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The Latest News about Government and Politics

    Vice President Mike Pence toured the newly expanded Panama Canal Thursday as he wrapped up a truncated trip to Latin America. Pence met with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela before departing for Washington Thursday evening. Pence had originally planned to stay in the Central American country overnight but is cutting his trip short so he can attend a weekend meeting on South Asia at Camp David. Pence has spent much of his visit working to assure Latin American allies that the United States remains invested in the region despite President Donald Trump's 'America first' rhetoric. He has also urged leaders in the region to intensify pressure on the Venezuelan government, which many fear is on the cusp of dictatorship and civil war. That mission was complicated by Trump's surprise suggestion right before Pence left that a 'military option' might be on the table for Venezuela. Leaders across the region made clear to Pence that they strongly rejected the suggestion. 'Chile will do its utmost to support Venezuela to find a peaceful way out,' Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said Wednesday. 'But Chile will not support military interventions, nor coup d'état.' In Panama, a major financial center, Pence and Varela said they discussed commercial and security ties, as well as drug trafficking, illegal migration and money laundering. In remarks after their meeting, Pence said Panama was an 'invaluable' U.S. partner, and thanked the country for its efforts to seize illegal drugs and partner on border security.
  • A settlement in a landmark lawsuit against two psychologists who helped design the CIA's harsh interrogation methods used in the war on terror marked the first time the agency or its private contractors have been held accountable for the program, legal experts said Thursday. The deal in the lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union also makes it unlikely the CIA will again pursue the tactics, which included beatings and waterboarding, said Deborah Pearlstein, professor at the Cardozo Law School in New York. 'This sends a signal to those who might consider doing this in the future,' Pearlstein said, adding, 'This puts an exclamation mark at the end of 'don't torture.'' Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but it avoided a civil trial set for Sept. 5 in federal court in Spokane. The ACLU sued psychologists James Mitchell and John 'Bruce' Jessen on behalf of three former detainees, including one who died in custody, who contended they were tortured at secret CIA prisons overseas. Mitchell and Jessen were under contract with the federal government following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The lawsuit claimed they designed, implemented and personally administered an experimental torture program. The techniques they developed included waterboarding, slamming the three men into walls, stuffing them inside coffin-like boxes, exposing them to extreme temperatures, starving them and keeping them awake for days, the ACLU said. James T. Smith, lead defense attorney, said the psychologists were public servants whose interrogation methods were authorized by the government. 'The facts would have borne out that while the plaintiffs suffered mistreatment by some of their captors, none of that mistreatment was conducted, condoned or caused by Drs. Mitchell and Jessen,' Smith said. Jessen said in a statement that he and Mitchell 'served our country at a time when freedom and safety hung in the balance.' Mitchell also defended their work, saying, 'I am confident that our efforts were necessary, legal and helped save countless lives.' But the group Physicians for Human Rights said the case shows that health professionals who participate in torture will be held accountable. 'These two psychologists had a fundamental ethical obligation to do no harm, which they perverted to inflict severe pain and suffering on human beings in captivity,' said Donna McKay, executive director of the group. The group's anti-torture expert, Sarah Dougherty, said she hopes the case opens the door for additional lawsuits and more. 'What needs to happen next is criminal accountability,' Dougherty said. The lawsuit sought unspecified monetary damages from the psychologists on behalf of Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud and the estate of Gul Rahman. Rahman, an Afghan, was taken from his home in Pakistan in 2002 to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan. He died of hypothermia several weeks later after being shackled to a floor in near-freezing conditions. According to the lawsuit, Salim and Ben Soud both were subjected to waterboarding, daily beatings and sleep deprivation in secret CIA sites. Salim, a Tanzanian, and Ben Soud, a Libyan, were later released after officials determined they posed no threat. A U.S. Senate investigation in 2014 found that Mitchell and Jessen's techniques produced no useful intelligence. They were paid $81 million for their work. President Barack Obama terminated the contract in 2009. Mitchell and Jessen previously worked at the Air Force survival school at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, where they trained pilots to avoid capture and resist interrogation and torture. The CIA hired them to reverse-engineer their methods to break terrorism suspects. The ACLU said it was the first civil lawsuit involving the CIA's torture program that was not dismissed at the initial stages. The Justice Department got involved to keep classified information secret but did not try to block it. Though there was no trial, the psychologists and several CIA officials underwent lengthy questioning in video depositions. Some documents that had been secret were declassified. The ACLU issued a joint statement from the surviving plaintiffs, who said they achieved their goals. 'We were able to tell the world about horrific torture, the CIA had to release secret records, and the psychologists and high-level CIA officials were forced to answer our lawyer's questions,' the statement said. The lawsuit was brought under a law allowing foreign citizens to have access to U.S. courts to seek justice for violations of their rights.
  • A political cartoon circulated by a conservative Illinois think tank with ties to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has triggered accusations of racism and insensitivity in the wake of the deadly attack at a white nationalist rally in Virginia. The rendering depicted a black child from Chicago begging for money from a suit-clad white man who has a cigar. It was posted online by the Chicago-based Illinois Policy Institute and meant as commentary on the state's complicated school funding fight, which the tax policy and research organization says involves practices that are unfair to minorities. The cartoon prompted a racially diverse group of legislators from both political parties to blast the depiction on social media and stand on the House floor in opposition at the Capitol Wednesday as they gathered to talk about schools. The image was taken down hours later. 'There is a way to make a policy point that's legitimate, but not in a way that caricatures African-Americans and provokes a dark history,' said Rep. Christian Mitchell, a black Chicago Democrat who criticized the cartoon in social media posts . 'It was extraordinarily hurtful — and hurtful in the context of this week.' The boy in the cartoon sits on the street, holding a sign that reads, 'NEED MONEY 4 SCHOOL.' The man has one pocket stuffed with cash and is pulling out another one that's empty. In some versions of the cartoon, the man says, 'Sorry kid, I'm broke.' For some the image of the begging child conjured up Little Black Sambo, a more than century-old literary character whose exaggerated features are seen as racist caricatures. For others, it fed into the stereotype of a black person asking for a handout for a fundamental right such as public education. Others questioned the timing amid nationwide reflection on race relations after last weekend's rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where violence erupted, leaving a woman dead after a car slammed into a crowd. Policy Institute officials took calls Thursday on Chicago's WVON radio station, which airs an African-American-oriented talk format. They said the cartoon 'told the truth' and that policies heralded by Democrats disproportionately harm disadvantaged students. The institute, which advocates for a school funding overhaul backed by Rauner, called the reaction to the cartoon offensive in the wake of Charlottesville. 'This is a good example when it comes to the very charged subject of racism,' Policy Institute CEO John Tillman said. 'There are people who care deeply and there is structural racism. And then there's people who want to introduce the subject to get political gain.' He said the cartoon was removed because it had become a distraction. Capturing race in political cartoons is tricky, considering the history of using skin color in a negative light and to enhance stereotypes. But the job of cartoonists is to poke fun by distorting facial features, especially those of political leaders. Artists initially struggled to capture former President Barack Obama. Many settled on exaggerating his admittedly large ears, said Amelia Rauser, an art history professor at Pennsylvania's Franklin & Marshall College who studies race in political cartoons. Choosing a trademark Obama feature focused on him as a person and not a racial caricature, she said. Rauser said it was easy to see why the image of the contrasting figures, namely the black child, was offensive to some. 'It's using these tropes that are so fraught,' she said. 'Just the fact that he's small and given darker skin. It's a little too extreme, the Sambo stereotype.' But, she added, it appeared unintended since the cartoonist humanized the child with small details, like putting him in a Chicago Cubs cap and a backpack. Still, the image put a spotlight on Rauner and his links to the institute. Rauner, a wealthy businessman, donated to the group before he became governor and recently hired several top aides from the organization including his spokeswoman, Diana Rickert, and former Policy Institute president Kristina Rasmussen, who is his chief of staff. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's onetime chief of staff, issued a joint statement with city school officials accusing the governor's 'brain trust at the Illinois Policy Institute' of contributing to the school funding debate by publishing an 'unambiguously racist cartoon.' Rickert said Thursday that Rauner hadn't seen the cartoon and wouldn't comment on it. 'It's a terrible thing for people to be bringing up now,' she said. 'To be accusing somebody falsely of racism, or try to insinuate that people in this office are racist, is disgusting when the country is trying to recover from this tragedy.' Rauner, who is seeking re-election next year, has largely avoided commenting on national issues, particularly involving President Donald Trump. Rauner won office in 2014 by garnering enough Republican support outside the Democratic stronghold of Chicago. But for the first time Wednesday, he denounced Trump's comments about Charlottesville, saying they 'damage America.' The governor has clashed with majority Democrats since taking office. Illinois recently ended its budget impasse of more than two years, but lawmakers have to approve a new funding formula for schools to get money this year. Both sides agree Illinois' 20-year-old way of determining how much school districts get is unfair, but they disagree on how to change it. The timeline on when public schools in Illinois will get state funding remains in limbo. ___ Follow Sophia Tareen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sophiatareen. Sign up for the AP's weekly newsletter showcasing our best reporting from the Midwest and Texas at http://apne.ws/2u1RMfv.
  • The captain of a Navy warship that lost seven sailors in a collision with a commercial container ship in June will be relieved of command and nearly a dozen others face punishment, the Navy's second-ranking admiral said Thursday. Adm. William Moran, the vice chief of naval operations, told reporters that the top three leaders aboard the USS Fitzgerald, which was badly damaged in the collision off the coast of Japan, will be removed from duty aboard the ship. They are the commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson; the executive officer, Cmrd. Sean Babbitt; and Master Chief Petty Officer Brice Baldwin, who as the ship's command master chief is its most senior enlisted sailor. The actions are being taken by Rear Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the Navy's 7th Fleet, based at Yokosuka, Japan, because he lost confidence in the three, Moran said. In addition, nearly a dozen face non-judicial punishment that has yet to be determined, Moran said, adding that details on those actions are to be announced Friday after they are completed. Moran said the actions are to be taken shortly, although the Navy's investigation into how and why the USS Fitzgerald collided with the container ship in June has not yet been completed. 'Serious mistakes were made by members of the crew,' Moran said, adding that he could not fully detail those mistakes because the investigation is ongoing. He said 'the bridge team,' or the sailors responsible for keeping watch on the ship's bridge to ensure it remains safe, had 'lost situational awareness,' which left them unable to respond quickly enough to avoid the disaster once the oncoming container ship was spotted. Separately, the Navy released the results of a review of events that took place aboard the ship after the collision, focusing on the crew's efforts to control damage, save lives and keep the ship afloat. The crash occurred in the pre-dawn hours of June 17 off the coast of Japan in an accident-prone area known for congestion. That is within Japanese territorial waters. The seas were relatively calm, and visibility was unrestricted. The bow of the container ship, the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal, slammed into the Fitzgerald's right side above the waterline, quickly flooding several areas inside the ship, including a berthing, or sleeping, area. Of the 35 sailors who were in Berthing 2 at the time, 28 escaped. Seven drowned. The collision knocked out external communications and cut power in the forward portion of the ship. The Navy review of what happened aboard the ship following the collision found that the seven deaths could not be blamed on misconduct. It commended the response by the ship's crew, singling out two sailors for taking extra steps to help other out of the flooded berthing space — actions that it said likely saved the lives of at least two of their shipmates. 'No damage control efforts, however, would have prevented Berthing 2 from flooding completely within the first two minutes following the collision, or the deadly circumstances in that situation,' the review said. The report said that although some in Berthing 2 heard a loud noise at the time of the collision or were thrown from their beds by the force of the impact, some did not realize what had happened and remained in bed. Some remained asleep. 'At least one sailor had to be pulled from his rack and into the water before he woke up,' it said.
  • The wires protruding from the small, misshapen stuffed animal revealed the deadly booby-trap tucked inside. For the people of Mosul, the sophisticated bomb was a reminder of how difficult it will be to return to homes littered with hidden explosives by Islamic State militants and dotted with the remnants of undetonated bombs dropped by the U.S.-led coalition that still could blow up. Washington at least is trying to ease a bit of the massive clean-up burden. On Thursday, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said for the first time that the American military will help contractors and other officials locate unexploded bombs dropped by the coalition. U.S. Embassy officials have asked the coalition to declassify grid coordinates for bombs dropped in Iraq to help clear the explosives. It may not be that simple, Gen. Stephen Townsend told a small group of reporters, 'but we'll find a way through that.' 'We'll find a way to help them,' he said. The coalition's unexploded bombs are only a small part of Mosul's problems. The bulk of the explosives have been hidden by IS fighters to be triggered by the slightest movement, even picking up a seemingly innocent children's toy, lifting a vacuum cleaner, or opening an oven door. The effort could continue wreaking destruction on Iraq's second largest city even as IS was defeated after a nine-month battle. U.S. Embassy officials and contractors hired to root out the hidden explosives use the same words to describe the devastation in western Mosul: Historic. Unprecedented. Exponentially worse than any other place. 'We use broad terms like historic because when you enter a dwelling, everything is suspect,' said the team leader in northern Iraq for Janus Global Operations, a contracting company hired to find and remove hidden explosive devices and unexploded bombs from Iraqi cities recaptured from the Islamic State group. 'You can't take anything at face value.' The team leader asked that he not be identified by name because he and his teams continue working in Mosul and the company fears for their safety. Some estimates suggest it may take 25 years to clear West Mosul of explosives. The bomb-removing team leader said those understate what is sure to be a long, enduring problem. Normalcy may return to parts of west Mosul in a year, and perhaps after a decade many of the obvious explosives will be found. But other unexploded bombs and hidden devices will surface at construction sites and other locations for years and likely decades to come, he said. As much as 90 percent of west Mosul's old city has been reduced to ruins, destroyed by the IS militants who occupied it for nearly three years and by the campaign of airstrikes and ground combat needed to retake the city. For Muhammed Mustafa, a restaurant owner from west Mosul, the disaster is very personal. 'In the beginning we thanked God we had been liberated from our oppressor,' said Mustafa, 54, who had lived in Mosul's old city. Mustafa escaped IS territory as Iraqi forces pushed through western Mosul earlier this year and is now living with extended family in the city's east. 'When my neighborhood was liberated, I wanted to return and gather some belongings. On my street all I saw was destruction, except my home, thank God, but I found a written statement on the wall warning it was bobby-trapped,' he told The Associated Press in a phone interview. 'When I saw it, I couldn't stand. I fell to the ground.' Security forces in the area barred him from entering due to the risk. 'They said there were many houses like it and many people had already died trying to inspect their homes when a bomb inside exploded,' he said. 'Can you imagine, the house I grew up in, now I can no longer enter?' David Johnson, vice president for the Washington office of Janus Global Operations, said his workers are finding explosives where local residents would be most likely to trigger them, and are 'seeing a level of sophistication and a number of improvised explosive devices that is literally without parallel.' Over time, the officials said, the improvised explosive devices — or IEDs — have become far more innovative and sophisticated. They range from basic pressure plates in the roads or doorways to small devices, similar to ones that turn on a refrigerator light when the door is opened. They're tucked into dresser drawers or smoke detectors, or buried under large piles of rubble that were pushed aside as Iraqi forces cleared roads to move through the city. The devastation is so extensive and the danger so high that government and humanitarian agencies have been unable to get a full assessment of the explosives threat or a solid estimate of how much money and effort is needed to make the city safe and livable again. The team leader painted a grim picture of the city where his workers have spent the last two weeks trying to clear explosives from critical infrastructure, including the electric grid. A retired Navy explosives specialist who served multiple tours in Iraq and Syria, he said his team is 'facing something we've never seen before.' In the Navy, he said, his worst day involved finding 18 explosive devices. On Wednesday, on the outskirts of Mosul, his team cleared 50 explosive devices out of a pipeline. He estimated as many as 300 in that one area alone. There are five such teams, totaling 130 people, working in Mosul. So far, no one has been injured. In Ramadi, however, company workers were killed and injured as they tried to eliminate explosives. Janus wouldn't provide details. ___ Associated Press writer Susannah George contributed to this report.
  • White House adviser Steve Bannon isn't alone in pondering America's possibly generation-defining question about China's emerging superpower status — but his call for an 'economic war' puts him far outside the mainstream. In an interview reflecting on some of his big-thinking projects, Bannon said the country should be 'maniacally focused' on a confrontation with Beijing over who will be the global 'hegemon' of the next 25 to 30 years. The former Breitbart News executive — who works steps from President Donald Trump in the West Wing — told The American Prospect that 'the economic war with China is everything.' For decades, American economists, military strategists and policymakers of all stripes have wrestled with how the United States and China, the world's biggest and soon-to-be biggest economies, manage differences on trade and security. But no one in a position of power has adopted a strategy that entails the almost messianic zeal of Bannon's world view. For good reason, according to advocates of more measured approaches to dealing with China, who argue that an economic war would hurt everyone. 'Steve Bannon's view is too simplistic and arrogant,' Seattle trade attorney William Perry declared, saying such talk 'could get the U.S. in big trouble.' He said Bannon's position is 'built around the idea that the United States is the biggest market in the world and everybody has to kowtow to us.' Bannon's comments do reflect sentiments Trump himself has channeled on narrowing America's vast trade deficit with China and bringing manufacturing jobs back home. They also underscore the ways in which the U.S. administration is in conflict with itself on China and other foreign policy issues. Bannon was stunningly candid about purging rivals from the Defense and State departments who supposedly resist the tough trade line with China. And he contradicted Trump by calling his boss' bluff on threatening to attack North Korea, saying there is no military solution to the nuclear standoff. Bannon characterized the focus on North Korea as a 'sideshow' to a more significant, U.S.-Chinese struggle for world control. Past U.S. administrations, Republican and Democrat, have cooperated with China since it initiated market-opening reforms more than three decades ago. The Clinton administration, for example, supported China's World Trade Organization entry in 2001. But as China's economic and military might has grown, hopes it would open its markets and play by WTO rules like other rising economies have receded. U.S. views have hardened. While American consumers have benefited from cheaper Chinese-made goods, the imports have caused massive U.S. trade deficits. Last year, for instance, America's trade gap in goods with China was $347 billion. That represented nearly half the U.S. trade deficit with the entire world. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Zurich and the University of California, San Diego, found the U.S. lost 2.4 million jobs from 1999 to 2011 because of Chinese import competition. For Americans, that is the biggest concern and one Trump tapped into among blue-collar voters, at Bannon's urging. Of his economic war with China, Bannon said: 'We have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we're five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we'll never be able to recover.' Such doom-and-gloom talk may be getting Trump's receptive ear. His administration has recently dusted off some little-used trade weapons, starting a process that could lead to penalties on Chinese steel and aluminum imports. On Monday, Trump announced the U.S. is investigating China for allegedly stealing American technology and intellectual property. But Bannon is surrounded by rivals for the president's favor, clashing with top officials such as H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security adviser. Trump himself passed up an opportunity this week to express confidence in Bannon, who has been with Trump since before the presidential election. Of The American Prospect interview, a White House spokeswoman on Thursday only said, 'Bannon's comments stand on their own.' An individual outside government who met recently with Bannon described him ordering up voluminous dossiers about China from various government agencies in recent weeks, possibly to prepare for Trump's trade action this week. Trump's announcement drew an angry reaction from Beijing, which also pushed back on Bannon's remarks. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunyin called Thursday for 'sound and steady growth of China-U.S. relations.' 'There is no winner in a trade war,' Hua told reporters in Beijing. For years, China manipulated its currency to give its exporters an advantage over foreign competition. It demanded foreign companies turn over technology to access China's vast market, and its firms rampantly stole the intellectual property of foreign companies. Government subsidies and cheap loans encouraged Chinese factories to overproduce steel, aluminum and other products, driving down global prices and putting U.S. and other firms out of business. But Washington hasn't ignored violations. The Obama administration, for instance, filed 16 WTO cases against China. The U.S. has almost completely blocked steel imports from China. The Peterson Institute for International Economics found in a report this year that more than 9 percent of Chinese imports face trade barriers in the United States, versus less than 4 percent of overall imports. And China stopped manipulating its currency a few years ago. Bannon's comments suggest potentially harsher measures. During the presidential campaign, Trump threatened 45 percent tariffs on Chinese imports, even if that would likely prompt Chinese retaliation. 'The notion that we slap some tariffs on them, and they're going to cave — that, I'm sure, is wrong,' said David Dollar, a former U.S. Treasury and World Bank official now at the Brookings Institution. ____ Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Darlene Superville in Bridgewater, N.J., contributed to this report.
  • A Missouri lawmaker acknowledged Thursday that she posted and later deleted a comment on Facebook about hoping for President Donald Trump's assassination, saying she was frustrated with the president's response to the white supremacist rally and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Democratic Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal said she was wrong for writing the post and didn't mean what she said, but she refused calls to resign. She said she wrote 'I hope Trump is assassinated!' in response to a post that suggested Vice President Mike Pence would try to have Trump removed from office. 'What I wrote down on my private Facebook page, was it wrong? Absolutely,' she told The Associated Press. 'But I am going to continue to talk about the anger and the frustration that led to that.' The post drew a swift rebuke, including calls from top Democrats for her resignation. Among them were Missouri Senate Democratic Leader Gina Walsh, who condemned Chappelle-Nadal's post as 'horrible.' The chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party, Stephen Webber, said the comments were 'indefensible' and the party 'will absolutely not tolerate calls for the assassination of the president.' 'I condemn it. It's outrageous,' added Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the state's senior senator. 'And she should resign.' Missouri's Republican Gov. Eric Greitens and the state Republican party also called for her resignation, but Chappelle-Nadal said she had no intention of doing so. 'I refuse to resign for exercising my First Amendment rights, even though what I said was wrong,' she said. The U.S. Secret Service released a statement saying it looks into all threats against the president, 'whether they be direct, implied, or comments in passing.' Chappelle-Nadal, from the St. Louis suburb of University City, said constituents in her predominantly black district are concerned about how Trump blamed 'both sides' of the clashes in Charlottesville. The violence included a man slamming his car into people protesting against the white supremacist rally, killing one woman and injuring more than a dozen other people. 'By our president saying things such as he does, supporting white supremacy and the Nazis and KKK, it's causing a lot of trauma,' Chappelle-Nadal said. Chappelle-Nadal, who is black, was elected to the Missouri Senate in 2010, after serving in the state House for five years. She has been an outspoken activist while in the Legislature. She was a prominent voice during the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old resident who was unarmed when fatally shot by an officer in 2014. _____ Associated Press writers Jim Salter in St. Louis and Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City contributed to this report. ___ Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com
  • Facing criticism over her muted response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday condemned those 'tragic and unthinkable' events and blasted 'neo-Nazis and other racist bigots' in a letter to staff. DeVos' email to Education Department employees came after she was criticized for insufficiently condemning the violence, in which a young woman was killed when a driver plowed into a group of counter-protesters at the rally by white nationalists and neo-Nazis. Nineteen other people were injured. DeVos had posted twice on Twitter, saying she was 'disgusted' by the behavior and hateful rhetoric displayed in Charlottesville. She also retweeted a tweet by Melania Trump who also condemned the violence. In an opinion piece published by the Hechinger Report, Andre Perry, a former education official from DeVos' hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, charged that 'DeVos' generic and woefully insufficient statement effectively sanitized the hate' by the white supremacist demonstrators. President Donald Trump has also faced widespread criticism for blaming 'both sides' for the violence. In her email Thursday afternoon, Devos said: 'The views of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other racist bigots are totally abhorrent to the American ideal. We all have a role to play in rejecting views that pit one group of people against another.' 'Such views are cowardly, hateful and just plain wrong,' she added. DeVos stressed that the department's mission was to 'ensure all students have equal access to a safe, nurturing, quality learning environment free from discrimination or intimidation.' 'Violence and hate will never be the answer,' DeVos said. 'We must engage, debate and educate.' Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said DeVos' email was an open letter, but Hill would not directly address the question of why no separate public statement was issued. In an interview with The Associated Press last week, DeVos said she should have been more vocal in condemning 'the ravages of racism in this country' when talking about African-Americans' access to higher education in the segregation era. DeVos' remarks earlier this year that historically black colleges and universities were 'real pioneers' of school choice offended many in the African-American community. ____ Follow Maria Danilova on Twitter at —http://twitter.com/@m_education_ap
  • A prominent Republican senator delivered a stinging rebuke Thursday of Donald Trump's short time in office, declaring he has not shown the stability or competence required for an American president to succeed. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, also said Trump 'recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation.' During comments to local reporters after a speech to the Chattanooga Rotary Club, Corker called for 'radical changes' in how the Trump White House operates. Separately, Republican Sen. Tim Scott told a newspaper in his home state of South Carolina that Trump's heavily criticized response to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, 'complicates this administration's moral authority.' Corker's remarks, which were posted on Facebook, came two days after Trump declared at a New York press conference that white supremacists don't bear all the blame for the melee in Charlottesville, where a woman was killed after being struck by a car driven into a crowd. Trump triggered a firestorm of protest, with a number of Republicans criticizing him for giving weight to the complaints of white nationalists by refusing to definitively condemn them. Corker has sought to be a strong supporter of Trump's, particularly on foreign policy matters. He was considered as a candidate for secretary of state in the Trump administration before Rex Tillerson, the former chief executive officer of Exxon-Mobil, was picked for the job. But Trump's impulsive and often bombastic style has complicated the relationship for Corker and other congressional Republicans. A few months ago, following reports that Trump had disclosed highly classified information to a pair of Russian diplomats in the Oval Office, Corker said the White House was 'in a downward spiral.' But Corker in recent weeks had largely declined to answer questions about Trump's tweets or other political drama, telling reporters covering Congress that he was focused instead on matters of policy. He elected to weigh in Thursday, however. Noting that the country is polarized, Corker said, 'Helping inspire divisions because it generates support from your political base is not a formula for causing our nation to advance, our nation to overcome the many issues that we have to deal with right now.' Corker said, 'The world needs for our president to be successful,' and said he's hopeful Trump will do what's necessary to bring out the best in people, regardless of their political affiliations. Trump, he said, needs 'to take stock of the role that he plays in our nation and move beyond himself, move way beyond himself, and move to a place where daily he's waking up thinking about what is best for our nation.' Corker also defended his Republican colleague, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. On Twitter Thursday, Trump called Flake 'toxic' while praising his primary election opponent. Flake is 'one of the finest best human beings I've ever met,' Corker said. He said the White House would be well served to embrace Flake because of his substance and character. Flake has a 'conscience and is a real conservative,' according to Corker. Scott is the Senate's only black Republican. He told The Post and Courier of Charleston that Trump erred by drawing a 'moral equivalency' between the white supremacists and counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville. 'I think you are either missing four centuries of history in this nation or you are trying to make something what it's not,' Scott said. Trump's controversies have compromised the GOP's ability to get things done on health care, taxes and financial regulations and have put Republicans in a 'precarious position,' Scott told the newspaper. ___ Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report. ___ Contact Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner
  • One-time Republican candidate for New York governor Carl Paladino, whose published insults of former President Barack Obama provoked a public uproar, was removed from Buffalo's school board Thursday for improperly discussing teacher contract negotiations. State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia announced her decision Thursday, a day after Paladino protesters disrupted the school board's latest meeting with calls for his ouster. Paladino's lawyer said he would appeal the decision, which he suggested may have been influenced by the country's mood in the wake of a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Attorney Dennis Vacco said that although Paladino was kicked off the board for writing about confidential board business, the monthslong campaign for his removal has centered on Paladino's 'vile' comments about Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama. 'It's not lost on me that just last night, protesters were at the board of education hearing again protesting Carl and attempting to link Carl to the unfortunate events in Charlottesville,' Vacco, a former state attorney general, said. The protests have been happening since December, when Paladino, who helped chair President Donald Trump's campaign in New York, told a local arts newspaper he wished Obama would die of mad cow disease. But it was a later article written by Paladino detailing closed-door teacher contract negotiations that led to his removal. Elia sided with fellow school board members who said Paladino had willfully disclosed confidential discussions, including the superintendent's 'panic' over the threat of a teacher strike. The revelations revealed vulnerabilities that ultimately benefited the teachers' union and other units with pending contract negotiations, union and school board officials testified during a hearing in June. Paladino had argued his disclosures more than two months after an agreement was reached were justified because his intent was to inform his constituents about what he viewed as 'a scheming and rigging of a contract.' Elia also rejected Paladino's contention that the board's real reason for the removal petition was retaliation for his Obama comments, which he said were not meant for publication but nevertheless protected by his constitutional right to free speech. A federal lawsuit filed by Paladino against the board accuses members of attempting to stifle that right. The Obama comments may have set into motion Paladino's ouster, Elia wrote, but Paladino's subsequent executive session disclosures 'provided a new, independent ground for seeking (Paladino's) removal.' The commissioner's ruling disqualifies Paladino, the Republican nominee for New York governor in 2010, from appointment or election to any district office for one year. The wealthy developer was elected to the school board in 2013 and re-elected by a narrow margin in 2016. 'There is absolutely no place in public education for someone who flagrantly disregards the rules and spouts disgusting, racially charged ideas that harm students and the teaching environment,' New York State United Teachers said in one of several statements issued by organizations in support of Elia's decision. The Education Trust's New York chapter, invoking last weekend's violence in Virginia, said the issue was 'much deeper' than contained in the limited ruling. 'As we've seen from the recent events in Charlottesville, we have a long way to go as a country to combat hate and intolerance' the organization said, 'and elected leaders at every level from the local school board to the president must be held accountable for the tone they set and for the lessons their words teach young people.' School board President Barbara Nevergold said Elia's ruling confirms that it's not for individual board members to decide what is confidential and what should be made public. She said she hopes Paladino's removal clears the way for more productive meetings. 'There has been a lot that has occurred at this board table and outside that has really been due to the behavior of Mr. Paladino,' Nevergold told reporters inside the City Hall meeting room. 'We're looking forward to being able to move forward without the distractions that have accompanied his behavior.' Paladino's remarks about Obama were part of an end-of-the-year Artvoice article that posed questions to high-profile, Buffalo-area personalities about the year ahead. When asked what he'd like to happen in 2017 and what he'd like to see go away, Paladino replied he wanted Obama to die of mad cow disease and Michelle Obama to 'return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.

The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • Florida prisons were placed on lockdown Thursday following reports of security threats.  >> Read more trending news The Florida Department of Corrections announced that it canceled weekend visitation at all institutions for Saturday and Sunday because of a possible security threat. Correction officials said they received information that indicated small groups of inmates at several institutions would try to disrupt prison operations. The lockdown affects more than 97,000 inmates in Florida’s 151 correctional facilities, including major institutions, work camps and annex facilities. The move affects recreational and educational programs, but inmates are not confined to their cells, officials said. The cancellation does not apply to work release centers, department officials said.  
  • A group of storms east of the Caribbean has developed into Tropical Storm Harvey.   Harvey is approaching the Lesser Antilles and it is forecast to continue traveling west, officially arriving in the Caribbean Friday afternoon. It has been given a 100 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone over the next two days.   It’s also expected to become a hurricane by Monday morning. At this point it is no threat to Florida.   “We have entered the peak of Hurricane season, which is mid-August through late October,” said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center.
  • A Cleveland father is upset after he says his son was left on the school bus for hours on his first day of classes. WJW reported that Trevelle Hargrove’s 6-year-old son, Trevelle Jr.,  has special needs. Hargrove said his son fell asleep on the bus. >> Read more trending news Trevelle Jr.  said he was found after he honked the horn of the bus and jumped up and down. A spokesperson for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District said Trevelle Jr. fell asleep on the bus Monday and was there for less than an hour. His father says otherwise. “After an hour and they couldn't tell me what was going on I started to get extremely worried,” Hargrove told WJW. 'I couldn't understand why no one could tell me where my son was.” Hargrove said his son was back four hours later, at 6:30 p.m. “You can’t just forget to do things,” he said. “This isn’t like a normal job where you forget to put the straw in the bag or you forget to clock in or whatever it is you do at a normal job. You can’t do that when it comes to kids.” Hargrove said his son won’t be riding the bus again any time soon. The district is is investigating. Cleveland Metropolitan Schools Chief Communications Officer Roseann Canfora issued the following statement to WJW: “Drivers are trained to follow strict protocols for inspecting every seat at the beginning and end of their routes, and CMSD has a zero tolerance for any violation of these safety guidelines.” The bus driver has resigned. WJW reported they may be terminated pending the outcome of the district’s investigation.
  • Authorities said a terror attack in Barcelona claimed at least 13 lives on Thursday and left 80 others injured after a van slammed into pedestrians on Barcelona's popular La Rambla street. >> Read more trending news Mossos d'Esquadra, the Catalonia police force, confirmed the attack in a Twitter post around 5:10 p.m. local time.
  • Many scientists and groups across the U.S. aren’t taking Monday’s eclipse for granted - they want to learn things! There will be lots of experiments happening during the 90-minute event.  Here are just a few: 1. The eclipse movie - Volunteers from national labs and education groups will track the sun along its path using identical telescopes, which will take continuous digital pictures.  The pictures will be later spliced together to make a 90-minute movie.  So don’t fret if you can’t watch on Monday! 2. Sounds - college students at Tennessee’s Austin Peay State University, along with NASA< will measure the sound of the eclipse by setting up low-frequency radio experiments in bean fields.  They’ll capture the noise the eclipse creates and figure out how its different from normal conditions. 3. Animal behavior - Also at Austin Peay State University, scientists will be watching how crickets and cows act when the Moon covers the sun and darkens the sky.  During a solar eclipse in 1991, spiders were seen taking down their webs.  4. Solar flares - We know solar flares happen when the sun’s magnetic field causes a brief burst of intense radiation, but we don’t know enough to protect our technology from them.  During the eclipse, a group of scientists in Wyoming will attempt to take some measurements of the sun’s outer atmosphere.  Usually the sun is too bright to do this, but the eclipse should provide a good view. Want to watch the eclipse?  CLICK HERE to see where you can get free glasses.