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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Over the top: Trump sews up delegates to seal GOP nomination

Over the top: Trump sews up delegates to seal GOP nomination

AP Photo
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump acknowledges the crowd after giving an energy speech at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, Thursday, May 26, 2016, in Bismarck, N.D.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- Triumphantly armed with a majority of his party's delegates, Republican Donald Trump unleashed a broadside attack Thursday on Hillary Clinton's prescriptions for energy, guns, the economy and international affairs, shifting abruptly toward the general election with his likely Democratic opponent locked in a divisive primary contest.

The New York billionaire shrugged off signs of discord within his own campaign hours after sewing up the number of delegates needed to clinch the GOP nomination, a feat that completed an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and set the stage for a bitter fall campaign.

"Here I am watching Hillary fight, and she can't close the deal," Trump crowed during an appearance in North Dakota. "We've had tremendous support from almost everybody."

Trump's good news was tempered by ongoing internal problems. Those include the sudden departure of his political director and continuing resistance by many Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, to declaring their support for his outsider candidacy.

At the same time, Clinton faced fresh questions about her use of a private email server while secretary of state, even as she fought to pivot toward Trump, who she warned would take the country "backward on every issue and value we care about."

The State Department's inspector general released a report a day earlier concluding that Clinton did not seek legal approval for her private email server, guaranteeing the issue will continue nagging her campaign for a second summer. She insisted Thursday that she had done nothing wrong.

"It was allowed. And the rules have been clarified since I left about the practice. Having said that, I have said many times, it was a mistake. And, if I could go back, I would do it differently," Clinton said, according to an interview transcript provided by ABC News.

Campaigning before union workers in Las Vegas, she decried Trump's anti-union comments and his proposal to deport millions of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. She said he is an "unqualified loose cannon" who should never be president.

Complicating her election challenge, Clinton's Democratic rival Bernie Sanders embraced the possibility of a one-on-one debate with Trump. The Republican said he'd "love to debate Bernie" as he faced reporters Thursday.

"The problem with debating Bernie," Trump noted, "he's going to lose."

Just 75 delegates short of her own delegate majority, Clinton remains on a path to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination, according to an Associated Press count. But Trump got there first.

The New York businessman sealed the majority by claiming a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the national convention in July. Among them was Oklahoma GOP chairwoman Pam Pollard.

"I think he has touched a part of our electorate that doesn't like where our country is," Pollard said. "I have no problem supporting Mr. Trump."

It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination. Trump has reached 1,239 and will easily pad his total in primary elections on June 7.

Many on the right have been slow to warm to Trump, wary of his conservative bona fides. Others worry about his crass personality and the lewd comments he's made about women.

But millions of grass-roots activists, many of them outsiders to the political process, have embraced him as a plain-speaking populist.

Steve House, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party and an unbound delegate who confirmed his support of Trump to the AP, said he likes the billionaire's background as a businessman.

"Leadership is leadership," House said. "If he can surround himself with the political talent, I think he will be fine."

Still, Trump's pivotal moment comes amid a new sign of internal problems.

Hours before clinching the nomination, he announced the departure of political director Rick Wiley, who was leading the campaign's push to hire staff in key battleground states. In a statement, Trump's campaign said Wiley had been hired only until the candidate's organization "was running full steam."

His hiring about six weeks ago was seen as a sign that party veterans were embracing Trump's campaign. The White House contender ignored questions about internal problems on Thursday and instead took aim at Clinton.

He told a Bismarck audience that Clinton has "declared war on the American worker," that she's "going to abolish your right to own guns," and that she created a foreign policy legacy "of total chaos."

He said, "The choice in November is a choice between a Clinton agenda that puts donors first or an agenda that puts America first: my agenda."

Trump also entered a new phase on the fundraising front. Having bashed donors for much of the past year, he hosted his first major campaign fundraiser the night before: a $25,000-per-ticket dinner in Los Angeles.
He dismissed questions about the fundraising shift on Thursday and turned back toward Clinton.

"I love watching Hillary and Bernie go at it," he said. "In fact, Bernie is giving me some great lines."

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Forensic expert suggests explosion downed EgyptAir jet

Forensic expert suggests explosion downed EgyptAir jet
 

AP Photo
An Egyptian journalist lights candles during a candlelight vigil for the victims of EgyptAir flight 804 in front of the Journalists' Syndicate in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, May 24, 2016. The cause of Thursday’s crash of the EgyptAir jet flying from Paris to Cairo that killed all 66 people aboard still has not been determined. Ships and planes from Egypt, Greece, France, the United States and other nations are searching the Mediterranean Sea north of the Egyptian port of Alexandria for the jet’s voice and flight data recorders.

CAIRO (AP) -- Body parts recovered from the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804 showed signs of burns and were so small that they suggested the jet was brought down by an explosion, a member of the team examining the remains said Tuesday. But the idea of a blast was promptly dismissed by the head of Egypt's forensic agency as "baseless" speculation.

The cause of Thursday's crash of the EgyptAir jet flying from Paris to Cairo that killed all 66 people aboard still has not been determined. Ships and planes from Egypt, Greece, France, the United States and other nations are searching the Mediterranean Sea north of the Egyptian port of Alexandria for the jet's voice and flight data recorders, as well as more bodies and parts of the aircraft.

Egypt's civil aviation minister has said he believes terrorism is a more likely explanation than equipment failure or some other catastrophic event. But no hard evidence has emerged on the cause, and no militant group has claimed to have downed the jet. Leaked flight data indicated a sensor detected smoke in a lavatory and a fault in two of the plane's cockpit windows in the final moments of the flight.

An Egyptian forensic team was examining the remains of the victims for any traces of explosives, according to a team member and a second official, both speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

The team member said the fact that all 80 body parts recovered so far were very small and that some showed signs of burns suggested an explosion.

"There isn't even a whole body part, like an arm or a head," said the forensic official, who examined the remains.

He said at least one part of an arm has signs of burns - an indication it might have "belonged to a passenger sitting next to the explosion."

"The logical explanation is that an explosion brought it down," he said, adding that if there was a blast, the cause was not known.

But Hisham Abdel-Hamid, head of the Egyptian government's forensic agency, dismissed the suggestion, telling the state-run MENA news agency: "Whatever has been published is baseless and mere assumptions."

France's aviation accident investigation agency would not comment on anything involving the bodies or say whether any information has surfaced to indicate an explosion.

Other experts were divided on whether the state of the remains necessarily suggested an explosion.

Philip Butterworth-Hayes, an aviation systems expert, said such damage was unlikely if the plane was intact when it hit the water.

"Normally an impact is not going to do that to a human body in a seat belt," he said, adding that in some aircraft hit the water, bodies are found relatively intact.

"Normally the human frame can withstand quite severe deceleration, which is what happens when a plane hits the water," Butterworth-Hayes said.

But David Learmount, a consulting editor at the aviation news website Flightglobal, said a water impact could have such a devastating effect on those in the plane.

"Hitting water after a fall from that height is like hitting a cliff face," he said.

There also have been contradictory reports over the last moments of Flight 804.

Greece's defense minister said radar showed the aircraft turned 90 degrees left, then a full 360 degrees to the right, plummeting from 38,000 feet (11,582 meters) to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) before disappearing at about 10,000 feet (3,048 meters).

But the head of Egypt's state-run provider of air navigation services denied that, saying the plane did not swerve or lose altitude and disappeared from radar while at its normal altitude of 37,000 feet.

A Greek military official insisted that all radar data available to Greek authorities showed the plane swerving and losing altitude. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Egypt's investigative team said 18 batches of wreckage have been brought to Cairo's criminal investigation units for examination.

It added that priority was to locate the flight data and cockpit voice recorders - the so-called "black boxes" - and to retrieve more bodies.

A French patrol boat is carrying a doctor to help with the search for remains. Anything it finds would first be reported to Egyptian authorities and French justice officials, the French Navy said.

Relatives of the victims were giving DNA samples to the forensic team in Cairo to help identify the remains, a security official said. The official also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Terrorism suspected in crash of Egyptian jet; 66 feared dead

Terrorism suspected in crash of Egyptian jet; 66 feared dead

AP Photo
A relative of the victims of the EgyptAir flight 804 reacts as she makes a phone call at Charles de Gaulle Airport outside of Paris, Thursday, May 19, 2016. Egyptian aviation officials say an EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo with 66 passengers and crew on board has crashed.

CAIRO (AP) -- An EgyptAir jetliner en route from Paris to Cairo with 66 people aboard veered wildly in flight and crashed in the Mediterranean Sea early Thursday, authorities said. Egyptian and Russian officials said it may have been brought down by terrorists.

There were no signs of survivors.

EgyptAir Flight 804, an Airbus A320 with 56 passengers and 10 crew members, went down about halfway between the Greek island of Crete and Egypt's coastline, or around 175 miles (282 kilometers) offshore, after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle Airport, authorities said.

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said the plane spun all the way around and suddenly lost altitude just before vanishing from radar screens around 2:45 a.m. Cairo time (12:45 a.m. GMT).

He said it made a 90-degree left turn, then a full 360-degree turn to the right, plummeting from 38,000 feet (11,582 meters) to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). It disappeared at about 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), he said. 

There were no reports of stormy weather at the time.

Egyptian and Greek authorities in ships and planes searched the suspected crash area throughout the day for traces of the airliner or its victims, with more help on the way from the U.S., Britain and France.

But as night fell, they had yet to find any confirmed debris, at one point dismissing a reported sighting of life vests and other floating material.

Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathi cautioned that the disaster was still under investigation but said the possibility it was a terror attack "is higher than the possibility of having a technical failure."

Alexander Bortnikov, chief of Russia's top domestic security agency, went further, saying: "In all likelihood it was a terror attack."

There was no immediate claim from militants that they had downed the plane.

If it was terrorism, it would be the second deadly attack involving Egypt's aviation industry in seven months.

Last October, a Russian passenger plane that took off from an Egyptian Red Sea resort crashed in the Sinai, killing all 224 people aboard. Russia said it was brought down by a bomb, and a local branch of the Islamic State claimed responsibility.

Thursday's disaster also raises questions about security at De Gaulle Airport, at a time when Western Europe has been on high alert over the deadly Islamic extremist attacks in Paris and at the Brussels airport and subway over the past six months.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that airport security had been tightened considerably before the disaster, in part because of the coming European soccer championship, which France is hosting.

The Egyptian military said it did not receive a distress call from the doomed plane, and Egypt's state-run daily Al-Ahram quoted an unidentified airport official as saying the pilot did not send one. That could mean that whatever sent the aircraft plummeting into the sea was sudden.

Its erratic course suggested a number of possible explanations, including a catastrophic mechanical or structural failure, a bombing, or a struggle over the controls with a hijacker in the cockpit.

Egyptian security officials said they were running background checks on the passengers to see if any had links to extremists.

In the U.S., the FBI offered its assistance in the investigation. FBI Director James Comey said the bureau has no evidence yet that the plane was brought down intentionally.

California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said there is much that is unknown.

"We are looking through our intelligence collections to figure out if we have any images. Do we have any signals intelligence that reveals a discussion of a plot like this?" Schiff said.

"We're working with the French to try to figure out is there any information we have that could shed light on any of the passengers, but there's nothing yet to confirm the cause of the plane crash."

He said the plane seemed to have broken apart in flight, but why is unclear.

Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Latiff, an aerospace expert at the University of Notre Dame, said that while it is too early to tell for certain, an accidental structural failure of the highly reliable A320 is "vanishingly improbable."

He also cast doubt on the possibility of a struggle in the cockpit, saying the crew would have triggered an alarm.

Instead, he said, "sabotage is possible, and if there were lax controls at airports and loose hiring and security policies, increasingly likely."

Similarly, John Goglia, a former U.S. National Transportation Safety Board member, said early indications point more to a bomb, since it appears that no mayday call was issued during the abrupt turns. He said the aircraft's black-box voice and data recorders should hold the answers.

Those on board, according to EgyptAir and various governments, included 15 French passengers, 30 Egyptians, two Iraqis, one Briton, one Kuwaiti, one Saudi, one Sudanese, one Chadian, one Portuguese, one Belgian, one Algerian and two Canadians. Two babies were aboard, officials said.

Among the passengers, according to employers and officials, were the Egypt-raised manager of a Procter & Gamble plant in Amiens, France; a Saudi woman who works at the Saudi Embassy in Cairo; the sister-in-law of an Egyptian diplomatic official in Paris; and a student at France's prestigious Saint-Cyr military academy who was heading home to Chad to mourn his mother.

Whatever caused the crash, the disaster is likely to deepen Egypt's woes as the country struggles to revive its ailing economy, particularly its lucrative tourism industry. It has been battered by the bloodshed and political turmoil that have engulfed Egypt since the 2011 overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.

French President Francois Hollande held an emergency meeting at the Elysee Palace. He also spoke with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi by telephone and agreed to "closely cooperate to establish as soon as possible the circumstances" surrounding the disaster, according to a statement.

In addition to joining the search-and-rescue operation, France sent a team of accident investigators.

In Cairo, el-Sissi convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, the country's highest security body. It includes the defense, foreign and interior ministers and the chiefs of the intelligence agencies.

In Paris, the city prosecutor's office opened an investigation. "No hypothesis is favored or ruled out at this stage," it said in a statement.

Families of passengers gathered at the Cairo airport, desperate for any news. Authorities brought doctors to the scene after several distressed family members collapsed.

"They don't have any information," lamented Mohamed Ramez, whose in-laws were on the plane. "But obviously there is little hope."

At De Gaulle Airport, a man and woman sat at an information desk near the EgyptAir counter, the woman sobbing into a handkerchief, before they were led away by police.

The Airbus A320 is a widely used twin-engine plane that operates on short- and medium-haul routes. Nearly 4,000 A320s are in use around the world.

The last deadly crash involving one of the planes was in March 2015, when one of the pilots of a Germanwings flight deliberately slammed it into the French Alps, killing all 150 people aboard.

Airbus said the aircraft in Thursday's disaster was delivered to EgyptAir in 2003 and had logged 48,000 flight hours. The pilot had more than 6,000 hours of flying time, authorities said.

In March, an EgyptAir plane was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus. A man described by authorities as mentally unstable was taken into custody.

Monday, May 16, 2016

US, other powers want to arm Libyan government

US, other powers want to arm Libyan government
 

AP Photo
E.U foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini arrives for Libya talks in Vienna, Austria, Monday May 16, 2016
  
VIENNA (AP) -- In a move fraught with risk, the United States and other world powers said Monday they would supply Libya's internationally recognized government with weapons to counter the Islamic State and other militant groups gaining footholds in the chaos-wracked country's lawless regions.

Aiming at once to shore up the fragile government, and prevent Islamic State fighters and rival militias from further gains, the U.S., the four other permanent U.N. Security Council members and more than 15 other nations said they would approve exemptions to a United Nations arms embargo to allow military sales and aid to Libya's so-called "Government of National Accord."

In a joint communique, the nations said that while the broader embargo will remain in place, they are "ready to respond to the Libyan government's requests for training and equipping" government forces.

"We will fully support these efforts while continuing to reinforce the UN arms embargo," the communique said.

With support from all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the plan is unlikely to face significant opposition from any quarter.

The communique was issued at the end of the talks that gathered U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and top officials from more than 20 other nations to discuss ways to strengthen Libya's fledgling government. The aim is to give the internationally recognized administration more muscle in fighting Islamic State radicals and end its rivalry with a group to the east claiming legitimacy.

The step will boost the government's efforts to consolidate power and regain control over Libyan state institutions like the central bank and national oil company. However, it also comes with risks, not least of which is that the arms may be captured or otherwise taken by the Islamic State or other groups.

Kerry called the plan "a delicate balance."

"But we are all of us here today supportive of the fact that if you have a legitimate government and that legitimate government is fighting terrorism, that legitimate government should not be victimized by (the embargo)," he told reporters.

Libyan Premier Fayez al-Sarraj said his government would soon submit a weapons wish list to the Security Council for approval.

"We have a major challenge ahead of us," in fighting extremists, he said. "We urge the international community to assist us."

Before the meeting, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier outlined the high stakes at hand.

"The key question is whether Libya remains a place where terrorism, criminal human smuggling and instability continue to expand, or if we are able, together with the government of national unity to recover stability," he told reporters.

The challenges are daunting.

Libya descended into chaos after the toppling and death of Moammar Gaddafi five years ago and soon turned into a battleground of rival militias battling for powers. More recently, the power vacuum has allowed Islamic State radicals to expand their presence, giving them a potential base in a country separated from Europe only by a relatively small stretch of the Mediterranean Sea.

Also worrying for Europe is the potential threat of a mass influx of refugees amassing in Libya, now that the earlier route from Turkey into Greece has been essentially shut down. British Foreign Secretary David Hammond said his government had received a request from the Libyan government to bolster its Coast Guard - a project "which will address Libyan concerns about smuggling and insecurity on their border but will also address European concerns about illegal migration."

In Libya, meanwhile, the U.N.-established presidency council on Monday effectively gave the go-ahead for 18 government ministers to start work, even though they have not received backing from the parliament.

The council was created under a U.N.-brokered unity deal struck in December to reconcile Libya's many political divisions. It won the support of a former powerbase in the country's capital, Tripoli, but failed to secure a vote of confidence by the country's internationally recognized parliament, based in Tobruk, a city in eastern Libya.

The U.N. deal also created the internationally recognized government, through a de facto Cabinet to administer the country under Prime Minister-designate Fayez Serraj and the 18 ministers will answer to him.

Divisions in theTobruk parliament between boycotters and supporters of the new government have prevented the house from reaching a quorum to endorse the council.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Will robot cars drive traffic congestion off a cliff?

Will robot cars drive traffic congestion off a cliff?
 

AP Photo
FILE - In this May 13, 2014 file photo, a Google self-driving car goes on a test drive near the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. Self-driving cars are expected to usher in a new era of mobility, safety and convenience. The problem, say transportation researchers, is that people will use them too much.
  
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Self-driving cars are expected to usher in a new era of mobility, safety and convenience. The problem, say transportation researchers, is that people will use them too much.

Experts foresee robot cars chauffeuring children to school, dance class and baseball practice. The disabled and elderly will have new mobility. Commuters will be able to work, sleep, eat or watch movies on the way to the office. People may stay home more because they can send their cars to do things like pick up groceries they've ordered online.

Researchers believe the number of miles driven will skyrocket. It's less certain whether that will mean a corresponding surge in traffic congestion, but it's a clear possibility.

Gary Silberg, an auto industry expert at accounting firm KPMG, compares it to the introduction of smartphones. "It will be indispensable to your life," he said. "It will be all sorts of things we can't even think of today."

Cars that can drive themselves under limited conditions are expected to be available within five to 10 years. Versions able to navigate under most conditions may take 10 to 20 years.

Based on focus groups in Atlanta, Denver and Chicago, KPMG predicts autonomous "mobility-on-demand" services - think Uber and Lyft without a driver - will result in double-digit increases in travel by people in two age groups: those over 65, and those 16 to 24.

Vehicles traveled a record 3.1 trillion miles in the U.S. last year. Increased trips in autonomous cars by those two age groups would boost miles traveled by an additional 2 trillion miles annually by 2050, KPMG calculated. If self-driving cars without passengers start running errands, the increase could be double that.

And if people in their middle years, when driving is at its peak, also increase their travel, that yearly total could reach 8 trillion miles. "This could be massive," Silberg said.

Driverless cars are expected to make travel both safer and cheaper. With human error responsible for 90 percent of traffic accidents, they're expected to sharply reduce accidents, driving down the cost of insurance and repairs.

But the biggest cost of car travel is drivers' time, said Don MacKenzie, a University of Washington transportation researcher. That cost comes down dramatically when people can use their travel time productively on other tasks.

A study by MacKenzie and other researchers published in the journal Transportation Research: Part A estimates that the vehicles can cut the cost of travel by as much as 80 percent. That in turn drives up miles traveled by 60 percent.

"You are talking about a technology that promises to make travel safer, cheaper, more convenient. And when you do that, you'd better expect people are going to do more of it," MacKenzie said.

There's a fork ahead in this driverless road, says a report by Lauren Isaac, manager of sustainable transportation at WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff, that envisions either utopia or a nightmare.

In the best case, congestion is reduced because driverless cars and trucks are safer and can travel faster with reduced space between them. Highway lanes can be narrower because vehicles won't need as much margin for error. There will be fewer accidents to tie up traffic. But those advantages will be limited as long as driverless cars share roads with conventional cars, likely for decades.

But that scenario depends on a societal shift from private vehicle ownership to commercial fleets of driverless cars that can be quickly summoned with a phone app. Driverless fleets would have to become super-efficient carpools, picking up and dropping off multiple passengers traveling in the same direction.

The congestion nightmare would result if a large share of people can't be persuaded to effectively share robot cars with strangers and to continue using mass transit, Isaac said.

A study last year by the International Transport Forum, a transportation policy think tank, simulated the impact on traffic in Lisbon, Portugal, if conventional cars were replaced with driverless cars that take either a single passenger at a time or several passengers together.

It found that as long as half of travel is still carried out by conventional cars, total vehicle miles traveled will increase from 30 to 90 percent, suggesting that even widespread sharing of driverless cars would mean greater congestion for a long time.

Airlines also may face new competition as people choose to travel by car at speeds well over 100 mph between cities a few hundred miles apart instead of flying. Transit agencies will need to rethink their services in order to stay competitive, especially because the elimination of a driver would make car-sharing services cheaper.

To make the shared-vehicle model work, government would have to impose congestion pricing on highways, restrict parking in urban centers, add more high-occupancy vehicle lanes and take other measures to discourage people from traveling alone in their self-driving cars.

Land-use policies may need to be adjusted to prevent sprawl, or people will move beyond the fringes of metropolitan areas for low-cost housing because they can work while commuting at high speeds. Taxes based on the number of miles a personal vehicle travels are another way to discourage car travel.

All these policy changes would be controversial and difficult to achieve.

While there are "loads of likely positive impacts for society associated with driverless technology," people are right to worry about potential for huge increases in congestion, Issac said.

"Without any government influence," she said, "human nature is to get into that single occupancy vehicle."

Friday, May 13, 2016

General is 1st woman to lead top-tier US combat command

General is 1st woman to lead top-tier US combat command

AP Photo
Navy Admiral William E. Gortney, the outgoing commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, hugs the incoming commander, Air Force Gen. Lori J. Robinson, also giving her his Denver Broncos mug, during the change of command ceremony at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Colo., Friday, May 13, 2016. Gen. Robinson is the first woman to lead a top-tier U.S. military command after taking charge Friday at NORAD and USNORTHCOM.
  
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AP) -- Air Force Gen. Lori J. Robinson on Friday became the first woman to lead a top-tier U.S. warfighting command when she took charge of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command in Colorado.

Robinson - one of just two female four-star generals in the Air Force - was "the clear and obvious choice," said Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who attended the change of command ceremony in a vast hangar at Peterson Air Force Base. Outside, a row of cannons fired a 19-gun salute.

Carter praised Robinson's extensive experience and her skill as a strategic thinker capable of making split-second, life-and-death decisions. Her promotion shows the U.S. has female officers qualified for the most senior positions, he said.

"I do hope - well, I know - there are more in her wake, more female officers in her wake," Carter said.

Robinson is an inspiration to female cadets at the nearby Air Force Academy, said Academy Superintendent Michelle Johnson, a three-star general and the first woman to head the school. "They appreciate seeing somebody that they can aspire to," Johnson said after the ceremony.

Robinson's family has deep roots in the Air Force. Her husband, David Robinson, is a retired two-star general and was a pilot in the Thunderbirds demonstration team. A daughter, 2nd Lt. Taryn Ashley Robinson, was fatally injured in a pilot training crash months after graduating from the Air Force Academy. She died in January 2006, four weeks before her 23rd birthday.

"I knew she was peeking over the clouds, and I knew that she was saying, 'You go, Mom,' " Robinson said after the ceremony.

People who know Robinson describe her as the personification of a new generation of leaders, someone who understands that the Air Force has a broad role in space, cybersecurity and drones, not just flying and fighting.

That's what sets Robinson apart, not her gender, said Maria Carl, a retired Air Force colonel who worked with her when the general headed the Pacific Air Forces at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

"Gen. Robinson reflects that change as much as anything else," said Carl, who serves on the Military Affairs Council of the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce. "She has an ability to take all the different pieces of the picture and pull it together strategically."

One of her new commands, the North American Aerospace Defense Command or NORAD, is a joint U.S.-Canada operation that defends the skies over both nations and monitors sea approaches. It's best known for its Cold War-era control room deep inside Cheyenne Mountain - now used only as a backup - and for its wildly popular NORAD Tracks Santa operation on Christmas Eve, fielding calls from children asking for Santa's whereabouts.

Her other command, Northern Command, is responsible for defending U.S. territory from attack and helping civilian authorities in emergencies. It was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Robinson has an extensive background in command and control, the science of orchestrating military operations across a broad area. In her previous job, commander of Pacific Air Forces, her area of responsibility spanned more than half the globe.

"You're dealing with a lot of countries, a lot of the air forces in the Pacific, China being one of them," said Darryll Wong, a retired Air Force major general and Hawaii's former adjutant general. "She had to be a fast learner."

Thursday, May 12, 2016

2nd website posts auction for gun that killed Trayvon Martin

2nd website posts auction for gun that killed Trayvon Martin
   

MIAMI (AP) -- An online gun auction website yanked George Zimmerman's ad to sell the pistol he used to kill unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, saying it wanted no part in the deal, but a second site offered to post it.

A listing for the weapon was removed from the GunBroker.com site Thursday morning, minutes after the auction was to begin, as negative traffic about the sale exploded online. In a statement posted on its website, GunBroker.com said listings are user generated, and that the company reserved the right to reject listings at its discretion.

Zimmerman never contacted anyone at the site and no one there "has any relationship with Zimmerman," the company wrote in its statement.

It added, "We want no part in the listing on our web site or in any of the publicity it is receiving."

Hours later, United Gun Group tweeted that it would post Zimmerman's ad. The new link was posted, along with a statement from Zimmerman. However, the site apparently went down a few minutes later. The site calls itself a "social market place for the firearms community."

Critics called the planned auction an insensitive move to profit from the slaying.

Zimmerman had told Orlando, Florida, TV station WOFL that the pistol was returned to him by the U.S. 

Justice Department, which took it after he was acquitted in Martin's 2012 shooting death.

The auction for the 9 mm Kel-Tec PF-9 pistol was to begin at 11 a.m. EDT Thursday and end 24 hours later.

Zimmerman's listing said a portion of the proceeds would go toward fighting what Zimmerman calls violence by the Black Lives Matter movement against law enforcement officers, combatting anti-gun rhetoric of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and ending the career of state attorney Angela Corey, who led Zimmerman's prosecution.

The listing ended with a Latin phrase that translates as "if you want peace, prepare for war."

Zimmerman, now 32, has said he was defending himself when he killed Martin, 17, in a gated community near Orlando. Martin, who lived in Miami with his mother, was visiting his father at the time.

Zimmerman, who identifies as Hispanic, was acquitted in Martin's February 2012 shooting death. The case sparked protests and a national debate about race relations. The Justice Department later decided not to prosecute Zimmerman on civil rights charges

Lucy McBath, the mother of another black teenager shot by a white man during an argument at a Jacksonville convenience store in 2012, said the auction reflected a "deplorable lack of value for human life."

"I am deeply disappointed that the man who killed Trayvon Martin is trying to sell the very gun he used to cut that precious life short to raise money," McBath said in a written statement.

The slaying of her son, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, by Michael Dunn drew parallels at the time to the Zimmerman-Martin case. Dunn told police he had felt threatened by Davis. Unlike Zimmerman, Dunn was convicted of murder.

Since Zimmerman was acquitted, he has been charged with assault based on complaints from two girlfriends. Both women later refused to press charges and Zimmerman wasn't prosecuted. His estranged wife, Shellie Zimmerman, also accused him of smashing her iPad during an argument days after she filed divorce papers. No charges were filed because of lack of evidence. They were divorced in January.

Orlando-based attorney Mark O'Mara has previously represented Zimmerman. A receptionist in O'Mara's office said Thursday that he no longer represents Zimmerman and had no comment.

Martin's parents declined to address Zimmerman's actions in statements made through representatives.

Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, said through an attorney that she would rather focus on her work with the Trayvon Martin Foundation than respond to "Zimmerman's actions."

Daryl Parks, whose firm represented the Martin family during the trial, is now chairman of Fulton's foundation. He says Fulton is pushing for policies that protect youth and address gun violence.

Fulton also founded the Circle of Mothers conference, a three-day event to help mothers who have "lost children or family members" to gun violence. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will be keynote speaker at the event in Fort Lauderdale starting May 20.

In the auction listing, Zimmerman cited strong interest from collectors including "The Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC."

Smithsonian spokesman John Gibbons denied any interest.

"The Smithsonian has never expressed an interest in collecting this firearm and has no intention of collecting or displaying this firearm," Gibbons said.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

AP Interview: Trump down to 5 or 6 choices for VP

AP Interview: Trump down to 5 or 6 choices for VP

AP Photo
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes a telephone call from his daughter Ivanka during an interview with The Associated Press in his office at Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, May 10, 2016.
  
NEW YORK (AP) -- Shifting swiftly to the general election, Donald Trump says he's narrowed his list of potential running mates to "five or six" people and doesn't want to accept taxpayer money to finance a fall campaign against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

In a break from recent major party nominees, Trump does not plan to invest heavily in a data-driven effort to court voters in the fall campaign.

Despite pressure, the billionaire said he doesn't believe he has an obligation to release his tax returns and won't release them before November unless an ongoing audit of his finances is completed before Election Day. He said he wouldn't overrule his lawyers and instruct them to release his returns if the audit hasn't concluded by then.

"There's nothing to learn from them," Trump said. He also said he doesn't believe voters are interested.

"Now, I hope it gets finished soon. And if it gets finished soon, I put it out immediately because there's nothing there. But until you get finished, you won't," he said.

Trump weighed in on the issue again Wednesday, saying on Twitter: "In interview I told @AP that my taxes are under routine audit and I would release my tax returns when audit is complete, not after election!"

Trump's comments came as he begins to prepare for a long, expensive general election campaign. His two remaining Republican rivals suddenly dropped out of the race last week, anointing him the party's presumptive presidential nominee faster than even the confident candidate expected.

As part of his general election planning, Trump told AP at his office in New York that he's moving aggressively to identify a running mate with deep political experience. While he would not provide a full list of names, he did not rule out New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the former rival whom he's already tapped to head his transition planning.

Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is running the vice presidential vetting effort "with a group," Trump said, that includes former competitor Ben Carson and himself. "Honestly, we're all running it. It's very much a group effort," said Trump.

A first-time political candidate, the celebrity businessman said there's no need for another business person on the Republican ticket and he wants a running mate who can help him pass legislation as president. By joining forces with a political veteran, Trump would also signal a willingness to work with the Republican establishment that he's thoroughly bashed during his campaign.

Trump said he doesn't plan to announce his running mate until the Republican National Convention in July, a four-day event that he's planning to remake with a showman's touch.

"The concept of some entertainment from a great singer, a great group I think would be something maybe to break things up," Trump said. "You'll be hearing plenty of political speeches."

In the interview, Trump outlined a general election campaign that banks heavily on his personal appeal and trademark rallies while spurning the kind of sophisticated data operation that was a centerpiece of Barack Obama's winning White House runs.

"I've always felt it was overrated," Trump said. "Obama got the votes much more so than his data processing machine. And I think the same is true with me."

He also effectively ruled out for the first time the option of taking public financing for his campaign, money that would have saved him the time-consuming task of raising vast sums but would have dramatically limited the amount he would have been able to raise.

"I think I've ruled it out, I think so," said Trump. "I don't like the idea of taking taxpayer money to run a campaign. I think it's inappropriate."

Trump stunned the political world at every turn during the Republican primary season, prioritizing large rallies over intimate voter interactions in early voting states and operating with a slim campaign operation. Even as he brings in new staff for the general election campaign, he says his emphasis will continue to be on raucous rallies to put him in front of thousands of voters and generate free media coverage.

"My best investment is my rallies," Trump said. "The people go home, they tell their friends they loved it. It's been good."

The businessman said he'll spend "limited" money on data operations to identify and track potential voters and to model various turnout scenarios that could give him the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency. He's moving away from the model Obama used successfully in his 2008 and 2012 wins, and which Clinton is trying to replicate, including hiring many of the staff that worked for Obama.

Still, the Republican National Committee has invested heavily in data operations, eager to avoid another defeat to a more technologically savvy Democrat. Trump could make use of that RNC data if he wished.

Trump and his aides have been meeting RNC officials this week to discuss the mechanics of his campaign. He is also planning a trip to Washington on Thursday to meet party leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who have had a mixed reaction to his primary success.

Though Trump has vowed to be tough in taking on Clinton, he also suggested he might avoid running negative ads against her, saying, "I just don't find them to be very effective."

"I've had over $100 million in negative ads spent on me and every time it's boosted my numbers," he said.

As Trump was speaking, however, his campaign posted a new ad on Instagram assailing Clinton for her response to the attacks on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Alberta PM says Fort McMurray saved from worst of wildfire

Alberta PM says Fort McMurray saved from worst of wildfire
 

AP Photo
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley speaks to members of the media at a fire station in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Monday, May 9, 2016. A break in the weather has officials optimistic they have reached a turning point on getting a handle on the massive wildfire.

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta (AP) -- At least two neighborhoods in this oil sands city were scenes of utter devastation with incinerated homes leveled to the ground from a wildfire that Fort McMurray's fire chief called a "beast ... a fire like I've never seen in my life."

But the wider picture was more optimistic as Fire Chief Darby Allen said 85 percent of Canada's main oil sands city remains intact, including the downtown district. Alberta's premier declared the city had been saved, adding that officials hope to provide a schedule within two weeks for thousands of evacuated residents to begin returning to their homes.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said about 2,400 homes and buildings were destroyed in the city, but firefighters managed to save 25,000 others, including the hospital, municipal buildings and every functioning school.

"This city was surrounded by an ocean of fire only a few days ago but Fort McMurray and the surrounding communities have been saved and they will be rebuilt," Notley said.

Notley got her first direct look at the devastation in Fort McMurray on Monday after cold temperatures and light rain had stabilized the massive wildfire to a point where officials could begin planning to get thousands of evacuated residents back.

The break in the weather left officials optimistic they've reached a turning point on getting a handle on the massive wildfire. The temperature dipped to 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) on Monday following a week where the region had unseasonably warm temperatures.

Notley flew in Monday morning to meet with local officials and took a ground tour of the town before holding a news conference at the emergency center.

"I was very much struck by the devastation of the fire. It was really quite overwhelming in some spots," Notley said. "But I will also say that I was struck by the proximity of that devastation to neighborhoods that were untouched."

More than 40 journalists were allowed into Fort McMurray on a bus escorted by police. The forest surrounding the road into town was still smoldering and there were abandoned cars. Only the sign remained at a Super 8 Motel and Denny's restaurant on the edge of town.

The Beacon Hill neighborhood was a scene of utter devastation with homes burned down to their foundation.
Allen said at one point the fire jumped across a road in Beacon Hill that is 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 meters) wide.

"It jumped that without thinking about it. This was a beast. It was an animal. It was a fire like I've never seen in my life," he said on the media bus.

In the early stages of the fire he feared that as much as half the city could burn down.

"I just want to let the people know that we're in pretty good shape," he said. "Typical of the damaged areas you'll see structures that are completely gone and structures that are intact."

Allen said at one point the fire raced down a hill to the corner of a bank, but firefighters were able to halt the encroaching flames at the bank. Had they failed to stop it there, the fire would have destroyed the downtown district, he said.

But other neighborhoods were not spared. In the Abasand district, townhouses were completely destroyed, and charred children's bikes could be seen in backyards. A parking facility was burned to the ground.

More than 88,000 people have left Fort McMurray since the fire broke out last Tuesday in the heart of Canada's oil sands region. The bulk of the city's evacuees moved south after Tuesday's mandatory evacuation order, but 25,000 evacuees moved north and were housed in camps normally used for oil sands workers until they also could be evacuated south.

Gas has been turned off, the power grid is damaged and water is undrinkable in Fort McMurray. More than 250 power company workers are trying to restore the grid and assess the gas infrastructure.

"We are now turning our minds more and more to the recovery effort," Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said.

"This is going to be a long term endeavor because at the moment there is no power and gas, no palatable 
water supply. There's dangerous hazardous material all over the place. It's going to take a very careful, thoughtful effort to get that community back in a livable condition," Goodale said.

Notley said the fire still continues to grow outside the city and now is about 787 square miles (2,020 square kilometers) in size.

No deaths or injuries have been reported from the fire itself. But the fire has forced as much as a third of Canada's oil output offline and was expected to impact an economy already hurt by the fall in oil prices.

"We're just beginning to become aware of the economic impacts," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

Alberta's oil sands have the third-largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Its workers largely live in Fort McMurray, a former frontier outpost-turned-city whose residents mostly come from elsewhere in Canada.

Officials said the fire didn't' reach the Suncor or Syncrude oil sands facilities north of Fort McMurray, and that the oil mines to the north are not threatened. Notley said there will be a meeting Tuesday with the energy industry to discuss the state of the facilities and the impact on operations.

Suncor said late Sunday it is beginning to implement its plan for a return to operations. Analysts at Goldman Sachs estimated the wildfire has reduced Canada's oil sands production by a million barrels per day, but said in a note the lack of damage to the oil mines could allow for a fast ramp up in production. They noted the complete evacuation of personnel and of the city could point to a more gradual recovery.

Alberta Health Services Dr. Chris Sikora said a viral stomach virus broke out among 40 to 50 evacuees at the Northlands evacuation center in Edmonton where 600 people are staying and where five to six thousand meals a day are being prepared for the thousands of evacuees. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. They were isolated.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Winning Powerball ticket sold in Trenton, New Jersey

Winning Powerball ticket sold in Trenton, New Jersey
  

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Someone is holding onto the sole winning Powerball ticket that was sold in New Jersey and the jackpot was at $429.6 million, lottery officials said Sunday.

Only one ticket matched all six numbers in Saturday night's drawing, said Powerball spokeswoman Kelly Cripe. The winning Powerball numbers were 5-25-26-44-66 and the Powerball number was 9.

Lottery officials in New Jersey said Sunday afternoon that the winning ticket was sold at a 7-Eleven store in Trenton, the state's capital city. It was purchased as a cash ticket and is valued at $284 million.
The ticket holder has not yet come forward to claim the prize.

"We have never had a winning ticket this big, not even close," said Marcelo Chilel, who works at the store where the winning ticket was sold. Chilel said he and his colleagues are "amazed" that it happened.

Chilel said that when he heard the ticket was sold in Mercer County, he thought it would be great if it was sold at the store where he works. And when he found out that was the case, he says he felt very happy for the customer.

"It's great that they got it here," he said.

Chilel said the store does a steady lottery business, with more people showing up when the jackpots get big. 

He said several store patrons asked him Sunday if he knows who bought the ticket, and several television news crews were at the store asking the same question. But Chilel says he has no idea who bought it or when it was sold.

New Jersey lottery officials were also ecstatic about the news.

"Winning the Powerball jackpot is a life-changing event. Congratulations to the ticketholder(s) and to the retailer who sold it," New Jersey Lottery executive director Carole Hedinger said in a statement. "We expect that the winner or winners will take their time before claiming the prize and consult with the appropriate professionals that can assist them in navigating these unchartered waters. Certainly though, we will be anxiously awaiting the phone call."

Hedinger said the jackpot is the seventh-largest in Powerball jackpot history.

The jackpot Saturday had climbed to nearly $430 million, making the prize the largest since a record $1.6 billion payout in January that prompted some to wait in hourslong lines outside lottery retailers. But unlike Saturday night's drawing, that jackpot was shared by three winning tickets.

Only one winning ticket will claim Saturday night's prize, though it was not immediately known if that ticket was held by one person or multiple people. Cripe said a winner, or co-winners, electing a one-time cash payout will receive $284.1 million.

Several lottery players in New Jersey who don't hold the winning ticket said Sunday that they wish the big winner well.

Among them was John Warren, who joked that he had all the winning numbers that were drawn. 

Unfortunately, he didn't have more than two of them on any one of the $40 worth of tickets he had bought.

"I know I'm more likely to get hit by a bus or lightning than win a big jackpot like this one," the Lakewood man said as he sipped a cup of coffee in a convenience store parking lot in Jackson Township. "But I was hoping to maybe win a couple hundred bucks or so in smaller prizes. Instead, I won $2, which paid for this coffee."

Warren's pal, Tommy Young, said he doesn't play the lottery often. But he spent $5 this week.
"Not a winner in the bunch, not even close," Young said. "But it was fun to think about cashing in the winning ticket."

This isn't the first time Powerball luck has struck in New Jersey. In 2013, a sole ticket claimed a $383 million Powerball jackpot.

Seven tickets from Saturday night's drawing matched five numbers and claimed $1 million, including three in New York, two in Illinois and one apiece in California and Virginia.

Powerball is played in 44 states plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The odds of winning are one in 292.2 million.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Judge's order reopens questions about what Paterno knew when

Judge's order reopens questions about what Paterno knew when

AP Photo
FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2011 file photo, Scott Paterno, left, looks on as students greet his father Penn State football coach Joe Paterno as he arrives at his home in State College, Pa. Scott Paterno said in a tweet sent May 6, 2016 that an allegation made by insurers that a boy told the longtime Penn State football coach in 1976 that he had been molested by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky is “bunk.”
  
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A new legal document that claims a boy told Joe Paterno in 1976 that Jerry Sandusky had molested him has dropped like a bombshell and reignited debate about what the Penn State coach knew about his longtime assistant decades before his arrest.

Details of the testimony remain hidden inside a sealed deposition in Penn State's court fight with the Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association Insurance Company.

Paterno family members immediately dismissed the accusation, and even an attorney for victims of Sandusky cautioned that he did not know of irrefutable evidence supporting the claim.

Paterno, who died in 2012, had said that an assistant's report in 2001 of Sandusky attacking a boy in the shower was the first he knew of such allegations against Sandusky.

Details of the 1976 claim were not included in the court document - a judge's ruling in Penn State's dispute with its insurer - and a lawyer for the company declined to comment.

Sandusky is serving a lengthy prison sentence for his conviction in the sexual abuse of 10 children. The university has also paid out more than $90 million to settle 32 civil claims involving Sandusky. How far back in time all the acts occurred has not been made public.

Penn State's insurer claims there is evidence of several early acts of molestation by Sandusky, and not just the one by a boy who allegedly went to Paterno with his report in the 1970s, according to the ruling by Philadelphia Judge Gary Glazer. He said the events are described "in a number of the victims' depositions."

The insurer's evidence includes an allegation that one assistant coach saw "inappropriate contact" between Sandusky and a child at the university in 1987 and a second assistant "reportedly witnessed sexual contact" between Sandusky and a child a year later, the judge said. Also in 1988, the insurer claims, a child's report of his molestation by Sandusky was referred to Penn State's athletic director.

The judge wrote there was no evidence that reports of the incidents went "further up the chain of command at PSU."

In his ruling, the judge found that Penn State had to assume the costs of settlements stemming from claims over most of the 1990s because its insurance policies did not cover abuse or molestation.

When Sandusky abused children at his home or at events held by the children's charity he started, "he was still a PSU assistant coach and professor, and clothed in the glory associated with those titles, particularly in the eyes of impressionable children," Glazer wrote.

"By cloaking him with a title that enabled him to perpetuate his crimes, PSU must assume some responsibility for what he did both on and off campus," he said.

Penn State issued a statement late Friday saying it has "no records from the time to help evaluate the claims," noting Paterno could not defend himself.

Tom Kline, a lawyer who settled an abuse allegation with Penn State, said he and other lawyers were aware of claims dating back to the '70s.

Kline said the new disclosure "provides one more link in the chain which has been repeatedly denied by those who refuse to come to terms with the tragic reality here."

But another plaintiff's lawyer in Sandusky scandal, Michael Boni, urged caution in weighing the new Paterno allegation.

"The headlines of these stories is Paterno knew of Sandusky's molestation in the '70s, '76 or '77. I'm unaware of direct, irrefutable evidence that that's the case," Boni said. "Believe me, I'm the last person to defend the guy, but I am the first person to believe in our justice system. And I think you need more than anecdotal evidence or speculative evidence."

The coach's son Scott Paterno called the new claim "bunk," tweeting Friday that "it would be great if everyone waited to see the substance of the allegation before they assume it's true. Because it's not." Sue Paterno, the coach's widow, said in a letter to the Penn State board that the family had no knowledge of the new claims.

Defense attorney Al Lindsay said after speaking with Sandusky that his client denied that any of the incidents described in the court ruling occurred. Sandusky also maintained his innocence throughout the trial.

The school fired Paterno and removed his statue from the front of its football stadium - a decision that still rankles many fans and alumni - but his name adorns a university library, and the NCAA last year restored 111 of his wins vacated after Sandusky's 2012 conviction.

Paterno was not charged with any crime, and his family is pursuing a lawsuit against the NCAA for commercial disparagement, arguing the association's since-abolished consent decree with Penn State over the Sandusky scandal damaged their commercial interests and value.

In addition, three university officials await trial on criminal charges for their handling of the Sandusky scandal.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Canada evacuating 8,000 wildfire evacuees by air

Canada evacuating 8,000 wildfire evacuees by air
  

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta (AP) -- Canadian officials began evacuating 8,000 people from work camps north of devastated Fort McMurray by air on Thursday and hoped to move thousands more via a highway convoy Friday if it is safe from a massive wildfire raging in Alberta that has grown to 85,000 hectares (210,035 acres).

More than 80,000 people have emptied Fort McMurray in the heart of Canada's oil sands, authorities said.
The Alberta government, which declared a state of emergency, said more than 1,100 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 air tankers were fighting a total of 49 wildfires, with seven considered out of control. Chad Morrison with AB Wildfire, manager of wildfire prevention, said the fire continued to grow but is moving away from Fort McMurray and the rate of its growth has slowed.

About 25,000 evacuees moved north in the hours after Tuesday's mandatory evacuation, where oil sands work camps were converted to house people. But the bulk of the more than 80,000 evacuees fled south to Edmonton and elsewhere, and officials are moving everyone south where they can get better support services.

Officials had flown 4,000 evacuees to Edmonton and Calgary by Thursday evening and expected to fly 4,000 more by the end of the day. They hoped the highway would become safe enough on Friday to move the remaining people out via the south. It wasn't safe Thursday. A helicopter will lead the evacuation convoy on Friday morning to make sure the highway is safe. It will pass through Fort McMurray where the fire has torched 1,600 homes and other buildings.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the first convoy will be 400 vehicles and officials would see how that goes.

There have been no injuries or death in the province from the fires. Notley said financial support will be provided to Albertans and that cash cards may be made available for evacuated residents.

The Alberta government also declared a province-wide fire ban in an effort to reduce the risk of more blazes in a province that is very hot and dry.

Morrison said rain is needed.

"Let me be clear: air tankers are not going to stop this fire," he said. "It is going to continue to push through 
these dry conditions until we actually get some significant rain."

The fire remained wrapped around the western and southern edges of the city. No rain clouds were expected around Fort McMurray until late Saturday, with 40 percent chance of showers, according to online forecasts by Environment Canada.

Notley said she didn't know how much better the evacuation could have been when asked if ample warning was given to residents, noting that in 48 hours more than 80,000 people were evacuated from a town that essentially has two roads out of it.

Fort McMurray is surrounded by wilderness and is Canada's main oil sands town. Despite the size of the town and its importance to the Canadian economy, there are essentially only two ways out via car. The region has the third largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

Aided by high winds, scorching heat and low humidity, the fire grew from 75 square kilometers (29 square miles) Tuesday to 100 square kilometers (38.6 square miles) on Wednesday, but by Thursday it was almost nine times that - at 850 square kilometers (328.2 square miles). That's an area roughly the size of Calgary - Alberta's largest city.

Unseasonably hot temperatures combined with dry conditions have transformed the boreal forest in much of Alberta into a tinder box. Morrison said they are investigating the cause of the fire but he said it started in a remote forested area and said it could have been lightning.

A combination of factors conspired to make this wildfire especially ferocious, said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. The El Nino global weather system brought Alberta a mild winter and low snowpack, he said. Patzert said the flames sparked at a time between the snowy season and before springtime rains that turn the landscape green, making the region especially vulnerable to wildfire.

"In a way, it's a perfect storm," Patzert said. "It's been warm, it's been dry and windy. It's the in-between period before you're in the full bloom of spring."

The fire is driving one of the largest evacuations in North America in recent memory, said Bill Stewart, co-director of the University of California's Center for Fire Research and Outreach at the University of California, Berkeley.

With few exceptions in the United States, an entire town hasn't been threatened on this scale for more than 100 years, he said.

"You could add five times the number of firefighters, but you can't get all the embers," he said. "There's no way to put out every ember flying over firefighters' heads."

Fort McMurray resident Fahed Labek, whose relatives from war-torn Syria recently migrated to northern Alberta as refugees, said his family has escaped one fire for another. Labek fled the encroaching wildfire two days ago with family members, who arrived in Canada in late February.

Labek, who made it to Edmonton after a harrowing journey, is concerned the refugees are enduring additional trauma after leaving the Middle East. But he said he's taking solace in the helpfulness of Canadians now assisting the tens of thousands of forest fire evacuees.

The fire has dealt a blow to the region's crude production, with companies curtailing production or stopping altogether. Notley, the province premier, said the infrastructure for oil and gas production remains largely unaffected. What's slowing down production is that their employees are not there, she said.

The airport only suffered minor damage because of the "herculean'" efforts of firefighters, said Scott Long of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency. Firefighters have focused on protecting key infrastructure like the water treatment plant, the hospital and the airport. Crews water bombed the city Thursday.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Obama tells Flint residents, 'I've got your back'

Obama tells Flint residents, 'I've got your back'
 

AP Photo
President Barack Obama drinks water as he finishes speaking at Flint Northwestern High School in Flint, Mich., Wednesday, May 4, 2016, about the ongoing water crisis.
  
FLINT, Mich. (AP) -- Sipping filtered city water to show it's again drinkable, President Barack Obama promised Wednesday to ride herd on leaders at all levels of government until every drop of water flowing into homes in Flint, Michigan, is safe to use.

He also promised that the aging pipes that contaminated the water with lead will be replaced, but cautioned that the project will take time. Obama said he wanted to use the crisis to make long-term improvements to the city, where more than 40 percent of residents live in poverty.

"It's not going to happen overnight, but we have to get started," Obama told hundreds of people gathered in a high school gymnasium. Obama spoke after he was briefed on the federal response to the water contamination and had met privately with nine residents.

Obama said he understood why people are scared and angry and feel let down. He said what happened in Flint was a manmade disaster that didn't have to happen. But he said it did happen and everyone must now work together to fix it.

"I've got your back," Obama said. "I will not rest and I'm going to make sure that the leaders at every level of government don't rest until every drop of water that flows to your homes is safe to drink and safe to cook with and safe to bathe in."

He called providing safe drinking water a basic responsibility of government. And while he said he didn't want to go over every "screw-up that resulted in contaminated water," he blamed an overarching attitude that less government is better.

"It's an ideology that undervalues the common good," Obama said.

After coughing several times during his remarks, Obama asked for and drank from a glass of water. He also drank city water after getting a lengthy briefing on the crisis, which forced residents to spend months drinking, cooking and bathing with bottled water.

Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint in mid-January and ordered federal aid to supplement the state and local response. By then, however, the crisis was in full bloom.

It took several months for the nation to focus on the beaten-down city's plight, raising questions about how race, more than half of Flint's residents are black, and poverty influenced decisions that led to the tainted water supply and the sluggish response.

The city, in an effort to save money while under state management, began drawing its water from the Flint 
River in April 2014. Despite complaints from residents about the smell and taste and health problems, city leaders insisted the water was safe. However, doctors reported last September that the blood of Flint children contained high levels of lead.

The source of the city's water has been switched back to Detroit, but the lead problem still is not fully solved. 

Most people are drinking filtered or bottled water.

The political and legal fallout is ongoing. An independent commission appointed by Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder determined the state was primarily responsible for the water contamination in Flint, and he issued an apology. The Obama administration's response, through the Environmental Protection Agency, has also come under criticism from Snyder and some in Congress who say the EPA didn't move with necessary urgency.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told Congress that, while staff repeatedly urged the state to address the lack of corrosion controls, "we missed the opportunity late last summer to quickly get EPA's concerns on the public's radar screen." An inspector general is investigating the EPA's response.

Congress is also grappling with how to help Flint, but progress has been slow. A Senate committee last week approved a $220 million aid package as part of a broader bill that would authorize nearly $4.8 billion for water-related projects around the country. The bill could come up for a Senate vote in May.

Snyder spoke in the gymnasium during Obama's meeting and was loudly booed. Snyder said he understood why residents were angry and wanted to say he was sorry. "You didn't create this problem," Snyder said. 

"Government failed you."

Many in the audience yelled back at Snyder, "You failed."

Snyder was booed again when Obama spoke and mentioned him along with other elected leaders he had met with Wednesday.
"No, no, no," Obama said. "We're trying to do some business here."

Outside the school, Reneta Richard, a teacher and Flint resident, said she hoped Obama's trip would lead to something positive. She recently bought a house and said she's there for the long haul.

"I want him to leave a check - right here, right now - for pipe removal and medical bills and the life we're going to suffer," said Richard, 37, a single mom. "This isn't going to be over in 10 years."

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech expert who sounded the alarm over Flint's lead problem last year, said Obama's presence in Flint "sends an amazing message."

"He was here. Flint counted," Edwards said.

During the trip, federal officials announced $10 million to build and renovate community health centers in Michigan so they could serve more patients. Also, the Michigan Senate approved spending another $128 million to address the problems in Flint. The emergency aid now goes to the state House for consideration.


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