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Nation and World briefs for January 11

Sessions says he’d defy Trump as attorney general if needed

WASHINGTON (AP) — Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions fervently rejected “damnably false” accusations of past racist comments Tuesday as he challenged Democratic concerns about the civil rights commitment he would bring as Donald Trump’s attorney general. He vowed at his confirmation hearing to stay independent from the White House and stand up to Trump when necessary.

Sessions laid out a sharply conservative vision for the Justice Department he would oversee, pledging to crack down on illegal immigration, gun violence and the “scourge of radical Islamic terrorism” and to keep open the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

But he also distanced himself from some of Trump’s public pronouncements.

He said waterboarding, a now-banned harsh interrogation technique that Trump has at times expressed support for, was “absolutely improper and illegal.”

Though he said he would prosecute immigrants who repeatedly enter the country illegally and criticized as constitutionally “questionable” an executive action by President Barack Obama that shielded certain immigrants from deportation, he said he did “not support the idea that Muslims, as a religious group, should be denied admission to the United States.”

Bombs near government offices in Afghan capital kill 38

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Two large bombs — one triggered by a suicide attacker — exploded near government offices Tuesday, killing at least 38 people and wounding dozens of others in the deadliest Taliban violence in Kabul in months.

In southern Afghanistan, another attack at a guesthouse belonging to the governor of Kandahar province killed five people and wounded 12. An ambassador from the United Arab Emirates and other UAE diplomats were among the wounded, authorities said.

The Kabul suicide bomber struck about 4 p.m. as workers were leaving a compound of government and legislative offices, said Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi. The second bomb, which was planted in a car, exploded minutes later after security forces had rushed in to help the victims, he said.

The Taliban, who have been waging a 15-year war against the U.S.-backed government, claimed the attack in the capital.

The 38 dead included civilians and military personnel, and another 72 people were wounded, said Public Health Ministry official Mohibullah Zeer.

Dylann Roof sentenced to death for killing 9 church members

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — An unrepentant Dylann Roof was sentenced to death Tuesday for fatally shooting nine black church members during a Bible study session, becoming the first person ordered executed for a federal hate crime.

A jury deliberated for about three hours before returning with the decision, capping a trial in which the 22-year-old avowed white supremacist did not fight for his life or show any remorse. He served as his own attorney during sentencing and never asked for forgiveness or mercy or explained the massacre.

Hours earlier, Roof threw away one last chance to plead for his life, telling jurors: “I still feel like I had to do it.”

Every juror looked directly at Roof as he spoke for about five minutes. A few nodded as he reminded them that they said during jury selection they could fairly weigh the factors of his case. Only one of them, he noted, had to disagree to spare his life.

“I have the right to ask you to give me a life sentence, but I’m not sure what good it would do anyway,” he said.

Dangerous blizzard, flooding as new storm hits California

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The latest in an onslaught of winter storms comes with blizzard warnings for the Sierra Nevada and a new round of flooding for Northern California river towns where thousands of people remained under evacuation advisory Tuesday.

Forecasters warned of up to 10 feet of snow in the highest mountains, with up to 7 feet of snow around the resorts of Lake Tahoe, high risk of avalanches, and wind gusts to 60 mph. The Sierra ridge had gusts of more than 100 mph.

A blizzard warning is in effect for parts of the Sierra, a rarity and the first issued in the past nine years, said Scott McGuire, a forecaster for the National Weather Service based in Reno, Nevada.

“This is definitely a dangerous, life-threatening situation going on up there,” he said Tuesday. “People should not attempt to travel at all.”

Many ski resorts shut down Tuesday because of the dangerous storm. A number of main roads in the Sierra were closed, including Interstate 80, or required chains.

Trump pushes GOP leaders for fast action on health care

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump pushed Congress on Tuesday to act swiftly to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law and follow up with a replacement. Speaker Paul Ryan, after talking with Trump, announced that the House would aim to take both steps “concurrently.”

The push for speed and coordination came as growing numbers of Republicans expressed concerns about GOP leadership’s plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement in hand, potentially leaving the 20 million people who gained coverage under the law in limbo.

“We have to get to business. Obamacare has been a catastrophic event,” Trump said in an interview with The New York Times.

“Long to me would be weeks,” he added of the gap between repealing and replacing the law. “It won’t be repeal and then two years later go in with another plan.”

Yet that’s exactly the scenario that had been envisioned by GOP leaders who’ve described a transition period of months or years between repealing the enormously complex law and replacing it with something else.

Weakened by drought, trees are falling in rainy California

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Drenching winter rains combined with the punishing effects of six years of drought are causing trees to topple across California, in some cases with deadly results. At least two people have been killed in the past month.

Seemingly sturdy oaks, palm trees in Southern California and giant sequoias farther north have been collapsing. Experts say that in some instances, the dry spell had weakened or killed the roots or trunks, and the soggy soil and wind caused the trees to tip over.

One woman who struck and killed by a tree while walking on a Northern California golf course Saturday. A woman posing for photographs as part of a wedding party was killed and five others were injured by a falling eucalyptus tree in Southern California last month.

Another wet, blustery storm headed for California on Tuesday night threatened to knock down many more trees throughout the Sierra Nevada.

“Pay attention to your surroundings and watch those trees,” said Battalion Chief Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “It is a hazard you need to be aware of.”

In final speech, Obama must reconcile his hopes with Trump’s

WASHINGTON (AP) — Now an elder statesman, President Barack Obama was returning Tuesday to the city where he launched his unlikely political career for one final speech: a parting plea to Americans not to lose faith in their future, no matter what they think about their next president.

Obama’s final speech as president, before thousands who will gather at Chicago’s McCormick Place, is his last chance to try to define what his presidency meant for America. It’s a fitting bookend to what he started eight years ago. It was in Chicago in 2008 that the nation’s first black president declared victory, and where over the years he tried to cultivate his brand of optimism in American politics.

“We’ve run our leg in a long relay of progress, knowing that our work will always be unfinished,” Obama wrote Tuesday in a Facebook post previewing his speech. “And we’ve reaffirmed the belief that we can make a difference with our own hands, in our own time.”

The president departed Washington in the late afternoon joined by an array of long-serving White House advisers and people from his past, including sister Auma Obama from Kenya. First lady Michelle Obama, daughter Malia and family friends came along for what the White House said was Obama’s 445th mission aboard Air Force One.

Obama has said he’s leaving his eight years in office with two basic lessons: that Americans are fundamentally good, and that change can happen. “The system will respond to ordinary people coming together to try to move the country in a better direction,” he said ahead of the speech.

 

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