Day: February 3, 2019

AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EST

Gov. Northam says he wasn’t in racist photo, won’t resign

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Resisting widespread calls for his resignation, Virginia’s embattled governor on Saturday pledged to remain in office after disavowing a blatantly racist photograph that appeared under his name in his 1984 medical school yearbook.

In a tumultuous 24 hours, Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday apologized for appearing in a photograph that featured what appeared to be a man in blackface and a second person cloaked in Ku Klux Klan garb. In a video posted on Twitter, he said he could not “undo the harm my behaviour caused then and today.”

But by Saturday, he reversed course and said the racist photo on his yearbook profile page did not feature him after all. The governor said he had not seen the photo before Friday, since he had not purchased the commemorative book or been involved in its preparation more than three decades ago.

“It has taken time for me to make sure that it’s not me, but I am convinced, I am convinced that I am not in that picture,” he told reporters gathered at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, calling the shot offensive and horrific.

While talking with reporters, Northam admitted that he had previously worn blackface around that time, saying he once had used shoe polish to darken his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume he fashioned for a 1984 dance contest in San Antonio, Texas, when he was in the U.S. Army. Northam said he regrets that he didn’t understand “the harmful legacy of an action like that.”

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US sees limitations on reuniting migrant families

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Trump administration says it would require extraordinary effort to reunite what may be thousands of migrant children who have been separated from their parents and, even if it could, the children would likely be emotionally harmed.

Jonathan White, who leads the Health and Human Services Department’s efforts to reunite migrant children with their parents, said removing children from “sponsor” homes to rejoin their parents “would present grave child welfare concerns.” He said the government should focus on reuniting children currently in its custody, not those who have already been released to sponsors.

“It would destabilize the permanency of their existing home environment, and could be traumatic to the children,” White said in a court filing late Friday, citing his years of experience working with unaccompanied migrant children and background as a social worker.

The administration outlined its position in a court-ordered response to a government watchdog report last month that found many more migrant children may have been split from their families than previously reported. The government didn’t adequately track separated children before a federal judge in San Diego ruled in June that children in its custody be reunited with their parents.

It is unknown how many families were split under a longstanding policy that allows separation under certain circumstances, such as serious criminal charges against a parent, concerns over the health and welfare of a child or medical concerns.

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Venezuela’s Guaido urges military defections amid protests

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s opposition leader called on more members of the military to abandon the country’s socialist government following Saturday’s defection of a high-ranking general, while President Nicolas Maduro proposed holding early National Assembly elections that could potentially oust his challenger.

Maduro’s call for early legislative voting is likely to intensify his standoff with rival Juan Guaido, who heads the opposition-controlled National Assembly and is demanding a new presidential election. Guaido declared himself Venezuela’s legitimate ruler on Jan. 23, and has the support of Washington and most South American nations.

Speaking from behind a podium decorated with Venezuela’s presidential seal, Guaido told supporters he would keep his opposition movement in the streets until Maduro stopped “usurping” the presidency and agreed to a presidential election overseen by international observers. On Saturday, tens of thousands of Venezuelans joined opposition protests against Maduro in Caracas and other cities.

Guaido called on “blocks” of the military to defect from Maduro’s administration and “get on the side of the Venezuelan people.”

“We don’t just want you to stop shooting at protesters,” Guaido said in a hoarse voice. “We want you to be part of the reconstruction of Venezuela.”

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Set against a shaky global picture, US economy looks sturdy

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy, well into its 10th year of growth, still has a spring in its step. And it’s all the more visible when set against a tiring global picture.

A robust January jobs report on Friday showed that America’s companies are, for now, brushing off an array of economic perils and still hiring at a brisk pace. The risks that for months had induced hand-wringing among economists about a possible looming recession appear to have had little effect on employers.

Overseas growth is stumbling, led by weakness in China, the world’s second-largest economy. Europe is hamstrung by a recession in Italy and the potential for an unruly Brexit. A trade war between the U.S. and China and higher U.S. mortgage rates, partly engineered by the Federal Reserve, remain threats.

No matter. Employers added 304,000 jobs in January — the healthiest burst of hiring in nearly a year. The unemployment rate ticked up a notch to a still-low 4 per cent. But that was mostly because thousands of furloughed federal workers were considered temporarily unemployed because of the partial government shutdown. That quirk should reverse itself this month.

The solid jobs report and a separate survey that showed Friday that U.S. factory growth picked up last month “stood in stark contrast with evidence of slower economic momentum in China and Europe,” said Lydia Boussour, senior U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

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Powerful storm hits Southern California, flooding highways

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The second in a string of powerful storms battered California on Saturday, shutting key highways after water and mud rushed into lanes from bare hillsides in wildfire burn areas where thousands of residents were under evacuation orders.

Flash flood warnings were issued for huge swaths of Southern California and forecasters said the system brought more than 4 inches (10 centimetres) of rain at lower elevations and several feet of snow in the mountains, where whiteout conditions closed roads.

A wind gust in Santa Barbara County topped 80 mph (128 kph) as the storm moved south and at one point dropped more than a half-inch (1.27 centimetres) of rain in five minutes. Trees and power lines were down across the region.

In Malibu, where the Woolsey fire last year destroyed homes and burned hillsides bare, officials closed Pacific Coast Highway and many other roadways after mud carried trees and rocks into lanes. Residents whose homes survived the flames barricaded their properties with sandbags to protect their properties from floodwaters.

Carol Cavella was evacuated during the November fire and again Saturday when the creek behind her house threatened to overflow and inundate her backyard.

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#MeToo movement was not 1-year phenomenon in state capitols

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — In the first week of 2019, an investigation by Oregon’s labour agency deemed the state capitol to be a hostile workplace because of an unchecked pattern of sexual harassment among lawmakers.

A few days later, two Washington state lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct resigned. Then came new allegations of sexual wrongdoing in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, where a veteran male lawmaker was accused of groping a newly elected female colleague during a pre-session reception.

“We’ve heard for a long time that this is the culture in the building, and then of course we get there and it immediately surfaces,” said Massachusetts state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, a first-time lawmaker.

Barely a month into the 2019 legislative sessions, it already is clear that the #MeToo movement was not a one-year phenomenon in many state capitols. New claims of sexual misconduct are continuing to be made public concerning actions ranging from a few weeks ago to many years ago.

The latest came Friday, when Montana legislative leaders revealed that a previously unpublicized allegation of sexual harassment helped drive their current push to update policies on harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

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Senate reasserts foreign policy role, reshapes Trump agenda

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two years into Donald Trump’s presidency, his allies in Congress are quietly trying to influence and even reshape his “America First” foreign policy agenda.

The Republican-led Senate is reasserting itself as a check on Trump’s instincts, while individual GOP lawmakers are seeking sway — defence hawks vying with noninterventionists — over policy in the Middle East, Latin America and beyond.

Within one recent week, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio led a group of lawmakers to the White House encouraging Trump to back Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president. Trump tweeted his support. Days earlier, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was at the White House reinforcing Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

The result can often seem like a foreign policy in flux, zigzagging from bold pronouncements to more measured actions as “a number of different voices on the Hill are trying to put their imprint on the policy,” said Brian Katulis, a former Clinton administration national security adviser now at the Center for American Progress.

“It’s sort of this great improvisation directed by the president of the United States, that doesn’t really follow any of the notes or sheets of music,” Katulis said. “Like he’s making things up as he goes along.”

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TSA officer jumps to his death at Orlando airport

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — An officer from the Transportation Security Administration jumped to his death from a balcony inside Florida’s busiest airport Saturday, creating panic that brought some security checkpoints to a halt for hours, grounded flights and caused serious delays.

Panicked passengers rushed past checkpoints leading to about half of the gates at Orlando International Airport after the man jumped, resulting in checkpoint closures for up to three hours and some flight cancellations.

“At no point were passengers in any danger,” airport officials said in a statement.

Those affected by the stoppage included Alaska, Air Canada, Delta and Southwest airlines.

By Saturday afternoon, Southwest Airlines had cancelled 49 inbound flights and 45 outbound flights, according to the airport.

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APNewsBreak: Detainee on hunger strike details force-feeding

Nine men — up from six earlier this week — are being force-fed under court order in a detention centre in El Paso, Texas, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

One of the hunger strikers, a 22-year-old man from Indian who called The Associated Press on Friday, described how he is dragged from his cell three times a day and strapped down on a bed. He said a group of people force-feed him by pouring liquid into tubes pushed through his nose.

The man, who AP is identifying only by his last name Singh out of family concerns for his safety, stopped eating more than a month ago. In mid-January, ICE obtained court orders to begin non-consensual hydration and feeding, and so for weeks they’ve had nasal tubes inserted in their noses and IVs in their arms.

The AP first reported on the force-feeding Wednesday.

“They tie us on the force-feeding bed, and then they put a lot of liquid into the tubes, and the pressure is immense so we end up vomiting it out,” said Singh. “We can’t talk properly, and we can’t breathe properly. The pipe is not an easy process, but they try to push it down our noses and throats.”

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Chiefs QB Mahomes takes MVP and top offensive player awards

ATLANTA (AP) — Patrick Mahomes’ breathtaking breakthrough season earned him the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award.

The Chiefs quarterback landed a pair of honours at NFL Honors on Saturday night, taking The Associated Press 2018 MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards. In his second pro season, Mahomes led Kansas City to its first AFC title game since 1993 with some of the most creative and clutch plays the league has seen in years.

“I’m so humbled,” he said. “This is just the beginning. We’ve got a long ways to go.

“It is an honour. It’s a hard award to win. The next award I hope I can get is the Super Bowl.”

Mahomes received 41 votes from a nationwide panel of media members who regularly cover the league. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees got the other nine.

The Associated Press

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US sees limitations on reuniting migrant families

SAN DIEGO — The Trump administration says it would require extraordinary effort to reunite what may be thousands of migrant children who have been separated from their parents and, even if it could, the children would likely be emotionally harmed.

Health and Human Services Department officials said in court filings late Friday that removing children from “sponsor” homes to rejoin their parents would endanger their welfare. The officials say they don’t have authority to take children away from sponsors and that the effort would be cost-prohibitive.

The government didn’t adequately track separated children before a judge in San Diego ruled in June that children in its custody be reunited with their parents.

The American Civil Liberties Union wants the order to apply to children who were separated before June. Officials say there may be thousands.

Elliot Spagat, The Associated Press

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Is There A Point To Heritage Days And Months? Some MPs Aren’t Sure

OTTAWA — “Oh, that’s a tough question,” an NDP said, walking away from the live microphone this week. “I held back.”

What’s the controversial topic?

The first item discussed in the House this week: Dutch Heritage Day.

No one, of course, wants to say they don’t like the Dutch. Who doesn’t like the Dutch? Who doesn’t want to celebrate the close bond the two countries have shared since the Second World War and highlight each spring with a beautiful tulip festival in the nation’s capital? Who doesn’t want to toast the contributions of their constituents with Dutch lineage?

No MP wants to do that.

The effort to recognize Dutch Heritage Day is the latest in a string of bills and motions passed earlier this session. No MP voted against efforts by two senators to legislate October as Latin American Heritage Month or May as Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Act. Liberal MP Deborah Schulte’s motion to mark June as Italian Heritage Month passed unanimously last year.

And so far, no one has voted against Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal’s effort to designate April as Sikh Heritage Month, or expressed public opposition against Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai’s yet-to-be debated bill to mark October as Hindu Heritage Month.

In the previous Parliament, MPs tabled bills to recognize January as Tamil Heritage Month, April as Punjabi Heritage Month, and May as Philippine Heritage Month. The only bill passed, however, was to mark the third Saturday of September as “National Hunting, Trapping and Fishing Heritage Day.”

People's Party leader Maxime Bernier is seen in Montreal on Dec. 14, 2018

Maxime Bernier, the former Conservative MP who is now leader of the newly formed People’s Party of Canada, calls such efforts “manifestation of … radical multiculturalism.”

“This is another typical example of the pandering at which both the Conservatives and the Liberals have become expert,” he told HuffPost in an email. “They outbid each other in trying to appeal to different groups, and treat everyone as members of tribes instead of as Canadians.”

If private citizens and organizations want to celebrate whatever heritage, that’s fine with him, Bernier said. “But members of Parliament should focus on substantive policies, not on this symbolic stuff.”

Privately, some MPs acknowledge that they too feel that using precious parliamentary debate time to recognize different ethnic communities could be used in more productive ways.

Asked what the point of all these heritage days and months is, NDP MP Hélène Laverdière is blunt: “I don’t know.”

“I presume some members of Parliament want to do it for the communities in their riding, maybe.”

But, she said, she would never use her one shot per four years to champion a bill or motion on such as topic. “I’m not saying that any of these are bad, but, you know, I have other priorities.”

“One of the difficulties, and I will admit this,” Liberal MP Wayne Easter said, “One of the difficulties is that when you have a day for everything, you really have a day for nothing. And that’s one of the problems.”

Liberal MP Wayne Easter holds a press conference in the foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa.

Easter sees Dutch Heritage Day as a way to respect and honour Canadians of Dutch descent. He has never sponsored similar motions or bills, but he doesn’t chastise his colleagues for doing so.

‘We all pick our priorities. Is there a political reason? You are in Ottawa, you know. Everything that is done around here is for a political reason in one way or another.”

Transport Minister Marc Garneau called the efforts a “feel-good project for everybody.”

Even Bernier voted last June to recognize Latin American Heritage Month. (He missed the other two unanimous votes on Jewish and Sikh heritage months.)

“It’s democracy, and at some point we run out of dates, but for the moment, if someone comes up with something and everyone agrees with it, I think it’s a good idea. It makes us think,” Garneau said.

Canada's Transport Minister Marc Garneau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

His father, Brigadier General André Garneau, was an infantry soldier who fought in the Netherlands during the Second World War. “I grew up being told that Canada liberated Holland and very proud of that of that fact,” he said.

Liberal MP Marc Miller, whose riding neighbours Garneau’s in Montreal, wonders what’s the harm. “You can make every community feel good. I’m all for Dutch heritage month, I think it’s wonderful.”

“We have so many immigrant groups that have built Canada other than First Nations, Inuit and Métis. We are all a product of immigration, so I think it’s kinda cool.”

It’s democracy, and at some point we run out of dates, but for the moment, if someone comes up with something and everyone agrees with it, I think it’s a good idea.Mark Garneau

“Canadians are nice people, and we like to acknowledge special parts of our culture,” offered Conservative MP Mark Warawa. “The Dutch are a very important part of our culture, as are Ukranians, as are Italians, as are Jews, we all bring a — we are part of the mosaic…. But we don’t have Ukranian day yet,” he noted. “I would support that.”

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who is of Argentine descent, loves Latin American Heritage Month and loves, he said, celebrating the different cultures and people from different origins that came here and built this country.

These days and months are important, he said. During his travels, when he sees communities celebrating their month, their week or their day, “They are very proud to do it, they are very happy, for them it is extremely important, so we respect them and we encourage them.”

But is it just vote pandering?

“Well, we hope they vote for us,” Rodriguez said with a smile, “[but,] no, it’s a sign of respect to celebrate with them their heritage.”

One of the difficulties is that when you have a day for everything, you really have a day for nothing.Wayne Easter

Conservative MP Dave Van Kesteren candidly acknowledges that his bill might have a selfish aspect to it — his parents arrived in Canada from the Netherlands after the war, and he grew up in southern Ontario struggling with his differentness.

Seeing his number come up in the MP rotation, Van Kesteren tossed around a few ideas for a private member’s bill. In 2015, he successfully passed legislation closing a loophole that had allowed someone convicted of first- or second-degree murder for killing their spouse or parent to collect their victims’ pension benefits.

Van Kesteren is passionate about pensions. He believes Canada should adopt a universal pension system by which everyone — regardless of their income level — gets the same amount of money.

“But, you know, it’s certainly not something for which there is any appetite in my party … [or] in any of the other parties as well.”

He thought a pension bill would be controversial and go nowhere. Then he noticed a number of “these different days were appearing” and wondered if he should do this for the Dutch.

“At the back of my mind, I had always thought about this, and as the day approached, more and more I became convinced this is a good thing to do and it’s the right time to do,” he said.

‘It wasn’t cool to be Dutch’: Van Kesteren

After 12 years in the House of Commons representing the riding of Chatham-Kent–Essex (now called Chatham-Kent–Leamington), Van Kesteren will be retiring this year. He wants to spend more time with his children and grandchildren, and make room for a new MP who’ll have the same passion he had when he started.

“I grew up when it wasn’t cool to be Dutch,” he said. His experience as a child of new immigrants wasn’t unique. Polish kids were in a similar boat, and Italian kids also suffered abuse.

“We were poor, our parents couldn’t speak the language — that was often times defined as being dumb.”

Compared with the more subdued British, the Dutch were “brash,” “opinionated,” a bit more “in your face,’ he said.

Now, Van Kesteren watches with fascination as his grandchildren walk proudly with Dutch logos and affiliated wear. “It’s pretty profound when you think about it, you know…. Some of those things that maybe annoyed people in the ’50s, now we look at them and say that’s pretty cool.”

“It took a generation,” he added, but over time but what the Dutch shared with Canadians — their hardworking industrious nature and cultural traits — “got to be more appreciated.”

The Tory MP said he’s received a “little bit of ribbing” from his caucus colleagues for presenting yet another celebratory day. “That’s all we need is another day, like we are getting tired of these days,” he said, mimicking his mates. “It’s good-humoured ribbing.”

I think a month, you know, I think some groups really certainly do deserve it.Dave Van Kesteren

He expects his motion to pass unanimously, but for anyone opposed to the idea, Van Kesteren invites them to listen to his Commons speech. He doesn’t want his day — May 5, the day marked for the liberation of the Netherlands — to be seen as only a highlight of Dutch culture, the contribution of its immigrants, or a recognition of his own story. He sees it tied to the sacrifices Canadians made during the war and that “special bond” Canada has with the Netherlands.

It’s about reminding Canadians how grateful the Dutch are for what the veterans did, he said, and to work to strengthen the ties that already exist — as soft powers and trading partners.

“I think a month, you know, I think some groups really certainly do deserve it. I think the fact that we have a Black History Month in February is a good thing. It enables people to co-ordinate efforts to do some great projects that have an impact.”

In this case, though, Van Kesteren thought a day was sufficient. His office plans to work with the Dutch embassy to co-ordinate some activities and he hopes Dutch immigrants take up the opportunity to share their heritage with their fellow Canadians.

He expects his motion will pass before spring.

Also on HuffPost:

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