Day: March 13, 2019

Trump sees advantage in debate over Israel, anti-Semitism

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump can’t get enough of Rep. Ilhan Omar.

As Democratic lawmakers try to turn the page after the liberal legislator’s use of anti-Semitic tropes ignited an embarrassing, intra-party fight, the Republican president is trying to prolong and weaponize the issue for his 2020 campaign, asserting during a private weekend fundraiser that Democrats “hate” Jews.

While Trump publicly muses about winning over Jewish voters for his re-election, his motivations are more complicated and expansive. The president’s rhetorical escalation also is designed to unsettle the Democratic primary debate, exploit an issue that can energize his supporters and move past his own history of toying in anti-Semitic motifs.

Trump on Tuesday promoted comments by former model and 2016 campaign staffer Elizabeth Pipko, who said on Fox & Friends that “Jewish people are leaving the Democratic Party.”

Pipko, who serves as spokesperson for the group “Jexodus,” which bills itself as speaking for “Jewish Millennials tired of living in bondage to leftist politics,” saw her comments amplified by Trump on Twitter. “There is anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party,” she continued. “They don’t care about Israel or the Jewish people.”

Her comments mirrored Trump’s charge on Friday that Democrats had become an “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish” party, responding to the House voted a day before to disapprove of all prejudice in response to Omar’s invocation of “dual-loyalty” charges against American supporters of Israel earlier this month.

Speaking later that evening, Trump went even further in an appearance before Republican National Committee donors, charging that Democrats “hate” Jewish people, according to a person who heard the remarks but spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the president’s comments at a private event.

Omar had sparked a political firestorm that derailed the Democrats’ focus on investigations of the Trump administration, including a public back-and-forth over how, or even if, her party should condemn her comments. The ultimate resolution, which passed the House overwhelmingly, didn’t call out Omar by name.

As a small percentage of the nation, American Jews are not a particularly significant voting bloc, nor is Israel their decisive issue of concern. And both parties acknowledge the controversy is unlikely to alter dramatically the electoral votes of the American Jewish community, which has skewed decisively toward Democrats for more than a generation.

Even a small shift, though, can be significant.

“We’re slicing the salami very thin, and an incremental shift in traditional Democratic blocs to the other side can have a profound impact,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. He said his group plans to make “the largest investment that we’ve ever had in the 2020 race in terms of outreach, advocacy and independent expenditures on behalf of the president.”

Stoking the fight also gives Trump an opportunity to deflect criticism of his own rhetoric, invigorate evangelical Christians for whom the Israel issue is a powerful motivator and paint Democrats into a radical corner.

It also plays into Trump’s attempt to cast Democrats as radicals ahead of the 2020 campaign, said conservative commentator Seth Mandel, executive editor of the Washington Examiner magazine. He noted that Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders pushed back against efforts to condemn Omar’s comments. “It makes it very easy to say they’re just adopting whatever the socialist says.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders kept the controversy alive on Monday by criticizing Democrats for failing to explicitly repudiate Omar.

“It’s something that should be called by name,” she said. “It shouldn’t be put in a watered-down resolution.”

Sanders pointed to Republican condemnation of Rep. Steve King earlier this year, including stripping the Iowa Republican of his committee memberships, after he made remarks defending white supremacy. But King had long espoused racially charged ideas, and the GOP only took action after it lost its majority in the chamber.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, warned that Trump’s politicization of the issue “threatens the bipartisan support for Israel.”

“The problem is that the president sees it somehow as a way to make some kind of political hay and a wedge,” she said. “And he keeps addressing it that way. And I just think it’s a mistake, as someone that’s a strong supporter of Israel, that he keeps doing it.”

Hallie Soifer, the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said her group welcomes Trump’s focus on the issue of anti-Semitism. “He himself has emboldened anti-Semites in our country by both repeating anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracy theories,” she said. “He has no credibility with Jewish voters.”

Trump has been among the loudest critics of Omar, including last month when he called on her to resign from the House, or at least resign her post on the Foreign Affairs Committee over her suggestion that Jewish money drove support for Israel.

But Trump himself has repeatedly deployed some of the same tropes that sent fire toward Omar. He was slow to condemn white supremacists who marched violently in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. In 2016 he circulated an image of a six-pointed star alongside a photo of Hillary Clinton, a pile of money and the words “most corrupt candidate ever.” And he told a group of Republican Jewish donors he didn’t expect to earn their support because he wouldn’t take their money.

“You want to control your politicians, that’s fine,” he told the Republican Jewish Coalition in 2015. Ultimately, the group and many of its donors backed Trump. Brooks said Trump’s comments were meant obviously in jest and any suggestion otherwise is “unfair and ridiculous.”

“Jexodus” is hardly the first time Trump has tried to peel away minority voters from the Democratic coalition. He has pushed the “WalkAway” and “Blexit” movements to win over black voters to the GOP, but those efforts proved to have limited, if any impact.

According to AP Votecast, a survey of more than 115,000 midterm voters and 3,500 Jewish voters nationwide, voters who identified as Jewish broke for Democrats over Republicans by a wide margin, 72 per cent to 26 per cent, in 2016.

Over the last decade, Jewish voters have shown stability in their partisanship, according to data from Pew Research Center. Jewish voters identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party over the Republican Party by a roughly 2-to-1 margin.

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Associated Press writers Hannah Fingerhut, Elana Schor and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.

Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

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

Criticism of FAA mounts as other nations ground Boeing jets

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is facing mounting criticism for backing the airworthiness of Boeing’s 737 Max jets as the number of countries that have grounded the aircraft grows in the wake of the Ethiopian Airlines crash over the weekend.

The rest of the world typically takes it cues from the FAA, long considered the world’s gold standard for aircraft safety. Yet other aviation safety regulators, including the European Union, China, Australia and the United Kingdom, have decided not to wait for the FAA to act. The Ethiopian disaster came just five months after the deadly crash of another new Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by Lion Air in Indonesia.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement Tuesday that he’s concerned that international aviation regulators are providing more certainty to the flying public than the FAA.

“In the coming days, it is absolutely critical that we get answers as to what caused the devastating crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 and whether there is any connection to what caused the Lion Air accident just five months ago,” DeFazio said.

The FAA has increasingly become cozy with airplane manufacturers and airlines when it should be more pro-active in safety, said Bill McGee, aviation adviser for Consumer Reports.

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Australian cardinal sentenced to prison for child sex abuse

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The most senior Catholic convicted of child sex abuse was sentenced Wednesday to six years in prison for molesting two choirboys in a Melbourne cathedral in a crime that an Australian judge said showed “staggering arrogance.”

Victoria state County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd ordered Cardinal George Pell to serve a minimum of 3 years and 8 months before he is eligible for parole. The five convictions against Pell carried a maximum possible sentence of 10 years each.

“In my view, your conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance,” Kidd said in handing down the sentence.

Pope Francis’ former finance minister was convicted by a unanimous jury verdict in December of orally raping a 13-year-old choirboy and indecently dealing with the boy and the boy’s 13-year-old friend in the late 1990s, months after Pell became archbishop of Melbourne. A court order had suppressed media reporting the news until last month.

The 77-year-old denies the allegations and will appeal his convictions in the Victoria Court of Appeal on June 5. It was not immediately clear if he will also appeal the sentence.

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TV celebrities and coaches charged in college bribery scheme

BOSTON (AP) — Fifty people, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation’s most selective schools.

Federal authorities called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department, with the parents accused of paying an estimated $25 million in bribes.

At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents, many of them prominent in law, finance, fashion, the food and beverage industry and other fields, were charged. Dozens, including Huffman, the Emmy-winning star of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” were arrested by midday.

“These parents are a catalogue of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the results of a fraud and conspiracy investigation code-named Operation Varsity Blues.

The coaches worked at such schools as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.

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California governor places moratorium on executions

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The 737 inmates on California’s largest-in-the-nation death row are getting a reprieve from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who plans to sign an executive order Wednesday placing a moratorium on executions.

Newsom also is withdrawing the lethal injection regulations that death penalty opponents already have tied up in courts and shuttering the new execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison that has never been used.

“The intentional killing of another person is wrong and as governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual,” he said in prepared remarks.

Newsom called the death penalty “a failure” that “has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation.” He also said innocent people have been wrongly convicted and sometimes put to death.

California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor. And though voters in 2016 narrowly approved a ballot measure to speed up the punishment, no condemned inmate faced imminent execution.

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May Day: UK Parliament rejects prime minister’s Brexit deal

LONDON (AP) — With just 17 days to go, Britain’s departure from the European Union was thrown into chaos and doubt Tuesday as Parliament delivered a crushing double blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit divorce deal and to her authority as leader.

Lawmakers rejected the deal 391-242, ignoring May’s entreaties to back the agreement and end the political chaos and economic uncertainty that Brexit has unleashed. It was a narrower outcome than the historic 230-vote margin of defeat for the agreement in January, before May secured changes from the bloc — but not by much.

Top EU officials warned that the defeat had increased the chances of a chaotic “no-deal” British exit, which could mean major disruption for businesses and people in the U.K. and many of the 27 remaining EU countries.

The stinging 149-vote defeat stripped away May’s control over the course of Brexit and handed it to Parliament, which is divided about what to do next.

A drawn and hoarse May admitted defeat — again — and confirmed that Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU on March 29 without an agreement. If that is defeated — the likely outcome — lawmakers will vote Thursday on whether to delay Brexit, something that needs to be approved by the EU nations too.

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Facebook’s messaging ambitions amount to much more than chat

Facebook, already the leader in enabling you to share photos, videos and links, now wants to be a force in messaging, commerce, payments and just about everything else you do online.

The company’s ambitions harken to how WeChat has become the centerpiece of digital life in China, where people use it to order movie tickets, subway passes, food delivery and rides. If Facebook succeeds in turning its own messaging services into a platform for everything, it could ultimately threaten established services such as Snapchat, Yelp, Venmo, eBay and even Apple and Amazon.

“It’s clear that Facebook does have very broad ambitions here,” said Bob O’Donnell, president and chief analyst at Technalysis Research. “Their goal is to be the WeChat of everywhere but China.”

But Facebook faces numerous hurdles. A key one is restoring user trust, following a string of privacy failures that includes the sharing of personal information from as many as 87 million users with a consulting firm affiliated with Donald Trump’s campaign. And any change may cause users to rethink their relationship with Facebook.

“Facebook has a lot of momentum but it’s not completely invincible,” said Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates. “People came to Facebook for a particular thing. Offer them a different thing, and they’re likely to re-evaluate whether they want to be there at all.”

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Venezuelans turn highway off ramp into cellphone hotspot

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A highway shoulder in Venezuela’s capital has turned into one of the city’s most sought-after destinations. It’s one of the few places residents could find the slightest cellphone signal strong enough to reach loved ones around the world during the country’s worst blackout.

“My siblings who live abroad are so worried about me,” said Ana Maria Suarez Napolitano, a 48-year-old attorney who had pulled over to the side of the major highway running through Caracas. “They ask if I have enough food, enough water.”

Much of Venezuela went dark last Thursday, forcing residents to struggle since then through long periods in the dark without consistent electricity, running water, cellphone service and internet connection. After years of economic decay, shortages and hyperinflation that led to the mass migration of millions and separated families, those left behind said they felt more cut off than ever.

Residents with cars gravitated to a few stretches of highway and off ramps around the capital, Caracas. They were guided by the sight of bars on their cellphones and the dozens of other cars clogging up traffic as drivers squeezed to the roadside while holding their phones in one hand.

“We’re looking for a signal — like everybody else,” said Valeria Mendoza, a 20-year-old communications student, who acknowledged she felt lost without her phone constantly pinging messages. “There’s no light, no water, no nothing.”

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New Pentagon transgender rule sets limits for troops

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Defence Department has approved a new policy that will largely bar transgender troops and military recruits from transitioning to another sex, and require most individuals to serve in their birth gender.

The memo outlining the new policy was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, and it comes after a lengthy and complicated legal battle. It falls short of the all-out transgender ban that was initially ordered by President Donald Trump. But it will likely force the military to eventually discharge transgender individuals who need hormone treatments or surgery and can’t or won’t serve in their birth gender.

The order says the military services must implement the new policy in 30 days, giving some individuals a short window of time to qualify for gender transition if needed. And it allows service secretaries to waive the policy on a case-by-case basis.

Under the new rules, currently serving transgender troops and anyone who has signed an enlistment contract by April 12 may continue with plans for hormone treatments and gender transition if they have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

But after April 12, no one with gender dysphoria who is taking hormones or has transitioned to another gender will be allowed to enlist. And any currently serving troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria after April 12 will have to serve in their birth gender and will be barred from taking hormones or getting transition surgery.

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Gene-edited food quietly arrives in restaurant cooking oil

NEW YORK (AP) — Somewhere in the Midwest, a restaurant is frying foods with oil made from gene-edited soybeans. That’s according to the company making the oil, which says it’s the first commercial use of a gene-edited food in the U.S.

Calyxt said it can’t reveal its first customer for competitive reasons, but CEO Jim Blome said the oil is “in use and being eaten.”

The Minnesota-based company is hoping the announcement will encourage the food industry’s interest in the oil, which it says has no trans fats and a longer shelf life than other soybean oils. Whether demand builds remains to be seen, but the oil’s transition into the food supply signals gene editing’s potential to alter foods without the controversy of conventional GMOs, or genetically modified organisms.

Among the other gene-edited crops being explored: Mushrooms that don’t brown, wheat with more fiber, better-producing tomatoes, herbicide-tolerant canola and rice that doesn’t absorb soil pollution as it grows.

Unlike conventional GMOs, which are made by injecting DNA from other organisms, gene editing lets scientists alter traits by snipping out or adding specific genes in a lab. Startups including Calyxt say their crops do not qualify as GMOs because what they’re doing could theoretically be achieved with traditional crossbreeding.

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AP Sources: Browns to acquire star receiver Beckham from NY

CLEVELAND (AP) — Odell Beckham Jr. is about to run a deep route out of New Jersey — straight to Cleveland.

The superstar wide receiver is bound for the Browns to be a target for quarterback Baker Mayfield as the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade, two people familiar with the deal told The Associated Press on Tuesday night.

The Browns are sending first- and third-round picks this year along with safety Jabrill Peppers to the Giants for Beckham, one of the NFL’s top players, said the people who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because league rules prohibit teams from announcing trades until 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The deal is conditional on both players passing physicals.

With the Browns, Beckham will be reunited with receiver Jarvis Landry, a close friend and teammate at LSU. He’ll also give Mayfield an elite weapon, and his arrival could vault the Browns, who went 7-8-1 last season after not winning a game in 2017, into legitimate championship contenders.

The Associated Press

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Judge gives 4-year sentence to Quebec driver who was texting before fatal crash

MONTREAL — A Quebec man convicted of killing another driver and injuring two teenagers while texting at the wheel has been sentenced to four years in prison.

Martin Carrieres, 39, had exchanged more than 30 text messages while driving on a poorly lit road in March 2012.

Noting that campaigns against texting while driving are not sinking in, Quebec court judge Maria Albanese said she wanted her sentence “to send a clear message to the public.”

The accused was found guilty in April 2018 of criminal negligence causing death and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. He was sentenced on Jan. 14.

Carrieres was driving at night in Quebec’s Laurentians region when his vehicle crossed into the opposing lane and collided with an oncoming vehicle. The other vehicle was driven by a man returning from a hockey practice with his 13-year-old son and his son’s friend.

The other driver died at the scene, and after the crash, a first responder took Carrieres’ cell phone and gave it to police.

An analysis of the cellular data showed that Carrieres exchanged 34 text messages while driving between 9:18 p.m. and 9:58 p.m., which the judge said explains the accident.

“The analysis of the messages shows that the accused reads them as soon as they are received, because he responds quickly,” Albanese said. “In addition, the exchange he has with his spouse is emotional and acrimonious.”

Carrieres initially told his spouse he was going to his mother’s house that night, but she learned that he was in fact meeting a female friend. That put her “in a bad mood” and triggered a string of text messages between Carrieres and the two women, the judge said.

She emphasized that appropriate sentencing is a delicate exercise. In this case, she concluded that the accused repeatedly broke the law by texting at the wheel. He was entirely responsible for the accident, she said, calling his actions “flagrant negligence.”

She did note that Carrieres had no previous criminal record, is well-liked and expressed remorse that she found to be sincere.

“The court is well aware that no matter what sentence is imposed, it will never reflect the pain of the victims,” Albanese said. “The compensation, if there is any, is minimal for them.”

Stephanie Marin, The Canadian Press

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