and that the nation is looking to receive migrants 'who can stand on their own two feet.' (Her biographer said the poem embraces immigrants from 'all places.') The statue appeared after that, with a sign that read 'Immigrants Welcome.' But, Cuccinelli noted, it was missing the inscription at the base.
  • A gambler is charged with cheating a Washington casino out of more than $38,000 after his alleged sleight of hand was caught on camera. >> Read more trending news  Surveillance video released by the Washington State Gambling Commission shows one of the 38 times investigators say 51-year-old Fredrick Steven Nolan cheated the Crazy Moose Casino in Mountlake Terrace, KIRO-TV reported. 'Our suspect visited the casino almost daily for a six-week period. He was careful, though. We reviewed, and it looks like he never went to the same dealer more than about twice in a night,' said Heather Songer, of the Washington State Gambling Commission. On a night in January, investigators say Nolan played three spots of High Card Flush. After distracting the dealer by requesting an exchange of chips, through sleight of hand, investigators say he moved a card from one spot to another, folded two of the spots and produced a straight flush. Investigators say that single cheating act cost the house at least $3,280. All told, prosecutors say Nolan cheated the Crazy Moose out of $38,335. 'Casinos are a big target,' Songer said. 'There's a lot of money flowing through and there's a big temptation. Unfortunately, we do see frequent situations where people switch cards or utilize other cheating schemes, but they're almost always caught.' Nolan is charged in Snohomish County with a felony and a gross misdemeanor. Prosecutors in King County, Washington, are now reviewing evidence about incidents there.
  • After the Federal Reserve announced on Wednesday that it was cutting interest rates for the second time in two months, President Donald Trump skewered the Fed for not being aggressive enough to help the economy, while the Fed chair said too much economic uncertainty was being created by President Trump's various trade fights. 'This is a time of difficult judgments,' Fed chair Jerome Powell told reporters at a Washington news conference, as he indicated that trade gyrations involving the US, China, and other nations, is not helping with domestic economic growth. 'We do feel that trade uncertainty is having an effect,' Powell told reporters. 'We see it in weak business investment, weak exports.' 'Trade policy is not the business of the Fed,' Powell said. 'It's the business of the Congress and of the Administration.' While the President has said further rate cuts would spur even more growth, the Fed continues to forecast that overall economic growth will be just over two percent this year, down from 2018. Democrats in Congress pointed the finger of blame straight at President Trump for creating economic uncertainty, especially for farmers. “Our family farmers need stability right now - not more uncertainty,” said Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN).  “I don’t agree with the reckless trade war we’ve created without a coherent strategy.” Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, lawmakers were at odds over how to deal with President Trump's second bailout for farmers, who have been hit hard by retaliatory tariffs from China and other nations. In a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), raised questions as to where the money was going to come from for the $28 billion in farm bailout payments announced by the President over the last two years. 'For context, that amount is larger than the entire discretionary budget Congress appropriates to USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) each fiscal year,' DeLauro wrote. While Democrats had initially threatened to block approval of that extra money, now party leaders were demanding to know where that bailout money was going. 'That lack of transparency regarding a $28 billion federal program is outrageous,' DeLauro wrote. 'Maybe an accounting of who is getting the money up to this point would be a start,' said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), as Democrats said the GOP was resisting efforts for a public accounting of the farm bailout billions.
  • If you're a fan of the ever-growing food truck scene in Tulsa, there's a good chance you've already seen, and even ordered some chicken and waffles, from the Waffle That food truck. The truck has grown a large and loyal following and often has long lines of people at its usual locations at Guthrie Green and on MLK Boulevard between Pine and Apache. In fact, after just one year or so in operation,  business at the food truck has been so good that owner Roy Tillis is going to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant at the spot on MLK Boulevard. He says it's a simple case of giving the customers what they want. “People always want to try to find us every day, and it's hard with a food truck, getting it open every day,” Tillis says. The restaurant will be housed in a fully renovated building and is set to open next month, but Tillis says the food truck will also still be going out at least three times a week.
  • Since June of 2017 when medical cannabis was on the ballot, voter turnout in Tulsa County has set several records, and by all accounts, that momentum will continue throughout the 2020 presidential election. Tulsa County Election Board Secretary Gwen Freeman tells KRMG “we need a lot of precinct workers, and we need them now.” [Hear the KRMG In-Depth report on the need for poll workers HERE, or use the audio player below] “The folks at the election board who've worked there forever and ever, they all say the same thing,” Freeman said Wednesday. “We think it's going to be unprecedented in terms of turnout (in 2020). If you'll remember, back in November and June of last year during midterms, we had unprecedented numbers that showed up for midterms. Unprecedented numbers of people that actually registered to vote, that sort of thing. We don't see any of that slowing down any time soon.” So, the goal is to get about 500 more precinct workers trained and ready to go, before the busy 2020 election cycle begins. Stephanie Johnson has done the job for years, and now trains others as well. She began at the age of 22 when her mother, a precinct official for some 40 years herself, recruited her during a busy presidential election. “It was a huge and overwhelming experience for a 22-year-old,” Johnson told KRMG, “but the love of it just brought me back, and that's why I'm still here today.” Freeman says the average age of a precinct worker is 75, so naturally they experience fairly high turnover. But many return again and again, much like Johnson. The requirements include residency in Tulsa County, good vision and hearing, a working cell phone, and reliable transportation. Currently, precinct workers get a $25 stipend for taking the eight-hour course to learn the ropes, then between $87 and $97 for their work on election days. That amount will go up next year to between $100 and $110, depending on the position. Precinct officials are also compensated for mileage if they drive over 20 miles (round trip). Classes take place at the Tulsa County Election Board. They run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and are currently scheduled for: Saturday, Sept. 21st Monday, Sept. 23rd Wednesday, Sept. 25th Tuesday, Oct. 1st Wednesday, Oct. 2nd Saturday, Oct. 5th For more information, or to enroll in a class, call 918-596-5762. You can also get more information online on the Tulsa County Election Board website.
  • A bicyclist in Broken Arrow died Wednesday morning on a busy street. It happened a little after 9:30 on New Orleans St.  Police say 74 year-old John Mathes was crossing New Orleans St. from Aster Ave and entered the intersection in front of an east-bound pickup truck.   Officers don’t believe alcohol was involved in the accident.  Part of New Orleans was closed between Garnett and Olive.  Investigators are still looking for exactly what led to the crash.
  • The number and rate of abortions across the United States have plunged to their lowest levels since the procedure became legal nationwide in 1973, according to new figures released Wednesday. The report from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, counted 862,000 abortions in the U.S. in 2017. That’s down from 926,000 tallied in the group’s previous report for 2014, and from just over 1 million counted for 2011. Guttmacher is the only entity that strives to count all abortions in the U.S., making inquiries of individual providers. Federal data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention excludes California, Maryland and New Hampshire. The new report illustrates that abortions are decreasing in all parts of the country, whether in Republican-controlled states seeking to restrict abortion access or in Democratic-run states protecting abortion rights. Between 2011 and 2017, abortion rates increased in only five states and the District of Columbia. One reason for the decline in abortions is that fewer women are becoming pregnant. The Guttmacher Institute noted that the birth rate, as well as the abortion rate, declined during the years covered by the new report. A likely factor, the report said, is increased accessibility of contraception since 2011, as the Affordable Care Act required most private health insurance plans to cover contraceptives without out-of-pocket costs.

Washington Insider

  • After the Federal Reserve announced on Wednesday that it was cutting interest rates for the second time in two months, President Donald Trump skewered the Fed for not being aggressive enough to help the economy, while the Fed chair said too much economic uncertainty was being created by President Trump's various trade fights. 'This is a time of difficult judgments,' Fed chair Jerome Powell told reporters at a Washington news conference, as he indicated that trade gyrations involving the US, China, and other nations, is not helping with domestic economic growth. 'We do feel that trade uncertainty is having an effect,' Powell told reporters. 'We see it in weak business investment, weak exports.' 'Trade policy is not the business of the Fed,' Powell said. 'It's the business of the Congress and of the Administration.' While the President has said further rate cuts would spur even more growth, the Fed continues to forecast that overall economic growth will be just over two percent this year, down from 2018. Democrats in Congress pointed the finger of blame straight at President Trump for creating economic uncertainty, especially for farmers. “Our family farmers need stability right now - not more uncertainty,” said Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN).  “I don’t agree with the reckless trade war we’ve created without a coherent strategy.” Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, lawmakers were at odds over how to deal with President Trump's second bailout for farmers, who have been hit hard by retaliatory tariffs from China and other nations. In a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), raised questions as to where the money was going to come from for the $28 billion in farm bailout payments announced by the President over the last two years. 'For context, that amount is larger than the entire discretionary budget Congress appropriates to USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) each fiscal year,' DeLauro wrote. While Democrats had initially threatened to block approval of that extra money, now party leaders were demanding to know where that bailout money was going. 'That lack of transparency regarding a $28 billion federal program is outrageous,' DeLauro wrote. 'Maybe an accounting of who is getting the money up to this point would be a start,' said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), as Democrats said the GOP was resisting efforts for a public accounting of the farm bailout billions.
  • In the face of strong opposition from California elected officials and parts of the auto industry, President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced that his administration will revoke a special waiver which has allowed California to set stricter auto emission and fuel mileage standards than the federal government. 'The Trump Administration is revoking California’s Federal Waiver on emissions in order to produce far less expensive cars for the consumer, while at the same time making the cars substantially SAFER,' President Trump announced in a series of tweets from California. The announcement drew immediate condemnation from California officials and Democrats in the Congress. 'The President is completely wrong,' said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA). California officials expressed outrage at the President's plans, arguing the main impact would be to create more pollution in the Golden State. 'You have no basis and no authority to pull this waiver,' California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said. 'We’re ready to fight for a future that you seem unable to comprehend; we’ll see you in court if you stand in our way,' Becerra added. The authority for California comes from the federal Clean Air Act, which allowed the feds to grant waivers to states that wanted to set tougher emission standards than the federal government. The announcement opens a second legal fight with the Golden State over auto emission standards, as last week the Trump Administration said it would investigate agreements made between California and major automakers about those standards. 'This investigation appears to be nothing more than a politically motivated act of intimidation,' Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote in a letter to the U.S. Attorney General.
  • A week after ousting top aide John Bolton, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday on Twitter that he was naming Robert O'Brien to replace Bolton, choosing the State Department's top hostage negotiator to fill that important White House post. 'I have worked long and hard with Robert,' the President tweeted from California, where he is currently on a western campaign swing. 'Robert O'Brien is a great choice to be National Security Advisor,' said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), who labeled the choice an 'exceptional pick.'  'He is a high energy, low ego individual who will do fantastic in this role,' the Congressman added. O'Brien's most recent high profile diplomatic effort was in Sweden, where he headlined U.S. efforts to free rapper A$AP. O'Brien's official title at the State Department was, 'Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.' O'Brien will be the fourth National Security Adviser for President Trump, going through former Defense Intelligence Agency chief Michael Flynn, Army General H.R. McMaster, and then Bolton. Last week, Mr. Trump said Bolton had disagreed with him on a number of major foreign policy issues.
  • In a spirited hearing full of sharp exchanges and pointed verbal barbs, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski confirmed to a U.S. House committee that President Donald Trump had used a White House meeting in 2017 to ask Lewandowski to tell then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. 'I didn't think the President asked me to do anything illegal,' Lewandowski told the House Judiciary Committee. In the first testimony to Congress by a fact witness involved in the Russia investigation, Lewandowski acknowledged that despite President Trump's request - made at least twice in the summer of 2017 - the Trump adviser admitted that he never followed through on the President's request to pressure Sessions about the Russia probe. Democrats mocked Lewandowski for not having the guts to take the President's message directly to the Attorney General. 'You chickened out,' said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA). 'I went on vacation,' Lewandowski replied, drawing loud laughter from Democrats on the committee. In his multiple hours of testimony, Lewandowski repeatedly refused to delve into details of his conversations with the President, even those which were a part of the Mueller Report, which Lewandowski proudly said he had not read. 'If it's in the report, I consider it to be accurate,' Lewandowski said multiple times. While Republicans denounced the hearing as a 'joke' and more, Democrats zeroed in on Lewandowski in round after round of questioning, accusing him of obstructing justice by not answering certain questions about his talks with the President during the campaign. 'I wasn't asked to do anything illegal,' as Lewandowski said he took notes in a June 2017 meeting on what Mr. Trump wanted to be said to Attorney General Sessions, and then placed the notes in a safe at his home. 'It's a big safe Congressman,' Lewandowski said in a bitter exchange with Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), whom he called “President” at one point - apparently referring to Swalwell's failed White House run.  'There's lots of guns in it,” Lewandowski added about his safe. Asked multiple times if he had turned over his notes to the Special Counsel investigation, Lewandowski would only say that he had complied with all requests from the Mueller probe. Lewandowski also did not directly respond to the basic question of whether he lied to the Special Counsel, or whether he had ever discussed a pardon with the President. 'Not to the best of my recollection,' Lewandowski said multiple times. Democrats also ridiculed Lewandowski's refusal to answer certain questions related to the President, by claiming that there was an issue involving executive privilege. The hearing was notable on one point, in that it was the first time Democrats had been able to question someone who was an actual fact witness interviewed as part of the Mueller Investigation. Two other former White House aides - Rob Porter and Rick Dearborn - were blocked from testifying by the Trump White House. Democrats still want testimony not only from those two former aides, but also former White House Counsel Doug McGahn and others. Maybe the most effective questioning of Lewandowski came at the end of the hearing, when Democrats allowed their outside Judiciary Committee counsel Barry Berke to ask Lewandowski questions for a full 30 minutes. Berke repeatedly took Lewandowski through statements he made in television interviews and to the committee, making it clear that the Trump adviser had not necessarily told the truth. “I have no obligation to be honest with the media,” Lewandowski said at one point, as he tried to bait Berke into a verbal sparring match, dropping in references to where Berke went to college and law school. Here's the entire 30 minutes of their exchanges.
  • Cokie Roberts, who covered Congress and national politics for many years at ABC News and National Public Radio, died Tuesday at age 75, ABC News announced, saying her death was due to complications from breast cancer. 'A mentor, a friend, a legend,' tweeted ABC News correspondent Cecilia Vega. 'Horrible, sad news,' said ABC White House correspondent Karen Travers, as tributes poured in about Roberts. While many knew that Cokie was married to veteran political reporter Steve Roberts, her experience in politics came directly from her family - as both of her parents were members of the U.S. House. Her father, Hale Boggs, might have been Speaker of the House, but a plane he was traveling on in Alaska - disappeared 47 years ago next month - and was never found. Also aboard was Rep. Nick Begich of Alaska; his son, Mark Begich, would later serve in the U.S. Senate. When the plane carrying Begich and Boggs disappeared on October 16, 1972, Boggs was House Majority Leader at the time; after his plane was never found, Democrats in the House elected Rep. Tip O'Neill (D-MA) to be the new Majority Leader. O'Neill would later succeed Rep. Carl Albert (D-OK) as House Speaker. Boggs was succeeded in his House seat by his wife, Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-LA), the first woman ever elected to Congress in Louisiana. Lindy Boggs retired after the 1990 elections.