Posts tagged with "AP"

Former Harris adviser named to Feinstein Senate seat

October 3, 2023

Laphonza Butler, a former adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris who currently serves as president of EMILY’s List, has been named by California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat in his state that previously was held by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), who died on Friday, September 29, at the age of 90, reports The Hill.

Newsom made the announcement late Sunday evening, after a weekend full of anticipation ahead of the decision. Newsom had pledged previously to select a Black woman to fill Feinstein’s seat, should it ever become open, and Butler’s appointment fulfills that pledge.

In his announcement, Newsom noted that Butler also would make history as the first Black lesbian to openly serve as a U.S. senator.

“I’m proud to announce California’s new U.S. Senator—Laphonza Butler,” Newsom said. “As we mourn the enormous loss of Senator Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for—reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence—have never been under greater assault. Laphonza has spent her entire career fighting for women and girls and has been a fierce advocate for working people.”

Butler has been a labor leader as well as the leader of EMILY’S List, a powerful group that works to elect women.

Earlier this year, as some Democrats started calling for Feinstein to resign as she faced mounting health problems, several high-profile Democrats entered the competitive race in California to win the coveted seat in the Senate—notably, Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff.

Newsom reiterated his pledge last month to select a Black woman if Feinstein were unable to fill her term, but he said he would not select anyone currently running for the seat, noting at the time that it would be “completely unfair to the Democrats that have worked their tail off.”

Newsom spokesman Anthony York told the Associated Press that the governor did not ask Butler to commit to staying out of the race. The deadline to submit the necessary paperwork to enter the 2024 race is December 8.

Butler currently lives in Maryland, according to her EMILY’s List biography, but a spokesperson for Newsom told the AP that she owns a home in California and plans to re-register to vote in California before she is sworn in.

Research contact: @thehill

Pence could be the star witness in Trump’s January 6 trial

August 4, 2023

One of the many Shakespearean elements to the Trump prosecution is the role of former Vice President Mike Pence—who declined to testify before the House’s January 6 Committee and unsuccessfully fought a grand jury subpoena; but who plays a central role in this week’s indictment of his former boss, reports Axios.

Pence’s presidential campaign is struggling. But he’s likely to be in the spotlight for a whole other reason if Special Counsel Jack Smith’s case against former President Donald Trump goes to trial.

When a transcript of Pence’s grand-jury testimony was released last month, The New York Times reports, “it featured 18 consecutive pages that were blacked out, fueling intense speculation about what evidence he might have provided against his former boss.”

“The answer came on Tuesday, August 1, in the 45-page indictment from Smith, with Pence involved in some of the most vivid scenes.”

The indictment says that Trump (“the Defendant”) called Pence on New Year’s Day 2021, “and berated him because he had learned that the Vice President had opposed a lawsuit seeking a judicial decision that … the Vice President had the authority to reject or return votes to the states under the Constitution.”

“[T]he Defendant told the vice president, ‘You’re too honest.'”

Notes that Pence kept about his conversations with Trump in the days before the January 6 attack on the Capitol help inform Tuesday’s 45-page indictment, the AP reports.

“You know I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome,” Pence told Trump in one call, per the indictment.

Pence has stepped up his criticism of Trump since the latest indictment was unsealed, telling reporters on Wednesday that Trump and “his gaggle of crackpot lawyers” asked him to “literally reject votes” on January 6.

Research contact: @axios

Biden overturns Trump decision to move Space Command HQ from Colorado to Alabama

August 2, 2023

President Joe Biden has overturned a decision by the Trump Administration to relocate the temporary headquarters of Space Command to Alabama—deciding instead to keep the base in Colorado, reports The Hill.

The decision was made because Biden believes that keeping the HQ in Colorado Springs, rather than relocating it to Huntsville, would maintain stability and not impact readiness, according to a senior U.S. official.

The senior administration official said that Biden consulted with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other military leaders before deciding to keep the base in Colorado permanently.

General James Dickinson, the head of Space Command, also helped to convince Biden to not relocate the base, according to the Associated Press.

U.S. Space Command headquarters is set to achieve “full operational capability” at Colorado Springs later this month, according to the senior administration official.

The official said moving the headquarters to Alabama would have forced a transition process that would not allow the new base to open until the mid-2030’s.

“The President found that risk unacceptable, especially given the challenges we may face in the space domain during this critical time period,” the official said. “Locating Headquarters U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs ensures peak readiness in the space domain for our nation during a critical period.”

Biden’s reversal is likely to spark the fury of Alabama Republicans, who have for months feared the administration would scrap the relocation plan.

Alabama Representative Mike Rogers (R), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has been investigating the delay behind the relocation plan, which was first put in motion when Space Command was resurrected in 2019.

Former President Trump’s decision to temporarily establish a headquarters in Colorado and relocate Space Command to Alabama was criticized as a political choice based upon a more favorable constituency in the Yellowhammer State.

Since coming into office, the Biden Administration has ordered reviews of the decision—none of which found anything improper in Trump’s determination, although they found the former president could have followed better practices in the process.

The delayed relocation reached new heights over the spring when NBC News reported that the Biden Administration was considering scrapping the relocation plan because of restrictive abortion laws in Alabama.

Rogers and other Alabama Republicans objected to any such plan—saying Huntsville, also known as Rocket City, was selected based on its merits and in a fair process, while pointing to the reviews that found nothing improper.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet (D) joined officials from his state in celebrating Biden’s decision.

“Today’s decision restores integrity to the Pentagon’s basing process and sends a strong message that national security and the readiness of our Armed Forces drive our military decisions,” he added.

Research contact: @thehill

DOJ sues Texas Governor Greg Abbott over Rio Grande buoy barrier

July  26, 2023

On Monday, July 24, the Department of Justice sued Texas over a string of buoys deployed by the state on the Rio Grande River near the city of Eagle Pass in order to prevent people from illegally crossing into the United States from Mexico—saying it violates federal environmental law and threatens public safety, reports Axios.

The Justice Department argues in the lawsuit that Texas’ floating barrier violates the Rivers and Harbors Act, which is often considered the oldest federal environmental law.

  • “We allege that Texas has flouted federal law by installing a barrier in the Rio Grande without obtaining the required federal authorization,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement.
  • “This floating barrier poses threats to navigation and public safety and presents humanitarian concerns. Additionally, the presence of the floating barrier has prompted diplomatic protests by Mexico and risks damaging U.S. foreign policy.”

In addition to the floating barrier, Texas has set up miles of razor wire barriers along crossing points on the river near Eagle Pass.

What’s more, the state, itself, is currently investigating claims made by a state trooper that superiors had ordered officers to push migrants—including children and babies—back into the river and to deny them drinking water, according to the Houston Chronicle. The trooper also alleged that the razor wire has injured multiple people—including a woman who had a miscarriage while caught in the wire.

In a statement on Monday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R),, claimed that the string of buoys was legal because the Constitution “grants Texas sovereign authority to protect its borders.”

“Mr. President, Texas will see you in court,” Abbott said on social media in response to the lawsuit.

The string of buoys and concertina wire is part of Texas’ “Operation Lone Star,” which has cost the state billions of dollars while having little effect on migration, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The commission has stated that it did not authorize Texas’ placement of the barrier, according to the AP.

Illegal border crossings also dropped to the lowest level in over two years in June.

Research contact: @axios

Domestic rabbits invade Florida suburb

July 19, 2023

When Alicia Griggs steps outside her suburban Fort Lauderdale home, Florida’s latest invasive species comes a-hoppin’ down the street: lionhead rabbits.

According to a report by HuffPost, the bunnies—which sport an impressive flowing mane around their heads—want the food Griggs carries. But she also represents their best chance of survival and transitioning them to a safer spot: inside a home and away from cars, cats, hawks, Florida heat; and, possibly, government-hired exterminators.

Griggs is spearheading efforts to raise the $20,000 to $40,000 it would cost for a rescue group to capture, neuter, vaccinate, shelter and then give away the estimated 60 to 100 lionheads now populating Jenada Isles, an 81-home community in Wilton Manors.

The domestic rabbits are descendants of a group illegally let loose by a backyard breeder when she moved away two years as first reported by the AP. “They really need to be rescued. So we’ve tried to get the city to do it, but they’re just dragging their feet,” Griggs said. “They think that if they do that, then they’ll have to get rid of iguanas and everything else that people don’t want around.”

Monica Mitchell, whose East Coast Rabbit Rescue would likely lead the effort, said capturing, treating and finding homes for them “is not an easy process.” Few veterinarians treat rabbits and many prospective owners shy away when they find out how much work the animals require.

Griggs agreed. “People don’t realize they’re exotic pets and they’re complicated. They have a complicated digestive system and they have to eat a special diet,” said Griggs, a real estate agent. “You can’t just throw any table scraps at them.”

Wilton Manors is giving Griggs and other supporters time to raise money and relocate the rabbits rather than exterminate them, even though the city commission voted in April to do just that after receiving an $8,000 estimate from a trapping company.

The vote came after some residents complained the lionheads dig holes, chew outdoor wiring, and leave droppings on sidewalks and driveways. City commissioners also feared the rabbits could spread into neighboring communities and cities; and become a traffic hazard, if they ventured onto major streets.

“The safety of this rabbit population is of utmost importance to the City, and any decision to involve ourselves will be certain to see these rabbits placed into the hands of people with a passion to provide the necessary care and love for these rabbits,” Police Chief Gary Blocker said in a statement.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which often culls invasive animals, has told the city it will not intercede. The rabbits pose no immediate threat to wildlife.

Lionhead rabbits aren’t the only invasive species causing headaches or worse for Floridians. Burmese pythons and lionfish are killing off native species. Giant African snails eat stucco off homes and carry human disease. Iguanas destroy gardens. Like the Wilton Manors lionhead rabbits, those populations all started when people illegally turned them loose.

But unlike those species, Florida’s environment is not friendly to lionheads. Instead of the 7 to 9 years they live when properly housed, their lives outdoors are nasty, brutal, and shortened.

The lionheads’ heavy coat makes them overheat during Florida summers and their lack of fear makes them susceptible to predators. Munching on lawns is not a healthy diet. Their illnesses go untreated. They need owners.

“Domesticated (rabbits) released into the environment are not equipped to thrive on their own,” said Eric Stewart, executive director of the American Rabbit Breeders Association. He said the breeder who released them should be prosecuted, a path the city has not pursued.

The Wilton Manors colony survives and grows only because lionheads breed, like the rabbits they are, with females birthing litters of two-to-six offspring every month, starting when they are about three months old.

On a recent morning in Jenada Isles, clutches of between two to ten bunnies dotted the streets and lawns, the bravest hopping up to residents and visitors in search of treats.

A large group of rabbits gathered on the driveway of Gator Carter, who puts out food for them. He said the lionheads bring the neighborhood joy, and his two young grandchildren love giving them carrots.

“People drive by, stop, love ’em, feed ’em,” Carter said. “They don’t bother me. We have a couple Airbnbs on the island here and the people (guests) are just amazed that the rabbits come right up to them.”

But Jon King said he wants the rabbits gone soon. They dig in his yard and he spent $200 repairing his outdoor lights after they damaged the wiring. He bought rabbit repellent, but that didn’t work, and his little dog doesn’t scare them: “He’s their best friend.”

“Every morning, I get up and first thing I do is cover up the holes and chase them out of the backyard. I like them; I just wish they would go somewhere else,” King said. “Rescue would be great.”

FResearch contact: @HuffPost

 

Disney quietly dodged DeSantis’s oversight board, appointees now realize

March 31, 2023

The Disney World oversight board installed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has accused its predecessor of passing an 11th-hour agreement in cahoots with the entertainment giant that takes away much of its administrative power over the Florida amusement park, reports The Washington Post.

In a bureaucratic coup, Disney and the previous board signed an agreement on February 8—the day before the Florida House passed the bill creating the oversight board. With that stealth move, Disney retained its power.

The new board, much to its chagrin, apparently discovered the agreement only recently.

“I’m surprised that they didn’t tell us about it as soon as we were appointed,” one of the board members, Brian Aungst Jr., told local station News 6 as the board held a meeting on Wednesday, March 29. “We had to find out about it late at night on a Friday night.”

The agreement forbids the new board from using Disney’s brand name or any of its trademarks, specifically citing “fanciful characters such as Mickey Mouse.” It also gives the company the right to prior review and comment when making changes to building exteriors.

Through a spokesperson, DeSantis pledged to review the agreement, suggesting certain “legal infirmities” could render it void.

DeSantis, an ascendant voice in the Republican Party and widely seen as a likely contender for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination, appointed a new oversight board after Disney criticized education legislation he had promoted that prohibited teachers from discussing gender and sexual orientation in early grades. Critics derided the policy as a homophobic and discriminatory “don’t say gay” bill. DeSantis signed it into law last year.

In apparent retaliation for the critique, DeSantis replaced the previous Disney-friendly oversight board known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District with a new board, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, made up entirely of his own appointees, including religious and conservative activists. The board is responsible for approving infrastructure projects; as well as maintaining more mundane aspects of the park, such as trash collection and management of sewer systems. Disney would have been to some degree beholden to DeSantis’s board for its sign-off on major projects.

Describing the agreement as a subversion of the will of voters, Aungst said the board will “have to deal with it and correct it,” according to the Associated Press.

Ron Peri, another board member, said at the meeting that under the agreement, “this board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure,” according to News 6.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Treasure hunters swear NYC’s East River contains prehistoric woolly mammoth bones

January 19, 2023

Ask people what you might find buried in the muck at the bottom of New York City’s East River and they’d likely say “mob boss” before thinking of prehistoric wooly mammoth bones, reports amNewYork Newsletter.

But several groups of treasure hunters have taken to the waterway in recent weeks after hearing a guest on comedian Joe Rogan’s podcast claim a boxcar worth of potentially valuable prehistoric mammoth bones was dumped in the river in the 1940s.

Despite a lack of evidence to back up the story, treasure seekers using boats, diving apparatuses and technology like remote-operated cameras have gone searching, in hopes the murky waters are hiding woolly mammoth tusks.

“I think the chances are just as good as the lottery. And people buy those tickets every day,” said Don Gann, 35, of North Arlington, New Jersey—a commercial diver who’s been out on the water since early last week with his brother and two workers.

It all started when John Reeves, an Alaskan gold miner with a passion for fossils, came onto “The Joe Rogan Experience” for an episode that aired on December 30 to talk about his land, where he has personally uncovered numerous age-old bones and tusks. In the first half of the 20th century, under previous ownership, digging for gold unearthed a trove of prehistoric mammal remains.

Some of that material was brought to New York City decades ago to be handed over to the American Museum of Natural History. Reeves cited a draft of a report put together by three men—including one who worked at the museum—that included a reference to some fossils and bones deemed unsuitable for the museum being dumped into the river.

“I’m going to start a bone rush,” Reeves told Rogan, before reading from the draft and giving out a location: East River Drive, which is now known as the FDR Drive, at around 65th Street.

“We’ll see if anybody out there’s got a sense of adventure,” he said, later adding, “Let me tell you something about mammoth bones, mammoth tusks—they’re extremely valuable.”

After the episode aired, the American Museum of Natural History threw water as cold as the East River on the tale. “We do not have any record of the disposal of these fossils in the East River, nor have we been able to find any record of this report in the museum’s archives or other scientific sources,” it said in a statement.

When reached by The Associated Press via telephone, Reeves refused to talk and instead told a reporter to read the pages of the draft he had posted on social media before hanging up. He didn’t answer other calls and emails.

The pages posted on social media identify three men as the authors: Richard Osborne, an anthropologist; Robert Evander, who formerly worked in the American Museum of Natural History’s paleontology department; and Robert Sattler, an archeologist with a consortium of Alaska Native tribes.

Reached by The Associated Press, Sattler said the story about the dumped bones came from Osborne, who died in 2005.

The document cited by Reeves was real, he said, and written in the mid-1990s. But it wasn’t something intended for an academic journal. It was a starting point for something—maybe a book—based on Osborne’s knowledge of a period in Alaska when mammoth remains were being discovered in plenty. Osborne’s father worked at a company involved in the digging.

Sattler said Osborne spent time around the operation as a young man and probably heard the story about surplus bones being dumped in the river secondhand. Sattler said he didn’t have any specifics beyond Osborne’s recollections.

“He would have had some knowledge from somebody telling him that they dumped some excess material in the East River,” he said.

Mammoth remains discovered in Alaska did wind up at the American Museum of Natural History, including some still on display today.

The section of the Manhattan shoreline where Reeves claimed the bones were dumped underwent major changes in the 1930s and 1940s, as the East River Drive, later renamed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was constructed on fill and pilings. The highway opened fully to drivers in 1942, raising questions about how someone would have dumped a huge trove of bones without disrupting traffic.

Gann said he’s seen about two dozen other sets of fossil hunters in the time he’s spent searching for mammoth remains out on the East River.

Visibility in the East River is extremely poor, he said. On a good day, you can see maybe a foot in front of you. The current at the bottom is strong.

But the avid diver, who appeared in Discovery’s “Sewer Divers,” has a thing for searching out unusual finds — although mammoth bones are admittedly on a different scale than finding a Paul Revere spoon at an estate sale.

“I’ve hunted for weird artifacts my entire life, so this one, it just kind of fits into my repertoire,” Gann said.

He and his crew haven’t found anything, which he admits is disappointing, but it has spurred him to do some of his own digging into history. He’s switched his sights to a location off of the southern part of Brooklyn—saying it would have been a more likely site for cargo to be dumped than the East River off Manhattan.

“If I find nothing, then I find nothing. I gave it an honest shot,” Gann said.

Research contact: @amNewYork

Trump Organization receives maximum fine for New York tax fraud scheme

January 16, 2023

On Friday, January 13, the Trump Organization received the maximum fine under New York law after it was convicted last month of running a 15-year tax fraud scheme, reports Axios.

A New York judge ruled that a pair of the former president’s business entities must pay a $1.6 million penalty, the AP first divulged. The Trump Organization said it plans to appeal the ruling, per Reuters.

Last month, Trump Organization subsidiaries Trump Corp. and Trump Payroll Corp. were convicted of 17 felonies, which included criminal tax fraud, falsifying business records, and conspiracy.

  • Under New York law, the company faced up to a $1.6 million fine from the verdict.
  • Trump and his family were not charged in the case.
  • Earlier this week, former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg was sentenced to five months in jail for his role in the scheme. He was taken into custody and is expected to serve his sentence at Rikers Island in New York.
  • Weisselberg pleaded guilty in August to assisting in the scheme and admitted to 15 felonies.

Friday’s ruling could lead to additional consequences if companies that are not allowed to conduct business with felons choose to cancel their contracts with the organization, ABC News reports.

In addition, New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a civil lawsuit accusing the former president and members of his family of financial fraud and referring them to federal prosecutors and the IRS for criminal investigation.

Research contact: @axios

Federal judge blocks Arkansas’ near-total abortion ban

July 22, 2021

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker has issued a preliminary injunction to put a halt to an Arkansas law banning nearly all abortions in the state, as she considers a lawsuit disputing its constitutionality, Axios reports. The measure was set to take effect on July 28.

The law—passed by the Republican legislature and signed by Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) signed in March—would have banned nearly all abortions in Arkansas—with no exceptions for rape or incest. The only variance to the law would be made if a pregnant person’s life were danger.

Baker said in her ruling that the law was “categorically unconstitutional” as it would ban abortions when the fetus is not considered viable, according to the Associated Press.

“Since the record at this stage of the proceedings indicates that women seeking abortions in Arkansas face an imminent threat to their constitutional rights, the Court concludes that they will suffer irreparable harm without injunctive relief,” she wrote.

 “We’re relieved that the court has blocked another cruel and harmful attempt to criminalize abortion care and intrude on Arkansans’ deeply personal medical decisions,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, which filed the suit with Planned Parenthood.

Research contact: @Axios

Mars Perseverance rover’s giant parachute carried secret message

Febraury 25, 2021

It’s not exactly a message in a bottle, but it did travel 292.5 million miles from Earth before its message was read and spread to the rest of humanity. The huge parachute used by NASA’s Perseverance rover to land on Mars contained a secret message, thanks to a puzzle lover on the spacecraft team, SFGate reports, courtesy of AP.

Systems Engineer Ian Clark used a binary code to spell out “Dare Mighty Things” in the orange and white strips of the 70-foot (21-meter) parachute. He also included the GPS coordinates for the mission’s headquarters at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Clark, a crossword hobbyist, came up with the idea two years ago. Engineers wanted an unusual pattern in the nylon fabric to help them determine how the parachute was oriented during descent. Turning it into a secret message was “super fun,” he said Tuesday.

Only about six people knew about

the encoded message before Thursday’s landing, according to Clark. They waited until the parachute images came back before putting out a teaser during a televised news conference Monday.

It took just a few hours for space fans to figure it out, Clark said. Next time, he noted, “I’ll have to be a little bit more creative.”

“Dare Mighty Things” — a line from President Theodore Roosevelt — is a mantra at JPL and adorns many of the center’s walls. The trick was “trying to come up with a way of encoding it but not making it too obvious,” Clark said.

As for the GPS coordinates, the spot is 10 feet (3 meters) from the entrance to JPL’s visitor center.

Another added touch not widely known until touchdown: Perseverance bears a plaque depicting all five of NASA’s Mars rovers in increasing size over the years — similar to the family car decals seen on Earth.

Deputy project manager Matt Wallace promises more so-called hidden Easter eggs. They should be visible once Perseverance’s 7-foot (2-meter) arm is deployed in a few days and starts photographing under the vehicle, and again when the rover is driving in a couple weeks.

“Definitely, definitely should keep a good lookout,” he urged.

Research contact: @SFGate