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A Wisconsin Republican Looks Back With Regret At Voter ID And Redistricting Fights

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.
by Topher Sanders

Dale Schultz, a Republican, served in the Wisconsin Legislature for more than 30 years, from 1983 to 2015. His Senate district is located in south Wisconsin, much of it rural farmland. Schultz was considered a moderate, and so much of what happened in state politics near the end of his tenure dismayed him: partisan fights over the rights of unions, a gubernatorial recall election, and claims of partisan Republican gerrymandering that will now be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

And then there was the prolonged entanglement over voting rights in the state — who could vote, when they could vote, how they could vote. In the face of years of political combat and federal court fights, the legislature ultimately adopted a vast array of changes to election laws. Among them:

  • Voters would have to produce certain types of identification.
  • Early voting was reduced.
  • Restrictions on absentee balloting were implemented.
  • Time frames for how long people had to be residing in the state before they could vote were lengthened.

Republicans hailed the moves as overdue steps toward improving the integrity of state voting. Democrats cried foul, alleging a conspiracy to suppress votes among people of color and others inclined to vote Democratic.

Schulz was in office for the birth of the efforts to tighten voting procedures and often present for the Republican deliberations about their aims. Schultz, before leaving office, voted for the initial voting measures, a decision he came to regret. He opposed some of the subsequent measures as litigation over the issues made their way through the courts and his career wound down.

ProPublica had a rare interview with Schultz recently about the issue of voting in Wisconsin. The Q&A follows. It has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

ProPublica: You were initially in favor of Republican efforts to tighten voting and reconfigure districts. What first appealed to you about those ideas?

Dale Schultz: Well, the blunt truth is, as a partisan politician, your knee-jerk reaction is to protect the standing of your party because that solidifies your power to accomplish what you want to do. My good friend and former colleague, Tim Cullen, also served as Senate majority leader but on the Democrat side, and we’ve said we’re both guilty of voting for redistricting maps which were politically motivated. This isn’t a one party sin. It happens on both sides, and that’s why we introduced our bipartisan bill to change how we redistrict in Wisconsin. I’m happy the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up the issue this fall.

The Republicans pushing the voter ID effort cited voter fraud as a concern and a reason to tighten voting rules and requirements. Did anyone ever show you compelling evidence of that?

No, in fact, quite the opposite. Some of the most conservative people in our caucus actually took the time to involve themselves in election-watching and came back and told other caucus members that, “I’m sorry, I didn’t see it.”

In terms of voting laws, look, I don’t have a fundamental problem with having to show a photo ID in order to vote, but what I do have a problem with are the severe restrictions on what kind of photo ID is allowed and also using these laws to suppress the votes of specific groups.

You need to understand, I come from the old school of the “Institution of the Senate.” When I was coming up through the ranks, and even when I was majority leader, I put great stock and respect into the chairmanship system. When you were given a chair of a committee, you were expected to put the good of the Senate above all else. So when the chair of the Senate elections committee says there’s a problem with voter fraud in the state, and the committee passes a bill out, you take them at their word.

But that’s on me.

Anyway, I ultimately ordered my staff to launch our own investigation and come up with three concrete examples of voter fraud in Wisconsin. Well, guess what? They couldn’t do it, and you need to understand the time, I had graduates from the University of Wisconsin journalism school on staff who’d worked for national publications. But we did come up with two examples. One was a Republican legislative staffer who’d voted in the Madison area as well as back in her hometown in the same election. The other was the estranged wife of a Republican. That’s it, and both examples were on the Republican side.

Did you ever raise the lack of evidence with your Republican colleagues?

Our caucuses were quite raucous. Our meetings and how we dealt with one another was blunt.

I asked my colleagues to show me three specific examples, and all I got was a bunch of hand-wringing and drama-filled speeches about the “buses of Democrats being brought up from Chicago.” I said, “Show me where that was ever prosecuted or even charges brought.” It was crickets. Nobody could give me an answer, and that was both an eye-opening and sad moment for me because I think it finally hit me that time-honored tradition of the “Institution of the Senate” was all but dead.

You know, I had, I think it’s fair to say, a reputation for challenging the thinking of our caucuses. But if you find yourself in a situation where you’re dissenting too often, pretty soon people go, “Well, he never agrees with us, he’s not really one of us. We’re not going to bother to listen.” So, you learn to pick your spots and try to make a difference where you can.

I want to be clear. I don’t want to cast myself as some sort of superhero. Look, I’m a politician. I was for 30 years. Inherently, that means that you compromise and that everybody’s hands get a little dirty as they try to work out a solution that is the best for people.

People were very frank and this is not a game for the timid. People were very emotional, but you know when it comes to casting votes, people know that once the decision is made, the team pretty much sticks together.

Talk about why you later came to regret ever voting for the measures.

I voted for the first voter law bill, and then I did what I’d done since I first got elected in 1982; I went out and did my regular scheduled district office hours. It took all of my first stop to realize I didn’t do my homework. I had town and village clerks coming up to me saying, “Dale, are you nuts? Do you realize how restricting voting hours and early voting and absentee voting is going to affect how people can vote let alone making our jobs all the harder?” They also made it clear that there was no voter fraud happening that they were aware of. Because of the feedback from my constituents, I voted no on the subsequent bills.

I enjoyed all the people I represented and it was a great honor. But there were occasions where people said, “Dale, I’ve heard your explanation on what you’ve done and why you’ve done it, but I think you got this wrong.” And I think voter ID was one of those.

A long time ago my father told me on the farm, if you happen to, when you’re out in the pasture, put your foot in a cowpie, don’t sit there and explain why you stepped in it, just take it out. And it’s been my experience politically, that when you do that, and you explain the reasons, people tend to see that as a politician evolving and thinking and listening, and I think most people are hungry for that. And they’re supportive of that, as long as it doesn’t become a daily flip-flop.

The numbers are in from the 2016 election in Wisconsin. The state surprised the pollsters by going for Trump. And now there’s likely to be a long debate and examination of whether the voter ID and other measures played a role in that outcome. Any early thoughts?

Oh, yeah, all of these things have an impact. Even just constantly keeping up a steady drumbeat of claims about election fraud has an impact. It motivates a base. How big an impact probably varies from state to state. In very close elections, even seemingly small impacts can have great consequences.

You got out of elective office after 32 years. Why?

Well, because I like to think I’m old enough and wise enough to know that there’s more to life than politics, as important as it’s been to me and as enjoyable as it has been to me for all those years. Then again, it’s not that I haven’t been bothered by the changes I’d seen around me or just the simple reality that it was less fun than it used to be as people stopped thinking and became more Pavlovian.

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What We Know About The Russia-Trump Campaign Contacts

IMAGE: Pedestrians cross the street behind a billboard showing a pictures of  US president-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Danilovgrad, Montenegro, November 16. 2016. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic

Republican Senators Push For Answers On Trump’s Russia Ties

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Amid a deepening crisis over the relationship between President Donald Trump’s aides and Russia, some senior Republicans on Wednesday issued their boldest challenge yet and vowed to get to the bottom of the matter, while Democrats demanded an independent probe.

Trump, facing rising unease among fellow Republicans in Congress less than a month into his presidency, sought to focus the attention on what he called criminal intelligence leaks about his ousted national security adviser, calling Michael Flynn a “wonderful man” who was mistreated by the news media.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that phone call records and intercepted calls showed members of Trump’s presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the Nov. 8 election in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Republican Trump critics including Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham voiced fresh consternation, but comments by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, who has been a Trump supporter, increased the pressure on the White House.

Corker said the Russia issue was threatening Trump’s agenda on foreign affairs and domestic matters like healthcare and tax policy. He questioned whether the White House was able to stabilize itself and said Flynn should testify before Congress.

Democrats, doubting that either Trump’s Justice Department or the Republican-led Congress will pursue the matter vigorously, demanded an independent investigation of possible illegal communications between Flynn and the Russian government, and any efforts by Flynn or other White House officials to conceal wrongdoing.

The Democrats called for either a special counsel appointed by Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, or the creation of a bipartisan commission with subpoena power. The top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said Sessions, a close ally of Trump, must recuse himself from any investigation.

Graham called for a broader bipartisan congressional investigation, to be conducted by a newly formed special committee rather than existing committees, if it turns out that Trump’s presidential campaign communicated with the Russians.

“It’s time for us to look into all things related to Russia’s involvement in 2016,” Graham told reporters, referring to last year’s election.

But the top Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives have insisted the matter be investigated by existing Republican-led committees.

U.S. intelligence agencies previously concluded that Russia hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the election campaign as part of efforts to tilt the vote in Trump’s favor.

Some experts expressed concern the White House could curtail or divert probes into Flynn and Russian involvement in the election unless Congress becomes more aggressive by holding hearings and appointing an independent commission or special prosecutor into whether Trump’s team violated federal laws in their contacts with Russia.

Intelligence agencies now overseen by Trump may not be ideally suited to the job, they added.

“It’s not, at the end of the day, the job of the intelligence community to regulate the White House – and it shouldn’t be,” said Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor who focuses on constitutional law and national security.

Flynn was abruptly forced out by Trump on Monday after disclosures he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States, before Trump took office, and that he had later misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.

The Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon spy agency once headed by Flynn, formally suspended his security clearance allowing him access to classified information, DIA spokesman James Kudla said.

The drama of Flynn’s departure was the latest in a series of White House missteps and controversies since Trump was sworn in on Jan. 20.

“Let’s get everything out as quickly as possible on this Russia issue,” Corker told MSNBC’s Morning Joe program. “Maybe there’s a problem that obviously goes much deeper than what we now suspect.”

‘VERY UN-AMERICAN’

In Twitter posts on Wednesday, Trump called the reported Russian connection with his campaign team nonsense, adding: “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!”

At a news conference later with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump charged that intelligence leaks to the news media were “a criminal act.” He said Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, was “a wonderful man” who has been treated “very, very unfairly by the media.”

But White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that Trump himself asked for Flynn’s resignation because of the president’s “eroding level of trust” in Flynn after a series of “questionable instances.”

In his comments at the news conference, Trump did not address the accuracy of the material he said was being leaked.

Spicer on Tuesday also denied there had been any contact between any member of Trump’s campaign team and Russia.

From early on in his White House bid, Trump said he would like improved relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a stance criticized by Democrats and also by some Republicans concerned about Washington softening its stance after Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and aggression in Syria.

Only a few Republican lawmakers have supported even the idea of extending any investigation to cover actions by Trump’s team in the weeks after the election, when Flynn made his calls.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called on the FBI to expedite an investigation into the financial, personal and political ties of Trump and members of his administration to the Russians.

“There are suspicions that have arisen about the president of the United States,” Pelosi said, including behavior she called “very dangerous to the national security of our country” including poor judgment in appointing Flynn in the first place.

The Trump administration has offered Flynn’s former job to U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Robert Harward, said two U.S. officials familiar with the matter. It was not immediately clear if Harward, a former deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, had accepted the offer, according to sources.

The Times, citing current and former U.S. officials, said U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they discovered Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee.

Reuters could not immediately confirm the Times report, which the Kremlin dismissed as groundless. CNN also reported that Trump advisers were in constant contact with Russian officials during the campaign.

(Additional reporting by Rick Cowan, Mohammad Zargham, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey, Julia Edwards Ainsley, Doina Chiacu, Julia Harte and Mark Hosenball; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Frances Kerry and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters accompanied by National security adviser General Michael Flynn (2nd L)  after delivering remarks during a visit in Langley, Virginia U.S., January 21, 2017. U.S. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Pro-Trump Group Blew By Basic Campaign Finance Laws

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

A group that gave more money to one of President-elect Trump’s fundraising efforts than any other political action committee failed to disclose its donors before Election Day and exceeded caps on contribution amounts.

America Comes First PAC was created in early August. But for the next three months, it disclosed nothing about how much it raised, who its donors were or how it was spending its money.

That eventually prompted a warning from federal regulators.

“It is important that you file this report immediately,” read an October 31 letter from the Federal Election Commission.

But Election Day came and went — and still nothing.

As federal regulators continued to wait for the required disclosures, the group posted a photo two days after the election showing Trump meeting with America Comes First secretary David Schamens.

It wasn’t until this week that the group finally began filing the disclosure forms. The filings show that the bulk of individual donations to the group came from Schamens.

In the early 1990s, Schamens was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of securities fraud. In a settlement, he did not admit to the allegations but agreed to be barred from associating with investment companies or securities brokers. Schamens currently is director of a New Jersey technology company that caters to financial institutions and securities traders.

The money raised by America Comes First — $315,601 total — is a tiny fraction of what Trump and his supporters raised overall. But Daniel Weiner, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, called the group’s actions “tremendously concerning.”

“Basically they’re not obeying any campaign finance law whatsoever,” Weiner said. “That’s why we have disclosure requirements, because we want to see who is influencing the election and we want that disclosed in a timely manner so voters can make an informed choice.”

Weiner said it’s hard to predict how much the group could be fined by the FEC. He urged Trump’s fundraising committee to return the contributions given the apparent problems, but said it’s not clear the law requires them to.

Schamens told ProPublica that waiting until after the election to disclose the source of the group’s funding was unintentional and caused by poor bookkeeping. (The PAC also had not filed another required report that was due midnight Thursday.)

“It’s not a big deal,” he said.

Schamens contributed at least $202,000 of the PAC’s total fundraising haul, according to FEC reports, although $45,000 of that appeared to be refunded to him.

Another $45,000 came from Sokal Media Group, an automotive advertising agency. The group’s filing attributed another $55,000 to “Kinderton Banjing Transfer” — with an address that corresponds to a Bank of America branch in North Carolina. Schamens could not explain what Kinderton Banjing Transfer was.

All those contributions exceed the $5,000 legal limit on donations to groups such as America Comes First PAC.

The group in turn donated to Trump Victory, a joint committee that raised money for the campaign, the national party, and state-level party groups. The America Comes First PAC donated $115,000 to Trump Victory, putting it ahead of the second largest PAC donor, Ohio mining corporation Murray Energy, at $100,000. (Here’s a helpful Wall Street Journal video explaining how the Trump Victory committee worked.)

Trump, like Hillary Clinton, also had a second joint committee that partnered solely with the national party, and not any state parties.

Trump’s transition team did not respond to a request for comment.

Along with donating to Trump’s joint committee, Schamens said the PAC produced ads targeting the Facebook pages and email inboxes of voters in the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Thirty-second spots the group produced paint Hillary Clinton as insensitive about the Americans killed during the embassy attack in Benghazi and careless with sensitive emails.

“National security is not a joke,” stated one. “Trump takes it seriously.”

The filings also show a payment to the Lexington Dispatch, a daily newspaper in North Carolina, for “media expenses.”

None of those advertisements boosting Trump appear to have been reported as required. When committees spend at least $200 for independent advertisements intended to elect or defeat a candidate, FEC rules require disclosure of that specific spending within 24 to 48 hours of the ads running. America Comes First PAC has filed no independent expenditure reports with the FEC.

Any disclosures that come now, Weiner said, have little use.

“We want voters to be able to make the decision when they vote,” he said. “The damage is done and you can’t unring the bell.”

Schamens described his current company, TradeStream Analytics, as a technology company that optimizes and expedites securities trading. He said since 2008, his customers have been beleaguered by stricter regulatory enforcement, including on high-frequency trading.

“It’s incredibly unfair to our customers,” he said. “Our customers have been absolutely harassed to no end.”

Schamens said he has expressed those concerns — along with his frustrations about his company’s intellectual property not being protected — to the Trump camp in “just general conversations here and there.” When doing so, he said he was only representing himself, not the PAC. The PAC’s agenda, he said, focuses on curbing foreign aid, illegal immigration and wasteful military spending.

He said the photo of his meeting with Trump, posted two days after the election, was actually taken sometime in October, at a fundraiser he attended not representing the PAC, but as an individual donor. Schamens gave $27,000 to Trump Victory on Oct. 18, 2016.

The photo shows Trump seated at the center of a boardroom table, surrounded by 10 other men, all with bottles of water and leather portfolios.

“President-elect Donald Trump met with ACF’s Dave Schamens,” the caption reads, “to get insight on what he thinks will help make this country greater.”

Update, Dec. 10, 2016: David Schamens said Friday evening the PAC’s filings with the FEC were inaccurate, and that most of the donations did not come from him personally. As the group’s treasurer, he is responsible for accurately filing to the FEC. He said he would amend the filings next week.

IMAGE: Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate at UNLV in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 19, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Blake

Can Exxon CEO Turn From Corporate To National Interest As Secretary Of State?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The central question facing Exxon Mobile Corp. chief executive Rex Tillerson if he becomes U.S. secretary of state is whether a life-long oil man with close ties to Russia can pivot from advancing corporate interests to serving the national interest.

Tillerson, 64, got his start as a production engineer at Exxon in 1975 and has worked there ever since, running business units in Yemen, Thailand and Russia before being named chief executive in 2006. He was expected to retire next year.

Critics suggested that if President-elect Donald Trump were to choose Tillerson – as a source familiar with the situation said he was expected to do – it would continue a trend of selecting some aides who may favor a softer line toward Moscow.

Among these is Trump’s pick for national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who raised eyebrows when he sat beside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a Moscow banquet last year and who has argued that the United States and Russia should collaborate to end Syria’s civil war and to defeat Islamic State militants.

Some former officials said it was an open question whether Tillerson could make the transition from running Exxon, a vast company that explores for oil and gas on six continents, to the even greater complexity of being secretary of state.

“Negotiating a real estate deal or an oil contract with Saudi Arabia is not the same thing,” said Aaron David Miller, a former State Department Middle East specialist now at the Wilson Center think-tank in Washington.

“It’s not a complicated summit where you are trying to reconcile historical woundings, religious identities, sectarian tensions.”

“I’m not arguing that he can’t make this conversion. I just don’t think we know.”

‘A STRAIGHT ARROW’?

Many U.S. officials are worried by Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior. It annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war and is accused of interfering in U.S. domestic politics.

U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton, and not just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, a senior U.S. official said.

In his role at Exxon Tillerson maintained close ties with Putin and opposed U.S. sanctions against Russia for its incursion into Crimea.

Daniel Yergin, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Prize: the Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power,” said Russia represented a relatively small portion of Exxon’s overall operations and played down its significance.

“It was a business relationship,” Yergin said.

“The whole Russian thing is so much front and center now so it’s inevitable that those questions be asked but, obviously, if you are a major oil company, you want to go to where your resources (are). You have to replace your reserves,” he added.

“If he becomes secretary of state, the interests he will pursue will be U.S. interests. This is an Eagle Scout kind of guy. He was president of the Boy Scouts,” he said. “He is a straight arrow. If that’s his mission, that’s what he’ll do.”

In an interview to be aired on “Fox News Sunday,” Trump praised Tillerson as “much more than a business executive.”

“He’s a world class player,” Trump said. “To me, a great advantage is he knows many of the players, and he knows them well.”

However, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a senior Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that would weigh Tillerson’s nomination, was unsparing in his criticism of the possible appointment.

“Reports that Rex Tillerson could be nominated to be our nation’s top diplomat (are) alarming and absurd,” he said. “With Rex Tillerson as our secretary of state the Trump administration would be guaranteeing Russia has a willing accomplice in the president’s cabinet guiding our nation’s foreign policy.”

CLIMATE CHANGE

Should Tillerson be nominated, climate change could be another controversial issue.

Exxon is under investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office for allegedly misleading investors, regulators and the public on what it knew about global warming.

However, if chosen, Tillerson would be one of the few people selected for major roles in the Trump administration to believe that human activity causes climate change.

After Trump’s election, Exxon came out in support of the Paris Climate Agreement. It has also advocated for a carbon tax and internally factors in a theoretical price on carbon as it weights manufacturing and exploration costs of projects.

Some environmental groups are alarmed at the prospect of Exxon’s CEO as the country’s top diplomat.

“Donald Trump appears intent to undo a century of environmental and social progress and return America to the age of robber barons and corporate trusts,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.

“Who better to turn to than Exxon, the granddaddy of them all?”

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, John Walcott; and Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Robert Birsel)

IMAGE: ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson speaks during the 26th World Gas Conference in Paris, France, June 2, 2015. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Suspect Unemotional In Court As Victims’ Families Express Grief, Call On Him To Repent

By Richard A. Serrano, Timothy M. Phelps, and Michael Muskal, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

CHARLESTON, SC — Dylann Roof was ordered held without bail on murder charges in connection with an attack on a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, that left nine African-Americans dead and reopened a national debate about racial violence.

During the dramatic hearing in front of Chief Magistrate James B. Gosnell Jr., Roof, 21, stood in prison togs with his hands behind his back. Two heavily armed officers were behind Roof, who was unemotional as several representatives of the families of those slain expressed their grief and called on him to repent.

“I forgive you and my family forgives you,” said a representative of Myra Thompson, 59, one of those killed in the Wednesday night attack during a Bible class inside the Emanuel AME Church. “Repent and confess and give your life to Christ and change your ways. You’ll be better off than you are now.”

“Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same,” said Felicia Sanders, the mother of victim Tywanza Sanders. “May God have mercy on you.”

The magistrate noted he does not have the authority to set bond for the murder charges but ordered a $1 million bail on one count of possession of a firearm during a violent crime. The next appearance was set for Oct. 23.

Roof, 21, appeared at the bond hearing via a video link. He is being held in a cell next to the former North Charleston police officer who fatally shot a fleeing, unarmed black man, an incident that had also roiled racial tensions in the region and nation.

Roof has reportedly made statements “tantamount to a confession” in the shooting during a prayer service inside the historic black church, a law enforcement source said earlier Friday.

The federal law enforcement official, speaking anonymously, said he was told that Roof talked to local investigators and described some details about Wednesday night’s shooting. The source has been briefed on the matter but is not permitted to speak publicly because the case is unfolding.

Charles Francis, top spokesman for the Charleston Police Department, said Roof “has been interviewed by our investigators and he has made some statements about what happened” in the church. “Our detectives always interview suspects, and that is what happened here too.”

Francis declined to discuss exactly what Roof told local detectives, but said that it was consistent with the decision by state prosecutors to file the nine murder charges and firearm charge against him.

The racial issue has remained a gnawing presence during the debate after the shooting.

Speaking at a news conference, NAACP national President Cornell William Brooks condemned the shooting as “an act of racial terrorism” and a hate crime that goes against the “conscience and soul of the country.” He condemned state officials for continuing to fly the Confederate flag, an ongoing issue that has worsened race relations in the South.

“We cannot have the Confederate flag at the state Capitol,” Brooks said. The leader of the NAACP criticized those who defended the flag, which represented the Southern states that seceded from the Union over black slavery, leading to the Civil War. It has become a symbol for some white supremacist groups.

“Some say it is a symbol of heritage and not hate,” Brooks said, dismissing those arguments. “That symbol has to come down and that symbol has to be removed.”

Brooks also condemned those who insisted the shooting was the work of a lone wolf, rather than an act of terrorism against all people, especially the African-American community.

“Is the right terminology a lone shooter or is the right terminology a domestic terrorist?” he said. “This was an act of racial terrorism.”

South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley called for Roof to face the death penalty in the shooting, which is being investigated by state and federal authorities as a hate crime.
Roof is the sole suspect in the shooting at the iconic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The attack has shocked this Southern city and the nation, already racked by race and police violence issues.

“This is a state that is hurt by the fact that nine people innocently were killed,” Haley said Friday, adding that the state “absolutely will want him to have the death penalty.”
Haley spoke on NBC’s “Today” show and called the shooting “an absolute hate crime.”

“This is the worst hate that I’ve seen — and that the country has seen — in a long time,” she said. “We will fight this, and we will fight this as hard as we can.”
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. says that although he’s not a proponent of the death penalty, it’s the law in South Carolina and he expects it will be sought against Roof.

“If you are going to have a death penalty, certainly this case would merit it,” he said at a televised news conference.

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Several North Charleston residents had joined a crowd of media outside the court building on a scorching 100-degree afternoon, waiting for the hearing to begin.

“Charleston is like one family. We all talk to each other, all hug each other, even people you don’t know,” said April Cox, 29, of North Charleston. “And now the whole community is torn apart. It’s everybody hurting. All races are hurting.”

She said she’s worried that anger from the slayings, and other incidents here and around the country, might spark more racial violence this summer. “That’s what I’m afraid of,” she said. “So we just pray and leave it up to the Lord.”

Theius Singleton, 31, a merchant marine seaman from North Charleston, said he thought the massacre might have been borne of messages of racism heard by the shooter while growing up.

“You know those little wind-up things you got when you were young? Wind them up, and they go,” he said. “That was somebody who was wound up. I’m not saying it was on purpose; it might have been just subliminal things he got all his life.”

Roof was returned to Charleston under heavy guard Thursday night after his arrest in Shelby, North Carolina, about 250 miles away. During an intense manhunt, a citizen’s tip led police to Roof, whose distinctive bowl-shaped haircut and boyish looks were broadcast near and far.

According to friends, Roof had been making racist comments. His Facebook page showed the high school dropout wearing small versions of the flags of two former white-dominated racist regimes in Africa.

Witnesses to the shooting told their fellow parishioners that Roof shouted racial epithets before gunning down six women and three men, old and young alike. They said he told one woman that he allowed her to live so she could tell the story of what he had done, while two others, including a child, played dead on the church floor.

Joseph Meek, a roommate of Roof’s, said that Roof “was big into segregation” and had been plotting something for six months. “I think he wanted something big like Trayvon Martin,” Meek told ABC News, referring to the death of a black teenager at the hands of George Zimmerman in Florida three years ago.

Meek said he and Roof had connected a few weeks ago and while they drank vodka Roof began complaining that “blacks were taking over the world” and that “someone needed to do something about it for the white race,” The Associated Press reported.

Meek said Roof told him that he had used birthday money from his parents to buy a .45-caliber Glock pistol and that he had “a plan,” the AP said. Roof didn’t say what the plan was, but Meek said it scared him enough that he took the gun out of Roof’s car and hid it in his house until the next day.

It’s not clear whether Roof had any connection to the 16 white supremacist organizations operating in South Carolina, but he appears to be a “disaffected white supremacist,” based on his Facebook page, said Richard Cohen, president of Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama.

Roof entered the church, founded in 1818, at 8:17 p.m. and sat quietly with a dozen pastors and parishioners for nearly an hour before pulling out a gun and firing.
Among the victims was the church’s pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who had sponsored a bill in the Legislature to require police to wear body cameras, a move that came after a white police officer killed an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, in North Charleston.

The other victims were Cynthia Hurd, 54; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; and the Revs. DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49, Sharonda Singleton, 45, and Daniel Simmons Sr., 74. Three people survived.

(Serrano reported from Washington, Phelps from Charleston, SC, and Muskal from Los Angeles. Staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Charleston contributed to this report.)

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: A note on the sidewalk memorial includes photos of the 9 who were killed at the “Mother” Emanuel A.M.E. Church on Friday, June 19, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Ebola Virus Vaccine Developed By Bird Flu Scientist

By Karen Herzog, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (TNS)

Another vaccine has joined the race against the often fatal Ebola virus, and this one was developed by a group led by a University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist internationally known for his bird flu research.

The whole virus vaccine that Yoshihiro Kawaoka and his colleagues developed was constructed using a novel experimental platform, and it has been shown to effectively protect monkeys exposed to the Ebola virus at a top biosafety-level National Institutes of Health laboratory in Montana, according to an article published Thursday in the prominent journal Science.

This vaccine differs from other Ebola vaccines in development because, as an inactivated whole virus vaccine, it can prime the host immune system with the complete range of Ebola viral proteins and genes, which makes it more likely to trigger a robust immune response, according to a news release from UW-Madison.

“In terms of efficacy, this affords excellent protection,” said Kawaoka, a professor of pathobiological sciences in the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine who has been working on the Ebola vaccine for years, and also holds a faculty appointment at the University of Tokyo.

There are no proven treatments for Ebola or vaccines to prevent individuals from becoming infected. Ebola, previously known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a rare and deadly disease first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Ebola has claimed more than 10,000 lives in a current outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Symptoms include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and unexplained bleeding or bruising.

Whole virus vaccines have long been used to successfully prevent such serious diseases as polio, hepatitis, and human papillomavirus-mediated cervical cancer.

The vaccine developed by Kawaoka’s group does not yet have the backing of a manufacturer, and has not been tested in people. Human trials are expensive and complex, costing millions of dollars.

Four other Ebola vaccines in development recently advanced to the clinical trial stage in humans.

An efficacy trial for an Ebola vaccine developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada launched Wednesday in a community in Guinea where Ebola spread. About 10,000 people are expected to receive that vaccine, which reportedly has shown positive results in smaller safety trials and is backed by NewLink Genetics and Merck.

Kawaoka said the experimental platforms on which the four other vaccines were developed have drawbacks in terms of safety and delivery.

The vaccine with UW-Madison ties was constructed on an experimental platform first devised in 2008 by Peter Halfmann, a research scientist in Kawaoka’s lab.

That experimental platform allows researchers to safely work with the virus because a key gene is deleted, according to the Science report describing the vaccine’s development. The Ebola virus uses that gene, known as VP30, to make a protein required for it to reproduce in host cells. Like most viruses, Ebola depends on host cells to grow and become infectious.

By engineering monkey kidney cells to express the deleted VP30 protein, the virus could be safely studied in the lab and be used as a basis for devising a whole virus vaccine. The vaccine also was chemically inactivated using hydrogen peroxide, the Science report noted.

Early attempts to devise an inactivated whole virus Ebola vaccine through irradiation and the preservative formalin failed to protect monkeys exposed to the Ebola virus and were abandoned, according to Kawaoka.

The Ebola vaccine study conducted by Kawaoka’s group was supported by the National Institutes of Health and Japanese Health and Labor Sciences Research Grants.

(c)2015 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: AFP Photo/Zoom Dosso

Meet The Wipeout Caucus: Republicans Who Didn’t Catch The Wave

By Jason Dick, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

Sometimes you catch the wave. Sometimes the wave, um, doesn’t let you catch it? Crashes down on you before you can catch it?

Republicans had quite a night on Nov. 4, picking up more than a dozen House seats, reclaiming the Senate majority, knocking off Democratic governors. It was party time for the GOP.

But what about the Republicans who didn’t catch the wave? How weird is it for them to lose in a year that was so good for the party, one has to reach back to a time when the American people saw fit to elect Herbert Hoover president for comparison. Call them the Wipeout Caucus.

Rep. Steve Southerland II, R-Fla., came to Congress during one wave, in 2010, and has now been swept back out to sea, or Panama City Beach at least, in another wave year. Southerland was defeated by Democrat Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham, but he was really up against the whole Graham family after making impolitic remarks about their influence.

Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., proved the only thing people hate more than Democrats in his district is a congressman who whines about his personal financial situation. Terry was running through peanut butter throughout his whole campaign. But things got really bad when the National Republican Congressional Committee ran an ad criticizing his opponent’s support for a law that granted convicted felons early release for good behavior, and tried to make the connection between now-Rep.-elect Brad Ashford and a convict who was released and then killed four people. The ad was widely panned. The convict, Nikko Jenkins, went on to endorse Terry as the “greatest Republican ever.”

Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La. Oh, where to start? He rode into town after winning a special election in November 2013, with the “Duck Dynasty” family at his back. Then he got caught on tape kissing his scheduler. Then he said he wouldn’t run for re-election. Then he said he’d think about it. Then he decided to run. He came in fourth on Election Day in his House race. To add insult to injury, he was edged out for third place by a relative of the “Duck Dynasty” folks, Republican Zach Drasher.

Former Sen. Scott Brown, formerly of Massachusetts, wanted to take his talents to the Granite State but lost to incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, whose ties to New Hampshire were apparently a little stronger. Brown was criticized for jumping the border.

Former Rep. Eric Cantor is the dean of the Wipeout Caucus. His primary loss started it all. The Virginian and House majority leader was shocked to find himself out of the running when economics Professor Dave Brat came out of Randolph-Macon College to beat him. All it meant was that Cantor missed out on the opportunity to lead the biggest House majority since Hoover was sworn in.Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. After all, that GOP majority had to then deal with the Great Depression.

Cheney Urges House GOP To Support A Hawkish National Defense

By Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Dick Cheney, often considered the brain behind President George W. Bush’s war strategy in Iraq, gave a pep talk to House Republicans on Tuesday highlighting the value of a hawkish national defense.

As Congress is weighing President Barack Obama’s strategy for fighting Islamic State militants, Cheney’s visit lends new influence to the interventionist wing of the GOP — traditional defense-aligned Republicans who have increasingly been at odds with the emerging isolationist wing of tea party lawmakers.

The mood inside the private morning meeting at Republican Party headquarters across from the Capitol was one of “rapt attention,” according to one congressman. Cheney was accompanied by his daughter, Liz, who had briefly run for Senate from their home state of Wyoming.

Cheney “reiterated to us the importance of the Republican Party standing strong on national defense,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a former Air Force pilot and one of the few veterans in Congress of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“It was a great message — and something we needed to hear and hopefully it sticks with a lot of my colleagues who kind of had this creep towards isolationism,” Kinzinger said. “Hopefully this is an awakening that we have to be very strong and very serious.”

Cheney “highlighted how Americans want a check and balance on this disengaged commander in chief,” according to a GOP aide who did not want to be identified discussing the private session.

Not all lawmakers emerged inclined to support new military intervention in Iraq or Syria. As violence from Islamic State militants escalates, including the videotaped slaying of two captive U.S. journalists, the president is set to announce the administration’s strategy Wednesday.

“I still remain skeptical,” said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY). “I don’t think two beheadings justifies a war. I think justice is warranted, but I don’t think war is warranted over two YouTubes.”

The visit from the former vice president, who is also scheduled to speak Wednesday at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think thank, was at the invitation of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the party’s campaign arm.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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As Brazil’s Protests Shrink And Intensify, Analysts Predict Change

By Mimi Whitefield, The Miami Herald

Protestors in a handful of Brazilian cities have clashed with police, thrown rocks and dodged rubber bullets and tear gas canisters since last week’s opening of the World Cup.

But this year’s protests are different from the massive demonstrations during the 2013 Confederations Cup, when more than 1 million Brazilians, mostly middle and lower-middle class, took to the streets on a single night.

In the year since the Confederations Cup, there have been hundreds of protests across Brazil. But recent demonstrations are smaller, more targeted on specific interests — including labor demands for higher salaries — and often more violent.

During last week’s protests in Fortaleza, for example, demonstrators overturned a police car and broke the glass doors of two banks, and on Sunday police used stun grenades and tear gas to stop about 200 protestors who were marching on Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

Since the first Confederations Cup protests, it’s become more common to find masked and hooded adherents of “Black Bloc” tactics — acts of vandalism and violence — sprinkled in with more peaceful protesters. Such anarchist tactics emerged in Europe during the 1980s and were much in evidence during the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999.

“The middle class is now almost totally out of the streets. The dissatisfaction is still there, but they are scared of the violence and the Black Blocs. Now, it’s much more aggressive,” said Armando Castelar Pinheiro, an economist who is coordinator of applied economic research at the Getulio Vargas Foundation.

Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, agrees that the violence serves as a disincentive for many Brazilians who might otherwise be in the streets. “They want to protest policy — not break things,” he said.

Some analysts say rather than an embarrassing black eye for Brazil as it tries to stage the globe’s largest soccer tournament and take a place among the world’s developed nations, the year of protests actually represents democracy at work and is a step forward for Brazil.

Now, the question is whether protesters’ steady drumbeat of complaints about poor public health services, a mediocre public education system, government corruption, displacement of people living near Cup construction areas, and the high cost of preparing for the soccer extravaganza will transition into a legitimate social movement after the last goal is scored.

“People will remember how the World Cup articulated a new narrative for Brazil based on a new political dynamic,” said Ricardo Sennes, a senior Brazil fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

But it may take time for such a viewpoint to develop. A recent Pew Research Center poll shows that 61 percent of Brazilian respondents think hosting the World Cup is bad for Brazil because it takes money away from schools and public services.

Thirty-nine percent said it would hurt Brazil’s image around the world, while 35 thought it would help Brazil’s international image and 23 percent said it would have no impact.

Sennes said Brazilians need to look at the bigger picture. Rather than the fancy million-dollar stadiums built for the World Cup, the soccer tournament’s most important legacy will be strengthening of civil society in Brazil and stimulating a dynamic new political debate, he said.

Sotero said because the World Cup protests have touched on important public policy issues for Brazil, they are indeed an awakening. He quotes Brazilian anthropologist Roberto DaMatta: “The World Cup has been useful to convey profound political messages that touch on themes that are fundamental for the country.”

There is no doubt that the World Cup and its 12 new or renovated arenas have become a lightning rod for dissent in soccer-loving Brazil. But it’s more because they symbolize the contradictions in a polarized Brazilian society, said Sennes.

If the country could produce stadiums up to the standards of FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, Brazilians thought they should also be able to demand FIFA-quality public services, he said.

Labor unions pushing for wage increases and other demands also achieved some degree of success on the eve of the World Cup, and Castelar said he expected to see labor, mobilized by social media, to continue taking to the streets. “These protests, I think, are here to stay,” he said.

The $11.6 billion the Brazilian government spent preparing for the Cup brought two main challenges to the forefront of public attention, Sennes said in a new report, “Will Brazil Get What It Expects from the World Cup?”

In broad brush strokes, the challenges are how public resources are allocated and government inefficiency and lack of transparency.

While 40 million people moved into the middle class in the past decade, the government didn’t prepare for an economic down cycle, throwing Brazil’s development model into question, said Peter Schechter, director of the Arsht Latin American Center.

The Brazilian political system, created after the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1985, wasn’t built to address efficiency or effective public policy, according to the report.

“Empowered social groups from the middle and lower classes are demanding more and better social policies along with new priorities and transparency in public fund allocation,” the report said.

Kenneth Dossar, a Temple University professor who lived through the civil rights movement in the United States, sees Brazil’s year of protests growing into a social movement with affinities to American blacks’ struggles for equality and opportunity.

“What we’re seeing now with the protests against the World Cup is an important social movement,” said Dossar.

He said Brazil’s black movement, which was blocked from making gains during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, also is beginning to gain momentum. “You have a lot of things percolating in Brazil now,” said Dossar, a professor of African-American studies who has been visiting and researching in Brazil for the past 30 years.

Sotero said he expects the protests will remain relatively low key during the Cup. “I think Brazilians generally love the World Cup — despite the criticism about the expenditures and cost overruns. Once the World Cup starts, soccer takes over.

“But there is one scenario where things could get a bit more hairy — if Brazil is knocked out of the tournament early. Brazil will likely face tough competition in the second phase.”

An early Brazilian exit, he said, could cause Brazilian dissatisfaction to brim over.

Still, he said, whether Brazil wins or loses, he doesn’t expect the World Cup outcome will have much impact on Brazil’s October presidential election.

Although President Dilma Rousseff is still ahead in the polls, her numbers have been falling. But in a June election simulation from Datafolha, the percentage of votes her chief rival, Sen. Aecio Neves, would potentially receive also was down marginally.

Because of the delays in finishing stadiums and the many airport and transportation projects that weren’t completed, Brazil has already lost the positive narrative surrounding the Cup, Sotero said.

It’s unlikely that one candidate or another will be able to capitalize on a Brazilian win or loss — a sign that Brazil has matured politically, he said.

That wasn’t always the case. During the 1970 World Cup, the military government of Gen. Emilio Garrastazu Medici used the victory by perhaps the greatest Brazilian team of all time to try to deflect attention from its deplorable record of repression. That was the year that Rousseff, a former guerrilla, was captured and tortured by the dictatorship.

“Can you do that again? No. Brazil is now a thriving democracy with a lot of challenges. But we’re very capable of separately our soccer from our political reality,” Sotero said.

“If Brazil wins the World Cup this year, people will be very happy; we will be removing the curse of never winning a World Cup at home,” he added. “But after that, life will go back to normal. The problems we had leading up to the World Cup will still be there.

“The election one and a half months after the close of the World Cup will be framed more on what’s going on with the economy and the programs the candidates are putting forward,” he said. “It will turn on things that are most relevant to people’s lives.”

Castelar said, for example, people will focus on issues such as high inflation, the slowing economy as China’s appetite for Brazilian commodities wanes, and how long it takes Brazilians to commute to their jobs.

In order to tame inflation, he said, Brazil needs to lower real wages — a move that will only increase dissatisfaction, especially among labor unionists.

Brazil also is way behind on preparations for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and that could lead to new frustrations. “The controversy will remain,” Sotero said.

©afp.com / Nelson Almeida

Obama Pitches Innovation To New Businesses In Pittsburgh Appearance

By James P. O’Toole, Tracie Mauriello and Deborah Todd, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH—President Barack Obama came to Pittsburgh Tuesday to promote innovation in manufacturing. He also called for some innovation in Washington’s approach to governing, but he seemed a lot more optimistic about the former than the latter.

On a stop at Bakery Square’s TechShop, the president announced a plan to give fledgling businesses expanded access to high tech resources, whether from the government or through wider sharing of private and university-based data and facilities.

Administration officials said the plan to provide access to expensive equipment and facilities is designed to lower the barriers to innovation. Obama cited the high tech facilities of NASA and — without any references to the NSA — the massive stores of data collected by government agencies as examples of some of the resources that offer potential for exploitation by manufacturing entrepreneurs.

The president announced the initiative after a tour of TechShop, a membership-based manufacturing workshop that’s a model for the kind of sharing of resources he wants to promote. ” For the cost of a gym membership,” Obama noted, small businesses can utilize the site’s resources, such as the 3-D printers and laser sculpting he observed on a brief tour of the East Liberty facility.

Coming the day after Obama announced an executive order to ban discrimination against members of the LGBT community in federal contracting, his order establishing the innovation initiative was one more example of the administration’s efforts to pursue policy changes that don’t depend on action by an often recalcitrant Congress. But in trying to spotlight the new domestic plan, the administration was confronted by a crowded news agenda dominated by events abroad, with a cascade of alarming developments in Iraq and followed by the capture of a key figure in the 2012 attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

The president discussed manufacturing opportunities and workplace issues in general at a question-and-answer session after his tour. He ended his appearance with an appeal to Congress to embrace at least some aspects of his agenda, including his calls for steps to promote manufacturing and to authorize more federal spending for infrastructure improvements.

“Infrastructure didn’t used to be partisan,” he said, citing the example of President Dwight Eisenhower’s support from Democratic lawmakers in the creation of the Interstate Highway Saytem

“It requires Congress to break out of this mentality that if I propose it, they are going to oppose it,” he complained.

In a conference call anticipating the visit, Pennsylvania Republicans said that reversing his administration’s energy policies would do more to promote manufacturing than the steps outlined by the president.

U.S, Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa. dismissed the plans outlined by the president and his aides as “window dressing,” calculated to distract attention from the harm he sees in the administration’s energy policies, policies he characterized as a threat to the nation’s coal mining industry.

“It’s an ideological agenda item posing as a plan,” said Rob Gleason, chairman of the state Republican Party.

Obama checked out a 3-D printer, and a high tech laser design machine during a brief tour of some of the equipment TechShop members can take advantage of. The tour was led by Matt Verlinich, general manager of TechShop Pittsburgh and included an explanation from Andy Leer, of ZeGo Robotics, of how an entrenpeneur with an design idea could turn it into a prototype within a day of work at TechShop.

James Gyre of Naked Geometry, showed the president a laser cutter, which he uses to rapidly etch intricate geometric patterns into wood, including a wedding gift for his aunt.

Elliot Kahn demonstrated a 20-ton injection mold such as the one used at another TechShop location to create the Square mobile credit card reader, a $5 billion business. Tuesday, he used it to create a presidential seal for Obama.

It was the president’s third visit to Pittsburgh this year. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who greeted Obama at the airport along with county Executive Rich Fitzgerald, tweeted after the arrival that he told the president that he was going to get him an apartment in the city to accommodate his frequent visits. Joining the president on the flight on Air Force One was Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

The visit was a sequel to another presidential stop here in 2011, in which Obama announced the formation of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, an effort to knit together the resources of the private sector and government to speed the adoption of innovative manufacturing techniques.

During his visit, the president described new manufacturing investment commitments from 90 mayors cross the country, as well as the plan to provide private-sector innovators with access to expensive federal equipment such as wind tunnels at NASA and supercomputers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The plan would provide access to more than $5 billion worth of research, prototyping and testing equipment at more than 700 federal facilities.

The president’s appearance launches the White House’s week-long focus on innovation, administration officials said. The spotlight will shift to the White House Wednesday in what the administration has dubbed the “Maker Faire,” where innovators from around the country will show off prototypes of new products and network on their paths from planning to production.

AFP Photo/Jewel Samad

66 Missing In Boat That Capsized Off Malaysian Coast

By John Grafilo

KUALA LUMPUR — A boat carrying 97 people capsized Wednesday off the coast near the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency said.

Thirty-one people were rescued in the incident that occurred before dawn off the coast of Kuala Langat, west of Kuala Lumpur, the agency said.

Search and rescue operations were ongoing for 66 people that remained missing.

A maritime agency official said the passengers were mostly Indonesian workers who were apparently returning to their homeland to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“This time of the year, we experience strong waves so accidents really happen,” said the official who asked not to be named because he was not an authorized spokesman.

“The survivors are in a state of shock but we are taking care of them.”

Multitrack via Flickr

Fight Over Boy Led Girl To Kill Another Girl, Police Say

By Deanese Williams-Harris and Meredith Rodriguez, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — A 14-year-old girl shot to death another 14-year-old girl because of an argument over a boy, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Tuesday as murder charges were filed.

The gun used to kill Endia Martin had been stolen from a car on April 14, McCarthy said, adding that two other people, including a 24-year-old uncle of the suspect, face charges. He did not elaborate.

“They were fighting over a boy,” McCarthy told reporters. “This was a fistfight that turned to a murder with the introduction of a firearm.”

Endia’s stepfather, Kent Kennedy, said Endia and the suspect had been feuding on Facebook. “They had words and she gunned our daughter down. For what? What reason would another girl gun down another child?

“It’s senseless,” he added. “Kids are dying so young nowadays. It’s senseless. Parents shouldn’t have to bury no child.”

Kennedy said the family recently moved Endia from one school to another closer to home to keep her safe. Endia was killed about a half-mile from her South Side home.

“No place in Chicago is safe for teenagers nowadays,” he said. “No place is safe.”

Endia was walking home from Tilden Career Community Academy, where she was a freshman, when another girl approached and opened fire at a group of girls around 4:30 p.m. Monday, according to police.

Endia was hit in the back and was taken to Comer Children’s Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. A second girl, 16, was shot in the arm and taken to St. Bernard Hospital and Healthcare Center, where her condition was stabilized, police said.

Police said there was a confrontation involving a group of teenagers before the shooting. Endia’s stepfather said a girl from another school walked up and fired at a group of girls on the sidewalk in front of a three-story frame home.

Endia collapsed to the ground while the other girls scattered, including the wounded 16-year-old girl who ran behind the home, witnesses told WGN-TV.

Endia was “14 years old, beautiful, nice spirit, active in sports,” Kennedy said outside the emergency room at Comer. “She loved music, loved to dance.”

“No child needs to be gunned down like a dog in the street. Nobody, period,” he said.

Addressing the shooter and witnesses, he added: “This is not going to go away … We are not going to rest until you are prosecuted to the fullest. You, the people who assisted you, the crowd that walked over with the person with the gun — you’re all involved and you’re all guilty.”

Endia and the 16-year-old girl were among at least seven people shot in the city late Monday and early Tuesday morning.

So far this year, more than 50 children 16 or younger have been shot in Chicago, according to a Tribune analysis.

Monday’s shooting comes little more than a week after five children, ranging in age from 11 to 15, were shot and wounded in the Park Manor neighborhood on the South Side. The children had been playing at a park near an elementary school and were walking home when a car pulled up and someone inside opened fire, police said.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

North Korea To Free Australian Evangelist

By Sid Astbury and Dirk Godder

SEOUL, South Korea — An Australian missionary arrested in North Korea last month for distributing Christian pamphlets is to be released, Pyongyang’s state-run media said Monday.

John Short, 75, had confessed to his “criminal behavior,” and was being freed partly on account of his age, according to North Korea’s official news agency KCNA.

Short traveled to North Korea from his home in Hong Kong with fellow missionary Wang Chong, before being detained on February 18.

The travel agency that booked the trip told Australian national broadcaster ABC that Short, who had Korean-language Christian pamphlets with him, admitted to North Korean officials that tourism was not the sole reason for his journey.

Wang was allowed to leave but Short is being held in Pyongyang.

Missionary work is illegal in North Korea. Kenneth Bae, a Korean-born American evangelist, was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in April after being found guilty of trying to overthrow the Pyongyang regime.

AFP Photo/Woohae Cho

‘Lego Movie’ And Kevin Hart Making Their Box-Office Mark

By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — So far this year, there have been two proven bets at the box office: Legos and Kevin Hart.

That hot streak continued through the Presidents Day weekend, with The Lego Movie building on its blockbuster opening to finish No. 1 for a second time, while Hart’s romantic comedy About Last Night was a surprising runner-up. The 3-D animated Lego Movie collected an additional $63.5 million over the four-day holiday, according to studio estimates, and the inexpensive remake of the 1986 Rob Lowe-Demi Moore film brought in a robust $28.5 million.

About Last Night is yet another win for Hart, 34, who is parlaying his success as a stand-up comedian into a serious film career. In January, his buddy-cop comedy Ride Along had the biggest opening of the month, and the film has since gone on to collect $117.4 million. A sequel to Ride Along is already in the works, and Hart has two other comedies set to roll out within the next year.

“You can’t find an actor in Hollywood who works harder than Kevin,” said Rory Bruer, distribution president for Sony Pictures, whose Screen Gems label produced Hart’s new movie for $13 million. “He’s a nice guy — the kind you want to hang and have a beer with — and I think people get that. There’s a lot of love out there for him right now.”

Love — and a lot of money — was sent Lego Movie’s way as well. After 11 days in release, the movie featuring characters from the famed toy brand has already grossed $143.8 million domestically, indicating that it will likely have enough stamina to rake in at least an additional $100 million before exiting theaters.

Among this past weekend’s four newcomers — a batch that included two other ’80s reboots, RoboCop and Endless Love, along with the Colin Farrell romance Winter’s Tale — About Last Night was the clear winner. Hart plays an eccentric bachelor who isn’t ready to settle down, unlike his best friend (Michael Ealy), who quickly moves in with a new girlfriend (Joy Bryant). Of the weekend’s debuts, the film earned the best critical reviews by far, notching a 77 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Those who saw the film over the weekend liked it, assigning it an average grade of A-minus, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

Meanwhile, RoboCop, a new spin on the popular 1987 flick, came in third with $25.6 million — a somewhat disappointing start, given that it cost so much more to produce than its rivals. After pumping $120 million into it, Sony’s Columbia Pictures and MGM had high hopes for the Jose Padilha-directed remake. Nearly three decades ago, the original version grossed $53 million — a massive sum for the time — instantly becoming a sci-fi classic.

But the remake, which does not boast a widely recognizable face in leading man Joel Kinnaman, may end up grossing little more than the original. In an effort to spread positive buzz about the new RoboCop before a crowded box-office weekend, Sony decided to open the film Wednesday. But during its first six days in theaters, the movie sold $30.5 million worth of tickets — meaning word of mouth will need to be exceptionally strong if the pricey film is to become a hit in the U.S. and Canada.

Abroad, at least, moviegoers are responding more positively to RoboCop. The film has expanded to 75 foreign countries and has now grossed a total of $69.9 million. So far, the movie is performing best in Britain, Russia and Malaysia, where it has grossed $5.3 million and been No. 1 for three consecutive weeks.

RoboCop marks the first leading role for Swedish actor Kinnaman, best known for his part in AMC’s The Killing. In the film, set in 2028, Kinnaman plays a Detroit cop who is rebuilt as a machine by a possibly nefarious corporation.

Endless Love, a fresh take on Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 version starring Brooke Shields, opened with a so-so $15.1 million. The movie, which follows a young couple being kept apart by disapproving parents, was overwhelmingly popular with young females this past weekend.

About 76 percent of the Endless Love crowd was younger than 25, and that audience liked what it saw, giving the film an average grade of A-minus.

Though the romance didn’t get off to a particularly impressive start, it didn’t cost distributor Universal Pictures much to make, either. The studio financed it for $20 million.

The only new movie that wasn’t a remake, the time-travel fantasy Winter’s Tale, was the least popular Valentine’s Day option, flopping with a dismal $8.1 million.

“It was just a miss, unfortunately,” acknowledged Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.’ executive vice president of domestic distribution.

Based on Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel, Winter’s Tale was the directorial debut for Akiva Goldsman, a well-known producer and screenwriter who has worked on such hits as Hancock and A Beautiful Mind. The supernatural-tinged story stars Farrell as a time-traveling thief who goes to extreme lengths in an attempt to save his dying soul mate.

Winter’s Tale, financed by Warner Bros., RatPac-Dune Entertainment and Village Roadshow for $35 million, is the latest misfire for Farrell in the last five years. The actor, 37, has appeared in high-profile box-office flops including “Total Recall” and “Fright Night.”

“In fairness,” Goldstein added, “it’s not just him. There was just something about this movie that didn’t work. We tried hard to hit an audience that wasn’t interested.”

Photo: Bricknave via Flickr

U.S. Teen Star Mikaela Shiffrin Soaks In First Olympic Experience, Skis To Fifth In Giant Slalom

By Michelle Kaufman, The Miami Herald

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The sleet and hail were getting heavier, rain-drenched fans scurried for cover at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center Tuesday afternoon, but Jeff Shiffrin, peeking out from his sopping wet jacket, didn’t seem in any hurry to leave.

His daughter, 18-year-old Mikaela, had just placed fifth in her Olympic giant slalom debut. She finished a half-second behind Slovenian gold medalist Tina Maze (2:36.87) and .23 of a second from a bronze medal. Anna Fenninger of Austria won silver and defending champion Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany took bronze.

Considering Shiffin’s strongest event is the slalom, which is yet to come on Friday, her father had nothing but praise for her. He greeted her Tuesday morning no differently than he had before any other race of her life: “Good morning, Mikaela. Have fun today. Bye. That’s it.”

He delighted in watching his daughter come down an Olympic slope (well, what he could see of it, anyway, with the bad weather).

“I’m sticking with the same old line from the last 20 years, what it’s about is seeing her come through with a smile and do the best job she can do,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s here or the training hill. When it goes really well here – and it went almost really well today, it’s super exciting. Those are the magical moments that take your breath away.”

Shiffrin was still smiling as she met with reporters after her two runs.

“It was a pretty spectacular day,” she said. “It’s not sunny, but on the other hand, who gets to race their first Olympics in rain this bad when there’s still snow on the ground, right?”

She said the messy conditions reminded her of Vermont, where she attended Burke Mountain Academy, a school for elite skiers.

“It’s pretty much exactly what I can remember from Vermont, which isn’t fair because there were also a lot of nice days,” she said. “But you remember the worst days. This wasn’t necessarily the worst case scenario. The visibility was better than I thought it was going to be and the conditions were really good for how much it’s precipitating. It was a pretty fair race. I’m really in awe of the top three girls.”

Driving snow and freezing rain delayed the second run for 15 minutes and course workers spread salt over the course to firm up the snow, which was already a bit slushy from last week’s warm, sunny weather.

“These are the kinds of conditions that years of experience help you with,” Jeff Shiffrin said. “All sorts of different conditions, raining and fog. I think some of the older ladies were able to turn that a little to their advantage.”

Shiffrin arrived to high expectations here as Team USA’s alpine “It Girl.” With the absence of injured Lindsey Vonn, the spotlight turned to Shiffrin, who has had remarkable success for a skier her age. She was one of the featured athletes on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Olympic preview.

She is already famous and known simply as “Mika” in Europe, where last February in Schladming, Austria, her career truly took off. At 17, she became the youngest female world ski champion since 1985 and the youngest American ever to hold a world title.

This season, she won three of five World Cup slalom races and finished second once, making her a bona-fide favorite in Sochi. Through five giant slalom races she had a second-place finish and a third-place finish.

Asked if she was thinking about a medal as she left the starting gate for her second run, Shiffin smiled and said: “I’m thinking gold medal.”

But she kept the result in perspective.

“I wanted a gold, but I also think this was meant to happen,” she said. “I’ll learn from it. The next Olympics I go to, I’m sure as heck not finishing fifth. I thought my first GS win would be at the Olympics. But it’s something I accept. I got fifth at the Olympics, Four girls skied better than I did and I’m really excited to analyze their skiing and mine and learn from it.”

Her father, surrounded by reporters, said perhaps it is “a silver lining” that Mikaela won’t have to deal with media distractions over the next 48 hours leading into her strongest event.

Meanwhile, Maze earned her second gold medal of these Olympics. She celebrated by plopping belly first into the snow and pretending to swim (which made some sense, considering how much it was raining by that point). She tied for gold in the downhill last week on a bright, sunny day.

“The weather was playing games with us, but I don’t care if it is raining, sunny because I won the gold medal,” Maze said. “We had two weeks of sun and I know it couldn’t hold on. Even though it wasn’t perfect weather, it was perfect racing. I’m a little wet, but it’s OK.”

American Julia Mancuso, the GS winner at the 2006 Turin Olympics and bronze medalist in Super Combined here, skied off course midway through her first run and didn’t finish.

“It’s the Olympics and you have to go for it, and I caught a really soft spot and it twisted me,” she said. “With the snow surface not being consistent, you can’t really see it, so it’s hard with the timing and I was losing that a few times.”

Finishing 67th of the 67 women who completed the race was British pop violinist Vanessa (Mae) Vanakorn, who competed for Thailand.

“It was cool,” she said. “I nearly crashed three times, but I made it down and that was the main thing. Just the experience of being here is amazing. I was worried I was going to get lost, but I just about managed it.”

AFP Photo/Loic Venance