Disney buying large part of 21st Century Fox in $52.4B deal

AP Photo
AP Photo/Richard Drew

NEW YORK (AP) — Disney is buying a large part of the Murdoch family’s 21st Century Fox for about $52.4 billion in stock, including film and television studios and cable and international TV businesses, as it tries to meet competition from technology companies in the entertainment business.

The deal gives Disney film businesses including Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Fox 2000, which together are the homes of Avatar, X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool. On the television side, Disney will get Twentieth Century Fox Television, FX Productions and Fox21, with shows including “The Simpsons” and “Modern Family.”

21st Century Fox shareholders will receive 0.2745 Disney shares for each share they own. The transaction also includes approximately $13.7 billion in debt.

Robert Iger will continue as chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Co. through the end of 2021. Disney said Thursday that it anticipates the acquisition providing at least $2 billion in cost savings. Both companies’ boards have approved the deal. It still needs approval from Disney and 21st Century Fox shareholders.

Before the buyout, 21st Century Fox will separate the Fox Broadcasting network and stations, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, FS1, FS2 and Big Ten Network into a newly listed company that will be spun off to its shareholders. It will also include the company’s studio lot in Los Angeles and equity investment in Roku.

That Rupert Murdoch and his sons were willing to sell off much of the business that has been built up over decades came as a shock to the entertainment industry.

The entertainment business is going through big changes. TV doesn’t have a monopoly on home entertainment anymore. There’s Netflix, which is spending up to $8 billion on programming next year. Amazon is building its own library, having splashed out on global TV rights to “Lord of the Rings.” Facebook, Google and Apple are also investing in video.

As consumers spend more time online, TV’s share of U.S. ad spending is shrinking. Advertisers are following consumer attention to the internet, where Google and Facebook win the vast majority of advertisers’ dollars.

“We’ve been talking about cord cutting for the better part of a decade. But now it’s real,” USC Annenberg communications professor Chris Smith said. The media companies have to compete with the internet giants for consumers’ attention – and the younger generations pay more attention to YouTube, Facebook and other “platforms” than traditional TV, Smith said.

To combat this trend, Disney is launching new ESPN- and Disney-branded streaming services over the next couple of years. It could beef them up with some of the assets it’s acquiring from Fox, making them exclusive to its services and sharpening its ability to compete with Netflix for consumer dollars. During a conference call with investors, Disney CEO Bob Iger said many Fox properties will fit with the new service, including possibly National Geographic and additional Marvel productions.

“The core underlying driver for this deal in our opinion is the impending battle royale for content and streaming services vs. the Netflix machine,” GBH analyst Daniel Ives wrote.

Not everyone thinks this is a good bet by Disney, though. Rich Greenfield, a longtime Disney critic, thinks the deal is a bad idea that ties Disney to older TV-distribution systems – cable and satellite TV – rather than helping it look toward the future.

He also notes that regulators may not like the idea of combining two major movie studios. The Justice Department surprised many in the industry and on Wall Street when it sued to block another media megamerger, AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, in November.

MURDOCH FAMILY TAKES A BOW

Rupert Murdoch built 21st Century Fox and News Corp. out of an inheritance from his father in Australia. He bought a string of papers there, in the U.K. and the U.S., building an influential platform for his views. He expanded into TV and movies, launching the Fox network and Fox News and changing the face of American news and entertainment.

“Rupert has spent many, many years assembling the components of his empire,” said NYU business professor Samuel Craig, who specializes in the entertainment industry.

Rupert Murdoch has ostensibly already handed the reins over to a new generation at Fox. His son James is CEO, while his other son, Lachlan, like Rupert, has the title of executive chairman.

The Murdoch empire has already been divided. After a phone-hacking newspaper scandal in the U.K., News Corp. was split off into a separate company for the publishing and newspaper businesses, which include the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Sun and The Times in the U.K., and book publisher HarperCollins. Now Fox is also being split up as the company sets itself up to deal with the growing power of the tech industry.

“The Murdochs realize they don’t have the same kind of leverage Disney has, the same kind of brand power,” Smith said.

It would be harder to launch a Fox-branded streaming service that attracts lots of the new generation of consumers, for example. Smith said that makes it a great time to sell off the entertainment business.

Fox is also selling to Disney its substantial overseas operations. It is offloading its 39 percent stake in European satellite-TV and broadcaster Sky after running into regulatory roadblocks in the U.K. trying to take over the rest of the company, in part because of how Fox handled the sexual harassment scandal at Fox News. Disney is also acquiring Star India, a major media company with dozens of sports and entertainment channels.

Fox will be left with the live events, news and sports, that are key parts of the traditional TV bundle. There is speculation that the Murdochs would want to recombine what’s the slimmed-down Fox with News Corp.

MIGHTIER MOUSE

The Disney-branded service, expected in 2019, will have classic and upcoming movies from the studio, shows from Disney Channel, and the “Star Wars” and Marvel movies.

Disney will also win majority control of Hulu, both its live-TV service and the older service with a big library of TV shows.

Disney could continue to add movies and TV shows from Fox’s library to its services, making them more attractive compared with Netflix’s offerings. The combined libraries of the Disney and Fox movie and TV studios could have more titles than Netflix, Barclays analyst Kannan Venkateshwar said. Buying Fox’s FX networks will add edgy TV shows that complement Disney’s long list of kid-friendly series and films, he said.

Greenfield, however, notes that a lot of programming wouldn’t be immediately available to Disney. Fox movies are exclusive to HBO through 2022, for example.

Disney also plans an ESPN Plus service for next year. It isn’t a duplicate of the ESPN TV network, but it will stream tennis matches along with major-league baseball, hockey and soccer games, as well as college sports. It might be able to add more sports through Fox’s 22 local sports networks – cable channels that show popular sports in the viewer’s region.

Disney also owns Marvel, but not all the Marvel characters. It’s made movies starring Thor, Doctor Strange and Captain America and the Avengers crew. But the X-Men are at Fox. Bringing them home under one roof could mean movies with more of the characters together.

AP Business Writer Michelle Chapman in West Orange, New Jersey, and AP Technology Writer Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.

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Disney buying large part of 21st Century Fox in .4B deal
Disney buying large part of 21st Century Fox in .4B deal
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Source: AP HEADLINES

AP review: Push for gun laws faces resistance in most states

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AP Photo/Manuel Valdes

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The campaign for tighter gun laws that inspired unprecedented student walkouts across the country still faces an uphill climb in a majority of states, an Associated Press review of gun legislation found.

The AP survey of bill activity in state legislatures before and after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting provides a reality check on the ambitions of the “Enough is Enough” movement. It suggests that votes like the one in Florida, where Republican lawmakers defied the National Rifle Association to pass new gun regulations, are unlikely to be repeated in many other states, at least not this year.

The student-led activism might yet lead to future reforms, but for now, the gun debate among most lawmakers still falls along predictable and largely partisan lines, with few exceptions, according to the analysis.

Because Congress shows no sign of acting, state legislatures dominate the national debate over guns. And major changes won’t be easy to achieve in statehouses that are mostly controlled by the gun-friendly GOP.

Republicans have sponsored more than 80 percent of bills that would expand gun rights, while Democrats have introduced more than 90 percent of bills to limit them. The total number of gun-rights and gun-control bills identified by AP statehouse reporters is roughly equal – about 300 in each category.

Many of the Democratic gun-control bills have been introduced in legislatures dominated by Republicans, meaning they have little or no chance of passing.

“I think (the) public attitude has changed, but I don’t see a big change here in the Legislature,” said Iowa Rep. Art Staed, a Democrat who sought unsuccessfully after the Parkland attack to force the Iowa House to consider allowing courts to temporarily seize guns from dangerous individuals. “It’s been very frustrating.”

Iowa’s GOP-controlled Legislature, which last year approved a historic expansion of gun rights, has not held hearings on Democratic proposals to ban assault-style weapons, prohibit high-capacity magazines or expand background checks. Instead, lawmakers have considered more pro-gun initiatives, including a bill to allow residents to carry handguns without obtaining permits and a resolution to enshrine the right to bear arms in the Iowa Constitution.

Iowa Gun Owners, a “no-compromise gun lobby,” has mobilized its members to pressure Republican lawmakers to hold firm.

“We’re not going to back off any advocacy of expanding gun rights,” Executive Director Aaron Dorr said.

After the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, public support for gun control reached the highest point since 1993, with two-thirds of Americans supporting stricter laws, according to a Gallup Poll released Wednesday.

Several corporations have also cut ties with the NRA, and some retailers have announced they will no longer sell rifles to anyone under 21. But the response in states has been more predictable.

Some Democratic-controlled states with restrictive gun and ammunition laws are moving to tighten them further. Aside from Florida, Republican-led states have mostly rejected new gun-control measures and instead are weighing whether to arm teachers and allow more guns in public places.

Several states are considering raising the age to buy rifles to 21 or debating “red flag” laws that would allow courts to order the temporary seizure of guns from people showing signs of mental distress or violence. But even those are running into resistance from pro-gun lawmakers.

In Idaho, lawmakers rejected a plan that would have would prohibited convicted domestic abusers from owning guns, a measure that many states have adopted to enforce a similar federal ban.

In Utah, lawmakers defeated GOP House Speaker Greg Hughes’ version of a red flag law, which would have allowed a family member or roommate to ask a court to temporarily remove firearms from someone who is acting dangerously.

“This, to me, is more of a gun-confiscation effort than it is a public-safety measure,” Utah Republican Rep. Brian Greene said.

Democratic lawmakers who control the Illinois Legislature acted swiftly after the Parkland assault to approve a long-debated bill requiring state licensing for firearms dealers, a measure intended to increase oversight and eliminate straw sales. But Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the measure Tuesday, saying it would hurt small businesses and do little to stop violence.

NRA leader Wayne LaPierre said this week that his group would oppose all “failed gun control” plans, including proposals to raise the gun-buying age, require background checks on private gun sales and transfers or ban semi-automatic rifles and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

Gun-control advocates see major progress in Florida’s new law, which raises the rifle-buying age, creates a three-day waiting period to buy long guns and allows law enforcement to seek a court order to prevent access to guns for people who show signs of violence or mental illness. It also allows some teachers to be armed and bans bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic ones.

Both sides are also watching traditionally gun-friendly Vermont, where the Republican governor recently abandoned his stance against new gun control laws after the arrest of an 18-year-old accused of plotting a school shooting. Hunters packed the Capitol this week to protest some curbs being considered by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

The divide over how to respond has left young people like Alexia Medero wondering if change will ever come. The senior at Parkland High School outside Allentown, Pennsylvania, was one of hundreds who walked out of class Wednesday and attended a campus rally dubbed #parklandforparkland. After the event, she said she worries that the activism won’t produce any real change.

“I’m afraid that with this shooting, like the others, people are going to mourn the victims and then a few months later forget about it,” she said. “And nothing will happen.”

Associated Press writers Michelle Price in Salt Lake City and Michael Rubinkam in Allentown, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.

Follow Ryan Foley at https://twitter.com/rjfoley .

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AP review: Push for gun laws faces resistance in most states
AP review: Push for gun laws faces resistance in most states
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The Latest: Austin authorities: Another explosion reported

AP Photo
AP Photo/Eric Gay

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Latest on serial bombings in Texas (all times local):

7:30 p.m.

Austin authorities say emergency personnel are responding to another reported explosion, this one at a Goodwill store in the southern part of the city.

Austin-Travis County EMS tweeted Thursday evening that at least one person was injured but that details about the severity of those injuries and the explosion itself were unknown.

It would mark the sixth explosion in the Austin area since March 2. So far, two people have been killed and four others seriously wounded.

6:58 p.m.

The FBI says a suspicious package reported at a FedEx distribution center near the Austin airport “contained an explosive device.”

In a statement Tuesday evening, the FBI said no one was injured when law enforcement responded to a report of a suspicious package at the facility around 6:20 a.m.

Hours earlier, a separate package exploded at a FedEx shipping center in Schertz, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) south of Austin.

The FBI said both packages were related to the other four bombings that have rocked Austin since March 2, killing two people and badly wounding four others.

5:30 p.m.

The chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security committee says federal authorities informed him investigators have obtained surveillance videos in Austin that “could possibly” show a suspect in the package bombing at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio.

Congressman Michael McCaul told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he’s been briefed by the FBI, ATF and Austin police about the situation. But he adds that investigators are still poring through the surveillance recordings.

Austin police earlier said another suspicious package was discovered at a second FedEx center near Austin’s main airport. McCaul says evidence obtained from that package if kept intact could be key in finding the bomber.

McCaul, whose district includes Austin, says he hopes the bomber’s “biggest mistake was going through FedEx.”

3:45 p.m.

FedEx says it has turned over “extensive evidence” to authorities after a package exploded at its processing center in the town of Schertz, south of Austin.

In a statement, the company says “the individual responsible” for sending the package that blew up also shipped a second package that has been secured and turned over to law enforcement.

FedEx says it gave authorities evidence “related to these packages and the individual that shipped them collected from our advanced technology security systems.”

A company spokeswoman subsequently refused to say if that second package might have been linked to a suspicious package that authorities seized at another FedEx shipping facility on Tuesday, this one in south Austin, near the city’s airport.

No arrests have been made in the five bombings that have rocked the Austin area since March 2

3:25 p.m.

The chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security committee says he thinks the latest package explosion in Texas will lead to more evidence, “hopefully fingerprints and surveillance photos.”

Congressman Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, made the comments Tuesday at a White House roundtable discussion on so-called sanctuary cities. It’s not clear whether McCaul was speaking with knowledge of specific information in the case.

McCaul also thanked President Donald Trump for sending 500 federal agents to Austin “to find this perpetrator and bring him to justice.”

A package exploded early Tuesday at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says the package was sent from Austin and was addressed to a home in Austin.

Four other package bombs have exploded in Austin since March 2.

3:10 p.m.

An employee at a FedEx center in Austin says managers ordered workers outside before sunrise after a suspicious package showed up.

Bryan Jaimes told reporters Tuesday he estimates there were about 60 people working at the facility near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport when the building was cleared out.

The 19-year-old package handler says workers left calmly and that he’s glad he made it out safe. He returned to the center hours later hoping to be allowed back in to get his car and phone. The facility remains closed.

Jaimes says he never received new guidance from managers about handling packages as Austin authorities look for what they’ve called a “serial bomber.” He said his job is to load the trucks.

1:20 p.m.

The San Antonio Police Department says its police chief was mistaken when he said that investigators found a second package bomb that hadn’t detonated at a FedEx distribution center.

The department says in a news release police Chief William McManus misspoke at a news conference earlier Tuesday and that there was only one package bomb at the Schertz facility – the one that exploded.

It forwarded any inquiries to the FBI and Austin Police Department.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton earlier told The Associated Press that there was a “suspicion” of another package, but he stopped short of confirming there were two.

Officials say the package bomb that exploded early Tuesday apparently went out from a FedEx store in the Austin enclave of Sunset Valley and was addressed to an Austin home. It blew up on a conveyer belt at the FedEx ground center in Schertz, which is outside of San Antonio and about 60 miles (95 kilometers) southwest of Austin.

12:45 p.m.

Austin police say they’ve called the bomb squad to investigate a suspicious package at a FedEx shipping center outside of the city’s airport.

Austin police spokeswoman Destiny Winston said Tuesday that the package was reported shortly before sunrise. She says federal investigators were called to the scene as a precaution due to “past events.”

Four package bombs have detonated in Austin this month, killing two people and injuring four others. A fifth that officials say was sent from the Austin area to an address in Austin exploded early Tuesday at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio, where investigators found another parcel bomb that hadn’t exploded.

12:30 p.m.

Austin police say they’ve responded to more than 1,200 calls in the last two weeks from people worried that suspicious packages could be bombs.

Police said Tuesday that they’ve responded to 1,257 calls since March 12, when packages exploded at two homes in Austin, killing a 17-year-old and injuring two others. On March 2, a 39-year-old man was killed when a package bomb exploded.

On Sunday, a bomb triggered by a tripwire injured two men in a quiet neighborhood in southwest Austin.

Police say that between 8 a.m. Monday and 8 a.m. Tuesday, they responded to 420 calls about suspicious packages.

Officials say a bomb that exploded early Tuesday at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio went out from an Austin-area FedEx store and was addressed to an Austin home.

12:15 p.m.

Investigators have closed off an Austin-area FedEx store from where officials say two package bombs were sent to a distribution center near San Antonio, including one that detonated.

Authorities have roped off a large area around the shopping center in the Austin enclave of Sunset Valley where the store is located. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says the parcel bomb that exploded early Tuesday in the distribution center in Schertz was mailed from Austin and addressed to an Austin home.

The police department in Sunset Valley, which is surrounded on all sides by Austin, says it appears that both package bombs that made it to the Schertz facility went out from the Sunset Valley store.

Authorities suspect the parcel bombs are linked to the four bombs that have killed two people and injured four others in Austin this month.

11:40 a.m.

President Donald Trump is blaming a “very sick individual or individuals” for a series of bombings in Austin, Texas.

Trump said during an Oval Office meeting Tuesday with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the situation is “terrible.”

He says, “This is obviously a very sick individual or individuals” and that authorities are “working to get to the bottom of it.”

Trump’s comments came hours after an early-morning explosion at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio. Authorities say it was a bomb addressed to an Austin home that had been sent from Texas’ capital city. Investigators found a second bomb at the facility that hadn’t exploded.

Authorities believe the latest parcel bombs are linked to the four bombings this month in Austin that have killed two people and injured four others.

11:20 a.m.

Texas’ attorney general says the package that exploded at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio was sent from Austin and was addressed to a home in Austin.

Attorney General Ken Paxton also told television station KXAN that a second parcel bomb that didn’t explode was found at the FedEx facility in Schertz. San Antonio police Chief William McManus told a news conference there that the second package was no longer at the facility.

Authorities say one of the parcel bombs detonated at around 1 a.m. Tuesday while it was on a conveyer belt in the facility, which is about 60 miles (95 kilometers) southwest of Austin. One worker suffered minor injuries.

Paxton didn’t provide details on where the packages were addressed to.

Investigators believe the explosives are linked to the four bombings that have killed two people and injured four others in Austin this month.

10:30 a.m.

Authorities say the package that exploded at a FedEx ground facility near San Antonio was on a conveyer belt when it detonated.

Schertz police Chief Michael Hansen said at a news conference that one worker reported feeling ringing in her ears after the early Tuesday blast, but she was treated and released.

Hansen said that the intended target of the parcel bomb wasn’t the facility or anyone who lives in Schertz, which is about 60 miles (95 kilometers) southwest of Austin. But neither Hansen nor federal agents who spoke at the news conference would say where the package was sent to or from or give any other details about the investigation, saying it was still unfolding.

An FBI spokeswoman, agent Michelle Lee, said earlier Tuesday “it would be silly for us not to admit that we suspect it’s related” to the four Austin bombings that have killed two people and injured four others since March 2.

8:45 a.m.

Austin police have deployed a hazardous materials squad to a FedEx shipping facility near the city’s airport to investigate reports of a suspicious package.

It isn’t known yet if the suspicious package is linked to a bomb that detonated earlier Tuesday at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio or the four bombs that have gone off in Austin this month.

But the Austin Police Department says an investigation is underway.

The package that exploded earlier Tuesday at the FedEx facility in Schertz, about 60 miles southwest of Austin, slightly injured one worker. Authorities believe it is linked to what they say is a serial bomber responsible for the four Austin bombings since March 2.

8:35 a.m.

The White House says the federal government is doing “whatever is necessary” to apprehend whomever is responsible for a series of explosions in Austin, Texas.

Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders tells Fox News Channel that President Donald Trump is aware of the situation.

Sanders says federal authorities are working closely with local authorities and have offered their full support and cooperation “to make sure we’re doing whatever is necessary and whatever is possible” to stop the explosions and find whomever is responsible.

A package bomb that authorities believe is linked to the recent string of Austin bombings exploded early Tuesday inside of a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio. A worker suffered minor injuries.

Four other Austin bombings have killed two people and injured four others since March 2.

8:30 a.m.

A heavy law enforcement presence is surrounding the FedEx distribution center near San Antonio where a parcel bomb exploded, slightly injuring one worker.

The area around the facility in Schertz is heavily industrial and features warehouses and parking lots empty except for parked trailers.

A woman who identified herself as an FedEx employee emerged from the shipping facility wrapped in a blanket as the sun rose on Tuesday and said she’d been evacuated. She declined to give her name.

The FBI says a package exploded at the facility at around 1 a.m. on Tuesday.

Authorities believe it is linked to the four bombs that have detonated in the Texas capital of Austin this month. Those bombs killed two people and injured four others.

7:45 a.m.

The Austin Police Department says it is aware that a parcel bomb exploded overnight at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio and that it is working closely on the investigation with federal law enforcement agencies.

An FBI spokeswoman, agent Michelle Lee, says it is still early in the investigation into the early Tuesday bombing at the FedEx facility in Schertz, which left one worker with minor injuries. But she says “it would be silly for us not to admit that we suspect it’s related” to the four Austin bombings that have killed two people and injured four others since March 2.

The latest bombing in Austin injured two men on Sunday. Authorities say it was triggered by a tripwire and was a more sophisticated bomb than those used in the first three attacks, which were package bombs left on people’s doorsteps.

The Austin police are again warning people to call 911 if they come across suspicious packages, bags or other items that look out of place.

7 a.m.

Federal investigators say a package that exploded at a FedEx facility near San Antonio is believed to be linked to the string of bombings that has terrified the Texas capital this month.

Special Agent Michelle Lee of the FBI in San Antonio says she has no confirmed reports of any injuries in the blast. But the police department in Schertz, where the FedEx facility is located, issued a statement saying one person was treated at the scene and released.

Lee says it is still early in the investigation, but “it would be silly for us not to admit that we suspect it’s related” to the four Austin bombings that have killed two people and injured four others since March 2. The latest bombing in Austin injured two men on Sunday.

Lee didn’t have details about the size, weight or description of the package.

5:30 a.m.

Federal agents tell The Washington Post that a package bomb exploded around 1 a.m. Tuesday inside a FedEx distribution center in Schertz, Texas.

Spokeswomen for the FBI and the ATF say both agencies are at the scene.

The explosion happened at the facility just northeast of San Antonio sometime around 1 a.m., said FBI Special Agent Michelle Lee. ATF spokeswoman Nicole Strong said that early indications are that no one was injured.

5 a.m.

A website that monitors fire and police activity in San Antonio, Texas, says a package bomb has exploded at a FedEx distribution center in Schertz, Texas, hurting 1 person, a FedEx employee who apparently suffered a non-life-threatening “percussion-type” injury from the blast.

The FBI and ATF are at the scene. Federal agents say this package is likely linked to attacks by what they believe is a serial bomber. The package exploded shortly after midnight on Tuesday.

The Associated Press reported erroneously earlier Tuesday that the San Antonio Fire Department said one person had suffered a non-life-threatening “percussion-type” injury from the blast. That information came from SanantonioFIRE, a local media website that reports on local police, fire and emergency service news, and could not immediately be independently confirmed.

1 a.m.

Police and federal agents said Sunday night’s blast triggered along a street by a nearly invisible tripwire suggests a “higher level of sophistication” than they have seen before in three early package bombs left on doorsteps, and means the carnage is now random, rather than targeted at someone in particular.

William Grote says the attack, by a suspected serial bomber that has terrorized Austin for weeks, left what appeared to be nails embedded in his grandson’s knees.

Two people are dead and four injured, and authorities don’t appear closer to making any arrests in the four bombings that have rocked the capital city.

Authorities haven’t identified the latest victims, but Grote told The Associated Press that his grandson was one of the two men wounded in southwest Austin’s quiet Travis Country neighborhood. They suffered what police said were significant injuries and remained hospitalized in stable condition.

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The Latest: Austin authorities: Another explosion reported
The Latest: Austin authorities: Another explosion reported
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Portraits of Egypt's leader fill iconic Cairo Square

AP Photo
AP Photo/Amr Nabil

CAIRO (AP) — Seven years ago, Cairo’s Tahrir Square was filled with tens of thousands of Egyptians demanding change. Now it is plastered with portraits of the president, vowing continuity.

Almost all traces of the popular revolt that overthrew longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 are now gone. Instead there are banners and posters – dozens of them – showing a beaming Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the general-turned-president who’s running for re-election this week in a vote widely dismissed as a farce.

“What happened in Tahrir was the biggest threat to the network of corruption and theft throughout Egypt’s modern history,” said Wael Eskandar, a blogger and activist who took part in the protests that brought down Mubarak. “Tahrir symbolizes that threat and is a reminder that people can awaken and ask for their rights. That’s why el-Sissi and his regime insist on appropriating it to erase a nation’s memory.”

The election, which begins Monday with voting staggered over three days, nearly ended up as a one-man referendum, after all serious challengers were arrested or pressured into withdrawing. The only other candidate to make the ballot, Moussa Mustafa Moussa, is a little-known politician who supports el-Sissi and has made almost no effort to campaign against him.

Banners extolling el-Sissi, often bearing the names of local businessmen or organizations advertising their support, have proliferated across Egypt, prompting mockery from some critics. But it is in Tahrir Square, where mass protests raised hopes of democratic change in the Arab world’s most populous country, that the effect is most jarring.

In February 2011, protesters who had clashed with police and camped out in the square for 18 days erupted into cheers as the end of Mubarak’s 29-year-rule was announced on a giant screen. Now, a massive LCD monitor plays pro-Sissi videos on a perpetual loop.

“Everyone loves him,” said Hossam, as he left a store plastered with pro-el-Sissi posters. “Times are tight but we’re betting on him. He saved the country,” he said. He asked that his full name not be used, fearing reprisals for talking to foreign journalists, who are regularly vilified by Egypt’s pro-government media.

The 2011 uprising ushered in a period of instability, as Egypt’s military, the Muslim Brotherhood group and other Islamists, and a loose coalition of liberal parties vied for power. Egypt’s first freely elected president, the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, proved divisive, and in the summer of 2013 tens of thousands of people returned to Tahrir Square, demanding his resignation.

The military, under the leadership of el-Sissi, removed Morsi from power and launched a massive crackdown on the Brotherhood, which won a series of elections held after the 2011 uprising but is now outlawed as a terrorist group. Authorities have jailed thousands of Islamists as well as several well-known secular activists, including many who played a leading role in the 2011 uprising. The media is dominated by pro-government commentators, and hundreds of websites have been blocked.

El-Sissi has said such measures are necessary to restore stability and revive the economy in a country of 100 million, one that is grappling with widespread poverty and confronting an Islamic State-led insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

He has also enacted a series of long-overdue economic measures, such as cutting subsidies and floating the local currency, and has championed mega-projects aimed at improving infrastructure and providing jobs. The economy is showing signs of improvement, but the austerity measures have made it even harder for Egyptians to make ends meet in a country where more than a fourth of the population lives below the poverty line.

With heavy restrictions on public opinion polling and an absence of critical voices in the media, it’s impossible to know whether el-Sissi is as popular as the posters suggest. The best indication may come from turnout, which the government hopes will bolster the election’s legitimacy.

Mohammed, a deliveryman who asked that his full name not be published for fear of reprisal, didn’t know the name of the candidate running against el-Sissi and doesn’t plan on voting.

“Normal people don’t want (el-Sissi) to win. They would vote for any alternative, but there is no one,” he said. “People with money, of course, want him to stay. He defends their interests. That’s why they’re putting up all these posters.”

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Portraits of Egypt's leader fill iconic Cairo Square
Portraits of Egypt's leader fill iconic Cairo Square
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Source: AP HEADLINES

Trump's call for tariffs creating anxiety in the farm belt

AP Photo
AP Photo/Nati Harnik

HOSPERS, Iowa (AP) — In Sioux County, where swine barns interrupt the vast landscape of corn-stubbled fields, exports of meat, grain and machinery fuel the local economy. And there’s a palpable sense of unease that new Chinese tariffs pushed by President Donald Trump – who received more than 80 percent of the vote here in 2016 – could threaten residents’ livelihood.

The grumbling hardly signals a looming leftward lurch in this dominantly Republican region in northwest Iowa. But after standing with Trump through the many trials of his first year, some Sioux County Trump voters say they would be willing to walk away from the president if the fallout from the tariffs causes a lasting downturn in the farm economy.

“I wouldn’t sit here today and say I will definitely support him again,” said 60-year-old hog farmer Marv Van Den Top. “This here could be a real negative for him.”

Last week, Trump announced plans to impose tariffs on a range of Chinese goods, a move aimed at punishing Beijing for stealing American technology. The Chinese government responded with a threat to tag U.S. products, including pork and aluminum, with an equal 25 percent charge.

That sent a chill through places like Sioux County, which ranks first among Iowa’s 99 counties in agricultural exports. In 2016, the county sold $350 million in meat, grain, machinery and chemicals overseas. Far closer to the sparsely populated crossroads of South Dakota and Minnesota than Iowa’s bustling Des Moines metro area, Sioux County is home to just 34,000 people, but more than 1 million hogs, 6 million chickens and nearly as impressive numbers of cattle and sheep.

Brad Te Grootenhuis sells about 25,000 hogs a year and could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars if the tariffs spark a backlash from China. He said it’s possible he would abandon Trump if pork’s price decline continues and lasts.

“Any time you’re losing money, nobody’s happy,” the 42-year-old farmer said. “I’ve got payments to make, plain and simple.”

Nationally, opinions on Trump’s tariffs, which were a central part of his campaign pledges to get tough on China, are mixed.

Although GOP congressional leaders have argued tariffs would prompt a trade war and have urged Trump to reverse course, 61 percent of Americans who identify as Republicans nationwide favor a tariff, according to a national poll taken this month by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Still, 39 percent of Republicans say it will lead to a decrease in jobs, according to the poll, compared to 32 percent who think it will lead to an increase. That’s similar to the views of all voters, the survey shows.

Countermeasures by China, which is second only to Canada in importing Iowa products, could cause pain across the American agricultural sector, according to economists. For instance, a pork tariff imposed by China, which spent $42 million on Iowa pork products in 2017, would back up the Iowa market and force prices sharply downward.

“Retaliatory tariffs from China would have a devastating impact on U.S. agricultural exports, especially if they focus on products like soybeans and hogs,” said Adam Kamins, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics. “This puts northwest Iowa and the Great Plains more broadly on the front line in a trade war.”

For hog farmer Tim Schmidt, the fallout of a geopolitical spat with China would force him to hold off on any new construction or maintenance on the decades-old buildings on his family-run farm along the Missouri River.

“There is an uncertainty to exactly what the next two to three years are going to look like,” Schmidt said. A Trump voter in 2016, Schmidt said that if “things are bad and someone better comes along, we’re willing to take a look.”

Sioux County seed dealer Dave Heying echoed a common refrain that any downturn in the farm economy would curb spending throughout the local economy, with direct impact on farm machinery dealers, mechanics and agricultural construction, among other businesses.

“Protecting our U.S. industries is important, but my concern is, at what expense to the farmer?” Heying said of Trump’s trade moves. “It is too early to say whether or not I would support him. These types of decisions give you hesitation.”

As a presidential candidate, Trump was a somewhat awkward fit for Sioux County, where a third of its residents are members of the Dutch Reformed Church of America, which holds strictly conservative social positions. In striking contrast, the bombastic New Yorker has been married three times and shadowed by allegations of sexual harassment and infidelity.

Trump finished fourth in Sioux County in Iowa’s Republican presidential caucus, but carried 81.3 percent of the vote in the general election, his second-highest county share in the state. And a large core of voters in Sioux County, where Franklin Roosevelt was the last Democratic presidential candidate to win, remains with Trump, even if the farm economy suffers as a result of his trade policies.

“You have to have faith in our innovation and entrepreneurialship in this country,” said Ed Westra, a grain cooperative manager and Trump devotee. “You’ve got to think of the big game.”

AP polling director Emily Swanson contributed to this report from Washington.

Follow Thomas Beaumont at http://twitter.com/TomBeaumont

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Trump's call for tariffs creating anxiety in the farm belt
Trump's call for tariffs creating anxiety in the farm belt
{$excerpt:n}
Source: AP HEADLINES

Inside a White House in tumult, John Kelly's clout dwindles

AP Photo
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

WASHINGTON (AP) — When President Donald Trump made a congratulatory phone call to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, White House chief of staff John Kelly wasn’t on the line.

When Trump tapped John Bolton to be his next national security adviser, Kelly wasn’t in the room.

And when Trump spent a Mar-a-Lago weekend chafing over immigration and trade, Kelly wasn’t in sight.

Kelly, once empowered to bring order to a turbulent West Wing, has receded from view, his clout diminished, his word less trusted by staff and his guidance less tolerated by an increasingly go-it-alone-president.

Emboldened in his job, Trump has rebelled against Kelly’s restrictions and mused about doing away with the chief of staff post entirely. It’s all leading White House staffers and Trump allies to believe that Kelly is working on borrowed time.

In recent weeks, Trump has governed at breakneck pace, ousting aides and issuing surprise policy announcements on Twitter, recreating the helter-skelter feel of his first months in office. Kelly’s allies maintain that his retreat is strategic. They suggest that the belief that Kelly was Trump’s savior was an overstated idea all along and that the chief of staff is now content to loosen the reins and allow an increasingly comfortable president to govern from his gut.

But those close to the president say Trump has increasingly expressed fatigue at Kelly’s attempts to shackle him and say that while Trump is not ready to fire Kelly, he has begun gradually freezing out his top aide.

Trump recently told one confidant that he was “tired of being told no” by Kelly and has instead chosen to simply not tell Kelly things at all, according to a person who was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In Trump’s West Wing, once the rumors begin that an aide’s exit is forthcoming, the “stink” on that staffer never leaves, according to one of the nearly dozen of White House aides, former administration officials and outside advisers who spoke to The Associated Press under the same conditions.

As Kelly’s public profile and behind-the-scenes influence has faded, speculation has risen that chaos could return.

“It’s not tenable for Kelly to remain in this position so weakened,” said Chris Whipple, author of “Gatekeepers,” a history of modern White House chiefs of staff. “More than any of his predecessors, Donald Trump needs an empowered chief of staff to tell him what he does not want to hear. Trump wants to run the White House like the 26th floor of Trump Tower and it’s simply not going to work.”

Kelly was once a fixture at the president’s side, but Trump has now cut him out of a number of important decisions.

For months, Kelly made it a practice to listen in to many of the president’s calls, particularly with world leaders. While he is still on the line for some of those conversations, Kelly was not part of the call Trump made to Putin last month from the White House residence, during which Trump ignored advisers’ advice against congratulating the Russian president on his re-election.

Though Kelly had agitated for the removal of outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster, he counseled Trump against hiring Bolton, an incendiary neo-conservative media commentator. Trump did it anyway, offering the job to Bolton in a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office and telling his chief of staff about it later.

As Trump spent the Easter weekend at his Florida resort and tweeted about his tariffs plan, Kelly was out of state, though the men did consult by phone. While Kelly has fumed about the ethics questions swirling around Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, Trump was at least initially more supportive of Pruitt, telling him “we’ve got your back.”

The president also has cast aside the constraints the retired four-star Marine general tried to place on Trump about whom he could see and speak to. Those restrictions led shunned advisers to try to undermine the chief of staff in the press and with Trump. For months, former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was barred from the White House, only to return when Kelly was overruled by Trump, according to four White House aides and outside advisers.

Many in the West Wing believed that Kelly’s attempts to curtail Trump’s interactions with Lewandowski, as well as Trump allies such as David Bossie and Anthony Scaramucci, were always destined to fail and alienate the president, who has privately contemplated about recreating the freewheeling nature of his campaign and Trump Tower office. Kelly also has clashed with Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who lost his security clearance after a policy change authored by the chief of staff.

Some White House aides contend Kelly has been intentionally giving Trump more leeway to be himself and that Kelly recognizes that’s what Trump wants. But allies acknowledged Kelly’s receding power and said he’s trying to keep his head down and focus on policy, such as the plan to mobilize the National Guard along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The White House declined to make Kelly available for an interview. In public, Trump praises his chief of staff, telling Marines in California last month that Kelly probably “likes what you do better than what he does, but he’s doing a great job.”

The speculation surrounding Kelly echoes the treatment of his predecessor, Reince Priebus, who was the subject of months of questions about how long he would last on the job. Priebus eventually resigned under pressure.

Kelly also no longer commands the same respect among some quarters of the staff. His role came under harsh scrutiny this year over his handling of the controversy surrounding ousted White House aide Rob Porter, who was accused of domestic abuse.

Kelly’s shifting version of events drew a loud rebuke from former communications director Hope Hicks, who had been dating Porter, and dismayed a number of West Wing staffers. That episode frustrated Trump, who also still remains agitated about an interview that Kelly gave to Fox News months ago in which he suggested that Trump had “evolved” in his thinking about the need for a wall on the Mexican border.

Kelly, who took the job last July, had previously told confidants he hoped to be on the job for a year. One person familiar with his thinking said the chief of state recently voiced doubt he would make it that far.

Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Lucey at http://twitter.com/@catherine-lucey

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Inside a White House in tumult, John Kelly's clout dwindles
Inside a White House in tumult, John Kelly's clout dwindles
{$excerpt:n}
Source: AP HEADLINES

Northeast tries to dig out, power up after latest storm

AP Photo
AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Residents in the Northeast dug out from as much as 2 feet of wet, heavy snow Thursday, while utilities dealt with downed trees and electric lines that snarled traffic and left hundreds of thousands without power after two strong nor’easters in less than a week – all with possibility of another storm in the wings.

With many schools closed for a second consecutive day Thursday, forecasters tracked the possibility of yet another late-season snowstorm to run up the coast early next week.

“The strength of it and how close it comes to the coast will make all the difference. At this point it’s too early to say,” said Jim Nodchey, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “We’re just looking at a chance.”

Snow was still falling Thursday in southern Maine, where the storm was expected to move on by midday.

More than 800,000 customers were without power in the Northeast, including some who have been without electricity since last Friday’s destructive nor’easter. Thousands of flights across the region were canceled, and traveling on the ground was treacherous.

There were multiple storm-related delays on Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s commuter rail, light rail and bus lines, and authorities were investigating after a train with more than 100 passengers on board derailed in Wilmington, Massachusetts. Nobody was hurt. The low-speed derailment was under investigation to determine if it was weather related.

In New Hampshire, Interstate 95 in Portsmouth was closed in both directions because of downed power lines.

Amtrak suspended service between New York City and Boston until at least 11 a.m. Thursday. New York City’s Metro-North commuter railroad, which had suspended service on lines connecting the city to its northern suburbs and Connecticut because of downed trees, restored partial service Thursday.

Members of the Northeastern University women’s basketball team pushed their bus back on course Thursday after it was stuck in the snow outside a practice facility in Philadelphia. The Huskies were in the city to compete in the 2018 CAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. The team posted a video of the feat on its Twitter account.

Steve Marchillo, a finance director at the University of Connecticut’s Hartford branch, said he enjoyed the sight of heavily snow-laden trees on his way into work Thursday but they also made him nervous.

“It looks cool as long as they don’t fall down on you and you don’t lose power,” he said.

Montville, New Jersey, got more than 26 inches from Wednesday’s nor’easter. North Adams, Massachusetts, registered 24 inches, and Sloatsburg, New York, got 26 inches.

Major cities along the Interstate 95 corridor saw much less. Philadelphia International Airport recorded about 6 inches, while New York City’s Central Park saw less than 3 inches.

The storm was not as severe as the nor’easter that toppled trees, flooded coastal communities and caused more than 2 million power outages from Virginia to Maine last Friday.

It still proved to be a headache for the tens of thousands of customers still in the dark from the earlier storm – and for the crews trying to restore power to them.

Massachusetts was hardest hit by outages, with more than 345,000 without service Thursday and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker closing all non-essential state offices. Republican Maine Gov. Paul LePage also closed state offices and encouraged residents to stay off roads “unless it is an absolute emergency.”

In New Jersey, the state’s major utilities reported more than 247,000 customers without power a day after the storm.

In North White Plains, New York, 10 people were taken to hospitals with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning after running a generator inside a home, police said. All were expected to survive.

In Manchester Township, New Jersey, police said a teacher was struck by lightning while holding an umbrella on bus duty outside a school. The woman felt a tingling sensation but didn’t lose consciousness. She was taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

This story has been corrected to show that New Jersey has more than 247,000 power outages, not 247,000,000.

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Northeast tries to dig out, power up after latest storm
Northeast tries to dig out, power up after latest storm
{$excerpt:n}
Source: AP HEADLINES

What to watch tonight: Trump's adjectives, Melania, boycotts

WASHINGTON (AP) — The state of the union is …

Great again? Or not quite?

A year into his presidency, President Donald Trump stands before the nation Tuesday night to account for his promise to “make America great again” amid talk of a rising threat of nuclear war and special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Trump’s 2016 campaign and potential obstruction of justice.

For both parties, the speech operates like the pop of a starting gun for the midterm elections, when Republicans will defend their majorities in the House and Senate.

A look at what to watch:

HOW SUPERLATIVE?

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday previewed the speech by describing the state of the union as “incredible.”

But will the hyperbole-loving president tone down his bombastic speaking style a bit? The White House is setting expectations as close to “yes” as possible – but only for as long as the speech itself lasts. Expect the president to cast the tax overhaul he signed in December and the strong economy as Trump initiatives that help all Americans. Thematically, Trump is expected to speak of having built the foundation for a safer and stronger nation.

But can Trump stay on message – and off Twitter – after the reviews come in?

THE ELEPHANT IN THE CHAMBER

Will Trump make any mention of Mueller’s probe of Russian connections and obstruction of justice, or his own expressed willingness to be interviewed under oath? Trump told reporters last week he’d “love” to be interviewed under oath about the matter. But his lawyers didn’t seem as enthusiastic and are still negotiating.

FLOTUS

First lady Melania Trump will face extra scrutiny this year – and not just because of the former model’s fashionable couture.

Mrs. Trump’s movements have been closely watched ever since The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that the president’s lawyer had arranged a payment to an adult film star, Stormy Daniels, to keep her from talking about an alleged 2006 affair with the future president. The couple’s 13th wedding anniversary passed without public comment last week, and Mrs. Trump abruptly announced she was skipping a trip with her husband to an economic summit last week in Switzerland.

WHO’S THERE

Often who is in the chamber reflects the president’s priorities. Seated around Mrs. Trump will be more than a dozen guests, including small-business owners, beneficiaries of tax relief, victims of gang violence and a police officer who adopted a baby from parents addicted to opioids.

Democrats are strategically populating their guest lists, too – with faces of the immigration debate that is roiling Congress and vexing Trump. Their guests will include immigrants who are among the nearly 700,000 people who received protection from deportation under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump canceled the program last year but gave Congress until March to come up with a legislative fix.

Only four Supreme Court justices, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch, are expected at the speech. Roberts, Breyer and Kagan regularly attend, as do justices appointed by the president who is speaking. Trump nominated Gorsuch a year ago.

WHO’S NOT

Traditionally, one member of the Cabinet stays away from the address for security reasons. Justice Samuel Alito, who shook his head and mouthed “not true” at President Barack Obama during the 2010 State of the Union speech, has not attended a presidential address since. And Clarence Thomas hasn’t been in years..

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s long-standing travel plans have him in California, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in Rhode Island and Justice Sonia Sotomayor is in Panama.

Some Democratic lawmakers also plan to boycott the president’s address.

WHAT THEY WEAR

Typically, some female lawmakers wear bright colors so they will stand out on television. But this year, several Democratic women plan to wear black to protest sexual harassment after a season of scandals toppled male leaders across industries. Congress is no exception: Accusations have forced resignations and retirements in both parties. Trump, too, has faced sexual assault allegations.

YOUR NAME HERE

Looking for a little publicity? The speech will be a your-name-here opportunity for campaign donors. The Trump campaign said donors who chip in before the speech can have their names “displayed right under the livestream” of the speech on the campaign website.

REBUTTAL

Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts will deliver the Democratic response to the president’s address. He is the grandson of the late Robert F. Kennedy, the senator and U.S. attorney general, and the son of former Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, who served in the House from 1987 to 1999. Democratic leaders are pitching Kennedy as someone who can champion Democratic policies to the middle class.

THEN THIS HAPPENS

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is scheduled to appear on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” following Trump’s address. She said she had an affair with Trump shortly after he married Melania Trump.

Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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What to watch tonight: Trump's adjectives, Melania, boycotts
What to watch tonight: Trump's adjectives, Melania, boycotts
{$excerpt:n}
Source: AP HEADLINES

Protesters gather near Trump's Florida home, bow their heads

AP Photo
AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

NEW YORK (AP) — In Palm Beach, Florida, home to President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, several hundred people gathered carrying anti-Trump signs as they prepared to march as part of Saturday’s planned protests.

Across the globe, people hit the streets on the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, marching against his policies and in support of the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment.

In Palm Beach, a group of women wearing red cloaks and white hats like the characters in the book and TV show “The Handmaid’s Tale” marched in formation, their heads bowed.

Elsewhere around the U.S., people congregated in Chicago; Houston; Richmond, Virginia; and Rhode Island. In Los Angeles, organizers predicted thousands of people, including state officials and celebrities, would march to City Hall.

A protest in New York was among more than 200 such actions planned for the weekend around the world. By mid-morning, people gathered in Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver and Raleigh, North Carolina. In Philadelphia, many marchers wore pink cat-ear hats as a show of solidarity, while others carried signs stating opposition to Trump and his policies.

In Chicago, thousands of people gathered in Grant Park. Fawzia Mirza drew cheers from the crowd as she kicked off the event with a reference to the partial government shutdown, which began hours earlier.

“When the government shuts down, women still march,” she said.

She said the event was about channeling women’s energy and “putting that power in the polls.”

Earlier Saturday, dozens of activists gathered in Rome to denounce violence against women and express support for the #MeToo movement. They were joined by Italian actress and director Asia Argento, who made headlines after alleging in 2017 she had been sexually assaulted by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in the 1990s.

The 2017 rally in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of similar marches created solidarity for those denouncing Trump’s views on abortion, immigration, LGBT rights and more. Millions of people around the world marched during last year’s rallies, and many on Saturday thought about all that’s happened in the past year.

“I’d be lying if I said that I’m not dispirited and discouraged over having to march yet again to register our opposition to this disastrous first year of the Trump presidency,” said Peggy Taylor, a New York tour guide.

She said that last year she felt “a kind of euphoria” walking through the city with hundreds of thousands of participants.

This year, “the hard reality of what lies ahead of us has sunk in,” she said. “I know that we have a long slog ahead of us to undo the damage that this man has inflicted.”

The Republican president on Friday delivered new support to the anti-abortion movement he once opposed, speaking by video to thousands of activists at the annual March for Life.

In New York, scheduled speakers included Ashley Bennett, a Democrat who was elected Atlantic County, New Jersey, freeholder last November. Bennett defeated Republican incumbent John Carman, who had mocked the 2017 women’s march in Washington with a Facebook post asking whether the women would be home in time to cook dinner.

Among the goals of this year’s march are getting more Democrats to run for public office and bolstering voter registration.

In Rome, Argento addressed the criticism she received once she spoke up about her abuse.

“Women are scared to speak and because I was vilified by everything I said, I was called a prostitute for being raped,” she said at the rally. “I wonder how women who received such violence would find the courage to come out as I did, when they saw what happened to me, so I am here to assess the necessity of women to speak out and change things.”

Argento, who’s 42, was strongly criticized by many Italian media and Italian women for not speaking out earlier and was hounded on Twitter with accusations that she sought trouble.

Weinstein has apologized for causing “a lot of pain” with “the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past,” but he has denied “any allegations of non-consensual sex.”

Last year’s march in Washington sparked debate over inclusion, with some transgender minority women complaining that the event seemed designed for white women born female. Some anti-abortion activists said the event did not welcome them.

The organizers for the Sunday rally are striving for greater inclusion this year, with Latina and transgender female speakers, said Carmen Perez, another co-chair of the 2017 Washington march. Women in the U.S. illegally, sex workers and those formerly incarcerated are welcome, she said.

Linda Sarsour, one of the four organizers of last year’s Washington march, said Las Vegas was slotted for a major rally because it’s a strategic swing state that gave Democrat Hillary Clinton a narrow win in the presidential election and will have one of the most competitive Senate races in 2018.

The rallies also laid the groundwork for the recent movement that brought a reckoning for powerful men accused of sexual misconduct, Sarsour said.

“I think when women see visible women’s leadership, bold and fierce, going up against a very racist, sexist, misogynist administration, it gives you a different level of courage that you may not have felt you had,” she said.

Lush reported from St. Petersburg, Florida.

This story has been corrected to show the surname is Mirza, not Miza.

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Protesters gather near Trump's Florida home, bow their heads
Protesters gather near Trump's Florida home, bow their heads
{$excerpt:n}
Source: AP HEADLINES

Iraqi victories remain fragile as US reduces troops

AP Photo
AP Photo/Susannah George

QAIM, Iraq (AP) — From their outpost on Iraq’s westernmost edge, U.S. 1st Lt. Kyle Hagerty and his troops watched civilians trickle into the area after American and Iraqi forces drove out the Islamic State group. They were, he believed, families returning to liberated homes, a hopeful sign of increasing stability.

But when he interviewed them on a recent reconnaissance patrol, he discovered he was wrong. They were families looking for shelter after being driven from their homes in a nearby town. Those who pushed them out were forces from among their “liberators” – Shiite militiamen who seized control of the area after defeating the IS militants.

It was a bitter sign of the mixed legacy from the United States’ intervention in Iraq to help defeat the militants. American-backed military firepower brought down the IS “caliphate,” but many of the divisions and problems that helped fuel the extremists’ rise remain unresolved.

The U.S.-led coalition, which launched its fight against IS in August 2014, is now reducing the numbers of American troops in Iraq, after Baghdad declared victory over the extremists in December. Both Iraqi and U.S. officials say the exact size of the drawdown has not yet been decided.

U.S. and Iraqi commanders here in western Iraq warn that victories over IS could be undercut easily by a large-scale withdrawal. Iraq’s regular military remains dependent on U.S. support. Many within Iraq’s minority communities view the U.S. presence as a buffer against the Shiite-dominated central government. Still, Iranian-backed militias with strong voices in Baghdad are pushing for a complete U.S. withdrawal, and some Iraqis liken any American presence to a form of occupation.

That has left an uncomfortable limbo in this area that was the last battlefield against the extremists. Coalition commanders still work with Iraqi forces to develop long-term plans for stability even as a drawdown goes ahead with no one certain of its eventual extent.

HEARTS AND MINDS – AGAIN

“Let’s go win us some hearts and minds,” Sgt. Jonathan Cary, 23, joked as he and Hagerty and the patrol convoy set off from a base outside the town of Qaim, evoking a phrase used in American policy goals for Iraq ever since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

After just a few hours moving on foot across farmland and orchards to a cluster of modest houses, Hagerty realized the families he thought were returnees to the area were in fact newly displaced. Their homes in Qaim had been confiscated by the government-affiliated Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, made up mainly of Shiite paramilitary fighters backed by Iran.

“Our end goal is a stable Iraq, right?” Hagerty said later, back at the base. “But when you see stuff like that, it makes you wonder if they are ever going to be able to do it themselves.”

After victories against IS, the PMF has built up a presence in many parts of Sunni-majority provinces, including western Anbar. It formally falls under the command of the prime minister, but some Iraqi commanders accuse the PMF of being a rival to government power.

PMF flags line highways crisscrossing Anbar. At a PMF checkpoint outside al-Asad airbase – a sprawling complex used by both Iraqi and coalition forces – U.S. convoys are regularly stopped for hours while busloads of PMF fighters are waved through.

U.S. Marine Col. Seth Folsom works closely with the branches of Iraq’s security forces – Sunni tribal fighters and the Iraqi army – who are increasingly concerned about the rise in power of the PMF. Iran has given no indication of dialing back its support after the defeat of IS extremists.

“The biggest question I get now is, ‘how long can we count on you being here?'” Folsom said of his conversations with Iraqi commanders and local politicians.

That decision ultimately rests with Iraq’s political leadership, he said.

“I guess some people could see that as a cop-out, but at the same time it’s not my place as a lowly colonel to define how long the U.S. presence is going to be.”

‘FORWARD LINE OF FREEDOM’

For the senior officers leading the current fight against IS, decades of U.S. military intervention in Iraq has defined their careers.

The top U.S. general in Iraq – Lt. Gen. Paul Funk – served in Iraq four times: in the Gulf war in 1991; in the 2003 invasion; in the surge when some 170,000 American troops were serving in Iraq in 2007; and most recently in the fight against IS.

“It will definitely be positive,” Funk said of the legacy of the U.S. role against IS in Iraq. “People see their young men and women out here defeating evil. That’s a positive thing.”

On a recent flight from Baghdad to a small U.S. outpost in northern Syria near Manbij – a trip that traversed the heart of the battlefield with IS for the past 3� years – Funk described the future of the fight as ideological and open-ended.

“The problem is people believe it’s already over, and it’s not,” he said. “Beating the ideology, destroying the myth, that’s going to take time.”

Touching down outside an orchard on the perimeter of the Manbij base, Funk exclaimed: “Welcome to the front line of freedom!”

Funk predicts the ideological fight could take years and easily require U.S. troop deployments elsewhere. He said that is one reason he believes it’s so important to visit U.S. troops on the current front lines – to show them “the American people believe in their purpose.”

“We have got to recruit the next generation,” he said.

Many of the young U.S. troops interviewed by The Associated Press said they didn’t know anything about the Islamic State group when they enlisted.

Rayden Simeona, a 21-year-old corporal in the Marines, enlisted in 2014, when all he knew about the U.S. military was from movies and video games.

“I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere with my life, I had no idea what IS was. I just knew I wanted to go to war,” he said. Once deployed, he said talk rarely broached the big questions of “What we are doing here?” or “Why?”

“But I do wonder all the time: Why are we spending all this money in Iraq?” he said. “There’s probably some greater plan or reason that someone much higher up than me knows.”

IS THE JUICE WORTH THE SQUEEZE?

Along Iraq’s border with Syria, the two Iraqi forces charged with holding a key stretch of territory lack direct communication. Because one force falls under the Defense Ministry and the other under the Interior Ministry, their radios are incompatible.

Instead, the troops use Nokia cellphones in a part of the country where network coverage is spotty to nonexistent.

At the nearby coalition outpost near Qaim, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brandon Payne spends much of his time filling communications gaps by relaying messages between different branches of Iraq’s military.

“The coordination is not where we hoped it would be,” Payne said. “But they do talk to each other, and we see that as a sign of progress.”

Tactical shortcomings within Iraq’s military are partially what fueled the expansion of the coalition’s footprint in Iraq in the past three years. As Iraqi ground forces demonstrated an inability to communicate and coordinate attacks across multiple fronts, U.S. forces moved closer to the fighting and sped up the pace of territorial gains.

Despite the caliphate’s collapse, those weaknesses have persisted. Iraqi forces remain dependent on coalition intelligence, reconnaissance, artillery fire and airstrikes to hold territory and fight IS insurgent cells.

Payne regularly shuttles between his base, Qaim and the Syrian border, meeting with different members of Iraqi forces to coordinate security and repel IS attacks from the Syrian side.

“I would say we are still needed,” Payne said. “We are getting great results with this model, but you see how much goes into it.”

The base, once a small, dusty outpost, now houses a few hundred coalition troops and is a maze of barracks, gyms, a dining facility, laundry services and a chapel.

“At some point, someone much higher up than me is going to decide the juice is just not worth the squeeze,” Payne said, referring to the cost of such a large outpost in a remote corner of the country.

ROTTEN LEADERSHIP

Iraqi army Lt. Col. Akram Salah Hadi, who works closely with Payne’s soldiers at the Qaim outpost, said coalition training and intelligence sharing have improved the performance of his unit. But overall, the U.S. effort in Iraq gives him little hope for the future.

Corruption in the military, Hadi said, remains as bad as it was in 2014, when it was seen as a major reason why entire Iraqi divisions simply dissolved in the assault on Mosul by a few hundred IS fighters.

Young Iraqi soldiers with ambition and talent can’t rise through the ranks without political connections. Top ranks are bloated with officers who have bought their promotions. Within his division alone, Hadi said he can think of 40 officers with no military background who attained their rank because of their membership in a political party.

“With leadership like this, the rest will always be rotten,” he said.

Coalition programs that have trained tens of thousands of Iraqi troops have largely focused on the infantry, not the junior officers needed to lead units and instill a culture of service that will make a professional force.

Folsom, the U.S. Marine colonel, said military power will not root out corruption or heal Iraq’s longstanding divisions.

“I have a saying out here,” he added, “‘You can’t want it more than them.'”

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Iraqi victories remain fragile as US reduces troops
Iraqi victories remain fragile as US reduces troops
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Source: AP HEADLINES