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And The Cheapest State For Weed Is...

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-05-26 20:44
When it comes to getting high for less, herb-loving Oregonians have reason to cheer. Marijuana prices in the Beaver State rank among the lowest in the nation.

In a new report analyzing the effect that legalization and decriminalization have on the price of marijuana, the kind buds at Forbes crunched numbers culled from PriceOfWeed.com, a crowd-sourced site that describes itself as "a global price index for marijuana."

All 50 states, ranked by how much weed costs in each: http://t.co/bX5wcUJz1o pic.twitter.com/pNm6CL3oAf

— Forbes (@Forbes) May 26, 2015


According to Forbes' map, marijuana users in the most expensive state pay nearly double what those in the least expensive state shell out. In Oregon, where both recreational and medical marijuana are legal, an ounce of high-quality weed can run $204. In North Dakota, the price is more like $387.

Overall, weed is generally less expensive out West. East of the Mississippi, that high-quality ounce goes for less than $300 on average only in Michigan and Florida. Forbes' thesis that legal weed generally correlates with lower prices holds up: In Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington state, where recreational weed has been legalized, the price of an ounce falls below the national average of $315.96, according to PriceOfWeed data.

Legalization isn't just good news for users looking for a less costly high. A year after Colorado became the first state in the nation to allow recreational marijuana, the state raked in $53 million in weed-related tax revenue.

Along with the four states plus the District of Columbia that have legalized recreational marijuana, 15 other states have laws decriminalizing marijuana possession to some extent. Just last week, Illinois moved one step closer to becoming the next state to decriminalize marijuana.

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Floodwaters Deepen After Storms Dump Another Foot Of Rain In Houston Area

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-05-26 20:15
HOUSTON (AP) — Floodwaters deepened across much of Texas on Tuesday as storms dumped almost a foot more of rain on the Houston area, stranding hundreds of motorists and inundating the famously congested highways that serve the nation's fourth-largest city.

Meanwhile, the search went on for about a dozen people who were still missing, including a group that disappeared after a vacation home was swept down a river and slammed into a bridge.

Several more fatalities were reported — four in Houston and four more in Central Texas. That brought to 17 the number of people killed by the holiday weekend storms in Texas and Oklahoma.

Similar search efforts unfolded just south of the Texas-Mexico border, where crews tried to track down the missing and assessed damage in the city of Ciudad Acuna after a tornado killed 13 people Monday.

In Houston, the water rose sharply overnight as about 11 more inches of rain fell, much of it in a six-hour period. By Tuesday evening, most rivers had receded back within their banks.

The floodwaters affected virtually every part of the city and paralyzed some areas. Firefighters carried out more than 500 water rescues, most involving stranded motorists. At least 2,500 vehicles were abandoned by drivers seeking higher ground, officials said.

"Given the magnitude and how quickly it happened, in such a short period of time, I've never seen this before," said Rick Flanagan, Houston's emergency management coordinator.

The drenching weather threatened to linger. Forecasts called for a 20 to 40 percent chance of thunderstorms through the rest of the week in Houston.

The flooding closed several highways, and the ones that stayed open became a gridlocked mess.

Interstate 45 near downtown was backed up for miles Tuesday morning, and a handful of motorists traveled the wrong way on the highway to retreat from high water.

Small cars weaved between massive 18-wheelers as other drivers stared at them in disbelief. With no end to the backup in sight, some drivers got off the freeway, only to be held up again by water covering nearby access roads.

In the Heights neighborhood about 5 miles from downtown, groups of people roamed the streets after escaping their stalled cars, and police cruisers blocked some dangerous roads.

Some motorists were stuck on I-45 all night, sleeping in their cars until the backup was cleared about 8 a.m.

NBA fans at the Toyota Center, where the Rockets hosted a Western Conference finals game against Golden State on Monday, were asked with about two minutes left in the game not to leave the arena because of the weather.

The game ended before 11 p.m., but about 400 people remained in their seats at 1:30 a.m., choosing to stay in the building rather than brave the flooded roads that awaited them outside. Up to 150 people stayed all right, according to arena officials.

A spokeswoman for the flood district of Harris County, which includes Houston, said up to 700 homes sustained some level of damage.

Yesenia Lopez and her husband, Armando, waded through knee-deep water, carrying bags of possessions over their heads. During the night, a nearby bayou overflowed and flooded their apartment complex.

"We tried to do as much as we could, saved the family portraits and stuff like that, but everything else is destroyed," she said.

The two planned to stay with her mother-in-law.

Dripping with water, she said: "Everything is scary. That's the first time I lived through something like this, so it gives you a lot to think about."

Some of the worst flooding in Texas was in Wimberley, a popular tourist town along the Blanco River in the corridor between Austin and San Antonio. That's where the vacation home was swept away.

The "search component" of the mission ended Monday night, meaning no more survivors were expected to be found, said Trey Hatt, a spokesman for the Hays County Emergency Operations Center.

Eight people missing from the destroyed house were friends and family who had gathered for the holiday, said Kristi Wyatt, a spokeswoman for the City of San Marcos. Three children, two age 6 and another 4, were among the missing.

The Blanco crested above 40 feet — more than triple its flood stage of 13 feet. The river swamped Interstate 35 and closed parts of the busy north-south highway. Rescuers used pontoon boats and a helicopter to pull people out.

Hundreds of trees along the Blanco were uprooted or snapped, and they collected in piles of debris up to 20 feet high.

The deaths in Texas included two men and one woman whose bodies were pulled from the Blanco; a 14-year-old who was found with his dog in a storm drain; a high school senior who died after her car was caught in high water; and a man whose mobile home was destroyed by a reported tornado.

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management also reported four fatalities between Saturday and Monday after severe flooding and reports of tornadoes.

In Ciudad Acuna, Mayor Evaristo Perez Rivera said 300 people were treated at local hospitals after the twister, and more than 200 homes had been completely destroyed in the city of 125,000 across from Del Rio, Texas.

Thirteen people were confirmed dead — 10 adults and three infants, including one that was ripped from its mother's arms by the storm.

___

Weber reported from Wimberley, Texas. Associated Press writers David Warren and Jamie Stengle in Dallas and photographer David J. Phillip in Houston contributed to this report.

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Georgia Lawmakers And Corporate Lobbyists Mingle In Secret Meetings Hosted By ALEC

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-05-26 20:09
The Georgia Legislature has a message for voters: don't ask us about our meetings with corporate lobbyists behind closed doors.

The 11Alive Investigators tracked lawmakers to a resort hotel in Savannah last week, where we observed state legislators and lobbyists mingling in the hotel bar the night before they gathered in private rooms to decide what new laws would best serve the corporations.

The meetings were part of the Spring Task Force Summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

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Viral Wedding Photo Of A Marine Praying With His Soon-To-Be Wife Will Move You

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-05-26 19:58
A photo of U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Caleb Earwood and his bride Maggie sharing an emotional moment before their wedding in Asheville, North Carolina this Memorial Day weekend has gone viral. One look at the powerful shot and it's easy to see why:


Credit: Dwayne Schmidt Photography

Photographer Dwayne Schmidt captured the moment and shared it on his business's Facebook on Saturday, calling it "one of the best things I have ever [gotten] to see, much less photograph." At the time of publication, the post had amassed more than 47,000 likes and counting.

The photo shows the couple holding hands and closing their eyes as to not catch a glimpse of each other before the ceremony. The groom is saying a prayer aloud, while his bride-to-be stands around the corner.

"It broke me down to know that we felt the same way about God," the bride told ABC News. "It just made me happy."

The soon-to-be-newlyweds weren't the only ones who were overcome with intense emotions.

"The whole room was full of emotion," Schmidt said. "I tried not to cry and focus on what I was doing."

H/T Good Morning America

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California Assembly Passes Bill Banning Crisis Pregnancy Centers From Misleading Patients

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-05-26 19:47
The California Assembly passed legislation Tuesday that would require faith-motivated crisis pregnancy centers to provide comprehensive information about reproductive health care options, including abortion.

The bill, known as the Reproductive Fact Act, would require pregnancy centers to post notices saying that reproductive health services, including abortion, are available to pregnant women in the state. Pregnancy centers also would have to disclose whether they lack a medical license. The bill passed on a party-line vote, with Republicans objecting on the grounds that it would unconstitutionally compel government speech for the state's 167 centers.

Abortion rights advocates have argued that crisis pregnancy centers systemically provide inaccurate or misleading information, such as suggesting that abortions cause breast cancer or depression. The advocates point out that advertisements for some crisis centers suggests they provide a full range of reproductive health services.

Anti-abortion advocates say the centers already inform patients of options. They also point out that the centers provide free testing for sexually transmitted infections, ultrasound tests and baby clothes. (The centers do not provide contraception.) The legislation has been dubbed "the Bully Bill," by anti-abortion advocates, who argue the bill unfairly targets crisis pregnancy centers.

“Surely, legislators in California have more important matters to attend to than carrying the water for Big Abortion, which is exactly what this proposed legislation represents,” Jor-El Godsey, vice president of the pregnancy center network Heartbeat International, said in a statement. “This is a direct attack on California’s grassroots, non-profit pregnancy help centers. These legislators should instead protect the right of every woman to get the love and care she deserves while she is facing pregnancy.”

Abortion rights advocates argue the targeting happens when center staff members interact with patients.

"CPCs target women seeking abortion care with false advertising that misleads women into thinking they are comprehensive women’s health facilities,” Amy Everitt, NARAL Pro-Choice California's state director, said in a statement. "Instead, CPC workers are trained to lie to women to keep them from accessing contraception and abortion care. It’s time for California to take a stand against their deceptive practices."

California is one of only a handful of states to expand access to reproductive health care in the last five years. In 2013, for instance, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law authorizing nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse midwives to perform first-trimester abortions.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where the earliest it could be heard in a committee is June 8.

Legislation attempting to regulate the more than 3,000 U.S. crisis pregnancy centers has met with mixed results. An Austin, Texas, ordinance requiring the centers to post signs disclosing they’re not medical facilities was struck down in 2014, but the Supreme Court upheld a similar law in New York.

In California, similar measures have been tried at the municipal level. San Francisco three years ago passed a local rule requiring pregnancy centers to make clear that they don’t offer abortion services or referrals. A federal judge upheld the ordinance this year, rejecting the argument that it compelled speech. Similar ordinances in Baltimore and New York City have also addressed concerns about transparency.

Meanwhile, some states direct funding from "Choose Life" license plates to the pregnancy centers. South Dakota even requires patients seeking abortions to visit a center before they can undergo the procedure.

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Driving Dirty in the Lower 48

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-05-26 19:45
There are 253 million cars and trucks on U.S. roadways today. Mexico has over 30 million, the same total number of as California and Canada individually. World wide, there are over a billion automobiles currently in operation. By 2050 there will be about 2.5 billion collectively sucking up about 120 million barrels of oil per day while pumping billions into the world economy in mandatory insurance fees.

Travel trepidations in over trafficked cities like Los Angeles include the unpredictability of gas prices, environmental impact, deteriorating roads, carjacking and other scams and fraud, over policing, drunk drivers, and that fact that 14 percent of the driving population in the U.S. is uninsured. In California, 15 percent of drivers are uninsured. If you leave the state and drive across the country your chances are 1 in 7 of encountering an uninsured in 42 percent of states. That presents more than a few big problems for poor people many of whom need to drive to survive.

Compulsory auto insurance and the consequent financial penalties applied to those who can't afford it are part of a larger systemic criminalization of poverty. If you're among the 15 percent of all Americans living below the poverty line you might find yourself in the unfortunate situation to have choose car insurance over medicine, rent or other essentials like food for your children.

If you need to drive your car or truck for the work you do and make that hard choice to drive uninsured, your behavior is criminalized. If you're caught, the money you are forced to pay in fines is funneled back into the system. The funds generated by the municipal court are the thing that's driving this robotic cycle of legal oppression. Law enforcement, which gave you the ticket will benefit from your loss.

And it gets worse; you may even have your driving privilege revoked and you car confiscated. In California if you're caught driving without insurance (VC 16028(A) Failure to provide evidence of financial responsibility) the base fine is $796.00, and that just for starters. With assessments and court fees you could easily end up paying well over a $1,000.00

If you want to leave the country, drive to Mexico, authorities there don't recognize US or Canadian auto insurance. You have to get insurance in Mexico. If you don't and you get in an accident you can be prevented from leaving the country even if you need medical treatment.

In the U.S., Canada or Mexico, the consequences for driving dirty can be devastating if you're financially challenged. Luckily there is some good news. Some states like California, New Jersey, and Hawaii offer low-income auto insurance programs for those living near and beneath the poverty line.

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Free solar panels for low-income CA homeowners, funded by cap & trade system

TreeHugger Science-Tech - Tue, 2015-05-26 17:06
The Golden State is investing some of its carbon cap & trade fees into clean energy for low income homeowners through a partnership with the nonprofit Grid Alternatives.

Black silicon solar cell hits record efficiency, could bring solar to more parts of the world

TreeHugger Science-Tech - Tue, 2015-05-26 07:00
The technology that captures more of the light spectrum is finally ready to compete with conventional solar.

Accepting the Reality That Hillary is Anything But Inevitable

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-05-25 23:02
It's time to say out loud what we all already know. It's not Hillary. It just isn't. After the inspired and historic leadership of President Obama, we don't want his runner up from 2008. After the genuine and authentic article, we don't want the 3D printed likeness, no matter how realistic it may appear. Whether it's that she's too corporate or too conflicted, or it's just that the Clinton name has been in our face for far too long, it isn't Hillary. The sooner we accept that, the better chance we have to do something about it before it's too late.

To us, the GOP is a circus tent with scores of clownish candidates. To the red-meat GOP base, however, they have an incredibly rich and diverse set of hardcore conservative candidates. Their current crop includes women, minorities, business leaders, senators, governors and more. We may correctly know they're all crazy and unfit to lead, but they think the same of our candidates.

It isn't like Hillary was the fresh new upstart even in 2008. In fact, she was the renowned name, the unsinkable ship, and the candidate to beat. Even then, with the Clinton machine and virtually unlimited financial support, she was beat. By the fresh faced, raw talent in Barack Obama. Had things on the other way, Obama would have been the too-early-in-2008 candidate-in-waiting ready to hoist the mantle of leadership from the veteran Hillary.

Things didn't go that way, because then as now, Barack Obama wins because he inspires us. He raises our heart rate and makes us see the best of each other and ourselves. In 2008, we ran to our checkbooks, to events, and to the ballot box, with our heart and souls. Not because we were pushed, but because we wanted to. With Hillary, we are being told to like her. If Obama is the box office hit we love, Hillary is the "critics favorite" we're being told we should like.

I can't believe I am actually agreeing with the right wing's favorite radio gasbag, but he's right in saying that the media is propping up Hillary because she's vulnerable. Because we don't like her, and we don't want to eat our spinach, no matter how good for us it may be. The liberal left is trying to draft just about anyone else into running. I actually saw an article about Hillary's "effective" campaign devoid of soaring speeches and inspiring ideas.

That sounds much more like an epitaph of a failed campaign than a prediction of victory. The ivory tower types, in early 2017, analyzing what went wrong and how we ended up with a third Bush in the White House. Sounds implausible, right? Maybe. But the pundits were saying the same thing about Gore and his "efficient and inevitable" campaign vs. George Jr. in 2000. And look what happened.

Hillary's mistakes are manifold, and continue to compound daily. First, she's just way too corporate. I fault no one for making $25 million on paid speeches, but it isn't the best way to sell yourself as the candidate who can champion working class Americans. What's more, she stayed in our face way too long. She didn't retreat from the limelight, regroup and re-launch as Hillary2.0. Hillary 2015 isn't a refreshing new look at a familiar face; it is a tired retread whose freshest idea yet has been the burrito bowl she ate at Chipotle. She could have taken a step back to develop bold new ideas for a big problem like climate change or opportunity inequality. Instead, she sold her speeches to the highest bidder thinking she can just shift from Corporate Clinton to Candidate Clinton anytime she wants.

But the worst thing is, she is actually uninspiring. The Teflon candidate who says the right things, in manufactured, rehearsed lines void of any passion or purpose; churned off the assembly line by the spin masters trying to get her elected. When Americans aren't inspired, they stay home, no matter how high the stakes. It happened to the GOP in 2008, and it happened to the Democrats in 2010 and 2014.

Except 2016 isn't a midterm and the GOP base is fired up. They are rabid, foaming at the mouth and racing to do whatever is needed to get one of their own back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There is no "blue wall" and you don't win back the White House by being "inevitable." You win it by giving those soaring speeches full of big ideas that make us jump up out of our seat. Love him or hate him, Barack Obama invokes a strong reaction. So does Ted Cruz. Hillary invokes a tepid sigh of a person you don't love or hate, but who's just been at your party way too long.

The prospect of having to vote for someone just because they are the lesser of two evils doesn't get my heart racing, and it doesn't get me to the ballot box. The many months between now and next November theoretically give Hillary a chance to reinvent herself as someone with bold ideas and big goals. To do that, she'd have to give up the central conceit of the Clinton legacy...that there is no such thing as "too much Clinton." And for Mrs. Clinton, that may just be impossible.

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The TiPPing Point?

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-05-25 22:45
The secrecy around the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the issue that won't go away. Absent public information on what is being discussed, opponents of the secret process hint of terrible things to come if the TPP is approved, while the Administration asserts that negotiations can't be held in public. Really, Mr. President? This is a trade agreement, not national security secrets. Have we forgotten that a vigorous democracy depends upon vigorous public debate? Or, is this too old-fashioned a sentiment?

Let's get specific for a moment. One of the provisions of the TPP is alleged to be a corporate-nation dispute resolution process. Sounds boring and bureaucratic. However, this provision appears to create the right of corporations to sue nations for damages, if the nation's laws or regulations reduce their profit. This could include suing over environmental, health and safety protections, as well as regulation of corporate behavior. Is putting corporate profit over national sovereignty a good idea?

Some questions for the President:

o Does this corporate-nation dispute resolution provision exist in the current draft of the TPP?

o Does the U.S. support this provision?

o If so, why is it in the best interests of the U.S.?

Absent public disclosure and public debate, this provision alone would appear to justify a "NO" vote on the TPP.

Time to answer the questions, Mr. President.

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Will We Ever See Justice for Freddie Gray?

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-05-25 22:42
Now that another killer cop has been acquitted in Cleveland, I'll get straight to the point and answer the question posed by the title of this post about Baltimore's Freddie Gray with a single word: No.

To be sure, on May 21, six police officers were indicted on a spate of very serious criminal charges for Gray's death, ranging from misconduct in public office and reckless endangerment to manslaughter and second-degree murder. With a lot of hard work and depending upon the specific evidence produced at trial and the inevitable twists and turns of high-stakes litigation, Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, the local prosecutor in charge of the case, may buck the national trend in police-abuse cases and win some convictions.

Seeking justice on his behalf, Gray's supporters in Baltimore and across the country are demanding nothing less. Supporters of the accused officers, including the local Fraternal Order of Police, have denounced the charges brought by Mosby as an outrageous and politically motivated overreach, and have demanded she recuse herself.

As the roiling debate over the merits of the prosecution continues, everyone concerned would do well to recognize one basic fact: In the most fundamental sense, there will never be justice for Freddie Gray because Freddie Gray is dead, and his demise was entirely unnecessary.

There is much that remains unclear about the precise circumstances of Gray's death. But this much is certain: Gray was apparently stopped by police on the morning of April 12 simply and solely because he ran away from them. Gray presented no discernible danger to public safety and the cops who encountered him had no reason to believe he was involved at the time in the commission of a crime.

Don't take my word for this. Take a look at the report filled out on the evening of Gray's arrest by Garrett Miller, one of the indicted officers. The report discloses that Gray "fled unprovoked upon noticing police presence" as Miller and two other officers were on routine bicycle patrol outside of the dilapidated Gilmor Homes housing project.

As Miller's report continues, "The defendant was apprehended in the 1700 block of Presbury St. after a brief foot chase." Only after Gray was detained and patted down did the officers discover a knife believed to be a switchblade "clipped to the inside of his front right pants pocket."

At that point, Gray was reportedly arrested, shackled and placed in a transport van. By the time the vehicle arrived at the police station some 44 minutes later, Gray had sustained severe spinal cord injuries and was unconscious. He died in a coma on April 19.

Absent foul play, an unforeseen grave accident or a preexisting fatal medical condition, people don't usually pass away en route to jail, especially young people like Gray, who was 25 years old.

Mosby's task will be to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gray's death resulted in sum and substance from the way he was handled by the six indicted officers between the time of his apprehension and his arrival at police headquarters, and because he was denied medical assistance after complaining that he was unable to breathe.

Initially, the charges Mosby levied against the six officers included the common law crime of false imprisonment, but that offense was dropped during grand jury proceedings -- largely, it has been speculated, because Gray's knife was illegal under a local Baltimore ordinance, thus arguably rendering his arrest lawful.

In discarding the false imprisonment counts, Mosby and her colleagues probably were also mindful of one of the more draconian law-and-order decisions handed down by the Supreme Court under the leadership of the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist. In a hotly contested 5-4 decision penned by Rehnquist in 2000 -- Illinois v. Wardlow -- the high tribunal held that police officers assigned to a high-crime area had reasonable suspicion and committed no Fourth Amendment violation when they detained a person who suddenly and without provocation fled from them.

Even with the false imprisonment charges dropped, however, Mosby's road to courtroom victory is highly uncertain. To garner any guilty verdicts, she'll have to navigate a series of hurdles, including anticipated motions for change of venue out of Baltimore brought on behalf of all the officers, and possible requests for severance and separate trials brought on behalf of some.

Assuming that the case survives the pretrial phases intact, Mosby will encounter the biggest obstacle of all -- juries as a general rule don't like to convict the police. According to the Cato Institute's National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, which analyzes daily media reports to locate and cross-check news stories about misconduct, 2,346 excessive force complaints were lodged nationwide in fiscal 2009-2010. Of those, a mere 179 prompted prosecutions, and only 79 convictions were secured.

We've seen this movie coast-to-coast many times before, of course -- from the 1992 acquittal of the Los Angeles police officers who beat California motorist Rodney King to the May 23rd exoneration of the Cleveland cop charged with gunning down an unarmed African American couple at point-blank range following a high-speed car chase.

If Mosby is able to deliver a different ending to the Freddie Gray story, she could help spark a long-overdue turnaround in our racially tinged law-enforcement practices. That would be a strong step indeed in the direction of justice, not only for minority communities but for all Americans. Everyone, that is, except Freddie Gray, who won't be alive to appreciate the outcome.

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Back From Africa With Eyes Wide Open

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-05-25 21:00
Because of my recent trip to Africa, I now understand how the Clinton family continues to serve. With my son, I had the privilege to travel to five of the eleven initiatives of the Clinton Foundation in Africa. On the trip, I saw first-hand the quiet appreciation on the faces of President and Chelsea Clinton when they observed the real-life results of their work:

The little boy exploding with knowledge about how the herbs in his new school garden could keep his family healthy



The middle aged women touting her business of selling solar lanterns and no longer worrying about feeding her family for the first time in her life



The young woman who walked six hours with her baby to the only medical facility for 60 kilometers, radiating with relief that her child would now live a long life



The old man's eyes filling with tears when he could hear for the first time in his life



The teams of young people devoted to stopping the mass murders of elephants



And the 5,000 teenagers cheering in unison their thanks to the Clintons and their partners for "giving us wings to fly".

After seeing firsthand the hope the Foundation gives to all these people who had been forgotten by the rest of the world, it is clear that the truth about its work and the Clinton family is being muddied, eclipsed or blatantly ignored. And yet, the good work continues because of the commitment, inspiration, leadership and execution skills of the Clinton Foundation and the extraordinary staff they have assembled. This commitment is necessary for the work to continue, but it is not sufficient.

The programs are possible only because of the partners and donors from around the world who support them. I traveled with wonderful people to Africa. We have become a kind of band of brothers and sisters by this point. The people whose lives have been changed for the better because of the Clinton Foundation filled all of us, from the donors to the staff, with the same humility and determination to do more to keep the work going and to keep producing results.

The media has incorrectly reported that people were invited to reward political donors -- which is demonstrably false. Joining the trip, for example, were Bill and Tani Austin, founders of the Starkey Hearing Foundation, which has committed to provide over a million hearing aids to poor people around the world (they currently give away 100,000 hearings aids each year) and have donated generously to the Clinton Foundation. They are lifelong Republicans and have no intention of voting for a Democrat - but have joined the Clintons to help improve lives around the world.

It was also truly inspiring to see the tireless energy and commitment that President Clinton himself brings to the work of the Clinton Foundation. Each day, we'd begin at an early hour -- sometimes as early as 5 a.m. -- and President Clinton was ready and excited to see the programs in action, and speak with people who were profoundly impacted by the Clinton Foundation's work. By the end of the day, sometimes late in the evening, he was still excited, talking about the work that he'd seen -- and more importantly, how to make it work better and how to increase its impact. For two weeks he had the stamina and the drive through Africa, and this is the level of energy and commitment that has made his Foundation's work so successful and so impactful.

We should also applaud the staff of the Clinton Foundation. I have spent quality time with many of them and all could have lucrative jobs in the private sector. Instead, they have decided to dedicate their lives to helping others. None of them are overpaid, though they work ungodly hours and have families to support. These hard working, self-sacrificing people committed to serving others are the so-called "overhead" of the Clinton Foundation. In truth, the Foundation is extremely financially efficient. The Clinton Foundation spends 88 percent of its budget on programmatic work, helping people around the world.

Recent polls have shown that despite the unfair and distorted attacks on the Foundation, the American public has a clear understanding of the Clintons' strong leadership qualities and commitment to helping people. The Clintons can weather political storms. But what about the real people they are helping? What happens if donors who crave privacy back away in order to avoid the cross-fire from the media? I know what will happen. All the people I saw in Africa could lose the only lifeline they have ever been given. They are the true beneficiaries of the Foundation, and they are being ignored by reporters. They have no voice to be heard in our media outlets. For purely partisan political reasons, Secretary Clinton is the target of the attacks on the Foundation, but the victims would be the striving, constructive and hopeful people I met. And THAT would not be right or just.

As a result of our trip, our family is going to give more to the Foundation. If we want justice, health and a decent life for all the beneficiaries of the Clinton Foundation's work, all the donors, partners and supporters need to step up, stronger, bigger and bolder. I am hoping this will happen.

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Bernie Sanders Takes It to Wall Street With Financial Transactions Tax

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-05-25 20:45
Last week, Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont and only announced challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, took a strong stand for everyday people. He proposed a financial transactions tax (FTT), effectively a Wall Street sales tax, and to use the revenue to make public colleges tuition free.

While making college affordable to low and middle income families is important, the proposal for an FTT is a real game changer. There is no single policy that would have anywhere near as much impact in reforming the financial sector. A FTT would effectively impose a sales tax on stocks and other financial assets, so that speculators have to pay a tax on their trades, just like people who buy shoes or clothes.

There are three points people should understand about a FTT. The first is that it can raise an enormous amount of money. A FTT could be imposed at different rates. Sanders proposed following the rate structure in a bill put forward by Minneapolis Congressman Keith Ellison. Eleven countries in the European Union are working to implement a set of FTTs that would tax stock trades at a rate of 0.1 percent and trades of most derivative instruments at the rate of 0.01 percent.

Extrapolating from a recent analysis of the European proposal, a comparable tax in the United States would raise more than $130 billion a year or more than $1.5 trillion over the next decade. This is real money; it dwarfs the sums that have dominated most budget debates in recent years. For example, the Republicans had been trying to push through cuts to the food stamp program of $40 billion over the course of a decade. The sum that can be raised by this FTT proposal is more than thirty times as large. The revenue from a FTT could go far toward rebuilding the infrastructure, improving the health care system, or paying for college tuition, as suggested by Senator Sanders.

The second point is that Wall Street will bear almost the entire cost of the tax. The financial industry is surely already paying for studies showing the tax will wipe out the 401(k)s held by middle income families. This is nonsense. Not only is the size of the tax small for anyone not flipping stock on a daily basis, research indicates that most investors will largely offset the cost of the tax by trading less.

Most research shows that trading volume falls roughly in proportion to the increase in transaction costs. This means that if a FTT doubles the cost of trading then the volume of trading will fall by roughly 50 percent, leaving total trading costs unchanged. Investors will pay twice as much on each trade, but have half as many trades. Since investors don't on average make money on trades (one side might win, but the other loses), this is a wash for the investor.

While most middle income people don't directly trade the money in their retirement accounts, they do have people who manage these funds. The research means that the fund managers will reduce their trading, so that the total costs of transactions that are passed on to the investor remain roughly constant. This means that the financial industry will bear almost the entire cost of the tax in the form of reduced trading volume.

This gets to the last point: a smaller financial industry is a more efficient financial industry. The purpose of the financial industry is to allocate money from savers to companies that want to finance new investment. As the industry has exploded in size over the last four decades there is no reason to believe that it has gotten better in serving this basic function. In fact, the stock bubble at the end of the 1990s and the housing bubble in the last decade might suggest that it has gotten worse.

A study from the Bank of International Settlements and more recent research from the International Monetary Fund find that a bloated financial sector slows growth. An oversized financial sector pulls resources away from more productive sectors of the economy. People who could be engaged in biological research or developing clean technologies are instead employed on Wall Street designing computer programs to beat other traders by a microsecond to garner profits at their expense. A FTT will make much of this activity unprofitable, encouraging people to turn to more productive work.

In short, a FTT is a great way to raise large amounts of money to meet important public needs. It will come almost entirely at the expense of the financial industry and should strengthen the economy. We now have one presidential candidate who is prepared to support a strong FTT. Are there others?

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From Evolution to Revolution: A New Campaign

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-05-25 20:43
The 2016 presidential campaign has already begun in earnest, and I have been thinking there are three strategic approaches that the campaigns have a choice in making. And while each one has its benefits and risks, only one has the chance of really moving us forward as a country to a new and better place.

The first strategic approach a campaign can take is basically following the strategy and tactics of the last campaigns. I call this the historic or prerevolutionary approach. You look back at the successful campaigns of the past and basically follow their structure and plan. In this prerevolutionary strategy you don't really update your efforts to fit the current dynamic and environment. You actually don't even take the time to see what the political environment is and if it has really changed. You merely adopt the "winning" tactics of a previous campaign and move forward.

This historic approach is fundamentally based in the past. And I have watched many losing campaigns follow this pattern. While a campaign in the past might have been successful at that time, it no longer fits today's political environment, and thus is bound to lose unless it is up against another campaign following a prerevolutionary model. Why do candidates and campaigns choose this one? Because it is safe and because candidates and operatives are risk-averse. In their mind it is better to go with what worked before, and then you won't be blamed if you mess up because you merely followed a previous winning playbook.

The next strategic approach is based in the present. It is a model I will call the evolutionary strategy. One examines and understands the current ecosystem of politics very well, and composes a strategy, which updates old models and innovates tactically so that you can increase the likelihood of success. This is a model that is Darwinian in approach where the survival of the fittest wins out.

This evolutionary approach is what gave us political advertising, Internet campaigns, soccer mom strategy, micro-targeting, big data, etc. It is a model we successfully put together in the 2004 Bush re-election campaign, and the Obama folks updated in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. It is an approach that is innovative and incremental in modernization of politics by creating strategy and tactics that fit today's environment perfectly. It is a strategy that fundamentally has an ends justify the means approach and one in which winning an electoral victory is the main goal. This evolutionary strategy is one desired by most candidates and operatives because it gives them the greatest opportunity for winning an election. There is more risk here than the prerevolutionary or historic approach, but a thorough understanding of the political environment and dynamics mitigates this risk.

The third model a campaign could pick, but one in which is seldom chosen, is the revolutionary approach. This strategy knows the lessons of the past, understands very well the present moment and environment, but seeks not to just win, but to change the way politics is practiced. It is a strategic approach that doesn't have winning the election as the end point, but it is a model that wants to show a whole new and better way to engage politically.

It takes the Darwinian theory of evolution, stands it on its head, and says we can control our own destiny. It is not just up to natural selection, but a political selection process we now have some ability to alter. Rather than an ends-justify-the-means dynamic, it is a means-justify-the-ends mode. Where creating a different means of politics and campaigning (and ultimately governing), will give us a better end. And the ends being a different community we all live, work and prosper in.

The revolutionary approach is high risk, but it has tremendous high reward. It is one where by losing with a new model, you actually might be creating a win for society as a whole. It is not just a model of dreamers because one needs to understand the past and present strategically, but it is one that sees a better future and the only way to get there is practicing the campaign in alignment with the future desired. A campaign where what is thought, said, and done is in alignment

We can't say we want the end of big money in politics or eliminate of Super Pacs, and then use big money to win, and then think we are changing the system. We can't say we want open and transparent government and campaigns, and then play hide the ball with and manipulate the media and voters, and think we are creating a more open and transparent society. We can't say we want the country to be unified and come together and get past divisiveness, and then put together campaign tactics and speeches that see the public in segments and microgroups and pit these groups against each other, and think we are building an interconnected community where we all share in the country's prosperity.

In my previous life as a campaign operative, I prided myself on being so smart in knowing the current political environment, and adopting the evolutionary campaign model, and as a result, winning on Election Day. I was very successful, and I was wrong. I lost sight of the real goal and mission of why I loved politics. It became about winning elections, and not creating a new way to live and building a community for the future. I now believe the only way to get out of this cycle is to choose the revolutionary approach. Instead of being successful in today's environment, let us take the power away from "nature" and begin to direct it in a way that serves a higher purpose. And create a whole new ecosystem. We have the power to choose a different way.

And the fascinating thing is that we also have the option to make this choice in our personal relations. Do we want to base our interactions in our beliefs of the past because it is known and safer, do we want to be as successful as we can be in the present and just winning in the moment and being controlled by our nature, or do we want to set a mission of what we most want to model in our relationships, and then practice that today?

It is time we throw away the false choices of the past, put evolutionary models in their place, and choose a revolutionary approach that will change our own worlds, the political world, and the world as a whole.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd, founder of ListenTo.Us, is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.

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U.S. Does Damage Control After Defense Chief's Remarks On Iraq

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-05-25 20:06

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON, May 25 (Reuters) - Vice President Joe Biden reassured Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi of the U.S. commitment to help fight Islamic State militants in an effort at damage control on Monday after Defense Secretary Ash Carter questioned Iraqi troops' desire to fight.

Carter told CNN on Sunday that Iraqi forces showed no will to battle against Islamic State militants during the fall of Ramadi a week ago, and U.S. forces were trying to encourage them to engage more directly.

His remarks drew a rebuke from Abadi, with whom President Barack Obama has sought to build a positive relationship despite tension over the U.S. role in the country.

Biden's call was an effort to patch things up after Carter's remarks.

"The vice president recognized the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces over the past eighteen months in Ramadi and elsewhere," the White House said in a statement.

A senior administration official said Carter's mention of a lack of will was a reference specifically to the Ramadi retreat, which followed a wave of suicide bombings and what the Iraqi government has acknowledged were breakdowns in military command and planning.

"The Iraqis have suffered setbacks before and were able to retake territory from ISIL, such as in Baghdadi in western Anbar," said the official, referring to the militant group by an acronym.

"The United States will continue to support these efforts, and do all we can to help the brave Iraqi forces, including the tribes of Anbar, secure the province from ISIL terrorists."

In his comments to CNN on Sunday, Carter knocked Iraqi forces for being unsuccessful in holding Ramadi despite being more numerous than the militants.

"The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight," he told CNN's "State of the Union" program. "They vastly outnumbered the opposing force and yet they withdrew from the site."

Abadi, in an interview with the BBC, refuted Carter's characterization.

"(Carter) was very supportive of Iraq and I am sure he was fed with the wrong information," Abadi said, according to the BBC website.

Abadi said Iraqi forces would take back Ramadi "in days" despite being faced with attacks from Islamic State militants using "armored trucks packed with explosives."

Biden, in his conciliatory call, made specific reference to that tactic.

"The vice president pledged full U.S. support in ... Iraqi efforts to liberate territory from ISIL, including the expedited provision of U.S. training and equipment to address the threat posed by ISIL's use of truck bombs," the statement said.



'IMPOLITIC BUT TRUE'

The U.S. military currently has 3,040 U.S. personnel in Iraq, including 2,240 providing support to the Iraqi security forces through logistics, training, advising and other mission-support activities. About 800 of the total number of U.S. troops are there to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, according to U.S. Central Command.

Paul Scharre, a former Army Ranger and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said Carter's comments were "impolitic but true" and reflected acknowledgement of a need for a shift in U.S. strategy.

"Carter's remarks suggest that at least internally, the White House is aware that they need to make some changes," Scharre said. "I just don't see them sending a large number of U.S. troops back into Iraq."

Obama, who has made winding down the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan a major part of his legacy, is reluctant to send troops back to Baghdad.

On Monday, he heralded the U.S. Memorial Day holiday as the first in 14 years in which the United States was not involved in a major ground war. (Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Cleveland, Justice Department Reach Deal On Policing Violations

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-05-25 19:29
WASHINGTON (AP) — The city of Cleveland has reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over a pattern of excessive force and civil rights violations by the police department, and the agreement could be announced as soon as Tuesday, a senior federal law enforcement official said.

The official was not authorized to speak publicly of the settlement ahead of the official announcement and spoke Monday on condition of anonymity. News of the settlement comes days after a white police officer was acquitted of manslaughter for firing the final 15 rounds of a 137-shot police barrage through the windshield of a car carrying two black, unarmed suspects in 2012. The suspects' backfiring vehicle had been mistaken for a gunshot, leading to a high-speed chase involving 62 police cruisers.

Once the suspects were cornered, 13 officers fired at the car.

The case prompted an 18-month Justice Department investigation into the practices of the Cleveland police. In a scathing report released in December, the department required the city to devise a plan to reform the police force.

The specifics of the settlement, first reported by The New York Times, were not available Monday.

Messages left with Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson and the police department seeking comment weren't returned.

The Justice Department's report spared no one in the police chain of command. The worst examples of excessive force involved patrol officers who endangered lives by shooting at suspects and cars, hit people over the head with guns and used stun guns on handcuffed suspects.

Supervisors and police higher-ups received some of the report's most searing criticism. The Justice Department said officers were poorly trained and some didn't know how to implement use-of-force policies. The report also said officers are ill-equipped.

Mobile computers that are supposed to be in patrol cars often don't work and, even when they do, officers don't have access to essential department databases, according to the report.

Police Chief Calvin Williams said in December that while it's not easy to have to share the federal government findings with his 1,500-member department, he is committed to change.

"The people of this city need to know we will work to make the police department better," Williams said.

The agency said supervisors encouraged some of the bad behavior and often did little to investigate it. Some told the Justice Department that they often wrote their reports to make an officer look as good as possible, the federal agency said. The department found that only six officers had been suspended for improper use of force over a three-year period.

The investigation was the second time in recent years the Justice Department has taken the Cleveland police to task over the use of force. But unlike in 2004, when the agency left it up to local police to clean up their act, federal authorities this time have been negotiating a consent decree designed to serve as a blueprint for lasting change within the police department. Several other police departments in the country now operate under federal consent decrees that involve independent oversight.

The Justice Department has launched broad investigations into the practices of more than 20 police forces in the last five years, including agencies in Ferguson, Missouri and, most recently, in Baltimore.

Saturday's bench verdict on the manslaughter charge against patrolman Michael Brelo led to a day of mostly peaceful protests but also more than 70 arrests.

But two other high-profile police-involved deaths still hang over the city: a boy holding a pellet gun fatally shot by a rookie patrolman and a mentally ill woman in distress who died after officers took her to the ground and handcuffed her.

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4 New Trumps Shaking Fast Track's House of (Trading) Cards

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-05-25 19:01
After first rejecting "fast-track authority" to prevent Congress from amending President Obama's pendingres Asian and European trade agreements,13 Senate Democrats change their votes Thursday. The Senators who flipped had obtained other concessions, on issues like the Export-Import Bank and currency manipulation - but tellingly most of the concessions were promises to let something be voted on, not commitments to pass them.

The Senate vote passed the bill Friday night, the process proved far more difficult than expected and prospects in the House were even more challenging.

The debate thus far represents a seismic change in the trade conversation. Now the argument is not about whether to incorporate labor and environmental standards. This year's the debate is about the fundamentals -- are the kinds of trade agreements we have been negotiating good for the country at their core?

Four new dynamics are shaping this debate.

1. Fast Track has become a transparent Executive Branch power grab -- angering even pro-business conservative Republicans.

Fast track's original premise was that Congress would tell the Administration what its broad limits were -- what features must or must not be included. If the agreement met those standards, Congress would vote it up or down. Congress would not second guess, say, a Japanese concession on rice in exchange for a U.S. concession on auto parts.

But as trade agreements tilted further and further away from the center of public opinion, Congress began setting side-bars that negotiators couldn't -- or didn't want -- to deliver. So the Bush Administration made the Congressional limits advisory only, not binding. Now fast track basically says anything the Administration negotiates is exempt from Congressional amendment --even provisions Congress and the public would never have supported.

But this reality had to be concealed from the public. So trade negotiators stopped allowing public release of the terms of the agreements they were negotiating -- fearing that if the public and Congress knew what was in a deal being worked out, opposition would increase. (Indeed, Ron Kirk, the first Obama Trade Rep, was blunt: if the text of the treaty was made public, it could never be approved.)

Members of Congress had to be allowed to see the documents. But they were told that it was illegal for them to share what they learned with the public. When Senator Barbara Boxer started to take notes the guard told her she could not -- or if she did, she had to surrender them. "Not on your life," Boxer retorted, and kept her notes.

Republican Jeff Sessions went further. He laid out a five page memo directly (and apparently illegally) quoting from the draft text he had seen, slamming in particular the provisions of the pending agreement that allow the President and other countries to change its membership and terms without Congressional approval -- in effect a permanent blank check to the White House.

2. Concerns about climate highlights the reality that how goods are produced does not just impact the countries where production takes place.

One of the core principals of the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement was that importing countries could not set worker, health or environmental standards for goods coming into their markets. This was always a misguided theory - pollution, for example, does not respect national boundaries. (Or even oceans -- in some seasons a quarter of the sulfate pollution in the Western US is emitted from factories in China making goods for export.)

But carbon pollution is a truly global problem. Climate changes impacting Africa today is a result of carbon emitted by the U.S. and Europe over the last century. As more and more nations move towards carbon pricing as a part of the solution -- by 2016 50 percent of the world's fossil fuels will pay a carbon price -- nations won't allow their competitors to undercut their prices by refusing to levy such prices. Requiring a level playing field in international trade is an idea whose time is coming -- and perhaps may already have come.

3. Current trade doctrine shrinks the space for democracy. Public opinion has less and less influence over drug pricing, health and environmental standards, food safety, anti-trust and banking regulation.

One good sign is that the myth that we are arguing about free trade is gone. Listen to the editorial Board of the New York Times, traditionally one of the staunchest advocates of trade agreements:

The important thing to remember about the Pacific and European trade deals is that they are not primarily about lowering customs duties and quotas. While these deals would reduce those barriers to trade, they would have much of their impact by getting countries to adopt similar regulations in areas like labor standards, environmental protection, how governments treat foreign investors and patent and copyright law.

Indeed, only five of the 29 chapters of the draft agreement cover what most of us think of as trade -- tariffs, quotas, customs barriers.

The current international trade regime allows foreign companies exclusive and preferential access to secret trade courts, in which they can (and will) argue that passage of tougher pollution standards unfairly reduces their expected profits, that regulations limiting the ability of publicly guaranteed banks to take risks is unduly conservative, or that requirements that drug companies permit the production of generic versions of their products after a reasonable tie are an expropriation of their intellectual property.

4. Finally, too much evidence is in from past trade agreements. They have not been not good for the average American, have slowed growth and significantly contributed to increasing inequality.


Since NAFTA and the free trade agreement with Korea, U.S. trade deficits with "free trade" partners have increased by 430%; However, over the same period, deficits with non-free trade countries declined by 11%! Korea alone, in the first three years of "free trade" saw a jump of 84 percent in our trade deficit, costing 85,000 jobs. These trade deficits are huge job and growth destroyers -- cutting growth by about $10 billion every month, $120 billion each year.

The impact of trade agreements has been particularly deleterious for blue-collar, manufacturing employment. Senator Sessions, in his briefing, points out "Labor economist Clyde Prestowitz attributes 60 percent of the U.S.' 5.7 million manufacturing jobs lost over the last decade to import-driven trade imbalances." In the case of Korea, the Bush Administration promised that the agreement would open Korea's markets to US car makers. Instead US auto imports grew ten times as fast as exports to that country.

Again from the normally pro-trade NY Times: "There is also mounting evidence that the benefits of globalization have accrued disproportionately to upper-income households, while the costs have fallen heavily on the less affluent, contributing to the rise of economic inequality."

Why do we keep signing such deals? Does our governments really not know these facts? Well, Obama does, as he revealed when he chose to make his appeal for Fast Track at Nike, a company which has outsourced all of its manufacturing jobs to other countries, instead of New Balance, the one shoe maker still producing significantly in the U.S. In his speech at Nike, Obama boasted of how free trade helped Nike grow its market share -and hence hire more designers and marketers. This is yet another case of upscale knowledge workers benefiting while blue collar, middle class employment shrinks. But for the Administration and fast track advocates, that's the American future - our traditional blue-collar middle class just can't hope to compete with manufacturing workers making $1/hour in Vietnam, so they will have to take whatever service jobs the economy generates. German, of course, demonstrates that you can have a high wage, high skill manufacturing economy in a globalized world -- but you have to make it a priority. Germany protects its middle class, not its banks and pharmaceutical companies, when it negotiates trade deals -- the U.S. throws manufacturing under the bus.

Harold Meyerson summed it up in the Washington Post, pointing out that the best argument the Wall Street Journal could muster for the U.S.-Korea trade agreement was that it had been good for US law firms and investors. No wonder, Meyerson muses, that the entire base of the Democratic Party is opposing Obama on fast track -- why does Obama seem perplexed?

With these four new trump cards on the table, the odds against fast-track get better -- and almost certainly the next Presidential election will put the candidates of both parties to the test -- a fact which has led Hilary Clinton to distance herself from her husband's trade legacy, and Mike Huckabee to make opposition to trade deals one of his key planks.

Trade diplomacy's House of Cards looks ever shakier -- even if it doesn't topple in the next few months.

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Owner Of Pressure Cooker In Washington Bomb Scare Apologizes

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-05-25 18:39

May 25 (Reuters) - A Virginia man who triggered a bomb scare on Sunday near the U.S. Capitol apologized and explained the suspicious device was a pressure cooker used for his food truck business, local news reported on Monday.

Authorities on Sunday blew up the pressure cooker found in a suspicious, unattended vehicle parked near the Capitol minutes before the National Memorial Day Concert, where thousands of people were in attendance.

Pressure cooker bombs were used to kill three people and injured more than 250 others at the Boston Marathon in April 2013.

U.S. Capitol Police officers on routine patrol found the suspicious vehicle around 5 p.m. on 3rd Street across from the Capitol's West Lawn where the concert was held, Lieutenant Kimberly Schneider said on Monday.

Police found the pressure cooker and a propane tank. They also reported a strong odor of gasoline, Schneider said.

A police bomb squad closed the street between Independence and Constitution Avenues and destroyed the pressure cooker around 7:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the concert began, Schneider added.

People attending the concert could hear the explosion, the Washington Post reported.

A subsequent investigation found nothing hazardous, but the vehicle's owner, Israel Shimeles of the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, was arrested and charged with operating a vehicle after his license had been revoked.

Shimeles told local media on Monday he operated a food truck and the pressure cooker was for cooking rice. He apologized for the incident and for delaying crowds trying to attend the concert.

"I should have thought about it a little bit more," Shimeles told the NBC Washington affiliate. "You know, if I had to do it again, absolutely I would have been a little more careful."

(Reporting by John Clarke in Washington and Chris Michaud in New York; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Peter Cooney)

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott: Deadly Flooding Is 'Absolutely Massive'

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-05-25 18:13

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO, May 25 (Reuters) - Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday described the flash flooding that had killed at least three people in his state as "a relentless wall of water that mowed down huge trees like they were grass."

Abbott declared states of disaster in 24 counties and flew over the area south of Austin to assess the damage caused by tornadoes, heavy rainfall, thunderstorms and flooding that forced evacuations and rooftop rescues and left thousands of residents without electrical power.

"This is the biggest flood this area of Texas has ever seen," Abbott said.

"It is absolutely massive - the relentless tsunami-type power of this wave of water," the governor said.

He described homes that were "completely wiped off the map" by the dangerous weather system that struck Texas and Oklahoma.

Widespread severe thunderstorms were forecast to continue on Monday in north-central and northeast Texas and southern Oklahoma, likely bringing destructive winds, tornadoes and hail, the National Weather Service said.

The bodies of a 14-year-old boy and his dog were found in a storm drain on Monday morning in the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, police said. Two other people killed in the storm were described as an unidentified man found dead from the flooding in San Marcos, Texas, and in Oklahoma, a firefighter who was swept into a storm drain.

A possible fourth person killed was reported by the New York Times, which said a Tulsa woman died on Saturday after her automobile hydroplaned on a highway.

Twelve people were listed as missing, including eight from an extended family from Corpus Christi who has been vacationing in a home in Wimberley that was washed off its foundation into the raging Blanco River, according to local officials and the family's church in Corpus Christi. One family member found alive was hospitalized.

Wimberley schools will be closed on Tuesday and a curfew extended for a second night on Monday in Wimberley and San Marcos, Hays County officials said.

Parts of the area have received more than 1-1/2 feet of rain since May 1, six times what he area typically receives in all of May, Accuweather.com said.

The governor's office said the severe weather could continue through the week.

Meteorologists said soil was saturated from heavy rainfall over the past three weeks, leading to the dangerous flash floods. (Additional reporting by Lisa Garza in Dallas and Ellen Wulfhorst in New York; editing by Barbara Goldberg, Richard Chang, Peter Cooney and Diane Craft)

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U.S., Canada And Mexico Create New Climate Change Partnership

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-05-25 17:39

By Mike De Souza

OTTAWA, May 25 (Reuters) - North American energy ministers said on Monday they had set up a working group on climate change and energy, a partnership designed to help Canada, the United States and Mexico harmonize policies.

The partnership does not include binding targets, but will enhance cooperation and integrate more climate change-related policies into energy discussions between the countries, Canadian Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said during a conference call.

All three governments said they will prioritize working together on issues, including efficiency of electricity grids, pursuing new clean energy technologies and aligning regulations to control emissions from the oil and gas sector.

The agreement comes even as Canada's right-leaning Conservative government and the Obama administration clash over the lengthy and ongoing U.S. review of TransCanada Corp proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would connect Alberta's oil sands region with the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Environmental groups have aggressively campaigned against the project, arguing that it would accelerate heat-trapping emissions from the oil sands.

Canada's government has criticized the Obama administration for delaying the decision, while U.S. President Barack Obama has questioned the economic benefits of the project, indicating he would not approve it if it exacerbates global warming.

Canada has also repeatedly pledged to introduce emissions regulations for the oil and gas sector in recent years, only to delay those plans.

In December, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it would be "crazy" to introduce new rules at a time when global oil prices are plummeting.

Rickford, who met with his North American counterparts in Merida, Mexico, said Canada could align itself with recently proposed U.S. rules to cut methane emissions from oil and gas operations as part of Monday's agreement. He said this could lead to other regulations for Canadian oil and gas companies.

"I believe we've had some very serious discussions around the potential this (focus on methane) holds for oil and gas regs in general," said Rickford, following his meeting with Ernest Moniz and Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, the U.S. and Mexican energy secretaries, respectively.

Monday's agreement would also enhance cooperation on technologies to capture and bury greenhouse gas emissions underground, Rickford said. (Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and G Crosse)

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