Syrian refugee baby gets life-saving surgery, others wait

AP Photo
AP Photo/Raad Adayleh

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Sara al-Matoura watched through a window as her one-year-old daughter’s chest heaved up and down under a tangle of medical wires.

The 22-year-old mother from the Syrian city of Homs hadn’t eaten for a day and stayed up all night at a hospital in the Jordanian capital, Amman, holding her daughter, imagining the scalpel cutting her baby’s chest open.

Al-Matoura, who fled the Syrian war for Jordan in 2012, was only four months pregnant with her second child when she found out the baby had a congenital heart defect known as tricuspid atresia, which has a mortality rate of 90 percent before age 10.

Jordanian doctors encouraged her to abort the fetus. Al-Matoura refused. “She is my gift from God,” she said. She named her daughter Eman – “faith” in Arabic.

Last week, Eman received life-saving open heart surgery, one of eight cardiac operations that Italian pediatric surgeons from the Vatican’s Bambino Gesu Hospital came to perform for free in Jordan.

Dozens of other Syrian refugees with cancer, heart defects and other complex conditions go untreated each month because of funding constraints, according to U.N. officials. The more expensive the treatment, the more likely their funding requests will be turned down. Even primary care and basic services such as child delivery are increasingly unaffordable.

Some 5.5 million Syrians have fled their homeland since 2011, most settling in the region. Jordan currently hosts more than 650,000 Syrians registered by the U.N. refugee agency, though the government estimates the number of Syrians in the country is twice as high.

Seven years into the Syria conflict, with European and American doors increasingly shut to refugees and no signs of peace in Syria, neighboring countries like Jordan are cutting resources for Syrians, saying they cannot even afford to take care of their own people.

While Eman was in the operating room, another Syrian mother in Amman tried to keep her 12-year-old son Tamer from moving too much, afraid that his lips and hands would turn blue.

She fled the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta on the first day of the chemical attacks in 2013.

“They started at 3 a.m. and I left at 8 in the morning,” she said of the attacks, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions for her family members in Syria. She brought her three boys, including a two-week-old baby, to Jordan.

Tamer, her second son, also has a congenital heart defect. When he moves too much, he loses his breath and turns blue.

Children with his condition should receive an operation at age five or six, according to Dr. Iyad al-Ammouri, pediatric cardiologist at the University of Jordan Hospital.

But Tamer’s final surgery costs up to $28,000, far more than his mother can afford. She supports her sons alone, with her husband still trapped in Syria.

Jordan used to subsidize Syrians’ fees at government health facilities, so they paid the same as uninsured Jordanians. But the subsidies were cancelled in February, meaning refugees must pay two to five times more for life-saving interventions.

Meanwhile, severe conditions like cancer and heart disease are subject to a special doctors’ committee that sifts through hundreds of cases each month, deciding which few to assist based on criteria including vulnerability, prognosis and cost.

Late-stage cancer patients are typically offered palliative care. Expensive surgeries like Eman’s, which would have cost $21,000, are also delayed.

“Of course people come back month after month and apply again, because they are desperate,” said Dr. Adam Musa, a U.N. public health officer who sits on the committee. “It’s painful.”

In January, 60 out of 143 refugee applications for emergency help were approved. The United Nations gave them approximately $2,000 each. There wasn’t enough funding for the rest, Musa said.

Younis al-Hariri, an eight-year-old from Daraa, is one of those unfunded cases.

His mother, Ridaa, said he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and other liver conditions four years ago, and now needs a $565,000 transplant. She already owes $18,000 to Jordanian hospitals for dialysis, blood transfusions and hospital stays.

Al-Hariri’s uncle, Hassan al-Turkmani, also needs surgery for his two hands, paralyzed in clenched fists from months of electric shock torture in Syrian prisons. Jagged scars run down his thin arms. The 32-year-old father of four hasn’t been able to open his hands for seven years. The operation would cost $3,100 per finger.

“There is no mercy here,” al-Turkmani said.

A senior Jordanian government official said health subsidies were cut because of an economic crisis. Syrian refugees are now paying health fees comparable to those charged to Jordanians, he said. Jordan remains on “high moral ground” for hosting the refugees at all, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with briefing regulations.

Across the region, donor fatigue and decreased host country support have left millions of refugees on the edge of survival, even pushing some to return to Syria.

The U.N. refugee agency spent $51 million on 84,000 life-saving cases in Lebanon last year, yet could not cover most cancer cases with poor prognoses, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or dialysis.

“There are very few NGOs that are able to provide support for some of these cases and we know that people have taken difficult decisions to return to Syria to access dialysis or cancer care,” said Dr. Michael Woodman, senior public health officer in the UNHCR’s Beirut office.

Bambino Gesu got involved at the request of Pope Frances, said Dr. Fiore S. Iorio, who operated on Eman.

Iorio said he and his colleagues were also compelled by a “moral obligation to help these unfortunate children,” either through surgery or by training Jordanian colleagues.

The U.N. refugee agency helped pay for the hospital expenses.

After Eman’s surgery, her parents watched her breathe, her chest covered with bandages and wires, rising and failing in rhythm with the beeping monitor.

Doctors told them she would likely need another, more complicated surgery in two to five years.

“I don’t know where we will get the money then,” al-Matoura said. “But thank God for healing her today.”

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Syrian refugee baby gets life-saving surgery, others wait
Syrian refugee baby gets life-saving surgery, others wait
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Source: AP HEADLINES

CBS suspends Rose, PBS halts his show following allegations

NEW YORK (AP) — Charlie Rose is the latest public figure to be felled by sexual misconduct allegations, with PBS halting distribution of his nightly interview show and CBS News suspending him Monday following a Washington Post report with the accusations of eight women.

The women, who all worked for Rose or tried to work for him, accused the veteran newsman of groping them, walking naked in front of them and telling one that he dreamed about her swimming nude.

Rose, 75, said in a statement that he was “deeply embarrassed” and apologized for his behavior.

“PBS was shocked to learn today of these deeply disturbing allegations,” the public broadcasting service said in a statement. “We are immediately suspending distribution of ‘Charlie Rose.'”

Three women went on the record in the Post’s deeply-reported story. Reah Bravo, a former associate producer for Rose’s PBS show who began working for him in 2007, told the newspaper: “He was a sexual predator, and I was his victim.” She said Rose groped her on multiple occasions and once, during a business trip to Indiana, called her to his hotel room where he emerged from a shower naked.

Kyle Godfrey-Ryan, one of Rose’s former assistants, was 21 when she said Rose repeatedly called her to describe his fantasies of her swimming naked at the pool at his Long Island home while he watched from his bedroom. She said she was fired when Rose learned she had spoken to a mutual friend about his behavior.

Megan Creydt, who worked as a coordinator on Rose’s PBS show in 2005 and 2006, told the newspaper that she was sitting in the passenger seat as Rose drove in Manhattan one day when he put his hand on her thigh. Five women interviewed by the Post described similar grabs to their legs in what many interpreted as an attempt to see their reactions.

Rose said that he has behaved insensitively at times “and I accept responsibility for that, though I do not believe that all of these allegations are accurate. I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken. I have learned a great deal as a result of these events, and I hope others will, too.”

Rose’s interview show is seen in 94 percent of the country on PBS stations. It is rebroadcast on Bloomberg’s cable network, which also announced Monday it was suspending the show. He interviews a wide circle of people in the media, politics and entertainment – this month including Harvard President Drew Faust, rapper Macklemore and the Post’s Robert Costa, who talked about that paper’s sexual harassment investigation of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

He also hosts “CBS This Morning” with Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell, a critically-acclaimed morning news programs which has been gaining the past few years on its better-known rivals. Rose also conducts interviews for “60 Minutes.”

Despite his age and heart troubles in the past, Rose had been one of the busiest figures in television.

Two hours after the Post story went online, one of its authors, Amy Brittain, tweeted that “sadly, my inbox is already flooded with women who have had similar, disturbing encounters with Charlie Rose.”

Rose owned his interview show, even though PBS distributed it, and that raised questions of what recourse women who had complaints about his behavior could do. The Post quoted Yvette Vega, his longtime executive producer, as saying she failed and deeply regretted not helping women who complained about his behavior.

But it apparently was a poorly-kept secret in the industry. Two former employees interviewed by the Post said young women hired by the show were known as “Charlie’s Angels.” A Post contributing writer who worked on the story said she was reporting on some of the allegations while working at another news organization in 2010 but could not confirm them.

Stories of sexual misconduct have been coming in a flood since The New York Times first reported on Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s behavior in early October. Even on Monday, the Times suspended White House reporter Glenn Thrush while it looked into a story about him making drunken, unwanted advances on women. In the news business alone, NBC political reporter Mark Halperin and top National Public Radio news executive Michael Oreskes have lost their jobs.

Interviewed last April outside a Time magazine gala, Rose was asked by The Associated Press about Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who lost his job when it was revealed his network had paid millions of dollars to settle claims women had made against him.

“All of the cases that raise the issue of sexual harassment, which is a terrible thing, (and) has probably been not exposed enough,” Rose said. “Not enough in the sense of the attention in the past, so that people were afraid to come forward. I think people are coming forward now.”

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CBS suspends Rose, PBS halts his show following allegations
CBS suspends Rose, PBS halts his show following allegations
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Source: AP HEADLINES

Trump calls for death penalty to 'get tough' on drug pushers

AP Photo
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Embracing the tough penalties favored by global strongmen, President Donald Trump on Monday brandished the death penalty as a fitting punishment for drug traffickers fueling the opioid epidemic.

The scourge has torn through the rural and working-class communities that in large numbers voted for Trump. And the president, though he has come under criticism for being slow to unveil his plan, has seized on harsh sentences as key to stopping the plague.

“Toughness is the thing that they most fear,” Trump said.

The president made his announcement in New Hampshire, a state hit hard by opioids and an early marker for the re-election campaign he has already announced. Trump called for broadening education and awareness about drug addiction while expanding access to proven treatment and recovery efforts. But the backbone of his plan is to toughen punishments for those caught trafficking highly addictive drugs.

“This isn’t about nice anymore,” Trump said. “This is about winning a very, very tough problem and if we don’t get very tough on these dealers it’s not going to happen folks. … I want to win this battle.”

The president formalized what he had long mused about: that if a person in the U.S. can get the death penalty or life in prison for shooting one person, a similar punishment should be given to a drug dealer whose product potentially kills thousands.

Trump has long spoken approvingly about countries like Singapore that harshly punish dealers. During a trip to Asia last fall, he did not publicly rebuke Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who authorized extrajudicial killings of drug dealers.

Outside a local firehouse that Trump visited before Monday’s speech, someone compared the two leaders with a sign that said: “Donald J. Duterte.”

“Drug traffickers kill so many thousands of our citizens every year,” Trump said. “That’s why my Department of Justice will be seeking so many tougher penalties than we’ve ever had and we’ll be focusing on the penalties that I talked about previously for big pushers, the ones that are killing so many people, and that penalty is going to be the death penalty.”

He added: “Other countries don’t play games … But the ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty.”

The Justice Department said the federal death penalty is available for limited drug-related offenses, including violations of the “drug kingpin” provisions in federal law.

It is not clear if the death penalty, even for traffickers whose product causes multiple deaths, would be constitutional. Doug Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, predicted the issue would go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

John Blume, a professor and director of Cornell Law School’s death penalty program, said the federal drug kingpin law has yielded few “kingpins” or major dealers, mostly ensnaring mid- to low-level minorities involved in the drug trade.

The president’s plan drew criticism from some Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who said “we can’t arrest our way out of the opioid epidemic” and noted that “the war on drugs didn’t work in the ’80s.”

Opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, killed more than 42,000 people in the U.S. in 2016, more than any other year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Much of what Trump highlighted Monday was largely repackaged ideas he’s already endorsed.

He called for a nationwide public awareness campaign, which he announced in the fall, including broadcasting “great commercials” to scare kids away from dabbling in drugs. He announced a new website, www.crisisnextdoor.gov, where members of the public can share stories about the dangers of opioid addiction.

Trump said the administration will work to cut the number of opioid prescriptions that are filled by one-third within three years.

The president also discussed how his policies, including building a U.S.-Mexico border wall and punishing “sanctuary” cities that refuse to comply with federal immigration authorities, will help reduce the flow of drugs.

Monday was Trump’s first visit as president to New Hampshire, which has long occupied a special place in his political rise. He captured his first Republican presidential primary here in 2016, though he narrowly lost in the general election to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump drew criticism last year after leaked transcripts of a telephone conversation with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto showed he had described New Hampshire as a “drug-infested den.” The Washington Post published the transcripts.

Though the 2020 election is more than 30 months away, early jockeying already is happening in states that play an outsized early role in choosing a party’s nominee. Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a persistent Trump critic, visited New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first presidential primary, last week. He told Republicans someone needs to stop Trump – and it could be him if no one steps up.

Meanwhile, the president’s daughter, White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump, spent Monday discussing infrastructure and workplace development in Iowa, which traditionally holds the first presidential nominating caucus.

Superville reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Mark Sherman and Sadie Gurman in Washington contributed to this report.

Follow Darlene Superville and Jonathan Lemire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap and http://www.twitter.com/JonLemire

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Trump calls for death penalty to 'get tough' on drug pushers
Trump calls for death penalty to 'get tough' on drug pushers
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Source: AP HEADLINES

'Vote them out!': Hundreds of thousands demand gun control

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AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a historic groundswell of youth activism, hundreds of thousands of teenagers and their supporters rallied across the U.S. against gun violence Saturday, vowing to transform fear and grief into a “vote-them-out” movement and tougher laws against weapons and ammo.

They took to the streets of the nation’s capital and such cities as Boston, New York, Chicago, Houston, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Oakland, California, in the kind of numbers seen during the Vietnam era, sweeping up activists long frustrated by stalemate in the gun debate and bringing in lots of new, young voices.

They were called to action by a brand-new corps of leaders: student survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead Feb. 14.

“If you listen real close, you can hear the people in power shaking,” Parkland survivor David Hogg said to roars from the protesters packing Pennsylvania Avenue from the stage near the Capitol many blocks back toward the White House. “We’re going to take this to every election, to every state and every city. We’re going to make sure the best people get in our elections to run, not as politicians but as Americans.

“Because this,” he said, pointing behind him to the Capitol dome, “this is not cutting it.”

Some of the young voices were very young. Yolanda Renee King, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 9-year-old granddaughter, drew from the civil rights leader’s most famous words in declaring from the stage: “I have a dream that enough is enough. That this should be a gun-free world. Period.”

By all appearances – there were no official numbers – Washington’s March for Our Lives rally rivaled the women’s march last year that drew far more than the predicted 300,000.

The National Rifle Association went silent on Twitter as the protests unfolded, in contrast to its reaction to the nationwide school walkouts against gun violence March 14, when it tweeted a photo of an assault rifle and the message “I’ll control my own guns, thank you.”

President Donald Trump was in Florida for the weekend and did not weigh in on Twitter either.

White House spokesman Zach Parkinson said: “We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today.” He pointed to Trump’s efforts to ban bump stocks and his support for school-safety measures and extended background checks for gun purchases.

Since the bloodshed in Florida, students have tapped into a current of gun control sentiment that has been building for years – yet still faces a powerful foe in the NRA, its millions of supporters and lawmakers who have resisted any encroachment on gun rights.

Organizers are hoping the electricity of the crowds, their sheer numbers and the under-18 roster of speakers will create a tipping point, starting with the midterm congressional elections this fall. To that end, chants of “Vote them out!” rang through the Washington crowd.

Emma Gonzalez, one of the first students from Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to speak out after the tragedy there, implored those of voting age to vote.

In her speech, she recited the names of the Parkland dead, then held the crowd in rapt, tearful silence for more than six minutes, the time it took the gunman to kill them.

“We will continue to fight for our dead friends,” Delaney Tarr, another Parkland survivor, declared from the stage. The crowd roared with approval as she laid down the students’ central demand: a ban on “weapons of war” for all but warriors.

Student protesters called for a ban on high-capacity magazines and assault-type weapons like the one used by the killer in Parkland, comprehensive background checks, and a higher minimum age to buy guns.

Gun violence was fresh for some who watched the speakers in Washington: Ayanne Johnson of Great Mills High School in Maryland held a sign declaring, “I March for Jaelynn,” honoring Jaelynn Willey, who died Thursday two days after being shot by a classmate at the school. The gunman also died.

About 30 gun-rights supporters staged a counter-demonstration in front of FBI headquarters, standing quietly with signs such as “Armed Victims Live Longer” and “Stop Violating Civil Rights.” Other gun-control protests around the country were also met with small counter-demonstrations.

The president’s call to arm certain teachers fell flat at the protest, and from critics as young as Zoe Tate, 11, from Gaithersburg, Maryland.

“I think guns are dumb. It’s scary enough with the security guards we have in school,” she said. “We don’t need teachers carrying guns now. I find it amazing that I have to explain that idea to adults.”

Parkland itself was home to a rally as more than 20,000 people filled a park near the Florida school, chanting slogans such as “Enough is enough” and carrying signs that read “Why do your guns matter more than our lives?” and “Our ballots will stop bullets.”

Around the country, protesters complained that they are scared of getting shot in school and tired of inaction by grown-ups after one mass shooting after another.

“People have been dying since 1999 in Columbine and nothing has changed. People are still dying,” said Ben Stewart, a 17-year-old senior at Shiloh Hills Christian School in Kennesaw, Georgia, who took part in a march in Atlanta.

Callie Cavanaugh, a 14-year-old at a march in Omaha, Nebraska, said: “This just needs to stop. It’s been going on my entire life.”

Associated Press writers Terry Spencer in Parkland, Florida; Jacob Jordan in Atlanta; Ed White in Detroit; Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska; Ben Nadler in Atlanta; and Lynn Berry in Washington contributed to this report.

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'Vote them out!': Hundreds of thousands demand gun control
'Vote them out!': Hundreds of thousands demand gun control
{$excerpt:n}
Source: AP HEADLINES

The Latest: Trump never told Tillerson why he's fired

AP Photo
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (all times local):

9:20 a.m.

A top State Department official says President Donald Trump never explained to ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson the reason why he was fired.

The undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, Steve Goldstein, says Tillerson “had every intention of staying” in the job because he felt he was making critical progress in national security.

Two White House officials said Tillerson was told he was out on Friday. The sources weren’t authorized to speak publicly and demanded anonymity.

But Goldstein says Tillerson “did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason.”

Goldstein says Tillerson will miss his colleagues at the State Department and the foreign ministers he worked with.

Trump named Mike Pompeo, who had been CIA director, as his new secretary.

Goldstein said, “We wish Secretary Pompeo well.”

–Contributed by AP writers Zeke Miller, Matthew Lee and Ken Thomas

9 a.m.

Rex Tillerson is out as secretary of state. President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that he’s naming CIA director Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson.

Pompeo is to be replaced at CIA by Gina Haspel, Pompeo’s deputy at CIA. She would be the first woman in that role.

Tillerson had just returned from a shortened trip to Africa hours before Trump’s announcement. Trump offered no explanation for the change.

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The Latest: Trump never told Tillerson why he's fired
The Latest: Trump never told Tillerson why he's fired
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Source: AP HEADLINES

US proposes tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports

AP Photo
AP Photo/Andy Wong

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Tuesday escalated its aggressive actions on trade by proposing 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports to protest Beijing’s policies that require foreign companies to hand over their technology.

China immediately said it would retaliate against the new tariffs, which target high-tech industries that Beijing has been nurturing, from advanced manufacturing and aerospace to information technology and robotics.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative issued a list targeting 1,300 Chinese products, including industrial robots and telecommunications equipment. The suggested tariffs wouldn’t take effect right away: A public comment period will last until May 11, and a hearing on the tariffs is set for May 15. Companies and consumers will have the opportunity to lobby to have some products taken off the list or have others added.

The latest U.S. move risks heightening trade tensions with China, which on Monday had slapped taxes on $3 billion in U.S. products in response to earlier U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

“China’s going to be compelled to lash back,” warned Philip Levy, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and an economic adviser to President George W. Bush.

Early Wednesday in Beijing, China’s Commerce Ministry said it “strongly condemns and firmly opposes” the proposed U.S. tariffs and warned of retaliatory action.

“We will prepare equal measures for U.S. products with the same scale” according to regulations in Chinese trade law, a ministry spokesman said in comments carried by the official Xinhua News Agency.

The U.S. sanctions are intended to punish China for deploying strong-arm tactics in its drive to become a global technology power. These include pressuring American companies to share technology to gain access to the Chinese market, forcing U.S. firms to license their technology in China on unfavorable terms and even hacking into U.S. companies’ computers to steal trade secrets.

The administration sought to draw up the list of targeted Chinese goods in a way that might limit the impact of the tariffs – a tax on imports – on American consumers while hitting Chinese imports that benefit from Beijing’s sharp-elbowed tech policies. But some critics warned that Americans will end up being hurt.

“If you’re hitting $50 billion in trade, you’re inevitably going to hurt somebody, and somebody is going to complain,” said Rod Hunter, a former economic official at the National Security Council and now a partner at Baker & McKenzie LLP.

Kathy Bostjancic of Oxford Economics predicted that the tariffs “would have just a marginal impact on the U.S. economy” – unless they spark “a tit-for-tat retaliation that results in a broad-based global trade war.”

Representatives of American business, which have complained for years that China has pilfered U.S. technology and discriminated against U.S. companies, were nevertheless critical of the administration’s latest action.

“Unilateral tariffs may do more harm than good and do little to address the problems in China’s (intellectual property) and tech transfer policies,” said John Frisbie, president of the U.S.-China Business Council.

Even some technology groups that are contending directly with Chinese competition expressed misgivings.

“The Trump administration is right to push back against China’s abuse of economic and trade policy,” said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation think tank.

However, he said the proposed U.S. tariffs “would hurt companies in the U.S. by raising the prices and reducing consumption of the capital equipment they rely on to produce their goods and services.”

“The focus should be on things that will create the most leverage over China without raising prices and dampening investment in the kinds of machinery, equipment, and other technology that drives innovation and productivity across the economy,” Atkinson added.

The United States has become increasingly frustrated with China’s aggressive efforts to overtake American technological supremacy. And many have argued that Washington needed to respond aggressively.

“The Chinese are bad trading partners because they steal intellectual property,” said Derek Scissors, a China specialist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

In January, a federal court in Wisconsin convicted a Chinese manufacturer of wind turbines, Sinovel Wind Group, of stealing trade secrets from the American company AMSC and nearly putting it out of business.

And in 2014, a Pennsylvania grand jury indicted five officers in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army on charges of hacking into the computers of Westinghouse, US Steel and other major American companies to steal information that would benefit their Chinese competitors.

To target China, Trump dusted off a Cold War weapon for trade disputes: Section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974, which lets the president unilaterally impose tariffs. It was meant for a world in which much of global commerce wasn’t covered by trade agreements. With the arrival in 1995 of the Geneva-based World Trade Organization, Section 301 largely faded from use.

Dean Pinkert of the law firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed, found it reassuring that the administration didn’t completely bypass the WTO: As part of its complaint, the U.S. is bringing a WTO case against Chinese licensing policies that put U.S. companies at a disadvantage.

China has been urging the United States to seek a negotiated solution and warning that it would retaliate against any trade sanctions. Beijing could counterpunch by targeting American businesses that depend on the Chinese market: Aircraft manufacturer Boeing, for instance, or American soybean farmers, who send nearly 60 percent of their exports to China.

Rural America has been especially worried about the risk of a trade war. Farmers are especially vulnerable targets in trade spats because they rely so much on foreign sales.

“Beijing right now is trying to motivate US stakeholders to press the Trump Administration to enter into direct negotiations with China and reach a settlement before tariffs are imposed,” the Eurasia Group consultancy said in a research note.

“The next couple of weeks will be very interesting,” says Kristin Duncanson, a soybean, corn and hog farmer in Mapleton, Minnesota.

—-

AP writer Gillian Wong in Beijing contributed to this report.

—-

On Twitter follow Wiseman at https://twitter.com/paulwisemanAP

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US proposes tariffs on billion in Chinese imports
US proposes tariffs on billion in Chinese imports
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Trump seethes over FBI raid, ponders firing those he blames

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AP Photo/Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump was so incensed by the FBI’s raid of his personal attorney’s office and hotel room that he’s privately pondered firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and publicly mused about ousting special counsel Robert Mueller.

The raid, in which agents seized attorney Michael Cohen’s records on topics including a $130,000 payment to a porn actress who alleges she had sex with Trump, left the president more angry than advisers had seen him in weeks, according to five people familiar with the president’s views but not authorized to discuss them publicly.

Trump tweeted Tuesday that “Attorney-client privilege is dead!” Nervous White House aides expressed new fears about the president’s unpredictability in the face of the Cohen raid, which he viewed as an assault on a longtime defender and a sign that Mueller’s probe into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign was “going too far.”

Trump also announced Tuesday he was cancelling plans to attend the Summit of the Americas over the weekend as well as an overnight visit to Colombia.

The president had been telling confidants for weeks that he was not eager to make the three-day trip, which had already been shortened from original plans, according to two people who have discussed it with him in recent weeks but were not authorized to disclose the private conversations. His decision not to travel was publicly tied to the need to monitor the situation in Syria, but privately Trump said he didn’t want to be away from the White House amid developments in the China trade dispute and in the Mueller investigation.

Trump also expressed confidence in the loyalty displayed by Cohen, his longtime personal and professional fixer, who ascended to one of the most powerful roles at the Trump Organization not filled by a family member. Cohen has steadfastly denied wrongdoing in his $130,000 payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and has publicly defended Trump, but he has confided in associates that he is fearful of being a fall guy, according to a person familiar with his thinking but not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.

Cohen has said he took out a personal line of credit on his home to pay Daniels days before the 2016 election and without Trump’s knowledge. The raid of his office was overseen by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan and based in part on a referral from Mueller.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made clear that White House officials have explored Trump’s authority to fire Mueller.

“He certainly believes that he has the power to do so,” she said at Tuesday’s press briefing.

Under Justice Department regulations, only Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia investigation, can fire Mueller.

On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of four senators moved to protect Mueller’s job.

Republican Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware and Cory Booker of New Jersey planned to introduce legislation Wednesday that would give any special counsel a 10-day window in which he or she could seek expedited judicial review of a firing, according to two people familiar with the legislation. They were not authorized to discuss the bill ahead of its release and requested anonymity.

Trump spent Monday evening calling associates to vent and gauge their reaction to the news. He bitterly complained that the raids were meant to ruin Cohen’s life and expressed frustration that it was another front from which to attack his presidency, according to a person familiar with the conversations but not permitted to discuss them publicly.

Trump also revived his broadsides on Rosenstein as well as Rosenstein’s boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom he belittled to confidants for recusing himself from the investigation and, in turn, delivering him to Mueller.

The White House insisted Trump was focused on the response to Syria following the country’s apparent use of chemical weapons on civilians over the weekend, killing more than 40 people. A military strike would mark Trump’s second retaliatory strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government at a time when Trump is seeking to reduce the U.S. footprint in Syria.

The discussions come as Trump’s newest national security adviser, John Bolton, stepped into the job this week. He encouraged Trump to skip the trip to South America to manage the Syria strategy.

Bolton, a seasoned bureaucratic operator, has been expected to put his stamp on the National Security Council staff. NSC spokesman Michael Anton resigned over the weekend, with two people familiar with the situation saying Anton resigned after learning he would be fired. Trump’s homeland security adviser, Thomas Bossert, exited Tuesday. Bossert had overseen the administration’s response to the 2017 hurricane season and was credited by his colleagues for leading the administration’s efforts to bolster cybersecurity resiliency across government and private industry.

Asked if Bolton forced Bossert out, Sanders said: “I’m not going to get into specific details about the ongoings of personnel, but I can tell you that he resigned. The president feels he’s done a great job and wishes him the best.”

The mood at the NSC this week was described as grim, with aides fearful over Bolton’s plans. More senior-level departures are expected in the coming weeks, said two people familiar with the dynamic but not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Trump’s administration has set records for turnover in his 15 months in office at all levels, with Bossert marking at least the 13th official who held the rank of assistant to the president at the start of the administration to depart.

There is growing concern in Trump’s orbit that the turmoil will only continue following the release next week of former FBI director James Comey’s book, which promises to reveal new details about his conversations with the president and the Russia probe. An administration official said the White House would largely defer to outside surrogates to push back on Comey, but there was concern as to how the director’s interviews could rile up the president.

Lemire reported from New York City. Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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Trump seethes over FBI raid, ponders firing those he blames
Trump seethes over FBI raid, ponders firing those he blames
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Source: AP HEADLINES

Seoul: Koreas agree to hold summit talks at border in April

AP Photo
AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has agreed to meet with South Korea’s president next month and impose a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests if his country holds talks with the United States, a senior South Korean official said Tuesday after returning from the North.

The agreements, which follow a flurry of cooperative steps taken by the Koreas during last month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, brightened prospects for a dialogue between North Korea and the U.S. over the North’s nuclear program.

Last year saw increased fears of war on the Korean Peninsula, with Kim and President Donald Trump exchanging fiery rhetoric and crude insults over Kim’s barrage of weapons tests.

But there is still skepticism whether the developments can help establish genuine peace between the Koreas, which have a long history of failing to follow through with major rapprochement agreements.

The United States has also made it clear that it doesn’t want empty talks with North Korea and that all options, including military measures, remain on the table.

Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s presidential national security director, said after returning from North Korea on Tuesday that the two Koreas agreed to hold their summit at a tense border village in late April. He also said the leaders will establish a “hotline” communication channel between them to lower military tensions, and would speak together before the planned summit.

Chung led a 10-member South Korean delegation that met with Kim during a two-day visit to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital. They were the first South Korean officials to meet the young North Korean leader since he took power after his dictator father’s death in late 2011. Chung’s trip also was the first known high-level visit by South Korean officials to North Korea in about 11 years.

The Koreas are to hold working-level talks ahead of the summit between Kim and liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in. If realized, it would be the third-ever such a meeting since the Koreas’ 1945 division. The two past summits, in 2000 and 2007, were both held in Pyongyang between Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, and two liberal South Korean presidents. They resulted in a series of cooperative projects that were scuttled during subsequent conservative administrations in South Korea.

Chung said North Korea also expressed willingness to hold a “candid dialogue” with the United States to discuss its nuclear disarmament and establish diplomatic relations. While such talks with the United States are underway, Chung said North Korea “made it clear that it won’t resume strategic provocations like additional nuclear tests or test-launches of ballistic missiles.”

North Korea also said it would not need to keep its nuclear weapons if military threats against it are removed and it receives a credible security guarantee, Chung said. He said the North promised not to use its nuclear and conventional weapons against South Korea.

Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at South Korea’s Sejong Institute said the agreements “potentially pave the way for meaningful dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang” and offer an opportunity to stably manage the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile programs.

“Getting North Korea to agree to halt additional nuclear weapons and missile tests while the dialogue goes on is the biggest achievement of the visit to Pyongyang by the South Korean presidential envoys,” he said.

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Seoul: Koreas agree to hold summit talks at border in April
Seoul: Koreas agree to hold summit talks at border in April
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Source: AP HEADLINES

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat

AP Photo
AP Photo/Jim Mone

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith on Wednesday to replace fellow Democratic Sen. Al Franken until a special election in November, setting up his long-time and trusted adviser for a potentially bruising 2018 election.

Smith was widely seen as Dayton’s top choice from the moment Franken announced his resignation last week. But her previous decision not to run for governor had raised questions about whether she would want to launch a Senate campaign that would be in the national spotlight.

Smith told reporters Wednesday that she intends to run to complete Franken’s term through 2020.

“I can tell you I shouldn’t be underestimated and if I weren’t confident I wouldn’t be doing this,” she said.

It’s not clear when Smith will head to Washington. Franken, who resigned under pressure from his own party after he was accused of improper behavior by at least eight women, announced last Thursday that he would resign “in the coming weeks.” His office said Tuesday that he had not yet set a final departure date.

The appointment won’t change the balance of power in the Senate.

Smith, 59, served as Dayton’s trusted chief of staff for four years before ascending to become his No. 2 when he needed a running mate in 2014. Dayton has long treated her as an equal in the office, and it was that deference that fueled speculation she was being groomed to succeed him.

Smith’s path to politics was unconventional. A native of New Mexico, she graduated from Stanford and earned an MBA from Dartmouth. A marketing job with General Mills brought her to Minnesota, where she eventually started her own marketing and political consulting firm.

She managed Ted Mondale’s unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1998, then ran the short-lived 2002 Senate campaign for his dad, former Vice President Walter Mondale. Smith served as chief of staff to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak before eventually taking the same job with Dayton in 2011.

Smith, a soft-spoken, smiling presence at the Capitol, is credited with playing quiet but key roles in the response to the 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis and in the building of a new Vikings stadium. Dayton made her his point person on a massive public-private partnership to work with Mayo Clinic on an ambitious expansion in Rochester.

Next year’s race to fill the final two years of Franken’s term is certain to be one of the nation’s most closely watched and expensive, and Dayton was under pressure from fellow Democrats in Washington to ensure his pick would use the appointment as a springboard for that election. Republicans immediately floated former two-term Gov. Tim Pawlenty as a possible candidate, but many others were said to be weighing a race.

Smith may have competition from her own party as well, with several Democrats who had hoped to succeed Dayton likely to eye the Senate race as well. And her past work with Planned Parenthood in Minnesota and other Midwestern states, where she served as an executive, was sure to become a flash point with Republicans on the campaign trail.

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Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat
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Source: AP HEADLINES

AP FACT CHECK: Trump says USA itself at risk of closing.

AP Photo
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

WASHINGTON (AP) — No, the United States is not at risk of shutting down this week, as President Donald Trump suggested Thursday.

Neither is the entire government, for that matter.

Trump said on his way into Pentagon meetings: “If the country shuts down, which could very well be, the budget should be handled a lot differently than it’s been handled over the last long period of time – many years.”

Republicans and Democrats are racing to reach a short-term budget agreement and head off a partial government shutdown that could start at midnight Friday night. If they fail, the consequences, though noticeable, would be far short of a country in paralysis. Even core government functions would keep going.

In a nutshell: Hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be idled, some national parks could close, and certain other services, deemed non-essential, would stop. The air traffic control system, food inspection, Medicare, veterans’ health care and many other essential government programs would run as before. The Social Security Administration would continue to pay benefits and take applications. The Postal Service would run as usual, and the 1.3 million uniformed military personnel would still be on duty. National security operations would continue.

Whether they work through a partial shutdown or not, federal workers can’t get paid during a lapse in funding. In the past, however, they have been repaid retroactively even if they were ordered to stay home.

EDITOR’S NOTE – A look at the veracity of claims by political figures

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AP FACT CHECK: Trump says USA itself at risk of closing.
AP FACT CHECK: Trump says USA itself at risk of closing.
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Source: AP HEADLINES